Tacit & Explicit Knowledge – Wha…?


Firstly I need to mention that I read this book extremely fast. Approx. 2 weeks is all it took, and for me that is a record. I think there are a couple of reason for this:

  • It’s a relatively small book – 178 pages.
  • I’ve been catching the train to work recently – reading time.
  • I was very keen to see what I could learn from it.
  • I would normally back track a lot while reading, going over paragraphs a few times to clear any misunderstanding. I didn’t do that as much with this book because not matter how many times I went over certain paragraphs I know I wouldn’t have understood it any better!

I recall telling some colleagues of mine that it was a ‘mind bender’ after reading only a few pages, and I still maintain that description. I don’t have an academic background so I’m not used to reading text such as this. It was a struggle to begin with, but about half way through certain elements began to make sense and I could start to relate them back to not only my testing, but also my martial arts training. The book prompted some tweets from me (some direct quotes):

  • “What the mistaken claim that all knowledge is tacit does indicate is that, mostly, explicit knowledge is harder to understand…” H Collins
  • “The modern world is thought of as driven by explicit knowledge – patterns.” H Collins
  • “The explicit is taken as the norm rather than the tacit – and the contrast with what is not explicit is ever present.” H Collins
  • “Education is more a matter of socialization into tacit ways of thinking and doing than transferring explicit information or instructions.” H Collins
  • #testing standards are like lookup tables, being frozen history at best… and often not even that. 1/2
  • –Little to no sensitivity to social constructs and changing contexts. #stopiso29119 2/2
  • The /rules/ of #testing are like the /rules/ of society… constantly changing. Explicit standards don’t change with them. #stopiso29119
  • So, just finished Tacit & Explicit Knowledge by Harry Collins. It’s going to take a while to digest, but some instant gems are evident.

Along with the tweets there were multiple thoughts that have found their way into my book (currently in progress); specifically related to knowledge transfer.

As soon as the book moved on from explaining the explicit, into explaining the tacit, my thoughts quickly moved to martial arts and how the many instructors I’ve work with have attempted to transfer knowledge on to me, their student. While Harry does well at explaining a very complex subject using working examples (riding a bike for example) I still found myself getting more from the book when linking it back to my own experiences. While this would seem common place, I want to make this point very clear because had it not been the case, I would have really struggled with this particular read. I found it to be a rather confusing style of writing; however with persistence I managed it.

Harry draws a very useful ‘map’ of tacit knowledge throughout the book, and this helps to analyse what can, should, cannot, and should not be explicit/explicable. My relatively naive understanding of both forms of knowledge, pre-read, appears to have been correct to some degree, but that understanding was nowhere near deep enough. The book has helped me to question further the extent of both forms of knowledge, and how they may impact the work we do, and could do, as testers.

Making something explicit can be as simple as writing it down on paper, but does that mean it will hold any meaning to the recipient? Will be useful to them? Will it afford them the understanding they need in order to do a good job? Are you making knowledge explicit when doing this, or simply writing words on paper? This book prompts a lot of great questions!

Harry, very neatly, breaks up tacit knowledge into three forms:

  • Relational Tacit Knowledge (RTK – Weak) – Contingencies of social life.
  • Somatic Tacit Knowledge (STK – Medium) – The nature of the human body and brain.
  • Collective Tacit Knowledge (CTK – Strong) – The nature of human society.

He sets out to explain how each of these forms of tacit knowledge can, or could, be made explicit, and how elements of each cannot. CTK held the most meaning for me. This is the area of tacit knowledge that calls on our society, the knowledge that remains sensitive to the varying contexts of our lives, surroundings, interactions, etc. Learning to drive a car was a great example used for this. While the instructions for interacting with the car itself could be explicable, how would you go about making explicit the knowledge required to react to varying traffic conditions, driving rules, etc. Or simpler again… while you can tell someone (make explicit) how far away they must remain from another person while walking past them on the street, what would that person do if it were a busy walkway? What would they do if the person passing them was of the opposite sex? Can they break the distance rule and bump into them because it’s busy? What if they did this when it wasn’t busy? Each time they passed a different person, in different conditions, they would need to call on their CTK in order to navigate the situation. Thinking of, and making explicit, every conceivable scenario for passing someone on the street could be possible; however the limitations (we would die first, and where would we store all the data?) would be far too great for any of us to achieve it.

