The other day I received an email from “Susan”, an alumna of the Columbia IKNS program whom I had the good fortune to work with as one of my students there. Susan’s question to me was on research, which that program touches upon but doesn’t cover in great depth, and in which I have lots of experience.
Susan’s client is exploring the feasibility of entering a new industrial services market related to energy. Susan was looking to me for guidance about how to structure and price her research proposal to them. For my purposes here, it doesn’t matter what the industry is — though I can say it’s B2B, and not one of those industries (like technology or health care) that is often in the news.
The value question
I prefer to demystify things wherever possible, so I proposed that Susan start by determining the client’s value question: What do they want to find out, and why (i.e., what do they plan to do with the answer)? Susan had studied the KVC model at Columbia, so she knows how value is created from knowledge by making decisions and taking actions based on that knowledge — and that Planning (“Step 0”) starts at the top.
Then I went into TV detective mode. Working down the chain: what do we know, and what do we want to know? We essentially have two columns, A for what we know, B for what we don’t know. A is essentially our “value-relevant knowledge inventory”, and B is our “open to buy” knowledge purchase order.
Simply put, our mission is to move things systematically from Column B to Column A. That’s the essence of the research agenda, represented in the diagram by the orange arrow.
Except that it’s not often that simple. (Bet you could see that coming.) Knowledge users/clients are people, and people are essentially and eternally curious. So Column B starts life as a set of Minimally Required Knowledge (MRK) to solve our business problem — our “need to know” items. (Philosophers call this paring-down approach Occam’s Razor.)