Articulating Tacit Knowledge

Even if the above is accepted, we still need to address a nagging question: how are we to understand Tanaka’s concept of ‘twisting stretch,’ which turned out to be so crucial for the making of Matsushita’s bread-making machine? If this concept did not help ‘convert’ tacit to explicit knowledge, what did it do? Or, to put it more generally, does the ineffability of skilled performance imply that we cannot talk about it? That the skills involved in, say, bread making, managing, teaching, selling, diagnosing patients, and so on will ultimately be mystical experiences outside the realm of reasoned inquiry? Are there ways to improve a practical activity if its core remains ineffable?

As argued earlier, a socio-material practice provides its members with an inarticulate background against which practitioners make focal sense of their particular tasks. When socialized in a practice, its members learn how to use the key distinctions that define it (for example, what constitutes competence, orientation to time, relations to others, etc.) (Tsoukas, 2009a: 943; 2010: 50; Yanow and Tsoukas, 2009: 1349–50). Through engagement in the world of their practice, its members acquire familiarity with it, which, later, they may seek to formulate explicitly in thought. Hatsopoulos and Hatsopoulos (1999: 144–5), for example, describe how, through trial and error, they discovered the usefulness of certain business principles, such as an empathic approach to employees, seeking ...

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