Tacit Knowledge in Management Studies: The Great Misunderstanding

Tacit knowledge in the SECI model

As mentioned earlier, ‘tacit knowledge’ has become very popular in management studies since the middle 1990s, thanks, to a large extent, to Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995) influential The Knowledge-Creating Company. The cornerstone of Nonaka and Takeuchi’s theory of organizational knowledge creation (the so-called SECI model) is the notion of ‘knowledge conversion’—how tacit knowledge is ‘converted’ to explicit knowledge, and vice versa (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995: 61). The authors distinguish four modes of knowledge conversion: from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge (socialization); from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge (externalization); from explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge (combination); and from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge (internalization). Tacit knowledge is converted to tacit knowledge through observation, imitation, and practice, in those cases where an apprentice learns from a master. Tacit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge when it is articulated through concepts, models, hypotheses, metaphors, and analogies. Explicit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge when different bodies of explicit knowledge are combined. And explicit knowledge is converted into tacit knowledge when it is first verbalized and then absorbed and internalized by the individuals involved.

The organizational knowledge creation process proceeds in cycles (in a spiral-like ...

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