Implicit Knowledge and Work Performance

  • Britta HerbigEmail author
  • Andreas Müller
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


Implicit knowledge is quite a heterogeneous concept comprising different aspects and research areas, such as experiential knowledge, tacit knowledge or incidental learning paradigms. Starting with some examples for the phenomenon, the main concepts of this research with respect to professional practice are presented and an integrative definition of implicit knowledge is given. Subsequently, implicit knowledge as the base for individual professional performance is discussed. Its strengths, like being able to integrate large amounts of information, are weighted against pitfalls, like naïve but action-guiding theories. Against this background, a model for professional learning is proposed with recurrent cycles of knowledge explication, reflection, reintegration, and knowledge application. The next part focuses on group implicit knowledge and its relation to professional team performance. While building up a shared mental model of a task teams have to regulate their actions on the individual as well as on the team level. Thus, in work teams implicit knowledge has two facets: individual implicit knowledge that is difficult to assess for the regulation of a collective team task and individual explicit knowledge that is not communicated within the team. The latter might hinder coordination and regulation of team processes necessary for the successful accomplishment of complex tasks. The chapter concludes with organisational strategies for dealing with implicit knowledge and a caveat regarding implicit knowledge and its role in work performance especially in jobs with serious consequences and frequent critical incidents.


Implicit knowledge Awareness Work performance Experience Explication Reflection Mental models Team work 


  1. Ainley, P., & Rainbird, H. (Eds.). (1999). Apprenticeship: Towards a new paradigm of learning. London: Kogan Page.Google Scholar
  2. Arrow, H., McGrath, J. E., & Berdahl, J. L. (2000). Small groups as complex systems: Formation, coordination, development, and adaptation. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Badke-Schaub, P., Stempfle, J., & Wallmeier, S. (2001). Transfer of experience in critical design situations. In S. Cully, A. Duffy, C. McMahon, & K. Wallace (Eds.), Proceedings of ICED 01 (13th international conference on engineering design): Unifying engineering design – Building a partnership between research and industry (pp. 251–258). London: Professional Engineering Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Baumard, P. (1999). Tacit knowledge in organization. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Benzécri, J. P. (1992). Correspondence analysis handbook. New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  6. Berry, D. C. (Ed.). (1997). How implicit is implicit learning? Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Berry, D. C., & Broadbent, D. E. (1988). Interactive tasks and the implicit-explicit distinction. British Journal of Psychology, 79(2), 251–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Böhle, F., & Milkau, B. (1988). Vom Handrad zum Bildschirm. Eine Untersuchung zur sinnlichen Erfahrung im Arbeitsprozeß [From handwheel to display. An examination of sensuous experience in the working process]. Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  9. Büssing, A., & Herbig, B. (2003). Implicit knowledge and experience in work and organizations. International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 18, 239–280.Google Scholar
  10. Büssing, A., Herbig, B., & Ewert, T. (2002). Implizites Wissen und erfahrungsgeleitetes Arbeitshandeln: Entwicklung einer Methode zur Explikation in der Krankenpflege [Implicit knowledge and experience guided working: Development of a method for explication in nursing]. Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie, 46(1), 2–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Büssing, A., Herbig, B., & Latzel, A. (2004a). Explikation impliziten Wissens – Verändert sich das Handeln? [Explication of implicit knowledge – Is there a change in action?]. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 212(2), 87–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Büssing, A., Herbig, B., & Latzel, A. (2004b). Implizite Theorien – Die Probleme der Gedankenökonomie [Implicit theories – The problems of thought economy]. Pflege, 17, 113–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Büssing, A., Herbig, B., & Latzel, A. (2006). Knowledge – Experience – Action. A new model to analyse their mutual relation. In D. Frey, H. Mandl, & L. von Rosenstiel (Eds.), Knowledge and action (pp. 175–197). Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.Google Scholar
