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Productivity Keep It Personal A basic scenario sketched out across the range of stratagems we have explored here is one in which some technique, technology, tool, device, practice, chemical, concept, or other such thing operates to shape and configure the possibilities of a situation, influencing the way in which it can change, the dynamics operative within it. Such mediators are not necessarily transparent and are often far from stable, and this gives them some latitude for experimentation and a considerable coefficient of ambiguity that opens them up to the wandering of fortune. The concept of tacit knowledge, as it has been deployed within the theory and practice of management, seems to play an exemplary role in facilitating the kinds of cunning that we have been exploring here, and provides a crucial indicator of the tensions that systems or networks of mediators are subject to.1 Developed by the scientist-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi in his book Personal Knowledge, the characterization of a type of knowing as tacit—that is, difficult, even impossible, to verbalize—gives scope to its recasting in terms of a sort of inarticulable “connoisseurship ” that offers an exceptional resource for flattery, especially when brought into contrast with the abstract and impersonal structures of the kind of critical philosophy that Polanyi opposed. While flattery of the powerful was not Polanyi’s goal (his undertaking was to explore crucial aspects of the development of scientific knowledge that critical philosophy could not), such ideas become more malleable when (mis)applied in the expediently instrumental realm of the corporate.2 Indeed, from this point of view, one distinct advantage that Polanyi’s conception of the tacit can offer is a satisfying sense that the ineffable nous of leaders is the source of their expertise (and elevated position), that a rounded personality whose appreciation of the bouquet of a fine wine harmonizes richly with an intuition that the market 126 Productivity will appreciate a move to downsize or restructure, and that a hefty bonus is a legitimate reward for all this inarticulable personal capital. A concept of knowing as tacit or personal cashed out as a refined connoisseurship or down-to-earth geek insight (the specific qualities are irrelevant) harmonizes here with a rhetoric of intellectual capital and market overbidding for “excellence.” Recent work on the brain, a substance rich in genetically endowed connections, might yet provide a color-coded scan to prove the point.3 Further, by appealing to the necessary inarticulacy of a process of imitation in which an apprentice follows the gestures of the master, picking up along the way a range of gestures that even the master didn’t know he was making, Polanyi’s conception of the tacit also captures a sense of the embedding of knowledge in practices, where knowing how is as important as, if not more important than, knowing that. Likewise, in these mute processes of imitation, it points to something of the dynamic of authority and hierarchy in an organizational practice. Doing what someone tells you to do because they are presumed to know better, even if they are unable to explain why, finds a flattering explanation through the notion of tacit knowledge. At the least, an alibi is provided for a leader who, unable to argue the toss, bullies his inferiors into submission and is hailed for “being a forceful personality.” In the refractoriness of making doing amenable to propositional articulation, even the slightest gesture can be imagined as crucial to the cognitive capital of an organization, the generic qualities of work processes ornamented through the ineffable uniqueness of the personal touch. As managers increasingly become leaders, their every gesture is invested in and mused over for the secret of success it might contain. The historical links of the tacit with attempts to explain how science works also suggest a continuity between scientific endeavor and the more dubitably objective practices of the world of commerce: the quantimetrics of scientific management find a positive reason for their limitations in the mute shapings of gesture. But as a device for shaping knowledge management strategies, the tacit acts as a vector for drawing human factors together, for promoting the intimacy and warmth of communication and cooperation among elements of an organization. If knowledge is personal, it can only be mediated through personal input. And when knowledge has been acquired through the subconscious processes of the tacit, as with the apprentice learning by imitative doing, work gains a feeling of continuity, a feeling that, helpfully, directs...


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