What’s your Company’s Real Secret Sauce? How a Knowledge Intelligent Culture Can Give You an Edge

In today’s digital age, companies are rich in information, but often poor in actionable knowledge that drives true innovation. As Dow CEO Andrew Liveris noted, “We are getting lots of data and lots of analytics. And we’re drowning. What companies need is to know how to filter, how to put all of this information into a useful paradigm so it’s not just information technology, but knowledge.”

The process of ‘connecting the dots’ and turning information into actionable knowledge can only occur when human minds (not algorithms) think deeply and critically together. Through curiosity, experience and intuition, human minds can arrive at an understanding of how business challenges can be uniquely met. For companies to have a lasting competitive advantage, they must foster a culture where their strongest and most unique asset—their employees’ minds—shine brighter than their competitors’.

When companies optimize their human knowledge flows successfully, we call them “Knowledge Intelligent.” Knowledge Intelligent organizations are:

Intensely collaborative: Innovation results from interdisciplinary collaboration where experts from multiple fields—sales, marketing, product development, engineering—bring a variety of perspectives together.

Deeply meritocratic: Knowledge Intelligent organizations have a healthy disdain for hierarchies and cronyism, ensuring that the best ideas always win. They encourage an environment that promotes listening and sharing, ensuring that good ideas can surface and flow freely.

Agile & adaptive: In this rapidly changing business environment, products come to market in weeks and competitors can appear overnight. Teams must be agile, ready to adapt to the quickly evolving competitive and technological landscape—look at how Mark Zuckerberg turns Facebook on a dime in response to new challenges like mobile or competitors like Snapchat.

Outward-looking: Though it may seem paradoxical, Knowledge Intelligent organizations constantly scan for external knowledge, ensuring their boundaries do not become the limits of knowledge flow, ideas and innovation. Remember Joy’s Law: Most of the smartest people in the world work for someone else.

A Knowledge Intelligent organization may sound impossible to achieve, but with the six steps below, you can help move your company in the right direction:

1. Provide an inspiring mission: A bold mission, one that’s genuine and not just a top-down pronouncement, will attract and energize the right type of colleagues. Also, it will ensure that everyone—across all areas of the business—rallies around the same goals. Make it explicit, write it down, post it on the wall and share it repeatedly with employees.

2. Empower sharing across teams, levels and functions. Encourage internal rotations and inter-office mobility. Break down physical, social or psychological barriers with layouts that include open, collaborative spaces and forego corner offices or other physical signals of status or promote seclusion.

3. Hire for aspiration and EQ. Be sure to look for traits that show future promise of success, rather than past glories. At AlphaSights, we hire for drive, results orientation, adaptability, humility and emotional intelligence—which means the best candidates aren’t always Harvard graduates with 4.0 GPAs.

4. Favor player-coaches. Everyone on the team is needed to innovate and improve your business. This requires inclusion and esprit de corps, not managerial grand-standing or inflated titles and perks.

5. Rethink internal education. Internal training is often confined to narrow, “how-to” courses aimed at individual employees, such as Excel or Accounting 101. Motivated employees generally navigate skill gaps through self-education, so use training to develop your employees’ capacity for creative thinking, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Soft-skill workshops, hands-on sessions (think: hackathons) and task forces where ad-hoc groups are tasked with audacious goals are likely to have a larger, more lasting impact on your business.

6. Become intensely outward-looking. Share customer feedback with the entire organization—the good, the bad and the ugly. Bring in outside speakers to inspire and inform employees. Build a bench of external experts you can draw on to help attack key business problems, leveraging the collective mind of the world to literally out-think your competitors.

By following the steps above, companies can start to reshape their cultures to take advantage of their most valuable resource—their employees’ combined knowledge. By fostering a Knowledge Intelligent organization, businesses can unleash creative thinking, spur innovation and establish a lasting competitive advantage.

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