  14. Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Salas, E., & Converse, S. A. (1993). Shared mental models in expert team decision making. In N. J. Castellan Jr. (Ed.), Individual and group decision making: Current issues (pp. 221–246). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Carus, U., Nogala, D., & Schulze, H. (1992, August 26–28). Experience-guided working: An undervalued resource for advanced manufacturing systems. In P. Brödner & W. Karwowski (Eds.), Ergonomics of hybrid automated systems III (Proceedings of the third international conference on human aspects of advanced manufacturing and hybrid automation (pp. 423–428)), Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  16. Chan, C. (1992). Implicit cognitive processes. Theoretical issues and applications in computer systems design. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. Cheesman, J., & Merikle, P. M. (1984). Priming with and without awareness. Perception & Psychophysics, 36, 387–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Clement, J. (1994). Physical intuition and imaginistic simulation in expert problem solving. In D. Tirosh (Ed.), Implicit and explicit knowledge: An educational approach (Human development, Vol. 6, pp. 204–244). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  19. Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning and instruction (pp. 453–494). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Dienes, Z., & Berry, D. (1997). Implicit learning: Below the subjective threshold. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4(1), 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dierkes, M., Antal, A. B., Child, J., & Nonaka, I. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). Mind over machine: The power of human intuition and expertise in the era of computer. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  23. Ericsson, K. A., & Smith, J. (Eds.). (1991). Toward a general theory of expertise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ericsson, K. A., Charness, N., Hoffman, R. R., & Feltovich, P. J. (Eds.). (2006). The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Fischbein, E. (1994). Tacit models. In D. Tirosh (Ed.), Implicit and explicit knowledge: An educational approach (Human development, Vol. 6, pp. 96–110). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  27. Gaines, B. R., & Shaw, M. L. G. (1993). Knowledge acquisition tools based on personal construct psychology. Knowledge Engineering Review, 8(1), 49–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Glöckner, A., & Betsch, T. (2008). Modeling option and strategy choices with connectionist networks: Towards an integrative model of automatic and deliberate decision making. Judgement and Decision Making, 3(3), 215–228.Google Scholar
  29. Greeno, J. G. (1998). The situativity of knowing, learning, and research. American Psychologist, 53(1), 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Greeno, J. G., Smith, D. R., & Moore, J. L. (1993). Transfer of situated learning. In D. K. Dettermann & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Transfer on trial: Intelligence, cognition, and instruction (pp. 99–167). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  31. Greenwald, A. G. (1992). New look 3: Unconscious cognition reclaimed. American Psychologist, 47(6), 766–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hacker, W. (1992). Expertenkönnen. Erkennen und Vermitteln [Expert skill. Detecting and imparting]. Göttingen: Verlag für Angewandte Psychologie.Google Scholar
  33. Hackman, J. R. (1987). The design of work teams. In J. W. Lorsch (Ed.), Handbook of organizational behavior (pp. 315–342). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  34. Hartman, M., Knopman, D. S., & Nissen, M. J. (1989). Implicit learning of new verbal associations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15(6), 1070–1082.Google Scholar
  35. Hay, K. E., & Barab, S. A. (2001). Constructivism in practice: A comparison and contrast of apprenticeship and constructionist learning environments. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 281–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Herbig, B., & Büssing, A. (2004). The role of explicit and implicit knowledge in work performance. Psychology Science, 46(4), 408–432.Google Scholar
  37. Herbig, B., & Glöckner, A. (2009). Experts and decision making: First steps towards a unifying theory of decision making in novices, intermediates and experts. (Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2009/2). Bonn: Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.Google Scholar
  38. Herbig, B., Büssing, A., & Ewert, T. (2001). The role of tacit knowledge in the work context of nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 34(5), 687–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Holyoak, K. J., & Spellman, B. A. (1993). Thinking. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 265–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hutchins, E. (1991). The social organizations of distributed cognition. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine, & S. D. Teasly (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 283–307). Washington, DC: APA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Karmiloff-Smith, A. (1990). Constraints on representational change: Evidence from children’s drawing. Cognition, 34(1), 57–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kelly, G. A. (1969). A mathematical approach to psychology. In B. Maher (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly (pp. 94–113). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  43. Kirsner, K., & Speelman, C. (1998). Introduction and overview. In K. Kirsner, C. Speelman, M. Maybery, A. O’Brien-Malone, M. Anderson, & C. MacLeod (Eds.), Implicit and explicit mental processes (pp. 3–12). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  44. Kirsner, K., Speelman, C., Maybery, M., O’Brien-Malone, A., Anderson, M., & MacLeod, C. (Eds.). (1998). Implicit and explicit mental processes. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  45. Klimoski, R., & Mohammed, S. (1994). Team mental model: Construct or metaphor? Journal of Management, 20(2), 403–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lewicki, P. (1986). Nonconscious social information processing. London: Academic.Google Scholar
