The Specialized, Yet Collective Nature of Knowledge

Complexity characterizes the modern human society and therefore also its problems and solutions. It is amazing to think how the mankind has evolved from scattered small groups of individuals using simple tools such as hand axes to the connected and information-driven modern day society filled with vast range of continually changing technologies. In order to achieve such complexity of knowledge, humans have had to specialize, that is, to develop specific skills and competences for different individuals and exchange these specialized skills with others. The greatest strength of humankind is our ability to maintain the specialized, yet collective nature of human knowledge by collaborating in ways that well exceeds the understanding of a single individual.

You represent a unique combination of collective knowledge

So what do I mean with the specialized, but collective nature of knowledge? With the first glimpse, it might seem that knowledge resides within a single individual. It is I, who knows, what I know. However, if you think how your knowledge has accumulated over the time, you cannot explain its emergence without accounting for a vast number of people with whom you have interacted over the years – your parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, colleagues and various random acquaintances. In other words, you represent a unique combination of collective knowledge and to make the best use of that knowledge you need to further make it collective by integrating it with the specialized knowledge of others.

It is important to acknowledge and embrace the diversity that we encounter

Hence, specialization is crucial for the effectiveness and success of human communities such as organizations. Specialization, however, also creates challenges for example in decision-making situations. We get so disconnected from each other’s ways of thinking and acting that it becomes difficult to collaborate and integrate our knowledge in order to find a solution or reach a decision. On the other hand, it is the diversity of the ways of thinking and acting in which the seeds for change and ‘new’ ideas lie. Therefore it is important to acknowledge and embrace the diversity that we encounter and be emphatic towards the different perspectives and understandings of life that each of us brings to the table when making decisions. (This of course is often more easily said than done.)

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