Tacit knowledge or implicit knowledge—as opposed to formalized, codified or explicit knowledge—is knowledge that is difficult to express or extract; therefore it is more difficult to transfer to others by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. This can include motor skills, personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition.[1]

For example, knowing that London is in the United Kingdom is a piece of explicit knowledge; it can be written down, transmitted, and understood by a recipient. In contrast, the ability to speak a language, ride a bicycle, knead dough, play a musical instrument, or design and use complex equipment requires all sorts of knowledge which is not always known explicitly, even by expert practitioners, and which is difficult or impossible to explicitly transfer to other people.



The term tacit knowing is attributed to Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge (1958).[2] In his later work, The Tacit Dimension (1966), Polanyi made the assertion that "we can know more than we can tell."[3] He states not only that there is knowledge that cannot be adequately articulated by verbal means, but also that all knowledge is rooted in tacit knowledge. While this concept made most of its impact on philosophy of science, education and knowledge management—all fields involving humans—it was also, for Polanyi, a means to show humankind's evolutionary continuity with animals. Polanyi describes that many animals are creative, some even have mental representations, but can only possess tacit knowledge.[4] This excludes humans, however, who developed the capability of articulation and therefore can transmit partially explicit knowledge. This relatively modest difference then turns into a big practical advantage, but there is no unexplained evolutionary gap.


Tacit knowledge can be defined as skills, ideas and experiences that are possessed by people but are not codified and may not necessarily be easily expressed.[5] With tacit knowledge, people are not often aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others. Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact, regular interaction,[6] and trust. This kind of knowledge can only be revealed through practice in a particular context and transmitted through social networks.[7] To some extent it is "captured" when the knowledge holder joins a network or a community of practice.[6]

Some examples of daily activities and tacit knowledge are: riding a bike, playing the piano, driving a car, hitting a nail with a hammer,[8] putting together pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle, and interpreting a complex statistical equation.[5]

In the field of knowledge management, the concept of tacit knowledge refers to knowledge that cannot be fully codified. An individual can acquire tacit knowledge without language. Apprentices, for example, work with their mentors and learn craftsmanship not only through language but also by observation, imitation, and practice.

The key to acquiring tacit knowledge is experience. Without some form of shared experience, it is extremely difficult for people to share each other's thinking processes.[9]


Tacit knowledge can be divided according to the terrain. Terrains affect the process of changing tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. Terrains are of three kinds:

Embodied knowledge

Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” as opposed to “know-what” (facts).[1] This distinction between “know-how” and “know-what” is considered to date back to a 1945 paper by Gilbert Ryle given to the Aristotelian Society in London.[11] In his paper, Ryle argues against the (intellectualist) position that all knowledge is knowledge of Propositions (“know-what”), and therefore the view that some knowledge can only be defined as “know-how”. Ryle's argument has, in some contexts, come to be called "anti-intellectualist". There are further distinctions such as "know-why" (science) or "know-who" (networking).[citation needed]

Tacit knowledge involves learning and skill but not in a way that can be written down. On this account, knowing-how or “embodied knowledge” is characteristic of the expert, who acts, makes judgments, and so forth without explicitly reflecting on the principles or rules involved. The expert works without having a theory of his or her work; he or she just performs skillfully without deliberation or focused attention.[7] Embodied knowledge represents a learned capability of a human body's nervous and endocrine systems.[12]

Differences from explicit knowledge

Although it is possible to distinguish conceptually between explicit and tacit knowledge, they are not separate and discrete in practice.[9] The interaction between these two modes of knowing is vital for the creation of new knowledge.[13]

Tacit knowledge can be distinguished from explicit knowledge in three major areas:[2]

The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience. There is a view against the distinction, where it is believed that all propositional knowledge (knowledge that) is ultimately reducible to practical knowledge (knowledge how).[14]

Nonaka–Takeuchi model

Main article: SECI model of knowledge dimensions

Ikujiro Nonaka proposed a model of knowledge creation that explains how tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge, both of which can be converted into organisational knowledge.[15] While introduced by Nonaka in 1990,[16] the model was further developed by Hirotaka Takeuchi and is thus known as the Nonaka–Takeuchi model.[15][17] In this model, tacit knowledge is presented variously as uncodifiable ("tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified") and codifiable ("transforming tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is known as codification"). This ambiguity is common in the knowledge management literature.

