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Cognitive Excellence Is The New Benchmark of Business Performance

By Daniel Burrus and Neil Smith

(In this blog series on how elevating cognitive performance is a game changer for organizations, I’ve invited Neil Smith, CTO at Think Outcomes, to join me in writing on this important topic due to his expertise and the cognitive performance software his firm has created.)

Today, business performance is measured by transactional throughput and is commonly captured in a set of transactional metrics such as revenue, investor ROI, manufacturing capacity, service level performance, available to promise, etc. Commonly, the operations of a business are defined as the transactional activity. Yet, the definition of a business operation encompasses both its transactional operations and its cognitive operations. To break through current ceilings of business performance, the processes in both the transactional operations and the cognitive operations must execute with excellence.

Transactional Operations of an Organization

Commerce activities represent the transactional operations. Professionals are involved in planning and management of tasks to execute customer, supplier and employee transactions. Task-oriented processes occur before, during and after the customer journey. ERP, SCM and CRM software helps professionals responsible for transaction management execute transactional operating processes.

Examples of Transactional Responsibilities

  • Manage sales transactions
  • Manage marketing campaigns
  • Procure products and services
  • Fulfill orders
  • Capture accounting activity
  • Schedule materials
  • Manage inventory turns
  • Plan for distribution
  • Forecast financial performance
  • Service customers
  • Manage human resources
  • Compensate employees

Executives have invested significantly to evolve the processes on the transactional side of their businesses.

Cognitive Operations of an Organization

The cognitive operations comprise teams that think and communicate perspectives for a living. These teams are internal and external to the organization:

  • Senior executives, senior managers and other professionals
  • Management consultants, board members, lenders and insurance providers in the services ecosystem
  • Investors, analysts, supply chain partners and business partners, who are part of the extended enterprise
  • Regulators and educational institutions, who are standard setters

In a cognitive operations, professionals think critically, collaborate, communicate with their stakeholders, make decisions, advise other professionals and monitor uncertainties. As professionals perform mindful work, they often experience gaps in their knowledge that lead to uncertainties. Uncertainties stall decisions. Cognitive processes represent the work that takes place in their minds.

Cognitive operations exist across industries, such as oil and gas, life sciences, private equity, management consulting, environmental management, asset management, space, insurance, banking, aerospace, defense, healthcare, government and education, etc. Below are some examples where critical thinking, stakeholder communications and performance advisory occur in life sciences for their cognitive work:

Examples of Cognitive Responsibilities in Pharma

Chief Medical Officer

  • Develop corporate strategy
  • Brainstorm with clinical key opinion leaders around clinical challenges
  • Create quality control measures for clinical trials
  • Ensure performance among clinical and regulatory teams
  • Collaborate with health authorities
  • Communicate with regulatory authorities
  • Perform due diligence research on business development opportunities
  • Monitor investment in clinical programs

Chief of Staff

  • Improve processes to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness
  • Identify Hard Trends to strengthen the accuracy of forecasts
  • Prepare CEO for stakeholder meetings
  • Ensure innovative qualitative and quantitative measurements

VP, Drug Process Development

  • Apply anticipatory thinking and new tools to transform processes
  • Demonstrate process reliability
  • Verify process effectiveness
  • Build process control strategy

VP, Drug Manufacturing Process

  • Ensure a stable design environment
  • Assess drug degradation
  • Link material attributes and process parameters to CQAs
  • Demonstrate linkages between process and product reliability
  • Track outcomes for each changing state
  • Establish feedforward and feedback controls
  • Anticipate and monitor failure conditions

VP, Corporate Development

  • Craft risk-managed pricing
  • Evaluate portfolio implications
  • Analyze integrated due diligence

VP, Supply Chain

  • Use new tools to transform supply chain processes
  • Communicate supply chain risks and opportunities
  • Simulate implications of a supplier failure

Professionals in the cognitive operations either accelerate or constrain their cognitive performance based on their mind-set and the technologies they use for their mind’s work.

Professionals in the transactional operations benefit from software architectures for their responsibilities. Yet professionals in the cognitive operations don’t have the same capabilities to perform their jobs. Rather, they have their job descriptions, their experiences and their minds; they utilize multipurpose software in the form of spreadsheets, presentation software and word processing documents. Leaders and managers do not have a software architecture designed to elevate their cognitive responsibilities. Nor do they have a way to think through their uncertainties in a Socratic manner. These issues are critical for a cognitive operation to advance and gain a competitive advantage.

In working across organizations for decades, we’ve seen a theme in which leaders and managers who seldom take enough time to think through uncertainties the first time around is high. Yet there seems to be enough time to revisit the topics a second time as problems arise. Beyond time pressures, confusion persists around how to think through uncertainties. The lack of clarity regarding how to manage uncertainty has led leaders and managers to spend more time managing the crisis and less time managing new opportunities. By learning to identify the Hard Trend certainties that will happen, anticipatory leaders learn to innovate with low risk and have the confidence certainty provides to make bold moves.