  47. Lewicki, P., Czyzewska, M., & Hill, T. (1997). Nonconscious information processing and personality. In D. C. Berry (Ed.), How implicit is implicit learning? (pp. 48–72). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lindemann, U. (2005). Methodische Entwicklung technischer Produkte. Methoden flexibel und situationsgerecht anwenden [Methodological development of technical products. Using methods flexible and in accordance with the situation]. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  49. Linstone, H. A., & Turoff, M. (Eds.). (1975). The Delphi method. London: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  50. MacLeod, C. (1998). Implicit perception: Perceptual processing without awareness. In K. Kirsner, C. Speelman, M. Maybery, A. O’Brien-Malone, M. Anderson, & C. MacLeod (Eds.), Implicit and explicit mental processes (pp. 57–78). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  51. Macrae, C. N., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2000). Social cognition: Thinking categorically about others. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 93–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mandl, H., & Gerstenmaier, J. (Eds.). (2000). Die Kluft zwischen Wissen und Handeln – Empirische und theoretische Lösungsansätze [The gap between knowledge and action – Empirical and theoretical attempts for solution]. Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  53. Manning, B. H., & Payne, B. D. (1993). A Vygotskian-based theory of teacher cognition: Toward the acquisition of mental reflection and self-regulation. Teaching & Teacher Education, 9(4), 361–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Martin, H. (Ed.). (1995). CeA – Computergestützte erfahrungsgeleitete Arbeit [Computer-supported experience-guided working]. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  55. Mathews, R. C. (1997). Is research painting a biased picture of implicit learning? The dangers of methodological purity in scientific debate. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4(1), 38–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Menzies, T. (1998). Toward situated knowledge acquisition. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 49(6), 867–893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Miliken, F. J., Bartel, C. A., & Kurtzberg, T. R. (2003). Diversity and creativity in work groups. A dynamic perspective on the affective and cognitive processes that link diversity and performance. In P. B. Paulus & B. A. Nijstad (Eds.), Group creativity. Innovation through collaboration (pp. 32–62). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Mohammed, S., & Dumville, B. C. (2001). Team mental models in a team knowledge framework: Expanding theory and measurement across disciplinary boundaries. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22(2), 89–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Müller, A. (2009). Zielklärung und Handlungsplanung beim Problemlösen in Gruppen [Goal-clarification and action-planning during problem-solving in groups]. Psychologie des Alltagshandelns, 2(1), 1–13.Google Scholar
  60. Müller, A., Herbig, B., & Petrovic, K. (2009). The explication of implicit team knowledge and its supporting effect on team processes and technical innovations. An action regulation perspective on team reflexivity. Small Group Research, 40(1), 28–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Myers, C., & Davis, K. (1993). Tacit skill and performance at work. Applied Psychology, 42(2), 117–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Olivera, F. (2000). Memory systems in organizations: An empirical investigation of mechanisms for knowledge collection, storage and access. Journal of Management Studies, 37(6), 811–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: Toward a post-critical philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  66. Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  67. Putnam, L. L. (1979). Preferences for procedural order in task-oriented small groups. Communication Monographs, 46(3), 193–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Putnam, L. L. (1981). Procedural messages and small group work climates: A lag sequential analysis. In M. Burgoon (Ed.), Communication yearbook (pp. 331–350). New Brunswick: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
  69. Reber, A. S. (1989). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 118(3), 219–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. An essay on the cognitive unconscious. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Reber, A. S. (1997). Implicit ruminations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4(1), 49–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rimann, M., Udris, I., & Weiss, V. (2000). Values in transition from apprenticeship to occupational work. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 59(4), 291–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Sanderson, P. M. (1989). Verbalizable knowledge and skilled task performance: Association, dissociation, and mental models. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15(4), 729–747.Google Scholar