Assuming that knowledge is created through the interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge, the Nonaka–Takeuchi model postulates four different modes of knowledge conversion:[15]

  1. from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge, or socialization;
  2. from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, or externalization;
  3. from explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge, or combination; and
  4. from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge, or internalization.

Nonaka's view may be contrasted with Polanyi's original view of "tacit knowing". Polanyi believed that while declarative knowledge may be needed for acquiring skills, it is unnecessary for using those skills once the novice becomes an expert. Indeed, it does seem to be the case that, as Polanyi argued, when people acquire a skill, they acquire a corresponding understanding that defies articulation.[7]


See also


  1. ^ a b "Tacit and Explicit Knowledge | Key Concepts in Information and Knowledge Management". www.tlu.ee. Retrieved 2021-04-15.
  2. ^ a b Polanyi, Michael. 1958. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-67288-3.
  3. ^ Polanyi, Michael. 1966. The Tacit Dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 4.
  4. ^ Héder, Mihály; Paksi, Daniel (2018). "Non-Human Knowledge According to Michael Polanyi". Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical. 44 (1): 50–66. doi:10.5840/traddisc20184418.
  5. ^ a b Chugh, Ritesh (2015). "Do Australian Universities Encourage Tacit Knowledge Transfer?". Proceedings of the 7th International Joint Conference on Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management. pp. 128–135. doi:10.5220/0005585901280135. ISBN 978-989-758-158-8.
  6. ^ a b Goffin, K.; Koners, U. (2011). "Tacit Knowledge, Lessons Learnt, and New Product Development". Journal of Product Innovation Management. 28 (2): 300–318. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5885.2010.00798.x.
  7. ^ a b c Schmidt, Frank L.; Hunter, John E. (February 1993). "Tacit Knowledge, Practical Intelligence, General Mental Ability, and Job Knowledge". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2 (1): 8–9. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770456. S2CID 145203923.
  8. ^ Engel, P. J. H. (2008). "Tacit knowledge and Visual Expertise in Medical Diagnostic Reasoning: Implications for medical education". Medical Teacher. 30 (7): e184–e188. doi:10.1080/01421590802144260. PMID 18777417.
  9. ^ a b Lam, Alice (May 2000). "Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework". Organization Studies. 21 (3): 487–513. doi:10.1177/0170840600213001. S2CID 146466393.
  10. ^ M., Collins, Harry (2013). Tacit and explicit knowledge. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-00421-1. OCLC 871293266.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Ryle, Gilbert (1945). "Knowing How and Knowing That: The Presidential Address". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 46: 1–16. doi:10.1093/aristotelian/46.1.1. JSTOR 4544405.
  12. ^ Sensky, Tom (2002). "Knowledge Management". Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 8 (5): 387–395. doi:10.1192/apt.8.5.387.
  13. ^ Angioni, Giulio (2011). Fare, dire, sentire: l'identico e il diverso nelle culture [Doing, saying, feeling: the identical and the different in cultures] (in Italian). Il maestrale. pp. 26–99. ISBN 978-88-6429-020-1.
  14. ^ Hetherington, S, (2011) How to Know: A Practicalist Conception of Knowledge, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 9780470658123.[page needed]
  15. ^ a b c d Nonaka, Ikujiro, and Hirotaka Takeuchi. 1995. The Knowledge-creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509269-1. Available at the Internet Archive (registration required).
  16. ^ Nonaka, Ikujiro. 1990. Management of Knowledge Creation. Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbun-sha.
  17. ^ Xu, F. 2013. "The Formation and Development of Ikujiro Nonaka's Knowledge Creation Theory. Pp. 60-76 in Towards Organizational Knowledge: The Pioneering Work of Ikujiro Nonaka, edited by G. von Krogh, et al. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  18. ^ Polanyi, Michael. [1966] 1983. The Tacit Dimension. Gloucester: Doubleday & Company Inc. p. 4.
  19. ^ Collins, H. M. (February 2001). "Tacit Knowledge, Trust and the Q of Sapphire" (PDF). Social Studies of Science. 31 (1): 71–85. doi:10.1177/030631201031001004. S2CID 145429576.
  20. ^ Collins, Harry M. 2010. Tacit and Explicit Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226113807.
  21. ^ Gordon, J.E. The new science of strong materials. Penguin books.[page needed]
  22. ^ Toscani, Giulio (2023). "The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for artificial intelligence practitioners: The decrease in tacit knowledge sharing". Journal of Knowledge Management. 27 (7): 1871–1888. doi:10.1108/JKM-07-2022-0574.

Further reading