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How groups create knowledge

Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed the knowledge creation cycle to distinguish between tacit and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge you have but cannot express and you may not even know you know it!

It is often procedural, that is, it is about how things get done. Have you ever tried to explain something to someone, say, give directions, and found that although you are familiar with the route you cannot explain exactly how to get there? That is because much of your know-how has developed non-verbally and almost automatically.

It is ‘tacit’. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge you can easily share, you can write it down or tell people about it. The following diagram shows how tacit and explicit knowledge evolves. The inner quadrant describes the processes you might engage in as knowledge evolves.

Creating knowledge and problem solving in groups involves questioning, showing, challenging and testing ideas and practices to tease out our own tacit knowledge and that of others in order to build new understandings.

Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) suggest that you can stimulate knowledge creation by:

  • Challenging your own tacit assumptions
  • Working with peers to create tacit knowledge
  • Constantly inquiring and attempting to render tacit knowledge explicit
  • Exchanging explicit knowledge
  • Practicing and internalising explicit knowledge

Adapted from: Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating company: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Oxford university press

Pause to reflect

  • When did you last make your tacit knowledge explicit?
  • Was it understood by the other party?
  • If so, how did you achieve this?
  • If not, what could you do better next time to develop the other party’s understanding?