How to implant intangible capital into people's heads

One of the challenges we all face in the intangible capital field is awareness. Very few people actually know what IC is and when they hear about the ideas, it sounds too theoretical. I'm always looking to find ways to get past those barriers and get inside peoples' heads.

In a conversation earlier this week, I was reminded of a story told by Clay Christensen about his first meeting ever with Andy Grove at Intel (told here to Wired Magazine):

Howe: Is this around the time that Intel CEO Andy Grove heard about your work?

Christensen: This was before the book came out. I’d published two papers on my theory, and a woman who worked in the bowels of Intel’s engineering department went to Andy and said, “You have to read this article. It says Intel is going to get killed.” I hadn’t even mentioned Intel, but the implications were there. So Grove called me up, and he’s a very gruff man: “I don’t have time to read academic drivel from people like you, but I have a meeting in two weeks. I’d like you to come out and tell me why Intel’s going to get killed.” It was a chance of a lifetime. I showed up there. He said, “Look, I’ll give you 10 minutes. Explain what you think of Intel.” I said, “I don’t know anything about Intel. I don’t have an opinion. But I have a theory, and I think my theory has an opinion on Intel.” I described the idea of disruptive innovations, and he said, “Before we discuss Intel, I need to know how this worked its way through another industry, to visualize it.” So I described how mini mills killed off the big steel companies. They started by making rebar cheaper than the big mills did, and the big mills were happy to be rid of such a low-margin, low-quality product. The mini mills then slowly worked their way upward until there was nothing left to disrupt.

Howe: What did Grove say?

Christensen: He cut me off before I could finish. “All right. I got it,” he said, and then he described the whole thing. Instead of the mini mills, there were two microprocessor companies, Cyrix and AMD, making cheap, low-performance chips. Grove says, “What you’re telling me, Clay, is that we have to go down and kill them, set up our own business unit, and launch our own low-end competitor.” I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t going to be suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should do with Intel. I knew nothing about semiconductors. Instead of telling him what to think, I told him how to think.

Howe: What did Intel wind up doing?

Christensen: They made the Celeron Processor. They blew Cyrix and AMD out of the water, and the Celeron became the highest-volume product in the company. The book came out in 1997, and  the next year Grove gave the keynote at the annual conference for the Academy of Management. He holds up my book and basically says, “I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s nothing any of you have published that’s of use to me except this.”

The take-away for me is that in the intangible capital field, we have to provide a framework that people can apply to their own businesses/role that helps them do their jobs better. If we try too hard to tell them what to do, we lose them. If we guide them on a journey of self discovery, we'll change forever how they think.
What do you think?

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Comment by Mary Adams on May 9, 2013 at 2:52pm

That's a good story too! Glad to hear from you, Mary

Comment by Dan Ballard on May 9, 2013 at 2:20pm

Interesting backstory.  Coincidentally, I've just finished Andy Grove's book "Only The Paranoid Survive," published in 1996, in which he describes disruptive innovations as "crisis points" that every technology company must navigate in order to survive. Grove does not credit Christensen for those insights, whose own book "The Innovator's Dilemma" came out in 1997. 

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