Know What You Don’t Know About Intangible Assets!

Michael D. Moberly    July 11, 2014    ‘A long form blog where attention span really matters’!

Know what you don’t know about intangible assets…

So, how is Michael Roberto’s book ‘Know What You Don’t Know, How Great Leaders Prevent Problems, Before They Happen’, relevant to intangible assets?  While, I dislike having to make such an admission, there is this lingering that still, a probably significant, but actually unknown percentage of business management teams and c-suites, etc., remain operationally and financially unfamiliar with their firms intangible assets.

As an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist, the obvious theme of Dr. Roberto’s book, i.e., its title, translates very well with one of my themes’ expressed consistently throughout this blog, that is, elevating intangible asset awareness among company c-suite’s and management teams and putting a company’s intangible assets to work as tools to elevate and sustain a company’s value, create new streams of revenue, and fortify competitive advantage. In other words, prevent problems before they occur.

The initial path to ‘preventing problems before they occur’ begins by encouraging business policy and decision makers to genuinely engage, and let’s be clear on this, the economic fact that 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for growth, profitability, and sustainability today lie in or directly evolve from intangible assets!

From problem solving to problem finding…

In Chapter 1 of Roberto’s book for example, appropriately titled by the way, ‘from problem solving to problem finding’ the author commences with a very relevant quote from G.K. Chesterton which I take the liberty of paraphrasing somewhat, i.e., ‘it isn’t that management teams can’t see the solution, rather it’s that they often can’t see the problem’.  The problem not seen, in my view, resides in overlooking and/or dismissing intangible assets as comprising the real sources of most company value, revenue, and competitive advantage as noted above.

The author (Roberto) makes many other introspective points, which I genuinely believe translate as strikingly relevant paths for not merely elevating management team awareness and operational familiarity with intangible assets, but also, for intangibles to become routine discussion – action items on c-suite and management team meeting agendas.

To pursue this example further, I am confident that numerous company management teams would agree, there are benefits to occasionally reversing conventional thinking, i.e., from problem solving to problem finding! By this I mean, for a substantial percentage of companies globally, the intangible assets their businesses routinely produce, frequently become embedded in various operations and transactions, but remain unrecognized, undistinguished, and otherwise not exploited to the level possible.

So, put another way, in a global business environment in which such substantial and irreversible percentages of business growth, competitive advantages, value, sources of revenue, and transactions, in general are essentially being underwritten with parties’ intangible assets, too me, this signals a significant ‘business problem’ if senior members of a company’s management team remain operationally and financially unfamiliar with the intangibles in play, and leave them unrecognized and undistinguished insofar as their contributory role and/or value are concerned.

Simply stated, this is no longer an arguable point and its resolution merely requires recognition of intangibles. For me, this constitutes a reasonable and certainly valid motivator for management teams and c-suites, whose companies may be experiencing challenges, to shift from problem solving to problem finding. Problem finding may well lie in the absence of or poorly executed practices for…

  • sustaining control, use, ownership, and monitoring intangible assets’ value, materiality, and risk
  • enhancing a company’s value, sources of revenue, market share, reputation, brand, and competitive advantages, and
  • mitigating risks intangible assets.

More specifically, exhibiting disregard of, or dismissiveness toward a company’s intangible assets, particularly those with most companies routinely produce can be and often is ‘the’ problem’ and its resolution is straightforward as described here in numerous posts under the category of ‘training’..

To continue though, as readers know, a time honored starting point for solving most problems is conventionally speaking, recognizing a problem exists and/or risk has materialized with ‘problem finding’ coming through management teams’ introspection that preferably follows.  So, ‘taking a page’ from Roberto’s book, one strategy for remedying high value problems companies experience, should commence by finding/identifying the intangible assets in play.

In the context of‘ ’knowing what you don’t know and how great leaders can prevent problems for they happen’ means adding personal characteristics of anthropology and ethnography to one’s managerial repertoire.

For example, in the context of this blog, being an ethnographer would encompass identifying and observing a firms’ producers – developers of intangible assets on the proverbial shop floor, i.e., in their natural settings, wherever that may be.  In other words, ‘finding the problem’ means avoiding simply asking employees how things are going, or relying on survey data or focus groups as the dominant or sole methods for acquiring insight, i.e., problem finding.  Instead, management teams should actually ‘watch what employees do, in the same manner as an anthropologist.  That is, engage and observe how employees, customers, clients, and suppliers, etc., actually behave and interact.

This leads not only to ‘problem finding’ but more importantly recognition and appreciation for the intellectual, structural, and relationship capital (intangible assets) that are woven into each.

By conducting such observations through an anthropological and ethnographic lens, management teams can become more effective and confident ‘problem identifiers’, in large part because they have become more adept at distinguishing – analyzing the contributory role and value of their firms’ intangible assets absent subjective, misleading, or over analyzed data that sometimes leads to biases and misconceptions.

Too, by making observations through these distinctive lens, management team members are better positioned to not just identify what and how intangible assets are being used, but, if they are being used effectively, and which, if any, intangible assets need to be developed or acquired and ultimately integrated to make those processes better.

This post was inspired by Michael A. Roberto’s book ‘Know What You Don’t Know…How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen’, Wharton School Publishing, 2009.

I always welcome your inquiry at 314-440-3593 or [email protected]


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