Tacit Knowledge Helps to Differentiate the Brightest Organizations
We can know more than we can tell - Michael Polanyi
The rise of the internet, advances in mobile technologies, online communications and collaboration tools have revolutionized the way we work, who we work with, and the way we serve our customers.
Michael Polanyi, in his book Personal Knowledge[i], suggests that human’s intellectual superiority over animals is due to our linguistic capabilities…” What’s left he called tacit knowledge - information that’s difficult to transfer to others. Examples of tacit knowledge include things like experience, perspective, and intuition. What we consider tacit knowledge today may someday be codified. Think of the jump from cave paintings to movable type to Skype.
As Walter Isaacson points out in his book, The Innovators, “Just as combining the steam engine with ingenious machinery drove the Industrial Revolution, the combination of the computer and distribute networks led to a digital revolution that allowed anyone to create, disseminate, and access any information anywhere.”[ii]
We continue to learn how to organize, classify, categorize, organize and publish new thinking. We live in an amazing time in history where a device in a pocket can access generations of human knowledge, and the richness and depth grows every second.
But what of the tacit knowledge?
It is the tacit knowledge that will distinguish diverse teams as the creative leaders of the 21st century. One of the most important lessons from the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant is the importance of multiple perspectives.
The most successful organizations will be comprised of diverse team members. Gender, ethnic, generational, cultural and skills-based differences are important to consider to build the most inspired teams.
When snowflakes – each one unique - first hit the bare ground, they melt. Eventually, the ground cools, and the snowflakes begin to join together to alter their environment. When unique people are first immersed in a new environment, they are pressured to melt into the existing culture - change is hard and requires time – but eventually, the uniqueness starts to influence and alter the landscape. The change that is rooted in the tacit knowledge of the new participants is what makes diverse teams great.
Here are a few recommendations for building and retaining a diverse and inclusive organization:
· Attract diverse candidates by publicly sharing the desire to build diverse teams.
· Deliberating design positions to attract diverse candidates.
· Vary the makeup of candidates in interviewing for open positions.
· Mentor new employees to teach organizational culture.
· Develop a strong culture of trust.
· Give employees freedom to experiment.
· Set goals for employee retention rates (ie: 100%).
· Encourage open sharing with others.
· Praise publicly, correct privately.
· Be transparent with plans and encourage all employees to contribute.
· Reward organizational citizenship behaviors such as altruism, courtesy, conscientiousness, civic virtue, and sportsmanship.[iii]
· Encourage storytelling and sharing anecdotes – work and non-work related.
· Socialize the desirable and undesirable attributes of the organization’s culture.
· This is a continuing look at the influence of diversity on creativity and innovation – more in Question Uniformity.
[i] Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Polyani, Michael, p. 70.