Combating disbelief and indifference in surfacing a basic innovation that harnesses technology to drive success
Fundamental infrastructure innovations must overcome a steeper than normal entry barrier. The market-place considers them an avoidable adventure regardless of need. Early adopters are rare. The possible should receive wide circulation to attract them. Relaxing the rules of evidence governing basic innovations will raise their circulation to reduce their gestation.
In 1990 I realized that application of Knowledge was the domain of a collective. Its ability to rapidly emerge Reality and accelerate Innovations decided the course of any organization. Correspondingly, judgments were the primary product of an organization. Eighteen years into my career post my MBA in 1972, I found judgments were impaired by the prevailing archaic means to conduct interactions for collective thinking. Personnel had to self-organize their interactions. Collective ability to apply the available Knowledge was a fraction of its potential since personnel rarely exercised the discipline to self-organize. Smitten by the possibility of reducing the Strategy-Execution Gap with the connectivity of IT, I resigned my corporate career in 1990 as Sr.Vice President, Business Technology (Nippon Denro Ispat, medium size with growth plans). With experience in Finance (Indoceanic Shipping, small company), Projects (Essar Constructions, medium size) and IT Systems (Essar Group, large company), I set out to explore and experiment.
My work as an Advisor to TCS (India's largest software company) in 1991 for their future products revealed the importance of anticipation for building work flows. It became clear IT could conduct Knowledge work only by anticipating the next step. In 1991, this was believed to be inconceivable - if decision makers could not anticipate their Knowledge interactions and had difficulty self-organizing then how could IT conduct Knowledge work? The belief prevails even today. Consequently, IT is used merely as a tool to conduct Knowledge work.
In the period 1991-1992 I studied the evolution of Government Administration since the colonial era as an Advisor to the Directorate of Naval Research And Development. I concluded civil servants and corporate professionals were end-products of the evolution of teamwork; their interactions would therefore be governed by norms. This led me on to identify the finite repeatable Actions with which they interacted and the norms for deciding the Actions that could follow a given Action. I could establish a single rule for administrators to select their next Action on an event. Repeated application of the rule on an event during its circulation created a single process to coordinate administrators for conducting all their Knowledge interactions. In effect, I had developed a science governing the progress of Knowledge work on an event: the required personnel were coordinated even if distributed in space and time, and their Knowledge exchange flowed through the pipeline established by the coordination.
Over the next three years I harnessed IT to power the process for all Knowledge work and interactions. It produced intelligent energy to drive coordination in chaos, capture Knowledge systematically and conduct teamwork procedures regardless of discipline, provided ready access to experience and resources, created quality time for contemplation, and gave prompt management information on each business event. Unless they resisted, personnel could expect to be united and empowered by a strong and systematic flow of Knowledge of their own making. However, the dimensions of the related value-add appeared hazy to me at the time.
The importance of feedback and its delivery of learning for implementing a powerful philosophy of success was only emerging in 1998. Knowledge Management was the dominant path for success. It recognized that Collective Ability had stagnated at low levels in most organizations and sought to raise the Trust & Teamwork for greater ability in using Knowledge. Defeated by the unpredictability of interactions it focused on empirical means for sharing of Knowledge.
Incentives were believed essential to drive the adoption of IT tools for sharing and motivate personnel to part with their Knowledge. My breakthrough was ignored due to the promise held out by Knowledge Management and ubiquitous collaboration technology. I understood Knowledge Management was no defence against the common tendency of even Knowledgeable teams settling for the obvious instead emerging the reality. I was aware only feedback could reveal the underlying reality and sustained my development of the domain beyond collaboration. The systematic pursuit of success continues to be in limbo today. It requires free flow of Knowledge in context. Personnel are the only source for the immense time and energy this requires on a sustained basis. The need for organization and discipline this imposes on personnel is very rarely met.
