posted 12 Sep 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 2
Dog eat dog
Learning by becoming your own predator
‘Predator’ is a five-stage scenario development exercise aimed at facilitating an understanding of the value of knowledge within an organisation. Victor Newman explains the basics behind the concept, and offers KM practitioners a word of warning: those who do not become their own predator are likely to become the prey.
Andy Grove of Intel published a book in 1988 entitled Only the Paranoid Survive. To reduce the text to its most simple and direct message, the conclusion was that you have two choices: either be aware that a predator may appear and destroy your business; or, be your own predator and be in charge of the type and timing of the attack. Grove’s book and his concept is a useful start for organisations wrestling with the problem of knowledge management because, by implication, it forces individuals to attack the problem of knowledge by thinking about the location and measure of value within the organisation. Essentially, wherever the value is, that’s also the location of the knowledge that’s worth knowing.
One of the recent urban consulting myths about e-business implementation is that it is easier to sell an e-business strategy to an entrepreneur than to an MD of a £100m-turnover business. Everyone asks why that might be. The answer is, the entrepreneur started the business and has survived by understanding and extending the nature of the value (and hence the differentiating knowledge), its lifecycle and its key timings. The MD of the £100m-turnover business needs two days of facilitation with his top team to understand the value of the business, its location and potential timing. The problem is that the MD can’t see the value of the facilitation, and doesn’t want to pay for it when all the company originally wanted was an e-business strategy. But if you don’t understand the value within the business, and the location and lifecycle of the knowledge, the e-business strategy itself will fail.
So what can be done to understand the value of knowledge within the organisation? There are two immediate ‘P’ approaches: ‘pyromaniac’ and ‘predator’. Pyromaniac involves setting fire to the building or the organisation and noting who runs into the flames to rescue which items. This could be expensive, and involve health and safety issues. The second option is the ‘predator’ approach.
Predator is a five-stage scenario development exercise for: rediscovering your business; visualising the organisation’s hidden value to identify the location of its competitive knowledge; anticipating market shifts in your competitive environment; and, learning to do it to yourself, before they do.
So how does predator work?
Step 1 – visualise the attacker
The predator exercise asks you to tap into the dark side of your innate paranoia to visualise an attacker who is not like you, who does not share any of your legacy emotions, technologies, customers, suppliers or associations.
Step 2 – visualise the types of attacks/shifts in the market
Having developed the identity and motivations of your predator, the next step is to visualise the type of attacks that would either make your products or processes obsolete, severely reduce their market value, or chop up your value-chain to make it unworkable.
Step 3 – structure the attack/market-shift strategy
The emergent tactics of the predator are then visualised and ordered as a complete, explicit strategy-flow in a sequence of set-piece attacks with specific objectives that neutralise and remove the sources of competitive knowledge.
Step 4 – develop pre-emptive retaliation
Participants review the predator attack sequence and develop antidote tactics that pre-empt the predator’s attack strategy. These can be modelled within an EEM (ease and effect matrix) to facilitate prioritisation.
Step 5 – review learning from predator exercise
This involves documenting participants’ individual and group learning (what has surprised them, what have they learnt, and what new thing are they going to do as a result?). The most consistent outcomes have been the realisation that living within the ‘box’ of the organisation has blinded everyone to the real ‘potential’ value that has been lost, and that the predator strategy that they developed for themselves has identified the real knowledge assets and the need to exploit these consistently.
Process and options
P1 – at each stage, participants use ‘creative silence brainstorming’ to develop ideas and present back to the facilitator or to parallel teams.
P2 – it is advisable not to have more than three teams working concurrently, and no more than eight individuals in each team.
P3 – the predator exercise can be cut down to three stages or the full process can be run. There are variants at each level.
P4 – a useful exercise takes a minimum of two fairly rushed hours; a more useful session takes up to four hours. The shortest useful game has been 45 minutes, and the longest 72 hours.
P5 – useful pre-work can involve reading Sun Tsu’s Art of War. Alternatively, a warm-up session introducing Sun Tsu’s work and inviting participants to develop applications of his fundamental principles can be run without any preparation, lasting 90 minutes as a warm-up to the main event.
- Only the paranoid know where the knowledge really is, how much it’s worth and how to hide it;
- Thinking outside the box is rare. Thinking about destroying the box you inhabit is even rarer;
- Don’t wait, become your own predator today because tomorrow will not take care of itself.
Victor Newman is chief learning officer at Pfizer. He can be contacted at: email@example.com