Knowledge without Learning? Thoughts on tacit and explicit knowledge

Can you really know something if you didn’t learn it?

I was sitting in a meeting the other day in which a group of engineers was giving a presentation on some analysis of a system they are working on. The slides were well done and had a lot of “information” on them. As I was looking at the slides later, I realized that I could easily digest and retain the explicit knowledge that the slides represented, but that I had absolutely no idea of the tacit knowledge that was created by the engineers in the process of preparing this presentation.

I’ve long considered explicit knowledge to be not much more than information (at least from an individual perspective). The content of these slides is, to me, information that I can use to further develop my own knowledge of the content. If you were to ask me a question about the system, I could tell you the information that was on the slides. I might, if I had good notes and recall that day, be able to tell you a little bit about how the information was derived.

I would “know” the information, but would I really know anything “about” the information?

Some similar thoughts from Frank Patrick in It’s More Than the Numbers:

It’s the logical analysis of situations — the understanding of cause-and-effect that results in what the numbers are saying — that lead to “improved business decisions.” … What helps round out the sufficiency is the application of logical analysis to provide a context for the quantitative analysis. You can’t run a business “by the numbers” alone.


Saw Practical Wisdom this morning. Denham discusses the new book Deep Smarts in which the authors “explore the cognitive and competency practices that enable swift decisions, explain master level experience and examine ways to transfer these exceptional skills.”

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