Roles in the Life Cycle of Intellectual Assets
Intellectual Assets pass through a life cycle that is difficult to understand. At least two factors conspire to limit our understanding. Firstly, it is difficult to know exactly what this cycle is until intellectual or information assets are explicitly identified and defined. Secondly, the environment in which we use intellectual or information assets – which I call the Knowledge Scape – is very different from the more tangible assets of a traditional market place. There is still a lot to learn … or maybe unlearn!
I have constructed a life cycle of intellectual assets based upon my experience of developing, enhancing and using intellectual and information assets in the business world. I use this life cycle to gain a fuller understanding of how intellectual assets actually work in the Knowledge Scape.
Each of the phases is given a name that summarises the role of the individual or group who owns the intellectual asset.
These roles or phases in the life-cycle are:
- thought leader
- domain expert
- established guru
- the facilitator
Characteristics of Phase A – The Thought Leader
In this first phase there are many new theories and ideas. New techniques are constantly being developed, and some organisations are actively looking for materials and frameworks that will create or respond to a paradigm shift. Knowledge of the new ideas and concepts is often limited to relatively few individuals. These people are often involved in research, and come from very varied experience and background.
At this stage the assets are “intellectual” in the sense that they are often cerebral or “in people’s heads” and are often not written down. The concepts are not easily explained as the idea is still evolving. The techniques are not fully tested in practice, and may be used quite informally. Organisations that get involved at this stage are usually leading edge partners who are prepared to take risks. However, being a thought leader also means facing resistance and opposition, and dealing with the political struggles associated with changing the established order.
Characteristics of Phase B – The Domain Expert
It is during this phase that the concepts are confirmed through research and experiences. Gradually the evolving paradigm becomes better understood. There is a gradual shift from personal knowledge to the creation of corporate assets. Ideas are published in articles and journals (although these may often be several years out-of- date when published due to the review processes).
There may be some skill transfer programs in place to take the ideas from the limited number of individuals in the first phase and make them more widely available. Assets are objectified (transformed from tacit into explicit forms) into a domain model and recorded in documents or models for easier distribution.
There is a more solid foundation or rationale for the material. Support comes increasingly from experiential stories rather than pure theory. The “new” concept is accepted as the “next step” or next generation. This process is not a seamless transformation, but viewed retrospectively over a longer time frame it may seem to be a “natural” evolution.
Characteristics of Phase C – The Established Guru
In this phase some of the leading organisations from Phase B become established as the leaders and gurus of the new approach. They are the ones directing the paradigm shift. Knowledge becomes a part of the belief system as the new ideas become more accepted or contested.
The new concepts become an expected area of expertise within the enterprise. All employees are expected to understand and use the assets. Intellectual assets become the foundation of other products and services. Conversely they can also be used to create difference – differences in access to and use of new forms of knowledge and experience.
Early adopters often become innovative and original market leaders. The basic ideas become recognised as a standard or brand. Some of the ideas are necessary for entry into the playing field. The intellectual assets become the mark by which competitors are compared, another area in which they create difference.
Characteristics of Phase D – The Facilitator
It is in this phase that the intellectual asset slips into the popular domain. The principles become popularised in best-selling management guides and benchmarked practice. Much of the knowledge shifts into the public domain and away from being a corporate asset. The ideas are regularly quoted in third party papers and journals, and it is easy to get access to the material.
The original assets have little residual value, and are often used by third parties with little or no compensation to the original owners. The ideas become accepted as the dominant paradigm. Gradually the limitations of the “new” paradigm become apparent, and a new cycle begins.
Note that the life cycle does not have to drift into Phase D. If there is a feedback and learning process then the intellectual assets can continue to have significant value for their owners.