The "Knowledge Half-Life" was introduced fifty years ago by Fritz Machlup. The concept was the amount of time that half of the existing knowledge becomes obsolete or superseded. Buckminster Fuller had a similar idea of the amount of time it takes for knowledge to double. The estimate was that this happened every 12-13 months in 1982. Recent estimates are that knowledge is doubling every 12 hours. Therefore, influential leaders need to develop ways to monitor and adopt relevant business knowledge to keep pace with this rapid growth.
"To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge." - Confucius
Generally, the more we learn, the more we understand how little we know about any topic. Given the rapid growth of knowledge, we need to continue to develop our expertise in our chosen field. A list of recommendations for expanding our expertise includes:
1. Listen like a beginner – Leaders increase their effectiveness when they listen to the needs of their communities. Then they can better understand how their current knowledge can best be used and what else needs to be known to help address these concerns.
2. Simplify complex issues – Distill knowledge sharing in a manner that is easy to grasp by the intended audience using efficient and effective communication.
3. Keep learning – Given the rapid rate of knowledge, learning is a lifetime commitment.
4. Check your ego – View the sharing of knowledge as an opportunity to contribute to the goal. We should work to avoid overconfidence and keep self-importance in check.
5. Cultivate communication skills – Continue to evolve the ability to share your knowledge with the organization.
Doing these in an empathetic manner allows leaders to share knowledge beneficially with others. Like anything worthwhile, adopting these recommendations will take time and effort further to integrate them into the work of a leader.
An example of someone using the empathetic expert approach is Ray Anderson. Interface was asked by a customer what they were doing for the environment. His initial thought was that his company was complying with all regulations, so there was no need to change their manufacturing approach. Using his then-current knowledge base, that was a reasonable assessment. However, instead of standing pat, he gained additional insight to transform Interface into an industry leader in sustainable manufacturing. Knowing that he needed to learn more led to the development of an Eco Dream Team. The group included authors, activists, entrepreneurs, and scientists. Working together, they defined the "Seven Fronts" of the Mount Sustainability vision. The framework included zero waste to landfills, zero fossil fuel energy use, zero process water use, and zero greenhouse gas emissions. The tracking mechanism of EcoMetrics measured the energy and materials flow in and out of the company.
The story of Ray Anderson, a then 60-year-old man, completely embracing the need to go from "complying with the law" to a leader in sustainability needed telling. From his first speech to a staff task force at his organization to later doing 100 speeches a year, he began a ministry of the value of adopting a zero-impact business model. The financial results were equally impressive as their stock price went from $2 per share in 2000 to $18 in 2007, with sales exceeding $1 billion per year. A beautiful result where doing the right thing has also driven long-term financial success that continues as an ongoing manufacturing exemplar.
The rate of growth in new knowledge is staggering. Successful leaders should take an empathetic expert approach to continue to evolve their expertise in their chosen industry. Ray Anderson is one example of many leaders who have allowed themselves to continue to grow their knowledge base and deepen it for their organization. Opportunities abound with ongoing advances in employee well-being, materials, processes, products, technology, and sustainability.
Lars Sudmann presents his thoughts in a TEDx Talk on self-leadership in Great leadership starts with self-leadership. He begins with a Peter Drucker quote "Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance; everything else requires leadership." Next, Sudmann shares three strategies and tools for self-leadership 1) Develop self-awareness. 2) Pause for self-reflection, and 3) practice self-regulation. Even the best leaders can benefit from these strategies. Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, recommended that leaders invest 40% of their time leading themselves. What percentage of your time are you investing in yourself, mainly adding depth to your knowledge?
I am grateful for the expanded opportunities for knowledge growth. We have various modalities that allow us to learn new information at our own pace and at any time. Advances will continue to provide more efficient and practical approaches to growing our industry awareness.
Next week's blog will look at the need for leaders to understand the role of emotional intelligence to strengthen the adoption of the humanist manufacturing framework.
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Cover Image Credit: ANTONI SHKRABA