Only a single process can harness IT to replace the dependence on personnel for organizing, cataloguing and driving free flow of Knowledge across the distributed enterprise. In relation to my innovation of a single all-sizes-fit-one Knowledge process for the conduct of all Knowledge interactions the world is stuck at the inconceivability of a single one-size-fit-all knowledge process. Thus, whereas my work harnesses the inexhaustible energy of IT and induces a Knowledge driven culture to energize latent collective ability for the pursuit of success, the world is struggling to incentivize a culture for simple collaboration. The goal in sight is superior application of the available Knowledge. The world has sensed the quantum jump in performance possible with IT but is unable to achieve it. My work delivers it.
In 1991 I had helped TCS capture the market for an Accounting System. I became aware my design philosophy was at variance with the Input/Output thinking prevalent in the market-place. I began looking out for a new field of design endeavor.
In late 1991 I was recommended to the Directorate of Naval Research and Development. They were embarked on a project to coordinate their widely distributed laboratories. I was retained to help with the conceptualization. The project was too far advanced for me to contribute meaningfully but association did give me a ring side seat into the evolution of the colonial system of administration. The Directorate, in the charge of a truly courageous early adopter, Vice Admiral Ravi Kohli, started a separate project based on my ideas of how the unstructured interactions of decision-makers could be coordinated effortlessly by the growing power of networks. A small team was set up with an ambitious leader. Once the basic structure came into focus the team decided to progress on its own.
By 1992 I had experienced the power of networks and their poor utilization by administrators. I could visualize a System for coordinating administrators based on the evolution of teamwork. I had seen that structured business processes were in the firm grip of conventional thinkers. I thought of all the computers idling as status symbols on the desks of administrators and devoted myself to conduct of the unstructured business process governing decision making. In December 1992 I won a contract for a pilot to automate the administration of an autonomous government department.
I won the contract as an individual against the best competition in the industry at the time. My USP was a simple guarantee that my System would conduct all work and interaction of the decision makers and their support staff, provide spot information on events, and be adopted by all. The competition from established big names specified the inputs, and the outputs that would be delivered if the inputs were assured. I was fortunate in coming into contact with an intrepid software developer. He and his team helped me finish the pilot on schedule by April 1994 with satisfaction of my guarantee. Satisfaction of an open guarantee to a government department was in itself an unprecedented event.
The Government Department was happy with the pilot but chose not to incur the required heavy expense of migrating to an enterprise scale platform. Enterprise platforms were expensive in 1994.
My next contract was in mid-1995 with the Share and Secretarial Department of a leading chain of Five Star Hotels. They were keen on giving five star service to their shareholders to overcome the griping and grumbling encountered at every Annual General Meeting. They had an automated Share Accounting System but all interactions with the shareholders were manual. I offered to automate the entire administrative operations of the department, including interactions with the shareholders and those within the department, with a guarantee to transform efficiency and raise decision-making. There was no competition since means to manage unstructured interactions were unheard of. I was appointed though my platform was primitive. At a time when the world had graduated to Windows I was tied to MS-DOS. However, my promised value add was very appealing - it assured at least a doubling of performance within two years with the same resources.
My team framework developed for the Government Department readily adapted to the administration of the Share & Secretarial Department. My step-by-step assembly of interactions on an event enabled simple rules for integration of unstructured decision-making with external structured work flows, like exceptions in share accounting. Internal structured flows like management of dividend payments, preparation of court cases, approval of travel bills, etc., were easily taken care of by templates developed as special cases of the unstructured flows. The norms ensured that deviations from pre-planned work flows to manage exceptions had to be completed before reversal to the structured work flow. Thus, composite flows were easily implemented.
The System swiftly brought all business events and interactions on them under control. The hierarchical flexibility enabled quick streamlining of operations and structure. Work bottlenecks were rapidly identified and cleared with re-assignment of personnel as all procedures were conducted by the System. Personnel were needed only for their judgment. Teams became self-correcting. The integrated System responded to the shareholders on-line. Cycle times and response times plummeted. The Share transfer time, a key result area, fell from 79 days to just 7 days within 12 months. Personnel were allowed to take leave, earlier unheard of.
