Why is information not knowledge

Knowledge management

Knowledge management deals with the acquisition, development, transfer, storage and use of knowledge. Knowledge management is much more than information management (e.g. Beerheide / Katenkamp 2011). information is the necessary prerequisite for generating knowledge. Therefore, information can be traded like other goods, but knowledge cannot. Information is a flow of news and means Know what. Knowledge, on the other hand, does not arise through an accumulation of information, but only through the linking of the information with existing prior knowledge, i.e. Know-why. Information is only transformed into knowledge when it is interpreted against the background of previous knowledge and becomes part of the personally available action schemes (Kogut / Zander 1992). Therefore, knowledge cannot be bought or sold like information. Knowledge must also include those skills that make communication and interaction possible without, however, being able to be explicitly formulated. This leads to the distinction between explicit and implicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is formulable and reproducible knowledge. It can be conveyed easily through formal, systematic language, such as words and numbers. It can be logically understood and described in its application and therefore represents specific or methodical knowledge.

Implicit knowledge however, it has a personal quality that makes it difficult to formalize and convey it. It is hidden knowledge that cannot be articulated. In addition, it is strongly based on the associated actions, obligations and contributions within a specific context. M. Polanyi, in his theory of tacit knowledge, explains human cognition with the sentence “that we know more than we know how to say” (Polanyi 1985: 14).

Knowledge, and thus also implicit knowledge, starts with the subjective processes of perception of individuals. Company internal and external information is perceived and selected by the individual members of the organization. The acquisition of knowledge only comes about through the interpretation of this information and the connection with existing prior knowledge.

Individual, explicable knowledge is also called "Embrained knowledge" designated. It is conscious knowledge that depends on one's own conceptual skills and can be consciously activated, e.g. subject-specific knowledge. This knowledge can be transmitted through rules, instructions or information and communication technologies.

Individual, tacit knowledge is also called "Embodied knowledge" designated. It is action-oriented knowledge and results primarily from previous experience. This includes cognitive skills such as how to deal with concepts and experiences, but also skills such as the fine motor skills of a dentist or the ability to dance on a rope. The transfer of this knowledge requires intensive interaction processes and cannot be ordered by instructions or controlled by the price mechanism.

However, the sum of the explicit and implicit knowledge that the individual members of the organization have at their disposal does not yet represent organizational knowledge per se. Organizational knowledge only arises from the coordinated cooperation of the organization members. The embedding of individual knowledge and knowledge in specific "organizational settings" is a prerequisite for developing organizational knowledge from the knowledge of the individual members of the organization (e.g. Hecker 2012; Nonaka 1994). This collective knowledge can also be expressed explicitly or implicitly.

Explicit, collective knowledge is called "Encoded knowledge" designated. This knowledge exists in companies in the form of rules and procedural guidelines that are applied in a company. They find their expression, for example, in organizational models, organizational charts, management principles or in strategic concepts pursued by the company. This knowledge can be documented.

Implicit, collective knowledge is called "Embedded knowledge" designated. It occurs in companies primarily in the form of organizational routines and “mental models” shared by the organization members. This refers to the theories of action and everyday life implicitly used by the organization members.

Individual and collective, organizational types of knowledge (source: Lam 2000: 491ff .; cf. also Blackler 1995)


Nowadays, in companies, tacit knowledge is a source of sustainable, defensible competitive advantages (e.g. Eisenhardt / Santos 2002). It is particularly difficult to imitate if it is possible to anchor this knowledge organizationally in knowledge management processes. An accumulation and storage of a lot of information or the employment of employees with specialist knowledge is not sufficient for this. Although individual, tacit knowledge is the basis of knowledge management, it does not in itself represent a sustainable competitive advantage for companies because individual knowledge carriers can be poached. It is true that in this case they leave behind large parts of their explicit knowledge in the form of records. However, the company loses your implicit individual knowledge.

The Japanese organizational scientists Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed the best-known model of knowledge management with the so-called “knowledge spiral”. Basically, it is about the fact that only the continuous exchange between explicit and implicit knowledge forms the prerequisite for the generation and transfer of organizational knowledge. In this way, tacit knowledge can be spread across the organization and at the same time continuously enriched. In order for organizational knowledge to be created, the individual tacit knowledge of the organizational members must go through a dynamic transfer process. For this purpose, explicit and implicit knowledge are combined into four different forms of knowledge transfer: socialization, externalization, combination and internalization.

The socialization transfers knowledge "from implicit to implicit", i.e. largely without language. Instead, “learning by doing” through observation, imitation and practice are central. Children learn the physical routine of riding a bike by practicing pedaling, steering and balance until they can. A typical example of socialization in day-to-day operations is the integration of a new team member into the group's thinking and action routines.

The Externalization turns tacit knowledge into explicit. However, this conversion is only partially possible. The prerequisite for the externalization of tacit knowledge is intensive personal communication, e.g. in quality circles or interdisciplinary teams. With the help of analogies and metaphors, the participants try to make their implicit empirical knowledge mutually accessible.

The combination brings together different explicit knowledge. Since the combination of knowledge is not tied to face-to-face contacts, it can be supported with information technology. The conventional information technologies deal exclusively with this form of knowledge transfer. You only take into account a small part of the relevant knowledge.

With the Internalization explicit knowledge is (partially) converted back into implicit knowledge, but in an enriched, more complex form. This is done by individuals or groups learning action routines that were explicitly formulated beforehand. The secure mastery of routines enables complex activities to be carried out “as if in sleep”. They only require reduced attention.

The more frequently the knowledge spiral is run through, the more complex the organizational knowledge becomes, embodied in organizational routines and rules. These are still available to the company even if individual knowledge carriers leave the company. People can only take their individual, implicit knowledge with them, but not the collective, coordinated rule and routine knowledge (e.g. Spender 1996; Nonaka / Takeuchi 1995). According to this, a company succeeds in successful knowledge management, if

  • knowledge is not only combined with one another, but also transferred in processes of socialization, externalization and internalization;
  • the (explicit and implicit) knowledge remains in the organization, even if individuals leave it, because it is stored in formal and informal rules and routines
  • when the knowledge available in the organization exceeds the capacity of individual heads, i.e. individual knowledge is expanded into collective knowledge. This ensures that the benefits of the division of labor can be made fruitful, i.e. not every member of the organization has to know everything.