Tacit knowledge

The concept of 'tacit knowledge' plays a key role in knowledge management. An interplay of explicit knowledge (documents) and tacit knowledge (social interactions) is required to enable knowledge work and drive innovation.

Scrum and knowledge management

The Quaive product design is grounded in academic research in the field of knowledge management. We've synthesized knowledge management theory into a digital workplace technology roadmap that provides the blueprint for Quaive. Our goal is to provide a very intuitive user experience with our software, to optimally support knowledge flows in networked organisations.

The process we use to build this software is called Scrum. Scrum is the most widely used agile software project management methodology. There's a lot of overlap between the way Scrum works in software project management, and the more general knowledge management methodologies we see in the academic literature.

Turns out, this similarity between Scrum and knowledge management theory is not a coincidence. The leading scholar in knowledge management is Ikujiro Nonaka. Nonaka is also one of the authors of the 1986 Harvard Business Review article that launched Scrum as a methodology.

Michael Polanyi

Nonaka heavily uses the concept of "tacit knowledge", which is key to understanding both Scrum and knowledge management in general. This concept was developed by Michael Polanyi, a prominent mid-20th century academic whose research interests evolved from chemistry, via social sciences, to the philosophy of knowledge.

In the 1930s, Polanyi repeatedly visited the Soviet Union. He had a conversation with Nikolai Bukharin where Bukharin insisted that the distinction between pure and applied research was a capitalist distortion. In communism, Bukharin said, all scientific research will automatically be in harmony with the Five-Year plan as issued by the communist leadership.

Polanyi recognized this as a frontal attack on the freedom of thought. If scientists are not allowed to freely pursue the lines of inquiry they see as most interesting, there cannot be pure science. Effectively, all knowledge and thinking would be subjected to the tyranny of politics.

In response, Polanyi set out on a philosophical quest to prove, that such tyranny is not just offending in the political sense - that would be just an opinion - but that it actually contradicts the fundamental dynamic of how we, as humans, obtain and grow our understanding of the world.

The structure of knowledge

All knowledge has a basic twofold structure, Polanyi argues. We can see this if we imagine a man with a stick, that is probing a dark environment, e.g. a cave. When you're using the stick to probe the space around you, your consciousness extends to the top of the stick. You attend to the feeling of the tip of the stick impacting on objects around you, and this is how you gain an understanding of the shape of the space you're in.

While exploring the space around you, you are not aware of the stick itself. You don't feel the stick against your hand, rather you feel the wall before you when the tip of the stick touches it. It's as if your awareness, your body extends to encompass the stick. You internalize the stick. The moment you would switch attention to the stick itself and the way it feels in your hand, you're reduced to feeling only the stick, and not the space around you.

What we have here is a from-to relationship in perception, which Polanyi postulates as the generic pattern of all human knowledge. There's a proximate element, and a distant element. We know of the distant element only via the proximate element - we sense the cave only through the stick. In doing so, we internalize the proximate element. We feel as if the stick becomes an extension of our body. Only by extending our body this way, can we learn about our environment. Our conscious attention is on our emerging understanding of the environment; not on the proximate object we use to gain access.

We can see this in action in learning how to bike. There is no manual for biking, and if there were, reading the manual would not help you in learning how to bike. You learn biking through trial and error, under close coaching of somebody who does know how to ride a bike. Once you're then able to ride a bike, you are unable to put in words what exactly it is that you do, to stay upright.

This is the concept of tacit knowledge in action.

The most simple summary of this is: "we can know more than we can tell".

All knowing is inherently subjective

That sounds simple enough. But Polanyi uses this theory as a platform to draw a wide range of conclusions. I already pointed out that Polanyi was motivated primarily to defend the freedom of thought against tyranny. If we accept that all knowing has a tacit, deeply personal component that cannot be objectified, the consequence is that all knowing is inherently subjective, or at least has a irreducibly subjective component. There is literally no way that you can tell me what to think. I cannot even tell myself fully what I am thinking.

This strikes a hard blow at the positivist tradition in science. Following Polanyi, it's less than useless to try and objectify and formalize all knowledge. Any attempt to do so, to remove the tacit dimension, can result only in the destruction of all knowledge. There's no way of knowing without accepting and including the knowing subject into the known object.