At the next AGM the shareholders went out of their way to praise the transformation of the department. The following abstract of a report to the Chairman of the company gives an idea of the change achieved:
The market demand is for the pursuit of success. I recognized my creation of coordination laid a pipeline for the required free-flow of Knowledge in context and made a major marketing leap from a System for coordinating Knowledge interactions to reliable means for natural Feedback of Knowledge or Dialogue on each business event during its circulation. The market I discovered was wedded to the concept of Knowledge Management (KM) and Collaboration though the results delivered were poor. The tools of KM and its email communication infrastructure were popular and promoted by established vendors. My capture of Knowledge interactions in place of Knowledge with emphasis on the emergence of reality or Knowledge Application was only hazily understood for its value. Few accepted they were working at well under 30% of potential ability. Further, my work was considered a risk. I concluded the market was not really prepared for a shift of mind from Knowledge Management to Interaction Management and Knowledge Application even though I was delivering on the web platform. The shift of mind was big. The market needed to be pushed.
My greatest handicap is that my work lies in the gray area between IT and Management about which few have experience but many are full of tales and viewpoints for all have experience in use of Knowledge and are familiar with buzz words like Feedback, Communities, context, Trust, Teamwork, meaningful collaboration, free-flow, etc.. They serve as mental traps that limit my ability to communicate the huge latent Collective Ability that can be energized with a process for free-flow of Knowledge. Besides, there is ignorance of the distinction between Dialogue and simple Collaboration or Discussion. These handicaps of communication add on to some major structural handicaps:
- My delivery is a System. It facilitates a way of thinking about work - Autonomy, Freedom, Decentralization, Flat structures - which are not perceived as a necessity, invite cynicism and even raise suspicion. its performance gain is attractive but demands an infrastructure contract. Managements as a body are invariably unprepared for an untried System though I execute without disruption of the legacy Systems in place.
- The prospective enterprise clients were happy to learn of the value-add possible - the pursuit of excellence/success - but disinclined to invest in a process they believed outside their core competence. My plea that the free-flow/judgment process was a key area for competitive advantage fell on deaf ears. The clients were willing to pay three times the cost once the process or philosophy or System was established. Besides, I was seen as a consultant questioning the service of established IT products and brands while dependent on the industry for software.
- The big IT vendors were confused by my work. Their local offices perceived my work as a threat to their sales targets and discredited my marketing. The country managers regarded my work outside their radar, and the global leaders decided they had competing plans and did not wish to disturb their existing products.
- The Document Management firms felt my work was too downstream for their interest.
- The Management Consultancies I discovered were focused on pushing services supported by conventional IT practices, i.e., they were content to be behind the IT frontier.
- The Venture Capitalists wanted confirmation of an enterprise client. Post the market crash of 2001 they turned conservative.
- The prospective public sector administrations, who perhaps had the most to gain, disappointed:
- There was no interest in the value-add possible.
- I was classified along-with Knowledge Management vendors. Interest waned once it became clear that my work could not be tendered or would have to be evaluated as a single tender. Nobody wished to be engaged with extending the frontiers of management.
- My work was treated as abstract in the absence of an enterprise scale proof point.
- It was easy to ignore my work and proposal. There was nobody or reason to question a refusal for something in the realm of the possible. Nobody was interested in the power of philosophy or a System that leveraged human behavior. The nay-sayers were protected by the prevailing market and brands.
- A real frustration was being shunted to the IT department because the administrators were unnerved by my use of IT. Technologists are rarely schooled in the imperatives of Knowledge application and strategies for performance gain. They saw their job as validation and not evaluation of a new science for harnessing technology. Often, they grandly accepted I had conceptualized a possible breakthrough but insisted on a working site to give a verdict!
