The Problem of Ubiquitous Information

In a world where information is readily available and easily accessible, knowledge itself might just be the problem.

Patrick Lencioni, one of my favorite authors, speakers and thought leaders, preaches the importance being a “healthy” organization. In doing so, he explains that organizations, by default, tend focus on being “smart”.

He argues that the “decision sciences” (strategy, finance, etc. . . ) are no longer a strategic advantage given the ubiquity of knowledge. He claims that most organizations are “smart enough to be very successful”.

While I couldn’t agree more that organizational health is a significant competitive advantage, Lencioni seems to unintentionally overlook the reality of what’s truly required to be a “smart” organization.

The reality is that knowledge itself does nothing more than provide a baseline of information for prudent decision making.

In a world of ubiquitous information, knowledge has truly been commoditized. But, because facts and ideas are so readily available we often fail to wrestle with them, digest them fully and figure out how to apply them well.

In other words, we might have knowledge, but, we lack understanding and wisdom.

A truly smart organization doesn’t just tap into existing knowledge, it is able to understand the intricacies, grasp the nuance, and see the context of a given situation, and apply the existing knowledge properly.

Here’s the difference between the three:

Knowledge is the accumulation of observations, facts and opinions. It’s the awareness of information. Knowledge is about the data that we gather “through study, research, investigation, observation or experience”.

Understanding is the ability to comprehend knowledge and, in the case of complex data, the logical components of that knowledge. Understanding is about truly grasping (as opposed to being able to simply recite) the knowledge that one has.

Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge and understanding to the situation at hand. It refers to the intersection of intellectual capacity (knowledge and understanding) with judgement.

For centuries philosophers have differentiated between wisdom, understanding and knowledge. In today’s knowledge economy, where knowledge is being commoditized, it’s essential that we don’t forget that knowledge alone is not enough. It’s time to stop depending on google as our source for strategic direction and start returning to a reliance on prudent decision making.