The Power of Tacit Knowledge: Emulation, Expertise, and Effective Learning


Hatched by Glasp

Jul 09, 2023

3 min read


The Power of Tacit Knowledge: Emulation, Expertise, and Effective Learning


In the pursuit of knowledge and mastery, deliberate practice has long been hailed as the key to success. However, there is another form of knowledge that often goes unnoticed but holds immense value - tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that cannot be easily put into words, but rather learned through emulation, action, and apprenticeship. In this article, we will explore the importance of tacit knowledge, its role in expertise, and how it can be effectively acquired. We will also delve into the significance of NDM (Naturalistic Decision Making) methods in enhancing our understanding and acquisition of tacit knowledge.

The Essence of Tacit Knowledge:

Tacit knowledge is the embodiment of skills, experiences, and insights that cannot be fully captured through verbal or written explanations alone. It is the "know-how" that is acquired through imitation, emulation, and apprenticeship. When we observe a master in action and strive to replicate their actions, we are tapping into the realm of tacit knowledge.

The Limitations of Explicit Knowledge:

While explicit knowledge, which can be conveyed through words and instructions, has its merits, it often falls short in capturing the nuances and complexities of certain domains. When someone finds themselves explaining a concept with numerous caveats and exceptions, it is an indication that tacit knowledge is at play. Tacit knowledge encompasses the intricate judgment required to balance multiple considerations and make instantaneous decisions. This kind of expertise is difficult to acquire solely through explanation.

The Fallacy of Deliberate Practice:

Deliberate practice, often celebrated as the pinnacle of skill development, is only applicable in fields with well-established pedagogy, such as music, math, and chess. Deliberate practice involves a systematic approach to skill improvement, focusing on specific tasks and receiving feedback. However, when it comes to acquiring tacit knowledge, deliberate practice falls short. Tacit knowledge thrives in the realm of emulation, feedback, and osmosis.

The Value of Emulation and Apprenticeship:

To truly grasp the essence of tacit knowledge, one must seek out a master and immerse themselves in their world. By working under a master for an extended period, one can absorb the principles and expertise through emulation and feedback. The years Warren Buffett spent under Benjamin Graham is a prime example of this process. Emulating the actions of a master helps internalize the tacit knowledge that underlies their expertise.

The Importance of NDM Methods:

Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) is an area of study that focuses on enhancing decision-making processes by understanding how experts make decisions in real-world situations. NDM methods offer valuable insights into the acquisition and utilization of tacit knowledge. By incorporating NDM techniques into our learning processes, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to tap into and develop tacit knowledge effectively.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Seek out mentors and masters in your field of interest. Emulate their actions and strive to understand the underlying principles and insights behind their expertise.
  • 2. Embrace apprenticeship and hands-on learning. Immerse yourself in real-world experiences that allow you to learn through action and feedback, rather than relying solely on theoretical knowledge.
  • 3. Explore the field of NDM and its methodologies. Look for resources that shed light on how experts make decisions and incorporate those insights into your own learning journey.


While deliberate practice has its place in certain domains, the acquisition of tacit knowledge holds immense value in fostering expertise and creative problem-solving. Emulation, apprenticeship, and the incorporation of NDM methods provide avenues for acquiring and leveraging tacit knowledge effectively. By recognizing the power of tacit knowledge and actively seeking ways to gain it, we can unlock new dimensions of learning and expertise.

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