Why does subjectivity make us nervous?. Making the tacit explicit

Publication Date01 Mar 2001
AuthorDevi Jankowicz
SubjectAccounting & finance,HR & organizational behaviour,Information & knowledge management
Making the
tacit explicit
Journal of Intellectual Capital,
Vol. 2 No. 1, 2001, pp. 61-73.
#MCB University Press, 1469-1930
Why does subjectivity make us
Making the tacit explicit
Devi Jankowicz
Luton Business School, University of Luton, Luton, UK
Keywords Tacit knowledge, Intuition, Personal construct theory, Repertory grid
Abstract Many occupations require people to draw on their experience to make decisions based
on intuition and subjective judgement; this includes craft- and skill-based tasks, and the more
cognitive tasks associated with strategic decision-making by senior managers. Discussion of the
processes involved tends to regard them as somehow inappropriate or illegitimate, excessively
subjective because not open to scrutiny. The repertory grid is a powerful and precise way of
making tacit knowledge explicit; moreover, it rests on a detailed and epistemologically convincing
theory of knowledge, personal construct psychology. Both have been used in a great variety of
occupations, and this paper will sample some of them, concentrating on the identification of the
intuitive factors involved in bank commercial lending, and venture capital investment, decision
processes. The willingness of financial institutions to support, and their reluctance to adopt, this
particular approach to the identification of tacit knowledge will also be examined.
Introduction: the need for a technique
Given the increasingly complex and uncertain environment in which
contemporary organisations operate, there is a need for managers to embrace
complexity and learn how to handle uncertainty. As Aram and Noble (1999) put
it in presenting their rationale for the teaching of practices based on complexity
theory in management courses,
In times of rapid change and high uncertainty, all organizations need some part of their
operations to be at the edge of chaos ... this implies valuing not only the edifices of
knowledge that we need to construct deliberately for our students, but also the spaces for
``pure'' action acting without a directing image (Aram and Noble, 1999, p. 340).
The appeal is to the importance of intuition of the value of action which may
not, at the moment of commitment, be based on explicit, propositionally
statable principles and of the need to handle the personal uncertainties which
this kind of action involves.
During the past few years, a variety of authors have argued for the
importance of discovering appropriate ways of handling tacit knowledge, in
general management (see Baumard, 1998) and the professions (e.g. Sternberg
and Horvath, 1999); as represented by the assumptions shared in communities
of practice (Brown and Duguid, 1991), or as a desirable personal competence
(Watson, 1996); indeed, as part of any integrated approach to organizational
learning (Senge, 1990) . Yet there are relatively few accounts which deal with
the coping skills which Aram and Noble (1999) suggests are required in dealing
with the personal uncertainties which arise when one works with one's
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