|"Well it's five feet high and risin'" sang Johnny
Cash. At that height most people start treading water. And when theyre too tired to
tread water, they bounce up and down instead, hoping the rise will back off before they
How high did the water rise in the nineties? In
retrospect this decade started pretty dry. Electronic commerce wasn't on the radar screen.
Knowledge workers were not recognized as a separate category, let alone a critically
scarce resource. Remote workers were not real. Collaboration was unnatural. Communities of
practice did it at the bowling alley. Suppliers weren't sharing information
electronically, nor even with intimate working relationships. Outsourcing was an anomaly.
Customer relationship selling was not a concept. We knew nothing of learning organizations
or virtual organizations. Lean manufacturing was just a suspicion, while agile
manufacturing wasn't a thought. Knowledge management wasn't recognized, and CKOs did not
exist. NAFTA and the EU were not even a thought. The cold war had just ended, and Russia
and China were not on the business agenda. Japan thought they would forever lead, had
become the teacher, and would benevolently tutor the USA. PC's and cell phones were for
the few, and Palm Pilots and ubiquitous pagers weren't dreamed of. Help desks and call
centers were isolated concepts. email? What's that? HR was not on an intranet. There
weren't any intranets, nor the legions of support staff with critical knowledge
incomprehensible to everyone else. Computer security was a defense firm concern. WWW, ERP
and Y2K were just alphabet soup. Companies had valuations based on PE ratios, and obtained
capital based on projected short-term earnings.
All of that and more changed during the nineties;
with profound effects on the way business is done. Many companies have survived those
dramatic changes (so far) but not because they are change proficient, rather
because their competitors are not. Look closely, you will see them bouncing up and down,
hoping the water will drop soon.
After the nineties
come the zeros,
which aren't waiting to digest anything,
except maybe your company.
After the nineties come the zeros, which aren't waiting to digest
anything, except maybe your company, and that won't take long. For some, Y2K will do it
eStuff may be in the limelight right now, but a
whole bunch of other things are happening, too. A conclusion of the 1991 working group
that initiated the interest in agile enterprise was that the social aspects of business
were being ignored, yet were destined to play a major role in the future.
Here we are in that future and look what's on the
current agenda: sales is talking about relationship management, companies are employing
empowerment and exploring learning, distance learning is adjusting to individual learning
styles instead of pushing one-size for all, corporate culture is a recognized asset and a
focus for reengineering, the individual is recognized as unique and valued for it, and
collaboration and communities of practice are sneaking in as business technologies.
By and large, empowerment is a leading laggard
it was one of the first soft social concepts to enter the business debate, but
still gets short shrift by many managers who either have a trivial understanding or a
constitutional disagreement with it. Nevertheless, those that have already found effective
ways to leverage accountable empowerment are making it impossible to ignore.
Knowledge management and organizational learning
are still in the conceptual phase, but that hasn't stopped the information technology
vendors from selling solutions to these problems we barely understand. With more than a
little confusion, this focus should bring these concepts to the business forefront
All of a sudden the soft stuff has got the eye of
the technologist. Customer relationship management (CRM) is a good example or a bad
one, depending upon your perspective. The three letter acronym should be warning enough.
We've all been bombarded by those telephone solicitation script readers. Now it's being
automated big time. eCommerce software prompts the account manager to call us on our
birthdays and read us a "personal" message, to probe our likes and dislikes with
scripts of "concern", to reference the conversation of months ago that
demonstrates personal interest. The good news is that this will only last a short while,
then they'll replace that account manager with a computer generated personalized message
voice we can all hang up on without guilt.
Technology is automating the management part of
customer relationship management. What they are forgetting is the word relationship.
There is hope here, but not until the skills of relationship management and call center
people are considered. Another soft spot, and a necessary high tech high
touch counterbalance in the eWorld.
