Implicit knowledge

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Tacit knowledge or tacit knowledge (from the English tacit knowledge ) is - in simple terms - " can , without being able to say how." Someone “knows how to do it”, but his knowledge is implicit in his ability, he lacks the words to describe this ability or to convey it verbally to others .

An example of this is the ability to maintain balance on a bike. Anyone who can do this knows - but only implicitly - a complex physical rule that takes into account the angle of inclination, current speed, gyroscopic laws and steering angle. Tacit knowledge is the SECI model the Explicit knowledge compared and is often implicit learning acquired. Under Embodied Knowledge broader forms and contents are described implicit knowledge.

Within sociology , the concept of tacit knowledge is central to praxeology , which regards the social as decisively shaped by physical practices - and thus also strongly shaped by implicit (body) knowledge.


Even in everyday use of the concept of knowledge, a distinction is made between explicit and implicit knowledge. The fact that someone knows how to distinguish the leaves of the wild garlic from the similar leaves of the lily of the valley can mean on the one hand that they can formulate and "say" exactly what the striking differences are (without necessarily being able to differentiate the leaves in practice ). His knowledge is then explicit. But knowing how to differentiate can also mean that you can safely distinguish one from the other without being able to list the distinguishing features. Then the knowledge in question “is”, as it were, in practical ability, it is implicit .

Implicit knowledge refers to the ability of its wearer and their actions without having to have explanations. Implicit knowledge is “knowledge” that is not aware of the person who wears it and that cannot be passed on in linguistic form, or only with difficulty. Implicit knowledge eludes formal linguistic expression. This form of knowledge is based on experiences , memories and convictions and is also shaped by personal value systems. If tacit knowledge is transformed into explicit knowledge, the process of externalization is described in terms of knowledge modeling . Implicit knowledge basically seems to be tied to action, so that it can only become clear or visible in the action of the expert, the person carrying it.

A more precise definition must, on the one hand, refer to the fact that the skillfully exercised practice can be that of an individual, but also that of an entire group or organization, and, on the other hand, that knowledge can only be implicit for the expert or also for the observer. Implicit knowledge is then defined as knowledge that is exhibited in successful individual or organizational practice, but not or not fully or adequately explicable (verbalizable, objectifiable, formalizable, technicizable) by the actors and possibly also by the analyzing observer .


The concept of tacit knowledge goes back to the natural scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi . However, he did not use the term “tacit knowledge”, but spoke of tacit knowing . Better than in the German translation (“implicit knowledge”) it becomes clear that the interest is not primarily in knowledge, but rather in “skill”, not cognitive structures, but rather mental processes. The focus is on the dispositions of perception, decision-making and action and the corresponding forms of more or less intuitive performance regulation ( knowing ). Only from there is the "tacit knowing view" on the relationship between explicit (knowledge knowledge ) and this skill back in demand. The hypothesis is that theoretical knowledge can never fully catch up with empirical ability. "We know more than we can say," said Michael Polanyi. Implicit knowledge is understood as a kind of practical life skill that enables successful action. The agent himself does not understand them in essential parts. It is a kind of 'embodied quality' or 'motor ability'.

Shades of meaning

On closer inspection, four meanings of the concept "tacit knowledge" can be distinguished, which are briefly illustrated by examples below:

in actu implicit ( intuitive )
A person acts competently , but does not recall any rules of action while he is acting, but acts “automatically”, “spontaneously” or “intuitively”. Example: Lost in thought, Hans Müller ties his tie early in the morning without having to remember exactly how to do it.
cannot be verbalized
A person acts competently, but does not recall any rules of action while he is acting, but acts “automatically”, “spontaneously” or “intuitively”. Even in retrospect, it cannot name such rules on request. Example: While Hans Müller can explain the rules of tie-tying to his son at breakfast through some thought, he fails when his son asked the following question: "Dad, why do you actually say run / run but not study / study?" Although Mr. Müller did the second Always correctly forms the past participle , he cannot verbalize the rule he implicitly knows.
not formalizable
A person acts competently, but does not recall any rules of action while he is acting, but acts “automatically”, “spontaneously” or “intuitively”. Even in retrospect, it cannot name such rules on request. This does not only apply to the actor, but also to observers who try to describe the ability in question using rules. Example: Müller's competence to use the second past participle cannot be verbalized for himself. But a Germanist can name the rule. This is different for another ability of Hans Müller. He's very humorous and keeps inventing new jokes. To date, it has not been possible to build machines that can invent jokes that are just as good - because no one can formalize exactly what joke-making competence consists of.
This means knowledge that cannot or can hardly be passed on linguistically. In such cases, the person concerned must learn from their own experience or from the model that shows them what cannot be said. Example: If you want to make good pasta dough, you can read recipe books. But apparently not everything that good dough cooks know is in these books because this cannot be fully verbalized or eggs used can be of different sizes. The feeling for the right “wetness” of the dough, for example, can only be acquired through experience.


