Advertising’s Secret Weapon: Tacit Knowledge
Knowledge about how the world works comes in a couple of basic varieties; explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is more about information and data you store in your head and can easily communicate, such as facts, figures and statistics. Tacit knowledge is about knowing “how” to do something without most often with without the ability to describe how it’s done –knowledge that is hard or impossible to quantify or put in words. A good example of both types of knowledge is music. Notated music is explicit knowledge, but performing the music that is faithful to the composer and conductors intent is tacit…it simply can’t be explained in words easily and conductors must trust the ‘know-how’ knowledge of the musicians to perform it.
I remember when musicologists started analyzing The Beatles music and began comparing it with harmonic structures of the masters of classical music. The Beatles of course had that look of “huh” on their faces. They couldn’t read music. They knew music implicitly. And that is genius. People with high levels of creativity abound in all walks of life, but are highly concentrated in a few industries, advertising being one of the most obvious. The most valuable creative people in advertising are the ones with high levels of tacit knowledge. These are the dreamers, the explorers, the poets – these are the ones that have the feel and the instincts for the exact right tone, approach and content of the messaging. These are the ones that can take piles of information, data and filter down into powerful insights and then neatly wrap them up in a few words or pictures that somehow perfectly convey the brand’s goals of the message. It’s magic. It’s tacit. It’s a mystery. But don’t ask them to explain how they do it because are the last to know. Give them a wide berth.