Knowledge is not power. Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, politician and Lord Chancellor of England, suggested otherwise in 1597. Far be it for me to argue with such a revered historical figure, but if that was the case, why aren’t taxi drivers running the country?
An attitude prevails even today in UK small business that somehow to have the knowledge is to hold the balance of power. But, when a business leader restricts the flow of knowledge to the team, don’t they also restrict that team’s ability to contribute to the task at hand? Isn’t that leader imposing a ceiling on the net worth of those individuals and missing out on some invaluable, perhaps yet uncovered, contributions?
This reluctance of a leader to share information is, perhaps, a sign of lack of confidence, even self-esteem, as to do so may in some way weaken their position.
If knowledge is not power, what is it?
In today’s internet world, we are awash with information. We Google. We can be informed about almost anything instantly (putting aside the ability to distinguish fake news from reality, let’s save that for another day). But where does that get us? How many of us would be happy to self-diagnose an ailment from a health website for anything more severe than dandruff or piles? Chances are we would still refer to our doctor.
The problem is that possession of information itself is of little use. The difference between our information and the doctor’s knowledge is a matter of education and experience. The doctor may have received the same information as we did. However, over several years’ of education and possibly many years’ experience of treating real patients, that doctor will have attained knowledge. He will have seen that information in practice, used it to help patients, made mistakes with it, smelt it, felt it and grown with it. That knowledge is not power, but it is undoubtedly worth taking in.
“facts, information and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” OXFORD DICTIONARY
So, if information is learned, knowledge is earned. It enables the bearer to assess situations in a more rounded way than those with just information. It is another stepping-stone towards wisdom, the ability to think and act on knowledge, to apply common-sense, empathy, balance and discernment to any given situation. In business, that might be referred to as ‘acumen’.
Too little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but so is too much
Back in the ’80s, I worked in the marketing department of an international drinks company. They were launching a new product. It represented a significant step outside of their comfort zone. Vast sums of money had been committed, yet early trials weren’t going to plan. The market didn’t seem to buy into the vision that the company believed they should. The message wasn’t getting through. The great marketing minds of the business sat around the table with the advertising agency scratching their heads. I was a newbie, a green, inexperienced grad. I kept very quiet.
The excruciating silence was broken when the agency’s account executive piped up, “let’s do some more research”. To my astonishment, everyone agreed. The relief at not having to make a decision was palpable. Let’s plump for more knowledge. Paralysis by analysis, something like that. To me, that didn’t feel like a solution, but more a deferment of a difficult decision.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist, 1879-1955.
The problem is this: The small business intrapreneur doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of time. They sense when enough quality information is gathered, having filtered the good from the bad and the irrelevant. They assimilate this knowledge with personal experience and nous to ultimately make sound business decisions. The intrapreneur has demonstrated business acumen, the ability to reach good conclusions quickly. They called upon sufficient knowledge but were not restricted by the fear of not knowing everything.
Knowledge is not power, but sharing knowledge might be
Sharing knowledge has an exponential effect. Did you ever experience the power of revising for an exam by teaching someone else everything you knew? I passed a mechanical engineering degree doing this with just one other – similarly challenged – student. He passed as well. Do the same in the business environment and see how quickly your knowledge and understanding of the situation increases. Then add a third and fourth person to this process. The learning curve will soar.
” Knowledge is not power, it is only potential. Applying that knowledge is power. Understanding why and when to apply that knowledge is wisdom!”
Takeda Shingen, Japanese feudal ruler and warlord, 1521-1573.
So then, to reach the necessary knowledge base quicker, wouldn’t it make sense to create a knowledge-is-freedom environment? Everybody readily shares information, safe in the knowledge that they learn faster, feel better about their work, help the company move further forward and generally feel better about themselves? The knowledge-is-power paradigm starts to look a little flaky, a little dated. Greater power is generated by the uninhibited contributions of the team, not by the throttling of that contribution and a greater reliance on an all-powerful leader.
To achieve this greater power, the intrapreneur must commit to sharing knowledge wholeheartedly. To encourage everyone to share their knowledge, they must walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
But here’s the interesting thing. When knowledge is shared, the beneficiaries receive information, not knowledge. That information can only become knowledge as those beneficiaries go through their own process of education and experience. So the intrapreneur does not give up their position but strengthens it by tapping into a more abundant resource. Their role is not compromised. Shared knowledge will convert to better decisions. The company will be better off.
This knowledge-sharing environment has been recognised by companies for some time, manifested by the upsurge in CRM and ERP systems over the last twenty years. So come on, shake off the shackles of secrecy and paranoia and enter a brave new world.
Knowledge is power? Sharing knowledge, now that’s where the real power lies.