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10 Examples of Tacit Knowledge

        posted by , June 27, 2016

We can know more than we can tell.
~ Michael Polanyi

Not all knowledge is created equally.

We think of knowledge as something that can be recorded in words, visualized and taught. However, this isn't always the case. Tacit knowledge is a class of knowledge that's difficult to communicate.

Definition: Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge is knowledge that's difficult to write down, visualize or transfer from one person to another.


Tacit knowledge is a particular challenge for knowledge management. Firms would like to prevent knowledge loss due to employee turnover. However, tacit knowledge almost always goes with the employee.

Tacit knowledge is essential to competitive advantage because it's difficult for competitors to copy. It's the reason some firms pump out innovation after innovation while other firms struggle.

The following examples are business critical knowledge that are difficult to write down, visualize and teach.


1. How to speak a language

It's notoriously difficult to write down the rules of a language. It's well accepted that learning a language requires immersion (using the language for long periods of time).


2. Innovation

Innovation is an illusive skill. Some individuals struggle with innovation for many decades with little success. Other individuals seem to innovate effortlessly for a period of time.


3. Leadership

Complex social skills such as leadership are difficult to teach. There's no process or training that can be guaranteed to make you a leader. Leadership extends from experience.


4. Aesthetic Sense

Aesthetics explains why art and culture is appealing. It's difficult to verbalize the appeal of a work of art. It's even more difficult to teach an aesthetic sense.

Aesthetic sense is ingrained in an individual's world view. It can be cultivated but not taught.

venus de boticelli


5. Sales

Sales is another complex social skill that's fairly difficult to teach. Great salespeople are commonly described as "naturals" because it's difficult to transfer the skill to others.


6. Body Language

Body language is incredibly important to communication. However, it's difficult to teach.


7. Intuition

Intuition is the ability to understand things without using logic. It's important to innovation and decision making.


8. Humor

It's not always possible to explain why something is funny. It's difficult to teach a sense of humor. For example, humor requires a particular timing that's considered intuitive.


9. Snowboarding

Tasks that require physical coordination such as riding a snowboard or bicycle are considered tacit knowledge.


10. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to read and use emotions to influence outcomes. It's difficult to teach or express.


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