Thursday, August 5, 2004

Tap your collective intelligence

Business Times p.B1
Thursday, August 05, 2004

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Tap your collective intelligence

SOMEBODY from Peregrine Systems declared that the only reason that company is still around today is that at the bottom of the hierarchy, there are people who cared enough to make it so. I say, Amen!

To continue our Journey on Entrepreneurship, you need to realize that when God so scattered brain power, He did not confine it to few persons in management or your most trusted employees. They were generously distributed all over your system, at all levels with different intensity and uses. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences identified eight distinct intelligences. This makes everybody in your organization useful and significant, brainwise.

Likewise, your very influential people are not the people around you or in the boardroom. They are your employees who serve your customers. They are your employees who implement your plans and make things happen. They are your employees who are intimate with the minute details of your business. They are your internal customers—the ones who receive the outputs in your value chain and pass them on to your external customers.

In all your innovation initiatives such as an Abandonment Retreat, therefore, it is important that the ones who work in final stages of your processes, operate your system, convert your outputs to inputs, deliver your product and do after sales service should be major participants. They are the ones who would know if something is working well or if something is out of sync systemwise. They are the ones who could sense the unexpressed needs and expectations of your clients.

Rita Shor, corporate e-business manager at 3M Corp., wrote that 3M’s innovation success subsequently relied on long-term, individually directed exploratory research projects instead of the traditional “inventor in the lab.” One such initiative is the Lead User System developed for 3M by MIT professor Eric von Hippel.

This system, adds Ms. Shor, balances the needs of shareholders and management (with their bottom-line-oriented view of the world), against the needs
of “fuzzy footed” innovation developers (where micromana­ging spells an immediate kiss of death).

“Lead User Teams are made up of four to six individuals with a diverse set of skills. Teams and members from both technical and marketing functions are necessary. Depending on its focus, a team might be populated with members from procurement, manufacturing or any other functional area. All team members are taught techniques of creating profitable solutions to unarticulated customer needs, well in advance of the competition. Teams are allowed to report to management on their own term.“

Ms. Shor intimates, “This initiative requires trust all the way around.”

Ms. Shor quotes 3M CEO William McKnight who said more than 50 years ago in favor of independent R&D programs, “As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. Mistakes will be made, but if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it is dictatorial and undertakes to tell those under its authority exactly how they must do their jobs.“

(Moje, the president of Paradigms and Paradoxes Corp., designs and facilitates innovation and organization development initiatives. For comments and questions please email her at

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