For years we have been working hard to become information age organizations. But just as with continuous improvement and total quality management, being an information age organization has become the norm and no longer provides an advantage. What we need now is to become communication age organizations.
What we called the information age was laying the foundation for the communication age we’ve now entered, in much the same way that the discovery and mining of raw physical resources laid the groundwork for the full flourishing of the industrial age. The new economy we’ve now entered is built upon a foundation of information, mined, shaped, and crafted into its higher forms of knowledge and wisdom, and communicated globally to ever-increasing numbers of people at ever-increasing rates of speed.
Raw data, the fundamental currency of digital transactions, is in itself useless. To be useful, it must be converted to information, that is, put literally into formation, structured into some useful pattern. For example, if you had a printout of every single flight in the United States over a thirty-day period, you would have access to a great deal of random data, but it would be useless. Restructure that data so you have a list of all New York to L.A. flights in chronological order, and now you have information.
Today, however, technology has given us access to so much information that it is becoming less useful, not more. That’s why you need to provide actionable information. In other words, knowledge.
Knowledge is not just better information; it is something of a distinctly higher order than information. Information is content, knowledge is content plus context. It’s the context, the meaningfully organized perspective, that gives content meaning.
Now let’s take it a step further. Your organization or company has multiple databases. It might even have a “knowledge” base. But does it have a wisdom base? It should. Because wisdom has an even higher value than knowledge. Wisdom is the pure distilled guiding principle extracted from knowledge, set free from both content and context. This is why wisdom is timeless and, unlike data, information, or knowledge, can be applied anywhere, in any culture or context.
As you go from data to information to knowledge to wisdom, value increases exponentially.
Therefore, the less time you spend on data and information, and the more on knowledge and wisdom, the more value you impart.
Before the explosion of bandwidth, processing power, and connectivity brought us all together on the Web, data and information were scarce, and you could provide value by giving people information, which was how travel agents, stock brokers, real estate agents, and dozens of other professions made their living. Today, data and information are abundant and accessible, and can therefore be easily automated.
So how do we add value? By operating at the higher levels of knowledge and wisdom.
For example, even though the various Internet travel services have made flight information amply available, I still use a travel agent to manage my complex travel schedule. Why? Because they know me so well, with all my preferences and needs, that they can work out the ideal itineraries for me far better than I would be able to and, even more importantly, in far less time. They add knowledge and wisdom to that information and that is valuable to me.
This is the difference between informing and communicating. Informing is one-way and static, doesn’t necessarily lead to action, and tends to waste time. Communicating is two-way and dynamic, typically results in action, and tends to save time. The rapid rise of social media is a great example of the power of communicating and engaging versus informing.
This is exactly what it means to evolve from the information age to the communication age. When you share information, you simply inform. When you have a two-way dialogue to establish the best result by sharing knowledge and wisdom (that is, consultative value), you have now entered the communication age.
The next time you’re on the phone with someone, ask yourself this after you hang up: “What percentage of that call did I just spend giving the other person knowledge and wisdom, as opposed to giving data and information?” Giving others data and information is a waste of their time, and they know it, whether consciously or not. The time you spend giving them knowledge and wisdom saves them time and they know that, too.
This is particularly important because in today’s economy, time is increasing in value. The more time I spend informing you, the more I’m wasting your time. The more time I spend giving you consultative advice, the more I’m saving you time and money and adding to your value and increasing my value to you, as well.
The second key force shaping our future is collaboration. Collaboration is as different from cooperation as transformation is from change. When you and I cooperate, we are each doing our own thing as we make some accommodations for each other. When we collaborate, we are not simply making room for each other’s creations, we are co-creating the future together.
Collaboration is a function of genuine communication. The facilitated communication environment of the Internet becomes a productive cycle that amplifies itself: Communication fuels collaboration, which fuels more communication, which fuels more collaboration.
The open nature of the Internet, based as it is on standard protocols, has played a crucial role in enabling this shift to an abundance-oriented economy, as it allows any computer or other IP-enabled device, regardless of operating system, to participate in the global conversation.
Likewise, a key to the growth of abundance power, in any industry or sector, is going to be the speed with which we can agree on universally shared standards. Universally accepted standards accelerate the adoption of new communication technologies and pathways, which in turn speeds growth and facilitates further collaboration.
After 9/11, we saw the American intelligence community scramble frantically to create some kind of collaborative environment, where the CIA, FBI, NSA, and dozens of other intelligence agencies could begin to communicate with one another. Up until then, they had felt relatively safe and secure operating each in their own little information fiefdoms where they could communicate with themselves but not with one another. Indeed, they saw themselves as being in hot competition with one another, and therefore it actually served (so they thought) their interests to be fairly opaque to one another. It was a classic scarcity-economy scenario.
A similar situation still exists within the health care community. There has been a lot of cooperation between competing players in the industry, but not true collaboration. It’s still protect-and-defend, fiefdoms and egos, legacy thinking — all the things that keep abundance from happening.
The only way forward is to stop cooperating and start collaborating, bringing together all the major players — the insurance companies, hospitals, medical supply houses, and everyone else involved in every aspect of health care delivery — to reinvent health care itself.