Now with all of the above in mind, think about your testing. How many possible scenarios do you think you could call upon in order to make the task explicit? Exactly… don’t bother! Testing is social. Our CTK (along with RTK and STK) plays a huge part in us doing a good job. This fly’s in the face of testing that solely calls upon explicit step by step procedural artifacts (test cases). While these may add value in some contexts, doing them alone will not allow for the CTK that is so greatly required in our work.

There is much more within the covers of this book. The above is merely one learning that fell from the pages for me; and while I ‘knew’ it already, I don’t think I knew it deeply enough.

I’d like to do an analysis of some testing activities and see where they fit on the map of tacit knowledge as it’s written in this book. That will take time.

I now need to read The Shape of Actions, one of Harry’s earlier books in collaboration with Martin Kusch. It’s mentioned a few times through this book, as are polimorphic and mimeomorphic actions. While I have a high level understanding of these, I would like to go deeper.

I recommend this book to testers out there. It may be tough going, but persist like I did. There is value to be gained.

Bank 2.0 – High-level Review

bank 2.0

Not long ago I discovered my current client had a small library. The above, Bank 2.0 by Brett King, caught my attention. From memory it had something to do with the ‘2.0’ and my assumption that it had something to do with technology. The cover is also very inviting.

Firstly it’s important to note that this book was published back in 2010. While that doesn’t sound like a long time ago, both in the world of finance and technology a great deal has changed in the last 5 years. That’s not to say that the book is not worth reading. All it does is add a different dimension for the reader – How many of Brett’s predictions have come true, or likely will with the knowledge that 5 more years can bring.

When I first looked at some of the book’s early reviews I noticed a sentiment of controversy. These days I don’t believe that would be the case, but thinking about banking back in late naughties (2000’s) you can see how some of what Brett says in the book could be taken as controversial. It’s also important to keep in mind that Brett would have been writing this during and just post the Global Financial Crisis; certainly a pressure cooker of a time in the industry.

I’ve been working in finance for the majority of the last 5 years, at my current client, who, interestingly enough, get a mention in the book. Perhaps that’s why there are a few copies in the client’s library?! I can tell the book has been read by some in decision making positions, because a lot of what has been happening with my client’s business and IT is suggested in the book. I think this help me a great deal while reading the book as I could relate to much of the terminology and the processes/methodologies that are called out within it. For someone who has not worked in finance the read is still a good one, as Brett does well to explain financial concepts where required.

The book is broken up into 3 larger parts:

Part 1 – Changes in Customer Behaviour

  • What the Internet and “CrackBerry” Have Taught Customers
  • Measuring the Customer Experience

Part 2 – Fixing the Broken Bits – Channel Improvement

  • Rebuilding the Branch One Customer at a Time
  • Please Hang Up and Try Again – Call Center’s and IVRs
  • Web – More Than 10 Years Old … and Still Broken
  • Mobile – The New Internet and Death of Cash
  • ATM and Self-Service Banking – Convergence and Control
  • Navigating Rapid Change Dynamics

Part 3 – The Road Ahead – Beyond Channel

  • Deep Impact – Technology & Disruptive Innovation
  • Gridless Customer Experience – More Complexity, More Choice
  • The Emergence of the Prosumer – Collective Intelligence, Social Networking and Web 2.0
  • Future Payments and Cash – RFID, Biometrics, P2P Micropayments, Digital Cash
  • Death of Advertising – Predictive and Precognitive Sales and Marketing
  • The BANK 2.0 Road Map

I’d like to call out the common theme as I saw it throughout the book – customer experience. For those that know me this was particularly profound. I’m a big advocate of usability and the overall user experience of products and therefore took great interest in the sections of the book that concentrated on those particular subjects.

