Codification and other such matters

I have focused more on tacit knowledge than explicit knowledge and codification. So, for this blog post, I decided to change it up a bit. Though, of course, one can never escape from tacit knowledge no matter how one may try. I had a hard time with this blog post so it’s a little all over the place so please ask any questions!

Cowan et al. (2000) and Kimble (2013)  both focus on codification especially in regards to economics. Incidentally,  though, most of their discussion revolves around tacit knowledge and developing it into explicit and codification. Cowan et. al. (2000) stated “tacit knowledge thus has come to signify an absolute type, namely ‘not codified knowledge'” (p. 212). At least this seemed to be the case with economists.  Cowan et. al. believe that tacit knowledge is not always inarticularable (which  Nonaka and Polanyi thought as well). Sometimes is just isn’t necessary to make it explicit. Most of their article revolves around the existence of a codebook and they focus more on codification than tacit knowledge itself. An important thing to note is that people must be able to read the codebook or its basically useless and knowledge remains tacit.

One thing I did find interesting was they saw one branch of knowledge where knowledge had been codified at one point, but the codebook had been lost. In a way, it becomes, paradoxically, tacit knowledge again. Of course this is simplifying it a bit. However, in the articles I have read so far, they have focused more on tacit knowledge becoming explicit (or they assume that can’t be done) and not really explicit knowledge becoming tacit (at least in some way). Can tacit knowledge be shared within a group without being explicit? That’s what they suggest, but I’m still not certain about this.  It would seem that the ties between explicit and tacit knowledge are much closer than would apparently seem at first.

As a side note:

In my first blog post, I talked about the difference between information and knowledge in regards to those articles I read for that post. Well, Cowan. had something to say about that as well so I figured I might as well include it here. For them information as “a message containing structured data, the receipt of which causes some action by the recipient agent” and knowledge is “the label affixed to the state of the agent’s entire cognitive context” (Cowan et. al., 2000, p. 216).

It just so happened that the other article I read for this post delved into the research done by Cowan et al. Kimble discusses much of what Cowan et al. talked about, specifically codification and tacit knowledge. Both Cowan et. al and Kimble discuss the importance of context when it comes to knowledge, both tacit and explicit. In fact, what may be tacit knowledge for one person may be explicit (codified) for another.

 According to Cowan et al. (2000) “context-temporal, spatial, cultural and social – become an important consideration in any discussion of codified knowledge”(p. 225).

Our knowledge depends on a variety of things such as our environment, experiences, and environment. Context also is important when considering what knowledge should become codified and what knowledge is not (Kimble, 2013, p. 9). Context is also something that has come up in the articles i have read so far. Codification is not always a given. It has limits and costs (along with benefits). They are dealing with economics in their articles and economists tend to have one view in mind when deciding to codify or not codify which is to look at costs and benefits and weighing the two.  Kimble (2013) suggests that this is not a complete picture. It sees knowledge as a dichotomy of tacit and explicit knowledge and nothing in between (Kimble, 2013, p. 10). Knowledge is much more complicated than that. There is more to it than tacit and explicit knowledge (although that would make it simpler. .. though maybe it would be more complicated?).

Kimble eventually concludes by saying that dealing with tacit and explicit knowledge separately is not always best because you need both of them in order to see the whole picture. This is also what Mary  suggests as well as she went on to say knowledge can be both tacit and explicit at the same time (which is pretty cool in my book).  In a sense they are different sides to the same coin and are closely intertwined more than may be immediately seen.

 

Cowan, R., David, P. A., & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial & Corporate Change, 9(2),

Kimble, C. (2013). Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge. Information Research, 18(2).

Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14-37.

Polanyi, M. and Sen, A. (2009). The tacit dimension. Univ. of Chicago Press.

 

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Knowledge Risk Management and the Challenger disaster

When tragic events happen that could have been prevented, we all want to know how and why they happened. One example is  that of the Challenger disaster. In 1986, a space shuttle called the Challenger blew up after takeoff killing those on board. In the aftermath, an investigation was done into the cause of the tragedy to see how and why it happened. Kumar and Chakrabarti look into this tragedy through the lens of bounded awareness and tacit knowledge as it pertains to decisions made by managements. Bounded awareness is experienced when decision makers “overlook relevant  and readily available information and take a decision that is either suboptimal or entirely erroneous” (Kumar and Chakrabarti, 2012, p. 935). We have all probably experienced bounded awareness at some point in our lives (at least, I know I have). We may not always make good decisions and often overlook or ignore information that could help us make optimal decisions.  Tacit knowledge, however, usually is seen in a more positive light as many see it as important to organizations. In the case of the Challenger tragedy, both tacit knowledge and bounded awareness affected the Challenger flight. Both the managers and engineers were aware of issues with the flight. However, that information were not considered a high threat, especially by the managers, so it was ignored and a decision was made that was erroneous (especially in hindsight).

Kumar and Chakrabarti (2012), “take it that managers approved the launch only because they genuinely did not perceive that the explicit information given to them by the engineers on the previous night about high failure likelihood was relevant” (p. 938).

According to Massingham (2010), knowledge can help move us toward more certainty which would help people make decisions, especially in risk management (p. 465).  The problem with knowledge, however, is that it can be very subjective. People do not always see risks in a logical way, and people have different perceptions of the world and the reality around them.  Our experiences and our tacit knowledge (which varies from person to person) affect how we see the world and the risks in our life. Even when people have the exact same knowledge, like the knowledge of the risks of the Challenger flight, that knowledge is seen through their specific lens. The managers had the same knowledge as the engineers, but whereas the engineers were concerned and told the managers they shouldn’t launch the flight, the managers did not view that knowledge in the same way because the engineers did not have hard proof and the stakeholders were determined the flight should go on as planned.

