ATD Blog

How Do You Develop and Leverage Your Intellectual Property?

Friday, October 2, 2015

This is the fourth post in a series on intellectual capital.  This installment focuses on the intellectual property component of this complicated issue.

While all the types of intellectual capital are critical to the success of the talent development function, the real “sticky-wicket” usually involves the use of intellectual property (IP). As a senior leader responsible for talent development, there are a number of questions you must address regarding the development, implementation and evaluation of the IP used to train your people:

  • How can you create your own internal programs?
  • How can you create value with your IP?
  • How can you leverage the IP you already possess?
  • How do you evaluate the IP of those external suppliers you use? 

How Can You Create Your Own Internal Programs?  

A relatively simple process for pursuing the development of internal programs involves three stages: 

Stage 1: Inquire and infer. This stage is all about collecting data that provides insight into WHY you even need to explore developing intellectual property in a particular area. It involves “inquiring” about causes, effects, relationships and results, and “Inferring” the implications. It requires the collection of data from both internal and external sources through interviews, observations, and experiences. This data enables you to first build a business case for change by getting curious about the issues at hand—instead of simply accepting the first line of thought or the present conditions.

Stage 2: Invent and inspire. In Stage 2, talent development leaders begin the process of invention—creating possible solutions through brainstorming ideas, researching existing models and practices, designing blueprints for developing products and processes, and conducting cost-benefit analyses. It involves “inventing” creative solutions focused on explicit and implicit issues and “inspiring” others with a compelling case for change. This stage addresses the WHAT it is you are going to address by clearly defining the end in mind. 

Stage 3: Install and inspect. Stage 3 is all about the acid test. In other words, does the rubber meet the road? This stage addresses HOW things get done and the challenges of implementation challenge. It involves “installing” and testing solutions in partnership with your internal clients and “inspecting” over the long term to see what’s working and what isn’t. This means testing solutions, revising them as appropriate, and them taking putting them to work with workers.  As such, Stage 3 requires establishing milestones, proof points, and point of arrival benchmarks—all evaluated against established metrics for success.   


How Can You Create Value With Intellectual Property? 

What methods and approaches are you using to create value from your intellectual property? Your goal should not simply be to develop the proper IP to run your talent development business, but to do so by creating value from what you do develop. 

So, how exactly can you create value that is transferred to your customer’s experience? First, you need to decide what impact you can—and will—have on your learners. What are the valuable potential outcomes of intellectual property that you are striving to achieve? Is it about saving time and money, reducing stress, enhancing efficiency, stimulating creativity, improving understanding between people, facilitating teamwork, improving leader effectiveness, increasing revenues and profits, customer retention, or even all of these issues? 

Of course, if your intellectual capital and processes can enable the effectiveness of your internal talent development business model, the easier it will become to run your business with greater predictability and scalability. You simply need to determine: 

  • Which outcomes are most important to your organization?
  • How are you measuring the results?
  • How can you determine the linkages between IP and your customers’ outcomes?
  • What experiments can you try that will help you determine the value you are creating? 

How Can You Leverage the Intellectual Property You Already Possess? 

The first question you need to answer is what IP you need to differentiate your business from your competition? In other words, what is the “secret sauce” your organization counts on to make it competitive in the market place? How well are you developing, integrating, applying, and implementing this intellectual property in your internal talent development practice? Lastly, how much true differentiated “value” have you created with your intellectual property? 

So how do you not only create new IP, but also take advantage of what you already possess? This is not at all about re-engineering your entire development and delivery model, but more about leveraging what you have and creating what you don’t. Here are some actions to help you best leverage your intellectual property. 

  • Organize your talent development business around both the organization’s intellectual property and talent development function. Some of these relationships are easy to understand. For example, if your organization’s business model requires a certain type of core capabilities and competencies to deliver its products and services, then it behooves you to create learning systems that will equip your organizations’ personnel with these.

  • Determine what is worth protecting or documenting. Obviously, your organization owns any number of copyrights, patents, and trademarks. How can you integrate and use these in your learning programs to create more value?

  • View your organization’s intellectual property as a strategic asset. That is, tightly align it with your organization’s strategic imperatives.

  • Recognize the value of your intangible IP. For example, how can your company’s special ethos and culture be incorporated into your learning agenda?

  • Understand the “secret sauce” that constitutes your IP—understanding what is particularly unique about your business that differentiates it in the market.

  • Treat intellectual property, rather than physical assets, as the principal wellspring of shareholder value and competitive advantage in this knowledge economy. 

How Do You Evaluate the Intellectual Property of the External Suppliers You Use? 

This is not an easy question to answer, and most of you probably have established criteria to make these evaluations. There are a number of relevant factors, of course, but my guess is that the initial screening criterion is all about the content the potential external partner possesses. After all, if you have done your homework, you should know what business issues your company is trying to solve—and the most relevant content (whether knowledge, skills or attitudes) needed to effectively address these issues. But there are many other factors that are equally importance, and possessing the relevant content is simply “table stakes” for considering working with an external supplier. 

Next, you should pursue careful due diligence in exploring whether the supplier actually owns the content and/or is licensed to distribute it. Sometimes, these lines get very blurred in the talent development industry. Remember, caveat emptor looms large in this issue. For example, I recall a case where a supplier offered an interviewing course that looked and sounded strangely familiar. Upon closer inspection, it was determined that the whole program was literally plagiarized word for word from another supplier’s offer. Obviously, the supplier is legally culpable, but how accountable is the buyer or user in this case? 

Furthermore, what is the research base of the programming? How do you know the claims made are actually true? More critically is the assessment of whether the intellectual property offered is really owned by the supplier—or  borrowed, or customized without permission, or (in the absolute worst case) lifted almost entirely from someone else’s work. It isn’t clear to me in these cases who actually is liable for the program’s use: the seller who misrepresented its intellectual property or the buyer who blindly used it? I suspect it is a little of both. 

The next blog in this series will present many of the legal issues and implications for using intellectual property.


About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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