Sunday, 7 February 2010


The knowledge factory


Lord Browne of Madingley, when he gave his ghost-written HBR interview on KM in the 90s as CEO of BP, said something really really interesting. Well, the whole interview was interesting, but this quote has had me thinking ever since. He said

"Learning is at the heart of a company's ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. It is the key to being able both to identify opportunities that others might not see and to exploit those opportunities rapidly and fully. This means that in order to generate extraordinary value for shareholders, a company has to learn better than its competitors and apply that knowledge throughout its businesses faster and more widely than they do. The way we see it, anyone in the organization who is not directly accountable for making a profit should be involved in creating and distributing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit"


Let me stress that last sentence again

"anyone in the organization who is not directly accountable for making a profit should be involved in creating and distributing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit"

That is a remarkable view of an organisation as a profit-focused knowledge factory.

The same "knowledge factory" image came to me last week, working with a public sector educational organisation, who's whole raison d'etre was to create knowledge. Here we took a new process-focused view of the organisation, and started to identify the knowledge and information inputs and outputs for each step in the value chain. It was really illuminating.

And if you think of your organisation as a profit-focused knowledge factory, then you can start to think about applying manufacturing thinking to the flow of knowledge - thinking such as debottlenecking the knowledge flow, or lean approachs to knowledge flow. And who is in charge of production? And can you use Japanese style processes such as Kaizen and quality circles to improve the flow?

It's very interesting to look at your organisation as being a knowledge factory, and ask - just how well do we process knowledge? Does everyone who is not making a profit, actually realise that their job is knowledge production?

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