Now this is where this post is going to take a hard left to social and intellectual capital, for a little bit, but hopefully it will all come together in the end. According to Nahapiet and Ghoshal, “the central proposition of social capital theory is that networks of relationships constitute a valuable resource for the conduct of social affairs” (p. 243). Intellectual capital revolves around knowledge and the knowing capability of an organization. Both social and intellectual capital affect organizations and the decisions they make. In the organization involved in the Challenger flight, there were many relationships at play that could have had an impact on the decisions made about the Challenger flight. There was the relationship between the managers and the engineers (which seemed to be a good relationship) and the relationship between the managers and the stakeholders (the stakeholders were invested in the takeoff moving forward) and the relationship between the managers and the relationship between the engineers. Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1999) argue that “it is the interaction between social and intellectual capital that underpins organizational advantage” (p. 259).

Through these articles and the themes that showed up in them (and previous articles read) got me thinking about the value of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is typically seen as a hue asset to organizations. However, it seems as if tacit knowledge stays stagnant, rather than new knowledge being created (usually based on existing tacit knowledge), it can become  a detriment. That being said, our assumptions and biases and similar things may play more of an impact than our tacit knowledge. It is important to create new knowledge rather than just relying on existing knowledge.

How do we determine what knowledge and information is important? The managers had the right information to make a good decision but didn’t realize it was important. Of all the knowledge and information we have access to each day, how can we determine the necessary information  and knowledge to making the best decisions we can in each situation?

 

Kumar J, A., & Chakrabarti, A. (2012). Bounded awareness and tacit knowledge: Revisiting Challenger disaster. Journal of Knowledge Management, 16(6), 934-949.

Massingham, P. (2010). Knowledge risk management: A framework. Journal of Knowledge Management, 14(3), 464-485.

Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. The Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242-266.

 

Information, Knowledge, and Organizations

Information vs Knowledge

      In the articles I have been reading, one of the first issues discussed is the difference between information and knowledge. I must admit, I have never given much thought to this before. I have used information and knowledge interchangeably without thinking about it.  Through these articles, I think I have come to a better understanding of the difference. as well as the importance distinguishing the two (I think).   Information is received passively while knowledge interprets that information based on individual people and the contexts he or she grew up with and are living through now. This suggests that information and knowledge tend to be a process and information can turn into knowledge which can then turn into information. Tsoukas (2001) states that “knowledge is the individual ability to draw distinctions within a collective domain of action based on an appreciation of context or theory” (p. 979). Context is incredibly important in knowledge and information. Knowledge involves action whereas information is more passive. But a big question is why does it matter? Does it really matter knowing the difference (assuming there even is one) between information and knowledge? Alavi and Leidner as well as Nonaka believe that it is important since if there is no difference between information and knowledge, then there is nothing new to be discovered about knowledge.

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

So, now that we have a basic understanding of the difference between information and knowledge, the next theme revolves around different types of knowledge, specifically tacit and explicit. This is a topic that could be talked about for a long time. Tacit knowledge, in its most basic aspect, is knowledge that cannot be transmitted to anyone else. For example, when someone is teaching a pupil and has to show them instead of tell them because it is something difficult to express in words, that is tacit knowledge. I work in a public library, and I oftentimes have to resort to pointing to something to answer someone’s question. I like Tsoukas, example about how people in customer service (who have been in customer service a while)  know how to deal with certain customers. This is often, if not always, impossible to explain this knowledge to other people. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be transferred and codified.  In one aspect, Nonaka and Tsoukas, differ. Tsoukas, unlike Nonaka, does not believe that tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge (975) Nonaka believes that tacit knowledge can become explicit knowledge through shared experience and creative dialogue. However, I, personally, am inclined to lean towards Tsoukas view that tacit knowledge cannot be transformed into explicit knowledge. After all, even if people may share certain experiences, people do not share them in the exact same way. Maybe there is a middle ground. My question here is if tacit knowledge can be transformed into explicit knowledge, how does that happen exactly and are there some examples of that?

Knowledge and Organizations

I like how Alavi and Leidner (2001) describe knowledge as personalized information (109). Even Polanyi considers knowledge to be a personal thing. This lead me to a question: if knowledge is personal, how does that translate to organizational knowledge and knowledge shared by groups? What does that look like? The articles I chose to read for this blog post were all about organizational knowledge which makes this question more intriguing to me. Tsoukas, at the very beginning of the article, was concerned about this as well. Tsoukas questioned how individual knowledge becomes organizational knowledge (974).  In organizations, knowledge moves from individual to collective. This is more difficult than individual knowledge. After all, in an organization, people must be able to share experiences as well as interpretations of rules (for example). Organizations are made up of individuals and Nonaka suggests that individual’s knowledge (specifically tacit knowledge) must be grown in the organization through experience. But knowledge that stays with an individual does not help the organization, so it must be transferred to other members in the organization. Sharing knowledge, according to Alavi and Leidner, is important for organizations to grow. However, this could mean a huge shift in the way people think and work in their jobs. After all, many are used to hoarding their information so they can move up in an organization. All these articles suggest that collaboration and knowledge creation and sharing are incredibly important in a thriving organization. Figuring out how best to share individual knowledge, specifically tacit knowledge, is important, but is it possible?


Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. E. (2001). Knowledge management and knowledge management systems: Conceptual foundations and research issues. MIS Quarterly, 25(1), 107-136.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14-37.

Polanyi, Michael. (2009). The tacit dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1966)

Tsoukas, H. (2001). What is organizational knowledge. Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 973-993.