- The Management Journals were perhaps the biggest disappointment. They were my strongest hope for credibility to break through the mental barrier that protected the ruling Conventional Wisdom. They decided my work was provocative, potentially valuable and convention defying but lacked the lucidity and evidence to be taken seriously. I pleaded in vain that lucidity for a breakthrough was a process and that the rules of evidence needed relaxation for a basic innovation that had the potential to evolve organizations, institutions and governments. They insisted on rigid application of their rules of evidence. I wondered if these high priests would retain their vegetarianism in a jungle confronted by a fight for survival. Rules of evidence I decided had a time and place, and paradigm changing innovations, particularly those urgently needed by a society in distress, needed to be given special consideration so that they could come to the notice of that select set of people, the early adopters, who believe in investing ahead of the pack.
- As a last resort I tried the Foundations dedicated to innovations and problems confronting mankind. I have yet to hear from them. They assured they would keep my proposal in their data bank. I got the impression they believed only humans could organize for social good and considered my transforming of institutions or carrying them towards success by a technology induced flow to be far-fetched.
- All prospective clients for my pilot behaved as though they were deeply interested in technology and management innovation to raise performance, and were eager for a genuine proposal: the proposal only had to be demonstrated first outside their window at a safe distance, and then be supported by testimonials of approval and performance! If the reader believes (s)he is different I request (s)he read my Hacks and Barriers (see Section on Materials) and judge my work.
The only way to surmount the hurdles was define my commitment. I decided the world had yet to look beyond the symptoms and appreciate that the real shortfall in driving success was mental energy, and that my conversion of IT from a mere tool to intelligent energy was an immense source of mental energy. Its liberation of personnel under pressure and their unification for superior application of Knowledge could not be ignored for long. Managers could expect to reduce their time spent on managing team organization and discipline from about 75% of total to under 10%.
The huge and growing gap between the expanding potential of IT and the stagnant collective ability of communities is definitely acquiring ludicrous proportions. I am convinced mankind has bumped or is bumping against its limits of personnel time, energy and volition. Technology offers the only solution to advance the limits. My work implements a powerful philosophy, method, and a proven solution for raising ability. Opportunities call for calculated risks. I am ready with a phased implementation strategy that shall bridge the gap between IT capability and its utilization.
The report abstract annexed to the Section on Key Innovations & Timeline gives an idea of the benefits delivered by the prototype. The benefits on the enterprise scale will be different. They need to be understood in context of the philosophy progressed. I have explained them in my Hacks and Barriers referred to in the section on Materials. As a bottom line I am confident of covering an enterprise within two years and achieving a 20% improvement in its performance within the next two years.
The side effects of the innovation were political. The pilot department at the Hotel chain became lean and mean without disruption but that triggered insecurity in the other departments. My beach-head was wiped out by an upheaval in the Chairman's office. By the time the new incumbent took over the other departments had organized themselves to ignore the innovation. The new chairman had more important matters to attend to.
I have seen both sides of the fence. There is merit in society making it hard for innovations for that is a powerful stimulus to raise their content. Richness of value-add, and it takes time to surface this, will raise their ability to not only survive but also flourish. Else even good ideas run the risk of dying pre-maturely even if given a chance. Supporting a worthy innovation is a service that members of society must be willing to perform to protect powerful value-add from being delayed. This may require diluting rules of evidence or keeping finer expectations in abeyance till results commence. First and foremost this requires a re-assessment of the meaning of worthy. Worth cannot be decided in terms of risk. It has to be decided in terms of impact. I have a few insights for assessing the impact of any basic Management innovation that harnesses technology:
- What is the scale of transformation? Technology depreciates very rapidly. It may be better to wait for an enterprise scale strategy.
- Does the transformation claimed use the immense energy of technology for organizing and driving change or does it continue to depend on personnel for the discipline and the procedures? In the latter case the change is unlikely to be significant.
