The Internet makes self teaching – and lifelong learning – the rule rather than the exception. Historians ultimately will come to consensus on what to call the time period between the frenzy that was the dot-com bubble and the period before society finally enters the data cloud. For want of a better phrase, I call the 20-year interregnum we currently inhabit (1995 – 2015) the Age of Little Information. I come to this label not because the age exhibits a lack of information. Quite the contrary, it is during this epoch that information – previously locked away in analog form – is becoming widely digitized. The New Know has changed our reality along 10 fundamental dimensions.
New Know Reality #1:
You will be expected to do something with information.
All this newly digitized information has had, relatively speaking, little impact on behavior and little impact on organizational outcomes. We are now exiting a historical moment of undermanaged and only occasionally acted-upon information to an environment requiring much more active, much more intense, much more aggressive information management. You as an executive will be held much more accountable for your data management behaviors. You will be expected to transform “data lead” into “knowledge gold” via the expeditious sensemaking leading to efficacious action. In the Age of Little Information, we were data vegetarians. In the New Know we will have to become information and knowledge carnivores.
New Know Reality #2:
There really is more to know.
The New Know will be awash with data. Processing power doubles every 18 months. Storage capacity doubles every 12 months. Bandwidth throughput doubles every nine months. There is more to know. Organizations are having trouble keeping up – and, sadly, the fact that there are more facts arriving at a faster rate of speed is not even the tip of the cognitive iceberg. Like the “fog of war,” info warriors speak of the “fog of facts” (e.g., confusion about what information is to be believed, what information sources are credible and what version of reality is to be acted on). In a world of multiple sources of information and 24-hour decision making, the very character of information is changing. A “fact” is no longer a “fact.”
New Know Reality #3:
You will have to know more about knowing.
One of the major changes defining the new competitive environment is the requirement to know more about knowing, what experts sometimes refer to as metacognition. Society is about to undergo a tectonic shift in how it thinks about thinking. Driving this cognitive plate shifting are the RSS feeds, podcasts, blogs, old-media headlines and evening news programs, which are increasingly filled with images and instances of current-generation leaders being asked by dissatisfied next-generation voters, customers and shareholders: “What were you thinking?” Looking beneath the surface, they are really asking: “How were you thinking? Via what processes, using what data and assisted by what tools did you arrive at your course of action?”
New Know Reality #4:
Brain science and decision science are converging.
Scientists do not know how the brain works – yet. But they are sneaking up on it. Readers may be surprised to learn that neuroscience has been around for over 100 years. Neuroscience has progressed to the point that we at least know what we do not know.
To some extent, it is a simple truism that the brain is involved with all things that comprise our human existence. It follows, loosely, therefore, that understanding the brain will help us understand the human condition more fully. The big news is that the brain possesses innate qualities that influence individual experience and opinions. There are things that can be known— that need to be known by executives seeking to maximize value from the knowledge assets available to the enterprise.
New Know Reality #5:
The environment is changing our brain.
The information flood should be viewed as a permanent macroenvironmental change. Thinking in Darwinian terms, what adaptive pressures does this environmental change place on us? “Daily exposure to high technology – computers, smart phones, video games, search engines – stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones. Because of the current technological revolution, our brains are evolving right now – at a speed like never before.”
New Know Reality #6:
Information management is the essence of leadership.
Low-cost communications give rise to almost toxic levels of spin, hype and empty rhetoric. Leaders are able to cut through all the noise. Does your organization filter its data? Carly Fiorina, former CEO at Hewlett-Packard, believes that distilling truth from overwhelming amounts of information is the essence of leadership. She believes that all of us are overwhelmed with information, and what sets great leaders apart is their ability to cut through the clutter and distinguish the truly important from the merely interesting.
New Know Reality #7:
A more connected world.
One of the transformational elements moving society to the New Know is something analysts at Forrester Research call the “groundswell.” Josh Bernoff, Vice President at Forrester, contends: “There’s so much information flowing out of the groundswell, it’s like watching a thousand television channels at once. To make sense of it, you need to apply some technology, boiling down the chatter to a manageable stream of insights.” The new scarce resource in the next economy will be the human attention needed to make sense of information. The question is: How will we be able to keep up?
New Know Reality #8:
Mathematics is now so widely accepted as the arbiter of truth in the modern world that it has become the backbone of disciplines ranging from physics (of course) to economics and sociology. Backing up a statement with mathematics gives it an aura of validity, even if the topic has to do with something as mathematically messy as human behavior.
However, many otherwise “normal” executives have a pathological aversion to math. This is not just unfortunate, it is dysfunctional. Some intuition about numbers, counting and mathematical ability is basic to almost all animals. People use math to make decisions every day. “In an age where you need to be numerate to do almost anything (from building bridges to conquering disease), governments anxiously compare their performance in mathematics with that of competitor nations.”
New Know Reality #9:
There are significant downsides to not knowing.
Success requires materially expanding what you know and adding precision and efficiency to the processes (analytics) whereby you come to know. Here is a metaphor to keep in mind as you think about the New Know. If you are locked in a room with an elephant, it is useful to know where it will step. Every key process in your enterprise is locked in a room with an elephant – a critical process, serving a critical customer. Business analytics tells you where that elephant will step.
New Know Reality #10:
Knowing can change the world.
If knowledge is power, then “knowledge about power should be especially empowering,” says John Murrell, the very-much-in-the-know editor of Good Morning Silicon Valley. For instance, using 15,000 meters, a subset of National Grid Customers will be able to access their energy – use information via the Internet, by a thermostat readout, or through text messaging, and use the data to change their consumption patterns. Program participants are expected to save 5 percent, or about $70 a year, on their energy bills. Change advocates from all fields of endeavor are excited about the possibility of putting new information in front of people in the hopes of changing behavior.
* Copyright 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.