In the world today we hear the term ‘access’ in so many contexts. I need access to my records, I need access to my phone, I need access to a server, I need access to a file, a document, a team site, or a spreadsheet. I need access to the internet, WiFi, and facebook accounts. I have hundreds of passwords that keep expiring and I create new ones for the many websites I need to access. I now have a password book that I dare not lose of my access will be denied. I have a special access code it seems to unlock my phone, to lock my phone, to open my computer, to read my email. There seems to a a lock on everything that only the right access code will open whatever it is we need entry to. We even have access codes to our cars and homes and workplaces.
I seems many years ago, according to Sir Francis Bacon in the 1500’s, "knowledge is power."
Knowledge, or knowing how to do things, how things worked, where things were, what things meant were held in the minds of scholars, craftspeople. tradespeople, and teachers. You did need direct access to these people or their writings to learn, to have the power to duplicate or innovate.
Now, 500 years later maybe the new term is "access is power." No longer is it the knowledge we have that gives us power. We can find information instantly at our fingertips. We can locate and learn anything we want to from the world’s greatest minds, alive and dead.We can search for the most obscure thoughts and find someone in the world who has been thinking or pondering similar thoughts. With all this information we bring into our lives we are able to innovate more quickly, to problem solve with greater confidence. and make decisions with more information than we have every had before.
In our workplaces everyone has knowledge. Hierarchy is not about knowledge. Everyone is a knowledge worker. There is a power differential still in organizations today. However, it seems to fall more into the area of access than knowledge. If one has limited access to anything one feels powerless. If access is denied we feel devalued. If access is approved we instantly feel we belong. Frustration often stems from whether we have access to the right people, the software programs, the right tools and resources to do effective and meaningful work. Access is also sometimes granted on a "need to know basis,"
Getting access sometimes requires us to jump through ‘hoops’, navigate our way through the bureaucratic maze, or connect and network with the right people to gain a little of our independent and belonging power. We sometimes have to prove that we can not function without the access in order to be heard.
Controlling access to things is actually ja job for many people. Making decisions every day on whether to grant access or not based on some stated criteria that seemed important at one time. Sometimes the criteria is no longer valid, but changing it is a lot of work so we create things called work-arounds, back doors, or new names so that we don’t have to go through all the access granting procedures. We control access to countries, access to airplanes, access to nature reserves, access to education and healthcare. We even control access to restrooms, access to stores and restaurants that restrict the number of people who can enter.
There is some hope that access issues are shifting in our society. Sites like Wikopedia and Open Source software are examples. Or disaster responses when people open up their homes to others in need,. Or even some companies that have found ways for employees to access their system from home when they are telecommutiing. These examples require us to trust in humanity more that we have. Museums in Britain are all free- opening up the world’s treasures to anyone. Free online university courses and lectures are popping up. Scholarly journals, normally accessed only by those who could afford the high fees or were in an elite circle, are extending their reach through open online journals.
What we do with what we know challenges us to make global, ethical decisions. As access opens up and more doors spring open we will appreciate the access. But will we use the access wisely? Will we as leaders move through this new space to bridge our minds with others and make the world a better place? Will "access is power" ever shift to ‘wisdom is power?"