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Knowledge Is Power. Data Isn’t.

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How many times have you heard that “knowledge is power?” I’m guessing that without much thought, you readily nod your head in agreement. In every vocation, from academics to business to politics, the knowledge theorem and its power corollary is seemingly undeniable. 

Knowledge Theorem:  Information + Knowledge = Better Decision-Making.  

Power Corollary:  Better Decision-making = Power

The “knowledge is power” idiom was originally attributed to Francis Bacon in the late 16th century. But like many time-honored theories and beliefs, the premise isn’t always as simple as it appears. The reason? Too much of something that is deemed “good” often turns out “bad.” Consider the meteoric rise to excessive wealth and/or stardom. While some handle their “success” well, others fail to realize the happiness that money and celebrity status is expected to bring. The “too much” concept applies to information, the first step on the stairway to power. Thanks to technology, we have access to an endless source of data at our fingertips, at any place and at any time we choose.

Be Careful what You Wish For

There comes a point where an insatiable thirst for knowledge does not bring power. Pass this point and information overload starts to work against you, reducing the power that you were working so hard to achieve in the first place. Here are 4 reasons why an ascending power curve flattens, and then turns downward:   

  1. Overwhelming amounts of information breed complexity. Technology gives us more and more data, but analyzing and understanding ‘more and more’ is arduous and time consuming. In today’s busy world of biz, time is also power. Entrepreneurially-minded leaders who move quickly and decisively enjoy an edge. Then they build on that advantage by keeping things simple to maintain clarity.
  2. Information overload obstructs prudent decision-making. When leaders rely on excessive research and information to reduce the risk of critical decisions, vibrant environments concede to morose cultures of risk-aversion. Sadly, in their race to learn more before taking that difficult choice, that other race, (the strategic race to the future), slows because stagnation sets in.
  3. Information doesn’t necessarily mean understanding. Understanding comes in many shapes and forms. One of the best sources of understanding is experience, such as in-market know-how, familiarity with competitors and customers, or expertise in leading during turbulent times. Excessive information gets in the way of understanding. Less is better, strategically and managerially.
  4. Too much information ruins instincts. It is experience that improves a person’s ability to take action. Moving on your instincts is not seat-of-the-pants leadership. Rather, it is using judgment at the right time and in the right place to seize the competitive edge. Competitive advantage, not information, is power.
     

Entrepreneurial Mindset Power

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t value information technology. I do. But, I’m a disciple of point #4. When I was a CMO and CEO, I operated with an entrepreneurial mindset that required taking decisions as early as possible. That meant making the call without all of the information, and not fretting about it, but being glad of it. To be fair, the ‘act early’ ethic prevails in corporate cultures that worship entrepreneurial thinking. 

Not everyone or every organization can, or should operate this way. The crossing of every “t” and the dotting of every “i” is critical in hundreds of industries. None of us want to see pipelines, oil rigs, or airlines compromising safety for speed. Leaders and managers who work in these industries need all of the information. But, there is nothing stopping decision-makers from making early calls to more efficiently source the information with improved analytical acumen. 

At Apple, Steve Jobs never wanted research from focus groups or quantitative usage and attitude studies. He knew what to do, and he did it with conviction. I know of no better example where experience, intuition, and instinct created power.

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