There have been a myriad of human intelligence tests and measures since the French psychologist Alfred Binet put the scale for mental age in 1908, followed by a number of scientists such as Théodore Simon, William Stern, David Wechsler. It is quite easy to demarcate the bases of intelligence tests and the concepts that underlie them. However, will applying these concepts to institutions help raise the level of institutional intelligence? Let’s find out together in this article.
The Power of Imagination
People with advanced mental abilities have the faculty of imagination. Imaginative institutions have a unique advantage in testing new unprecedented situations. Actually, this is a competitive advantage for the institution in many ways; on the one hand, the institution will be able to visualize ideas and make instilling them much easier. For instance, a team of employees designs an imaginary video about the anticipated work environment after ten years when the whole business matter is automated. This video should also demonstrate how those who will work on the new methods of providing services be influenced.
Furthermore, imagination will help managers to manage change effectively. Imagining the actions needed to deal with new changes will keep them from the routine of daily work. They will also avoid a good deal of the problems associated with change. Karl Weik, the Distinguished University Professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, says that
an institution can learn effectively through imagination, by focusing on overlooked institutional goals and institutional values that have been neutralized, as well as by posing questions that everyone has often avoided.
The advantages of practicing imagination in the organization are not confined to things to be done in the future; however, it also enables us to see the current challenges from different perspectives. For instance, in the case of absenteeism by any of the managers, the direct manager will see this as a drawback in performance. However, the assistant manager of the absent manager may find in this situation an opportunity to prove his administrative efficacy and ability. Another employee working in the same department may see this as additional time for him to carry out the required tasks. When practicing institutional imagination, it is helpful to look at problems from different perspectives and play the roles of all the concerned parties. Economist and businessman Gareth Morgan called this behavior “imaginization” in his book Imaginization: New Mindsets of Seeing, Organizing and Managing.
We can also see some applications of institutional imagination in several common administrative practices such as scenario planning that some institutions tend to adopt during the development of their strategic plans, and the future wheel that is used in the field of social and political future studies as well as business analysis.
The Power and Quality of Memory
To have a high IQ test, a person must have a strong memory and the ability to retrieve information whenever needed. Several researches were conducted on institutional memory and its importance, and some researchers considered it as a branch of knowledge management.
In any case, the institution must keep the available raw data, as well as the information that is extracted from that data in addition to the knowledge that is deducted from the analysis of that information, then it can be said that part of the institutional memory has been built. The institution usually divides its memory into four sections:
– Project Memory: This includes documentation of the projects implemented in the institution and the lessons learned from them.
– Professional memory: It contains work guides and methodologies used by the institution to perform its vital tasks.
– General Memory: It includes organizational structures, products and services.
– Individual memory: It encompasses the employees’ skills, abilities, and tacit knowledge.
For the institution to properly build its institutional memory, it must be able to retrieve the required information easily and at the right time. Smart organizations must find a fast and efficient way to retrieve this information when needed and this is usually conducted through automation. In addition to building the institutional memory, as explained above, some institutions may resort to document the prevailing organizational culture, which includes norms, convictions and employees’ behavior during the performance of work, which is something difficult to do and requires a lot of ongoing effort and awareness.
Institutional memory should not be passed without warning against its potential misuse. Information is the real wealth of today’s institutions, and whoever has the information owns the authority. This may lead some business units or those in charge of them within the organization to control the sources of institutional memory, which amplifies their powers and influence within the institution, and at the same time weakens the ability to use it effectively.
Logical Thinking and the Use of Numbers
Smart people are characterized by logical reasoning, and the ability to move easily and smoothly from a previous state of thought to a state of a later one described as the result. Smart organizations apply logical thinking skills in the tasks that they prosecute, and this includes monitoring and obtaining information about the subject in question. This information may be recalled from the institutional memory or obtained from other sources such as questionnaires and research.
Institutions cannot be managed without the use of numbers, and in smart institutions, the numbers become more important and take different forms, as they may be in the form of performance indicators, statistics, or reports and analyses. Nonetheless, smart establishments use numbers rationally. In his book I’ve Landed My Dream Job: Now What? Scot Herk says that we must be careful not to rely too much on numbers in management because this will shift the focus of employees to achieve the required number without regard for the way in which it has been achieved, as well as without understanding the reasons and motives that has led to achieving these numbers. This of course will lead to a decrease in the level of the intelligence of the institution.
Salem, an operating manager at a petrochemical plant, talks about his experience in relying on numbers only for performance management. A performance indicator has been developed for the period of time it takes to receive imported raw materials and distribute them in the factory warehouses. The results of this performance indicator have always been outstanding and achieved their goals, but the complaints of the suppliers have been to the increase of the delay in receiving the required materials. After inquiring about that, Salem says that the employees concerned with the delivery were leaving the materials in the trucks until they prepare the receipt transactions. That is because the indicator starts with measuring the time from the moment of receipt and not before that, and this has led to enhancing the readings of the indicator and at the same time reducing the level of service.
The Power of Assembly and Understanding
The ability to imagine, to think logically, and having sound memory are not enough to judge the level of intelligence, but it is also necessary to have the skill to perceive information and collect it to come to grips with the overall picture. Many institutions still prefer to see the parts separately, and hence their decisions are ineffective. For example, some organizations rely on the results of measuring the employees’ satisfaction to take developmental measures that contribute to raising the level of their satisfaction with the axes that have low satisfaction rates. However, by this, they have rushed to reach a conclusion that may be unsuccessful. Given the percentage of employees participating in the questionnaire, we may find that it is a low unrepresented percentage, or that the majority of the participants are from a single segment of the employees. Moreover, if the institution wants to assemble and understand the whole picture, it must compare it with other institutions to see whether these results are really low or not, or to be alert to the time of executing the questionnaire, and whether it has an impact on the employees’ satisfaction or not.
Here is a summary of some tips that can be directed to institutions that want to see the overall picture:
– Avoid looking for a clear view of the current situation because leaving space for the institution’s uncertainty helps it to switch between available options when needed.
– Be keen on extracting lessons learned from the work that the institution accomplishes. This is important since any initiative or project certainly includes a provision of new experiences that help the institution in climbing the ladder of intelligence.
– Be keen on suggesting several ways to deal with the challenges facing the institution. This would develop the ability to explore new horizons and look at the challenge from several perspectives.
Finally, if the necessary effort and perseverance are put into effect, institutions can get smarter over time. There are no institutions that are smart from the very beginning, but there are institutions that have been created and provided with the attributes of institutional intelligence, and those responsible for them committed themselves to follow the path of success.
* I wrote and published this article in Harvard Business Review Arabic.