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.



2 thoughts on “Information, Knowledge, and Organizations

  1. “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.” I look forward to reading this because as someone who worked in a call center for 2.5 years, this is very much real to me. I trained people and I can attest to how hard it is to explain to someone (make tacit knowledge explicit) how to calm a customer down.

    You asked for a middle ground since you don’t quite believe tacit can become explicit because “even if people may share certain experiences, people do not share them in the exact same way”. I understand that totally. My middle ground suggestion is to lead by example. You’re not explicitly stating what to do but you are showing the other person how you do it so they can draw their own conclusions and absorb the parts of the show and tell that work for them.

    That’s how we trained people, by example, because not everyone does something the same exact way as someone else but you can take bits and pieces from others to form your own way. That’s just my two-cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is good — there’s quite a bit of emphasis in the literature on documented knowledge — but sometimes some forms of knowledge may only or more easily be shared through other means — like movement (e.g., pantomime).

      Liked by 1 person

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