You've heard it before: we’re in a knowledge economy.
The current excess of data availability means the value of knowledge is set to fluctuate - with some important changes on the horizon.
Any economy can become oversaturated with a given currency. Over time, this oversaturation results in an erosion of purchasing power and leaves us needing more with which to do less (inflation). This can quickly become a self-sustaining cycle, as we create more currency in response to decreasing value and increasing costs.
These same patterns are evident in our current knowledge economy, where data is the primary currency.
As organizations become disillusioned with the early promises of big data, our collective response is set to shape our economic future.
Many are reacting by investing more in big data (buying more data to solve their data problem…), and this pace of data proliferation risks leading us rapidly into a state of hyperinflation: a time when the “knowledge” we hold to so tightly, becomes valueless.
Inflation is not malicious. It can even be restorative in an economy that is not running at capacity. And ours is not running at capacity.
We have not scratched the surface of the insights embedded in the people, processes, and cultures that comprise our organizations. We have not, by any stretch, met our intellectual and human potential.
What we need is a new currency to help us navigate the complex web of information in front of us. This new currency is meaning. Meaning, brings clarity; with clarity, comes insight, and with insight comes creativity, innovation, and new frontiers of success.
Meaning does not exist in the vacuum. It cannot be derived from a single source, or just one type of information. This is why big data fails us. Meaning requires context, and the synthesis of multiple inputs: data, observations, experiences, feedback. Meaning gives credence to the fact that humans are the creators of data – we ARE the data – and the insights to be drawn necessitate our being understood.
Give Us the Wayfinders
“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible” – Jonathan Swift
While the potential is tangible, most organizations are not structured to capitalize on it. This is why big data was so alluring in the first place: we prioritize expertise and specialty, operate in silos, and de-centralize decision-making to such an extent that we are limited to squeezing insight and novelty out of what is narrowly in front of us. We put a premium on our capacity to make smart, timely decisions, while relying on scarce resources (clarity and insight). Too often, the result is cross-functional redundancy, analysis paralysis, and an eventual surrender to automation.
To make sense of this knowledge economy we need Wayfinders: people who can navigate large, complex expanses of information through the synthesis of diverse, sometimes disparate, inputs, without a predetermined route. Who embrace ambiguity and are not limited by structure or method. Who understand context, and the relational positions within it. People who can make sense out of the invisible.
This is not to say that specific expertise is not valuable – it most certainly is. The trouble is that we also need people who can connect the dots by combining depth of expertise with significant breadth of perspective.
Wayfinders are Defensive Investments
In a knowledge economy edging on the hyperinflation of data, Wayfinders are among our most defensive investments.
Organizations can protect themselves by embedding wayfinding qualities in their talent, structure, and culture, including:
Prioritizing diversity (including cognitive diversity)
Leveraging cross-functional leadership
Fostering cross-functional development (i.e., giving people exposure to different areas of expertise and ways of working)
Operationalizing collaboration (e.g., with multi-functional/national working groups, removing systemic barriers to collaboration)
Removing silos to operate as a talent network (e.g., cross-functional career pathing)
Developing decision-making capability at all levels
Pairing functional depth with operational breadth
Practicing information and communication transparency
The current knowledge economy is driving a black box understanding of our organizations: data comes out, but we have no idea what’s going on inside – how and why things are happening to result in that data.
Organizations who will enjoy growth in this inflationary environment will act upon meaning, clarity, and insights; while others will be left holding on to the golden data that has lost its lustre.