Stop Talking and Start Thinking

By Michael Fillios

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When was the last time you had two hours of uninterrupted time in a week to kick back, put your feet up on your desk and think? If you answered, I don’t remember, or I do my best thinking between the hours of 3:00 – 5:00 in the morning, you are not alone. 


As I travel around corporate America, this seems to be a growing and disturbing trend, particularly in the middle management ranks. Middle management, sometimes referred to as the “frozen middle,” appears to be getting squeezed from the bottom and the top.


Are you feeling the squeeze? To help determine the answer, here are a few questions:


       Is your day filled with the consequence of multi-tasking, a constant inflow of information, new projects, and ever changing priorities?

       Do you feel as though you are a hamster on a wheel, endlessly treading water?

       Are the lines of accountability blurring now more than ever?

       Do you have a double solid reporting structure?

       Are you feeling the pain of data call fatigue?


If you answered Yes to any of these questions, perhaps you need to take a breath.


All of the opportunities and risks of the “information age” and the “global knowledge economy” fall squarely on the “knowledge worker” – and that means right there on your desk.


According to the authors of Six Billion Minds, Managing Outsourcing in the Global Knowledge Economy, more than 60%of U.S. workers are in a knowledge business, but still live in a data world. In only 25% of companies is knowledge reused, and only 10% of companies have access to lessons-learned and best practices. All this results in companies wasting more than $12 billion a year by duplicating work.


Technology has created this tsunami of data and information, but we haven’t yet learned how to use technology to turn it into knowledge. We pay the price organizationally and individually. Understanding this, some companies are creating offerings focused on the growing knowledge worker market. The recent acquisition of Reuters by Thomson created the self-described world’s leading source of intelligent information that “thinks for itself.” (That may be necessary since the availability of time to think is a luxury these days.)


Other companies, such as Procter & Gamble, have recognized that knowledge can lead to sustained innovation and new organizational capabilities. It connects its worldwide employees with collaboration tools, allowing 7,500 scientists in 22 research centers in 12 countries to collaborate with each other and any other employee. With this and a  website devoted to outside ideas, it can capture ideas from anyone, anywhere, anytime.


In both of these cases, knowledge workers are enabled by technology, but it is not the technology that is the true innovation. It is the business/technology convergence whereby knowledge based innovation and technology come together to drive differentiation. Differentiation in the creation of new, or enhancements of, existing business models, strategy, value, market positioning, etc. lead to superior financial performance. 


So, back to the question at hand: Is it possible for organizations to empower their knowledge workers in today’s fast-pace, travel-filled, and meeting-excessive environment? Perhaps, but this requires a fundamental shift in the allocation of time spent doing versus time thinking. 


At the core of this reallocation is the need to improve the overall decision-making capabilities throughout an organization. This is an opportunity for the CFO and the CIO to team together on providing knowledge workers with the information and analytics for collaborative decision-making.

Based on our collective research, we have discovered that when it comes to business technology investments, organizations typically don’t have a common approval and prioritization capability that is based on factual vs. emotional decision-making. Consequently, this often results in a series of meetings, data gathering exercises, and execution of ad-hoc decision processes that can paralyze and significantly delay decision cycle times.


An effective management capability must address four critical dimensions to reach its full potential. These are process, organization, information and automation. In the instance of approval and prioritization, these dimensions would fully define the criteria used for evaluating alternatives, specifying the decision-making process, and prioritizing business technology investments with a consistent framework for planning, proposing, and deciding upon business technology initiatives. 


Along with repeatable management capabilities, knowledge workers need to be empowered to make the most of their skills. If they are, they can often work on many projects at the same time and can multiply the results of their efforts, thereby improving productivity.


As the slightly modified saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think." I guess we will have to think about that!


Michael Fillios has been at the intersection of business and technology for 20 years. As an expert in business technology management, he has led executives around the world in advancing their maturity in managing business and technology together. He is the managing director of BTM Global 2000, a provider of solutions that help organizations improve the business value of technology.