What is Cognitive Excellence?

Anticipatory leaders and managers exhibit cognitive excellence through a constant flow of insights and foresights that resolve uncertainties. These professionals become a critical resource to highly effective cognitive operations. They are go-to professionals, whether they exist in an organization, in the services ecosystem or as part of the extended enterprise. Organizations need to instill these anticipatory capabilities in their professionals to achieve greater business performance.

“Past performance is not a predictor of future results.”

This performance caveat is attached to any investment in the stock market, and it applies in business too. Future performance is dependent on anticipatory skills and cognitive excellence. Professionals face change all the time. Some say change is the only constant; in fact, it’s accelerating at an exponential rate, which creates additional uncertainties as well as new certainties! It’s challenging to achieve cognitive excellence in the minds of professionals consistently today without anticipatory skills and software that:

  • Define the cognitive gaps
  • Illustrate aberrations in future performance through measurable evidence
  • Trigger questions of uncertainty in your mind
  • Move you from uncertainty to greater certainty

That’s why cognitive excellence doesn’t just come from experience. It comes from advancing the capabilities of professionals with:

  • Anticipatory leadership skills
  • A responsibility architecture for their cognitive work
  • An agile and anticipatory mental framework to help them address change across situations
  • Software spaces to perform their mind’s work

The ability to nimbly address questions of uncertainty through a repeatable Socratic process greatly enhances leaders’ and managers’ capabilities to perform at a very high level as key contributors to their organizations and their clients’ organizations. This is how professionals can transform the performance of their businesses.

As professional teams elevate their cognitive capabilities toward excellence, their organizations transform into highly performant cognitive factories. Professional teams leverage each other’s thinking through a uniform process to visualize performance patterns for their minds, where they gain insights and foresights. Anticipatory professionals not only pre-experience their own uncertainties, they also help their stakeholders pre-solve their questions of uncertainty, too.

The cognitive era is shaping the coexistence and interdependence between humans and machines. This new era demands leaders to advance the capabilities of their cognitive processes. As machines learn, humans must focus their time and attention in areas where machines are far less effective. Professionals need to redefine and reinvent their business models, markets, products, services and processes to provide the next level of value for their clients. Anticipatory leaders and managers need to focus their time on the layers of both uncertainty and certainty where future state thinking is needed and reassign current state thinking to others. That’s how they’ll continue to differentiate their personal and business brands. Professionals need to accelerate their learning and get comfortable with uncertainty through the use of higher certainty frameworks. It’s imperative for organizations to get on board with elevating their cognitive performance. Waiting will cost organizations the value of cognitive insights and foresights, while your competitors grow their knowledge.

Machine learning is causing a shift in the workforce — an emerging crowd of retrained professionals whose jobs are increasingly occupied by machines. This requires cognitive professionals in their current roles to manage the knowledge gap between themselves and their new human rivals. They accomplish this by advancing their cognitive skill sets, learning to become anticipatory leaders and through the use of technologies built the way they think about uncertainties.

Learn how to elevate your planning, accelerate innovation and transform results with The Anticipatory Learning System and how to maximize the cognitive performance of your team with Cognitive Performance Software.

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Best Practices Growth Industries Management Skills Technology

Eliminate Cognitive Friction to Maximize Human Performance

By Daniel Burrus and Neil Smith

(In this blog series on how elevating cognitive performance is a game changer for organizations, I’ve invited Neil Smith, CTO at Think Outcomes, to join me in writing on this important topic due to his expertise and the cognitive performance software his firm has created.)

Improving cognitive performance is a strategic imperative for anticipatory leaders. Yet, cognitive performance slows down due to cognitive friction. Cognitive friction occurs when professionals can’t think through uncertainties clearly in their minds. These uncertainties include:

  1. Risks
  2. Opportunities
  3. Outcomes
  4. Consequences
  5. Implications
  6. Impact
  7. Causations
  8. Causes and effects

In an organization, cognitive friction occurs frequently across many professional roles, minds and perspectives. For the 15 areas in a cognitive operation below, cognitive friction not only spans many responsibilities, it also impacts relationships and shapes cultures.

15 Areas of a Cognitive Operation

Cognitive Friction Across Perspectives

Cognitive friction occurs when two or more professionals are challenged to get on the same page. They must resolve their perspectives — which can be very challenging. In business, professionals:

  • Perform critical thinking
  • Make decisions
  • Communicate with stakeholders
  • Collaborate with other professionals
  • React to uncertainties
  • Work with peers and stakeholders to address situational challenges
  • Advise other professionals about their cognitive work
  • Evaluate the thoroughness to think through situations in the minds of their thinkers
  • Review the risk-reward trade-offs among their team members

Cognitive Friction Within the Mind of a Professional

Cognitive friction exists within the minds of professionals and creates undue stress. The six reasons friction occurs is due to:

  1. The processing limitations in the mind
  2. Ineffective communications
  3. Unproductive collaborations
  4. Uncertainties in their minds
  5. Lack of cognitive insights and foresights
  6. Bias that leads to cognitive divisiveness


Processing Limitations in the Mind

When processing multiple data points in the mind, cognitive work can become a highly stressful activity. It’s amazing how many leaders are not equipped with cognitive tools to manage uncertainty across situations, close their knowledge gaps and achieve expected results. When a situation includes more than seven variables, it’s well-known that the human mind is not able to process this level of complexity. Think how we receive, process and remember phone numbers. Our minds are not wired to synthesize 10 or more digits at a time. In the U.S., people think about the 10 digits in a pattern of a 3-digit area code, a 3-digit prefix and 4-digits for the line number; our minds consume, process and recall smaller chunks of information.

