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Tacit versus Explicit Knowledge

Michael Polanyi(1966) mentioned, "We can know more that we can tell". According to him, knowledge that can be expressed in words and numbers only represents the tip of the iceberg of the entire body of possible knowledge. Polanyi classified human knowledge into two categories.

1.   Tacit Knowledge

It is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate of share with others. Subjective insights, intuitions and hunches fall into this category of knowledge. It is deeply rooted in and individuals’ actions and experience as well as in the ideals, values, or emotions he or she embraces. Personal quality which makes it hard to formalize and communicate. It ‘indwells’ in a comprehensive cognizance of the human mind and body. Japanese view knowledge as being primarily tacit, something not easily visible and expressible.

There are two dimensions to tacit knowledge:

  • Technical dimension, which encompasses the kind of informal personal skills of crafts often referred to as ‘know-how’.
  • Cognitive dimension. It consists of beliefs, ideals, values, schemata and mental models which are deeply ingrained in us and which we often take for granted. While difficult to articulate, this cognitive dimension of tacit knowledge shapes the way we perceive the world.


2.   Explicit Knowledge

Codified knowledge that can be transmitted in formal, systematic language. It is discrete or ‘digital’. It is captured in records of the past such as libraries, archives and databases and is assessed on a sequential basis. It can be expressed in words and numbers and shared in the form of data, scientific formulate, specifications, manuals and the like. This kind of knowledge can be readily transmitted between individuals formally and systematically. In the west, in general, this form of knowledge has been emphasized.




Polanyi, M. (1966), "The Tacit Dimension, London :Routledge & Kegan Paul.




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