by Eric Bloom

The connection between cognitive computing and organizational productivity

Dec 14, 2017
Business IntelligenceIT Leadership

Technological advances in cognitive computing, specifically cognitive systems focused on cognitive work – and how these systems enhance the productivity of organizations.

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Credit: Thinkstock

One morning in August, I met Larry Smith on a commuter train heading towards Boston. He co-founded a company with his identical twin brother, Neil, called Think Outcomes, a cognitive computing company focused on strengthening human intelligence in business. I asked to interview one of them for this column. I’m glad I did.

Neil and I spoke about technological advances in cognitive computing, specifically cognitive systems focused on cognitive work and how these systems enhance the productivity of organizations.

Eric: What are cognitive systems for cognitive work?

Neil: Cognitive systems for cognitive work are software systems that help professionals think through and manage outcomes for their business situations. These systems:

  • Demonstrate opportunities and consequences to professionals for their upcoming decisions in context to change that can impact the future performance of their business
  • Help professionals close their unexpected gaps in knowledge

These systems help professionals arrive at informed decisions, communicate perspective with stakeholders as well as monitor and control uncertainties. These systems help teams who make business decisions:

  1. Gain insights and foresights more frequently
  2. Build foresight into their thinking processes
  3. Utilize prescriptive indicators to guide business decisions
  4. Anticipate change
  5. Create data linkages from risk-reward data to find new meaning during decision making

These systems include software apps that digitize the cognitive processes for the knowledge domain, such as operational risk management, M&A integration, supplier performance excellence, supply chain financing, business strategy along with industry-specific apps. Today, these cognitive processes are performed in the minds of CEOs, COOs, CIOs, Supply Chain Executives, Corporate Development teams, researchers, analysts, consultants and many other professionals. Professionals leverage these systems to challenge how they think and arrive at counterintuitive insights and foresights for their upcoming decisions.

Eric: Leading organizations are digitizing their manual processes. How do you see cognitive systems for cognitive work involved in this transformation process?

Cognitive systems for cognitive work enable organizations to digitize the cognitive processes that are manually performed today in their professionals’ minds. Examples are when business teams:

1. Synthesize information for non-simple decisions in their minds

This cognitive activity is error prone and often exceeds the processing capabilities of the mind where professionals resort to their gut and intuition; gut and intuition introduces risk into decisions. Computers organize information, process data and maintain objectivity very well. Cognitive systems for cognitive work are built as human-machine partnerships to bolster the synthesis process in the mind with evidence. These systems provide professionals greater objectivity in decision making. Professionals park their biases as they illustrate risk-reward patterns in context to their business situations when using these systems.

2. Model and analyze information

These cognitive activities are part of non-simple decision processes. Modeling commonly consumes 90% of a professional’s time where analysis occupies the remaining 10%. Yet, insights and foresights come from analyses, especially when analytics are connected to how the business operates. Cognitive systems shift the balance of modeling-to-analysis from 90/10% to 15/85%. The shift occurs when professionals utilize profiling capabilities and structured decision frameworks that are aligned to how decision makers think about outcomes. Profiling and decision frameworks are built into cognitive systems. Decision teams use their cognitive scenarios to frame situations faster and visualize implications. With clear context about the situation, professionals focus their time on the risk-reward analyses, using analytics that connect the current state to future target states of the business. These connections help professionals evaluate risk-reward tradeoffs to gain meaningful insights and foresights. Business teams spend their time discovering new meaning through data linkages verses spending time modeling one-off situations.

