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The Dynamics of Tacit Knowledge

Present, Future, Known, Unknown

Yesterday I designed the above diagram which is named Theme Plus. I reviewed my articles about Theme U and got the idea from a previous design: The Value-fit Framework and Canvas.

The Value-fit framework was blended from two Theme U diagrams. The Theme U is a U shape that presents six themes. The diagram below is one example of Theme U.

Yesterday (Dec 29, 2021), I just tried to blend four Theme U together. The result was Theme Plus.

It’s a beautiful diagram. But I don’t know the value of Theme Plus. What could I do with it? However, I know I can do something with it in the future.

This leads to a notion of “the Dynamics of Tacit Knowledge” which is about “Present, Future, Known, Unknown”.

What’s Tacit Knowledge?

The term Tacit Knowledge was coined by Michael Polanyi in his 1958 book Personal Knowledge which is a book about the philosophy of science. The purpose of the book is to modify the conception of knowing. According to Polanyi, “…I want to establish an alternative ideal of knowledge, quite generally. Hence the wide scope of this book and hence also the coining of the new term I have used for my title: Personal Knowledge. The two words may seem to contradict each other: for true knowledge is deemed impersonal, universally established, objective. But the seeming contradiction is resolved by modifying the conception of knowing.”(1958, p.vii)

Polanyi emphasized the importance of skillful knowing and intellectual passions for the development of scientific knowledge, “…I regard knowing as an active comprehension of the things known, an action that requires skill. Skillful knowing and doing is performed by subordinating a set of particulars, as clues or tools, to the shaping of a skillful achievement, whether practical or theoretical.”(1958, p.vii) He also used his own book as an example of intellectual passions, “Personal knowledge is an intellectual commitment, and as such inherently hazardous. Only affirmations that could be false can be said to convey objective knowledge of this kind. All affirmations published in this book are my own personal commitments; they claim this, and no more than this, for themselves. Through this book I have tried to make this situation apparent. I have shown that into every act of knowing there enters a passionate contribution of the person knowing what is being known, and that this coefficient is not mere imperfection but a vital component of his knowledge.” (1958, p.viii)

In a later book, The Tacit Dimension (1966), Polanyi claimed that “we can know more than we can tell.” This affirmation leads to a popular typology of knowledge: Tacit Knowledge v.s. Explicit Knowledge. The essential aspect of the typology is the expression of knowing. If a person can express his knowing about something, then other people can see his knowledge which is confirmed as explicit. If a person can’t express his knowing about something, then the knowing is his tacit knowledge. This definition leads to an unsolved problem. If a person can’t express his knowing, how can he claim that he knows something and how can others confirm that he accurately knows something? Contemporary philosophers are still busy debating the definition of the concept and its value.

After Polanyi, many scholars and researchers outside the field of philosophy of science adopted the typology for their study and research. They usually claimed that skills, ideas, and experiences are part of tacit knowledge. For example, organizational management researchers Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi developed the SECI model of knowledge dimensions for discussing organizational innovations.

I have used the term Tacit Knowledge for the D as Diagramming project. For example, I offered a framework called Diagramming for Academic Creativity on Sept 22, 2021.

The above diagram represents an individual perspective of knowledge transformation. For Explicit Knowledge, I roughly developed a typology:

  • Unshared Drafts
  • Shared Drafts
  • Published Papers

I am not sure how to expand this model from the field of academic domains to non-academic domains because the academic publishing process is based on the peer-review mechanism.

In the above diagram, I roughly used “ideas…” as the content of Tacit Knowledge. This article will unpack the notion of “ideas…” and focuses on a special type of tacit knowledge.

An Active Comprehension of the Things Known

I’d like to return to Polanyi’s initial notion of “an active comprehension of the things known” and use it as a starting point for the dynamics of tacit knowledge.

Now we can return to the Theme Plus example. The diagram was designed by me Yesterday. However, I didn’t know its value yesterday. Today (Dec 30, 2021), I use it as an example for this article. However, we all know this is not an “official value” of a diagram.

Do I have skills in using diagrams? Yes. The evidence is the Means—End Spectrum which was developed by me on Nov 29, 2021.

Based on this skill, I can claim that I could find the actual value of Theme Plus in the future.

In order to discuss the dynamics of tacit knowledge, I suggest the following typology of tacit knowledge:

  • Actual Knowledge: A present thing known.
  • Potential Knowledge: A future thing unknown based on a present thing known.

The diagram below offers a model of the transformation between Potential Knowledge and Actual Knowledge.

Let’s use Theme Plus as an example to test the above model.

