Looking into the future

The Future Doesn’t Belong to the Ones Who Know

We all know Francis Bacon’s famous statement “Knowledge is power”, but does that statement still hold true today? Since Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1440, knowledge has increasingly been democratized, probably even commoditized. 

With 90 percent of all data in the world having been created in the last two years alone, knowledge is finding itself in a state of abundance as opposed to scarcity. Your smartphone gives you access to more information at your fingertips than you can handle – let alone actually use – in an entire lifetime. In a world where individual knowledge is no longer power, what does it take to thrive in the future?

Learn how to unlearn

We all know of people in our environment who tend to stick with what they already know, thereby creating a safe and comfortable – but at the same time false and confining – world for themselves. With today’s fast pace, unlearning what you currently know or do is at least as important as learning new things.

As Alvin Toffler put it:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Think about it: today’s top ten most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist 10 years ago, and the pace of change is only accelerating. The shelf life of what we learn and know is getting shorter by the day. The future belongs to those who master a constant state of adaptation, continuously unlearning old ‘rules’ and adopting new ones. It is far from easy.

Think about it: today’s top ten most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist 10 years ago, and the pace of change is only accelerating.

If there is one thing we are not taught at school, it is how to get rid of what we have learned so far. It requires us to be vulnerable to our own fallibility, accepting that there is no way to obtain absolutely certain, final knowledge.

It requires us to be open to others’ opinions and openly share knowledge with each other. And it requires the necessary discipline to keep questioning our assumptions and paradigms about how things work, creating the necessary conditions for deeper and better understanding.

Become a knowledge entrepreneur

What you know matters; it might even make you a knowledge expert in a certain domain. But it is no guarantee of future success.
Instead of being knowledge experts, tomorrow’s winners will act as knowledge entrepreneurs, all the time on the outlook for new ways of uncovering new knowledge and connecting the dots between existing pieces of knowledge.

By connecting the last billion people to the Internet, everyone on the planet will at some point be able to tap into a global and extremely powerful meta-brain. The possibilities of artificial intelligence are so powerful that the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are to some extent frightened by it.

The Optimistic Workplace

It is only a matter of time before we implant extra processing power and memory into our human brains as an extension to our natural brain. All of this means that the ability and speed to adapt to new ways of knowing and learning is what really matters, not what you as an individual know today. Rather than engaging a handful of elite music experts to help predict where the next Adele might be, it makes more sense to build a smart system that taps into the individual preferences from subscribers to a digital music service.

Instead of investing time in becoming experts themselves, knowledge entrepreneurs understand the power of decentralized, connected and shared knowledge with humans, robots and intelligent machines joining the party.

Start from your own passion

The classic education and career development system is up for disruption. Do you remember the days when, at high school or university, you were dominantly evaluated on the basis of your capacity to remember things and quickly forget about them afterwards? What a waste.

Take a look at the following keynote of Jef Staes explaining in his own funny but crystal sharp way why so many business professionals have turned into ‘sheep’ and stressing the corporate world should evolve from what he calls a 2D to a 3D management model. He puts his finger on the problem that most schools have only created the illusion of learning.

Luckily, we see great initiatives such as Singularity University or the Saunalahti school in Espoo, Finland. Or take a look at how the 13-year old Irish kid Jordan Casey founded his own gaming company Casey Games solely based on self-learning. Throughout all of these examples, people decide to learn what they intrinsically care about, not what other people told them they need to learn. Intrinsic passion and motivation are the real and only engines of knowledge progress in today’s world.

Allow yourself to be a bit weird

Some of the weirdest people in history have changed the face of our planet. Steve Jobs referred to them as ‘the crazy ones’. Weird people have something in common which is scientifically referred to as ‘cognitive dishibition.’ Shelley Carson, Harvard University lecturer and author of Your Creative Brain, defines it as “the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival.”

Some of the weirdest people in history have changed the face of our planet.

