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It’s Time to Embrace the Knowledge Revolution

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Revolutions don’t spring up every day, unless your talking about the Middle East and North Africa these days. Political revolutions aside, it’s interesting to look back throughout history at the series of major revolutions that have driven profound socioeconomic and cultural change over the last 500 years. The importance of each, their individual and collective influence on business today is important to why we are where we are today. They also tell a story of why we truly may be in the midst of a new revolution, the Knowledge Revolution.

Scientific Revolution (16th-18th centuries): embraced thinking differently, questioning assumptions was accepted, developed processes for evaluating ideas, and enabled broadening the possible

Commercial Revolution (16-18th centuries): a period of economic expansion characterized by economic, trade and commerce expansion, opening new doors and markets

Industrial Revolution (18th-20th centuries): included major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and technology driving new levels of productivity and growth

Information Revolution (20th century – ongoing): the growing economic, social and technological role of information – improved access, decision making power, managerial techniques, and reduced time to reinvent

The Information Revolution was largely about creating and organizing data. Technology rapidly evolved to create and capture more and more data, in many new and different forms. Data storage demands profoundly increased. Once data was collected, it was fed into analytic processes to output information used in making decisions. A simplified view of the Information Revolution may look something like:

Information = Data + Analysis 

In essence, every company is involved in the production, collection, processing, exchange, distribution, and control of data. For the last 500 years, business models have been trained by tools to reduce the burden of manual processes, by process improvements to squeeze out efficiency, by management techniques to optimize efficiency and by technology to expand the possible. Collectively improving our ability to better organize data into information.

This has created a tremendous amount of change and each of these approaches remains a major component to successfully competing in today’s market. However, as our world becomes more mobile, interactive, and personal the technology and process behind many information strategies need to go several steps further. This transformation is truly driving a new revolution in many cases. A revolution in the way,  location, and with whom we do business (the same is true on a personal level, but we’ll leave that aside for now).

According to Wikipedia, the concept of the Knowledge Revolution was first described in 1980 by Marilyn Ferguson, an American author and editor. The idea has been expounded upon by others over time to land on the current description as:

“The revolution is about a fundamental socioeconomic change from adding value by producing things which is, ultimately limited, to adding value by creating and using knowledge which can grow indefinitely. The nature of the final form of the revolution is not yet know, but it will be very different from the industrial society from which it emerged.”

Fueling the Knowledge Revolution. Several movements are maturing that may be combining to support and provide better definition to some of the earlier theories around the Knowledge Revolution. Possibly adding definition to the final form of the Knowledge Revolution.

  • technology is more readily available which allows for increased distribution, improved timeliness, and increased efficiency in creating and collecting information
  • the shift to demand away from supply economies is altering the orientation from make/ship/solicit feedback to beginning with demand, identifying the user’s needs and adjusting business model’s as needed
  • globalization and increased competition are commoditizing many products and services, placing an increased emphasis on adding value through additional knowledge-based services
  • market conditions demand efficiency, and efficiency in a services-based world is driven by knowledge
  • a basic comfort level with social networking is in place opening people’s minds to whats possible, the value from knowledge sharing (even sharing work in progress), opening doors to user-generated content, and creating a broader culture of adoption

Looking at the past revolutions mentioned above, there isn’t a clean break from one revolution to another but instead a significant overlap and transition period. And it would be presumptuous to think the Information Revolution has ended, which is surely not the case. The Knowledge Revolution is about the usability of information and the experience of interacting with information. Data is turned into information, which is transformed into content of a larger experience. Usability takes experience a step further to the extend the lifespan of that knowledge. Some have also dubbed this the “Age of Usability”. An extended version of the Information formula above might look like:

Knowledge = Information + Usability + Experience

Regardless of which sector a company operates in – technology vs. consumer staples vs. financial vs. energy – a convergence of business model is rapidly occurring which is often going unnoticed. Said differently, many traditional business processes are showing signs of transformation and convergence, such as billing/marketing/advertising/customer service into topics such as Customer Experience. Customer Experience is largely a topic based on knowledge. Every business has a fundamental need for faster, more timely, more relevant knowledge – not just information. Whether the need for greater knowledge is utilized for shifting to a services economy, embracing user-generated content, or extending customer touch points to mobile mediums. Companies that understand the combination of information, usability, and experience are completing the knowledge equation – and are being highly rewarded.

Embracing the Knowledge Revolution will require leaps in mindset and embracing new skill sets in addition to those of the information age. It will involve many less tangible components and seemingly fuzzy topics such as experience and usability. However, embracing the transformational opportunities of the Knowledge Revolution will surely have its tangible benefits to companies willing and able to embrace change and accept some level of implied ambiguity.