The Knowledge Era – “We Didn’t Know that We Didn’t Know That!”

Since the late 1990s we have moved from the Information Era to the Knowledge Era. The differentiator for companies is now their ability to translate the collection of information from their workers into knowledge which can be used within the company. The goal is to not just understand, but appreciate the company’s customers, products and services. However, unlike information, knowledge is dynamic. It requires continuous evaluation, always asking “Is what I think I know still true? Do we have new data or experiences that require us to reconsider our assumptions? What do I not know about the scenarios presented?”

Paul J.H. Schoemaker, of Sloan Management Review, recently stated:

“When contemplating the future, it is useful to consider three classes of knowledge:
1. Things we know we know.
2. Things we know we don’t know.
3. Things we don’t know we don’t know

Various biases – overconfidence, under- and over-prediction, the tendency to look for confirming evidence – plague all three, but the greatest havoc is caused by the third.”

The Knowledge Era demands the development of scenarios. Not pie-in-the-sky exercises, but plausible outcomes of plausible shifts, both internally and externally. In addressing plausibility, I would suggest that we use Shoemaker’s three classes of knowledge when evaluating key areas of our business. Begin to ask yourself how you would respond when reviewing your current customers, the products you currently sell, those that are in development, and new markets as well as key external factors. What do you know, what don’t you know and what have you not even asked yourself yet?

I recently attended a presentation by Curt Coffman, co-author of First, Break All the Rules. He had a new book coming out, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, co-authored with Dr. Kathleen Sorensen. It was an excellent presentation. My brain cells are still energized by the possibilities he presented.

Coffman discussed our need to break from the old mental models we have clung to, with whatever energy we have left and at whatever cost. He stated that we need to focus on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, simply stated as, ‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change’. How appropriate for the development of scenarios!

How do you look at things differently, how do you see what you have not seen before, how do you begin to understand shifts in your internal and external worlds? There is no singular answer. It really is more an attitude; a desire to expand your field of vision and thought. I know that you, the reader, won’t let me off that easily, so if you buy into the concept that behavior is both a reflection and supporter of attitude, here are a few behaviors to consider when honing your skills in the development of scenarios:

• Establish non-tactical meetings at multiple levels of your organization. These are meetings focused not on putting out fires, but what members are seeing and hearing from customers and colleagues outside of the business. This is also a great opportunity to bring in a client or respected professional to talk about their view of the world and what the ‘new’ demands will be in the next year.
• Time should be allotted within executive team meetings to discuss future trends and their potential impact on the company. I would recommend that each member of the executive team be responsible for a presentation throughout the year. This exercise achieves two objectives: 1. The executive team gains better understanding of an area outside their department, and 2. The process forces each of the team members to use their mental abilities to look beyond daily operational issues.
• I strongly suggest you utilize the discipline of Thematic Goal setting. These are short term goals outside of your normal operating objectives. This process has the potential to align and energize your team – get the fly wheel moving so to speak, igniting your company to become much more agile and effective. My most rewarding work this year has been in helping companies through Thematic Goal setting as defined by Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage.
• Establish and invest in relationships outside of your company – people whose intellect and passion you value. Meet with them once a month for a cup of coffee and discuss each other’s worlds.

Utilizing these behaviors within your work setting will help you form stronger skills in developing scenarios. Further, by changing perspectives you will begin to adeptly identify within your organization what do you know, what don’t you know and what have you not even asked yourself yet? Break your old way of thinking and move forward with confidence that your organization is evolving and progressing.

Author's Bio: 

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

She has held the role of Senior Vice President, Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company, midsize companies and software start-ups. Much of her experience has been in the software, financial and insurance industries, representing significant merger, acquisition and divestiture activities.In addition, Julia is certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Step I and II, the OPTM360 and the Denison Organizational Cultural Assessment.

Throughout her professional career, Julia has acted as an internal consultant to executive leadership teams, managers and emerging leaders as they strive to build successful companies, bringing out the very best in all staff.