March 18, 2007

Tribal Knowledge

Tribal Knowledge can be loosely defined as the organic wisdom obtained by a group of individuals working on a shared objective.

For instance, assume that three individuals start their own online/catalog direct-to-consumer business. These three individuals give everything they have to growing this business. They hire folks, they pick the merchandise, they run marketing, they develop all the internal processes that cause the business to exist.

At some point, this team cannot grow the business without external support. They sell to another organization. The new company evaluates the business they acquired, and decide there is redundancy between this merchant and previously acquired business units. The folks who started the acquired business are let go. The acquiring corporation assigns new leadership to the fledgling brand.

During the course of the next eighteen months, the fledgling brand doesn't grow. It struggles.

A Direct Marketing President recently told me that "... customers don't buy from brands. They ultimately buy from talented individuals who possess tribal knowledge. When the tribal knowledge is gone, the reason for customers to purchase from the brand is gone. Businesses are nothing without people."

What do you think of the concept of "Tribal Knowledge", as described in this online/catalog business example? Have you experienced situations where Tribal Knowledge was removed from an organization? What happened when the knowledge was removed?

Here's another interesting question: What is more important to a business, the "brand" itself, or the "people" who work for the brand?

Your thoughts?