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What is Tacit Knowledge?

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‘Know-how’, ‘intuition’ and ‘intuition’ are all ways of describing the kind of knowledge that can only be learned through experience

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to know things like what to do or say in certain situations? Like having an intuition you can’t learn from books? I see, it’s tacit knowledge.

The knowledge you acquire during your career is one of your most important assets as an employee. Conversely, the collective knowledge of team members is one of an organization’s most valuable assets. The transfer of knowledge and skills between employees is essential to the success of any company. However, there are different types of knowledge, each of which is acquired in different ways.

This blog explores the elusive nature of tacit knowledge.

What are the 3 types of knowledge?

There are three types of knowledge: explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge, and tacit knowledge. What defines them is how that knowledge can be transferred or acquired. Explicit knowledge can be written down and passed on to someone else, tacit knowledge is the practical application of explicit knowledge, and tacit knowledge is acquired through personal experience. It cannot be written down or described verbally, as it is acquired only through experience.

Life often demands that all three kinds of knowledge work in constant intermingling. For example, the ability to speak a foreign language, cook, negotiate, sell, design, and build requires both distinct knowledge and difficult-to-explain skills.

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Explicit knowledge

Explicit knowledge is documented information. This is information about mathematics, measurements, laws, chemical formulas, data sets, sales figures, market research, and more. But it’s also the internal structure of a company that can be taken over by training manuals, such as protocols, regulations and procedural procedures.

Explicit knowledge is easy to capture, articulate and share. If it can be written down in a textbook, white paper, or spreadsheet, it’s explicit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is applied information. It is developed by applying explicit knowledge and absorbing the results of that experience. Learning to ride a bicycle is a good example of tacit knowledge. Someone may have told you how to pedal to go forward, but only through experience can you tell how hard you pedal to reach a certain speed or how much you need to hit the brakes to stop.

Tacit knowledge is often acquired without the person being aware that learning is taking place. It takes a lot of effort, but in some situations, tacit knowledge can be documented. Best practices, for example, are tacit knowledge gained through experience, but can be documented and communicated.

Tacit knowledge

The word “implicit” means “to know without being told”. “Tacit knowledge” is the knowledge that is comprehensible information. In other words, it is the knowledge that is difficult to express or extract, and is therefore more difficult to convey to others in writing or orally.

We are talking about knowledge, skills, and abilities gained from personal direct experience. Tacit knowledge can take the form of personal wisdom, experience, insight, or intuition. This is similar to tacit knowledge, but with a slightly different nuance. What sets an expert apart is that je-ne-sais-quoi. The term “know-how” is often used to refer to tacit knowledge. This is because there are skills that individuals possess and they may not be able to explain how they know what they know.

To illustrate the difference, let’s play the guitar. Knowing that a guitar has 6 strings and a specific chord structure is explicit knowledge. Being able to arrange those chords to play a song is tacit knowledge. The right way to bend a blues riff, which finger transitions the fastest, or how to “feel” a downbeat are all tacit.

Explicit: the “what” of the information.

    • Easily documented and taught
    • rule, regulation, fact
Implicit: The “how” of the action taken.
Implicit: The ‘why’ of expertise.

    • can only be learned through experience
    • pattern recognition, judgment, intuition, perceptual bias

Examples of tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge comes in many forms. Let’s look at some of them.


Intuition is what we know, or believe we know, based on instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning. It is an innate ability to understand situations. Intuition is usually based on years of experience, but it can also be instinctive in nature. It can be very useful in your business. for example,

    • You can feel the exact moment when someone is ready to listen to your pitch
    • Know the most influential words to use in your copy to engage your audience
    • Know the specific content or products you offer your customers
    • Sensing when it’s appropriate to take bigger risks

Even if your intuition was put into practice, it can be difficult to explain to someone outside your industry how you knew to make those choices.


Leadership competencies include complex social skills. Great leaders have a set of soft skills developed through experience, such as communication and emotional intelligence.

Leadership skills can be difficult to teach. There are workshops, tools, and trainings for developing managerial skills that are most effective in developing the innate ability of natural leaders to lead. Effective leadership comes from experience, expertise, problem-solving, and the ability to take risks and absorb results. It may be possible to list the qualities of a good leader, but those skills are built through exposure and personality.

Sense of humor

“You can’t teach anything funny,” they say. Having a sense of humor means being able to see things from a brighter or ironic perspective. It’s about finding things that make people laugh, knowing when to do it, and not just joking, but joking.

The elusive nature of humor makes it difficult to explain why something is funny. You can learn the structure of a joke, but a true sense of humor requires situational awareness and emotional intelligence. Simply knowing whether or not to joke in a situation requires an implicit understanding of the social situation.

A sense of humor is inherently instinctive, but it can be improved and is worth the effort. At work, humor can defuse tension and lighten meetings.

Why is tacit knowledge necessary for companies?

When skilled employees leave the company, they take all their tacit knowledge with them. If the company fails to transfer its expertise to other team members, it can be difficult to fill in that knowledge gap.


Language rules and structures can be taught as explicit knowledge. But the nuances of word choice and the sensibilities of comprehension depend on how much we use the language, how we make mistakes in it, how well we engage in dialogue with it, and how our word choices affect our listeners emotionally. It is a linguistic “concept” that operates at an implicit level of comprehension.

Imagine how a child learns their mother tongue. They experience language interactions and their consequences long before they know grammatical rules.

Organizations are always looking for ways to capture that tacit knowledge so that other employees can understand the “why” of how their best employees make decisions. However, this effort usually seems beyond documentation.

Explicit knowledge is codified and easily transmitted over long distances. Someone can write a book or distribute a memo. However, tacit knowledge transfer requires close interaction and shared understanding and trust building. It’s incredibly personal. You need an environment to share knowledge through dialogue, coaching, and open forums.

Looking for insights to deepen your business knowledge? Check out our library of career advancement and skill development blogs. 

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