Why Knowledge No Longer Equals Power

Why Knowledge No Longer Equals Power

Russ Ackoff, Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, used to say: “An ounce of information is worth a pound of data, an ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information, an ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge and an ounce of wisdom is worth a pound of understanding.”

Knowledge remains vital—but it is no longer power.

In the past, knowledge was power. Things moved slower, the world was less interdependent, problems were more manageable. People with proprietary and hard-to-access knowledge knew how to convert that knowledge into value for themselves and value for others.

The world has an abundance of knowledge, and it is ubiquitous. Knowledge is table stakes.

For complex challenges – where there are many moving parts, hard to anticipate interdependencies, and no pre-determined solutions – static knowledge about what has worked (or failed) in other times and circumstances is both valuable and far from sufficient. When it comes to growing faster, merging, digitizing, stemming an epidemic, reforming health care, and transforming, knowledge is an essential ingredient, but not the meal.

Fast Wisdom

As we discuss further in our new book, Cracking Complexity, if all you required to double your company’s growth rate was knowledge for how to do so—and that knowledge actually existed—you’d have doubled it long ago. If all we needed was knowledge for how to stem the opioid epidemic, or improve behavioral health outcomes, or achieve the full benefits of a merger, or make the most of a joint venture, those and all manner of complex challenges would be mastered regularly and routinely.

If all that was required was knowledge, then companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, and Blackberry, full of smart people with years of experience and the means to access any and all talent, including the very best consulting minds, would certainly have figured out how to transform as their respective markets changed.

Clearly, knowledge is no longer power.

In our world of rapid and compounding change, power is found in the ability to quickly advance beyond what’s known, create new knowledge from the data and information carried by many people, have them reach a shared understanding about what is really going on, and then apply their judgment to quickly find wisdom regarding what to do about it. In the past, knowledge was power, and wisdom often required a lifetime. Today, we can’t afford to wait a lifetime for wisdom – or even a few months.

Fast wisdom can be achieved by unleashing the abundant talent in and around your organization to create it together. The byproduct of doing so is that the same people who collectively find wisdom also build belief, momentum, and ownership in the process.

Today, Fast Wisdom = Power.

Adapted from Quora.


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