Interesting approach to business networking.
July 2003 Archives
Interesting approach to business networking.
I just read an article in the latest July 26. 2003 issue of the Economist, the title of which is "A Little Learning", about Larry Summers, president of Harvard University and former Treasury secretary, who suggests that the american research university might be a model for the company of the future. "If you look at the organizations in the economy where the greatest value is being added", says Summers, "they are increasingly the organizations that share the values and characters of universities".
The Economist argues in favor of this view but then emphasizes a big difference that Mr Summers does not mention. "Universities everywhere are largely state-financed". The magazine also underlines that applications of ideas, and not ideas themselves, make money, and that turning ideas into practice requires managerial experience and the exertion of authority.
I would argue that both are correct. Companies must adopt the values and characters of universities if they want to be innovative, and they must keep strong managerial leadership practices if they want to turn those ideas into profits. Yet, in our knowledge economy, I cannot think of any large company of an industrialized country, that does not put continuous innovation at the very center of its strategy, which was not the case ten years ago.
The question of funding is an interesting one as well. When it comes to learning, the simple client-supplier relationship that prevails in the market economy does not work well. Students pay for tuition, but most of the funding necessary to run a university comes from other types of stakeholders who have a vested interest in developing a high-quality learning experience. These are the government of course, but also large corporations, charities, associations, etc. This suggests that the revenue structure of large innovative corporations will become more complex and not limited to sales and financial income. It also suggests that the borders of the company will become more fuzzy. You will no longer have only clients on one side who pay and employees on the other who get paid, but you will also have "paying employees" (a.k.a. students), "researchers", "sponsors" from governments and other companies etc...
This is likely to put a lot of pressure on the CEO and its staff to clarify the corporate messages ("in what business ar we in?") and to build a unique corporate culture that will tie all this together.
A quote from Dany Jacobs from the Netherlands, from an old issue of the FT, and which makes me wonder:
"This principle [of empowerment and delegation] is, however, much older and can be traced back to the Prussian General von Moltke, in the 19th century. Here it was called Auftragstaktik (command tactics). In 1888 it was already adopted as the official doctrine of the German army and really brought into practice (it really has to be trained in order to work). It was one of the root causes of the subsequent tactical flexibility of this army, which for a long time was not recognized by its enemies (because they wrongly thought that these germans suffered from an iron discipline and related inflexibility)"
Our cross-company Paris-based community of practice on KM issues has chosen itself a name yesterday: CoP-1. We also have a web site at www.cop-1.net. (Interestingly enough, CoP1.net is a site on Communities of Practice by Volkswagen, and very close to what we are doing).
Only french speakers will understand the pun. CoP-1 is pronounced "copain", which means "buddy". Har, har.
Companies involved so far are Schlumberger, CNES, Schneider Electric, Renault, Valeo, Eurodoc, IFP, Total, Cogema, Bureau Veritas. Others are at the door. You maybe?
I just finished reading Sebastien's thesis "A Socio-Technical Approach To Sharing Knowledge Across Disciplines".
I think this is outstanding work. However, I have mixed feelings concerning chapter 5 about ontologies as a "unique possibility for connecting knowledge across discipline". It seems to me that these ontologies are precisely elaborated by knowledge workers who have already established contact as a way to structure the shared domain of knowledge that they have chosen to cultivate together. Ontologies are community tools, not individual ones, and they are often unrelated from one community to another. Hence, there is not always a "common ancestor" bridging two ontologies and allowing for interdisciplinary communication. When James Cook discovered New-Zealand, both communities – the crew and the natives – knew nothing about each other. They had to spend some time together before they could start to understand each other and capitalize this in the first English/Maori dictionary.
I see Communities of Practice as islands of structured knowledge. To discover the existence of a community by yourself, you must be prepared to "sail" and use many different methods of inquiry and semantic tools to succeed in your journey. To build a new community with a group of like-minded people, you first need to negotiate your common knowledge domain, your community and your shared practice.
Yesterday, our small KM team presented conclusions on one year of active support of emerging communities of practice in my company to senior execs of the company. The stakes were relatively high. Either they "got it" and we had a future in the company (well... sort of) or they didn't, and we had to find another job.
Well, it looks like we did a good job (thanks Steve) and that our company is taking communities more seriously.
I had dinner with Jean-François Péan, Bain & Co Partner in Paris. We talked extensively about the KM tools at Bain & Co, which he said were rated #1 for management consulting firms. I was quite impressed, yet a little concerned about the real-time nature of the project knowledge base. Any consultant can be notified of a new case just opened anywhere in the company, and I wonder how customers feel about it. He invited me to come and have a demo some day.
I just went to visit Bain's web site. Noticed the alumni network? This supports my thesis that the distinction between management consulting firms and business schools is becoming blurry, and that the business models are gradually becoming the same.