How Are You Leveraging Your Intellectual Capital?

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Years back, before I entered the SharePoint space, I was working as a consultant for a company that create a sort of “think tank” under the auspices of identifying innovations within the company. Not a bad venture, and many companies have create a similar activity to help generate ideas and innovations, and even funded and spun off some of those ideas into new business opportunities. In fact, I spent about 6 months of the previous year working with a well known Santa Clara-based software company investigating the idea of spinning off an internal project, which went so far as to having multiple VC discussions (and a tentative offer) before deciding it was too much of a competitive advantage, and leaving it where it was. But I digress…

Back to the think talk, which quickly went the wrong direction…. Participating in this committee was purely by invite from the CEO, and not limited by the trappings of experience and business acumen (I’m trying to be nice in my description of its participants, who were all very junior). T-shirts were printed, expensive off-site activities were planned and executed, and at the end of it all – there was nothing to show for the fanfare, expense, and loss of respect from other employees who were neither invited to participate nor given a chance to demonstrate their ideas.

What I took away from that experience was the need to remove bad processes that kept employees from attempting to improve the business – usually put in place by well-meaning management who were afraid of being penalized for failure, as well as some kind of management training.

In Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati’s book The Heretics Guide to Best Practices there is a story that touches on this exact scenario:

“An organization decides to “institutionalize” innovation by creating a committee “to encourage and manage new creative efforts." They talk about how the committee was instituted with great fanfare, even greater expectations, and chaired by a manager with "a suitably pompous title.”

“The problem with this initiative was that many of the very smart people on the committee had no idea what their brief entailed: What does it mean to “encourage and manage innovation?” Books were read, gurus sought and consultants engaged, but the search for the magic formula led nowhere. The only tangible results were reams of documents filled with well worded platitudes and a couple of presentations on innovation. The committee did not last long; a year or so after being instituted, it was quietly disbanded.”

Paul and Kailash go on to explain that the failure of this effort was because innovation was viewed as the end goal – to identify innovations, rather than a means of improving the speed of doing business, the quality of what is delivered, or the range of products and services delivered through innovation.

If you follow this blog, or have heard me speak, you know that I talk extensively about the need for better/more business analysis, whether through the hiring of capable Business Analysts, or by hiring project and technical personnel with strong BA skills. I view it as a business imperative in the rapidly changing business world, where organizations need to quickly recognize, understand, and adapt to changing rules, laws, technologies, and trends.

Most companies are afraid to fail, and so they shape their practices and policies in a way that discourages people from trying new things, from experimenting. My personal experience is that when I am allowed to be creative, I do my most innovative work. Some of my best organizational planning happened while I was working on my MBA and working full-time – I was learning new concepts and thinking about a broad range of management topics, and was able to both apply what I was learning, but to also step back and look at broader issues with my company and organization and put bigger issues into perspective. I was able to think about problems from a finance perspective, from an operations perspective, and so forth, as I was studying each of those topics. I hit a number of roadblocks with my organization, and at the completion of my degree, I had to move. I needed to find a place that would utilize my new skills.

The lesson here, as I see it, is not to create a formal group to try and identify innovations (which will likely create resentment rather than good will in the organization). Instead, look at what your organization can do to reduce the barriers for innovation, and give people the chance to try things – and yes, sometimes fail. The organization that learns will find success more often than failure. It requires more transparency, more conversation, and more sharing. If you think your organization is good at all things, I’ll counter by saying – you can do better.

An great model to follow is to document your decisions, your experiments, and your successes along the way so that you can better learn from the directions you took — and use past experience to make better future plans. From a knowledge management perspective, this will become a key to future success – the ability to capture, understand, and utilize your intellectual capital.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.