I’ve often wondered on how to best train people. Sometimes, even how to best train myself. In a previous post, titled “My coding skills have started to suck” I discussed how my programming skills are deteriorating. I also discussed how not having peers to work with (in school labs or more experienced people sitting in the same office as mine) might be a huge factor in this.

Today, while reading an article on Tacit knowledge … it suddenly all became clear. What I had only assumed, actually might be a well researched and recognized issue … people often teach you more than they think they are teaching just by being physically present in front of you. Sometimes, even if you are looking over their shoulder (how I looked over Jim, Renny, Chirayu and Kashyap’s shoulders) or watching the way they type or write out code teaches you a lot.

From wikipedia

The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience. Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” […] It involves learning and skill but not in a way that can be written down.

This learning of tacit knowledge is what makes us better programmers, swimmers, cooks, artists and even better social beings. And there aren’t good manuals for any such stuff.

So what are ways to spread this tacit knowledge … and have it retain with the new learners? Manuals or books don’t work. This tacit knowledge is mostly analog information, and converting it into logical/digital forms causes some loss in translation. It’s the same reason the best electronic pianos cannot produce complex pitches and timbre of a old-fashioned wood pianos! Or why mp3’s cannot record music the way analog tapes or records could.

Sometimes, people argue (Positivism) that only factually proven knowledge is trustworthy. But there are numerous accounts of how an experienced person sometimes “just knows” what needs to be done, and cannot explain it. I guess it’s this the same tacit knowledge that let Capt. Picard push past warp 9.95 to against Q. Even though engineering said it was not possible for the Enterprise to do so (correct me if the numbers are wrong, this is from the book, not the TV show). In Farpoint, I think.

PS: For the curious, the Enterprise-E does do Warp 10 once in Where No One Has Gone Before. But, but, but … there is was no confirmation from Data!

Tacit knowledge screencasting Star Trek