What Is Tacit Knowledge? (With Benefits and Differences)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published November 20, 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
As an employee, your skills and experiences determine how you perform in your role. Employers require different skill sets and types of knowledge, including intuitive ones. Understanding the role of intuitive knowledge as an employee can help you maximize it to increase efficiency and productivity. In this article, we define tacit knowledge, list its types, outline its benefits to employees, and differentiate between tacit, implicit, and explicit knowledge.
What is tacit knowledge?
Tacit knowledge or intuitive knowledge is all the information you gather from personal experience, and you may find it difficult to share or communicate with others. As an employee, intuitive knowledge includes work techniques and processes that you learn through experience, training, or practical context. For instance, through your work experience, you may understand presentation, management styles, and sales strategies. While you may have an in-depth understanding of these concepts and exemplify them in your work activities, explaining them to new hires may be difficult.
While you may teach them theories on the practical steps to take in making a sales pitch, it doesn't adequately substitute for intuition and practical experience. Because of the difficulty in verbalizing intuitive knowledge, communicating or transferring it to others may be challenging. In addition, different contexts may apply depending on the individual, learning goal, and work environment. As a result, transferring intuitive knowledge may require intense and frequent training on the job, in addition to experiential learning.
Types of tacit or intuitive knowledge
Here are some examples of intuitive knowledge that may apply in the workplace:
Hard skills are tangible proficiencies you develop through experience, such as learning a new sport or playing an instrument. These skills may include a professional dancer's splits, patterns, and movements. While you may explain the theories on performing these splits and maneuvers, you may not transfer the muscle memory and effort required to complete such actions.
This gap is why others may require a lot of training and experience to learn the skill. You may guide and speed up the learning process with additional resources such as books, videos, and shared knowledge while you learn the physical coordination by yourself with time. In addition, you may learn patterns intuitively that are different from others.
Humour is an inbuilt capability that's nuanced and applies differently to different people. While different people may have similar levels of humour, they may not be able to communicate it in the same way. It may be more difficult to communicate or share humour, as it's more innate than taught. In addition, while different people may find an idea funny, it may be difficult to explain why. Good humour usually requires emotional understanding, timing, and context.
Intuition is your innate ability to read contexts and situations outside logic and independent of external opinions. This skill is important for businesses as it helps business owners decide when to make investments or move ahead with a business plan. In addition, as an employee, you may apply intuition when deciding among evenly matched sales and marketing strategies and other smaller details.
While you trust your intuition when making a decision, it may be difficult to explain to others. You may develop this intuition through your accumulated knowledge and experience after working in the role for a while. Sometimes, information and shared experiences from others can inform your intuition when making a decision.
Leadership is a quality that uses elements from different aspects of your experience as an employee. It's a significant type of intuitive knowledge, and efficient leadership skills may be difficult to teach. Some leadership qualities, such as excellent emotional intelligence, effective communication, and active listening, may also be difficult to convey without personal experience. For instance, you may teach general theoretical concepts on how to be a great leader, but most of the learning depends on personality and exposure. In addition, an individual may not become as good a leader even after training and experience, despite the theoretical knowledge.
Learning a language is one of the strongest forms of intuitive knowledge. When learning a language, you may take a long time to understand the language in-depth. While you may have numerous resources to learn a language, writing or articulating the language may take a while. The learning process often depends on emotional intelligence, background, and willingness.
Related: Skills vs. Abilities and Knowledge
Benefits of intuitive knowledge in the workplace
Some benefits of intuitive knowledge for employees in the workplace include:
It allows you to learn from shared experiences
As a new employee in a workplace, tacit knowledge helps to decrease the knowledge and skills gap as you learn from other experienced employees. It also allows you to leverage the different points of view in forming your opinion or method for different techniques and processes. As a manager, you may incorporate intuitive knowledge into the company's standard operating procedures (SOP), providing more context into how other employees or individuals perform their activities.
This process is beneficial when onboarding new employees remotely. You can execute the process by testing with different case studies and strategies. For instance, start on a small scale based on a new experience. Then find improvements to performance, scale the experiment, and make it larger. Finally, document results and highlight what worked or didn't. While using intuitive knowledge may not guarantee immediate success for everyone, it provides more direction and shared experience for you to learn from in the future.
It helps you build effective communication
A primary feature of intuitive knowledge is that while you may have the expertise, it may be challenging to explain how you learned it. As a manager or team lead, you may work with other team members who require your skills, knowledge, and expertise to complete tasks and increase productivity. This also allows you to avoid internal conflicts between teams that may arise when using different approaches based on their experiences and background.
Generally, intuitive knowledge and these learning situations help teams and employees to communicate better and gain new knowledge. It also helps you contribute to the learning process of others in your team. Beyond this, intuitive knowledge helps build collaboration as the team understands each other and their mutual goals.
It teaches you to value different perspectives
While each team member may learn from a similar source and have close experiences, their intuitive knowledge may differ slightly. This variety brings different perspectives when dealing with an issue or completing a task. While these different perspectives may occasionally result in group conflicts, it allows for different and critical analyzes of the pros and cons of a procedure. For instance, when working on client-related solutions, you may get more insight from an employee in a client-facing role. This employee may have a better perspective on client solutions than one with a high-level strategy.
Intuitive knowledge vs. other types of knowledge
Here are some comparisons between intuitive knowledge and other forms of knowledge:
Intuitive knowledge vs. implicit knowledge
Implicit knowledge is a practical application of explicit knowledge and is transferrable across industries or jobs. Implicit knowledge helps you provide more insightful context to explicit knowledge and may serve as a foundation for new training. For instance, when you ask an employee to complete a task, they may list the various theoretical steps and techniques that may apply. In addition, they may leverage their implicit knowledge to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each technique and decide the best approach to take.
Implicit knowledge usually happens subconsciously as you complete routines and familiarize yourself with processes in the workplace. You may also apply your implicit knowledge, or conceptual or procedural knowledge, to new situations or jobs. While intuitive knowledge may take a while to adjust, it's easier to synthesize and apply implicit knowledge. In addition, you may gather explicit knowledge and improve it with implicit knowledge. In contrast, intuitive knowledge is usually specific to situations and may not always be transferrable.
Intuitive knowledge vs. explicit knowledge
Explicit knowledge is the knowledge you can easily write, share, and communicate with others. Although explicit knowledge mostly complements intuitive knowledge, they're significantly different. You gather explicit knowledge from structured, processed, and interpreted data. You can also easily transfer and assimilate explicit knowledge, as it's easy to document. For instance, in business, explicit knowledge applies to vocabulary expectations and processes that you can easily find in texts and documents and transfer to new hires. Employees may store explicit knowledge in instruction manuals, employee handbooks, data sheets, white papers, and research results.
A major difference between tacit and explicit knowledge is accessibility. While it's easier to access and communicate explicit knowledge, intuitive knowledge requires in-depth explanations and skills to convey. In addition, while you may find and learn explicit knowledge by yourself, intuitive knowledge requires time, space, and sufficient practical experience.
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