Cognitive dishibition actually makes people tune in to everything around them, without their brains filtering out what is seemingly less important or relevant in a given context. If our minds are freed up because they don’t need to process and validate what is relevant or not, we create more room for developing new connections and associations.

With individual knowledge becoming increasingly powerless, the future belongs to those who embrace active and networked thinking. Next time you make an assumption about how your world is functioning, challenge yourself to come up with at least one alternative explanation. Next time you assume you know something, ask for someone else’s opinion on the matter. Next time you ask your brain to filter knowledge based on relevance, give it a break and have it surprise you. Good luck!


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Kristof De Wulf

Kristof De Wulf is co-founder and CEO of InSites Consulting, a global consumer insight & collaboration agency that is listed as the 3rd most innovative one of the world (GRIT 2016), has been cheered by the industry with more than 25 international awards, and works for more than one third of the world’s most valuable brands. With offices in New York, London, Sydney, Düsseldorf, Rotterdam, Ghent and Timisoara, he inspires more than 175 team members around their company purpose to “empower people to shape the future of brands”. Kristof started his career as an academic marketing researcher at one of Europe’s finest business schools (Vlerick Business School), later obtained a PhD in Applied Economic Sciences from Ghent University, and rejoined the business school as Associate Marketing Professor, Partner, and Member of the Board. He is co-author of the award-winning book ‘The Consumer Consulting Board’, published +15 articles in peer-reviewed and A-rated journals such as Journal of Marketing, and is a sought-after speaker on topics like collaboration, customer experience and consumer centricity (most recently at TEDx Ghent). Kristof is external member of the IKEA Business & Consumer Intelligence Council, member of the Advisory Boards of Bank Van Breda and international incubator and accelerator B-Sprouts, and member of the Belgian EFFIE Awards jury. Being included in ‘The Ultimate List of Social CEOs on Twitter’, you can help him to get a few places closer to Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson by following him on @kristofdewulf.

  • I really like the statement that “Intrinsic passion and motivation are the real and only engines of knowledge progress in today’s world.” However, I would leave out the “today’s world” part. Intrinsic passion and motivation have always been the only engines of knowledge progress throughout the history of mankind. You discuss the education system, but even that is a fairly recent invention, and many of humanity’s greatest minds existed before the education system as we know it nowadays, and new knowledge is created all the time outside it now that it does exist.

    I do not agree quite as much with your argument that school does not teach us understanding of our own fallibility. Falsification is the very basis of science and it seems incomprehensible to me how anyone passing through university-level education in almost any field would not learn to question the information currently available to us. I guess I do agree to an extent that such a questioning attitude towards the world is not commonly taught in primary schools – and it should!

    What I find most concerning about this post, however, is the fundamental confusion regarding the concept of knowledge. Information is not knowledge, yet in this post the word knowledge is happily used as a synonym of information in many places, not least in the title. It is only through this semantic confusion that the title appears to hold such sway. Information may be abundant and information may be becoming commoditized, but knowledge is neither.

    The view of a “knowledge expert” having a static pool of knowledge that never changes appears to be a straw man built to set apart “knowledge entrepreneurs” – while the description of a “knowledge entrepreneur” closely matches what a knowledge expert actually already does. Still, all the arguments in this post merely illustrate how it remains crucial to be able to create knowledge from an abundance of information – a stance I can agree with.

    The semantic confusions and attempts to fancy up the output somewhat weaken the otherwise solid core of the post.

  • Everything old is new again

    Only distinctive knowledge confers advantage.

    “Knowledge is different from all other resources. It makes itself constantly obsolete so that today’s advanced knowledge is tomorrow’s ignorance. … Knowledge must progress to remain
    knowledge.” − Peter F. Dricker

  • Kenny Du

    “Think about it: today’s top ten most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist 10 years ago”
    Can someone site the source for this statement? It is not sourced in the article and I cannot find a source that agrees with that claim in a basic search.

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