Try this exercise in your mind to see how complexity increases quickly: spin all the digits of five phone numbers in your mind as if the numbers were on a slot machine. Can you keep track of the numbers? Most of us cannot; our minds get overwhelmed right away.

When multiple changing variables exist, that’s the type of stress professionals experience every day in their minds as they perform their risk-reward trade-offs. Without additional cognitive capabilities, leaders turn to their gut as a place to find answers; often, though, the gut isn’t a very good logic engine. Operating risk is introduced when critical thinkers and decision makers do not have access to complementary, cognitive tools to perform their cognitive activities at their best.

Effective Communications Accelerate Buy-in and Decisions

The challenges increase further for critical thinkers and decision makers when they communicate with their stakeholders, peers and dependents to gain agreement about multiple, interdependent variables. These heterogeneous thinkers add new perspectives to the decision process, which increases the complexity.

That’s when members of decision teams communicate from their emotional viewpoints. Decisions stall, lasting impressions impact culture and relationships, and people experience an impasse.

Productive Collaborations are Needed to Achieve Better Outcomes

Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom represent a step forward in collaboration and reduce travel costs. Yet, as professionals move between face-to-face and online meetings, they still struggle to innovate with breakthrough thinking.

Often, we hear professionals say, “if I could see what’s in the minds of the people I’m working with, that would help me address the challenges I’m aware of, too.” Yet, given human limitations, most professionals can’t bridge that gap effectively. If meetings involved the ability to demonstrate thinking patterns, that would help professionals overcome this human hurdle.

As professionals join meetings, they commonly bring their mental models and biases from years of experience. Their mental models create barriers to synthesizing other people’s perspectives as well as new ways of thinking into their own thinking. Where they use their voices and presentation software to convey their thinking, most attendees try to follow the logic rather than elevate their own thinking. If they had a way to unify their thinking through the visualization of evidence that focused on addressing questions of uncertainty and their critical thoughts, they’d optimize their time, learn to pre-solve issues and focus on better outcomes together. That would advance productivity in thinking in a visual way.

When professionals conclude their meetings with follow-on questions, leaders wonder which questions weren’t brought up? Are their teams going down the wrong paths? How do these questions connect to the stakeholders’ objectives? Are they considering the Hard Trends based on future facts that are shaping the future? Professionals expend valuable time to get to clarity as they reflect on their learnings when they need insights and foresights more quickly. Anticipatory leaders seek to institute advanced collaboration processes that yield greater productivity among their teams. They see everyday innovation and breakthrough thinking as a competitive advantage today as well as tomorrow.

Uncertainties, Cognitive Insights and Foresights

As connected teams in today’s data-driven world, data scientists and stakeholders strive for better outcomes together. Where data scientists focus on big data and use machine learning to ask questions about data, stakeholders focus on decision information and ask questions to solve situational challenges. The minds of stakeholders are as effective as the:

  1. Quality of their questions to resolve their problems and uncertainties
  2. Cognitive insights and foresights that arise from their mental models

Bias and Cognitive Divisiveness

In the minds of professionals, cognitive friction results from their cognitive biases and the synthesis of disparate data. Cognitive divisiveness exists among professionals as data synthesis and bias differ across perspectives. Cognitive friction and divisiveness affect velocity and outcomes.

In their roles, professionals:

  • Are often unable to access data structured the way they think about risk-reward trade-offs
  • Don’t know what they don’t know during decision making
  • Are challenged many times to demonstrate their points of view
  • Are frequently challenged to see alternative points of view during communications
  • Struggle to shape the thinking of team members due to predefined mental models
  • Are challenged to arrive at strategic foresights and engineer outcomes

A Critical Thinking Advantage

To gain an advantage in today’s world, cognitive teams must pre-solve issues through a continuous flow of cognitive insights and foresights. To achieve their objectives, they must find new wisdom within the cognitive gaps in their minds — i.e., to get from “here” to “there.” “Here” is where they are today in context to their cognitive responsibilities. “There” is where they need to go. This cognitive gap represents their current state and target state of their subject profiles. Their stakeholders depend on actionable knowledge and wisdom from their team of thinkers to improve business results. This starts with the capabilities of their cognitive resources and tools.

Learn how to elevate your planning, accelerate innovation and transform results with The Anticipatory Learning System and how to maximize the cognitive performance of your team with Cognitive Performance Software.

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