In the process of carving out a platform to defend intellectual freedom, Polanyi strikes hard blows at objectivism and reductionism. This is a direct attack on the objectivist, reductionist, Newtonian paradigm that conceives of the universe as a lifeless, deterministic bouncing of atom balls.

Knowledge work is a social activity

This has profound consequences for knowledge work. It significantly limits the feasibility of "extracting knowledge" (from your employees' heads) and storing all that intellectual property into some kind of knowledge database. That approach does not cover the tacit dimension at all.

Instead, Nonaka and collaborators have developed a concept of knowledge flow, in which knowledge is created through an iterative process that oscillates between the tacit and explicit dimensions of knowledge. While we can encode explicit knowledge in documents and processes, working with tacit knowledge requires an acknowledgement of the primacy of subjective knowing. In other words, people are as important as files, if not more.

This explains the rise of social collaboration platforms in enterprise settings. In Quaive, we're actively pursuing a vision of a humanized digital workplace that empowers people to perform knowledge work across a variety of settings and interaction patterns. We closely integrate social, people-centric social networking functionalities, with more traditional document management and process support capabilities. Instead of isolating tacit knowledge flow support into a separate 'social' silo, we provide an integrated system supporting the full knowledge creation cycle, as envisioned by Nonaka, building on Polanyi's philosophy of tacit knowledge.

Filter bubbles

You've just read a summary of the 38-minute talk Filter Bubbles - the discovery of tacit knowledge presented at Plone Conference 2016 Boston. You can see the full talk in the video below.

Slides are available at SlideShare.

If you're interested in diving deeper into knowledge flow theory, an excellent synopsis is provided by the book Managing Flow by Nonaka e.a. As a short teaser: they apply subtle distinctions between ancient Greek concepts of knowledge, and show how techne (know-how) and episteme (analytical knowledge) are integrated in phronesis (practical wisdom) - which is a key element in their advanced framework for understanding cutting-edge knowledge creation and innovation performances in 21st century organisations.

Announcing: Quaive Gaia

With many new features and a high level of detail polishing, the new Quaive version - codename: Gaia - empowers your team to stay connected wherever they are, no matter what device they're on to get work done faster.

Ignite the conversation with content activity streams.

Now you can see automatic updates whenever new documents are published. Have conversations directly on the document it's about, and move seamlessly between conversations at the document, team and organization-wide levels.

Focus your attention by following tags, and filtering on your interests.

Follow topic tags and people, and create a activity stream filtered and optimized for your needs.

Stay professional with stream moderation tools.

Ooops did you hit that send button too soon? Edit or delete your status update even after it was published, and avoid misunderstandings.

If you're a manager, you can intervene if team members behave inappropriately online, to make sure communications and tone of voice are always on the level of professionality you expect from your people.

Stay in control with security audits and progress reports.

If you're a manager type, you'll love our new security audit app and the case management report app.

Can you use your Intranet on a mobile device?

Nowadays the average employee in service oriented organisations has his own smartphone, tablet or laptop and deals with communication platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn with ease and has a faster computer and Internet acces at home than at work.

Status updates

A digital workplace like Quaive brings transparant communication on any device by allowing all employees to share rich status updates. Eventually this way of communication will replace e-mail and clear your inbox.

Allowing access on any device, anytime, anywhere requires a consistent user experiences across devices. When using a mobile device users they are mainly following the activity stream and post a status update every now. When working on your pc, you have access to more advanced features like adding a new workspace or managing security settings.

With these criteria in mind we iteratively designed a responsive user interface of Plone Intranet from scratch. The result, a clean and user friendly interface to Communicate and Collaborate on any device.

Responsive Design

One of the benefits of a good responsive design is that all information published in Plone Intranet is available on smartphone, tablets and regular

screens used with desktop computers and laptops. The way you use the Intranet depends on the task and device. For example, users want to send status updates from their mobile phone, but when writing a full news article it's simple more practical to use a computer with a keyboard.

So we carefully balanced the available features for mobile, tablet and desktop screen sizes.

Quaive Mobile Discussion
Quaive Mobile News
Quaive Mobile Events

Working with files

Instead of having a separate Document Management System aside Plone Social Intranet includes a rich Document Management System with a powerful search engine.

Almost every employee is able to scan documents with his/her mobile device, this will be the main way to feed documents into the Intranet. Simply take a photo of a document, browse to the workspace, select the scan and upload it. This way incoming mail, fuel receipts, signed contract, etc can be digitalized with ease.