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Four global shifts to keep in mind

This article appears in the issue October 2015, [Volume 24 Issue 9]

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You’ve got to admit, it’s getting crazy out there. Billions, even trillions, appear and disappear overnight. It could be billions of barrels of oil reserves or trillions of dollars in market value. National borders come and go. New trade embargoes are enacted, old ones dissolved. New cities pop up out of nowhere, old ones erupt in flames. Our challenge is knowing not only how to survive in all the craziness, but how to thrive.

Agility, which is all the rage these days, plays a major part. But you can’t nor should you want to be continually shifting with the wind. At the same time, you can probably count on making at least one strategic pivot in your organization and even your career before the decade is over. With that in mind, we’ve been tracking four global shifts that can help you plan accordingly.

Shift 1: Forget tacit vs. explicit. Instead, think deep structure vs. surface structure.

An enterprise of the future needs to achieve a balance between tactics and strategy. You do that by keeping a close eye on surface phenomena (tactics) while peeling away the onion layers to reveal the underlying substructure (strategy).

That applies across the board. There is surface structure and deep structure in geopolitics. Global trade and finance. Climate and the environment. The human mind and body, both individual and societal.

Too many decisions with disastrous consequences are made based on knee-jerk reactions that come from looking only at what appears on the surface. One video clip. A single tweet. A comment taken out of context.

Like the earth’s tectonic plates, deep structure is more stable. But certain spots can lunge violently when a tipping point is reached. We KM’ers know that better than most. But we need to come out of the shadows and start playing a more prominent role in bringing deep knowledge to the forefront.

We’ve discussed ways to do that in previous articles. For example, capturing the various options considered in making a critical decision. Achieving a surprise breakthrough by opening the minds of team members to other points of view. Connecting the dots to expose hidden interdependencies and possible unintended consequences of a proposed course of action.

The world needs our profession now more than ever to help key decision makers see the many hidden layers lurking beneath the tip of the iceberg. To do that, we need to get on board with another trend:

Shift 2: Forget artificial intelligence replacing humans. Instead, think making people smarter.

We can’t deny that machines are replacing a growing number of traditional human tasks. And yes, those machines are getting smarter. But can we say the same for humans? Why must we assume that human neuropsychology and neurophysiology are maxed out?

Instead of worrying about how to keep machines from taking over the world, we should let technology evolve and look for ways to expand human intelligence. Ways to tap into the unlimited potential of human consciousness.

We don’t mean such nonsense as downloading your memory engrams into some futuristic supercomputer. But here’s the scary truth: While machines have been growing more intelligent, humans have been steadily conditioned into behaving more like automatons. You can see that in our schools, workplaces and life in general. From toddlers to retirees, we’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Just like programming a computer.

Human memory has deep structure too. Like secret rooms underneath an Egyptian pyramid, those structures have long been dormant, waiting to be rediscovered.

Shift 3: Forget MOOCs. Instead, think self-discovery.

No doubt about it, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are disrupting the education industry. Top-tier university-level instruction is available to the masses at little or no cost, although without the prestigious diploma to display on your wall or on your resume.

The hard truth is there is very little disruption as far as the learning process itself goes. Sitting in a lecture hall with several hundred other students isn’t much different from watching a screen thousands of miles away along with tens of thousands of other students. No matter how animated and energetic the instructor, students are growing increasingly disillusioned with passively listening to hour after hour of lectures. It is leading to the truly massive shift in which students craft their own program, at their own pace.

An example appeared in a recent article by Jenny Bruden in KQED’s MindShift entitled “What a Student Learned from a Short Experiment in Self-Directed Learning” ( It tells the story of Nick Bain, a 17-year-old high school senior who spent a trimester learning completely on his own, taking the exams, but not attending any classes. He even took three more courses than were required, some of which he designed on his own.

There were challenges, of course. For example, he actually had a tendency to study too much, resulting in far less “downtime” for recreation than he would have had attending school in the usual way. However, he was able to learn more and with greater purpose because he was operating at the deep level that comes through self-directed inquiry.

If you’re not quite ready to surrender to machine intelligence, then you need to hop aboard the deep learning train. Here’s one more shift to help you get there:

Shift 4: Forget leading with technology. Instead, think basic human needs.

Remember “one laptop per child?” Despite the preponderance of mobile phones, tablet PCs and other devices, more than 3 billion people are still living in abject poverty at $2.50 a day or less. Eight hundred million of them are seriously malnourished. The good news is those numbers represent a significant drop over the past two decades, due in no small part to advances in technology.

But people are waking up to the realization that we have things upside down. All along we’ve been taking a resource that’s in unlimited supply (human knowledge) and through various legal and other legerdemain, making it artificially scarce. Through similar accounting sleight of hand, such as the notion that land doesn’t depreciate, we’ve been treating finite, locally scarce or depleted natural resources as if they were unlimited.

Natural resources used to be the supply and people were the demand. The reverse is finally occurring.

The demand for knowledge—knowledge of how to make increasingly scarce natural resources available to a world approaching eight billion minds—is accelerating. As more minds rise out of malnutrition and poverty, innovative breakthroughs in meeting needs beyond the basic will flow, creating a virtuous cycle.

If you were to bet on one thing, consider this: providing basic human needs such as water, food and energy through open source technology. Open source creates the potential for an unlimited pool of knowledge. It’s what KM’ers have been saying all along, that the more knowledge is used, the more valuable and abundant it becomes.

How will you create, deliver, receive and grow extraordinary value? Once you begin to tap into the many layers of deep knowledge waiting to be discovered, the possibilities are endless.

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