I got asked a couple weeks ago why we talk about the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge during the introduction to profiling class.  The student was curious to know if one of these types of knowledge is preferred over the other.

We can define tacit knowledge as knowledge that is difficult to convey to another person through either writing or verbal communication.  Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge that can be articulated and usually comes in the form of manuals, procedures, processes, or how-to videos.

How do these two types of knowledge play in to profiling?  To a person who may have grown up in the inner city encountering threats on a daily basis and who has a wealth of experience profiling, they may have a stronger degree of tacit knowledge.  They can’t explain why they think there is a threat down this road, “they just know” that it is there.  Something about an event has caused him to be alerted to a threat, likely due to a similar experience in his past.  This can also be a place where police and law enforcement officers find themselves.  After spending years on the street building their file folders for criminal activity, they become experts at identifying criminals.  Despite his inability to communicate why he feels the way that he does, everyone in that patrol is probably going to heed his warning.

When it comes to survival and identifying threats left of bang, regardless of a person’s ability to communicate why they believe a threat is present, I definitely encourage you to acknowledge the warning.  The problem occurs if you take any lethal action towards someone during that encounter.  This applies to law enforcement personnel just as much as it applies to Marines in a combat zone.  Eventually, someone higher up in the chain of command is going to ask why you took the action you did.  If you have the explicit knowledge of profiling and can explain exactly why you did what you did, you will be more likely to receive the support of the chain of command.  I wouldn’t always expect the same acceptance from your command if your answer to the question of why you shot that person is along the lines of, “he looked shady” or, “I had a bad feeling about that guy.”

Again, if it is a life or death situation, I would much rather you take the action to protect yourself regardless of your ability to verbalize the “why.”  But, whenever possible, I encourage you to practice using the profiling domain terms so that you can improve on your ability to effectively communicate your decisions.  This capability should be put onto your list of milestones as you develop and continue in your pursuit to become an expert predictive profiler.

Thoughts?  Let me know.