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Making Big Ideas Work in Business    [Date Added : 09/28/2004 ]
Michelle Manafy of eContent magazine asked KM thought leader Larry Prusak how to make business work better. Prusak, who co-authored What's the Big Idea: Creating and Capitalizing on the Best Management Thinking says that the power of implementing the right process-changing ideas will ensure business success.

Prusak notes that in a down economy, new ideas are the last thing anyone wants to hear about, much less invest in, especially if there's even the slightest taint of fad on them. With streamlined operating costs being at the forefront of budgets, investing in any remotely risky proposition holds little appeal.

Yet Prusak says, "Like any other form of rhetoric, ideas can inspire, motivate and bring energy to both individuals and organizations." Energy, without a doubt, is something all businesses need to harness.

But Prusak also makes a clear distinction between fads and genuine process-changing ideas. His examples include the Total Quality Management movement of the 1950s. Was something so basic as emphasizing quality a process-changing idea? Yes, and the fact that we take it as a basic premise of manufacturing today demonstrates the idea's lasting resonance.

Prusak points to other process-changing concepts like knowledge management, which he believes has become a given within leading organizations, and as such has passed its prime as a buzzword (and passed into a basic business tenet).

As demonstrated in Prusak's examples, by "process-changing ideas" he means approaches that improve business performance and management rather than ideas for new products or services that companies can take to the marketplace.

Prusak and his co-authors believe that one way ideas can be invested in and, perhaps more importantly, vetted is by identifying and nurturing so-called "idea-practitioners" within an organization. These practitioners, they posit, are rarely at the top of the corporate or organizational hierarchy. They've usually been with a firm for 10 to 20 years and have a rich interpersonal network within the organization. They tend to have liberal arts or social science degrees (not MBAs), read a lot, and are articulate and persuasive.

But the thing that they - and the businesses whose success they enable - know how to evaluate is fit. They can translate an idea and effectively communicate its value in context, to the organization's top decision-makers. They can fit the right idea to the firm at the right time. As Prusak says - perhaps unwittingly iterating a current mantra of our industry - "Context triumphs over content every time."

And there is a context in which idea practitioners - and their ideas - can best be born and flourish. Ideas just don't happen spontaneously; there's a lifecycle to them, from creating an environment that fosters investment in their creation to acting upon the idea itself. Unless you encourage the spark, an idea will not ignite, much less effect lasting business-process transformation.

(Why things burn by Michelle Manafy, eContent, June 2003, Copyright 1998-2004, Online: a Division of Information Today Inc.)
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