Thinking & Doing

The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) is forming an interest group to explore aspects of the Intelligent Enterprise.* What does intelligence mean when applied to an enterprise?

The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) is forming an interest group to explore aspects of the Intelligent Enterprise.* What does intelligence mean when applied to an enterprise? Jack Ring, co-leading the effort, says enterprise intelligence is indicated by agility, dynamic stability, and goal-seeking behavior. He sometimes interchanges the phrase "response ability" for "dynamic stability." But he hasn't yet committed to a definition for an Intelligent Enterprise. Jack would never pretend that there is some righteous and absolute definition for Intelligent Enterprise, but he clearly wants to use that phrase to encompass whatever it is that this interest group will agree it means, and then explore. If this term is necessary, then it must clearly mean something beyond the other terms we already have, like lean enterprise, virtual enterprise, agile enterprise, and learning organization.

As I ponder the question of what the term means, I realize that one basic way we use the word "intelligence" is to distinguish ourselves from other life forms. We have it, they don't. When we use the word this way, we are generally referring to the basic human abilities to understand a situation, no matter how big or small, how social or technical, evaluate the issues and options presented by the situation, and adapt to it appropriately as it changes, and as our perceptions of it change. At the heart of all of this is the human ability for continuous and real-time learning, that results in continuous decisions based on integrating new with accumulated learning, and implementation of those decisions to change behavior. We walk through life doing this daily and unconsciously, and getting away with it quite well.

"Intelligence," when used this way, reflects an ability to understand a changing environment and to adapt accordingly, and to both understand and adapt across a very large spectrum. We relate the degree of intelligence one has directly to both the depth and expanse of understanding, as well as the appropriateness of adaptation. If we speak of an "intelligent enterprise," we might distinguish it as one which understands (knowledge) the situation it is faced with, learns continuously from it as it changes (learning), and adapts (response ability) appropriately (decisions) to result in markedly superior achievement of purpose (goals).

My distinction between "response ability" and "agility" is to see the first as a capability (like having fast-twitch muscles) and the second as this capability plus the knowledge necessary to know when it should be exercised. I've always recognized that this isn't the end of the story – for knowing enough to make a decision and actually making it are further distinguished by action, and action, of course, is further distinguishable by result, which is a quality issue.

Action: It is said that the most important characteristic a stock analyst looks for is the ability to implement strategy. Notice that this is not a focus on the quality of strategy, but rather the ability to implement it, whatever it is. Goal-seeking action. Nolan Bushnell, the father of computer gaming, made a statement quoted in a San Francisco newspaper years ago that will always stick with me: "Ideas are $%#&, implementation is everything. Anyone who's stood in the shower more than ten minutes has had more ideas than they'll implement in a life time."

Knowing is certainly important. So is doing. Next month, we'll examine further aspects of the Intelligent Enterprise.

*If you want to explore participation in this Intelligent Enterprise Interest Group, contact Jack Ring at He is looking for serious players who will share and use ideas in real world projects at for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations. A critical mass of international participants is already committed.

Rick Dove is the author of Response Ability— The Language, Structure, and Culture of the Agile Enterprise, John Wiley & Sons, 2001. Paradigm Shift International provides strategy guidance and development services, and hosts agile enterprise thought leadership at 505-586-1536.