Brett does a good job of providing just enough history of a particular subject for it to make sense to the reader when he goes on to explain how it has, and may, impact banking as we know it (or knew it at the time). As previously mentioned I did have an advantage as a reader as I work in the finance industry and I think this made the read easier for me. I perhaps wouldn’t have gleamed as much from it had I not the experience in the industry, but as the book is mainly concentrated on banking I don’t see that as a negative. I do believe any industry that relies on, or would like to rely on, IT to help service it’s customers could gain from reading this book. In many areas you could simply replace the banking references with your own industry’s references as the common theme remains the same – focus on the customer’s behaviour.

This theme isn’t new of course, and I don’t believe it was new back in 2010 when the book was published, however it amazes me almost everyday that many just haven’t caught on. I’ve seen a huge shift in my client’s business to move towards this theme, but it would appear from reading the book that many hadn’t back in 2010.

One thing that did happen to me while I was reading the book, that I perhaps would not have thought in-depth about otherwise, was a confusing customer experience of my own. I had applied for a HSBC (a bank that is mentioned a great deal in the book) credit card and been approved. The online application process was pretty simple, however when it came time to register for online banking I stumbled somewhat with HSBC’s IVR system. Activating the card was easy – call the number provided and follow the prompts on the IVR. Activating cards was one of the first level choices and therefore I had that done in no time. When it came to online banking registration it was another story – The letter I had received, and the text on the website both stated to call the particular number and follow the prompts. I called and listened to the options… none of which sounded like online banking registration. After experiencing ‘Activating cards’ in such a clear and concise manner, I had the expectation that ‘online banking registration’ would be equally as clear and concise. After a few attempts at a few different options, one of which was ‘credit cards online’ I decided to wait and speak with an operator. I believe that the option I wanted was in fact ‘credit cards online’, but even after choosing that option I couldn’t work out how I registered for online banking.

What made this experience so profound was that at the time I was reading a section of the book that was all about IVRs and how they can be utilised to expedite a customer’s experience, and save the bank money. Also that it happened to be; one of the most mentioned banks in the book.

Another nice element to the book is its case studies; some of which are written by guest contributors. The case studies go along way in proving what Brett is telling the reader. They also highlight, in great magnitude, the importance of the points Brett is trying to make.

Bank 3.0 has since been written, and while the reviews aren’t as great (in general suggesting there should have been more time between the 2 books) I’m still very keen to read it. That and other writings from Brett.

I recommend Bank 2.0, more if you’re in the finance industry, but also if you’re interested in how technology can, and may, impact the business of serving customers.

What’s Missing?

While doing some study today I learned of the term ‘Freakonomics’. I know, where have I been all this time… blah, blah, blah. It looks interesting, so I’ll do more research on it. However, that’s not the point of my post.

I went to the website (in Chrome) after a Google search, and noticed something… after a while that is.

Tell me, what do you think is missing?

Freakonomics 1

Something that you would ‘normally’ see on the header menu of a site like this. Nothing? Can’t tell me? I didn’t notice it either until I decided that I wanted to know a bit about the back story of these two interesting guys.

Where is the About menu item?

Oh, there it is…

Freakonomics About

What an odd place to put it. White text on a very light grey background. Hmm, but what’s that next to it then…

Freakonomics Experiments

Oh Experiments, cool! This one even changes to green text when hovered over with the mouse. I wonder why that doesn’t happen with the About menu item.

As it turns out, all the header menu items are highlighted in different colours… except for About. I guess having one that doesn’t is cool, but not when it’s the one that may fall off the first line of the header menu.

