The Perfect Brainstorm – Part 1

April 28, 2011

The perfect metaphor?

In building a knowledge supply chain model for purposes of enterprise innovation we have used a technique involving an exercise we call “The Perfect Brainstorm”. Although this exercise is only a part of the overall process, it provides a very useful metaphor for illustrating possibilities… opportunities that are often imminently available to our client, but the client has not yet built the kind of mindset needed to see “what’s already there”.

The Perfect Storm

The phrase perfect storm refers to the simultaneous occurrence of conditions or circumstances which when combined generate an epic powerful weather event. The implication of the phrase perfect storm is if these same conditions are taken individually, the result would be far less powerful than the result of their chance combination. Such occurrences are rare by their very nature, so that even a slight change in any one event contributing to the perfect storm would lessen its overall impact.

As a point of reference, the real life event known as the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter was an example of a perfect storm. There was a book, a movie, and countless articles on this particular event, in part due to its tragic consequences. But the fascination for this phenomenon was probably more due to how it exemplified the ultimate and awesome power of Mother Nature, created by what the weather guys called “perfect conditions” for such a monumental event. It is an interesting phenomenon in its own right (see the story)Eye of the Storm 2

In this case the simultaneously converging conditions have been described as… “the merging of two low-pressure areas, a large flow of warm air from the south, cold air from the north, and moisture feeding into the storm from the Gulf stream all conflated with cold air from strong northwesterly winds and warm air from strong northeasterly winds to create an exceptionally powerful storm across a very large area.” The perfect storm resulted.

The Perfect Brainstorm

With a vision in mind for creating milestone enterprise innovation… we might use the metaphor of the perfect brainstorm.

For sake of discussion, let’s imagine the simultaneous converging of the most appropriate individuals, possessing the most appropriate roles in the enterprise, working within the framework of the most appropriate business processes, using the most appropriate technologies, and working in the most appropriate socioeconomic environment that is conducive to producing milestone, epic results for the enterprise.

Mix all of that with a little luck and bit of chance… and you may get something special. At least that is a popular stereotype of what it takes for amazing innovation to happen. The perfect brainstorm at 3M produced post-it notes. Other perfect brainstorms have produced…

  • Velcro
  • Penicillin
  • The “Xerox” machine
  • “Just do it” (the Nike marketing phrase)
  • Gatorade
  • the internet
  • Google

And on and on…

Can a business experience a perfect brainstorm? Not only do we know this is possible, we have ourselves been in the middle of these phenomenon with our clients – more than a few times. [See The Perfect Brainstorm Part 2…The metaphor becomes a tool]


Introduction to the “Knowledge Supply Chain”

April 22, 2011

A brief definition

A knowledge supply chain is an integrated, coordinated system of people, technologies, processes, and resources. These working components must create systematic movement and transformation of bits of data and information through the system such that they eventually transform into purposeful knowledge and executable intelligence.

Similar in concept to the familiar “supply chain”, the knowledge supply chain is a logistical and/or structured flow of elements. These “content elements” begin as raw materials or objects — in the form of data or information — which are eventually understood and transformed into human knowledge. This knowledge, in turn must then be transformed into dynamic intelligence that adds value to the enterprise and causes or creates focused action.

The core premise of this model is this: Without a useful or satisfactory outcome at the end point of the knowledge supply chain… the process has failed.

So this establishes the foundation raison de l’état for a knowledge supply chain – to enhance work performance and improve enterprise results. Remember we are not discussing academia or digesting knowledge for the sake of learning

The knowledge supply chain in action – improving Enterprise Intelligence

One of the best metaphors we know…

“To the body of work that represents enterprise project or program activity, the knowledge supply chain is its central nervous system

As the global business environment moves from a “technology-based economy” to a “knowledge-based economy”, the most successful enterprises will be those that fully understand and execute the Knowledge Supply Chain.

Many will consider this last statement an ‘opinion’. Others will consider it an ‘interesting perspective’. Those that take the knowledge game seriously in the 21st century enterprise will pass the rest of us up and be sipping piña coladas at the finish line while we’re still looking for it.

The primary purpose of a knowledge supply chain is to ultimately produce actionable intelligence that results in better decisions, improved work performance, and enhanced value for the enterprise.

Similar in concept to the more familiar product supply chain, the knowledge supply chain seeks to transform raw materials and components into a finished product that adds value to the enterprise. However, unlike the more tangible version of a product supply chain, the material that flows through the knowledge supply chain must ultimately be digested and applied by the human brain in the form of knowledge.

This attribute of the knowledge supply chain has proven to be the most challenging of all…. how does the enterprise convert its resident knowledge into financial gain and equity growth?

To answer this critical enterprise issue, your executive leadership MUST provide a realistic approach – one that converts the concept of the Knowledge Supply Chain into high impact processes, methods and tools that yield measurable value to the enterprise competing in the global marketplace.

What types of methods will work best?

It is very very important to understand one of the fundamental tenants of the Knowledge Supply Chain model. Improving knowledge utilization is not a project in and of itself, but rather a vital ingredient to achieving other important enterprise objectives. Typically the enterprise is already in the midst of significant projects/programs and then – realizes that knowledge assets are substantially underutilized, or even lost altogether in the implementation or execution of the initiative.

To improve this situation – i.e., enhancing the use of knowledge assets – requires a series of activities and resource applications that progressively augment the functioning and output of the knowledge supply chain.

The approach must fully understand and focus upon the elements and processes associated with the various stages of transforming data, information, knowledge, and actionable intelligence required for successful completion of the enterprise initiative. Knowledge Supply Chain projects are almost always focused first and foremost on critical results required by the enterprise.

