Book Review - Intangible Capital

(This is a long overdue review of a book sent to me by one of its authors - Mary Adams - whose blog on intangible capital I follow habitually even if what she writes goes places with which I have little experience.)

For most people involved in the business of public relations the concept of 'intangible capital' is bit arcane and likely in their minds removed from the core role they play within their organizations.

But knowledge, as Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak argue in Intangible Capital: Putting Knowledge to Work in the 21st-Century Organization, "is the key critical resource in today's economy," and knowledge is the currency underlying intangible capital. Or put another way intangible capital is the output of what Adams and Oleksak call the "knowledge factory."

Although much of their book is outside the province of my expertise, in spite of my struggling through an MBA degree twenty years ago, it does recognize and value the importance of reputation as evidence, if you like, of the quality of output from the knowledge factory that is, or should be, today's corporation.

In a chapter near the end of the book called 'Reputation is the New Bottom Line', Adams and Oleksak demonstrate that reputation is indeed the "new bottom line". They also recognize that corporate behaviour - that is, the way a company acts when faced with a social challenge that butts up against its core business - is an essential element of reputation (see Doorley and Garcia in their textbook Reputation Management).

Unfortunately, their analytic powers, and their experience as well I assume, fail them when they step into what I would call, with all due humility, my territory of managing corporate reputation. Guidance on the how of managing reputation is a little thin, resting on three rather basic ideas: Do things right; Be proactive; Be transparent.

If it only were so easy.

Defining "right" is in itself incredibly complex as any natural resource company engaged with indigenous peoples in foreign countries will tell you. Being "proactive" in managing reputation especially on the social web is the stuff of countless strategies . . . and isn't always the right guidance when, say, you are the subject of a cyber assault. And transparency has its pros and cons, especially when it comes to the intricacies of sustainability reporting.

Adams and Oleksak rightly argue for new ways of thinking about structural capital and call for new ways of looking at organizational design (think networks). But given reputation's importance to the new knowledge factory the chapter on managing this intangible should perhaps have been handed over to an expert.

Blogging is Dead: Long Live Blogging

Canadians Like Their Social Networks