Empirically, implicit knowledge (meaning 3) is usually understood as the difference between ability and explicit knowledge and is measured accordingly. On the one hand, what a person can do is recorded and, on the other hand, what they know in a reportable manner is measured; As a difference, as it were, then results what is (only) implicitly “known”. The articulated knowledge must of course still be checked to see whether it actually has an action-controlling effect or whether it is only expressed in the interview situation. The latter is the case, for example, with subsequent rationalizations of actions that were actually carried out intuitively.

Reception and meaning

The concept of tacit knowledge has gained considerable popularity in recent years. In general, there is a growing interest in the intuitive. Gerd Gigerenzer, for example, presents examples of tacit knowledge. In a surprisingly large number of situations, intuitive decisions (often with the help of unconscious rules of thumb) prove to be more successful than systematic weighing processes. In knowledge management , the concept of tacit knowledge was taken up, albeit in a very trivializing form, especially in the SECI model according to Nonaka / Takeuchi . The concept also attracts special attention in the teacher training discussion, where the theory-practice problem has always been discussed intensively. It is assumed that implicit knowledge that has not (yet) been transformed into terms and is only "felt" is often a source for artists to produce their works. At the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, attempts are made to identify these and other properties of implicit knowledge in the laboratory to make it scientifically usable for implicit and artistic knowledge.

The possibilities and limits of the explication of tacit knowledge are particularly important where knowledge is to be replaced by the person, for example in order to technically simulate human ability. The attempt to convert implicit knowledge using methods of knowledge engineering via a process chain (externalization, structuring, formalization and coding ) into explicit knowledge has been very successful with varying degrees of success .

There are numerous empirical studies on the role of tacit knowledge in various professional fields of activity and in artistic creation processes.


