Unveiling the Dimensions of Knowledge and Knowledge Conversion in Organizations


Dilanka Wickramasinghe


In the dynamic landscape of organizations, knowledge is the key to innovation, growth, and success. Knowledge comes in two primary forms: Tacit Knowledge, which is deeply rooted in experience and action, and Explicit Knowledge, which is formal and systematic, easily communicated through specifications and formulae. Understanding these dimensions of knowledge and how they are managed and converted within organizations is crucial for achieving optimal effectiveness.

Tacit Knowledge: The Power of Experience

Tacit Knowledge is the wisdom that resides within individuals, gained through practical experience and embodied in their actions. Examples of Tacit Knowledge at the individual level include cross-cultural negotiation skills, riding a bicycle, auditing expertise, understanding mathematical concepts, and proficiency in using company software. These skills and insights are not easily articulated or formalized, making them difficult to pass on to others.

Explicit Knowledge: Systematizing for Efficiency

On the other hand, Explicit Knowledge is formal, tangible, and can be easily communicated. This form of knowledge includes documented procedures, specifications, guidelines, and formulae. In organizations, Explicit Knowledge plays a vital role in streamlining processes, standardizing operations, and enabling efficient communication. Examples of Explicit Knowledge in organizations are documented analyses of team performance, organization charts, leadership styles, and the vision and mission statements that define the corporate culture.

Knowledge Work and Knowledge Workers:

Knowledge Work involves activities such as sensing, judging, creating ideas and expert opinions, building networks of relationships, and producing value through the application of knowledge and information. Knowledge Workers, therefore, are not just employees; they are investors and owners of the enterprise they serve. Their ability to effectively convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and vice versa is instrumental in driving organizational growth.

Knowledge Conversion through the SECI Cycle:

SECI Cycle — Noneka and Takeuchi (1995)

To harness the power of knowledge, organizations follow the SECI (Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization) Cycle introduced by Nonaka and Takeuchi. The SECI Cycle is a never-ending process of knowledge conversion that enables the transformation of tacit knowledge into explicit and vice versa.

  1. Socialization: This is the process of sharing tacit knowledge among individuals or groups. For instance, during an internship, the induction period transforms newcomers from mentees to team members by imparting tacit knowledge and fostering a culture of collaboration.
  2. Externalization: In this phase, tacit knowledge is transformed into explicit knowledge, making it easily communicable. Teaching hospital consultants, for example, externalize their expertise by guiding medical students and encouraging them to take notes, facilitating the transfer of valuable insights.
  3. Combination: Explicit knowledge from various sources is combined to create comprehensive reports, analyses, and systems. Nestle’s Maggi Red Rice Noodles is a fusion of explicit knowledge, combining noodle-making techniques with the health benefits of red rice.
  4. Internalization: Finally, explicit knowledge is internalized by individuals, becoming tacit knowledge through practical application and experience. This process can be observed when employees participate in training workshops, musicians learn to master their instruments, or technicians assemble flat-pack furniture without the need for a guide.

Understanding and effectively managing the dimensions of knowledge within organizations is critical for staying ahead in today’s competitive world. By embracing both Tacit and Explicit Knowledge and recognizing the importance of Knowledge Conversion through the SECI Cycle, businesses can foster a culture of innovation, continuous learning, and success. The never-ending pursuit of knowledge is the key to unlocking the true potential of individuals and organizations alike.