Knowledge used to be worth a lot. It no longer is. The value of what we have stored inside our heads is deflating, and fast. Here’s why. Number 3 (I’m going for a countdown – much more dramatic): the amount of information out there keeps on growing. This means that – relatively speaking – what YOU know keeps shrinking compared to ‘what IS known’. Number 2, it’s basically the law of supply and demand: if you can simply google insights for free, keeping them stored securely in your brain has little value. It’s like protecting a diamond in a safe, while the streets are paved with them. Number 1, what humanity knows and understands, changes so fast that the individual human database – aka the brain – can no longer keep up. Zero, that’s about how much what you have stored in your individual brain is worth today. Ok, I’m exaggerating. Let’s just go with Alberto Contador’s version: 0.0000000005.
Human knowledge can’t predict
But it’s not just the value of individual knowledge which has changed. The whole paradigm of knowledge has flipped. We used to attach a lot of significance to analysing the past, and to what we could learn from that. We still do, but somewhere in the 20th century, the concept of ‘the future’ was introduced . It might seem incomprehensible now, but in the olden days people did not see much sense in looking forward. Today, we are obsessed with it – basically because we CAN look forward now.
The human brain does not possess the ability to predict the future. For computers, it’s a walk in the park (which ironically, is impossible for them – unless they are robots … and it’s not raining). Computers are able to scan so much information that patterns emerge, which allow them to calculate what will (most likely) come next. Human intellect might be the epitome of speed and functionality in the animal kingdom but – compared to a computer – its storage and information processing capacity is too limited to predict.
Tech is eating the world
So there, the T-word has finally fallen. Technology is no longer `one’ of the many knowledge branches. It is not even the most important one. It is infused into everything we are doing. It’s no longer just about those cool platforms and start-ups everyone is talking about. Technology is eating everything. Our cars are technology. Our prosthetics are. Our fridges, our watches, our shoes, our jewellery, our pills, our coffee machines, our mirrors, our advert boards… The Internet of Things will soon be the Internet of Everything. Everything will be connected. Everything will be bits and bytes. This means that car repairmen, plumbers, fridge makers, marketers, teachers, doctors, pharmacists and pretty much everyone with them will be – or already are – technologists in some way. Technology is not just “an important aspect of life”. It IS our life.
Stream – don’t store
So what CAN you do, as an individual and an organisation, if you want to stay relevant? “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Socrates said that about 2,500 years ago (give or take) and he is more right than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that knowledge and experience are no longer important. I am only saying that their nature is evolving, transforming.
Compare it to the streaming of information. For those not familiar with it: if analytics solutions – like the ever popular Big Data – have to process petabytes of data, one of the solutions is to stream it, instead of store it. That’s because storage consumes a lot of energy (and budget) but mainly because there is simply no need to store it: the value of said data is decreasing so fast that it is only of consequence in real time. So information is carefully scanned and then cast aside, only to keep the best parts: the insights and the patterns have emerged. Similarly, it’s complete nonsense to educate students or train employees to memorize as much as they can. Somewhere down the line, we’ll evolve from memorizing to scanning, quickly finding the essence and only keeping what’s useful. Until it isn’t.
Scale - the next big thing will be a lot of small things
Now, it is only logical, that if something has greatly diminished in value, one of the ways to boost it again is to combine it with other things. One brain with limited capacity may no longer be worth much, but a whole team, or a whole company working on the same problem, well that’s a whole different ballpark. One of the ways to scale knowledge to its former glory is by sharing it with others and collaborating intensely. Another way, is to go for what Sean Gourley calls augmented intelligence: when the combination of human intelligence with artificial intelligence trumps the separate parts.
So, there’s streaming, instead of storing and scaling (with other humans AND with tech) instead of hoarding. Changing how we cope with knowledge and information will have a massive impact. It will entail very different human abilities than those which a lot of education and training systems are focussing on. If you want to be able to stream information well as a human, memorizing won’t cut it. You need critical thinking, speedy reactions, focus, agility and the ability to abstract and summarize. If you want to scale what little useful knowledge you have, you need technological skills and insights as well as the talent to communicate, collaborate and share. We really do need to stop obsessing about the storage of individual knowledge. We seriously have to adapt our educational system, our corporate training approach, our hiring policies and our cultures. And while we’re at it, maybe we should stop calling it the `knowledge economy’.
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Picture credit: Airik Lopez (flickr)