We live in interesting times. In my lifetime I've talked with a grandfather who grew up with horses and wagons
and lived to see man walk on the moon. I've witnessed the introduction of television, the
computer, the Internet, and robotics; and expect to live long enough to see human genetic
engineering intervene in human life extension and maybe even cold fusion and anti-gravity
become part of everyday life. Genetic engineering and cloning are already employed in the
production of goods, while material science and atomic level manipulation technology
advances rapidly. And there are already two different drugs in clinical trials that
intervene significantly in the human learning process. This list goes on.
The knowledge base is exploding. The duration of
value for any given piece of knowledge is shrinking as new knowledge makes old knowledge
obsolete faster. This puts pressure on the speed of deployment. If useful knowledge is not
deployed quickly enough it becomes obsolete before it generates a return on investment.
This also puts pressure on the speed of knowledge diffusion and a focus on the
anticipation of new knowledge needs.
Change proficiency in all systems of business will
determine the ability to deploy knowledge effectively. At the same time, any knowledge
management practice spurred into existence to deal with the knowledge explosion must
recognize its own needs for being change proficient. We will continue to learn about
learning and knowledge diffusion mechanisms, and this knowledge must be able to
continually influence and mold any knowledge management practice an organization develops.
When an organization needs to learn quicker it
must shorten the time of acquisition and diffusion of knowledge. Collaborative learning
supported by a purposeful infrastructure and culture puts more diversity of thought into
closer knowledge exchange and development proximity, and creates an architecture from
which intelligence at the higher organizational level emerges - much as the ant hill and
bee hive are said to exhibit a collective intelligence separate from individual
An organization with sufficient competencies in
knowledge management and change proficiency, reasonably balanced to compliment each other,
will be agile enough to live and maybe even lead in these interesting times. Short of a
technological mishap-induced return to the dark ages, it is unlikely that knowledge
generation will slow down.
In the end, though an organization may well manage
knowledge, it will never control it. Quick learning and fast reactions are needed just for
viability, while leadership requires these traits plus innovation. In the end, knowing
what ought be done is not enough, if you can't do it immediately. Message: Your
responsibility is response ability. Knowing that youre going to have to
change a lot is not enough; youre going to have to be competent at changing.
Some important "next big
things": Talent, learning, trust, social
psychology/anthropology, adaptability, and real options. And these are coming sooner
rather than later. Want a head start?
Real options is an
investment analysis and valuation technique for things that are uncertain or flexible.
Discounted cash flow analysis can't do this. This will be the way you will justify
investments in agile machines, process, products, and strategies. Check out Amran and
Kulatilaka's Real Options: Managing Strategic Investment in an Uncertain World,
Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
Adaptability is simply
agility spelled differently. For a very specific, actionable, and cogent understanding of
agile enterprise get Adaptive Enterprise: Creating and Leading Sense and Response
Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 1999, by Steve Haeckel. (see Guest Speaker
Trust development is
becoming a critical competency as outsourcing increases and relationship development gains
strategic importance. Knowledge Work and Trust the Key Relationship in Relationship
Management; discusses the necessity of trust in agile working relationships and
introduces a model of trust development that comes from referenced and actionable
Learning is the core of
knowledge management. Until the learning side of the KM issues are addressed not much of
the technological solutions will be really effective. Look for early success here in the
avenues of collaboration and communities of practice; but look beyond the application
mechanistics for support of natural human processes.
will become a major focus as the eWorld unfolds. How do we really work and communicate
effectively as remote disembodied entities? The question has been raised before, but the
answers have not been sought. As competition moves to the Internet environment, effective
forms of communication will eventually be sought in this new media. Shoshana Zuboff's In
The Age of the Smart Machine remains a useful foundation for thought, even with its
1988 copyright and its focus on the human/computer interface rather than the human/eWorld
Talent will emerge as the
focus for knowledge work and innovation. All people are not equally endowed with this
attribute, and quality can not be made up with quantity. Unfortunately, talent does not
want to work for your company, "their friends would laugh at them," as one wag
has said. I can't offer references for a head start in this area as yet; but stay tuned,
it is a subject we will deal with here soon.