Home > Cases > Waterfalls, Warren Buffet and why knowledge can’t be managed

Waterfalls, Warren Buffet and why knowledge can’t be managed


Response to:

The Rise of Knowledge Towards Attention Management

By Davenport and Volpel

The Rise of Knowledge

Knowledge management is people management? I take issue with that statement. Knowledge is a factor of production much the same way that skills, processes, IP, and even muscle strength are factors in the production of computer chips, railroads and hamburgers.

The topic has been on the tip of my tongue for a while, though as I’ve been wrestling with a seemingly unrelated topic: what makes America “great”, what (other than war profiteering) propelled it to the top of the global heap, and what does it have to leverage itself back to the top?

Clearly, the answer to the first two questions is knowledge. Knowledge alone allowed the United States to tear the title of World’s Banker from the British, and to remain the undisputed richest country for 40+ years before the emergence of China and the financial meltdown.

Does that lead us to believe that the third answer is also knowledge? That’s where Davenport and Volpe come in. The world is getting smarter – India is producing Earth’s greatest engineers, the best doctors are German and Chinese business acumen is the envy of American industrialists. Attribute that to the spread of wealth or communications, whatever the cause, the U.S. doesn’t have a corner on the smarts market anymore. If we place ourselves in the American corner, let’s consider how to regain that competitive advantage. If we believe the paper, and managing people is managing knowledge, then we just need to start producing the world’s best managers and the world will once again become our smorgasboard.

Were Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs well managed? All three of those men embody the American Dream that we are taught is the heart of what makes America great. People who struck out and became world beater by taking risks and resolving to win at all costs. Their knowledge has shaped the world and came at us not as neatly bundled packages of value, but as wild explosions of innovation that refused to be denied.

Knowledge within an organization is no different. Efficiency can be gained by directing the collection of knowledge and steering the allegorical library of smarts in a desired direction, but successful knowledge acquisition comes at us like a giant waterfall of unrelated curiosities. It is the beauty of the human mind that we can thread seemingly unrealted gems together, not as volumes to be managed, but as potentially new knowledge and idea that will emerge brand new if allowed to evolve.

That’s why the last, current and next earth-shaking innovations all came not from Billion-dollar labs, but from dusty basements and abandoned garages.

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