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Trouble with tacit: developing a new perspective and approach

Lesley Crane (Post Graduate Researcher based at Faculty of Business, Computing and Law, University of Derby, Derby, UK)
Nick Bontis (Associate Professor based at DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this viewpoint paper is to question the widely adopted tacit-explicit distinction of knowledge, arguing that this is based on a misappraisal of the original source of the “tacit” phenomenon.


It is argued that Michael Polanyi’s theory of personal knowledge and philosophical grounds have been misinterpreted. The tacit problem is approached from three different directions: knowledge management, cognitive psychology and discursive psychology. The first offers an imperative to regard the tacit as vital to organizational success and an underplayed “implicit” perspective on the tacit. The second offers empirical evidence for the formulation of the tacit as acquired automatically and unconsciously through implicit learning and as influencing action. The last offers a theory and methodology for studying what is argued as being the primary site of knowledge work – discourse.


A novel aspect of the tacit – “tacit knowing” – is shown to be action-orientated and influential, and while it is a hidden aspect of a person’s knowledge, it can be revealed through the study and analysis of discourse.


This is the first known paper in the extant literature to examine the tacit knowledge challenge from these combined directions. Implications for practice and study are discussed, and new directions for research proposed.



The authors would like to thank Dr David Longbottom for his encouragement and reviews of early drafts of this work. The authors would also like to thank the reviewers for their helpful commentaries and criticisms.


Crane, L. and Bontis, N. (2014), "Trouble with tacit: developing a new perspective and approach", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 1127-1140.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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