Knowledge Has a Radius of Validity

“Knowledge is a statement to which there are no objections.” Following my previous blog post about knowledge, I had a number of conversations with others about what knowledge is and how the definition we choose changes the way that we use it. I wanted to quickly share a couple of highlights from those conversations.

To restate the definition: Knowledge is a statement to which there are no objections. I have found this definition very helpful over the years, because one of the implications of that definition is that knowledge always—always—has a radius of validity. In other words, something that is treated as knowledge in one department of an organization is not necessarily knowledge in another part of the organization.

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Let me give you a very obvious example. You walk into your marketing department after they have just conducted some kind of market analysis, and the outcome of this analysis is that decision-making within your customer base has shifted toward the IT department. People in the market research department have workshopped and discussed the results, and over time, they have come to the conclusion that this is a truth—a piece of knowledge.

Thus, within that group of people, that is knowledge. These folks will interact with others. They will have friends in the organization; they will conduct meetings with others where they present their findings. Some of the people will agree, which means that around that core group from market research, there will be this corona of people who also see their facts as knowledge. You might then go into the sales organization, where some of this research has not been socialized or shared at all, and you’ll notice that people argue about the data.

If you say to group of five salespeople, “You know what? The power of decision-making has really shifted toward the IT department,” you will have one person saying, “Absolutely; I can see that in every deal.” Another person will say, “Well, you can’t really say that. A lot of decisions are made by the economic buyer, just like it was traditionally.” And just like that, you have a whole conversation going on, which means that within the sales organization, that is not knowledge.

This becomes very important in the incubation phase, when we start scaling and engaging other parts of the organization. We often fall into the trap of assuming that the knowledge, the things we take for granted, and the assumptions we make within our close team are shared across the organization. We sometimes forget that there are fundamental things we don’t even question anymore, but these things are not shared by the people we are trying to engage on our journey to turn this idea into a business venture. So I guess the key takeaway here is this—don’t forget that with whatever you do, knowledge has a radius of validity.

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Image(s): Anna Lvova for SBI