Bill Simmons shows his ignorance about the definition of intellectual capital

October 21, 2011 by  

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I follow the terms intellectual capital and intangible capital on Twitter and the web (and I highly recommend that you do the same for the search terms related to your expertise).

This morning there is a storm of comments on Twitter about a Bill Simmons post about the NBA negotiations where he says:

I don’t trust the players’ side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it’s true.) The owners’ side can’t say the same; they should be ashamed. Same for the agents.

I wouldn’t question Bill Simmons on much but I will call him to task on his use of the term intellectual capital.

Who’s Bill Simmons? He’s a sportswriter. I have heard about him for years because he was an early writer to jump to the web and my husband, Mike Oleksak, (also my co-author, business partner, co-parent and more–but in this case, my husband laughing and sharing posts with me) has been a fan since Simmons early days on the web.

In his comments, Simmons uses “intellectual capital” as a synonym of intelligence. This is a common mistake. But it’s a frustrating one to those of us who study IC. (It’s also one of the reasons that we prefer the term intangible capital; it avoids the confusion with intelligence and with intellectual property).

IC (intellectual or intangible capital) in a personal, group or a corporate sense is a holistic view of knowledge. It recognizes four categories of knowledge:

  • Human – knowledge and experience in peoples’ heads
  • Relationship – shared knowledge from our networks
  • Structural – operationalized knowledge in the form of everything from processes, data, designs, writings
  • Strategic – knowledge of how to combine the other forms into a useful package

In the case of the NBA, it’s tempting to write a detailed explanation of the individual and shared IC of players, agents and owners but I’ll try to keep it brief. Players bring all four kinds of knowledge to the table:

  • their own knowledge and experience
  • their fans and relationships with teams
  • their contributions to playbooks and team operations plus their contributions on media like Twitter
  • their packaging as players and media figures

You could do the same analysis of owners and agents. In fact, when you look at things this way, you’ll see that each group brings different pieces of the whole to the table.

The reason that the players, agents and owners are all at the table together is that they need each other. And they do bring different knowledge to the table.

We all need to broaden our understanding of knowledge and IC. It takes a lot of different kinds of knowledge to make individuals successful. And it takes even more kinds of knowledge to make groups and businesses successful. Let’s embrace that and understand it as the great opportunity of the knowledge era.

Next time Bill, disagree with their views but don’t insult their IC. You’re the one that ends up looking ignorant.

If you want to learn more, here’s a starting definition of intangible capital

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