if you can’t share tacit knowledge, you must use it or lose it
Posted by contentgrrl on November 2, 2007
Somehow, geniuses and inventors may be unable to articulate or write up why they make the connections that they do, but the greatest find a way to apply and manifest their tacit knowledge into discoveries and deliverables that fill a need.
Certainly, people learn explicit things in school or in books or other media, but don’t apply it, and soon forget. Hands-on practice and shared stories and experiences and culture make up parts of tacit knowledge. They give our brains the hooks on which to hang new information. And without that tacit experience, the new information is less likely to stay.
I may have learned some basic vocabulary and syntax for Spanish and French years ago, but since I don’t read, write, and hold conversations in those languages regularly, I’m by no means fluent, much less eloquent or inspiring. No, let me just admit it: I’m almost completely incoherent outside of English, other than a few phrases like “Hola, como estas? Lo siento. Yo soy muy bien, gracias. Buenas dias…” (Hello, how are you? I’m sorry. I’m very well, thank you. Good Day…). Oh, and “Frijoles Frio” (loosely, Cool Beans).
Same goes for programming; I may have learned the basic syntax and objects of a scripting language, but if I don’t have to code real projects every week, I’m not going to get very good at it, much less create something new and elegant.
Same goes for piano; I can tell once my brain has made a more fluent connection between the notes on the page or in my head and my hand’s motions on the keys and the sound waves in my ears. But that neural connection and fluency is not something that you can transfer to someone else on paper. It takes good old hands-on practice.
Same goes for drawing animation. And selling. And negotiating. And diagnosing and treating disease.
That’s why apprenticeships, internships, mentors, and job specialization have been so important in the history of civilization.
That’s another reason why hands-on practice, varied learning methods, and experienced teachers are so important to education and training.
That’s why it’s important to create an organizational culture that encourages trust, lasting connections, and a balanced mix of cross-functional collaboration and forward-driving competition.