“outside” knowledge

July 24, 2006

Irving Wladawsky-Berger:

In the past, a business clearly had to pay attention to competition and the marketplace, but not to the same degree as today.  Given our hypercompetitive, fast changing, global environment, the forces of the marketplace have achieved almost mythical status.  I think of them as asteroids pounding us with increased frequency and changing the environment, often in drastic ways that necessitate an equally drastic and rapid response from the business.  It is thus more important than ever that the business have a very clear, up-to-date understanding of the market environment, and do its best to adjust to and be in harmony with that environment, rather than attempt to fight it to try to preserve the status quo.

In such a climate, you need to pay a lot of attention to what is going on out there.  One of the key findings of the IBM 2006 Global CEO Study was that more than 75 percent of CEOs looked to their clients and business partners as their top sources of innovative ideas, whereas less than 15 percent thought that their own R&D labs were the top sources of innovation.  More and more businesses are realizing the importance of looking at the innovation of the leading users of their products and services as strong indicators of where their markets are heading.  Collaborating with universities, research labs, and open communities is essential in order to anticipate the fast-coming future with sufficient time to do something about it.  These collaborations cannot be done with corporate staffs tracking what is happening out there; the business needs to have its own talented people who are respected by, contribute to, and work closely with the communities with which they collaborate.

Thus, a major part of the bottoms-up strategy process is to help organize within the business innovation communities that can let you know what is really going on out there, suggest all kinds of innovative ideas, and vet them as a community before making recommendations to management.  Our Thinkplace initiative at IBM aims to do just that, by providing the right platform, tools and governance to help communities self-organize within the company.

A piece of the informal learning puzzle is improving how to learn from the outside….

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