Knowledge is Power – Or is It?

By Guy Higgins

A generation ago, when I transferred from my last squadron to Washington, DC, I recall hearing a slightly senior officer repeat the phrase, “Knowledge is power,” in reference to working within the federal bureaucracy in DC. He went on to explain that if you knew something that others did not, then you were in a position of power – power to influence events in the direction you wanted. The phrase has been attributed to Sir Francis Bacon who included it in his 1597 book, Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy. In the context of the book, Sir Francis meant that the more you knew, the more you could influence events – not quite the same thing that the slightly senior officer meant. From the senior officer’s perspective, secret or restricted knowledge provided power. From Sir Francis’ perspective, power accumulated with increasing knowledge (which implies not only facts but understanding) – the more a person knew and understood, the greater influence that person could wield. Continue reading

Workplace Automation

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an analysis report by the McKinsey Global Institute, Where Machines Could Replace Humans – and Where They Can’t (Yet). I found the analysis very interesting, and I think that workplace automation is something that organizational leaders should understand and think about – very hard.

I found several take-aways that I think are worth considering: Continue reading

Lessons Observed. Lessons Admired. Lessons Learned?

By Guy Higgins

As an aero engineer, a graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School (and a practitioner of the skills learned therein) and with thousands of military flight hours in my logbook, I am drawn to aviation articles.

CNN published an article recently on the fatal crash of an Air Force C-130. The Air Force accident investigation attributed the crash to a night-vision goggle (NVG) case jammed in front of the control yoke by the pilot during loading operations immediately before the fatal flight. I was immediately reminded of a similar incident reported by the RAF in March of last year. In that case, the pilot had placed his personal camera next to the side stick controller – during flight – and it jammed the controls “hard over,” commanding an abrupt and unusual maneuver. Unlike the fatal C-130 case, the RAF airplane was at altitude and the pilot was able to recover controlled flight in time. The RAF pilot courageously reported the incident and it was published and widely available through Aviation Week and other publications.

A year later, it is obvious that that lesson was not “learned,” and it resulted in the deaths of fourteen people, including three who were in the control facility that the airplane crashed into. Why was a lesson, so recently made very public, not internalized by the C-130’s pilot? Continue reading

Metrics – Signal or Noise?

By Guy Higgins

Everyone has heard the adage, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Certainly “stuff” that has the attention of senior leadership gets a lot of attention from lower level managers. The important question for leaders is, “Do the metrics of the ‘stuff’ being measured actually provide useful information?”

There are a number of factors to consider when identifying metrics – factors beside the obvious, “Am I interested in that parameter? Does it tell me anything about how well I’m performing?” I think that those additional factors include:

  • Sampling frequency – how often am I going to measure the parameter? Is that often enough to give me actionable information? Is it too frequently to give me actionable information?
  • Stability – how stable is the parameter? Is it well behaved or does it vary wildly? Does either of those conditions mean anything important?
  • Signal to noise ratio – is the parameter you are measuring (the “signal”) buried by unrelated noise?

Continue reading

Who’s “On Deck”?

By Guy Higgins

Recently Sitoru Iwata, the 55-year-old CEO of Nintendo died unexpectedly. Nintendo is facing some critical decisions. Should the company stay the course with a console-only strategy, or should they begin to develop games for smartphones and tablets? Or, should they move in an entirely different direction altogether? Those decisions are complex ones, and choosing their next CEO is very important. Just as important as Apple’s choosing Steve Jobs’ successor. The difference, of course, is that Apple knew for some time that they would need to replace Steve Jobs. Nintendo does not have that luxury of time.

Naturally, that brings up the topic of succession planning. That’s a topic that immediately brings to mind the image of senior executives trying to figure out who should be their successors when they (the senior executives) are promoted (because no senior executive ever thinks that she’s going get fired or die in her office). Certainly having a succession plan for senior executives is important, but I’ll boldly assert that it is no less important to understand who all the critical non-executives are and how those key people will be replaced if they leave, retire or die. Continue reading

Knowledge Continuity

By Guy Higgins

The knowledge that resides in your company – both in your people and in your processes – is one of your most important assets. The loss of this knowledge at a critical time could cripple your company. It is extremely important to plan for Knowledge Continuity.

Knowledge Continuity planning needs to be done from an integrated perspective – covering both planning to maintain company knowledge assets during times of normal operation (business as usual) and during disruptions (business as unusual).

Knowledge Continuity also needs to be considered along three distinct “dimensions”: Continue reading

Tapping into the Other Half of the Workforce …

By Guy Higgins

On January 30th, I had the good fortune of being able to attend an evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Doctor Tyson is an astrophysicist and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He is also a successful advocate and “popularizer” of science literacy. He was also the host of the recent Cosmos television series. His talk, including questions and answers, ran three hours and not a second was dull. Continue reading

… Before Its Time

By Guy Higgins

A long time ago, when the earth was green, Orson Welles made a series of commercials for a wine company.  Every commercial ended with Welles saying, “We will sell no wine before its time.”  Obviously, the point there was that the company would invest the time to ensure that the wine aged appropriately (and for some of us in our younger days, that would have been, say, twenty minutes).

So what does that have to do with business (other than the wine business)?  Actually, I think that it has an enormous amount to do with business.  The saying in real estate is that there are three things that are important – location, location and location.  Well, I’ll assert that three of the most important factors in business are timing, timing and timing.  When does a decision need to be made?  When should a new product be introduced?  When should an acquisition be initiated?  When should a company “double down” on an investment?  When should a company exercise its exit strategy? Continue reading

Commoditizing Knowledge

In a former life, I had the great good luck to work with Mike Kennedy of Targeted Convergence (www.targetedconvergence.com).  One of the concepts I learned from Mike was that of an organizational “knowledge value stream.”  Businesses talk about their value stream – the processes by which they provide value to their customers.  Mike pointed out that they should also be talking about the creation and maintenance of their own knowledge value stream – the processes by which they capture new knowledge and incorporate that new knowledge into the general knowledge and know-how of the company and which can then be applied to future product or service value streams for future customers.

Sounds obvious.  So does much of modern technology – things that were inconceivable fifty or sixty years ago (at the same time recalling that Arthur Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”).  Continue reading

How Big?

By Guy Higgins

About a century ago, Robin Dunbar, a British primatologist (studies primates, not political primaries, but then, maybe those are not all that different) discovered that the largest number of people with whom one person can maintain an active social relationship is about 150 (actually, Mr. Dunbar defined it as 153.5 – still looking for that half person).  Other researchers have identified different numbers, but they are all in the low three digits.

Skipping ahead about 120 years, W.L. Gore resigned from DuPont and founded his own company, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc.  Mr. Gore (who patented the eponymous GoreTex for which all of us outdoor runners are eternally grateful) decided that no P&L unit of his company would be larger than 250 people because he thought that was the largest number of people who could self-coordinate and innovate, and he wanted innovation without a lot of costly overhead.  These business units of no more 250 people could not possibly include all the niche specialists that one might find in a company of, say, 10,000, but Mr. Gore was prepared to forsake that luxury and cost for the benefit of agility, adaptability and innovation – but, most of all, for self-coordination. Continue reading