Seeking out new knowledge that flows

by Paul Hobcraft

Seeking out new knowledge that flowsI have been heavily influenced by the great work of John Hagel and Deloitte’s “Big Shift Index” as a frame to measure the forces of long-term change. What really holds my attention is “knowledge flows” and they are suggesting we are moving from a world of push to a world of pull.

The world is increasingly uncertain and to steer through this we need new ways to access, attract and accumulate understanding.

Knowledge is highly intangible. Today it is less to do with the “stocks” of knowledge we have the ability to keep refreshing and that means increased participation in the relevant “flows” of knowledge. It is getting your “stocks and flows” right.

Knowledge is becoming even more of our competitive edge. It is making this incoming knowledge tacit, relevant to us and this comes increasingly from our connections into networks and who and what we want to search out and connect with.

Broad observations of Knowledge include:

  • Knowledge is intangible
  • Knowledge arises from information and thus from the interpretation of data
  • Knowledge has some, but not all, of the characteristics, we associate with capital
  • Knowledge can be instantiated in various ways
  • Knowledge derives value from its use in human activity
  • Knowledge cannot easily be aggregated
  • Knowledge evolves
  • Knowledge is created and exploited through networks
  • The distribution of knowledge is as important as its ‘quantity’

We need to treat knowledge as passing through hindsight, through foresight into insight. It is when you combine tacit knowledge where experience matters and it is in the new connections you advance your thinking.

John Hagel writes on his edgeperspectives posting site often some great insights and in one of his posts, he discussed “Defining the Big Shift” – measuring the forces of change.

Let me, here, summarize key aspects relating to knowledge, quoting John, and how it is shifting to flow.

From knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. We are moving from the world where the source of strategic advantage was in protecting and efficiently extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks – what we know at any point-in-time.

From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation. The greatest economic value will come from finding ways to connecting relevant yet diverse people, both within the firm and outside it, to create new knowledge.

From explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge. Just at the time when more and more information is becoming available about more things, the most valuable knowledge is the knowledge that is in the early stages of emergence and this is generally the most difficult to express.

From transactions to relationships. The transactional mindset undermines the ability to build long-term, trust-based relationships and in the absence of those relationships it becomes almost impossible to effectively participate in the knowledge flows that matter the most.

From zero-sum to positive-sum mindsets. With a zero-sum mindset, your gain is my loss, we undermine building the long-term relationships. Yet if we adopt a positive sum mindset – through increasing collaborations we build trust relationships. This becomes a virtuous cycle that builds on itself.

From push programs to pull programs. Push tends to impose routines and predictability and is good at extracting ‘stock’, whereas scalable pull programs effectively access and attract resources that are attracted to support and improve performance to enable knowledge to flow.

From institutions driven by scalable efficiency to institutions driven by scalable peer learning.  Institutions often become the barriers to effective participation. in knowledge flows. Fostering scalable peer learning can create learning landscapes that encourage individuals to develop their talent in collective, sharing pools.

From stable environments to dynamic environments. We are moving from relatively stable business environments to ones of rapid change with ever more disruptions, uncertainty, and unpredictability. The management practices need to address these shifts that turn instability and uncertainty into opportunity and reactions.

Fusion, Flow, and Fluidity are needed in our management practices

We need to build the foundations of knowledge that builds stock but then allows it to flow and have a greater impact. We are in a world of constant learning, recognizing predictability is falling away constantly.

We need to focus on scalable learning, not scalable efficiency and that needs this shift from “stock” to “flow” to accelerate learning rather than focus on the narrow path of just simply expanding data known.

We need to go out to seek diverse flows of knowledge, from adjacent and even seemingly unrelated domains and constantly ask that age-old question “not knowing what it is you don’t know” and actively seek out knowledge flows that offer new understanding. Being open to a constant knowledge flow

Being open to a constant knowledge flow allows small ideas, concepts or seeds of value to be set in motion to bigger things that lead to greater innovation and personal growth.

Moving from stock to flow is absolutely essential in today’s world to keep exploring it and what it can and does offer, the path to the future.

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paul-hobcraft-150x150Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities. Follow @paul4innovating

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