We live in the Age of Knowledge that set in with the success of the information technology (IT) revolution at the beginning of the Nineties — 1991 is, in fact, acknowledged as the cut-off year between the new era and the earlier Industrial Age. It gifted a new level of connectivity across geographical frontiers that brought in ‘globalisation’ unleashing a different degree of competitiveness in business and sharing of ideas that would force socio-political transparency. It made the individual the centre of productivity and destroyed many conventional notions of leadership, team work and output. Behind all of this was the new mandate of the Age of Knowledge that being well- informed was the key to success in any field. What then is the meaning of being well-informed?
Being well-informed essentially means having the right information at the right time, having information that makes the difference between a decision and a guess and having information that is actionable. It means two more things. First, being well-informed is not a one-time event since new information was flowing in all the time and one had to remain constantly well informed. Secondly, it means being informed on all aspects of a subject or situation. Knowledge comes in ‘integral packages’ and completeness of information makes for better progress. As an illustration, a school teacher today must know, beyond the syllabus, something about child psychology and parental stress so that parent-teacher interactions can be productive. An employer will do well to understand — beyond the book of profits — that the law of providing a safe workplace to women has to be complied with.
In this age all functions are information driven. Today leadership cannot be claimed on the basis of inheritance or charisma for a leader has to take knowledge-based decisions for success. A leader, therefore, can be said to be made, not born, which is a welcome recognition of merit and performance for achieving a top position. Of course, leadership rests on some other basic prerequisites as well but being well-informed comes first. Corporates today make significant investments on internal information & analysis units to keep abreast of market trends, global competition and even politico-legal environs. The importance of garnering ‘tacit’ knowledge of all members has increased manifold because an employee is now a ‘knowledge worker’ who can reveal ways of enhancing productivity. In a flat organisation, the boss-subordinate relationship calls for the senior having a comprehensive knowledge of the people around including the situation of a subordinate outside of the workplace. Today’s organisational leadership has to keep up with new frontiers of knowledge on work-life balance, gender equality, credit sharing ,transparency and inter-personal relationships that were helped by the leader’s Emotional Intelligence as well.
We live in an unsafe world and individuals, heads of enterprises and those in the government have to have knowledge of the basic framework of what security is and what are the components of a reasonable system that had to be in place to safeguard it. Security begins with the knowledge of threats that existed in a given context or place. Citizens for their own safety must be well-informed on the crime trends endemic to their city. Management of schools for children has to be exposed to the necessary level of Security education to enable them to maintain their reputation and accountability. Recently, a case of murder of a child inside the premises of a well-known school revealed how the school did not even have a secure perimeter which is the first basic requirement of the security system at any place. Interestingly, since even a ‘family’ is like an organisational unit, its head has to keep himself broadly well informed about what is happening with its members and whether there is anything brewing within that needed resolution.
Age of Knowledge has impacted human resource development the most. Organisations now prefer information savvy people to come on board. Such individuals have certain traits. They do not shun reading and tend to categorise information subject or theme wise, have insatiable curiosity that stems from a spirit of inquiry, prefer authentic opinion to gossip which means they are not credulous, have a logical approach in terms of trying to know the What, Why and Where of any situation and finally have interest in human nature and behaviour — for all business is human activity. Recruiters have to look for things beyond CVs and educational degrees. The individual is the focal point of how the organisation will perform and that is why there has to be renewed emphasis on skilling, re-skilling and multi- tasking and regular reminding of the organisation’s mission and methodology.
Decisions now often require information that may not be openly available but need to be accessed through a special effort. Competing enterprises bank on information of intelligence value which means reliable and exclusive information that could throw light on the risks and opportunities that lie ahead. This is why intelligence and confidentiality with which it has to be handled before being put to use, go together. The Age of Knowledge requires well-informed people to appreciate this distinction between information and intelligence. There are many areas of applied intelligence such as ‘due diligence’ for M&As, study of a competitor, scan of external environs, interviews and antecedent verification. In fact, the Age of Knowledge is transiting to the Age of Intelligence at a perceptible pace. Organisations, therefore, need to become Intelligence-oriented.
Information-based actions now run through the successful functioning of individuals and organisations. Creating an organisational environment that adds to the output is a part of the new ethos of the Age of Knowledge. The conceptual framework includes the idea of ‘leveraging individual strengths’ to enhance group productivity, looking upon a multi-cultural team as ‘a powerhouse of creativity’, instilling corporate loyalty through transparency of credit sharing, removal of fear of failure and promotion of work life balance by accepting flexi timings where necessary, building ‘power of relationship’ by encouraging the attitude of giving and taking legitimate help, and using time as a ‘resource’ at par with money and manpower. The whole narrative built around ‘being smart’ is rooted in its definition — producing more per unit of resource whether of funds, manpower or time. Understandably, in the Age of Knowledge, IT is the biggest instrument for making processes and management ‘smart’. Technology, however, cannot do without knowledge-based human intervention and this further proves the importance of being well-informed.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)