3. Communicate with stakeholders

Today, professionals use their voice and presentation software as primary tools to communicate their viewpoints. The capability to ‘show me the evidence’, as often required by stakeholders, is lost in presentations. When stakeholders ask questions, presenters do not have the capability to demonstrate their thinking process, the thinking of their team or their organization, which reduces stakeholder confidence.  Stakeholders are left to their own thoughts, where they paint their own picture in their minds, or reference a prior experience to rationalize situations. Often when stakeholders can’t visualize the risks and rewards, they create their own mental models which do not match the professional’s intended communication and that stalls decisions. Cognitive systems for cognitive work provide professionals and their stakeholders a shared mental model for communications where professionals demonstrate their critical thinking in a dynamic way and explain how they arrive at their logical conclusions. As questions arise, professionals show their thinking dynamically in context to planned business outcomes. Cognitive systems for cognitive work make a professional’s thoughts visible to systematize this cognitive activity. Professionals and their stakeholders get on the same page quicker, even when they have competing objectives.

Eric: Why do we need a software process architecture for the intellectual side of business?

Neil: Management is responsible for optimizing business outcomes, strengthening business value and mitigating risk. Yet, we are all constrained by our cognitive limitations to achieve these objectives. As situations grow in sophistication, decisions often involve multiple variables. Here are three examples where we all experience limitations in our minds. We are all not equipped with the ability to:

  1. Process many interdependent variables in our minds
  2. Pre-experience outcomes for decision making
  3. See other people’s perspectives with mental clarity, when multiple variables are involved

As a result, stakeholders experience risk and decision makers are the ones who shoulder the blame. When information gets overwhelming, professionals turn to their gut, rely on intuition, emotion and experience for their decisions; our guts are not very good logic engines. Using our gut introduces risk which creates a domino effect of risk that impacts the business. Hindsight becomes the primary guide of decision makers where foresight and anticipatory skills are needed. Leaders do not have information structured for the way they think in their roles to make risk-reward tradeoffs. A software process architecture built for critical thinking, and designed to maintain the business’ interdependencies, provides decision makers the ability to make better judgment calls. It also provides them the ability to share viewpoints among stakeholders through perspective-based technology; and expand their own cerebral processing capabilities with server-based processing.

Eric: How can CIOs and their teams participate in the implementation and maintenance of these next-generational, cognitive systems to increase organizational productivity?

Neil: IT can help evolve manual, cognitive processes and the associated cognitive activities into a digital form. They can:

  1. Define the decision information decision makers need to perform their work
  2. Equip executives with a digital, cognitive workspace to visualize their critical thinking, decision making and stakeholder communications
  3. Integrate data from relevant internal systems and external web services
  4. Enrich contextual decision information for breakthrough thinking
  5. Ensure changing decision information is relevant and current

Following the above steps will enable CIOs to:

  1. Reduce business risks created from gut-based decision making
  2. Focus executives and managers on outcomes to optimize their upcoming decisions
  3. Enable decision makers to connect disparate issues during decision making
  4. Establish disciplined processes for thinking, decision making into their business cultures — ones that generate continuous insights and foresights to create competitive advantages
  5. Expand their role into Chief Decision Information Officers (CDIOs) and stewards of decision information for their decision makers throughout the organization
  6. Advance the cognitive processes of their organization up a capability maturity model

Eric: Are there any last thoughts you would like to pass along to my readers?

Neil: The Cognitive era is in its early stages to help smart people get smarter. This computing era is about making high fidelity decisions with greater velocity. The earlier your decision makers, critical thinkers, business stakeholders, analysts and suppliers are involved in cognitive systems, the greater your competitive advantage. Wait and your competitors will capture the next unforeseen opportunities in your markets. Involve your clients in cognitive systems for cognitive work and you’ll have unique opportunities to deepen your cognitive connections in their business models.

IT can evolve cognitive processes from decision making to communications that involve critical thinking by using a cognitive software architecture and cognitive systems for cognitive work to help their community of thinkers, decision makers and analysts:

  • Arrive at informed decisions
  • Communicate perspective with stakeholders
  • Monitor and control uncertainty for their situations

Eric: Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with my readers.  I know this is the tip of the iceberg on this topic. My hope is that this discussion will cause my reads to take pause regarding these types of systems and how they can use them to enhance their organization’s critical thinking, decision making and productivity.

Neil Smith is the CTO at Think Outcomes and is reachable at His company is Think Outcomes at and can be followed on twitter using #thinkoutcomes.