Tacit Knowledge Revisited — We Can Still Learn from Polanyi


  • Kenneth A. Grant


Polanyi, Nonaka, tacit, explicit, next generation KM


The field of knowledge management is still relatively new, with all but a few of its related papers and books published during the last 15 years or so. However, one of the most cited sources is a much earlier work on the topic of tacit and explicit knowledge, by Michael Polanyi (1958 and 1966). An examination of some 60 papers from three major knowledge management journals demonstrates that Polanyi's work has frequently been misinterpreted by some authors and further suggests that, in some cases, the citing authors may not have read the cited work. Further, this has led to misinterpretation of Polanyi's work in ways that have affected wider issues in knowledge management. Polanyi's work is still relevant today and a closer examination of his theory that all knowledge has personal and tacit elements, such that knowledge cannot be made fully explicit, can be used to both support and refute a variety of widely held approaches to knowledge management. In particular, it raises issue about the continued efforts to make knowledge explicit through the use of information systems, without consideration of wider social issues, as well as refuting those who use the issue of tacit knowledge to dismiss the field of knowledge management as a misguided concept. It provides support for more recent work on next generation knowledge management.



1 May 2007