Coping with a drought of knowledge in a flood of information

June 19, 2018 |  Leave your thoughts

“I am desperately looking for benchmarks and best practices for international recruitment operations” a friend mentions over coffee. Simplistically I use the general coverall of our times and ask him, “have you Googled it?”. Of course, the answer was “yes”. Google is our automatic go-to when we need any information or expertise, but what if, like my friend, repeated interrogations of Google still produce very little by way of results?

Despite generating data and information at astounding rates, we are now facing a growing shortage of knowledge and expertise on emerging trends and problems. This is simply the outcome of an exponential world where all domains of human experience are being re-invented at a quicker and quicker rate.

In linear organisations in the previous century, knowledge and expertise had time to develop at a slow and steady rate. Having worked for thirty years in the same job, employees did the same thing repeatedly. Like a wheel carving a groove in stone that work practice carved a deep-set of expertise in the employee.

An older employee knew it all and had seen and applied it all and they were founts of organisational wisdom. They were ideally placed to coach and mentor younger colleagues and to provide advice when problems materialised.

Fast forward to 2018 when the rate of change is starting to happen at 2x. What does that mean for the knowledge and expertise we need?

Well, firstly a lot of the knowledge and expertise that we need does not exist and less of it will exist in the future. Because change is happening at such a rapid rate, people, society and organisations do not have time to build knowledge and expertise as we did in the past.

In previous centuries and decades, we had time to think of a concept, try and test it and refine it over many years. During those years a body of knowledge in the form of articles, papers, books, training courses, databases and experts or thought leaders would emerge. It made life simple for all of us. When presented with a new problem in the workplace, we simply sourced the expert and the training or bought the book and learnt what we needed to know before embarking upon the problem.

In today’s world, problems appear, develop, and become critical before anybody has had time to think, research and write about it. Take the example of Uber. Suddenly authorities around the globe were faced with this new phenomenon of public transport that did not fit into any of the traditional categories. How to regulate them? Should they be allowed at all? There were no precedents and no book of easy answers to reach for.

The knowledge and expertise that is out there are lightweight and untested. Remember the good old 1980s, when things were so uncomplicated? In those years you could rest assured that the consultants providing us with guidance had implemented a solution many times in similar businesses. They had tried and tested solutions and by the time we used them, success was pretty much assured. The consultants were well ahead of us on the learning curve. But, today if you look around you will find them in the same spot on the learning curve as yourself. Maybe a few steps ahead, but also in many cases a few steps behind because you have the advantage of working at the coal face.

The irony is that at the very moment that we will be facing many new problems to solve, the tap of necessary knowledge and expertise is drying up.

So as the custodians of organisational knowledge, expertise and capability, how can you help to make the organisation more resilient?

1. Curators and contingent staff is the way to go

If you accept that in this current world of work, true deep expertise will be difficult to find and not readily available, companies will become increasingly dependent on people that can quickly find, assimilate and interpret odd sets of knowledge that can be applied. The answer to your business problem, might lie in an obscure solution applied by the World Health Organisation to combat malnutrition in Cambodia. But how would you even begin to identify that as a potential solution?

The way to do it is to acquire or use curators. A curator in this context refers to someone that has a good knowledge of most available content, has the ability to read, study and learn rapidly and apply the pattern recognition to give you information and even advice.

In simple terms, it is like having your personal learner now to do the learning that you do not have time to do and to summarise and contextualise the knowledge for you.

In addition, contingent staff should become a much greater component of your workforce. Contingent workers are defined as “freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, or other outsourced and non-permanent workers who are hired on a project basis”. They are those people that have acquired very niche expertise and skills that you do not have time, money, or the inclination to grow within the organisation.

In the era of hyper-specialisation, you should start building a directory of curators and contingent workers to augment your employee base and support those business-critical projects that drive business success.

2. Conceptual thinking and problem solving is more important than workplace knowledge

We are still in the habit of thinking that we should be looking for deep knowledge and expertise when we recruit for positions that are based on new changes in the industry. We count on being able to find a person that will be productive in a few weeks because they “know” everything necessary. But consider a skillset like “Big Data Architect” which has gone from nearly non-existent a few years ago to a must-have for nearly every going concern of a certain size in the world. So, there is a huge demand, but a very small and limited supply of experts. And those “experts” are new to the game, they are learning as they go.

We must start acknowledging that we are now in a world where enough skills and expertise simply does not exist. So, what to do?

Rather than focusing on the skills and knowledge on a CV, focus on the conceptual thinking and problem-solving abilities of the candidate. In the absence of expertise in the world of work, the skills of assimilating available information, being able to think deeply about problems and solutions and identifying the way to solve the problems with the greatest chance of success, will be the key to success.

Review your recruitment and promotion processes and include assessments on conceptual thinking and problem-solving.

3. Test new employees for a learning quotient (LQ)

I believe that Accenture is now testing new employees for the Learning Quotient and, if they are, way to go Accenture! This is another component we need to consider before placing people into high skilled positions.

We have been speaking about a culture of learning for the past three decades, but I have never yet seen any real success in organisations to convert learning resistant employees to become avid learners.

It might be our mistaken assumption that we just need to throw more learning at them to convert them, but we certainly have not solved the problem. And maybe we have run out of time. Given the current rapidly changing environment, we need to employ people that are learners by nature right now.

There are a number of LQ tests on the market and one online company, Learnability Quotient offers a commercial test that assesses a person’s learnability to establish their learning quotient. And learnability is defined as:

The desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout your working life.

You can view this test at:

https://www.learnabilityquotient.com/en/about

Consider introducing the LQ test for all you high skilled positions.

4. Knowledge integration will become a key skill

One of the comments I often hear after company meetings, is the phrase, “He/she is just not connecting the dots.” As our environments become increasingly complex, the ability to connect the dots and to integrate knowledge sets that may seem to have no relationship, becomes ever more important. I have seen people improve these skills by exposure to repeated “thinking out of the box” coaching sessions.

Really proficient and well-informed facilitators are also able to get groups of people to start enlarging their thinking and breaking the bonds of traditional thought patterns.

As it happens the subject of knowledge integration is one of those areas where there is very little expertise available. However, starting your employees on general thinking courses will help improve their ability to spot patterns, identify obscure links and understand systemic relationships.

Consider making some of these online programmes available for your employees:

Extending and developing your thinking skills offered online by OpenLearn

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills offered online by EdEx

Develop your CRITICAL THINKING skills – easily! offered online by Udemy

It is a sobering moment when you ask the guru Google for information, but nothing is forthcoming. One must consider that what you are looking for possibly does not yet exist. We will be encountering more of these moments going forward and we should be thinking of strategies to pre-empt this growing problem.

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