Article

In the knowledge economy, harness the power of constant change

By Leah E. Friedman

Published February 24, 2020
Last updated February 24, 2020

How recently did your company’s tech stack change? In 2018, companies’ average spend on SaaS products increased by a whopping 78 percent year over year, with the typical tech stack ranging from 40 to more than 200 apps. In an ecosystem that diverse, is it still possible to truly gain mastery of every product needed simply to do one’s job? Should technical mastery even matter anymore?

No. Technical mastery is an unscalable approach to training and learning when working through continuous change. Most of us already instinctively realize this, and “know” exactly what we need to in order to successfully get through our work days; the rest we pick up along the way. In fact, given the average tech stack per person and per company, it can't include technical mastery. It would simply take too long and leave no room for workers to do their actual work.

In an ecosystem that diverse, is it still possible to truly gain mastery of every product needed simply to do one's job? Should technical mastery even matter anymore?

This is especially true of those who are knowledge workers, the fastest-growing segment of US workers. Success for those in this segment — who spend our time creating, sharing, and maintaining knowledge (which includes all of the tech industry, as well as any customer-facing roles, such as customer support agents) — hinges on being able to access the technical process/product information you need, and then being able to solve problems creatively.

[Related read: Digital transformation can be a rough employee experience—but it doesn’t have to be]

Scale your knowledge strategy, not just your knowledge base

Given this shift in the way we work, the way we think about access to knowledge has to shift accordingly. When we think about traditional approaches to knowledge management, the focus has been on the storing of explicit knowledge — anything easily documentable in written form — such as long-form product information, org charts, sales forecasts, and yearly benefits packets. The frequency of the need to have access to that information was potentially of less concern in their design than the need to have a place where it simply could be accessed. It was also centrally maintained, usually by IT, with top-down decisions being made about including knowledge that is broadly applicable to the entire organization.

This was a fine approach back when extensive technical training in a comparably limited tech stack, infrequent changes to product offerings (which were often much simpler and less varied in number), and a single, non-instant feedback channel were the norm among knowledge workers.

But it’s not just our tech stacks that are changing — it’s all of those factors. SaaS companies, in particular, are constantly putting out updates to proliferating product lines. Customers across every industry now expect omnichannel communications experiences, and quick communication and resolution, at a minimum.

[Related read: What we expect in the expectation economy]

The future-proof knowledge management approach

For the knowledge worker, the reality of constant change leads to a huge amount of uncertainty around how to be successful. Knowledge can’t simply be static, long-form, and irrelevant to day-to-day role function. Moreover, it must be accessible with a minimum amount of friction and searching. It must be consumable, bite-sized (to enhance both findability and readability), and in-workflow to every employee, regardless of their particular tech stack. And it needs to include tacit, or what might be classified as “understood” knowledge as well, from the best way to do something right now to whom to set meetings with to how to get access to a particular application. These are things we haven’t traditionally formalized and documented in knowledge bases, but instead passed from person to person, leaving out anyone who wasn’t “in the loop.”

Customers across every industry now expect omnichannel communications experiences, and quick communication and resolution, at a minimum.

Taken together, this approach not only democratizes knowledge, ensuring everyone has access to the information that they need to be successful in their roles, it makes organizational change management much easier. No longer is it IT’s responsibility to update a silo with long documents (that might only have one or two changes). It means that not everyone needs to be an expert in everything. It requires just one person to solve an issue and document the solution

By ensuring mutual success, this collaborative process allows all tides to rise together in an organization, making both internal and external communication that much more efficient, reducing anxiety related to change, and actively increasing collective confidence to perform in our jobs.

Future-proofing anything — let alone a company — isn’t a simple thing. In the knowledge economy, technical mastery of the entirety of a particular process or application is only useful for the point in time that that process or application is even in use; the equivalent of a polaroid of a minute ago. If the only constant is change, why not harness its potential? If true mastery is really the ability to solve problems in the moment, the future isn’t something you have to work against; it’s wide open.

Leah E. Friedman is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Guru, the collaborative knowledge management solution where answers find you.