  74. Schank, R. C., & Abelson, R. (1977). Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  75. Seger, C. A. (1994). Implicit learning. Psychological Bulletin, 115(2), 163–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Simon, H. A. (1955). A behavioral model of rational choice. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69(1), 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Smith, S. M. (2003). The constraining effects of initial ideas. In P. B. Paulus & B. A. Nijstad (Eds.), Group creativity. Innovation through collaboration (pp. 15–31). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Sonnentag, S. (2000). Expertise at work: Experience and excellent performance. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 15, pp. 223–264). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  79. Speelman, C. (1998). Implicit expertise: Do we expect too much from our experts? In K. Kirsner, C. Speelman, M. Maybery, A. O’Brien-Malone, M. Anderson, & C. MacLeod (Eds.), Implicit and explicit mental processes (pp. 135–147). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  80. Stasser, G., & Birchmeier, Z. (2003). Group creativity and collective choice. In P. Paulus & B. A. Nijstad (Eds.), Group creativity. Innovation through collaboration (pp. 132–172). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Stasser, G., & Titus, W. (1985). Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: Biased information sampling during discussion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(6), 1467–1478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Stasser, G., & Titus, W. (1987). Effects of information load and percentage of shared information on the dissemination of unshared information during group discussion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(1), 81–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Stasser, G., & Titus, W. (2003). Hidden profiles: A brief history. Psychological Inquiry, 14(3/4), 302–311.Google Scholar
  84. Steiner, I. D. (1972). Group processes and productivity. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  85. Sternberg, R. J. (1995). Theory and measurement of tacit knowledge as part of practical intelligence. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 203(4), 319–334.Google Scholar
  86. Sternberg, R. J., & Horvath, J. A. (Eds.). (1999). Tacit knowledge in professional practice – Researcher and practitioner perspectives. London: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  87. Tschan, F. (2000). Produktivität in Kleingruppen: Was machen produktive Gruppen anders und besser? [Productivity in small groups: What do productive groups different and better?]. Bern: Huber.Google Scholar
  88. von Cranach, M., Ochsenbein, G., & Valach, L. (1986). The group as a self active system: Outline of a theory of a group action. European Journal of Social Psychology, 16(3), 193–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. von Cranach, M., Ochsenbein, G., & Tschan, F. (1987). Actions of social systems: Theoretical and empirical investigations. In G. R. Semin & B. Krahé (Eds.), Issues in contemporary German social psychology (pp. 119–155). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  90. Wegge, J. (2004). Führung von Arbeitsgruppen [Leadership of work groups]. Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  91. Wegner, D. M. (1987). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B. Mullen & G. Goethals (Eds.), Theories of group behavior (pp. 185–208). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wegner, D. M. (1995). A computer network model of human transactive memory. Social Cognition, 13(3), 319–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Weinert, F. E. & Waldmann, M. R. (1988). Wissensentwicklung und Wissenserwerb. In H. Mandl & H. Spada (Eds.), Wissenspsychologie [Psychology of knowledge] (pp. 161–199). Weinheim: Psychologie Verlags Union.Google Scholar
  94. West, M. A. (1996). Reflexivity and work group effectiveness: A conceptual integration. In M. West (Ed.), Handbook of work group psychology (pp. 555–579). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  95. West, M. A., Hirst, G., Richter, A., & Shipton, H. (2004). Twelve steps to heaven: Successfully managing change through developing innovative teams. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 13(2), 269–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Willingham, D. B., Nissen, M. J., & Bullemer, P. (1989). On the development of procedural knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 15(6), 1047–1060.Google Scholar
  97. Wittenbaum, G. M., Stasser, G., & Merry, C. J. (1996). Tacit coordination in anticipation of small group task completion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 32(2), 129–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental MedicineLudwig-Maximilians-UniversityMunichGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Occupational and Social MedicineHeinrich-Heine-UniversityDuesseldorfGermany

Personalised recommendations