I walked Daniel to school for the first time today. My nephew is all of seven years old, so key topics of conversation were [a] Power Rangers, [b] what would happen if all the traffic lights in the world turned red at once and [c] the news that he managed to fart forty times yesterday due to the high fibre diet imposed on him by my brother. On two of these three points, i had an insight.
I asked him how he had found out about the chronology of Power Rangers and he replied (slowly and carefully as if to a hard of thinking uncle) ‘wikipedia‘. Of course.
Finding knowledge is easy for him, natural and instinctive, although not, as yet, validated or discretionary. He had no idea how the knowledge on Wikipedia was co-created and nor, when i explained it, did he seem to care. I guess that maybe at seven years old the consequences of dietary rumination are of more significance and interest. He did not view the knowledge itself as power, but rather as fuel to the fire of our conversation.
One facet of the Social Age is our evolved relationship with knowledge. Less authority and power is bestowed by what you know than by your ability to find things out and, crucially, to make sense of it within your communities.
To do so requires key skills and behaviours: we must understand where the knowledge is and how it’s created. We must understand how to find it and when ‘good enough‘ is just enough. We must understand how to curate our space and tell our stories, to share wisely, adding to the signal, not just the noise. Within our communities, we must take different roles, adapting our stance, tone of voice and input according to need and makeup of the group: sometimes supporting, sometimes challenging, sometimes nurturing, sometimes cross linking and so on.
And when we have found something out and made sense of it with our communities, we must share it again: storytelling to feel knowledge back into the tribe, back out to the world.
For me, having grown up in the Age of Concentration, when knowledge was geolocated in books, in reference libraries, in Universities, the shift to decentralised knowledge is huge and empowering. As is the advent of effective collaborative technology. For Daniel, it’s instinctive and everywhere.
But it’s not just children changing mindsets: Cath is on a course this week, Health and Safety. She texted me, asking why she needs to ‘know‘ all this stuff and she is, to an extent, right. She doesn’t need to know it so much as know what to do about it. Now i realise we can argue that those are the same things, and that we need the knowledge to build the framework, but that’s an old school view. We may not. We may simply need access to that knowledge and to know a new, evolved framework. We may have to understand diagnostic processes, to let us know when to apply knowledge, but we may not need to know the actual knowledge itself, all the time, in our brains. Like train timetables: i don’t need to know it, i just need to know that there is a line to London and that there are two trains an hour.
I suspect that much organisational learning is done the way it’s done because that’s how it’s always been done. And as a function, we define ourselves by being the guardians of knowledge, at a time when that role is becoming the ancient palace guard, stood outside the palace whilst it burns behind them.
Knowledge is democratised and available: our skills and behaviours need to evolve to match this new environment. More about sense making and sharing, less about simply knowing.
Because when simply knowing is not enough, just a little bit of knowledge may be exactly what we need.