  • T1: Yesterday
  • Actual Knowledge (T1): I knew I design the Theme Plus diagram.
  • Potential Knowledge (T1): I knew I could use the Theme Plus diagram for some things, but I didn’t know the actual things.
  • T2: Today
  • Actual Knowledge (T2): I know I can use Theme Plus as an example for this article.
  • Potential Knowledge (T2): I know I could use the Theme Plus diagram for this article and other things, but I don’t know what the other things are.
  • T3: Future

Can we claim Potential Knowledge as a type of Tacit Knowledge? As discussed above, the concept of Potential Knowledge refers to a future thing unknown based on a present thing known. The dimension behind the Potential Knowledge is Certainty/Uncertainty while the dimension behind the Tacit Knowledge is Expression/Unexpression.

This is an interesting question. I’d like to leave it for readers. For the present discussion, I’d like to use Tacit Knowledge as an umbrella term.

The Transformation of Potential Knowledge

The above section developed a model of transformation of potential knowledge. Now we can use another real example to test it.

On Nov 6, 2021, I published an article titled D as Diagramming: Hexagram, Symbolic Culture, and Diagram Choices. The diagram below is part of the article.

Inspired by a case study of the D as Diagramming project, I designed the above picture to describe four types of “Self — Other” relationships.The idea behind the picture was inspired by the American developmental psychologist Robert Kegan’s writing on the duality of human experience.

These two orientations I take to be expressive of what I consider the two greatest yearnings in human experience. We see the expression of these longings everywhere, in ourselves and in those we know, in small children and in mature adults, in cultures East and West, modern and traditional.

Of the multitude of hopes and yearnings we experience, these two seem to subsume the others. One of these might be called the yearnings to be included, to be a part of, close to, joined with, to be held, admitted, accompanied.

The other might be called the yearning to be independent or autonomous, to experience one’s distinctness, the self-chosenness of one’s directions, one’s individual integrity.

David Bakan called this “the duality of human experience,” the yearnings for “communion” and “agency” (1966). Certainly in my experience as a therapist — a context in which old-fashioned words such as “yearn” and “plea” and “long for” and “mourn” have great meaning — it seems to me that I am often listening to one or the other of these yearnings; or to the fear of losing a most precious sense of being included or feeling independent; or to their fearful flip slides — the fear of being completely unseparate, of being swallowed up and taken over; and the fear of being totally separate, of being utterly alone, abandoned, and remote beyond recall. (The Evolving Self, 1983, p.107)

I added the new picture to the case study report and sent the report to the curator and others whom I interviewed for the case study. Accurately, I just attached it for reference. It’s not the main part of the case study report.

I intently considered it as a Sign Creation. Though it is not a knowledge diagram, the intention is to visualize some ideas. So, I was pretty satisfied with this art creation.

  • T1: Nov 6, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T1): I knew I can use the “Self — Other” diagram as a sign or as an art.
  • Potential Knowledge (T1): …

For T1, can we claim that there is a Potential Knowledge (T1)? The fact is that I didn’t ask myself the question about the “official value” of the “Self — Other” diagram because I claimed that its “official value” is a sign or an art.

Let’s see T2, T3, and T4 and come back to this question.

On Dec 22, 2021, I published Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks (Introduction) and used the “Self — Other” diagram to discuss the Diagram Blending method.

Originally, I designed the picture below to describes four types of “self — other” relationship. Now we can use it to discuss the notion of Diagram Blending.

If there is only one thing, then there is no relationship and blending in particular. The above picture shows two things, Self and Other. The four types of “Self — Other” relationship present an archetypal unit of Diagram Blending: two triangles blend together and form a new diagram.

By increasing the numbers of meta-diagrams and the complexity of meta-diagrams, and adjusting the relationship between meta-diagrams, we can achieve various types of Diagram Blending.

This notion of the “archetypal unit of Diagram Blending” is the seed of several new insights. We can definitely claim that this notion is an Actual Knowledge on Dec 22, 2021 (T2). However, can we claim it as a Potential Knowledge on Nov 6, 2021 (T1)?

As discussed above, the definition of Potential Knowledge is a future thing unknown based on a present thing known.

On Nov 6, 2021 (T1), the notion of “archetypal unit of Diagram Blending” (which is an Actual Knowledge on T2) is a “Future Thing unknown” even though I didn’t think about what I can do with it.

Now I want to claim that the “Future Thing Unknown” doesn’t need the intention as a necessary precondition. The only necessary precondition is “based on a present thing known”.

It sounds radical, but the value of this conceptualization is connecting Tacit Knowledge with Creativity. Moreover, this claim is also guided by the Ecological Practice approach which is my primary creative work. In this way, the Ecological Practice approach can build a new theoretical framework: the Potential Knowledge/Actual Knowledge framework.

For the empirical study, we can trace the development of Actual Knowledge at T1, T2, T3, and T4 without requiring data about intentions at T1, T2, T3, and T4.

One week later, I published Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks (Table of Contents) on Dec 28, 2021. During these days, I was busy playing with kids and thinking about the structure of the book Diagram Blending.

