Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

23 October 2009

Business Significance and Best Principles

Clark @ 8:44 AM

Businesses need research.  They may need it at the pure research level, whether following, sponsoring, or conducting pure research, but they definitely need it internally.  Regularly, reliably, repeatably. And not just in core products and services, but in internal operations, core things like how organizations learn.

To be clear what I mean, organizations need to explore other ways to do things: new ideas, better processes, new tools.  The continual exploration of improvements is what drives innovation, and of course, success.  And what I don’t mean is pure research, it’s very much what I think of as action research.

At core, I see it as viewing a particular problem, looking at principles that provide insight how to address it, determining what would be a successful outcome, developing a draft approach, and tuning it until you either determine it’s a success (or not).  At the end, you should use your learnings from the exercise to reflect back upon the principles, and refine them and your understanding.

Note that the criteria for success or not does not have to be ‘statistically significant’.  When I was leading a team developing an advanced system, I said we needed “business significance”: results good enough to provide us an advantage. These were trained scientists, but they got what I meant.

Also, I’m not talking about looking at ‘best practices’, but instead proposing an approach of best principles.  As I’ve previously mentioned, they may not work in  your context.  Now, if you look at those best practices and abstract out the underlying principles, linking them to the broader body of knowledge, then you’re using them intelligently.  While practices are hard to adapt to a new context, principles, having already been abstracted, are easier to apply, and the underlying conceptualization has been performed to draw upon previously existing knowledge.

You may find it useful to bring in some expertise around those best principles to help determine a particular approach.  Of course, organizations should be giving their employees time to keep up with the latest thinking, so they’re able to keep track of, and tap into, the best principles going around, but that doesn’t always happen: 60% of those who filled out our CLO survey said that their people didn’t talk about outside trends that shaped their business, and 77% admitted that their people weren’t growing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the business.

The point being, organizations should be regularly looking to principle for the problems and needs they’re facing, making experiments and tuning while testing the outcomes against their business needs, and steadily improving.  Even failures, if lessons are learned (and shared) are valuable.  Are you exploiting best principles to business significance, and increasing competitiveness?

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