Knowledge Needs A Place Of Its Own

Vladimir Oane
Sep 7, 2018 · 7 min read
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Knowledge is power. When we hear this, we all nod our heads in agreement. Unfortunately, we don’t live our lives as if this were true. We (still) live in an age where learning is believed to happen within the walls of a classroom. Where education finishes with a graduation diploma. This is a major lost opportunity because, as we transition from a service to a knowledge economy, that saying is more true now than ever, although for different reasons than in the past. We’ll discuss this in length.

The contradictory phenomenon is the fact that we consume more content than ever. Mobile phones and new digital formats changed how we consume information for many of us. Our commutes have become more bearable with the advent of podcasts and audio books. We can now take all our library with us in the park. And we have the most specialized articles from top authorities in our field to help us elevate our careers. But the tragedy is that most of the things we read or listen get lost, eroded by an imperfect memory and washed away by the stream of daily events. And it should not be this way. We have come to a point where we can (and should) give knowledge a place of its own. A dedicated space for all the information, the facts, the definitions, business processes, or inspiring quotes we get from all the sources we already consume. It’s a big problem and an amazing opportunity and the reason behind starting Deepstash.

Let’s get deeper on some of the arguments from above:

Knowledge & Power

The idea that knowledge is power resonates instinctively with us. We learned in school that the general who understood the battleground better than his opponent was the most likely to win the battle. We observed that the student who attended a top university and got good grades was most likely to score a great job at a top firm. But as we noted earlier, this intuition does not make all of us lock ourselves in the library. Why is that?

We need to look closer at what knowledge is and how we understand the term. When we refer to knowledge in the context of power, we usually think of facts. More specifically, of having access to the facts. Knowledge as power would most likely evoke an image of Michael Douglas from Wall Street making a ton of money by profiting on illegally obtained information, rather than Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor famous for his meditative Stoic practice.

Power used to lie in the hands of those that had informational advantage. Before the Internet, you could access this information if you went to certain top schools or had access to certain books. All of which were not available to most people. Because let’s not forget that books, even if the printing press made them more accessible, used to cost a fortune and it was the wealthiest of the people who had access to them. School was not a very popular institution either. Sending your kids to school is quite a recent trend, and we still have lots of places in the world where sending children to school is more of an exception than the rule.

But the internet flipped the table. We can access billions of websites, get any book ever written within seconds or watch lectures from top universities on our powerful pocket sized computers. Access to information is no longer a competitive advantage. The most powerful people on the planet today, no matter who they are, do not have access to a secret library accessed through a secret passage with hidden wisdom. The web and (more recently) the mobile revolution evened out the playing field. But we live in a competitive environment, so it’s only natural to ask ourselves:

Does knowledge still matter?

If we all have access to the same feeds, maybe information will not matter so much anymore. And we only need to turn on the TV, on any news channel, to get a strong feeling that maybe we are ruled by the dumbest people around. With all of this going on,I will still answer the question above with a resounding Yes. Knowledge matters.

In the context of the power imbalance we discussed in the previous section, knowledge referred to data, to objective facts. You needed to understand the laws in order to become a lawyer. You had to know some geography or history if you wanted to travel the world and become a diplomat, let’s say. But even with a limited definition for knowledge, it would be wrong to dismiss the value of basic facts, just because we can check Wikipedia on our iPhone. Einstein must have popularized this idea, when he said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. But he was wrong.

Factual knowledge is a requirement for the imagination that Einstein praised. According to Daniel Williangham:

“Knowledge is more important [than imagination], because it’s a prerequisite for imagination, or at least the sort of imagination that leads to problem solving, decision-making and creativity. “The cognitive processes that are most esteemed — logical thinking, problem solving, and the like — are intertwined with knowledge. It is certainly true that facts without skills to use them are of little value. It is equally true that one cannot deploy thinking skills effectively without factual knowledge.”

And knowledge is more than facts. As an umbrella term, knowledge can encompass many more things that we would more intuitively recognise as valuable, as this picture wonderfully represents:

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We have data, facts, the things we spend our early school years on. But how we structure and synthesize the information is also important, as it allows us to form hierarchies and connect ideas to form new ones. Imagination is the last step in the learning process, not the beginning.

And this matters. Your paycheck will be (if it’s not already) proportional to your knowledge, or your ability to acquire new skills on the fly. Modern businesses move so fast and adaptability has become a key element for a successful worker. Jobs that can be reduced to a sequence of steps will be automated and economic value will shift to those that can stay ahead. The opportunity is to get trained for the jobs that will pop up in the future.

A system to work with knowledge

Internet made access to any sort of data instantly accessible. With 600,000–1 million books published, 1 billion active websites & approximately 200 billion tweets posted every year, we live in a world packed with information. Lots of us are already reading, watching and listening to an insane amount of content. The economic incentive to constantly improve ourselves exists already and it will only get better. What’s missing?

What’s missing is a method to make the knowledge we access to work for us. Because in the future, most education will be a form of self-education and we will look back with contempt to the times when we measured someone’s intellectual capital by the stack of diplomas. But unlike the formal methods of education, the auto-didactics lack a way to systemize the process and escape the chaos of information overload. We may debate their merits, but schools provide structure, reviews, clear categories, benchmarks, assignments to force recall etc. On the self-educated side, we have duck-tapped solutions, some (praised) heroes like Buffett and Bezos and not much else.

We need to be able to work and manipulate knowledge the same way we work with words in a modern processor — we should be able to mix and match ideas with the same ease we do with numbers in a spreadsheet application. We need to give knowledge a place of its own. At Deepstash believe we can stay on top of the knowledge we consume, by easily collecting, organising and accessing it when needed.

And we believe the benefits are tremendous. It will help us make sense of the crazy amount of information we stumble on every day, it will allow us to identify patterns, form new ideas and discover solutions to the new problems we are facing more and more in the workplace. It will also make us less stressed out by the fear of constantly missing out and offer the confidence to take up bigger and riskier challenges. Because we have a huge library of insights to give us the confidence we need to jump into the fray.

This article is part of series of articles on knowledge management for the digital era. Read Part 2 & Part 3.

It’s what we set up to do with Deepstash. Add yourself on the list if you are not already on it. Offer us your feedback if you are one of our early users. We’ll also use this publication to discuss topics around self-education, so please subscribe if you want to continue the conversation.

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