In fact, I used the “Self — Other” diagram to develop a structure for Part One: A Possible Journey on Dec 22. The evidence was shown in the last section of the Dec 22 article:

I also realized that some of my old articles are perfect for the new book. Thus, I organized the book into three parts.

Part One: A Possible Journey

Part Two: A Possible Practice

Part Three: A Possible Theory

In fact, I designed the diagram below on Dec 19, 2021. However, I didn’t want to publish it for the Dec 22 article. In order to simplify our analysis, let’s claim the notion of “A Possible Journey” as an Actual Knowledge on Dec 22 (T2).

Inspired by the four types of “self — other” relationships, I selected four articles and considered them as four stories of a journey. Each story has a theme. Together, they form a meaningful whole that describes a possible journey from a single diagram to diagram networks.

Though the four articles belong to different projects, if we put them together, they present a journey of moving from one single diagram to a diagram network. The above picture shows a deep analogy between four graphics, four articles, and four themes.

Now we can rewrite the T1 analysis:

  • T1: Nov 6, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T1): I knew I can use the “Self — Other” diagram as a sign or as an art.
  • Potential Knowledge (T1): I didn’t know I could use it for the “archetypal unit of Diagram Blending” and as a trigger for curating “A Possible Journey”.

We can also write a draft of the T2 analysis:

  • T2: Dec 22, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T2): I knew I can use it for the “archetypal unit of Diagram Blending” and as a trigger for curating “A Possible Journey”.
  • Potential Knowledge (T2): I didn’t know …

On Dec 25, I designed an expanded version of “A Possible Journey” and used it to develop the Diagram Blending framework.

Inspired by four stories from Part 1 “A Possible Journey”, I used a simple method to develop the Diagram Blending framework:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16…

The four themes lead to 16 topics that could guide a deep discussion. Though I designed the framework, I have not written it with details yet.

Now We can finish the T2 analysis:

  • T2: Dec 22, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T2): I knew I can use it for the “archetypal unit of Diagram Blending” and as a trigger for curating “A Possible Journey”.
  • Potential Knowledge (T2): I didn’t know I could use it for developing the Diagram Blending framework.

If we consider today as T4, then we can write the T3 analysis:

  • T3: Dec 28, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T3): I knew I can use it for developing the Diagram Blending framework.
  • Potential Knowledge (T3): I didn’t know I could use it as an example for discussing the Dynamics of Tacit Knowledge.

Then the T4 story also has an unknown:

  • T4: Dec 30, 2021
  • Actual Knowledge (T4): I know I can use it as an example for discussing the Dynamics of Tacit Knowledge.
  • Potential Knowledge (T4): I don’t know I can use it for other purposes.

The above model turns Polanyi’s initial notion of “an active comprehension of the things known” into a concrete framework for discussing the dynamics of tacit knowledge. This is a good starting point for a new journey.

A Technique for Actualizing Potential Knowledge

The above case study also offers a technique for turning potential knowledge into actual knowledge: Deep Analogy.

The notion of Deep Analogy is inspired by Arthur L. Stinchcombe who is a leading practitioner of methodology in sociology and related disciplines. The following quote is found from a note about his 1978 book Theoretical Methods in Social History.

But if general concepts consist in the analogies between elements and if they are deeper if the analogies are deeper, then the basic investigatory task of concept formation is the deepening of analogies.

Far from it being the case that the most powerful general theorists ignore details, the precise opposite is true. Social theory without attention to detail is wind; the classes it invents are vacuous, and nothing interesting follows from the fact that A and B belong to the class; “theoretical” research appears as a species of wordy scholasticism, arranging conceptual angels in sixteen fold ranks on the head of a purely conceptual pin.

But if conceptual profundity depends on the deep building of analogies from one case to another, we are likely to find good theory in exactly the opposite place from where we have been taught to expect it. For it is likely to be those scholars who attempt to give a causal interpretation of a particular case who will be led to penetrate deeper analogies between cases.

My case is not an actual application of Stinchcombe’s notion of “Deep Analogy” of social theories. I just use the term to describe my case. The diagram below represents the structure of my thoughts behind the case.

The four types of “Self — Other” relationships diagram was formed by four graphics with a special structure of spatial configuration. Though the original diagram has words such as Contain(Cultivation), Separate(Confliction), Combine(wholeness), and Group (Interdependence), I just ignored these words and considered it as a meta-diagram.

Originally, the four articles are not a whole because they were written for different projects. However, I reconsidered them as four stories with a structure of narrative journey.

The most important key of deep analogy for this case is the mapping between a structure of spatial configuration and a structure of narrative journey.

How is it possible?

