Knowledge (4)

Connection, Collaboration and the New Economy

Just received David Gurteen's latest Knowledge Lletter and was struck by his opener:

Some sound advice here from David Ogilivy. We send an email when we would do better to walk around to the person we wish to engage and have a conversation with them or failing that pick up the phone.

In reading this, I made a connection with a statement by Peter Block that struck me when I read it at the time.

Connection -- We must establish a personal connection with each other.

Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.

Credit: Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community: Changing the Nature of the Conversation by Peter Block

I've had a number of conversations along the same lines recently. It's not enough to say that we live in a "knowledge" economy. Because the value of knowledge is very small unless it is put to work (then it can be infinite).

How do you put knowledge to work? It happens collaboratively.

10468392473?profile=originalKnowledge put to work is intangible capital. IC is a dynamic system including all the elements pictured above. It's impossible to talk about work today without talking about each of these elements, how they interact and how the system creates value. This concept of work as a dynamic collaborative system is very different from the linear processes that characterized work in the industrial era. 

Connection before collaboration, before work is done? It makes a lot of sense. But it speaks to a very different view of the organization, one that demands new approaches to measurement, new approaches to management. one that truly values the intangibles held in human, relationship, structural and strategic capital. What to get work done? Start thinking differently.

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I talk a lot about the knowledge era. I specialize in the measurement, management and monetization of knowledge intangibles. I wrote a book on intangible capital. So what I am about to say shouldn’t be that big a surprise to me but it kind of is….

Technology is not as important as it used to be.

If you think about it, technology and top-down industrial models still dominate our thinking. When we industrialized our economy, we industrialized everything from agriculture to education to government to manufacturing.

I have written before about how the shift from the industrial era is coming at a time when there are new constraints on our global economy. Externalities like energy use/mis-use, pollution, health are all represent (at the same time)nbsp; problems, opportunities and design constraints. The failure of the industrial model to address these new constraints and the potential of new models to address them is fueling the shift to the knowledge economy.

Of course, the shift has been driven by the rise of a new kind of technology: information technology and brain power.

In today’s Boston Globe, there is a great opinion piece that exemplifies what is going on.

World hunger is best treated with local growers and crops was written on the occasion of UN World Food Day on Sunday. It explains that the conversations about solutions to world hunger often go immediately to “ways to increase the food supply with purchased technologies”nbsp; that use chemicals and carbon-intensive solutions to food production.

This won’t be sustainable to improve the yields of the “half-billion small-farm families that still grow 70% of the world’s food.”

The alternative suggested is agro-ecological approaches that use local seeds, build healthy soil and conserve water. Finding the right approaches in individual communities solves the challenges of both hunger and greenhouse emissions (the article quotes GRAIN magazine’s estimate the agro-ecological approaches could offset as much as a third of global greenhouse gas emissions within 50 years).

Lest you think that this is only about the third world, read How the U.S. Curbs Farm Work. It's basically the same message.  That U.S. agricultural policies promote "industrialized and chemical intensive" production. And that

Ecologically based food systems should become the United State' overarching goal. Such a shift would invariably employ larger numbers of people while providing safer, more appealing jobs. It would also create safer, tastier, more nutritious food...

As with many knowledge-era solutions, these conversations are about bottom-up empowerment, not top-down control. It’s a way of solving problems using brainpower, training and teaching rather than large-scale production using expensive technologies and inputs brought in from outside a community. It’s just another set of examples of how our basic assumptions about the answers to our problems must be questioned.

This kind of thinking is very disruptive to existing economic and business models. Many businesses will fail in the face of this thinking. But many more will prosper. Which one will you be?

And when will you start treating knowledge intangibles as the key infrastructure of your own business?

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Street Smarts: Intangible Capital In Action

I stole this title from an article I read recently in Time. The article Street Smarts is about infrastructure. And why infrastructure changes need to be planned in a new way.

Just as we industrialized every corner of our economy in the industrial era, so too must we knowledgeize every corner in the knowledge era. Infrastructure is no exception.

What does that mean? It means that we have to re-think every challenge and find the most efficient solution. And remember that we have many new tools that we didn’t have before. Here are just a few of the examples cited in the Time article:

  • Don’t build billion-dollar lock expansions in the Mississippi River when better scheduling and peak-hour pricing can solve most of the problem
  • Don’t add new highways when telecommuting, carpools and mass transit can take cars off the road
  • Don’t rebuild the Philadelphia sewer system when you can keep storm water out of the sewers through permeable roads, green roofs and rain gardens
  • Don’t create an enormous national grid when you can add smart components to the existing grid
  • Don’t rebuild the 4,000 structurally-deficient dams in the U.S. when you can remove them and create recreational habitats that fuel the economy.
  • Here’s one that Time didn’t mention from here in Boston: Don’t disrupt the local economy for four years when you can rebuild the Fast14 bridges on eight summer weekends…

What’s different about these examples? Nothing and everything. The market usually opts for the smart solution. But many of our knee-jerk assumptions about solutions automatically default to the large-scale, top-down solutions so common in the industrial era.

Every one of the solutions above reflect new conditions, new thinking and new tools. They are all great illustrations of knowledgeization. And why we need to start paying attention to knowledge intangibles as the critical assets of this century.

Do you think the contractors for the Fast 14 were chosen because they have the right equipment? No, it’s because they have the right smarts.

The point we all keep making in the IC community is that we need the management tools and techniques to support the development of the right smarts.


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I still haven't loaded a lot of my own content into this new site (I intend to and encourage all our members to do so as well). But, in the meantime, I thought that it would be helpful to start adding some links to other folk's content (books, articles, presentations, videos) that I have also found helpful. This is a start. I hope that others will follow with more suggestions.... If I had to pick one article that sums up the perspective of the field of IC, it is this article, Dealing with the Knowledge Economy by J. Mouritsen, H. Thorsgaard Larsen, P.N Bukh. It is especially helpful because it contrasts IC with the perspectives of the balanced scorecard. In the authors' view, the balanced scorecard (BSC) is an industrial-era tool. Now, some will think that it unjust (and maybe confusing) to identify the BSC so strongly with the industrial era. After all, BSC is viewed as the most prominent tool that is trying to expand corporate thinking beyond a purely financial perspective--to see the intangible drivers of tangible results. But there is a real argument to be made that the BSC is mostly about top-down control whereas IC is more about leveraging bottom-up knowledge flows. While we all know that businesses will always have to balance the top-down and bottom-up, the series of charts and discussions in this article will help you think about the implications of these two perspectives. Have you read this article? What do you think? Do you have a nomination for the article that has most influenced you?
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