Leadership in Action
Editors: John Mohr and Rich Clampitt
Information summarized from Karl Albrecht’s article Managing Knowledge Cultures (www.karlalbrecht.com)
The so-called “Information Age” is badly misnamed. The appropriate label for it is the
Knowledge Age. There is a huge difference between the two. Over the past tow decades,
business leaders have been confused and distracted by a misplaced emphasis on data and
information, and have largely failed to grasp the significance of knowledge as a driving force in
business success. The next major paradigm shift is from managing thing-work to managing
One of the most critical issues facing organizations today, and one which will certainly become
ever more critical, is simply the need to attract and retain smart people. The simple fact remains
that the success of most businesses depends on the brain power of a relatively small number of
highly capable knowledge workers. These are the people who can plan, design, organize, lead,
manage, analyze, conceptualize, strategize, decide, innovate, teach, advise, and explain ideas.
Those employees who handle data and information as raw material, without adding significant
value, are not knowledge workers in the sense of the new and emerging paradigm.
Albrecht refers to a pyramid or hierarchy of knowledge, which ascends to levels of progressively
greater added value:
Level 1 – Data: the atomic raw materials, almost like a physical substance to be stored,
moved around, and manipulated.
Level 2 – Information: an association of data elements which takes on meaning in some
particular context. Information “says something.”
Level 3 – Knowledge: the mental consequence of engaging information; knowledge
exists only within the human brain, and every piece of knowledge is unique to the
individual brain that hosts it.
Level 4 – Wisdom: higher-order knowledge; the capacity to go beyond the available
knowledge and to arrive at new insights based on learning and experience.
An increasing number of organizations now recognize two critical options:
1. Making better use of the brain power we already have, and
2. Growing our own smart people
The familiar term “ROI,” is now coming to mean “Return on Intelligence.”
The emerging concept of organizational intelligence offers promise as a paradigm for business
success. It integrates several levels of intelligence – individual, team-level, and organizational –
into a comprehensive framework for building smart enterprises. Albrecht offers seven key
dimensions for the emerging model of Organizational Intelligence.
1. Strategic Vision – the capacity to create, evolve, and deploy a compelling concept of the
organization’s purpose, direction, and destiny.
2. Shared Fate – the sense that “we’re all in the same boat.” The military counterpart of
the concept of shared fate is esprit de corps – a sense of connectedness through common
3. Appetite for Change – the capacity to let go of the past and proactively create the new
ways of doing things that will make the enterprise successful in its future.
4. “Heart” – the collective sense of energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and willingness to give
extra effort to make the enterprise succeed.
5. Alignment and Congruence – the extent to which the design of the infrastructure – the
organization and its ways of operating – expresses the strategic vision and the critical
priorities for success.
6. Knowledge Deployment – the ability of the organization to capitalize on its collective
knowledge and wisdom; to foster the sharing and application of its knowledge; and to
nurture the development of new knowledge.
7. Performance Pressure – the personal mandate, accepted by as many people in the
organization as possible, to “do the work.” This goes beyond the role of leaders to push
people to achieve the goals; it means that people personally embrace and accept the goals
and feel that it is worthwhile for them to contribute their energies to achieve the goals.
We may be already experiencing the early influences of the Fourth Wave – whatever comes in
the aftermath of the Third Wave of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. The Fourth
Wave may well be the Brain Wave.