|Virtual Chief Knowledge
Leading through Strategic Conversations
by Debra M. Amidon
It was 1983. A $13.2B Fortune 50 company with 120,000 employees had asked us to scout, finance and transfer worldwide knowledge into their company to yield new products and services in the marketplace in advance of their competition. We accomplished this through the Office of Sponsored Research that funded 240 projects in 100 worldwide universities. We managed liaison relationships with over 50 research consortia ranging from a $10,000 research center affiliation to the multi-million dollar investment in the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) in Austin, Texas. The business agenda was one of organizational learning, not technology development. The skills required for success were based on relationships, partnering and strategic conversations. We called it "Virtual Research & Development", our global network of expertise.
Even then, we realized the base of knowledge did not reside inside the firm. Creativity and new ideas often came from alliance partners, customers and even competitors. We knew that there were connections that needed to be managed and not left to serendipity. We used the term "virtual" to capture the essence of our objective an international innovation infrastructure within which ideas were created and put into action to produce marketable products and services in advance of the competition. This was our innovation strategy. In organizing the staff, we made several planning assumptions, one of which was that networks will link science and society in ways yet unimaginable.
Evolution of the Network
Lessons Learned: The Network in Retrospect
In a recent professional meeting, a newcomer in the knowledge field asks, "Are you based in the United States, the United Kingdom or Canada?" The confusion is understandable since the headquarters are in Massachusetts, the Website - until recently - was based in England, and the Banff Centre in Calgary, Canada will conduct our research agenda.
Our experts come from all over the world. Therefore, it matters not the base operandi of the Chief Knowledge Officer for such a worldwide virtual laboratory of ideas. With such advancements in computer and communications technology and the fact that quality expertise has no boundaries of national origin, the network can function and quite well, wherever there is a phone jack. On the other hand, one of our primary assumptions is that the network is both technical and human.
One cannot underestimate the value of face-to-face communications, even brief interactions. There have been numerous occasions when presentations and even entire conferences have been planned without the principals meeting one another except by phone or e-mail. However, relationship or social capital, which may be the lynchpin to a successful future, is enhanced when people are afforded the time to share, without technical limitations, their values, operational standards and aspirations. We can take a look at the evolution of the Network and evaluate some of the forces that were enabling growth and those resisting factors inhibiting progress.
What Went Right?
What Went Wrong?
In the beginning, we wondered how to tap into the combined insights of worldwide experts from diverse backgrounds. The answer was simple; let's query them. The ENTOVATION® Network is one example of how a community of experts can respect the competencies of one another, learn from a diverse set of perspectives, and contribute to a common language and a shared vision. It is not perfect, few enterprise are.
It capitalizes upon the best of what a knowledge economy will afford - flexible, fluid relationships, contributing toward the common good.
Amidst the complexity of the knowledge era, we must both simplify and magnify our relationships. No longer are finances the scarce resource to be managed. It is how we choose to spend our time, in communication with whom and to what end. If a virtual Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) is the one who exercises leadership without authority; then the onus is upon each of us to architect our time with one another face-to-face as well as remotely with meaningful dialogue.
As the Virtual CKO for ENTOVATION® International, the author has been a privileged participant in the evolution of the knowledge movement and worked with many at the heart of the knowledge management movement.
These excerpts (originally published in the I3 UPDATE No 35) are from the chapter 'A Virtual Chief Knowledge Officer: Leading through Strategic Conversations', Debra M. Amidon, from the forthcoming (May 2000) book "Knowledge Management in Practice: Chief Knowledge Officers and Chief Learning Officers", ASTD (American Society for Training and Development). For publication details, contact Dede Boner (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)