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Tools of the Trade > Knowledge Map
Knowledge is one of those
tricky things that seems simple but when you try to capture it and share it with
others is not that easy to handle. Some things are easy to write down or
document. Other things are almost impossible to even put into words.
Capture and transfer of
knowledge is a critical ability for organisations who want to survive and grow.
In the modern information economy, your assets are human and the contents of
their brains is a key part of your product development and delivery systems. A
further issue is that those assets have legs and can easily walk away with
knowledge that only they hold. Managing knowledge is thus at the core of both
business development and business continuity.
The Knowledge Map presented
here is a simple way of understanding different types of knowledge and hence
provides a way of capturing it and transferring it to others in appropriate
The diagram above shows four
types of knowledge on two axes:
Explicit knowledge is that which is easy to
describe and document, for example the steps required to package and send a
parcel by post.
Tacit knowledge is that which is difficult
to write down and difficult to learn from books, for example knowledge how
to handle a difficult customer.
Generalist knowledge is knowledge that is
easy to hire expertise, for example in business administration or marketing.
This does not mean this knowledge is limited, just that within a business it
is easier to hire in the knowledge.
Specialist knowledge in this context is that
which is special to a particular company or organisation, for example deep
market sector knowledge or knowledge about particular customers.
In using this chart, you can
score people or jobs in terms of the balance between Tacit vs Explicit and
Generalist vs. Specialist knowledge. For example, a management post may be
assessed as having a 60/40 Tacit vs. Explicit balance and 30/70 Generalist vs.
Specialist balance. With this assessment, you can then position the person on
the chart as (60 - 40) = 20% towards Tacit and (70 – 30) = 40% towards
Specialist, as in Job A in the diagram above.
The next question of course is
‘So what?’ What this mapping does support is planning for different types of
actions for capture and transfer of knowledge. The table below describes the
four different types and the consequent implications.
This is the most
difficult type of work to capture and handover, as you cannot write it
down and there is a lot for a new person to learn. This type of
knowledge is best handed over across a long period, with a tapered
transition and ongoing mentoring. In documented form, tacit knowledge is
often transferred in case histories and other episodic descriptions,
supported by discussion with experts (this is how medicine and
management are often taught).
In this type of work a
new person does not come with much of the knowledge needed to do the job
and so requires more detailed instruction. Fortunately, as the knowledge
is explicit, it can be written down in sufficient detail to be handed
over and learned with clear instructions for each step of work. Work
instructions and procedures are common here.
This category of
knowledge and work is a little trickier, in that it is difficult to
capture, but generally does not cause many problems as new people come
with most of the abilities required. This is typical of many
professional positions, where you hire people for their knowledge and
skill, and where they get up to speed fairly quickly.
The best form of
handover here is typically to spend a little time with the present
incumbent, picking up the specialist aspects of the job. ‘Big picture’
maps, checklists and other overviews are often helpful too
Work that is explicit
is easy to write down. When the job is generalist, a new person will
bring most what is needed with them. This makes capture and transfer of
knowledge in this zone the easiest of all, as it just needs brief
process descriptions and overall guidelines. Simple help is often useful
here, for example having online guides and people nearby to ask for the
Note that there is a problem here for the common ‘quality’
approach of mapping and documenting everything – an approach that is only
possible in any detail with explicit work and is mostly of value when this is
specialised. Much modern work is tacit and only overview mapping is typically
possible, although guides, checklists and narratives can be useful reminders for
in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute