AgileBrian Lucas

Sailing in an Agile Ship with Vision and Knowledge to Guide You (Part 2)

Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture and commerce.  We have seen the rise of near-instant communication spoken of by Alvin Toffler in Revolutionary Wealth via electronic mail, instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) “phone calls” and two-way interactive video calls.  The World Wide Web’s seeming limitless discussion forums, blogs30, social networking, and even online shopping sites with comments and recommendations has arguably had more impact on mankind that any other technology in history.  It’s a fact that more data is being transmitted at higher speeds over fiber optic networks operating at either 1 or 10 Gbit/s31.  The Internet’s takeover over of the global communication landscape is almost complete: in 1993 it communicated 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in 2007 more than 97% of the telecommunicated information was communicated in this fashion32.

All this free, ubiquitous access to information has made everyone smarter – the technology industry, businesses, vendors and partners and not the least by any stretch – customers.  Customers of all types from individual retail consumers to knowledge working executives in hi-tech industries all have so much ready access to information, consumable resources and international vendors that even the simplest transaction screams with competition.  Competition makes the economic seas run fast and requires you to be agile.

Competition is not based solely or even primarily on cost, but both true and perceived “value”.  The true value33 is the amount that a buyer is willing to pay for an item.  It changes from time to time and from place to place.  However, the perceived value34 is based on a customer’s opinion of a product’s value to him or her.  It may have little or nothing to do with the product’s market price, and depends on the product’s ability to satisfy his or her needs or requirements.

It is the perceived value that is most interesting.  Customers will purchase a product at a greater cost if they perceive it to have superior value35 to them.  As consumers, be they individuals or companies, become better informed, they shift more from true value thinking to perceived value thinking.  This is due to the fact that they are being influenced by factors other than cost such as quality, durability, sustainability and even ethical responsibility36.

Take for example, the early explosion of off shore services.  Early projections had all work following the wave of cheap labor as it washed around the planet in a west to east direction.  This did not provide the value many expected37.  Some businesses, after investing heavily in this course, reversed direction38.  Some companies not only survived the hurricane force winds of offshore outsourcing, but steadily grew in size and most importantly competency and strength in the face of this competition.  Note the emphasis on competency which equates to knowledge.

Let’s define knowledge a bit more for clarity’s sake.  Knowledge is different from data and information.  Data represent observations or facts out of context, and therefore is not directly meaningful.  Information is the result of placing data in some meaningful context usually with a distinct message or meaning.  I am going to skip over the concepts of knowledge becoming understanding and understanding becoming wisdom here for brevity’s sake.  Knowledge is that which we believe and value based on the accumulation of information through various means such as experience, communication or inference.  Knowledge can be both as a thing to be stored and manipulated and as well as a process of applying expertise based on the knowledge.  As a practical matter, organizations need to manage knowledge as both an object and a process.

Knowledge can be tacit or explicit.  Tacit knowledge is tenuous.  It is subconsciously understood and applied.  It can be difficult to articulate.  It is usually developed from direct experience and action, and shared through highly interactive conversation, story-telling and shared experience39.  Explicit knowledge, in contrast, is more precisely and easily articulated.  Although it is more abstract, it can be more easily defined, transferred and shared.  Explicit knowledge is playing an increasingly large role in organizations.  It is considered by some to be the most important factor of production in the knowledge economy.

Knowledge also ranges from general to specific.  General knowledge is broad, often publicly available, and independent of particular events.  Specific knowledge, in contrast, is context-specific.  General knowledge, like explicit knowledge, can be more easily and meaningfully documented and exchanged, especially among different knowledge or practice communities.

Finally there are several types of knowledge, each of which may be explicit.  Knowledge about something is called declarative knowledge.  Knowledge of how something occurs or is performed is called procedural knowledge.  Knowledge why something occurs is called causal knowledge.  Shared explicit causal knowledge, often in the form of organizational stories, enables organizations to coordinate strategy for achieving goals or outcomes.  This is directly tied to vision.  You will recall that this all started with vision.  You not only need to know what the vision of the destination’s port is and have the persistent leadership to keep you heading in that direction, but you must have all the knowledge necessary to operate the ship and chart a course towards it.  And remember when you are steering on these turbulent economic seas, fraught with shoals of recessions and hurricanes winds of change – to keep agile!

Author’s note:

Joe Wisdo passed away, February 14th, 2013.  He was one of the finest examples of an ideal family man that I have ever known.  He was also a humanitarian in the finest sense dedicating much of his time to quietly and unselfishly helping those less fortunate than himself.  He was always positive and encouraging.  I never heard him say a bad word about anyone the entire time I knew him which was far too short.  His absence will be so deeply and personally felt across a broad spectrum of family, relatives, friends, colleagues and even perfect strangers to whom Joe commonly performed one of his acts of uncommon kindness.  How much better would the world be if more of us were like him.  I ask all of you who read this to do one act of kindness to a perfect stranger in Joe’s name to honor his life. -Brian Lucas

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