The Knowledge-is-Power Fiction

Within many companies there is a core belief – core because it is a cherished belief of the people who make up the companies – that “knowledge is power.” In an era in which the public’s relationship to data, information and knowledge has changed so pronouncedly, this attitude is proving to be a liability. This liability amplifies a company’s inability to successfully reach and retain customers.

Here are what I have observed to be the primary fictions regarding information.

• All data is controllable
• All data should be controlled
• Customers can and should be controlled
• The organization, not the customer, should be in control
• The worst possible scenario is the most likely
• The only attitude of an organization to its data is to secure it

These ideas are suspect for a variety of reasons, including the following.

• All data, with very few exceptions (such as some economic data) is already available to the public; between the Web, blogs, forums, YouTube, etc. everything is already accessible
• Social software is demonstrably more effective and infinitely cheaper than broadcast marketing
• Efforts to control data send a series of messages to customers that they have already rejected:

They should remain passive and ingest what data you choose to give them
They should continue to cooperate in a “knowledge economy” characterized by artificial scarcity
They should accept that you know what’s best for them
They should be grateful to you should you choose to share any of the data

As a company, or any other organization with customers, your only real choice is whether or not to influence the use of data by entering into a conversation with your customers. Choosing to remain outside of a conversation that has already begun does not make the conversation go away.

There is, in addition to inertia, an additional reason why this attitude predominates as it does. To throw down the gauntlet and “take a stand” against sharing information due to “security issues” creates the appearance of prudence and concern and is therefore politically beneficial in the short run to anyone who advocates it.

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