The True Value of What We Know

October 19, 2021
Headshot of Joe Kim
Joe Kim

We are in the first innings of unlocking the true value of human knowledge.

Human knowledge is the world’s most valuable asset. It’s what built cities, developed vaccines, and created the modern world as we know it. In the 21st century, the underlying value of any organization is rooted less in its factories and hardware than in “know-how” – human insights that are stitched together to unlock new innovations.

And yet even in this interconnected age, collective human knowledge has yet to be fully realized. The vast majority of human knowledge remains sequestered in individual minds, unrecognized, unshared, and underutilized. Even when knowledge is drawn out into the economy, its value too often disproportionately accrues to employers and shareholders rather than the individuals who have originated it.

While technology has catapulted us into the knowledge economy, we are still in the first innings on our collective quest to unlock people’s true potential. In our rapidly shifting knowledge economy, we see three fundamental shifts that are changing the way that human knowledge is valued today:

  1. The digital economy is shifting power from institutions to individuals. Technology is empowering people to fully realize their unique skills and expertise, without institutional oversight.
  2. All organizations are becoming knowledge organizations. The most valuable firms increasingly provide value not through physical assets but by deploying scalable human knowledge; we see this even among incumbents, as in the Fortune 500’s increasing use of freelance experts.
  3. Remote work is empowering individuals to find new ways of creating value from their unique knowledge and know-how. Adapting to our rethinking of the corporation, workers are taking up new opportunities to share knowledge and create value beyond the narrow application for one employer.

Office Hours’ mission is to help everyone realize the value of what they know

To do this, we are tackling a few distinct challenges:

Realization

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as experts because we work in local silos. By operating our day-to-day in our contained ecosystems we often do not see the value that our particular know-how can provide when applied beyond our immediate environment and at scale.

As the internet continues to flatten the world, barriers between productive enterprises are more permeable than ever and an individual’s value becomes increasingly decoupled from any one institution or employer.

After retiring, my mother -- a special education instructor for 20 years in NYC -- was surprised to learn that her specific knowledge in dyslexic reading pedagogy was invaluable to school boards in Kansas and Florida hoping to better help their learning-disabled students. One of our investors, Lenny Rachitsky, had a similar realization: the wisdom he developed at Airbnb is invaluable to the thousands of product managers around the world also facing similar challenges in their own respect

To start, we have aggregated demand for knowledge in the form of startups, investment firms, and nonprofits eager to learn from our network of thousands of advisors. Office Hours makes everyone’s knowledge accessible to a global maxima, increasing its reach, and thus impact. 

Empowerment

The advent of the knowledge economy has spurred the largest creation of wealth in human history. Unlike past eras, the basis of this wealth is not physical, but human capital. Wealth comes from people developing knowledge and skills on their own time and applying them creatively. And yet, while this knowledge-driven wealth has been created by people, the vast majority of this wealth accrues to owners and institutions. As economist Nordhaus estimates, only 2.2% of the value of any given innovation is captured by the innovator themselves.

Office Hours builds tools that support individuals to own and benefit from their knowledge. Through Office Hours:

  • An Epidemiologist in Brazil can lend her perspective on novel treatments of Colitis to an upstart therapeutics company
  • An avid baseball card collector can explain to investors the benefits of rare asset insurance
  • A Danish molecular biologist can advise a Japanese vegan-meat laboratory

Professionals can themselves finally capitalize directly on sharing their particular know-how, without having value siphoned. Empowering individuals in this way unlocks new kinds of growth: The economy at large benefits enormously from the new productivities and innovations that emerge when knowledge is widely shared across verticals and at scale.

Discovery

The biggest challenge in helping individuals share what they know is to match them with the right audience. Organizing human knowledge is crucial to making it truly accessible.  Just as LinkedIn has built the graph of what people do, Office Hours is building the graph of what people know.

We consider “human knowledge” itself as our unit of focus, what Kevin Kwok would call our “atomic unit.” The challenge then is to organize and map our atomic unit -- from highly structured and rule-driven to unstructured and intuitive; from specific and prescriptive to broad and suggestive.

Ultimately, our vision is to make human knowledge easily accessibly and infinitely scalable.

We believe that everyone has valuable knowledge to share with the world. Office Hours is building tools that empower the individual to realize the true value of what they know. By doing so, we hope that scientists can accelerate their research, founders can learn from seasoned executives, and society can learn from its collective mistakes to ultimately make better decisions.

While we begin as a tool for professionals to host consultations, we believe that to truly democratize access to knowledge, we must unlock the ability to transfer that knowledge across multiple modalities (written, audio, video, and beyond) and across geographies, cultures, languages, and other perceived barriers. By using the internet to match professionals with organizations that are eager to learn, we are taking the first steps towards realizing the true value of human knowledge.

If these sound like challenges you're interested in solving, we are hiring across all functions. View our open roles here, or reach out to me personally at any time - joe@officehours.com. Happy knowledge sharing!

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