What is Worth Knowing?: From a Knowledge Economy to a Know Less Economy

“Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” – Peter Drucker

There are those of us who have dedicated decades of our lives to determine “what’s worth knowing” by actually putting ourselves in the situations to have direct experience with many of the people, places, patterns, and philosophies, etc. of this world. We can tell you a lot about what we know about and we are willing to say nothing about what we know nothing about. A rarity these days. But, in discovering our ignorance on a subject, we will make a concentrated effort to learn something of the subject before cultivating an opinion. And when possible, we will reach out to people with direct experience of the subject to ensure we’re optimizing our learning. This is because, at the end of the day, what is worth knowing is that which enables us to better relate to our fellow human beings. Unfortunately for some, we still largely live in a society where the value we place on relating to people is focused more on figuring out how to get what we want from them rather than on what we can create with them in service of us all. But not for much longer.

This awareness came up the other day when I was in a conversation with a very thoughtful friend who said that he wished he could find a role where he was paid enough to maintain his lifestyle, but not so much that the organization expected him to make his job the sole purpose of his life. Then, he surmised, he could use his “free time” to do the things that he really enjoys, which include researching little known facts, studying the world’s philosophies, creating content that examines the nuances of human relating, traveling, and meeting new and interesting people. But immediately after professing this, he proceeded to determine that that may be too much to ask of a consumption driven society. Since almost every relationship and interaction tends to feel transactional and so much in life seems to be commodified, he figured that only a lucky few can transcend the treadmill life of the marketplace mentality.

After hearing his declaration of preemptive defeat, I suggested that he look at our culture differently if he wanted to be of service to folks. I then proceeded to make the prediction that some segments of society are moving from a knowledge economy to a “know less economy” and that maybe there’s a way for him to serve others by doing what he enjoys, which ultimately comes down to content curation. Fundamentally, money and all forms of currency are nothing more or less than socially agreed upon expressions of trust that we exchange for what we value. So, I invited him to consider how he might carve out a place for himself in this new “know less economy” as a trusted advisor for people who value focusing on “what’s worth knowing”.

As you probably know, in simple terms, the knowledge economy is based on the production and “consumption” of intellectual property and how it can be leveraged for the purposes of innovation in many sectors to include, science, technology, content creation and curation platforms, etc.* However, this commodified iteration of something much more promising was built on a historically consumption based paradigm that says “more is better” and “good Americans are good consumers”. Therefore, rather than work at becoming adept at knowledge curation, many of us have adapted to “knowledge” consumption as if knowledge were a tangible product instead of the intangible catalytic medium it actually is. No one can consume enough “knowledge” ever know everything. But that doesn’t keep some of us from trying and failing spectacularly. Which opens up a new space in the marketplace to solve the problem of figuring out, “What is worth knowing?”

Like my friend, I too have an extraordinarily high capacity for taking in information from almost any source and then metabolizing that information at an unconventionally high rate. I can then process the information “worth knowing” and eliminate what is inconsequential to maximizing my relational potential. For a while, I thought that most people could do this. But, I have come to see that this isn’t necessarily the case as I alluded to in my last post Responsible Free Speech: Context, Content, and Why They Matter.

The fact is that many of us get overwhelmed trying to keep up with all of the information that is thrown at us. It’s challenging to figure out what’s worth knowing. So, many of us just decide to limit our sources to those that challenge us the least. We then convince ourselves that our limited sources have all the unbiased information we need, and then, we go all in on trusting sources that–in the end–can prove untrustworthy. When we do this, we are essentially choosing to know less without taking responsibility for that choice. And there is a whole system–that functions like a narcotic–feeding that need to deny our limitations. In a sense, many of us are in subconscious rebellion to the knowledge economy. And it is in the tension between the evolutionary pull of the knowledge economy and the resistant impulse of those who are afraid of getting left behind, that there exists the need for people like my friend and others who have cultivated the ability to ride the waves of cognitive dissonance to the shores cultural transformation.

In the video below, Roberto Unger talks about the highest potential of the knowledge economy. And while this is not an endorsement of all of Unger’s philosophies or theories, I am of the mind that he gets what is possible if we could maximize our innovative capacities in every area of life. But, in order to get there, we must facilitate a revolution of trust in people and create systems that expand to meet human potential rather than putting our trust in systems and then diminishing people to fit within the confines of obsolete systems, which is what we’ve been doing for too long.

What many are still calling Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion or many of its other iterations are basically no more than attempts to on ramp folks onto the Human Compatibility Super Highway (William Guillory) that, when we choose to travel along it, will give us access to a new dimension of innovation that, as of yet, has been unrecognized and unrealized by those of us unwilling to focus on valuing “what is worth knowing”. For decades now, folks have been beating and begging and even belittling and belying in their efforts to entice or force folks onto this Human Compatibility Super Highway. But, we won’t be able to do this much longer.

Forward thinking leaders in organizations and institutions did this kind of cajoling for so long because basically they needed people to maintain aspects of the obsolete relational infrastructure while they were simultaneously trying to build a new relational infrastructure on the side. They didn’t want to lose what they had trying to get what they needed. For example, think about the electric vehicle market. Most people don’t know that American companies like Ford had been looking into EVs for decades and could’ve been in a position to lead in the EV market before Toyota disrupted everything with the Prius hybrid. However, like with the knowledge economy, the competition and consumption mindset limited our ability to innovate to the highest level of potential possible. So we needed someone outside the system, like Elon Musk to come in and force us to catch up or else.

Now, we’re approaching the all too natural TRANSFORM OR TRANSITION stage. And, most people know it on a gut level–even those in active denial. This is the primary cause for so much of the social upheaval we’re witnessing. We can sense that many of our systems are in the throes of death. We’re just ignoring it like a gambler who decides to risk it all when they’re down to the last few dollars. We don’t want to know because we don’t want to face the consequences of our denial. But we will face it. We face it everyday in myriad ways. But not all is lost. The good news is that, if you’re still here, that means you’re still capable of discovering who you can be and “what’s worth knowing” for you and how to apply that knowledge toward maximum human flourishing. And the better news is that are people who have been laying the groundwork who are just waiting in the wings to receive us. They don’t just know themselves and their potential. But, they also see it in each of us. Because discovering what’s worth knowing is always an inclusive and iterative process.

“If we attempt to preserve the consumer economy indefinitely, ecological forces will dismantle it savagely. If we proceed to dismantle it gradually ourselves, we will have the opportunity of replacing it with a low consumption economy that can endure.” – Alan Durning of Sightline Institute.

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