Would You Rather Have Information or Knowledge — Or Beyond?

In his poem The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot asked: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Like many great lines of poetry, it’s the distillation of a complex thought into something so clear that it feels simple and intuitive, like something we’ve known all along. Of course, we’re overwhelmed by information — and of course we’re losing a kind of deeper understanding along the way.

In fact, though, this idea is profoundly complicated and deeply important. Entire academic disciplines of information management and knowledge management have evolved to try to figure out how to use information more effectively, and how to process information into knowledge that can be shared and activated to drive real value.

In today’s data-driven world — and especially with the rise of AI technologies — these disciplines have grown even more important. The challenges they address — in helping leaders and teams and organizations to source the right information, and process it into knowledge, and share and leverage that knowledge effectively — are challenges we all now face and need to be thinking about.

But we also need something more.

As I’ve written previously, I jumped off the academic bandwagon during the pandemic when I realized that I was growing too specialized for my own good. I knew I wanted to reach out to other experts in other domains, from philosophy to psychology to the hard sciences, and find new ways of thinking about knowledge in more integrated (and perhaps more interesting) ways.

The moment I had that flash of self-insight, I knew I’d found something important. The deeper we get into using a single approach to optimize our information and our knowledge, it turns out, the more we close our eyes and ears and hearts to other possibilities — and limit the success we’re able to generate for ourselves and our organizations.

Like Eliot’s poem, that might sound like a simple idea. But it’s a big deal. Think about it this way: I’ve got a book coming out that talks about how we can use this integrative approach to elevate our leadership and solve many of the big problems we now face in our businesses and our society. As part of the marketing process, I’ve had to think about how to categorize the book: should it be shelved under “Business Leadership” or “Organizational Science” or “Knowledge Management” or “Psychology” or even “Self Help”?

The answer, of course, is that my book is all of those things, and also none of them. It’s a bridge between categories — but there’s no “Integrative” or “Holistic” category to put it in.

Oh, well — I’ll figure something out. But my book marketing headache is just one more instance of the ways in which our efforts to construct meaning and sort information into knowledge all too often become reductive and oversimplifying.

We’re trained — by our schools, by our bosses, by our very culture — to solve problems by zooming in and narrowing down, breaking off smaller and smaller pieces until we get to something we feel we can understand and grasp. And in that process — that closing-off of possibilities, that self-limitation –– we really do lose something important.

It’s time for knowledge mindfulness.

It’s worth remembering that in The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot also wrote: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” In other words, knowledge alone isn’t a panacea either. Just as we need to anchor our information in real knowledge, so we need to anchor our knowledge in a deeper kind of understanding.

We need not just zoomed-in or narrow knowledge, but also a much broader and more interconnected understanding. We need to look more fully at ourselves, as agents of knowing and constructors of knowledge. We also need to look more fully at our whole ecosystem, to draw in the powerful knowledge we need, and build the connections that let us integrate our knowledge into something much richer, much more diverse, and ultimately much more powerful.

That deeper kind of understanding — an energy flow that transcends the sum of our individual and collective wisdom, and that can be responsibly applied to drive holistic success — is something that I call “Knowledge Mindfulness,” and it’s something I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about. In fact, it’s also the title of my forthcoming book which you can find here: https://tinyurl.com/knowledgemindfulness

In my next post, I’ll unpack this further, and explain what I mean by Knowledge Mindfulness and why I think it’s so important. In the meantime, though, please share your thoughts, too. Are you feeling overwhelmed by information, and what strategies do you use to translate information into unique knowledge for yourself and your team? Have you found times when zooming in too far created problems, and you needed to zoom outward to find the answers you needed?

Leave a comment or question below, and let’s keep this conversation going.

#knowledge management #knowledge mindfulness