Re: Emergent Learning LO1944

Michael McMaster (
Wed, 5 Jul 1995 20:51:41 +0000

Replying to LO1925 --

This reminds me of a story that John Seely Brown of Xerox tells. The
discovery is attributed to hiring an anthropologist to find out what
actually happens in the field. To find a randomly and seldom repeating
fault in a Xerox machine is no easy thing. So they produced a manual of
how to do it. But it didn't help much. The anthropologits when into the
field with one of the acknowledged masters on such a problem and observed
that the manual was never opened and never followed. The manual said,
"run x thousand copies until the fault occurs a number of times and then
analyse the results." The master didn't run *any* copies. What did they
do then? They did the *obvious*. They went to the wastepaper basket and
emptied it. Lo and behold, it contained all of the errors of the day
already discovered. Needless to say, the job took a much shorter time.

Now this can be shared. But it's not as easy as it looks. Why?
Because, to the master it is too obvious to think about sharing. (Of
course, there is also the hidden factor that the authority system
prescribes something else so it will be better to keep this quiet and
not be interfered with.)

This (slight) difference between this story and the fleece story is
that it seems, on the surface at least, that the knowledge is more
difficult to pass on. I suggest that if we commit a small fraction
of our time to practice, then we can learn by doing.

Tacit (implicit) knowledge cannot be converted into explicit
knowledge. I make this as an absolute statement for its power in
declaring it that way. I'm sure some will find exception but the
exception do not invalidate the statement because it is a pragmatic
one. When you can show that what I declared is *frequently* not the
case, then you have something of interest - to me at least.

One thing I will stand on. This type of knowledge cannot be stored
in a database. But it can be stored and made accesible.

Michael McMaster