In a world with an overwhelming amount of information available, it is sometimes not easy to figure out how to apply it.
Business models based on advertising revenue and marketing tools such as influencer content have diminished our trust in information on the internet. We need to filter in our mind whether or not information is credible, as many websites feature content sponsored by brands and businesses. Recommendations from online reviews are also questionable, as businesses have been known to pay strangers to write positive reviews. (In fact, fake review writers can be hired at $5-$10 per review on Fiverr.com.) Similarly, credibility of answers on Q&A sites like Quora also suffer over time, as more and more businesses post answers on the platform as a part of their marketing strategy.
We need to efficiently cut through the clutter. By and large, rather than taking our chances with Google, we can benefit from talking to the right person with relevant knowledge—someone with the ability to apply information based on his/her experience and expertise. Fairly soon, systems will emerge to enable instantaneous knowledge sharing and monetization at scale. It could be as ubiquitous and easy as a Google search is today.
The right person with the right answer is already out there. We just need to index human know-how and work out how to provide on-demand access to it.
What’s the best way to share knowledge?
Know-how is built from first-hand experience and stored in our heads. So how do we get it out?
Knowledge sharing needs to be communication based. Knowledge transfer has traditionally been in the form of structured content, such as publishing reports, books, blogs, podcasts, videos, or online courses. Some businesses are lucky enough to call specialists from consultancies and advisory firms for their know-how and expertise at any time, but the price for such access is usually prohibitive for most companies and individuals.
In the not-too-distant future, we will be able to share and monetize knowledge via live conversations or text messages in bite-size chunks. Relevant queries—like how to scale up your company from a small business, or how to get your product on a specific major distribution platform—will be directed to you seamlessly, as easy as a friend calling you to ask you a quick question. Compensation for sharing your insights will be credited to you immediately upon giving advice, applied to a digital wallet or registered as credit for you to tap into someone else’s know-how in return. The communication will be both unstructured and contextual, allowing for learning and value creation in the flow of work and at the point of need.
But shouldn’t knowledge be free? Should we be paid for the knowledge lying around in our heads?
If we have knowledge relevant for specific needs and are willing to share it, we should be compensated for sharing, whether monetarily or in kind. Time is arguably our most precious resource, and we should therefore be rewarded for giving it. We can always share knowledge for free altruistically, just like doctors and lawyers who normally charges consultation fees but can choose to do pro bono work. However, to demand accountability and disincentivize self-promotion, it is necessary that knowledge transfer is transaction-based by default.
Since the value of knowledge depends on the context, it can be dynamically priced according to supply and demand. Need an answer right away? Pay a rush fee. If you have very specialized and unique know-how that has a lot of demand, you can charge a higher rate. Price can also reflect credibility based on level and length of experience, such as C-level executives, or a specialist who has had 20 years of experience.
Here’s how it might work: You have built a popular apparel line from the ground up. You get a text message from someone you don’t know, requesting your advice on omnichannel retail strategy. You take a look at his profile and have a quick chat with him to share your experience and lessons learned. You receive credits in your digital wallet right after the chat. Later, you use the credits to speak with a materials-science expert when looking for new sustainable fabrics for your business.
Trust is obviously imperative to knowledge sharing; only with it can the practice proliferate sustainably. Some may object to sharing knowledge, as they feel that others will steal their ideas, or it may end up benefiting their competitors. Both the provider and the consumer will need to exercise judgment and be accountable for the knowledge shared.
In directing queries to the right people for answers, smart systems will automatically filter out potential conflicts of interest and prevent sharing of confidential information. For example, a warning will come up when a query comes from a competitor, or you could change your settings to reject all such queries by default. The systems will also analyze queries to highlight risk of involvement of confidential information, and can penalize participants for doing so. Removing disincentives such as these is crucial; knowledge sharing shouldn’t be indiscriminate.
Knowledge sharing doesn’t just help the receiver—it can help the greater good, too. Research shows that despite patent publications, an inventor’s know-how of their field is limited by the horizons of their own collaboration network. Our frame of reference is likely shaped by the people within our communities, and people’s ability to access and be open to external perspectives is fundamental to problem-solving and creativity. Sharing knowledge can empower humans to collectively reach better decisions and solutions in the face of challenges.
In this vision of the future—where we can monetize and seamlessly tap into each other’s know-how just as easily as a Google search—we are collectively liberated from our individual limitations. Like the future that Ray Dalio depicts in Principles, “Imagine a world in which you can use technology to connect to a system in which you can input the issue you’re dealing with and have exchanges about what you should do and why with the highest-rated thinkers in the world.”
The result is greater productivity and more free time to enable us to further develop our personal experience and know-how. Ultimately, this will allow us to form a human intelligence network whereby we can augment and empower each other on demand.