Part 1: Introduction to Deep Smarts and World Bank Case Study

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This will be a series of articles that will point out why deep smarts are essential to your company and teach you how to keep them within your company, in a fast changing environment.

Back in 2004, the Harvard Business Review was talking about a relatively new concept called “deep smarts.” Presenting it as “the stuff that produces that mysterious quality: good judgment,” the idea referred to those employees who are so valuable to a company, due to their ability to see the whole picture, but, at the same time, focus on a specific problem others weren’t able to figure out and provide a solution for it.

What exactly are ‘deep smarts’?

Such people are aware of an entire business, customers, as well as product lines, both overall and in depth. We can refer to them as “key people”, since without them, a company may not work properly. And believe us, there are several examples of companies, all over the world, which rely on a few employees with “deep smarts”.

The same study from HBR mentioned above, took this issue in-depth, through an idea that is still 100% accurate thirteen years later:

“As the baby-boom retirement tsunami approaches, lots of valuable employees and leaders will walk out the door, taking their deep smarts with them.”

Basically, after a few years of working for the same company, these individuals gain a big amount of experience, which helps them make swift, smart decisions. We can even call them experts in their field, with the perspective of going beyond generalizations and being able to respond to unusual situations. Even more, when they’re confronted with a setback or surprises, they can modify their course of action, combining elements they are very familiar with, which separates them from regular employees.

In order to better explain the whole “deep smarts” concept, we can call it a form of expertise, based on life experiences, gained after ten of more years of learning, providing insights and results from tacit knowledge, then shaped by beliefs and social forces.

Generally speaking, relying on such people isn’t something bad at all, but what happens when they leave the company? How do you keep your company’s deep smarts?

Case study: World Bank’s knowledge management success story

Quite a few companies have considered this problem throughout the years and tried to manage and keep their deep smarts, but one of the most ‘famous’ cases is The World Bank, the first ‘big name’ to take knowledge management seriously.

With over  100,000 employees, 7,000 of them being in the organization’s headquarters, in field offices from 80 member countries, as well as thousands of consultants, The World Bank is one of the world’s biggest sources of development assistance, loaning out almost $20 billion annually.

Back in 1995, James Wolfensohn was appointed President of the bank and started his term with a focus on knowledge management, aiming to develop a world-class system throughout the bank. The purpose of this system was to organize internal knowledge, so that every member of the staff, as well as clients and partners could access it.

In order to achieve this, The World Bank, alongside IBM and Oracle, implemented an SAP ERP system, which was completed in 18 months and reached a total cost of $54.3 million. However, it managed to consolidate the bank’s legacy systems and databases, besides reducing cycle time with electronic collaboration and approval of projects.

Ok, so keeping knowledge in a company is possible, even after essential employees leave. But how do we actually prevent the loss of essential expertise and knowledge hoarding?

We’re going to talk all about it in the second part of this article. Keep an eye on our blog or subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll keep you posted.

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