The Knowledge Value Chain

The age of modern management began with Frederick Winslow Taylor. He worked in the early years of the 20th century studying production processes in a steel factory. Taylor argued that by understanding a process “scientifically”, we could make significant improvements upon it. These improvements could be used to increase productivity, pay better wages, and generally provide a better work environment. His experiments worked, and his insights created a new level of industrial productivity that lasted through the 20th century. As a by-product, he paved the way for a whole new profession—management consulting.

Management consultants (the best ones) are expert in analyzing a company’s or product’s value chain—the process that leads from raw materials to finished products. Using the value chain model, they find opportunities for cost reduction, revenue enhancement, strategic differentiation, and quality improvement.

I have long been a proponent, not of inventing new models wholesale, but rather “re-purposing” the ones already available to us. And in working in the fields of business strategy and information science, I have often found it useful to bring our tools to bear on our own processes. To turn the scope on ourselves, so to speak.

So one day when a colleague asked me what I did for a living, I chose to use a value chain model to describe my own work. I literally sketched the first version on the back of an envelope as I spoke.

It consisted of two basic parts: what we (the knowledge producers) do, and what our clients (the knowledge users or “appliers”) do. I drew the two as a single process-which I believe they are-rather than separating the parts of the model out by function.

Later, I showed the rough KVC model to a client, and to my surprise, he adopted it in reviewing a piece of research we were working on for him. We began using it as a kind of informal project status reporting tool over the time I worked with him. His enthusiasm encouraged me to think about and refine the model.

I was very excited, and wanted to write up the model into this book you have in your hands. But another colleague advised me to first work with the model, refine it, try it out on clients, take out what didn’t fit, and add whatever was needed. Then (and only then) write it up. Reluctantly, I decided to heed his advice.

The KVC morphed over many conversations and work sessions into a workshop first delivered to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals global convention in Montréal in 1999. I later went on to deliver the workshop with participants throughout the US, and in South America, Europe, and Asia. It eventually became the basis for a master’s-level course in competitive intelligence I developed and taught at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University.

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Knowledge Value Chain® Workbook by T.W. Powell.

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