  • Giulio Angioni : Doing, Thinking, Saying. In: Glauco Sanga, Gherardo Ortalli (eds.): Nature Knowledge. Ethnoscience, cognition, and utility. Berghahn Books et al., New York NY et al. 2004, ISBN 1-57181-822-7 , pp. 249-261.
  • Yongjian Bao, Shuming Zhao: MICRO Contracting for Tacit Knowledge - A Study of Contractual Arrangements in International Technology Transfer. In: Problems and Perspectives in Management. 2, 2004, ISSN  1727-7051 , pp. 279-303, digitized version (PDF; 210.07 MB) .
  • Volker Caysa : Empractical Reason. Peter Lang - Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaft 2015, ISBN 978-3-631-66707-1 .
  • Mikhael Dua: Tacit knowing. Michael Polanyi's exposure of scientific knowledge. Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-8316-0314-6 (also: Munich, University of Philosophy, dissertation, 2003).
  • Gerd Gigerenzer : gut decisions. The intelligence of the unconscious and the power of intuition. Bertelsmann, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-570-00937-6 .
  • Olaf Katenkamp: Implicit knowledge in organizations. Concepts, methods and approaches in knowledge management. VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-531-18028-1 (also: Dortmund, Technical University, dissertation, 2010).
  • Klaus Mulzer: Understanding of language and implicit knowledge (= Munich philosophical contributions. Vol. 18). Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-8316-0662-7 (also: Munich, University, dissertation, 2005).
  • Georg Hans Neuweg: Expertise and implicit knowledge. On the teaching-learning-theoretical significance of the epistemology and knowledge theory Michael Polanyis (= international university publications . Vol. 311). 3. Edition. Waxmann, Münster et al. 2004, ISBN 3-89325-753-5 (at the same time: Linz, University, habilitation paper, 1998).
  • Georg Hans Neuweg: The silence of experts. Collected Writings on Implicit Knowledge. Waxmann, Münster et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-8309-3178-2 .
  • Georg Hans Neuweg: Implicit knowledge as an object of research. In: Felix Rauner (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Berufsbildungsforschung. Bertelsmann, Bielefeld 2005, ISBN 3-7639-3167-8 , pp. 581-588.
  • Ikujirō Nonaka , Hirotaka Takeuchi : The knowledge creating company. How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Oxford University Press, New York NY et al. 1995, ISBN 0-19-509269-4 (In German: The organization of knowledge. How Japanese companies make an idle resource usable. Translated from the English by Friedrich Mader. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1997, ISBN 978-3-593-35643-3 ).
  • Michael Polanyi : Personal Knowledge. Towards a post-critical philosophy. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL 1958.
  • Michael Polanyi: Implicit knowledge (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. 543). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-518-28143-7 .
  • Günther Schanz : Implicit knowledge. Phenomenon and success factor, neurobiological and sociocultural basics, possibilities of problem-conscious design. Rainer Hampp, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-86618-007-1 .
  • Christian Schilcher: Implicit dimensions of knowledge and their importance for corporate knowledge management. 2006, (Darmstadt, Technical University, dissertation, 2006, online ).
  • Markus Schönemann: Management of knowledge and skills. A contribution to the realignment of knowledge management. VDM-Verlag Müller, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 978-3-639-03181-2 .
  • Georg Schreyögg , Daniel Geiger: If everything is knowledge, in the end knowledge is nothing ?! In: Business Administration. Vol. 63, No. 1, 2003, ISSN  0342-7064 , pp. 7-22, ( digital copy (PDF; 234.78 kB) ).
  • Tasos Zembylas , Claudia Dürr: Knowledge, ability and literary writing. An epistemology of artistic practice. Vienna 2009.
  • Tasos Zembylas, Martin Niederauer: Practices of composing: sociological, knowledge-theoretical and musicological perspectives. Wiesbaden 2016.

Web links

  • Stephanie Porschen: Social developments and knowledge management. For the explication of implicit knowledge as a trend in knowledge management. Lecture at the KOPRA workshop "Work and non-scientific knowledge" on October 9, 2004 in Niederpöcking. ISF Munich [1]

Individual evidence

  1. See Stangl: Online Lexicon for Psychology and Pedagogy : Article implicit knowledge
  2. ^ A b Ikujirō Nonaka, Hirotaka Takeuchi: The knowledge creating company. 1995.
  3. ^ Michael Polanyi: Personal Knowledge. 1958.
  4. Michael Polanyi: Implicit Knowledge. 1985.
  5. ^ Georg Hans Neuweg: Skill and tacit knowledge. 3. Edition. 2003.
  6. See Schweiger / Schiwon: Embodied Knowledge and Implizites Wissen. Research work of the University of Innsbruck SS 2007. S. 3.
  7. See Schreyögg u. Geiger: Can the knowledge spiral be the basis of knowledge management? Free University of Berlin, Institute for Management 2003, p. 12.
  8. ^ Georg Hans Neuweg: Implicit knowledge as an object of research. In: F. Rauner (Ed.): Handbuch der Berufsbildungsforschung. 2005. pp. 581-588.
  9. Gerd Gigerenzer: gut decisions. 2007.
  10. Center for Cultural Production ( Memento of the original from August 7, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  11. Chris Kimble: Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge. ( Memento of the original from October 24, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Information Research. Vol. 18, No. 2, 2013, ISSN 1368-1613 . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / 
  12. Tasos Zembylas , Claudia Dürr: Knowledge, ability and literary writing. An epistemology of artistic practice. Vienna, 2009; Tasos Zembylas, Martin Niederauer: Practices of composing: sociological, knowledge-theoretical and musicological perspectives. Wiesbaden, 2016.