When Scarcity is Your Friend

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Today’s guest post is by my friend and colleague, Dr. David Stehlik.

Are you a knowledge worker? Are your primary responsibilities the creation, assessment, management, reduction, or conversion of information? If so, you need to consider how the information boom and an ever-connected world will impact your career. However, before I offer some career-strengthening strategies, take an inventory of your response toward two world-shaking shifts.

  1. The amount of available information is massive and growing. What is your perspective regarding the ease of access to information blocks, like Wikipedia and similar encyclopedic repositories? Information hasn’t always been so cheap. Today users of information pay for access primarily through connection fees, but not for acquisition or upkeep (Wikipedia, for instance, takes donations). The new information depots are forcing the value of general information downward, especially commoditized information which functions as a resource (dates, figures, formulas, names, locations, etc.). Since information is power, how skilled are you at finding these free or low-cost resources?
  2. Our interconnectedness is like never before. Manufacturing, logistical, and networking innovation, both at the production and infrastructural level, have promoted information access. This has further compounded information growth and reduced barriers to entry. More brains than ever before are creating, learning, acquiring, are opinionating together. And, for those who run their operations on information, the importance of reducing costs to connectedness is swiftly rising. Since more brains are better, how effective are you at connecting to create solutions?

What does that mean for you, the knowledge worker? As a result of these two changes, your challenges are likely going to increase. Why? Let the following list help you think through how these global shifts will impact your ability to compete.

  • Can what you do be learned through information that can be shared openly without legal ramification? Through connected media?
  • Can what you do be accomplished remotely (i.e. could you fill your functional role during a snowstorm with your internet, telephone, and mailing/delivery/support/etc. services intact)?
  • If others can learn what you know, are they likely to develop the ability to do your work?
  • If others have easier access to that information at lower costs than you faced when you acquired it, then are they likely to develop those abilities sooner?
  • If the markets for information are competitive, then is that pool of information (from information creators/manipulators) likely to become less valuable or more valuable over time in order to attract purchasers? Or, will it become cheaper or more expensive?
  • If learning the practices of information-users becomes more widespread at reduced costs, then will the quality of training be more likely to improve or diminish? Remember that training is an information market also.

These shifts are inducing a “chase effect,” where the processes required to reach particular levels of competency are shrinking (because of fewer steps or a shorter time-frames). We are experiencing the commoditization of existing communicable knowledge.

Perhaps you’ve already understood at least one of these implications. Simple dealings with information are becoming much cheaper. Organizations will expect it and demand it. If computer code can be written to routinely create the documents you make (with the information you use, without highly trained facilitators) then it will be! This is based on the assumption that low-hanging fruit always gets picked first. If information can be commoditized, then it will be commoditized in time. Whoever leads this endeavor will be rewarded, and that is likely to take place with automation’s aid. But, most of us cannot create the picking machines that catch that fruit. We are the fruit, and as a result that means we need to ensure that our fruit matures high on our trees.

How does one maintain a high knowledge worker desirability rating? The simple answer is scarcity. You need to change your scarcity setting. Where can a knowledge worker develop and/or demonstrate greater scarcity? Among other solutions, you can work on the following

  1. Expertise. Increase the level of skills acquired and used. Know what you do well.
  2. Efficiency. Increase your speed of knowledge production. Be fast at what you do.
  3. Excellence. Increasing the quality of information you produce. Be good at what you do.
  4. Non-Emulation. Increase the difficulty of brand duplication. Distinguish what you do.

Skilled knowledge workers must learn to rarify their skills. This will help them avoid the pending threat of the commodification information. It is no longer good enough to just know. Knowledge is becoming a commodity. Instead, 21st century knowledge workers must have rare expertise, efficiency and excellence in order to stand out.

Forthcoming posts will delve into ideas for developing your competencies to further rarify and increase the desirability rating for the knowledge worker.

Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com


StehlikDavid Stehlik is an MBA professor in the domain of corporate and healthcare finance, equipping mostly mid-career professionals in stewarding the future with present financial savvy. His training and experience include personal & corporate strategy, foresight & social prescience, and leading change among others. He can be reached at dstehl@gmail.com

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