I think we can find an answer from the notion of Cognitive Metaphor which is a core theory of cognitive linguistics. From the perspective of Cognitive Metaphor theory, the metaphor behind the journey is the Event-Structure metaphor. According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Journeys are long-term activities:

A journey takes an extended period of time, covers a lot of ground, and usually involves stopping at a number of destinations along the way before one reaches a final destination, if there is one. Given the rest of the Event — Structure metaphor, journeys correspond to long-term activities, usually with a number of intermediate purposes. The intermediate purposes are intermediate destinations, the ultimate purpose is the ultimate destination, the actions performed are movements, progress is movement toward a destination, the initial state is the initial location, and achieving the purpose is reaching the ultimate destination. Every aspect of the source domain of the Event — Structure metaphor may occur in some kind of journey, and hence journeys are very useful for talking about long-term activities of many kinds. (Philosophy in the Flesh, 1999, pp.193-194)

For my case, I use the term “possible journey” to discuss the “narrative journey” because the four original stories are not part of a real journey. A narrative journey gives us the freedom to curate real events into imagined journeys that are different from real journeys in our life.

A possible journey needs a reasonable structure to curate several intermediate purposes into a new meaningful whole. I adopted the structure from the four graphics and I found it matched the four stories I selected.

  • I wrote the article Activity U (IV): The Engeström’s Triangle and the Power of Diagram on Sept 3, 2020. This is a complete story of a famous diagram from Activity Theory. It refers to the theme of Expandness: a simple diagram tends to expand to a complex diagram.
  • The article Activity U (VIIII): Project-oriented Activity Theory was published on Jan 3, 2021. I introduced Andy Blunden’s Project-oriented theoretical approach to Activity with a series of diagrams. The theme behind this story is Attachance which refers to Attach, Detach, and Opportunities of Attaching and Detaching. Andy Blunden detached from the Activity System model and attached to the Goethe-Hegel-Marx-Vygotsky approach of “Unit of Analysis”. The result is a brand new theoretical approach to Activity Theory. I attached to Andy Blunden’s theoretical approach, then detached from the field of words and attached to the field of diagrams. I use Andy Blunden’s idea of “germ-cell” to develop a diagram system in order to translate his ideas from text to visual.
  • The third story is not only an article but a Miro board and a 108-page thesis titled Diagram Explained which was written in 2018. One part of the thesis is a framework for understanding multiple layers of diagrams. Obviously, the theme behind the story is Hierarchy. A meta-diagram can generate new diagrams at different degrees of abstraction.
  • The fourth story The ECHO Way (v2.0) was published on June 30. The article introduced a practical framework for Knowledge Curation and Boundary Innovation. The core of the ECHO Way (v2.0) framework is blended from three diagrams. This case inspired me to coin the term Diagram Blending. This story refers to the theme of Curativity which means turning pieces into a meaningful whole.

The above four articles belong to different projects. However, if we put them together, they present a journey of moving from one single diagram to a diagram network. In the process of conceptualization, the second key movement is generating themes from stories.

After selecting the above four stories, I discovered four themes from them: Expandness, Attachance, Hierarchy, and Curativity.

The above description of Deep Analogy seems complicated. It was not an aha moment, but an emergent transformative process. For me, this is a simple intuitive insight, however, I want to share this technique with you.

Once we have a model, then we can design programs of deliberate practice for accelerating the development of tacit knowledge.

A CALL for Slow Cognition

The notion of Deep Analogy is one of the techniques for actualizing potential knowledge. There are many techniques for such creative cognitive development.

I’d like to discuss more related topics under a new project: the Slow Cognition Project.

On April 26, 2021, I sent an email to a friend of mine and introduced my book The ECHO Way which reflects on my journey of writing three books in six months.

I coined a new term called Slow Cognition to describe my favorite methods such as Howard E. Gruber’s evolving systems approach to creative work.

Scholars use Hot Cognition and Cold Cognition to describe two types of cognitive studies. Cold cognition refers to the pure cognitive processing of information that is independent of emotional involvement. Hot cognition considers emotional aspects.

You probably read Daniel Kahneman’s 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow which highlights two models of thought: System 1 and System 2.

My term Slow Cognition is related to System 2. However, I personally don’t like the System 1/System 2 framework because I adopt Keith E. Stanovich’s model of three types of mind: Autonomous mind, Algorithmic mind, and Reflective Mind.

The major difference between my term Slow Cognition and Kahneman/Stanovich’s terms is research methods. My term Slow Cognition refers to the historical-cognitive approach which is about the long-term development of thoughts. Cognitive psychologists focus on short-term thoughts.

Every movement needs a logo. So I spent 30 minutes designing a logo for Slow Cognition this morning.

The Slow Cognition Project rejects the common sense of aha moment for creative cognition. Also, It refers to the metaphor of journeys, and long-term activities, which echoes the Path of Creative Life and the Life-as-Activity framework.

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