Verna Allee

This past Tuesday, the Meta-Learning Lab met with Verna Allee, author of The Future of Knowledge and pioneer in KM, value networks, systems thinking, and intangible assets. I’d first read Verna’s ideas when we both appeared in issue #2 of LiNEzine and was delighted to meet her.

Six years ago, Verna joined a learning community of luminaries at the intersection of human competence, business relationships, and internal structure. The group sowed the seeds of innovation that fuels lots of today’s thinking on optimizing whole systems and sparked Verna’s work in systemic value analysis. (Sorry for the gobbledygook wording, but the conversation was intense, and I learned more than I’m going to be able to express until it has time to sink in.)

Verna’s methodology involves mapping value exchanges among nodes in a networked system. She looks for patterns, helps constituents negotiate the amount of value going in and coming out of each node, and models the entire system. This is not something for the feint of heart; she described mapping the service function of a very large telecom outfit in a couple of hours.

Let me take another run at what Verna does: She evaluates an entity as a living system. Every living system is a self-renewing network. Its structure is its best description. The focus is on the people, who are the nodes in the network. Verna connects the nodes with arrows (for direction) and labels (describing exchanges of matter, energy, and ideas between the nodes). Each node is linked to a scorecard that tallies the value of its exchanges. She uses the system map to spot bottlenecks and relationships that need improvement; managers need to focus on the white space between the nodes.

Emerge, converge, and know.

How does this differ from enterprise approaches? ERP supports process only. This perpetuates process thinking. Systems theory looks holistically. Super-efficient processes don’t necessarily add up to an optimal whole. Evaluating systems dynamics is a meta-methodology, applicable to software development, social network analysis, business optimization, and more.

As our multi-tiered conversation raged back and forth, Verna noted, “The great thing about face-to-face meetings is that you can get things done so quickly.” My translation: computers can be a klutzy way to exchange and build on ideas.

Our formal business systems are so out of touch. They ignore the fact that we’re living in the midst of a huge barter economy of intangibles.

    Value Networks Defined

    A value network is a web of relationships that generates economic value and other benefits through complex dynamic exchanges between two or more individuals, groups or organizations. Any organization or group of organizations engaged in both tangible and intangible exchanges can be viewed as a value network, whether private industry, government or public sector.


Once again, I took away the message that connections are what's important in organizations and organisms. Verna looks at things with a cybernetic view, top-down, for that's where you see the value of the whole.

As we talked, Fritjof Capra's The Hidden Connections: Integrating The Biological, Cognitive, And Social Dimensions Of Life Into A Science Of Sustainability kept popping into my consciousness. Living system, ecological perspective, cells, renewal. Maybe it's a Northern California thing.


Posted by Jay Cross at February 6, 2003 12:26 AM | TrackBack
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