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It’s not about knowledge, it’s about action

Created in 1947, Scrooge McDuck is a Disney cartoon character who is incredibly wealthy and notoriously frugal. He has a room filled with coins in which he “swims,” feeling satisfied with his money, which he refuses to spend.

Scrooge McDuck is a metaphor for how organizations treat knowledge. They amass never-ending amounts of data and information and take pride in their capacity for storing it all. The only thing missing is the physical roomful of knowledge—which is not possible since most information today is digital.

However, organizations cannot be frugal or thrifty with their knowledge. There’s no value to simply storing it. Instead, it must be converted into action and tangible business outcomes through decisions. Unlike Scrooge, “swimming” in the vastness of your knowledge isn’t a worthy reward in and of itself.

We need a new paradigm for how to think about knowledge. We need less focus on technology and more on how to turn all that knowledge into something useful. It all starts with how you treat the people who will use it—the knowledge workers.

How do you actually treat knowledge?

Peter Drucker famously coined the term “knowledge worker,” recognizing the importance of a new kind of employee. He realized that many organizations weren’t ready for knowledge workers and would struggle to manage them. He was right.

Applying knowledge isn’t completely new. The priests of ancient Egypt learned how to tame the Nile River to create a thriving agricultural society, converting their their knowledge into effective techniques for managing the flooding of the Nile, giving birth to one of history’s great civilizations. However, organizations today often treat knowledge workers as cogs in machines.

Here’s a test for you and your organization. Give yourself 1 point for every yes:

♦  Do you prevent back-to-back meetings from being scheduled?

♦ Do you enforce “deep work” time when no meetings or distractions are allowed?

♦ Do you constantly upskill employees on the latest data techniques?

♦ Do you track the number of insights or ideas generated from your knowledge?

♦ Do you have a culture that doesn’t require instant response to emails or messages?

The closer you get to a total score of 5, the more you value knowledge. If you score 0 or close to it, you’re not thinking about knowledge seriously.

It’s not a technology issue

I have some breaking news for you. The technology challenge of knowledge is solved. Technology will continue to get better, but the solutions of today are good enough. Data warehouses, natural language processing, machine learning, data reporting, and a myriad of other categories contain plenty of great options. In essence, you can’t say that technology is the missing link. It’s out there, and you can buy it.

The analogy here is the smartphone market. The latest iPhone has improvements over the previous versions, but they are all good phones. You can do all the essential things really well. I remember buying my first iPhone and noticing all the shortcomings. The browser wasn’t fast enough, there were no apps, the camera sucked, and so on. That is not the case today.

The knowledge industry is in the same spot. It is time to focus on how to turn knowledge into actionable insights. Technology will play a role here. Vendors will continue using machine learning to surface relevant insights. But turning knowledge into action also means taking human psychology into account. AI may one day solve this problem. In the meantime, we need new approaches.

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