Problem Finding Through Intangible Assets…

Michael D. Moberly    December 26, 2013    ‘A blog where attention span matters’!

Admittedly, the title of Michael Roberto’s book “Know What You Don’t Know, How Great Leaders Prevent Problems, Before They Happen”, may appear to some, at least initially, as having virtually nothing to do with utilizing intangible assets.  However, there are numerous facets of Dr. Roberto’s book which, in my view, as an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist, translate with equal significance to decisions related to putting a company’s intangible assets to work insofar as developing sources of value, revenue, competitive advantage, etc.

For starters, readers are encouraged to recount the economic fact – business reality on which this blog commenced, which is, 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!

In Chapter 1 for example, appropriately titled “from problem solving to problem finding” Roberto commences with a very relevant quote from G.K. Chesterton which I slightly paraphrase, 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.

Roberto goes on to make many other introspective and salient points, which I translate as being relevant to ultimately getting intangible assets as routine discussion – action items on c-suite and management team agendas.  One such example is, in the context the necessity to move ‘from problem solving to problem finding’ is that for a substantial percentage of companies globally, the intangible assets their employees and businesses routinely produce, frequently come to be  embedded in various operations and transactions, remain unrecognized, undistinguished, and otherwise not exploited to the level possible.  Again, in today’s global business process, business development, and business transaction environments which are frequently wholly underwritten by intangible assets, constitutes a significant ‘business problem’ when they remain unrecognized or undistinguished contributors.

So, in the increasingly knowledge (intangible) based global economies, recognizing how business leaders can prevent problems, i.e., those related to sustaining, advancing profitability, market share, competitive advantages, value, revenue sources, reputation, brand, etc., merely by recognizing, developing, and exploiting (their) intangible assets, is a strong example of moving ‘from problem solving to problem finding’ and therefore ‘preventing problems before they occur’.

Continued disregard, dismissiveness, and not recognizing the intangible assets most companies routinely produce is ‘the’ problem’.  It’s resolution however, does not require consuming extraordinary amounts of information or the extensive use of expensive resources.

As readers know, one, time honored starting point for solving most any problem is by recognizing a problem exists, i.e., ‘finding the problem’. From my experience, as this post is an example, ‘finding the problem’ may not be realized through a single seminar, presentation, or article authored by a subject matter expert.  Rather ‘problem finding’ comes through the introspection that hopefully follows either.  So, taking an idea from Roberto’s book, one strategy for remedying this high value problem, that is finding intangible assets, is for management team to add characteristics of anthropology and ethnography to their managerial repertoire.

For example, as an ethnographer, identifies and observes her 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 solely on survey data or focus groups’ as the dominant sources of insight (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 the lens of an anthropologist and ethnographer, management teams can become much more effective ‘problem identifiers’ and particularly adept at distinguishing – analyzing the contributory value of intangibles without interference of  misleading or over analyzed data that leads to biases and preconceptions.

Too, making these observations through an intangible asset 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.

This blog post has been researched and written by me with the genuine intent it serve as a useful and respectful medium to elevate awareness and appreciation for intangible assets throughout the global business community.   My blog posts focus on a wide range of issues related to intangible assets and intellectual property.   Respectfully, each post is not intended to be quick bites of unsubstantiated commentary or information piggy-backed to other sources.

Comments regarding my blog posts are encouraged and respected.  Should any reader elect to utilize all or a portion of my posts, attribution is expected. While visiting my blog readers are encouraged to browse other topics (posts) which may be relevant to their circumstance or business transaction.  I always welcome your inquiry at 314-440-3593 or [email protected].


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