Wednesday, December 10, 2008


One of the discussion points in my dissertation research involves the distinction between knowing how to do things (i.e., perform a task) and knowing how to get things done. At the agency where I work, for instance, we lost Grant of the Superpowers some years back. Grant was our "purchasing guy": apart from knowing how to fill out paperwork, Grant also knew who to call if you needed a check cut on a day not in the cycle, how to get stalled paperwork off someone's desk and back into the system, and which vendors would most likely extend agreements without lots of additional rigamarole. He knew how to get things done, and unfortunately, when he left he took that with him. And we haven't recovered yet.

As we shift to global transactions and face the coming exodus of Baby Boomers from the workplace businesses worry about capturing tacit knowlege. We usually mean skills --how to do things--and so far we continue to struggle even with that.

How will we capture the ways to get things done?


Anonymous said...

I'm always in tune with this kind of distinction, Jane. I tried a slight twist on one of my favorite maxims ("behavior is a verb, accomplishment is a noun") in a blog post earlier this week -- in part because I've been working my way through Rummler and Brache's Improving Performance.

In some ways, tacit knowledge is the result of explicit knowledge put to work. Getting that done systematically and tracking what happened is quite an accomplishment in itself.

Jeffrey Keefer said...

Jane, one of the things that first came to my mind when I read your post is how that tacit knowledge (the focus, I believe, of many of the failed knowledge management initiatives) is often not recognized as an asset until it is gone.

This tacit knowledge is not easily transferred, it seems, as it is not a skill set (since it is called knowledge (cf. KSA (knowledge, skills, attitudes) as the 3 domains of learning in ISD theory). I wonder if or how it could be reproduced, if at all, without a great deal of effort that may be more costly and resource-intensive than the tacit knowledge itself.


Jane Bozarth said...

Hi, Jeffrey. I think you're right that orgs don't value tacit knowledge until it's gone (as with my example of Grant). Another problem I see, though, is that orgs do not recognize as "knowledge" anything that can't be put into a database as a discrete piece of data. If they can't harness it, then it ain't worth having...until it's gone.