The good news is… very good news indeed. As lofty and esoteric as the phrase “knowledge supply chain” might sound, it can be exceptionally straightforward in application – in fact, we would argue it is almost common sense… once the right operational mindset is established within the organization.

In the next few postings in this blog, we will explore some of the core barriers in the knowledge game, and discuss the good news about removing these obstacles… in fairly simple, straightforward ways.

What are the best applications for the Knowledge Supply Chain?

  • Executing complex change management projects to success
  • Responding to a major enterprise threat – mitigation of substantial risk
  • Creating or capitalizing on new opportunity
  • Training and coaching for timely success
  • Major innovations focused on Knowledge Assets / Knowledge Economics solutions

For some excellent examples of the principles of the Knowledge Supply Chain put to wonderful results… we conclude this reference with a link for the interested reader to our Track Record.

What is “next generation” business intelligence?

April 18, 2011

Kim hands_on_head“In the 21st Century corporate world the ‘winners’ will be the companies that do the best job of converting enterprise knowledge into executable business intelligence in a timely fashion.”

Robert Kim Wilson, The 21st Century Knowledge Supply Chain

Familiar old terms – critical new meanings

The phrase “business intelligence” when used by many business professionals, often is in reference mainly to sales and marketing activities.In the new millennium business language, the term “intelligence” is being applied to virtually every conceivable aspect of the enterprise activity — from the boardroom to the break room.

Best-sellers like The World Is Flat, Blink, Th!nk, Freakonomics, Wikinomics, and Smartsourcing… contain resounding messages fundamentally creating new definitions forthe 21st Century business landscape.The authors provide compelling evidence that in all cases begins by distinguishing the differences between data, information, knowledge, and intelligence. Globalization of business supply chains, extraordinary technological advances, and rapidly evolving markets — have resulted in challenges to the contemporary enterprise that are replete with a new order of complexity and vast, endless streams of input into the business.

Not so many years ago it was a significant if not sufficient marketplace advantage for an enterprise to simply remain knowledgeable about what its customers wanted, and what the competitors were doing about it.If our best selling authors are correct, the business survival in the new millennium marketplace calls for much more than a good IT department feeding knowledgeable workers.

The 21st Century success stories will be about those enterprises who act more intelligently in virtually all areas of business: operations, human-resources, project management, IT, business development, administration, communications, community relations, regulatory compliance, and much much more.

The fundamental point is data, information, and knowledge must be compiled and applied by the enterprise in ways that create intelligent action – stimulated by what is called executable intelligence – and do so with a swift decisiveness unprecedented in the history of business on this planet.The “knowledge worker” of the late 20th Century, must by definition be replaced with the intelligent enterprise of the 21st Century.

So what is now missing in the intelligent enterprise equation?

It surely comes as no surprise to experienced boardrooms and executive think tanks, but all of the business elements necessary for transition into this new era of enterprise intelligence — are quite often, not yet in place.

  • How do people actually think and learn on-the-job?
  • What motivates our employees, associates, and partners to take their own individual initiative to gain more knowledge about their job?
  • Why is it that some of our smartest project teams make the poorest decisions?
  • Which business processes must be better leveraged to support our employees?<With all of the great collaboration technology that we have, why are our people so reluctant to use it?
  • Why is it so difficult to get our partners to share critical operational knowledge with us, especially when it is to the obvious advantage of all parties involved?
  • From the unique perspective of your own business, what is the difference between information and knowledge? And even if I did know this difference, does it really matter?

There is indeed a single business concept that answers the dilemma of becoming the 21st Century intelligent enterprise. The most successful enterprises in the foreseeable future will be those that fully understand and embrace the Knowledge Supply Chain.

In the next few postings, we will pose a definition for the Knowledge Supply Chain, and initiate a dialogue about its relevance in the 21st Century.
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When knowledge is not enough.

April 12, 2011

Like many great paradoxes, the question seems obvious, and the answer seems to beg self-evident understanding… until a project is proposed to put the issue in motion.

The topic is knowledge. The issue is typically “Are we doing the right things in capturing, sharing, and growing our collective enterprise knowledge?” The response is typically “probably not”.Then the group dialogue begins and everyone has a view because we are all knowledgeable about the how gain and use knowledge. We have all been learning things throughout our entire lives and we are all pretty good at it, or else we would not have attained the levels of success we now enjoy… whatever they may be.

Bob at ScreenBut those of us who dwell in enterprises of just about any size will admit that the “knowledge game” is often not always so clearly understood by all the players. Otherwise, we would not experience quotes like the following [all taken verbatim from real life enterprise project activity]:

  • “If this is another knowledge management project you can count me out… they are a waste of time and money.”
  • “Our knowledge is walking out of the door with each person who leaves the company.”
  • “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
  • “We must relearn how to learn about ourselves.”
  • “Why are my smartest teams making some of our dumbest decisions?”
  • “The last ‘community of practice’ we tried was used by about 5% of the team, who eventually gave up altogether because no one else was using it.”
  • “Is knowledge management a tool or a process?”
  • “I would love to get a good ‘lessons learned’ program underway, but we never seem to have time to get it started .”

You can probably add many more quotes to this list… and in fact we welcome you to send us your favorites.

As with all effective solutions to critical issues, the problem must first be well understood. In the upcoming weeks and months, this blog will offer concepts, methods, and solutions for the 21st Century “enterprise knowledge paradox”. Companies are getting smarter and smarter – in fact they MUST get smarter to succeed in the new global economy [the next post will address this issue].

Stay tuned. Our experience is telling us this is a great conversation to have. We may not be asking all the right questions, but the ones that we are asking will change the way you “think” in your organization.