[The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing with David Grebow --working title Managing Minds. We'd like to know what you think...]

Imagine the following ...

You’re looking around the floor of the company where you work and see … brains. That mass of grayish wetware that makes everything possible. All the bodies stayed in bed this morning, and only the brains came to work. The brains are everywhere, thinking, planning, and somehow communicating. A meeting room full of brains. Brains in their cubes. Brains behind office doors floating above computers. Everywhere brains are learning, sharing information, and providing help to other brains. Brains at work.

Jump to later that day. You are the last one in the building. All the brains have gone home. You stand by the window watching as the last car leaves the parking lot. All the desks and cubes are empty. The space is eerily silent. It occurs to you that your company has effectively evaporated because all the brains are gone.

You suddenly realize that your company is the collective brainpower that comes back every morning, and your job is to enable these brains to be as smart and as effective as possible because that’s your corporate IQ. And your job is to make the company smarter by helping those brains grow smarter every day.

David Grebow and I have been working in the area of corporate education since Moby Dick was a minnow. Long time. We believe companies and managers are at an inflection point. During the previous Industrial Economy we managed hands. We produced things. In this new Knowledge Economy we produce ideas and need to manage minds. The problem is that too many of us are still managing hands. We believe it’s time we changed our basic understanding about what it means to manage people.

It does not matter what title you have. It makes no difference where in the company you work. If you manage people, you are managing their minds and the most important question you need to answer is this: Are you enabling or disabling the ability of those minds to be smarter? Are you focusing on what is really the most impactful and important management task, the one that needs to come before all others? Are you helping the Corporate IQ to grow or shrink? Are you managing minds?

The Corporate IQ is the total brain power of your organization. It is an indicator of how smart your company is. That tells you what chance it has to succeed. The Corporate IQ includes what everyone knows and does every day. It also includes what they discover, learn from failure, learn from one another, share, innovate, tell each other, and more. It all adds up to how smart the organization is today, and how well it will perform tomorrow, how the expected will be handled and, more importantly, how the unexpected will be encountered.

If your Corporate IQ is growing, you’re on the right track for the future. If it is shrinking, you and your company have a problem. A very serious problem.

 About those  Brains

A shrinking Corporate IQ is a function of many forces currently at work:

  • Brains need to learn how to learn — Technology has changed the learning equation. It used to be that one person had the knowledge and shared it with one other person or many others. Knowledge was power. In a technology mediated environment, the new rule is sharing knowledge is power. The people who do not have the talent to learn from each other, using technology, will fail. Developing learning talent means developing the ability to learn how to learn in high tech world.
  •  Brains are jumping out of the workforce - According to recent numbers from Yuki Noguchi in her article “Businesses Try To Stave Off Brain Drain As Boomers Retire,” important company knowledge is walking out the door. She writes, “In the U.S., roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. And though not everyone who turns 62 or 65 retires right away, enough do that some companies are trying to head off the problem…Losing veteran workers is a challenge, even for big companies like General Mills… But the older-worker brain drain is a big concern for industries like mining and health care.” When all the smart, experienced people are leaving, the Corporate IQ shrinks.
  •  Brains are made BIG on the Internet - These days a single individual has the collective brainpower of the Internet and all the people connected to it which is, according to the latest figures, 3.7 billion people or 40% of the planet and increasing exponentially. Just to give you an idea of what “exponential” means, the first billion was reached in 2005. So smarts are no longer simply hired and kept inside your corporate walls. Smarts can be found anytime, anywhere, by any one of the 3.7 billion people who has a smart phone.
  •  Brains which are connected build virtual organizations - Smart people are everywhere on the planet today and they are finding one another and creating virtual organizations that pump out services and products at an amazing and (to those companies left in the dust) alarming rate. Your competition many not yet have a brand or an office, but if they have access to the Web, they can become a competitor overnight. They have easy access to all of the information and support services they need to bring a new product or service to market quickly and cheaply.
  •  Brains that are bored, tired, overworked, and not challenged are not effective - Survey after survey indicates that only about a third of employees are engaged in their work which means that two-thirds are probably not learning what the company needs them to learn. If they are not motivated to do their best and give their all, then they are not motivated to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their current organizations. And the Corporate IQ won’t grow and the organization as a whole will not get smarter.

The common assumption is that the need for new knowledge and skills is a training problem. However, training alone does not make organizations smarter. Training, and it’s more well-dressed cousin education, are almost always delivered out of context. A classroom is not the workplace. Transferring what you learn is always a problem. Only a small percentage of employees who participate in training apply what they have learned to make a difference in their companies. Why? Because most of what people learn in training is forgotten within a very short time. 

And there is a raft of other reasons. Often, the people that need training the most don’t or can’t participate. Training, because it requires time to develop, cannot be as timely as is needed in the fast-paced organization of today. That also means that the shelf life of a program is shorter than ever. And training, relegated to HR or a training department, is not supported in any meaningful way by managers and leaders across the organization after the event. All of these factors mean that training is not the answer to growing the Corporate IQ or managing minds and developing the talent for learning.

 So, What is the Answer?

We believe that 21st century companies need a culture of learning in order to grow their Corporate IQ. They need an environment and activities that facilitate and support learning on a continuous basis. They need managers and executives who model and communicate the importance of learning to everyone in the organization. They need managers who help their direct reports learn, develop and grow as employees. Managers need to enable employees to be able to use technology to “pull” the learning they need when they need it, where it’s needed, and reward people for managing their minds. The 21st century company needs people who believe that sharing knowledge is power instead of hanging onto the outdated notion that keeping knowledge to themselves is power.

In sum, companies need a culture in which teams and the whole organization are getting smarter by learning how to learn together and applying that learning to becoming more effective and more successful. By focusing on creating and sustaining a culture of learning you can control the direction in which your company’s Corporate IQ is moving. A culture of learning is designed to make you and your company smarter. And smarter means successful in today’s flat world hyper-competitive faster-than-ever and getting faster marketplace.