By Miriam Grace
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In the beginning was the link.
This simple and yet profound disruptive technology of the internet moved us into the world of virtual relationships and forever changed the accepted organizational form. The web transformed traditional business boundaries from impenetrable firewalls to semipermeable membranes that struggle to control an inherently uncontrollable phenomenon—human-to-human interchange.
The internet was clearly a game-changing design that employed new technology breakthroughs that transformed traditional business practices. There are strong indications that the next horizon of game-changing designs will represent radical shifts in how people think about and perform their work. This economic survival game of keeping ahead of competitors has become much more knowledge driven.
What employees know, and discovering ways to enable them to work together to grow that knowledge into competitive advantage, is the next frontier.
What has been referred to as “discontinuous change” in business contexts increasingly asks: What actually are the viable differentiators in today’s global business environment? What enables a company to continually reinvent itself? What are examples of game-changing strategies that will disrupt business-as-usual enough to shift outmoded paradigms?
A lesson from the world of education might apply here. In doctoral research, there are both quantitative
and qualitative paths to knowledge. Perhaps we could apply that model to the world of business and combine the institutionalization of a design culture (a qualitative value) with competitive analytics that serve fact-based decision-making (a quantitative value).
A balance of these models, supported by a robust learning infrastructure and a deep understanding of systems and their dynamics, might prove to be a strategy disruptive enough to our established organizational forms to allow us to escape the groove we find ourselves in and strike out in new directions.
Clearly, we’re drowning in data. We have data about data about data (meta-metadata). Data is straining the capacities of our databases and repositories. But the critical data, the data that gives us a competitive edge, is difficult to identify.
The ability to mine and exploit data is actually quite a recent phenomenon. As computing power grew exponentially, the marriage of analysis, graphic images and massive data volumes became feasible.
Business intelligence has been identified as the No. 1 priority for IT organizations. Companies that have moved beyond data mining and management to quantitative and qualitative analysis and visualization techniques integral to the corporate strategy are exploiting knowledge for competitive advantage.
To change the game, we have to look through to the skeleton of values that supports the corpus, study
the interconnections, and look to the revealed trends and patterns to understand what holds the whole structure in place. When we see this deeply into a phenomenon, we can begin to influence it, but this requires a powerful will and a sustaining vision.
A desire for increased market share won’t support this kind of long-term strategic direction shift. If we are looking to change the game, leadership must design a vision that will address the whole system and the hidden connections.
Boeing business leaders already hold up continuous learning as a foundational corporate strategy that assists us in the ongoing shift from bounded organizational views to a whole systems paradigm.
To be knowledge-driven may mean that having to know more is a business imperative. But knowledge alone won’t fast-track us at the speed we need to travel. A knowledge incubator is needed—an organizational and contextual hothouse for growing that rarest of flowers, which is sustainable success.
Through data analytics today, organizations are gaining new insight into areas of leverage and potential advantage in a particular competitive arena. An integrated system of explanatory and predictive analytics structured through dynamic simulation and scenario-planning, strategic analysis is a powerhouse of knowledge acquisition tools.
These tools can not only be turned on to out-know the competition about a particular technology or product direction, but also can be leveraged toward revenue generation. Knowing the customer, being able to provide customers with critical predictive information on, for example, elements that disrupt their income stream, not only enhances the customer relationship but can, in some instances, be offered as a new product line.
The idea of design thinking may be the single most important business concept to emerge from the 20th century. Design thinking is a perfect complement to the earlier efficiency movement. While the scientific method of management, espoused by Frederick Taylor and later refined by Joseph Juran and Peter Drucker, provided a key framework for how work should be done, design thinking answers what, as well as why, a given thing should be done.
In 1996, on the 100th anniversary of the New York Stock Exchange, it was noted that of all the original companies that had started up the Exchange, only General Electric had survived. This speaks to the fragile nature of business sustainability and to the imperative for a company to know “why” they are in business (a design question).
But the game keeps changing, and game-changing strategies have to be aware of, and work with, this natural systems oscillation. We have to keep in mind that humans don’t learn much from success. When we are successful, we tend to keep doing what we have been successful doing. Yet, experientially, we know that the deepest learning emerges from failure because the shock of failure triggers us to shift our thinking, which leads to different behavior and tends to reverse the failure spiral.
A focus on the cultural element inherent in all human activity allows design-conscious leaders to set a design agenda that is sustained through a design culture and continuously renewed through a systems approach to knowledge creation.
The ability to manifest an idea that fulfills a critical need is the alchemy sought by a knowledge-driven corporation. This capability, combined with making significant improvements to existing products, processes or services, is what constitutes true innovation.
Design is disciplined inquiry. What works in opposition is the culture and complexity of contemporary corporate organizations that are often disincentivizing to those working to make the shift from the era of the expert individual to an integrated and collaborative team working together through a knowledge-creation paradigm. The context where knowledge synthesis is intentionally nurtured to maturity is referred to as a “design culture.”
The idea of a culture of design within an organizational context to foster design reasoning, judgment and practice emerged along with the discussions of the learning organization. Design is an intentionally directed process that motivates individuals to collaborative action and helps to eliminate elements of human interaction that drain energy and human potential. A focus on deep and continuous learning ignites this potential within the conductive containing environment of a design culture.
The combination of a design culture that relentlessly pursues innovation and creativity and the use of strategically driven analytics is a powerful and dynamic duo. Examples of the high value that analytics can bring to a business include measuring the impact of marketing strategies, predicting customer behavior, analyzing historical trends, anticipating future fluctuations in the marketplace, or helping a customer understand and manage disruptions to their value stream.
A core value of continuous learning as a leadership imperative, supported by the deep learning achievable through peer-to-peer, apprentice-style mentoring—especially in leading edge technology areas such as analytics—sets in motion a self-organizing and self-sustaining engine of productivity.