Career choices in knowledge-based companies ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

Career choices in knowledge-based companies

I have to admit that I sometimes write just to write, or rather because in the future I will come up with ideas I would not have come up with without going through this accumulative process. One of my greatest interests is in innovation, however abstract that may sound, or put otherwise: the business of creating novel things. I'm not at all sure whether this is a subject food or retail businesses think a lot about, but I do believe that forward-looking companies, who appreciate and integrate principles of innovation, are surer to succeed than companies that don't. So here goes.

This is taken from an HBR-article (pdf-link) about Japanese firms, written in the 90s. As such, I'm not 100% sure if it is still applicable today. The core-ideas should make sense though.


I've written about the transition from tacit to explicit to tacit before, on my post regarding the design of the Ford SYN-US, where I also mentioned the knowledge-spiral, and this sort of fits with that.

Underlying conditions
There are actually some underlying conditions for the optimal diffusion of knowledge to occur, most of which are, unsurprisingly, based on how humans interact within the structure of a firm.

Create redundancy: meaning to create an environment that is based on much dialogue and communication. This leads to the situation that many people share overlapping information and can sense what others are struggling to articulate. In other words, it helps the transition from tacit to explicit knowledge.

Internal competition: Essentially the idea is that, by implementing a situation where many different teams try to get the answer from different paths, the "best" way will ultimately be found. The unpleasantness of people taking competition to seriously is, I guess, a necessary price.

Strategic rotation: I think I wrote about this before in "creating a leadership brand." This essentially involves shifting people's activities between different functions, so that they get a better grasp of what is involved in getting the project/business to work.

Free access: By sharing all company information (except for personal data), with people from all levels, you ensure that everyone communicates at the same level. This is really interesting!

Human implications
If the goal is to come from knowledge to product, this implies a number of functions within an organisation.

The "front-line:" these are people in immediate vicinity to the market. They are the first to be aware of what consumers would need. If you remember my post on the SYN-US, these were the researchers. The problem is that these people can be so immersed in information (e.g. the typical knowledge-worker today) that it's difficult to frame a viable vision.

The "vision:" these are the visionaries, who create metaphors, analogies, set goals for the company to be in in 1-15 years. They ask questions about what we are doing today and why. This vision must not be too strict however, giving employees the freedom to come up with unpredictable ideas. Most often this role is taken by senior management.

The "knowledge engineers:" Having information and having vision does not make a cake. Somebody needs to bake it. There needs to be a link between the above two types, which is fulfilled by the middle-manager, who mediates between the current reality and the future one.

Concluding thoughts
Innovation is a scary business, mainly because it is so hard to grasp and the outcome is so risky. For an alternative take on how to structure innovation in businesses, you can read a post I wrote on Tech IT Easy, regarding portfolio management and the case of the failed Foleo.

I have no intent to make up a bullshit comparison to food or retail, but I think there is a truth here, which applies to any type of business. There is a constant struggle between imagination and pragmatism, between creating beauty and making money. I titled this post "career choices," but the question is whether there really is a choice, in the sense of choosing where you fit best. For entrepreneurs, I don't think so. He or she must be both be on the frontline, have vision, and manage the process of bringing it together. A little nightmare, I'm dreaming about often.

The picture* is courtesy of Hugh McCloud, definitely someone I will mention more often on this blog in the future. What is the relationship between cartoons and food anyway? (note to self: start drawing again)


Copyright 2006| Blogger Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.