The Cognitive Enterprise

The business world has a way of coming up with catchy terms which are, in the best case, thought provoking. The idea of the ‘Cognitive Enterprise’ is one such idea that is taking hold: and the genesis is becomes quite apparent, once you start thinking about it.

It starts with the basic axiom of a competitive marketplace: We are living in a world of continuously increasing Complexity – from within (e.g. structural changes in the workforce as Millennials have started growing into middle management roles) and without (e.g. disruptive technologies, competition from the most unexpected sources). Every Fortune 500 executive worth her salt is trying to figure out how not just to manage this complexity; but hoping to capitalize on this complexity.

And it turns out that we don’t have to look too far for inspiration: the human race, as a species, is probably the best example of how to thrive in Complexity. From being one of the millions of species on the planet, we have managed to utterly dominate the planet. As a species, we have crossed the line in many areas (think global warming, wiping out species etc.) but it stands to reason that we have achieved something that has made us a tremendously successful species.

So, how has the species achieved this and what can an organization learn from this? If I were to pick 3 factors, these would be:

  1. The ability to respond to Environmental changes. And not just in the slow reactive evolutionary cycle (which every species does), but in a more active, problem-solving sense.
  2. The ability to not just learn from experiences and more importantly, share them rapidly across the species. Our ability to build this species level ‘institutional learning repository’ by sharing through language and storing them for future retrieval.
  3. The ability to imagine a future, translate that to a goal and then rally groups (e.g. departments, entire companies) around the shared goal to execute and make the future real.

Hat tip to Yuval Noah Harari and his book Sapiens.

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