Ming the Mechanic:
Tacit Knowledge

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Tacit Knowledge2002-12-29 22:03
by Flemming Funch

SmartMobs mentions these notes from a 2000 seminar on 'Clustering and Swarming as self-organising techniques in virtual communities', which is very interesting stuff. Specifically it talks about tacit knowledge and the fallacies involved with trying to manage and represent knowledge in any finite way. Hard to quote, because it is all good, but here, about what knowledge is:
"If the problems are large in defining human organisations in a behaviouristic way then we have to go to language and culture in order to make sense of them. 'Information space', or the realm of legitimate knowledge inside the language and the culture is 'multidimensional' - which means it can be cut up in many different ways. The problem of attribution is a social one and at the microlevel comes down to value judgments. It can be looked at the macrolevel in terms of the collective sympathy or resistance which determines whether or not an idea is taken up. Knowledge management is therefore not really about 'managing' the knowledge or skills which people have within an organisation but in 'making sense' of why something happened and trying to influence the future by such intelligence."
And here is an abbreviated version of the seven sins (mis-conceptions) of knowledge management:
  1. That knowledge can be managed [Too tacit, dynamic and complex]
  2. That organisations can be 'designed' [Real organizations are too complex and organic]
  3. The myth of the rational agent [People are not just motivated by data]
  4. Utilitarianism [People don't always do what they do because they expect a return]
  5. A belief in Utopia [The real world isn't made of glib generalizations]
  6. A belief in 'best practice' [Circumstances change]
  7. The organisation is merely a collection of individuals [Optimized individuals might not make an optimized organization]
The comments are mine. Read the real text which is better. Then, here's an example from IBM of how to use tacit knowledge:
"IBM now have a search engine called 'tacit' that can trawl the 'team rooms' on the intranet and pick up any key words that might give a clue to information on any current problem that they have. An e-mail is then sent requesting help and a task force can be quickly assembled. But privacy is respected in that only key words and not text are picked up. Also whether a person responds is up to them. If for example you are looking for an expert on 'story' you may not pick up David Snowden's but he gets informed that you are looking. If he knows that you are a person that's likely to steal his ideas he doesn't respond. If you're someone that he knows and trusts then he might phone. In a bureaucratic organisation the thief would prosper but in this kind of 'shadow' system he or she gets starved of the access to knowledge on which the exploitation depends."
And, from a comment on SmartMobs, here are some ideas behind the company Tacit's products:
  • Most knowledge lives in people's brains.
  • Most evidence of what each person knows lives in their email archives.
  • Knowledge flowing is more important that knowledge filed away.
  • Email archives provide opportunities for social network analysis (SNA) and social filtering.
  • People hate filling in complex forms.
  • People want control over sharing personal metadata (who I am and what I know).
Hm, lots of food for thought there. Essentially, rather than trying to constuct perfect structures for representing knowledge in some universally perfect way, mine tacit knowledge from more incidental information sources. Don't expect people to go and record it the right way themselves, but use indirect ways of figuring it out, based on what people do and say and who they interact with.

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Other stories in
2014-09-27 00:04: You must be an expert by now
2014-09-26 15:15: Brevity
2011-11-06 21:33: Counting what counts
2011-01-23 13:46: Authenticity
2010-08-23 01:31: Semantic Pauses
2010-06-27 02:28: Doubt
2009-10-25 17:04: Opinions, perceptions and intuition
2009-10-15 08:32: Abstraction
2008-06-29 16:47: Complicated and Complex
2008-02-20 16:39: The universe as a virtual reality

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