Tacit Knowledge

Definition of Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge is the personal, experiential, and intuitive knowledge individuals acquire over time through practice, observation, and interaction. It is often difficult to articulate or formalize and is typically shared through informal means, such as apprenticeships, mentorships, or on-the-job training. Tacit knowledge is an essential component of a person's overall knowledge and expertise, and it complements explicit knowledge, which is more easily documented and shared through written or verbal communication.


The purpose of tacit knowledge is to provide individuals with the practical know-how, intuition, and insights necessary for effective problem-solving, decision-making, and innovation. Tacit knowledge is particularly valuable in complex or uncertain situations where explicit knowledge may be insufficient or unavailable.


Tacit knowledge plays a crucial role in the overall knowledge and expertise of individuals and organizations. It can contribute to a competitive advantage by providing unique insights, problem-solving skills, and creative solutions that are not easily replicated by competitors. In addition, tacit knowledge can help organizations adapt to new situations, learn from experience, and foster a culture of innovation.


Tacit knowledge can be broken down into several components, including:

  • Personal skills and intuition: The ability to perform tasks, solve problems, and make decisions based on experience, intuition, and personal judgment.
  • Context-specific insights: Knowledge and understanding specific to a particular situation, environment, or context.
  • Shared mental models: Implicit, shared understandings among team members or individuals within an organization that influence how they perceive and interpret information.
  • Cultural and social norms: Unwritten rules, values, and expectations that guide behavior and decision-making within a group or organization.


Tacit knowledge is essential because it provides individuals and organizations with valuable insights, skills, and expertise that are not easily captured or replicated through explicit knowledge. This can lead to a competitive advantage and enable organizations to adapt, innovate, and respond effectively to changing circumstances.


The concept of tacit knowledge was first introduced by the Hungarian-British scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi in his 1958 book "Personal Knowledge." Polanyi argued that all knowledge has a tacit component, which cannot be fully articulated or separated from the knower. Since then, the concept of tacit knowledge has been further developed and studied in various fields, including organizational theory, knowledge management, and innovation studies.


  • Provides unique insights, skills, and expertise that are not easily replicated by competitors.
  • Enhances problem-solving, decision-making, and innovation capabilities.
  • Supports adaptation and learning in complex or uncertain situations.
  • Fosters a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within organizations.

Pros and Cons


  • Contributes to a competitive advantage by providing unique and valuable insights and expertise.
  • Enhances an organization's ability to adapt, innovate, and respond effectively to change.
  • Supports the development of strong organizational culture and shared mental models.


  • Difficult to articulate, document, and share, which can make it challenging to manage and leverage effectively.
  • May be susceptible to loss when experienced employees leave the organization or retire.


  • An experienced chef's ability to create new recipes based on their intuition and understanding of flavors and ingredients, without relying on explicit recipes or guidelines.
  • A seasoned project manager's ability to navigate complex situations and make effective decisions based on their experience and understanding of team dynamics, stakeholder interests, and project constraints.
  • The unwritten rules and shared values that guide behavior and decision-making within a successful sports team or organizational culture.

In conclusion, tacit knowledge is an essential component of an individual's and organization's overall knowledge and expertise. It encompasses personal skills, intuition, context-specific insights, shared mental models, and cultural norms that are difficult to articulate or formalize. Tacit knowledge plays a critical role in problem-solving, decision-making, innovation, and adaptation to change. By recognizing, fostering, and effectively managing tacit knowledge, organizations can gain a competitive advantage, enhance their ability to adapt and innovate, and create a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

See Also