Tacit vs. Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is knowledge that you can get out of a book, or a video, or a web page. It is A-B-C, 1-2-3, step-by-step knowledge. This is the knowledge found on Wikipedia, and similar resources like user guides, user manuals, and other books. This is the knowledge most of us understand from school, and other formal learning.

Tacit knowledge requires proximity and experience. It is not readily converted into book form. Knowledge about how to make sausage is a good example. You learn to do it by watching and by doing. Usually, you need a little coaching. It requires that you are communicating with someone that is watching you and coaching as you gain experience and competency.

On teams that build complex products, much of the team knowledge is of this tacit type. Having proximity to the engineers and testers, and listening and watching others who are competent in the craft is how you learn here. It is like watching sausage being made. Difficult differences and unsightly mistakes are part of the recipe in tacit knowledge creation.

Knowledge creation, like sausage making, can be difficult to watch.



Usually, substantial knowledge is held by the people in a team, the tribe or the enterprise. The knowledge– technical and cultural– is tacit.

A culture is this very real thing, yet it defies description. When you are in it, you are of it, and it affects you, and you get it. Yet it is hard to describe in writing or even to verbalize. The culture of a team, tribe or organization is the set of assumptions, the set of beliefs that are collectively held. It is not easy to reduce this to explicit knowledge.

You must “go to the gemba”, and visit, and get proximity to get a feel for what a team believes and understands about itself. Even then, explaining it accurately to someone else is tough.

In my book The Culture Game, I document a step-by-step, explicit-knowledge framework for scaling Agile, from teams to tribes. The book is intended as an A-B-C,  how-to manual, for the typical manager in the typical organization who wants to spread the essence of Agile. That essence is organizational (what I call triballearning.