Henley Forum - Katrina Pugh

Katrina Pugh, Academic Director, Columbia University’s Information and Knowledge Strategy Master’s program

Session title: The duality of content versus process

We often hear about the duality of content versus process: “Are you spending your time in process versus content? “ ”Are you a process or content consultant?” “Are you motivating colleagues’ action using a process model (triggering behavior) or content model (uncovering needs)?” Awareness of this duality goes back to Plato, and probably the cave men. But what does it mean for us, as knowledge and collaboration practitioners? It seems academic, but being unconscious about it – or just saying one is “admin” the other “their problem” -- can get us into trouble. We can look at the duality at the level of individual, team, company, and even the brain:

  • For us as individuals, we could get buffeted by process and procedure emails and lose sight of the substance of our life and work.
  • For our teams, we see our energy, motivation and output change when we get the balance right. For example, we can choose between setting up and enacting a governance process, versus digging into the details of a discipline.
  • For our companies and industries, we have intense moments where we indulge in content (e.g., crafting a merger agreement) and then process (orchestrating the merger integration). Strategy scholars have spent 60 years laboring over when to focus on “execution” (scalable process), versus “differentiation” (unique content expertise).
  • There are even different brain components that light up when we move between the two (e.g., habit vs. discernment). 

What’s our responsibility as knowledge and collaboration practitioners, and is there evidence that we’re getting the balance right? Many of us come into our roles when organizations are crying out for process. (“There is a lot of waste. Get us organized!”) And there are times when ideas are stagnating and we are invited to help discover them, translate them and unleash them.

The goal of this session is to see cases of process and content at these different levels, and where someone got it right. Getting it right can keep you and your career in balance. It’s more than “picking your battles.” It’s fighting the right ones with integrity and expertise.

Katrina (Kate) Pugh is the Academic Director of Columbia University’s Information and Knowledge Strategy Master’s program, where she leads the faculty and teaches Networks and Collaboration. Kate edited and co-authored Smarter Innovation, a 20-author book on knowledge-driven innovation (Ark Group). Her critically acclaimed book, Sharing Hidden Know-How (Jossey-Bass/Wiley), is a guide to strategic conversation for knowledge-creation.