Harnessing the Latent Knowledge in Your Organization

The field of knowledge management is concerned with making it easier for insights and experiences to be shared within organizations. Despite the importance of knowledge management in today’s information-centric economy, there is a huge amount of latent knowledge that still goes untapped within most organizations. However, this latent knowledge has the potential to drive innovation and to greatly improve information access within the organization. And, importantly, the ability to realize this potential is readily available.

What is Latent Knowledge?

So what exactly do I mean by latent knowledge? The field of knowledge management generally differentiates between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is easy to record and make available to others who can then learn from it. Tacit knowledge, however, is harder to pin down and is the sort of know-how that is better transferred directly from person to person, for example through apprenticeships. More recently, knowledge management experts have also started to talk about latent knowledge. Latent knowledge can be thought of as the building blocks of knowledge creation – it may not have coalesced yet into tacit or explicit knowledge, but individuals possess elements of it. And through group collaboration this latent knowledge can be surfaced to produce new ideas and innovations; aka, knowledge creation.

Search Activity as a Signal

Much of the knowledge that an employee uses in their day-to-day work goes undocumented. But knowledge workers increasingly use search engines as a standard tool as they go about their jobs. This search activity provides valuable signals that indicate what information is important for the employees to carry out their work. It also points to the latent knowledge inherent to their roles. These search signals can be interpreted by collaboration tools and used to help others who have similar information needs to piece together that latent knowledge and use it to innovate in their jobs.

There are two particularly powerful features to note about these neglected latent knowledge signals:

  1. The search signals are implicit, and so no extra effort required on the part of the employee to document what information they are using and where it can be found.
  2. Any organization that uses an enterprise search solution is already recording these search signals.

When such a rich source of latent knowledge is readily available, failure to harness it means missing a valuable opportunity to drive knowledge transfer, information discovery, and innovation within the organization.