I recently came across this quote from product designer Tyler La
“Design is the art of finding ways to make implicit knowledge become explicit… the art of creating artifacts to make sense of complex problems. The ultimate goal of design for me is to be able to make sense of my own thinking.”
As I’ve been designing business and life performance systems by shaping technology, this comment resonated. And as I’ve been increasingly sharing this skill online, I’m often reaching for the right description of what we’re doing. This quote captures a lot of it.
Making implicit knowledge become explicit is to make it better understood, and more shareable. This change in form makes it more actionable for ourselves and enables others to join in, moving in tandem to deploy the knowledge — and build upon it.
We have so much implicit, internalized, intuitive knowledge that never gets utilized to its potential. It goes unrecognized and unnoticed, or worse distrusted through a hazy filter of self doubt. Or it’s taken for granted. Regardless of how, it ends up dismissed. And that implicit insight is often the most profound knowledge we possess. Our greatest power, our most potent resource.
Making this knowledge explicit is to unleash it, to transform it into a weapon we can wield for any cause we value. This is the power of design — be it industrial design, graphic design, or system design.
How can an artifact make sense of complex problems? By giving it shape and form that we can more easily comprehend… and that we can touch and hold and explore from various angles. We have been molded over millions of years of evolution to interpret, comprehend, and utilize artifacts. We’re good at it. We were made for it. This has been central to survival.
Abstract, complex ideas untethered from form are relatively new to us. So giving them shape makes them more accessible — accessible to ourselves, and even more so to others further removed from the vision in your head or the feeling in your heart. And the more we make sense of the complexity around us the more we can address it, harness it, and operate successfully within it.
So crafting complex knowledge into artifacts is powerful, be it physical or intellectual objects. This is the value of art, economic models, mental frameworks, and organizational systems to give a few of the endless examples.
And this all leads to the ultimate result of bringing light and focus to our own thinking. Impulses we had an inkling toward become sharp actionable insights. Ideas take shape that we can share and debate and discuss with others, then align around and act upon.
Look to mine implicit knowledge buried deep, extract it, give it shape, and put it to good use.