During the Industrial Revolution, most Americans worked with their hands or their backs. Their minds were not nearly as important as their ability to do physical tasks.
But as factories automated, industrialized countries created a new way of working — the desk job. These occupations were staffed by highly educated knowledge workers who primarily used their minds instead of their bodies.
From Barns to Boardrooms
These days, 80 percent of Americans work in knowledge-based professions. Much of this work takes place inside people’s minds — an invisible space where productivity cannot be monitored or measured. And unlike scrap on the factory floor, waste in knowledge work is extremely hard to spot.
Though it can be hard to quantify, knowledge work has an advantage over physical labor. Knowledge is a renewable resource. It can be used without being destroyed. The downside? Knowledge often has a short shelf life before it loses its relevance.
How can companies harness this infinitely scalable yet rapidly depreciating resource for their benefit?
The Power of Knowledge
Unlike other forms of capital, an idea can be used and kept at the same time. It can spread to a million people without losing its impact or power.
So then why do knowledge-based initiatives at major companies suffer a 70 percent project failure rate? These failures often occur because, while knowledge is unlimited, it also has a short shelf life.
Breakthroughs in business are often usurped by newer innovations in a matter of months, if not weeks. Just flip through last year’s business best sellers and you’ll find volumes of lifeless, obsolete information.
Given the rapid half-life of knowledge, good ideas don’t stay good for long. That’s why velocity — the combination of speed and direction — is needed for companies to win.
Knowledge vs. Information
In the quest for organizational improvements, making a distinction between knowledge and information is useful. For example, when studying the birth of the information age in the 1970s, sociologist Daniel Bell made a clear distinction between the two.
These two words may seem interchangeable, but in reality, they are quite different. Knowledge is alive, while information is static.
Knowledge is akin to a deer living in a forest, whereas information is more like a deer mounted on a wall. The latter resembles a living deer in important respects, but it can no longer respond and adapt to change. Once knowledge becomes information, it is no longer knowledge. It is like the mounted deer.
Physical work has physical limits, but knowledge is infinite. And uniquely human.
In a world increasingly dominated by big data, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and machine learning, capitalizing on the difference between knowledge and information will become more pronounced and more important.
Our vast information systems are impressive, but they are different from the capacities of the human mind and the collaboration between human beings. Knowledge is alive and comes from a living, breathing source. And this knowledge is the single most important catalyst for workplace productivity.
Knowledge is infinitely scalable, but it’s also staggeringly temporary. That’s why, in order to succeed in today’s rapidly changing environment, it’s critically important for companies and individuals to increase their velocity — to learn faster, interact better and produce better outcomes.
Assembly lines and the division of labor increased productivity in the industrial age, but today’s companies can only win by applying knowledge as quickly as possible. This requires that individuals and teams implement cross-functional initiatives using a shared language, framework and processes.
To capitalize on the knowledge-based economy and jumpstart your personal and organizational results, contact us or read The Velocity Advantage.