Being the curious sort that I am I decided to check out IE and Firefox…

Freakonomics IE Firefox

Oh my goodness, would you look at that! Experiments and About menu items fit on the one line in the header menu. After all this time I’ve found something that doesn’t work quite as well in Chrome!

I wonder if I would have even noticed if I had not wanted to know a bit more about them?

What appears to be simple stuff can mean a great deal and cause a significant impact. Think about compatibility and usability people.

ET Session of Google.com.au – Report

Having recently undertaken an ET session of Google.com.au I thought I would extend my practice to reporting on my findings. What follows is the report of my session.

Initial mission:

  • Practice mapping a website (Google.com.au) using a mind mapping tool (MindMup)

Mission inclusions (as I tested):

  • Learn more about the chosen website
  • Practice Exploratory Testing (ET)

Note – I did not time box the session, nor did I accurately measure the length of the session. I would estimate the approximate session time being 1 hour. This hour includes the note taking, but excludes the time taken to write this report.

Tools utilised:

  • MindMup – Used to map the website and note taking while testing
  • 15 inch laptop
  • Google Chrome (version 0.2125.111 m)

Site tested:

Note – I was logged in to my Google account during the session.



Product Breakdown:

For the purpose of this report I have broken the website into 3 main areas and will report on them separately. The 4th area I’ll report on relates to elements outside of the 3 areas. The areas are:

  1. Header
  2. Search
  3. Footer
  4. Other

Note – this breakdown only partially aligns to the structure of the mind map I created.

Report of findings:


The Header area consists of a series of buttons and links placed in the upper right hand corner of the screen.


  • David+
  • Gmail
  • Images


  • Apps
  • Notifications
  • Google+ Share
  • Account

Note – In this report I’m using the term ‘buttons’ as a label for buttons and clickable icons.

There are further links within each of the buttons as shown on the mind map.

Potential problems identified in the Header, and suggestions where applicable:

  • As is consistent with many links on the website, each of the links in the Header open in the same tab. My personal preference would be to have the majority of these links opened in a new tab.
  • The Search link found within the Apps button appears to be redundant. When clicked it takes you to Google.com.au, which is same location as before clicking. Suggest replacing this link with another Google App link.
  • The Google+ and Gmail links found within the Apps button appear to be redundant. There is already a Google+ and Gmail link in the Header. Suggest replacing these links with other Google App links.
  • The Privacy link found within the Account dialog after clicking the Account button takes you to the same page as the Privacy link found in the Footer of the website. I don’t feel that 2 of the same link are required. Suggest removing this Privacy link and keeping the Footer Privacy link as that will always remain on the page. This link may not be available if you are not logged in when on the website.
  • After clicking sign out and landing back on the website, the Use Google.com link is no longer visible in the Footer. This happened on another occasion and will be reported on in Footer area.


The Search area consists of the search bar (where characters are entered for the purpose of a www search), a logo, and 3 buttons:

  • Voice Search
  • Google Search
  • I’m Feeling Lucky

Note – Voice Search was not included in the scope of this session.

Information discovered in the Search area:

  • Clicking on the I’m Feeling Lucky button when no text is entered in the search bar takes you to Google Doodles.
  • Clicking on the I’m Feeling Lucky button takes you directly to the page of what would be the first search result (assumption). This allowed be to find where all the previous Google logos for special events are stored.
  • Clicking on Google Search when no text is entered in the search bar does nothing.
  • There are several Easter Eggs that can be discovered in the search bar.
  • The word length limit of Google search appears to be 128 characters. Note this is different from the string length limit; that was not explored.

Potential problems identified in the Search area:

  • The Google Search button appears to be redundant. When entering text into the search bar, it is moved to the top left of the screen and the button is removed and replaced with a message of ‘Press Enter to search.’ or the standard blue google search button at the right hand side of the search bar.
  • Following on from the above potential problem, clicking the browser back button takes you to a different version of the Google search website. This new website appears to be the same one you get when opening a new tab. Entering text in the search bar on this different website then moves your text and cursor to the address bar. This is confusing. This new screen also doesn’t have the Google Search or I’m Feeling Lucky buttons.