- Can the innovation be demonstrated as a model for illustrating the ability of its science to induce the culture that will deliver its impact? Dependence on an extrinsic culture is unlikely to succeed.
- Can the innovation be piloted to satisfy pre-defined and desirable measures of success? Can it be rolled out rapidly thereafter as a process?
- What are the dimensions of the human interaction with the innovation and associated personnel needs? Does the governing science improve the response to the work needs of personnel?
- What are the new demands imposed by the innovation? Are they bearable?
- What are the conditions imposed by the use of technology? Can the innovation be vendor transparent or will it raise dependency? Will maintenance be a problem?
- What will be the disruption in operations? Is it acceptable?
- On the quantitative side I would say enterprises must assure themselves of a potential 10x benefit in considering a management innovation based on technology.
To make support of an innovation attractive businesses may seek to convert their early adoption of the innovation to a happy business opportunity - pay for it but seek a small share in its future.
My innovation may be wasted by an organization seeking to cut its flab. The innovation's philosophy of change from within may find it difficult to take root in an environment of insecurity. For the innovation to flourish the existing personnel need plenty of open space to expand into. I would strongly recommend it to any organization that:
- Is trying hard to grow but is encountering a glass ceiling;
- Has growth plans and believes the existing personnel are sufficient if they raise their ability;
- Has key resources it wishes to leverage;
- Must coordinate across a wide geography to deliver its services; or
- Must raise the efficiency and effectiveness of its service to the public.
There are lessons for basic innovators too:
- Look for individuals tasked with change. They may offer the best potential to be early adopters.
- Organizations are poor early adopters.
- Love your innovation and forget time: basic innovations do not follow business sense.
A complete list of the writers and authors who have contributed to the creation of my consciousness is stated in my Hack. See Materials.
My Breakthrough, developed over the last twenty years, solves major conceptual and technical problems to harness IT for organizing and driving the disciplines needed for superior Collective Ability. It delivers results regardless of chaos, change and volumes. My following Hacks and Barriers explain the problems and their resolution (the order gives the suggested order of reading though each is standalone):
- The Hack ‘Achieving the ends of Knowledge with feedback’ presents the goals of Knowledge Management and analyzes why they were not achieved. It explains why Feedback will attain the goals, and leverages my sketches to introduce the delivery of its content and value with Dialogue.
- Reliable means to raise Collective Ability is the core need for superior performance or success. My Barrier ‘Absence of a means to exploit the latent collective ability for pursuing success’ explains how the growth of interactions has overwhelmed means for collective creation and introduces the Conventional Wisdom that has held up progress.
- Rich wisdom has accumulated on the way to success but Managements are unable to apply it. My Barrier ‘Neglect of the accumulated Management Wisdom’ defines the neglect of wisdom and how a compelling Knowledge Assembly Line may be conceived to manage the organization and discipline for taming Knowledge interactions.
- The Hack ‘Creating a common language to unite stakeholders’ explains the development of a language for bringing the Knowledge Assembly Line into common usage and for converting the Knowledge captured into Dialogue for raising the Collective Ability.
- My Barrier ‘The importance of dreaming about the free flow of Knowledge’ presents the deep significance of Dialogue and why free-flow is a rare phenomenon in the business scape.
- Empowerment is the single most powerful force for Management Transformation. My Barrier ‘Change from within is a citadel that must be stormed – from within’ represents it is not enough to possess Knowledge, be empowered and perhaps even know how to apply Knowledge. It explores the internal barriers to successful empowerment and how they may be overcome.
- The Hack ‘Compelling Energy for a quantum jump in organization performance with the same resources’ explains my harnessing of IT to deliver a System for meaningful Dialogue and its amenability to a swift roll-out across the enterprise.
The events and the times leading to my creation of compelling intelligent energy for driving Management Wisdom are described in my Story 'Combating disbelief and indifference in surfacing a basic innovation that harnesses technology to drive success'. I believe the story provides a valuable lesson for emerging basic innovations that hold the potential to transform society.