Knowledge comes in many flavours, Part 1: Types of knowledge

Knowledge comes in many flavours, Part 1: Types of knowledge

Last updated
September 26, 2023
Written by
Elisa Reggiardo

Every company, regardless of its size, stage, or industry, relies on knowledge. Remote, hybrid, or in-office teams, we all gather, save, and arrange information in some way and it's crucial at a personal and company level. For instance, to get a raise, you will probably be assessed in your past successes and your overall performance, which is documented or reflected somewhere. In a similar way, companies succeed in raising funds after providing information about the company's growth. But not only that, your newly joined teammate is able to get up to speed because we have processes in place that are documented somewhere. Do you see where I'm going with this?

The question here is: Are you aware of what these types of knowledge are and their impact on your business? Do you know how to make the most out of these "seemingly basic processes" to boost your company's and your own growth?

This is exactly what this series of blogs is all about.  It's only when we take a closer look at how we handle knowledge, how we treat it, and how we can use it to our advantage that we can truly maximize and harness the power of knowledge management.

This is a two-part article series and in this first article, we learn about the various types of knowledge that fuel the engine of your organization, their sources, and how each can be captured.

Then, in the second part of this series, we'll tackle critical questions: What's the real need or benefit of documenting and managing all these types of knowledge? What types of knowledge should we aim to document and how should it be collected?

We hope you and your team find these helpful in your quest to better knowledge management - so let's get started.

All the knowledge everywhere all at once

Before we start, here are two criteria we will be discussing for each category:

  • What it is: while there isn't necessarily a single worldwide definition for each type of knowledge there are some agreed concepts among knowledge management experts, we sourced the definitions we'll use in this article from conversations with experienced knowledge managers, interviews with our customers, and our own research.
  • Where it comes from: these are the sources where each type of knowledge comes from, tangible examples that relate to day-to-day situations so you can associate that knowledge category with things you've seen or experienced in a work context.

With that said let's meet the 9 types of knowledge:

Canonical Knowledge

  • What is it? This is the established knowledge among your team— you can think of it as concepts and understandings that are anchored and accepted across the org.
  • Where does it come from? Generally speaking, it comes from standard industry practices and widely recognized principles, but in your team, it can come from established internal principles and pillars like Company Mission & Vision, Coding Standards & Guidelines, or even your Privacy Policy.

Emerging Knowledge

  • What is it? Also known as non-canonical knowledge, meaning the latest insights and evolving ideas that keep your business adaptable and competitive.
  • Where does it come from? You get it from conversations, team discussions, and hands-on experience, and often document it in meeting notes and research. Emerging knowledge can be found in meeting minutes, on project status updates you share with colleagues or stakeholders, in the feedback of customers or users, and even in team announcements, news, or updates.

Explicit Knowledge

  • What is it? It's clear information, the kind that's easy to write down and share, providing straightforward instructions.
  • Where does it come from? It's typically found in product manuals, reports, code documentation, FAQs, and other detailed guides. Employee handbooks are possibly the ideal example of explicit knowledge - the place where you go when you want to understand something that's not ambiguous and you can consider the "truth".

Implicit Knowledge

  • What is it? The unspoken wisdom that lives in your team, that valuable know-how that's not usually documented but is known to experienced employees, is also considered the hardest one to keep and the one that possibly most impacts a team when lost, which is why it's so crucial for it to be passed on through mentorship.
  • Where does it come from? Its source isn't as linear as it can be the tricks and shortcuts learned through experience, especially about handling competitors or navigating company culture. For instance, it can be a UX designer's intuition to create user-friendly interfaces, or an experienced sales rep to close a deal.

Tacit Knowledge

  • What is it? Typically considered the hands-on expertise or the skills and instincts gained through practical experience, but not written down.
  • Where does it come from? Most of the time it's acquired through mentorship and personal experience, for example, a founder's startup experience is gained from previous ventures, guiding decision-making and strategy, or a lead engineer's deep understanding of the software architecture's scalability, honed through years of hands-on work and experimentation.

Declarative Knowledge

  • What is it? Pretty much the foundational information, or the basic facts about a company, like its identity, goals, and offerings.
  • Where does it come from? It's derived from your company's own documents and resources that define its mission and core information like a Company's Value Proposition which is a straightforward statement or your Ideal Customer Profile documentation. It could even be a landing page with your press kit including your company boilerplate for external parties to use.

Procedural Knowledge

  • What is it? The how-to guidance—it answers "how" questions with clear, step-by-step instructions.
  • Where does it come from? The name is pretty unveiling. It's the detailed instructions often found in manuals and process guides, telling you exactly how to complete tasks, like the "How to's", documented workflows or even roadmaps.

A Priori Knowledge

  • What is it? It's the quantitative data that's crucial for making well-informed strategic decisions.
  • Where does it come from? It's obtained through research, data collection, and strategic planning efforts. Good examples can be market research data or financial forecast models.

A Posteriori Knowledge

  • What is it? This is the learn-as-you-go wisdom—you gain it from real-world experience, helping you continuously improve.  I like to think about it as the aftermath of the decisions taken with the "A Priori Knowledge".
  • Where does it come from? It's learned through practical experience, user feedback, and past experiences within your company. We gain this knowledge from user feedback, performance reviews, or campaign evaluations. It helps us identify areas of improvement, refine processes, and foster retention. It works both, for internal and external purposes.

Knowledge types in practice

A good way of understanding how these different types of knowledge can impact crucial processes is by looking at OKRs.

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework, essential for goal-setting and performance measurement, generates a diverse knowledge landscape. Here's how different types of knowledge play a role within this framework:

Canonical knowledge provides the foundational understanding of the OKR framework itself. It's the document that explains what OKRs are, why your team uses them, and the fundamental principles behind their adoption. This knowledge offers a solid anchor, providing a clear and established foundation for everyone to follow.

In contrast, emerging knowledge in the context of OKRs relates to the practical application of the framework. Documents containing your team's actual OKRs for a specific period, like a quarter or a year, represent emerging knowledge. These OKRs evolve with each new planning cycle, reflecting the team's dynamic goals and strategies in response to changing market conditions.

Explicit knowledge plays a role with detailed, step-by-step guides on how to create, track, and evaluate OKRs. These documents offer clear instructions and best practices, ensuring that teams can effectively implement the OKR framework without ambiguity.

A priori knowledge revolves around data, insights, and analysis that inform OKR selection. It involves conducting market research, gathering competitive intelligence, and using historical data to make informed decisions about which objectives to pursue. This knowledge provides the rationale behind OKR choices.

Finally, a posteriori knowledge emerges after an OKR cycle. It encompasses insights gained from evaluating the outcomes of objectives and key results. What worked well? What didn't? These insights inform adjustments, helping teams learn from past experiences and continuously improve their OKR strategies.

Last thoughts...

In essence, understanding knowledge is an effective strategy to supercharge processes, data and decisions with the right tools.

Look at it this way. Breathing is an involuntary yet necessary thing we do. Nonetheless,  it is only when we are conscious about how we breathe, and control it that we can truly harness the power of it, and enhance multiple other functionalities of our body.  Knowledge works pretty much the same way.

Simply by considering how various types of knowledge influence the OKR framework, it becomes evident just how vital it is to grasp and handle knowledge effectively. This diverse knowledge landscape ensures that essential processes like OKRs stay effective and flexible in a constantly changing business environment.

Drop us a line

Hey I'm Mel,
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Written by

Elisa Reggiardo is part of the Marketing team at Slite where she leads the Partner Marketing motions. She is also a mom, author, and a big fan of delicious wine.

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