My high school’s motto was “Scientia est Potestas” which in Latin means “Knowledge is Power”. The well-known phrase was first coined by Sir Francis Bacon in 1597, when he wrote “scientia potestas est” to mean “knowledge is power”. I continue to hear this phrase mentioned in presentations and discussions, particularly in the academic world. I would like to challenge the phrase and provide a variation to reflect current thinking.
Someone once said to me that knowledge is power if you actually use the knowledge or share it. Hoarding knowledge alone will not result in power. Now you would think that in the academic world, knowledge is openly shared, however, I have found that many academics do not openly share their knowledge as they are afraid that someone may acquire their ideas or take advantage of the knowledge. Academics generally share their knowledge when they are “ready” and have something to write about, usually in a high-tiered journal. I praise those academics and researchers who, in addition to publishing in peer-reviewed journals, also contribute to blogs, submit online articles and write content for trade journals and magazines. By sharing their knowledge to the greater masses, this can stimulate better diffusion and adoption of knowledge by the wider community, rather than just a limited reader group in an academic journal.
By the way I am not advocating sharing confidential information that may result in protectable intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, designs or trade secrets. I am merely stating that non-confidential information or know-how should be shared where possible. That is, once a preliminary assessment of the value of the know-how has been undertaken to ensure that a patent opportunity has not been inadvertently disclosed.
Applied knowledge is what will create value in the market, in society or in organisations. If we can translate research outcomes and tacit knowledge into applications that result in products and services, or assist in solving industry and societal problems, then we will create the power that we seek.
The diagram below outlines the Knowledge Cycle which involves knowledge production, knowledge transfer, knowledge application and knowledge diffusion. Other inputs required include creative inspiration, an intellectual property strategy and entrepreneurial skills and resources, including funding.Unfortunately, one of the most difficult processes that we encounter, both from a research-borne or industry-borne perspective, is the translation of great ideas into practical solutions and applications. A number of factors contribute to the difficulty in successfully applying knowledge and ideas , and conversion into products and services:
- Humans are generally risk averse
- Limited availability of early stage risk capital
- Access to know-how required to take ideas to market
- Scarcity of entrepreneurial skills and experience
- Lack of motivation and desire – it is hard work!
Those who seek and acquire knowledge through reading, learning, observation, investigation and experimentation will grow and develop in their specific disciplines. Those who then adopt or apply the knowledge will create significant value for society.
Dr John Kapeleris