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Why Businesses Need to Start Nurturing Collective Wisdom

 by: Marcus Goncalves

COLLECTIVE WISDOM CAN BE AN effective tool for solving the problem of knowledge deficit, or the underutilization of organizational knowledge. If you are a small, medium or large business, and you don't have a method in place for harnessing and managing your organization's collective knowledge, you may be losing opportunities for significant revenue enhancement. According to a study by the Delphi Group, less than 20 percent of knowledge available to an enterprise is actually used. Furthermore,

IDC predicts that Fortune 500 companies are currently operating at a $19 billion knowledge deficit, increasing to $31.5 billion by year's end.

Such studies that quantify the value of knowledge deficit should give businesses a reason for viewing strategy meetings and other forms of brainstorm sessions (where employees across the organization are encouraged to freely share their own ideas) in a very different light. Such meetings are powerful tools in nurturing collective wisdom that transcends the corporate memory. These meetings should cover areas that are largely determined by the specific needs (gaps) of the organization and may range from developing a corporate quality mission statement to establishing practical methods for empowering employees, creating a new concept for a product or service, and so on.

The main idea is to tap into the collective knowledge of the organization as a whole (memory) and its members, inheriting the tacit knowledge that they carry with them. Unfortunately, most of the knowledge contained in an organization goes unused, and often gets lost through employee layoffs and resignations, even before it is acknowledged and captured, generating knowledge deficits (another form of gap!).

According to TMP Worldwide, it takes 1.5 times an employee's annual salary to replace that employee. This is due to several factors, one of which is the loss of unrecorded information and data. Lost information may include internal business processes, external contacts/relationships, and proprietary data.

Knowledge deficit refers not only to know-how, but to codified data as well. Knowledge deficit is caused when employees cannot access:

  • Databases

  • Documents

  • E-mail communications

  • Expertise of other employees/outside sources

  • Internet content

Therefore, as gaps are created and the organization attempts to fill them, employees should have at their disposal searching capabilities that enable them to search for codified data, as well as unrecorded tacit knowledge. Such a process fosters collective wisdom, which in turn fosters innovation, one of the prime goals in tapping into corporate instinct.

Expertise management, as Information Market accurately contends, enables the creation of knowledge superconductivity. For instance, strategy meetings can enable employees with business problems to tap into the minds of those experts who can at the very least add to their knowledge, and may even be able to solve the business problem at hand. However, these meetings should be moderated and include a variety of themes and dynamics that encourage freethinking, commitment, loyalty, and willingness to create.

Hence, these meetings play an important role in ensuring that any effort in developing new concepts, in innovation, is supported by the entire organization, top to bottom. These meetings can include topics such as:

  • Achieving unanimous agreement and commitment to a new concept from executives and senior management

  • Creating a comprehensive plan by which a new product or service concept can be implemented and become sustainable (remember, without sustainability, the new concept is only a great idea)

  • Crisis/contingency systems (dealing with major gaps in times of chaos)

  • Developing specific tactics by which new concepts and respective plans are to be realized establishing appropriate goals and benchmarks.

As well as these strategic and planning meetings, there are also some less apparent but equally important communication issues which can be addressed during the quest for collective wisdom, including:

  • Developing high-profile actions that communicate management's commitment to change (creation of gaps) and innovation (bridging the gaps)

  • Developing ongoing means for communicating progress of the strategy meetings and developing a collective wisdom process for both internal and external customers

  • Effectively communicating the collective wisdom to managers, staff, and the entire organization as a whole.

About The Author

Marcus Goncalves, Founder & President, Marcus Goncalves Consulting Group, a MetroWest Boston-based knowledge, change and project management-oriented international consulting firm, is the developer of the innovative knowledge management methodology Knowledge TornadoTM. Marcus has served as a Senior EAI and IT strategies professional at global market research firm, ARC Advisory Group and lectures at Boston University's graduate CIS and MBA programs on subjects including Program and Project Management, and Information Systems Management, among others. Author of more than 28 books published on the subject, Marcus is a member of Who's Who among US Executives and in the Computer Industry, an award conferred by the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundation. Marcus can be contacted at; 508-435-3087.

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