Denham Gray on the unspoken

No sooner do I finish my last blog than I stumble on Denham Grey’s eloquent thoughts:

Wonder if you can really capture tacit knowledge by mining digital text, e-mails blogs, IM scripts and bulletin board posts? – I think tacit knowledge is something deeper it needs proximity, large bandwidth, immersion and social realtionships to be acquired, appreciated and adopted

Another reason to get out more!

Denham continues

By most estimates, the largest part of organizational knowledge escapes awareness, notice and conversation, it slips beneath the collective radar, avoids codification, escapes validation and remains undiscovered by traditional knowledge mapping activities. In standardizing knowledge, processes and language, firms may strive for a strategy that is superficial and achieve a shallow security.

Many times key knowledge which imparts competitive advantage does not come from formal explicit, codified stuff such as patents, trade secrets, documented industrial processes or insightful leadership memos, rather the key knowledge comes from socialization and collective practice.

I love this stuff. I am so weary of consultants peddling their clever processes which often trample over the subtle stuff that goes on, unnoticed and often unvalued, between human beings. That’s why, when push comes to shove, I avoid using NLP approaches and put more effort in just being fully present to relationships.

5 thoughts on “Denham Gray on the unspoken

  1. mrG

    Wouldn’t everything Denham Gray says apply equally to all other codified knowledge, and therefore also apply to books, rituals and other cultural artifacts?

    And yet, if this is so, then, thanks largely to the Romans and later to the Plague, we have virtually no direct contact with any part of the ancient world, so how could we understand their philosophy, mathematics, art and religion? And considering the cultural imperialism so often imposed by unenlightened anthropology, isn’t it true as well that, where we’ve had direct and personal in-touch contact with the so-called “primative peoples” the current discussions on websiltes like the show quite clearly that this direct contact was also no guarantee of success?

    We understood very little about Egypt prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. What changed in that day was only our ability to gather more perspectives, to compare what we knew of the colloquial knowledge from the other cultures who’s language appeared on the Stone, and from that infer the missing edges and angles of the Egyptian cultural geometry. Similarly, when we found the frozen ice-age man in the mountains, it took the combined efforts of many archeaologists working on different stories from different perspectives to arrive at the current assessment that the man we found was a highly trained, well equiped ice-age James Bond super-spy.

    And this gathering of alternative perspectives, of laying many alternate paths to the truth of the matter, this seems to me to be far more likely the product of the open and free exchange of social software (forums, emails, blogs, IM) than in stacks of consultant reports gleened from “personal contact” — I’ve been on the receiving end of enough of those to know how the truth given to the querant is, shall we say, a little fluid.

  2. Tony Goodson

    And yesterday I was going to send you a long rambling email about something similar.

    That tacit knowledge is already there embeded in an organisation and in each person.

    I suddenly realised that ICL finally disappeared last year, not because of it’s lack of products and services, but because it had a lunchtime at the pub culture (especially on a Friday), which died out in the mid 90s. It wasn’t the sort of company to pioneer IM, so it faded away! The ideas and social contact down at the pub faded, and so did the company!!

  3. mrG

    Tony illustrates a very good point about this, and this is exactly what we see happen with aural cultures in general: The transmission of knowledge is seductively easy in the old face-to-face way, but if the chain is broken, everything is lost. History, it seems, belongs to the literate victors.

  4. Shalni Gulati

    Yes, I agree Tacit learning that may be also lablled as (or alongside) informal learning and life-long learning, is always around us.

    It goes unrecognised due to the dominance of the rhetoric that calls for the need to define, measure and demonstrate outcomes. I applaud you that you have writen about the need to surface the tacit. As only then we may be able to begin to understand the complexities of learning cultures that are so unqiue to each organisation, community, group, and individual.

    My own doctoral study aims to surface the informal and silent learning within formal online learning practices. The formal educators are using emails and discussion forums to enable collaboration, but their emphasis on measuring outcomes (i.e. counting explicit learning) is taking away the essence of the learning community process. While you have pointed out that a learning community is a product of informal and tacit processes…most of our formal educators are monitoring and assessing online collaboration processes, and are making learning more formal!

    For more perspective on online academic developments and informal learning…you can read my recent conference presentation paper at :

    Thanks for your article


  5. David Locke

    Text mining seeks the tacit behind the explicit.

    Most training is of explicit knowledge, aka content. Most KM experts deal with content rather than tacit. KM loses its meaning in this context, because you end up managing the least valuable knowledge, rather than doing anything with the most valuable, the tacit or implicit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.