In the not-so-distant past, almost every company had a “tall” (or vertical) organizational structure. Org charts usually had several levels of management from top to bottom. And because the higher-ups had the most experience, they were viewed as the most indispensable.

Today, org charts are increasingly flattening (or becoming horizontal), stripping away levels of management and making everyone freer to collaborate. In these new, flatter organizations, the most valuable employees are the ones with real knowledge and the ability to share.

Because of this shift – and because of dramatic changes in how we seek, acquire and leverage knowledge – knowledge itself has become the new career currency.

Can knowledge really be ‘career currency’?

Some have questioned the notion that knowledge can be classified as currency. As Abel Gaiya writes, “knowledge isn’t scarce. Every day, more and more knowledge is created by everyone.”

Gaiya believes the supply of knowledge isn’t limited enough for it to be considered currency. While it’s true that informational content is created en masse, knowledge that is highly relevant, carefully curated and easily accessed is in scarcer supply. Employees and entrepreneurs who share this kind of useful knowledge are becoming more highly valued in the new knowledge-commerce environment.

And today, we see this knowledge-as-currency model being embraced and enforced by the traits of the young professionals in Generation Z.  

The First Knowledge Commerce Workers

Studies reveal that members of Gen Z prefer gaining useful knowledge by watching lessons online and reading educational textbooks on their tablets. As part of the growing gig economy, they also understand that highly specialized knowhow can be commoditized for profit as they build entrepreneurial careers as knowledge brokers.

Joe Henschel, the VP Brand and Community of online course selling platform Kajabi, knows quite a bit about monetizing a personal brand through knowledge sharing, and he’s been known to warn his audience about the importance of defining one’s business according to spheres of knowledge.

“You have to have a clear vision for the topic you want to teach before you can brainstorm your specific products. One of the best things about starting an online business by selling courses is

that the amount of products you can have is unlimited,” he notes in one recent video. “The idea is that one niche can be broken down so many times that you can have as many products as you want within that niche every product should be answering one question that your audience has.”

While people know that information is everywhere, they also understand that refined knowledge is becoming more valuable. And they are poised to take advantage of some specific paradigm shifts that is turning knowledge into a true commodity.

Three Paradigm Shifts That Turned Knowledge into Currency

As the focus shifts to value knowledge over information or experience, three trends are playing into this growing knowledge economy.

Shift 1 – Flatter organizational structures that value knowledge.

With today’s flatter organizations breaking down silos, employees who can share their own knowledge are more highly valued. The days when upper management simply expected their own knowledge to trickle down to every team member are over. Now it’s critical for everyone to share with everyone else.

This approach benefits employees as much as it benefits the company – employees have new ways to establish themselves as thought leaders within their industry, and organizations benefit from their a more collaborative spirit of innovation and productivity.

And the corporate leaders themselves need to invest in reinvigorating their own knowledge constantly. “No matter what your company sells or what services it provides, the new global economy and the rapid pace of technological innovation put you at risk of being disrupted, sooner rather than later,” writes Mark Moses, the CEO of CEO Coaching International. “If you’re not voracious in your appetite for learning, you won’t see what’s coming next until it eats you up and spits you out.”

Shift 2 – A re-evaluation of formal education.

Large numbers of Generation Z were raised in alternative education environments such as homeschooling. Even those who had traditional educations learned to integrate online learning into their studies quite easily. And it’s made them more critical of many aspects of the formal education system.

Indeed, this generation shows a marked dissatisfaction with traditional schooling, which has failed to adopt new technologies and even to improve students’ careers.

Couple that with the prospect of massive student loan debt, and it’s no surprise that formal education has lost much of its appeal.

Shift 3 – The continuing digital revolution.

Gen Z is stepping the digital revolution up a notch, and their work cultures will be far more digitally-based than previous generations. More tech savvy than their predecessors, Gen Z is transforming career education, and in the process they are transforming the workplace. They are leveraging a new model of learning, built on technology that makes it easy to curate, share and sell knowledge in myriad forms.

The new “self-service” model of learning

More than any other generation, Gen Z learns what they want, when they want it, through micro learning segments like or video series, games, quizzes, online classes, and webinars. They are flocking to massive online open courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online learning products to find the knowledge they need.

Generation Z most appreciates modules that have specific learning objectives, rather than providing more generalized knowledge.

This paves the way for the wave of knowledge workers who are taking their own knowhow and turning it into a commodity, by creating online courses, membership sites and paid content. And it creates a marketplace where anyone can buy the knowledge they need to further their own careers.

The currency of the new economy

When you look at the trends that are shaping how we learn and work, one thing is clear. Knowledge is incredibly valuable, and the way that it’s packaged, consumed and leveraged in the workplace show that knowledge is indeed the new career currency.