With Chicago facing its snowiest winter in decades, the other day I chose to opt for a ride-sharing service. We stopped to pick up another rider who joined me in the back seat, dragging a huge mound of snow with him. “Wow,” he said. “I’ve never been in this much snow before. It’s pretty impressive.”
As I watched that pile of white fluff turn into a small lake beneath his feet, I thought, “Yup. You don’t know about the Snow Tap.”
For those not used to snowy climates, the Snow Tap is the 2-second action that happens on each foot before you enter a car in snowy weather. You open the car door and tap your foot on the side of the car frame to knock all the excess snow off your soles, leaving the wet outside. (A variation also takes place before you enter your home.) Tap, tap. Tap, tap. It’s a small act with big consequences, as my out-of-town ride-sharing companion discovered when his feet got soggier.
For many of us living in colder environments, this action becomes second nature. It snows. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Whoever taught you this action is likely long forgotten. But it has become a natural part of your habits, called upon when you need it — and likely dismissed from thought for most of the year.
This knowledge is tacit knowledge, distinct from explicit (and more traditional) knowledge. Tacit knowledge is experiential, intuitive, fluid. It’s rarely written down, yet can have profound implications on an organization’s operations and culture. (It was philosopher Michael Polanyi who explored the concept in the 1950s.)
Sometimes tacit knowledge is recognized as “That’s the way we do things around here.” Or, “People like us do things like this.” Yes, it can carry moral or value-based meaning — but tacit knowledge also expands to adaptations that humans make to processes or operations as they recognize ways to improve results. Often this knowledge is only shared through personal experience and trusted networks.
My challenge for you this week: Consider the tacit knowledge that guides you daily. How can you improve your own level of tacit knowledge — about your work, about your industry, about the world? Who can unlock some tacit knowledge for you? In turn, how can you share some tacit knowledge that you’ve gained through experience, observation, imitation?
Make something happen,