Learning tacit knowledge is hard

July 25, 2021
You might hire a golf coach who watches you to discover your "bad habits", then convert them into explicit knowledge so they can be corrected. It's no different in business.

Yesterday I introduced the idea of two types of knowledge: Explicit (that which is easily explained) and tacit (that which is not easily explained). With this model in mind, we logically have four basic ways of transfering knowledge between people:

  • Tacit to tacit: Teaching someone to dance through demonstration and dancing together.
  • Explicit to explicit: Teaching someone the steps in a coreographed routine.
  • Tacit to explicit: Uncovering principles such as rhythm, balance, and momentum, so that they can be explained as descrete pieces of knowledge.
  • Explicit to tacit: Practicing dance steps to the point that they become habitual and feel like second nature.

Which of these is hardest?

In my estimation, it’s the “tacit to explicit” that’s the hardest.

It’s for this type of knowledge transfer that we’re most likely to hire a coach. Want to improve your golf swing? You might hire a golf coach who watches exactly what you’re doing to discover what tacit knowledge you have (your “bad habits”), and convert them into explicit knowledge so they can be corrected.

It’s no different in business. This is a big reason we hire business coaches: To uncover our tacit “bad habits”. The things we, as individuals and organizations, do blindly, by habit, without realizing it. Until this tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge, it’s almost impossible (except by sheer luck) to begin to improve.

If your team is struggling to implement DevOps, I’m here to help uncover your bad habits so you can begin to change. Contact me to start the discussion!

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