Knowledge Management: the skills of the future
Modern professionals face a new kind of technological challenge. With the advent of easy access to masses of data, we experience the phenomenon of information overload; more data and information than we can comfortably handle. No longer are we looking for a specific piece of data, but for the trend, the anomaly, the exception, in amongst all that information. It is no longer enough to gather and present the data, we want knowledge that no-one else has.
As we learn to measure and count more and more aspects of our society and economy, there is a premium on the ability to step back a little and to discern the significant, to understand the subtle interactions, to notice what matters. If we fail to gain the most significant knowledge, someone else will.
We all want to do well and we typically measure our success by the standards set by others. In an examination, we think 98% is excellent but the context is all-important. For a software engineer, it is hopeless - code with an error every fifty lines cannot be shipped. Just one critical error is enough to ruin the product and anything less than 100% is inadequate. So we need to focus our competitive efforts rather more subtly taking account of the context.
Competing with others means that we adopt the same context as everyone else, and when we are successful, we come out ahead of them. But perhaps what would make the biggest difference is a change of context, a different view, a novel view. We don't simply adopt the same context, but apply our own, deriving new knowledge from existing information, changing the nature of the competition itself.
When we compete with others, we can achieve a good result but if we want to achieve excellence, we need also to compete against ourselves. By far the most productive competitive effort is against ourselves, recognising our weaknesses and driving up our own individual standards. That's the motor of self-improvement.
For information age professionals, there are many challenges: moving from information to knowledge is the latest age transition and that means a change of viewpoint. The skills of data handling, collation and analysis are becoming automated. Accessing the data is no longer difficult, whereas translating that information into valuable new knowledge is more important than ever.
The promise of the semantic web, Web 3.0, is that machines will be able to identify significant links between data, to analyse content and relationships, and to gather relevant material in a more useful form. That promise has yet to be fulfilled but modern professionals know it is coming and the skills to use such tools are still embryonic.
A higher level of knowledge management will emerge with professionals able to co-opt the technical tools to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity, inconsistency, and even inaccuracy. Not only will we have access to much more information, but we will also have tools to question the reliability of knowledge, and increasingly to derive new knowledge itself.
The difference between good and excellent will be measured not in terms of the quantity of information or its presentation, but in the skills of managing the subtle levels of uncertainty in the knowledge derived from the use of increasingly intelligent tools.
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