Faking it: Explicit knowledge posing as tacit (or – Going through the motions)

When I saw the first Matrix movie, I remember thinking of the distinctions between explicit and tacit knowledge. If you remember the scene with the helicopter, you know what I mean. The “knowledge” of how to fly a helicopter was made explicit in the form of a computer program/disk. When a person needed the knowledge so they could actually fly the helicopter, the “explicit” knowledge was downloaded into the person’s brain (mind?) and became “tacit”. Though this is probably a good jumping off point for a discussion of explicit vs. tacit knowledge and how to manage the two (if you can), what I really want to address is something I noticed while recently watching the second of the series, The Matrix Reloaded.

During one of the fight scenes, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is fighting against several “bad guys” at a chateau in the mountains. I know that the actors went through a lot of training to prepare for these fight scenes, but watching this particular scene I couldn’t help noticing that Keanu Reeves seemed stiff as he was fighting, and that the moves were choreographed.

Of course the moves were choreographed, but I guess that’s my point. The fight choreographers developed the fight scenes, then made the “knowledge” of the fight (in this case the choreography) explicit so the actors could “learn” the fight. But, and here is the important part, the actors did not learn “how to fight” but rather “how to perform the fight” for the film. They were acting on explicit knowledge, but it never really became “tacit.”

On the other hand, the stunt men portraying the bad guys obviously had the tacit knowledge of how to fight – you can see it in how they carry themselves and the weapons. For them, it was a matter of taking the new choreography and incorporating it into what they already knew.