Note – At the time of writing this section of the report (approx. 3 days after the session) I attempted to reproduce the above potential problem. Instead of being taken to the different website I was taken back to Google.com.au as I would have expected during the original session.

  • As above, the I’m Feeling Lucky button also appears to be redundant.
  • When searching for something that Google’s predictive search does not find you cannot use the I’m Feeling Lucky function. This function is only available by highlighting one of the Google predictive searches and clicking on I’m Feeling Lucky at the right of the predictive search.
  • Due to the above listed potential problems, the I’m Feeling Lucky function is somewhat confusing to use.
  • There appears to be a few different ways you can perform a search using Google. While this may seem to be beneficial it is also somewhat confusing.
  • Searching for spaces only appears to do nothing. I would suggest that the search is reset and a message be displayed to the user stating that spaces are not recognised in searches (if in fact that is the intended behaviour).
  • Spaces before and after text appear to be ignored. As above I would suggest a message to the user; however there may also be valid searches that have spaces before and after so revisiting this behaviour could be beneficial.


The Footer area consists of a series of links placed in the lower left and right hand corners of the screen.


  • Advertising
  • Business
  • About
  • Privacy
  • Terms
  • Settings
  • Use Google.com

Potential problems identified in the Footer area:

  • As is consistent with many links on the website, each of the links in the Footer open in the same tab. My personal preference would be to have the majority of these links opened in a new tab.
  • The Use Google.com link is removed when performing a I’m Feeling Lucky search for Google. This occurred on another occasion as noted in the Header section of this report. I would suggest further exploration of this as I have a feeling there would be more scenarios where this occurs. It is also difficult to get the Use Google.com link to return as a page refresh does not work.


During the session I decided to explore the function keys to learn how they interacted with the website, if at all:

Potential problems identified with the function keys:

  • The following functions keys did not appear to have any actions:
    • F2
    • F4
    • F7
    • F8
    • F9
    • F10

I would suggestion making use of these function keys if possible.

  • Pressing F3 for a second time does not close the find function.
  • Pressing F6 for a second time does move the cursor away from the address bar, but does not move it back to the search bar. I would suggest this as a good place to move the cursor to.


After spending approx. 1 hour exploring Google.com.au I have identified 18 potential problems and discovered some interesting pieces of information.

I don’t believe that any of the potential problems I have identified pose a great risk to the product; however that is my opinion only and I would suggest each one is further assessed by the product owner/s and other users at different levels of capability using search engine websites.

I achieved my initial mission via the creation of the mind map, and also achieved the late inclusions to my mission as I have learned more about the website and also practiced ET.

ET Session of Google.com.au

I recently undertook a quick ET session of Google.com.au. My initial mission was to practice mapping a website using a mind map, but as I went along it also began to include learning more about what the site does, and also to practice ET. I regret not timing myself, but I think I spent approx. 1 hour exploring and note taking (via the mind map below).

This was a simple yet powerful exercise for me. As I began mapping the site I quickly moved to thinking about ways it could be improved (in my opinion), exploring some of the functions, and also noticing some strange behaviour, etc.

The most powerful lesson for me was realising that I could spend a LOT more time on this exercise even when considering the site’s simple appearance. Looks can most certainly be deceiving… there is lot more to Google.com.au than searching!

Mind Map – ET of Google.com.au

I’ve done some simple colour coding of the map:

  • Grey – Page elements or notes.
  • Blue – Notes or the end of my thread of exploration.
  • Green – I consider the feature to be functioning as I would expect/I like it.
  • Yellow – A concern that I think warrants more consideration from either myself, or someone that can answer my question, etc.
  • Red – What I consider to be a problem for me.

Next time someone asks you to test what appears to be a simple product, be prepared for a not so simple test session!

Also, a shout out to MindMup – What a great tool!