Is knowledge still power?

urbankova-sliderOr, did it use to be power back when it was not easily available and disseminated? My recent participation in a training course focusing on managing team effectiveness made me ponder on whether the objective to learn, to get empowered by knowledge still holds true nowadays when knowledge is not something belonging to the privileged only.

In the current times of widespread, inexpensive communications, knowledge travels way too fast for it to hold power for long. So perhaps there is no need to try to cram tonnes of it into our heads on the assumption it will make us special, is there?

I recently came across findings claiming that during the last century we moved from the Industrial Age through the Information Age to the Knowledge Age. The ability to obtain, absorb and apply the right knowledge effectively will become a key skill in the next century. Our capability will no longer be judged solely by qualifications gained in the past, but will also be assessed by our capacity to learn and adapt in the future.

When thinking about the Knowledge Age, the meaning of ‘knowledge’ may be changing as well. It does not seem to be thought of as ‘stuff’ developed (and stored) in the minds of experts, included in books, and classified into disciplines. It rather resembles a system of networks and flows – something that makes things happen. Knowledge may not be even defined by what it is anymore, but what it can do.

To me, knowledge, and education for that matter, is extremely valuable; perhaps partially due to the fact that I was denied higher education for years during the Communist regime and in fact, even denied meaningful knowledge for years as some of my mandatory learning reflected the distorted Communist reality. Learning is important for individuals as well as organisations. However, I do not consider learning to be just about economic success. It is the key to achieving our full potential. Human beings are uniquely adapted to learn and we have the ability to do so throughout our lives. Learning has the power to transform us. It works on all fronts – we can become more successful at home with our families, at work with our colleagues and in our local communities.

And back to my question – is knowledge still power? If you lived in the 1600s and wanted to be a mason, for example, you would start off as a master’s apprentice. Instead of paying you, he would teach you his trade because he had the knowledge you could not get anywhere else. He had power. You? Not so much.

I believe knowledge still has power but nowadays sharing knowledge is more powerful. Rather than trying to hoard something that can be acquired, sharing knowledge can have a bigger impact. Two people will collectively know more than one. Three will know more than two. And when you have a room full of smart people, there’s very little you cannot accomplish together.

There is a vast amount of knowledge and skills in organisations but they will not make the full impact if used in silos. In fact, lack of sharing may hinder progress and result in vast inefficiencies. Therefore, many businesses have recognised that the power of collaboration and knowledge sharing can make them much stronger and help them fulfil their true potential. My company, a very large and geographically dispersed business, has also been on a journey towards collaboration; however, changing a company culture from ‘what you know’ to ‘what you share’ can take very long.

Ultimately, we need to realise it is we who have the power to make the most of all the information and resources we know or have easy access to and use it all to make a difference, on a private as well as professional front.

Knowledge simply doesn’t become effective and powerful until people decide to act on it. In the age of information, ignorance is indeed a choice and, however comfortable, it is disempowering and not conducive to progress.

Who said knowledge is power?

Although the term is attributed to philosopher Sir Francis Bacon during the Enlightenment four centuries ago, the first documented occurrence of this phrase comes apparently from Imam Ali (599-661) and is included in the book Nahj Al-Balagha as follows:

“Knowledge is power and it can command obedience. A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.” – Saying 146.