Tacit Knowledge LO2085

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (BIRRED@dnr.state.wi.us)
Thu, 13 Jul 1995 10:20 CST

Responding to Dave Buffenbarger in Tacit Knowledge LO2058:

... discussion of learning to bowl and play golf...

>I argue that some things are more natural for a person (the tacit side)
>and it only takes the explicit to make us aware of this tacit side.

>When I ask about the NATURALNESS of something (bowling for me and also
>math) when most others spend much more time learning the same thing, I
>should have asked:

>Has anyone experienced this "unexpected rate of learning" upon
>introduction to something new, which endured for an extended period time
>(not a flash in the pan)? In other words, it was easy in the beginning,
>through application they improved rapidly, and it was not just a fleeting
>moment in time?

I'd certainly agree that there is a great degree of individuation in
learning, both in what is easily learned and how quickly learning takes
place. This has tremendous implications for organizations; incredible
amounts of resources are wasted in futile (or at best inefficient)
attempts to get people to learn things they simply are not attuned to, or
in ways that they can't relate to. The little I know of NLP tells me
that's a promising pathway to help address this.

I'd like to share a couple of little stories...

As a fledgling artillery officer I could NOT get the hang of the rules
involved in setting up a battery of howitzers. The rules (e.g., "Take the
fire out of the old lady") were designed to enable people with poor
visual-spatial skills to set up a couple of fairly basic geometric
relationships between the line of fire and the aiming points (the target
is too far away to be seen). So I finally just visualized the whole
thing, and then it was easy. I wound up using my method to teach others
who couldn't make sense of the left-brain method the Army taught. But did
the Artillery School adopt a second, complementary approach? Not a

Later, I worked as a sports car mechanic. Twenty years later I could
probably still overhaul an MGB transmission, but I can't remember ever
using the shop manual except for part numbers.

I've learned very quickly such things as sailing, training dogs and
horses, proper cycling technique, and the use of Windows-based software.
But golf? economics? dissertation research methods? statistical quality
control? Nope.

I'd be interested in hearing others' tales of things they tried to do but
couldn't because their learning style didn't meet the requirements of the
task. We have a lot to learn about flexible design of work before we can
claim to truly empower people to do their best.

David E. Birren                              Phone:    (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources         Fax:      (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget                Internet: birred@dnr.state.wi.us
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It is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory.
--W. Edwards Deming