How does a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) make a strategic business decision?

How does an executive form an opinion on the balance between a return on an allocation of resources and the potential risk involved?

How do bankers or investors decide to invest their capital and how do they weigh up the balance between the hoped for Return On Investment (ROI) and the possible loss of their capital?

How do they ‘see’ a business? On what basis is their ‘perception’ of the business formed? How do they get a map of a business?

Medieval Measurement
Amazingly, most of today’s investment and business decisions are still based on an invention that has not yet been updated for over 500 years!

In Venice in 1494, a Franciscan monk and collaborator of Leonardo Da Vinci, Fra Luca Pacioli, invented double-entry bookkeeping and published the world’s first textbook on accounting principles and practice. Ever since, this has been the basis of investment decisions. Double-entry bookkeeping shows a map of how money and goods flow through a business.

This allowed investors and business people to ‘see’ a business, evaluate risk and return and then form an opinion on whether or not to make an investment.

In those days and even on through the industrial revolution, a business consisted of things. Things are tangibles like property, buildings, inventories, cash in the bank and so on. So the double-entry bookkeeping system seemed like a useful way of organising one’s view of the ebb and flow of these tangibles and one simply accepted this way of looking at things and then went on to make one’s investment decision.

That was then, this is now. Since the knowledge and information revolutions, it’s hard to imagine how young business people could be misled more than to be given the impression that this is what today’s businesses are still made up of – tangibles. Yet we find that in business colleges and MBA programs around the world the medieval measurement, the ‘double-entry’ view of a business, is still being taught as though it were enough.

In the 2000s we already have computers that can do more than 100 billion computations a second and we are still using pre-Newtonian physics to make our business decisions. In the next few years, this will have to change.

Knowledge-Based Companies
In knowledge-based companies like Apple and Google what does the traditional accounting system capture? Hardly anything.

The old accounting system is blind to knowledge-based assets and is often limited to just considering labour and material costs. In today’s fastest-growing, market-responsive businesses the cost components of many products are intellectual capital like R&D and customer-service.

As clever companies increasingly recognise their intellectual assets, they will increasingly direct their attention to developing those assets. When it comes to productivity, two heads are always better than one and that means networking – intranets, extranets and the Internet. It means the messaging on Facebook and Twitter and the other emerging cognocracies.

Intellectual Capital (IC)
These ‘far-seeing enterprises’ will be exploiting, managing and measuring the primary ingredient of their economic performance, their intellectual capital or IC as it is now being called. The intangible IC assets of information, knowledge and skill will be formalised, captured and leveraged to produce higher-valued assets, higher performance and a more profitable enterprise.

Also, hi-tech manufacturing companies of today and tomorrow will derive most of their value-added from knowledge and skill. This will have to be accountable. Those businesses that are not accounting for their IC assets will be under-valued and left behind. Those that do will more than double their assets and move ahead.

ICD and Investing in People
In business, people are now becoming more important than money. IC is becoming the most valuable asset of many corporations. IC accounting is how a modern business gets a more accurate view of its people assets when knowledge is its chief resource.

Suppose you are an investor. You can form a more useful and realistic perception of companies like Google by accounting for their ‘soft’ IC assets than you can by merely accounting for their ‘hard’ assets like their office buildings, cash and equipment.

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FACT: The value of the tangible (money) assets on today’s balance sheet is exceeded many times by the value of the IC (people) assets of the enterprise.

FACT: The intellectual capital of the enterprise is the raw material from which all financial results are derived.

FACT: The intellectual capital owned by the enterprise can be measured, managed and developed along with the financial capital and tangible assets currently recorded on the balance sheet of the enterprise.

4 thoughts on “What is the real value of a business?

  1. We are coming to a new phase in civilisation and many of my beliefs and the lessons I strived quite hard to learn are now outmoded. Where do I get the information I need? The world is changing so must I, but what is the next step beyond SOT ? There is a great danger of being overwhelmed and bombarded with misinformation pseudo knowledge and thinking I know stuff I don’t . So it’s time to start again .

  2. Dear Michael: Late as 1980 I was’notified that my new responsibility was to act as a Division Director. Because of that I was sent to USA in order to receive a short training sesions about that job. In that place I was lucky to have a Teacher in Human Relations that convinced me that if you want good results you must have a human relations focus: with your customer, your suppliers, but first of all with your employees. Without them no physical assets could get anything. And if you want to build Quality you need Quality and people and process of Quality. Since that year I started to figth trying to convince employers about this fact. But the inertia of no=movement of the way to make business made me no successful. Your present article make me to have hope and faith again. Thank you very much for being one more people in the team. Cordially, Francisco.

  3. The picture is not all that dark. The existence of Intellectual Capital (IC) was recognized many decades ago, definitely after WWII, and explored intensively in the last 25 years. The problem of accounting, it is true, has not been resolved satisfactorily yet. But there are many other problem associated with IC that have not been resolved satisfactorily – yet. One reason is that knowledge is personal and time dependent. So – how do you measure it objectively? Then there is knowledge that is organizational, but no outsider is allowed to know about it. It is the so called hidden knowledge. Again, how can you account for something that hardly anybody knows about? These are just a few thrills of IC that make it exciting and worth studying.

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