What is organizational knowledge? To put it simply, it’s all of the knowledge within an organization that’s beneficial to employees and the overall business. Specific organizational knowledge comes from shared experiences across a company or a team within it.
Organizational knowledge is the lifeblood of successful businesses. Without it, many situations, processes, and even challenges would be treated as a new experience, meaning companies would have to start from scratch every time. In recent surveys, results revealed how challenges around information accessibility negatively impact employees and their productivity.
42% of the skills needed to perform a job satisfactorily are held exclusively by the employee currently doing the job. If they leave, nearly half of the necessary expertise to capably handle their job goes with them. And, whoever steps into that role next has to learn all of that information from scratch.
Types of Knowledge
Organizational knowledge is any piece of data or information gained by the company (via collective individual experience) beneficial to the organization and those within it. The broadness of this term means you can break it down into more specific types of organizational knowledge. These types of knowledge include explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge, and implicit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is any organizational knowledge easily explained and articulated to ensure the person learning it understands. It is the simplest type of knowledge to codify, store, and access as needed. It is frequently stored in media and can be transmitted to individuals or audiences without hassle. It’s complementary tacit knowledge.
An example of explicit knowledge is anything contained in an encyclopedia or textbook. For a more day-to-day example, imagine driving in an unfamiliar location and getting lost. Fortunately, you have a friend who’s familiar with the area. You call them, and they tell you specific directions to help you get to your location.
Tacit knowledge is knowledge gained through personal experience, unique ideas, and skills won through a process of trial and error. Tacit knowledge is less formal than explicit knowledge and isn’t typically codified. As a result, it is nearly impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t learned it themselves via similar experiences.
Take color, for example. Anyone with intact color vision has a clear understanding of what colors look like. If someone laid out differently colored markers and asked you to say which ones are which, you would likely be able to do so without reading the labels. Colors are simple, and we’ve understood them from a young age.
Now, think of a way to explain colors to a person who has been color blind from birth and has never experienced sight or color for themselves. Suddenly your understanding of colors has become a lot more complicated, hasn’t it?
This is an example of tacit knowledge. The ability to understand and know about a topic because you have experienced it yourself, despite not being able to verbalize the concept to an individual who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.
Implicit knowledge is similar to tacit knowledge, and the two are sometimes considered the same. However, there is a crucial difference. Both are typically gained without realizing you’re learning, but implicit knowledge can be communicated and explained to someone without experience, whereas tacit knowledge cannot be.
Despite implicit knowledge being easily communicated, it rarely ever is because this knowledge is so universal it is assumed that everyone knows it and therefore does not have to be told. It’s typically communicated without indirectly, leading an individual to their own conclusion. This concept is sometimes referred to as “beating around the bush.”
For example, if you were about to touch or set something on a stove and someone said, “Careful, that’s on,” you would stop because, despite not being told directly, you know it will be hot, which means touching it hurts and setting something on it could start a fire.