After Dave Snowden’s irreverent but thought-provoking keynote at KM Europe, Verna Allee’s presentation seemed to be more in the mould of conventional management consulting even if her message is also quite progressive. She began her presentation with a quote from Alan Weber of Fast Company that followed on from Dave Snowden’s ideas
“The first job [of leadership] is not to make decisions but to make sense”
She sees the rise of virtual workers, virtual teams and virtual companies as bringing to the fore new issues such as complexity, shared value (new business models), focus (limited attention), always-on technology and work/life balance. She believes knowledge management is part of the vanguard of a new business culture that addresses social and human issues as well as the bottom line. KM began with technological innovation that aimed to codify and share explicit knowledge using enterprise networks, intranets, search systems, e-learning and e-business tools. The next stage is a level of social innovation that creates shared knowledge through expert communities, communities of practice, knowledge mapping and story telling. Looking ahead, she sees a new level of value-based innovation around business analytics that will help us move away from mechanistic models to dynamic “whole system” business strategies through techniques such as valuing intangibles, value network analysis, complexity and systems thinking
Allee believes that knowledge is a social construct, but we know little about collaborative inteligence and creation of shared meaning: “what are the conditions for wisdom and innovation to occur?” In practical terms, this means trying to support communities of practice in which people share knowledge through informal conversations and mutual engagement, but not by giving them explicit tasks, which would turn them into project teams
In terms of business culture, Allee thinks that greater transparency is inevitable, and this will create greater demand for a more holistic approach to value creation, with businesses paying attention to social, environmental and business values as well as their intangible assets such as competencies, brand identity and internal structure, recommending Tapscott and Ticoll’s book “The Naked Corporation” as a possible model for the future. She also echoes Peter Drucker’s view that the corporation may not survive beyond the next 25 years as organisational models evolve towards resembling living sytems
In conclusion, she believes that networks cannot be directed by hierarchy – only supported – and that within networked structures, value creation is all about relationships and the intangible assets they create. In the future, she sees networks of people self-organising through negotiated self-interest and the creation of shared meaning, which means that trust will become an ever more important factor for business
See also the Verna Allee toolkit for practical tips on putting these ideas into practice.