09 August 2016

Why is knowledge transfer seen as a problem?


Change is good. Change is necessary for businesses to grow successfully and overcome market challenges. But, what happens if you lose someone important?

What happens when your star employee, who’s been with the company for 10 years, decides to move on?

How do you capture, organise, store and distribute the valuable knowledge this employee has accumulated over the last 10 years—and effectively transfer it to their successor and your organisation?

Last month, I wrote about the value of sharing unconscious or tacit knowledge, which is by nature difficult to articulate, yet could be used to sharpen competitive edge.

This month, I would like to invite you to explore Knowledge Sharing, starting with the types, implications, and solutions related to knowledge transfer in the workplace, and how to do it successfully. There are common problems associated with knowledge transfer, yet herein lies opportunities for growth as well.


Explicit knowledge is anything that has been expressed or recorded, and thus easy to share. The transfer of explicit knowledge is pretty straightforward and most of us are familiar with sharing such knowledge, primarily through online or printed documents and presentations, as well as through face-to-face interactions.

Tacit knowledge, by definition is not easy to express, record or share. It may be unspoken, unobservable, unconscious, or embedded in actions and thus hard to verbalise.The transfer of valuable tacit knowledge is way more challenging than the transfer of explicit knowledge, by virtue of its intangible nature making it difficult to share in common ways.


When faced with the challenges of transferring tacit knowledge, you could find yourself in one or more of these situations:

  • When you are an expert who finds it hard to teach and communicate what you know well enough for someone else to develop a similar level of competence.
  • When you share something valuable, but do not know why some ‘get it’ and others ‘just do not get it’, and are not sure how to help more people ‘get it’.
  • When you wish you could be like Neo in The Matrix when he instantly upskills his expertise in martial arts by uploaded training programs to his brain.
  • When you are the novice, and ‘don’t know what you don’t know’ that is in the way of you improving your skills.
  • When you are a newbie who is doing exactly what an expert recommends, yet still do not get the results you expect.

While transferring tacit knowledge is challenging, it also can be extremely rewarding when done successfully. This is because it involves something not easy to replicate, and therefore not easily learnt or possessed by many. Therefore, it is worth the effort to explore solutions that help you transfer tacit knowledge effectively.


The ways to successfully transfer explicit knowledge are well documented, and are largely based on understanding and applying learning psychology, styles, strategies, and systems.

The ways to successfully transfer tacit knowledge may lie in augmenting conscious, formal or analytical ways of learning with something else, and this could be conventional or radical.

For example,

  • Consciously creating time and space for the expert and newbie to interact informally and/or frequently.
  • Observing and mimicking experts, and actively seeking the Whys behind their Hows of doing things well.
  • Examining underlying biases, beliefs, or attitudes that may get in the way of successful knowledge transfer
  • Exploring how to access unconscious part of the brain for whole-brain learning.
  • Practising something well enough to shift it from conscious incompetence (know that you don’t know) to unconscious competence (don’t know that you know).
  • Activating emotions and imagination to facilitate learning.
  • Exploring and honing non-traditional learning facilitators like meditation and self-hypnosis.

While certain types of knowledge transfer may be tricky to achieve, this is not a static situation. Your tacit knowledge can be converted to explicit knowledge in various ways. For example, demonstrating what you know and getting someone to record or write about it; answering questions in an interview; switching on self-reflection to record your observations yourself; or coaching someone while exercising your skill together with them.   

As they may well say in the parallel universe of a certain planetary system, may you go forth and prosper through knowledge transfer.