By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
For the longest time sic experts maintained that it was impossible to measure knowledge work. A differentiated belief in what a management team believes is measurable and hence improvable can be a source of competitive advantage. Alfred W. Crosby, professor of history at University of Texas, Austin, believes that the post Renaissance success of Europeans was directly attributable to the mindset they brought to metrics and the act of measurement. [See: Alfred W. Crosby, The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600]. High performance organizations have come to the conclusion that measuring the right things, the right ways is a sustainable source of competitive advantage and a prerequisite for efficient and effective operations. One of the things most in need of measurement today is the efficiency of an organization’s knowledge factory.
Prior to the ubiquity of personal computing devices and the Internet, the phrase “Knowledge Factory” was reserved for Universities and Colleges. [See Stanley Aronowitz, The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning]. Increasingly, consistently high performing commercial enterprises have re-conceptualized themselves as Knowledge Factories. The new leaders of the new economy [referred to by the French press as GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] may be characterized with some license as post-industrial “Knowledge Factories,” converting raw data into high-value information products and services. Does senior management at your enterprise actively seek to ensure that its Knowledge Factory is running as efficiently and effectively as possible?
The most straightforward mode of measuring knowledge work – observation - has in most organizations been determined to take too long and cost too much.
In any measurement exercise one has the choice of measuring inputs, outputs or both. Herein lies the challenge. Most of the inputs associated with knowledge work [i.e., thinking] are invisible. The measurable inputs – hours worked – are indifferently correlated to the quality of the knowledge produced.
The laissez-faire days of HSPALTA [“hire smart people and leave them alone”] are coming to an end. Thanks to the development of systems such as Cognizant 2.0 and IBM’s Watson we are on the cusp of a massive recalibration and re-instrumenting of knowledge work processes and metrics.
When did you last survey the commercial landscape in search of Best Knowledge Management Practices? What are the new tools at our disposal? The telescope, microscope, x-ray, and medical scan enabled us to see things invisible to the naked eye. What tools and processes are you using to render knowledge work measurable?