Approaches to Knowledge Management Practice

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“Tacit Knowledge” versus “Explicit Knowledge”
Approaches to Knowledge Management Practice
by

Ron Sanchez
Professor of Management, Copenhagen Business School
and
Linden Visiting Professor for Industrial Analysis, Lund University Contact information:
Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy
Solbjergvej 3 - 3rd floor
DK 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark
email: sanchez@cbs.dk

Abstract
This paper explains two fundamental approaches to knowledge management. The tacit knowledge approach emphasizes understanding the kinds of knowledge that individuals in an organization have, moving people to transfer knowledge within an organization, and managing key individuals as knowledge creators and carriers. By contrast, the explicit knowledge approach emphasizes processes for articulating knowledge held by individuals, the design of organizational approaches for creating new knowledge, and the development of systems (including information systems) to disseminate articulated knowledge within an organization. The relative advantages and disadvantages of both approaches to knowledge management are summarized. A synthesis of tacit and knowledge management approaches is recommended to create a hybrid design for the knowledge management practices in a given organization.

JEL code: Moo
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Introduction

Managers concerned with implementing knowledge management in their organizations today face a number of challenges in developing sound methods for this still emerging area of management practice. Both the growing literature on knowledge management and the advice offered by various knowledge management consultants, however, seem to advocate forms of knowledge management practice that often appear incomplete, inconsistent, and even contradictory. This paper suggests that the current lack of coherence in the diverse recommendations for knowledge management practice results from the fact that the development of both theory and practice in this emerging field is being driven by two fundamentally different approaches to identifying and managing knowledge in organizations. These two approaches are characterized here as the “tacit knowledge” approach and the “explicit knowledge” approach. This paper first clarifies how these two fundamental approaches differ in both their philosophical premises and derived recommendations for practice, and it summarizes the main strengths and weaknesses of each of the two approaches in practice. We then suggest that sound knowledge management practice requires a creative synthesis of the two approaches that enables the strengths of one approach to offset the inherent limitations of the other approach, and vice versa.

1. Tacit Knowledge versus Explicit Knowledge Approaches

Even a casual review of the many articles and consulting recommendations on knowledge management practice today soon reveals a plethora of recommended processes and techniques. Unfortunately -- especially for the many managers looking to researchers and consultants for insights to guide development of sound knowledge

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management practices -- many of these recommendations seem unconnected to each other, and in the worst cases many seem to be quite at odds with each other. Close analysis of these recommendations, however, usually reveals that the many ideas for practice being advanced today can be grouped into one of two fundamentally different views of knowledge itself and of the resulting possibilities for managing knowledge in organizations. These two views are characterized here as the “tacit knowledge” approach and the “explicit knowledge” approach. Let us consider the basic premises and the possibilities for knowledge management practice implied by each of these two views (see Table 1 for a summary of the differences in the two approaches).

The Tacit Knowledge Approach
The salient characteristic of the tacit knowledge approach is the basic belief that knowledge is essentially personal in nature and is therefore...
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