In Knowledge, Knowledge Work and Organisations: An Overview and Interpretation, Blackler builds on Polanyi’s distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge (in Polyani, 1967) and identifies five types of knowledge to be found in contemporary organisations. His ideas provide useful insights into the process of knowledge management. These conceptual distinctions were first suggested to explain the psychological and behavioural aspects of knowledge. They were later adapted to describe the different 'images' of knowledge within the organisation.

1. Embrained knowledge

This is the abstract, conceptual and theoretical knowledge people possess – accountancy knowledge and an understanding of health and safety legislation – which is generally acquired through some type of formal education. This is akin to Polanyi’s explicit knowledge.


2. Embodied knowledge

This the knowledge people possess about their own roles and activities, and those of other people, in specific work situations. It is that knowledge about what you should be doing (which isn’t always the same as what it says in your job description.) This knowledge is acquired slowly and gradually through a process of socialisation and is, I would argue, an aspect of Polanyi’s tacit knowledge.

3. Encultured knowledge

This is the working knowledge people possess of ‘the ways things work around here’ – or the principal shared beliefs, values and rituals of an organisation’s culture. This cultural knowledge is overwhelmingly tacit.

4. Embedded Knowledge

This is knowledge that is wrapped up somebody’s ability to undertake a specific task or activity. It is the skills, know-how and capabilities that enable that worker to do a task ‘without thinking’ and as ‘second nature.’ It is an aspect of Polanyi’s tacit knowledge.

5. Encoded knowledge

This is documented, codified and formalised knowledge conveyed by texts and in writing. It refers to the minutes, websites, codes of practice, strategy and policy documents and textbooks to be found in all organisations. As such, it is an aspect of Polanyi’s explicit knowledge.

Lam's Development of the Idea

Lam (2000) explains that four of the types of knowledge, excluding encultered knowledge which is not mentioned, arose from the explicit-tacit and individual-collective dimensions of knowledge. This is shown in the table below:.


The knowledge Hierarchy

The terms information and knowledge are often used interchangeably. In reality there is a hierarchy as shown below.

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Information
  • Data

Organisational Dimesions

One thought on organisational knowledge is that it can be divided into several dimensions. The following dimensions shall be examined: private-public, component-architectural individual-collective and explicit-tacit.

In reference to public knowledge in an organisational context, it is knowledge that is not linked or exclusive to one particular industry or company (Chua, 2002). Public knowledge is general and known across businesses, such as lean, total quality management or other general practices. Conversely, private knowledge is unique to an organisation. It is the private knowledge that provides a company with a competitive advantage with valuable, rare and imperfectly imitable resources (Barney and Hesterley, 2008). An organisation’s private knowledge is developed over time and can be linked to processes, strategies or practices. An organisation requires public knowledge in order to survive within a market; however, unless private knowledge is developed and disseminated amongst the employees, competitive advantage will not be achieved and potentially the organisation will be at a competitive disadvantage (Chua, 2002).

The private knowledge can be examined in greater depth: the component-architectural dimension. The component aspect refers to the subroutines or discrete parts of operations, for example: development of a new product or a new strategy (Chua, 2002). Component knowledge is one aspect of an organisation’s knowledge and can be composed of both private and public knowledge. The second element, architectural knowledge, is more widespread within an organisation. Architectural knowledge is the organisational routines required for ensuring the components of the organisation are in sync (ibid). This knowledge is individual to organisations as no two components can are the same, creating a unique architectural knowledge.

Individual knowledge is pretty self explanatory, it is the knowledge an individual person has within an organisation. The problem with individual knowledge is that it is just that, individual. If a person with a particular knowledge gained from new, unique experiences or situations leaves an organisation, that knowledge leaves with them. Individual knowledge is beneficial to a singular person and any quests they have for achievement or advancement within their career; however, if they decide to share their knowledge, it becomes collective knowledge. It is also that collective knowledge has a greater significance within an organisation, not to mention it is more secure as employee turnover does not have a great impact (Chua, 2002).

Explicit-tacit dimension is the most common and is fundamental for all of the dimensions. As previously mentioned, explicit knowledge can be described with words or numbers and can be transferred easily from person to person. Tacit knowledge is gained over time, is dependent on situations and experiences and is not easily transferred between people. Organisational knowledge can be determined by the degree in which it can be measured in ‘explicitness’ (Kogut and Zander, 1993). It is dependant on how measureable the knowledge is in terms of the codificability, teachability and complexity (ibid). Therefore, it could be argued the greater the complexity of the knowledge is dependant on how easy it is to teach and codify the knowledge (Chua, 2002). The greater the complexity of knowledge the harder it would be for a competitor to imitate; therefore, creating a greater competitive advantage.

Spencer (1996) created a matrix using the two dimensions: individual-collective and explicit-tacit. The matrix is illustrated in the figure 1. This is a similar matrix to that created by Lam (2000).

Organisational Knowledge Matrix (Spencer, 1996)

The organisation knowledge can provide a company with the competitive advantage; however, if the knowledge is easily codifiable then knowledge transfer could occur. Conversely, if individual knowledge is not transferred within the organisation and the employee leaves, it could lead to a loss of knowledge and a competitive disadvantage. This is once of the reasons organisations are beginning to place great importance on the origins of organisational knowledge and establishing ways of harnessing knowledge.


  1. Is it possible to say what types of knowledge is most important for businesses today? Or does it all depend on context and what a specific business is producing?
  2. How should each of these of types of knowledge be managed? Are there specific skills closely connected to the management of, say, encultured knowledge or embrained knowledge?
  3. Are some aspects of knowledge unmanageable? They may contribute a lot to the success of a business, yet they cannot be managed directly. My view - discussed on the knowledge management page - is that may well be the case with all tacit knowledge.


Blacker, F (1995) ‘Knowledge, Knowledge Work and Organisations: An Overview and Interpretation’, Organization Studies, Vol. 16, No. 6

Lam, A (2000) "Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework", Organization Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3

Polanyi, K (1967) The Tacit Dimension: New York, Anchor Books