Emerging Technologies

These are the 3 ways knowledge can  provide strategic advantage

Image: UNSPLASH/Luka Tanis

Jim Marshall
Managing Director, Serendipity AI Ltd
Stephan Mergenthaler
Head of Strategic Intelligence; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Emerging Technologies?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • We often miss solutions involving artificial intelligence and other breakthrough technologies, even though they offer the potential for huge strategic advantage
  • Serendipity could help people think creatively and not get lost in the echo chambers of social media. Strategic gains could be made from having access to a deeply personalised and actionable stream of knowledge.
  • Accessing knowledge which is transformative, applicable and actionable can help organizations get ahead of the changes that surround them.

“The future is already here, it is just not very evenly distributed”, said William Gibson famously. One can debate the accuracy of the statement but it is, nevertheless, quite straightforward to find examples of asymmetry in our ability to harness the latest technologies.

In November 2021, the Financial Times reported that the UK National Health Service is “sending X-rays abroad in vast quantities due to an acute shortage of radiologists”. There are now many examples of artificial intelligence outperforming radiologists at analysing X-rays for health issues but this seems to have been overlooked as a solution in this case. Similarly, during the recent shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK, news reports were almost entirely focused on how quickly new lorry drivers could be trained, rather than thinking of the possibility of accelerating the introduction of autonomous trucks to leapfrog the current infrastructure, a solution which has been trialled in many countries including the United States and Singapore.

Have you read?

How is it that we can miss solutions like these, which are already here and which offer the potential for huge strategic advantage, let alone ones just around the corner?

It could be that we are drowning in content, but starved of knowledge and therefore often fail to connect the dots to anticipate change before it becomes mainstream. With over four billion pieces of content being created each day, keeping abreast of all that is happening far exceeds our capacity to do so. Further, the business models of social media organisations and news outlets have been increasingly focused on giving people more of what they (or their networks) like, leading to echo chamber effects and making it easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Friedrich Hayek’s “Use of knowledge in society” eloquently made the point that there is always more knowledge distributed outside the organisation than inside it, and his work serves as a reminder that those that are able to break out of their echo chambers have much to gain.

Serendipity is sometimes used to describe the accidental, yet fortuitous, discovery of something, but what if serendipity could be “engineered” to help people take their blinkers off and escape from groupthink? Just imagine the strategic gains which could be made from having access to a deeply personalised and actionable stream of knowledge, attuned for maximum ability to help you defend against risks or capitalise on opportunity. It would need to include the trends which have the potential to drastically disrupt or improve the status quo and help people triangulate between potential outcomes. Most importantly, it would need to help them act for strategic gain, ahead of the pack.

At the World Economic Forum, we felt this to be so important that we set up a Strategic Intelligence practice and partnered with Serendipity AI to engineer the serendipitous discovery of knowledge which can be used for strategic advantage. The result was our flagship Strategic Intelligence product and our work led us to identify three important characteristics of knowledge which, when maximized, provide very high potential for strategic advantage.

Such knowledge is:

1. Transformative

What is the potential of the idea to transform industries, business models, markets or organisations?
Truly transformational ideas often come from the intersections between two completely different fields or domains — such as virtual reality and education colliding to enable immersive learning experiences about migration. Or 3D printing and biology combining to print human tissue. Underpinning knowledge with a platform which understands these lateral connections between topics and the interests and expertise of people and organisations becomes essential to identifying opportunities for first-mover strategic advantage.

2. Applicable

How relevant is it to your own personal circumstances, organisation or industry?

Executives often decry discussions of strategic trends that are too far removed from their strategic operating reality. This is particularly true when it comes to discussions on emerging or frontier technologies, say Quantum computing and its potential impact on specific industries. The ability to access and surface those pieces of knowledge that effectively draw the links between broad strategic developments and their tangible impact on, organizations, operating models and collaborations is a precondition for successful forward planning.

3. Actionable

The sweet spot of being actionable but not already widely harnessed

Strategic advantage means being able to translate those implications into specific actions before others catch on to them and they become mainstream. Being able to easily access those items of knowledge that spell out actionable steps and guide organizations towards implementation in areas that are applicable and transformative is essential to ensure preparedness for an increasingly uncertain future.

But one shouldn’t have to wade through vast quantities knowledge, even if it is highly relevant. John Hagel told us to “abandon stocks” of knowledge and “embrace flows” over a decade ago now. This was spot on but things have moved on since then. The abundance of content means that the flows are more like raging torrents, perpetually bombarding us with both signal and noise.

We think the future of knowledge involves your digital “sidekick” — one which is always on, always monitoring on your behalf, and always searching out the most strategic and serendipitous opportunities for you to harness in your personal and professional lives.

This is the best way to get ahead of the changes that surround us and ensure we can turn whatever uncertainty the world throws at us to our advantage.

The World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform and Digital Memberships can help you get out ahead of hundreds of different topics including Artificial Intelligence, Global Health and Biodiversity.

Join us as a Digital Member to help shape a better future and engage with our global community — anytime and anywhere.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesForum Institutional
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Post breakthrough: How AI can lift climate research out of the lab and into the real world

Joe Wegener, Mehdi Ghissassi and Hamid Maher

May 29, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum