"Managing" Knowledge For Innovation

Ron Webb of the APQC explores the intersection of Knowledge Management and Innovation in organizations. He asks “Is the way they manage knowledge part of the reason these organizations are so innovative?“. This question is tricky in a way. It is true that organizations that innovate “manage” knowledge better than others that don’t. However, “manage” here would mean clearly understanding what knowledge to borrow and combine and what to forget. This has to happen in different degrees depending on the kind of innovation the organization is pursuing. So, if the goal is to transfer best practices around a six sigma rollout in one of your facilities to another facility(same kind of process) the need to borrow knowldge as it is from point A to point B is more. However, if you are creating a new business that will pursure strategic innovation there is a serious need to balance forgetting and borrowing.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble in their book 10 Rules For Strategic Innovators -From Idea To Execution speak about three major challenges that strategic experiments need to address:

1.The Forgetting Challenge
2.The Borrowing Challenge
3.The Learning Challenge

Understanding the forgetting and borrowing challenges is very crucial to organizations that are planning a innovation or best practices transfer program . According to the authors, new businesses attempting strategic innovation need to “forget” the belief systems,mentals models and world views of the core business and at the same time “borrow” its assets(Brand,Customer Relationships etc.,). The structures(new organizational design) that need to be put in place for effective borrowing to happen has to be managed carefully. Too much of borrowing (read transfer of “best practices”) from the core company may kill the new business.To summarize,it is true that effective knowledge management helps in innovation. But remember, to “manage” knowledge is to understand what to borrow and what to forget and continuous learning.(combining new knowledge that is created with borrowed knowledge) depending on the kind of innovation you are pursuing.


2 thoughts on “"Managing" Knowledge For Innovation

  1. We have systems thinking & people development rolled into teams functioning with supposed enthusiasm for shared objectives that appeal. We have the social learning models, and group influences on community of practices, supposedly also permeating through whole organizations. Remembering where the focus is, factory floor to boardroom door, why should these people really need to care? We appear to have still mostly forgotten the inter ‘faces’ that intersect with the machines, the coal-face, and the customer.The grand KM strategy appears effective across the corporation with 10000 employees at a global level, but it is often nothing more than that, a strategy. For all the hype, it is simply a permission (and maybe resource) for the lower echelons of management to tackle the process of re-creating or rebuilding the basic knowledge systems decimated in the re-engineering waves of the past.Two centuries ago ten year apprenticeships were the norm, maybe now ten weeks would be too long? Who should answer that, the same world leading brains responsible for literally flattened corporate structures, and all too often the corporations themselves? What sort of apprenticeship did those has-been wonder-kids of yesterday serve, and was it in an appropriate discipline? A drain-layer has a good understanding of which way down is, and what the mechanics of his systems are. If he gets it wrong it is all very unpleasant, and he gets in and fixes it. One hopes that the practical skills of those expounding the virtues and approaches to KM have been similarly tested, and that they actually understand first hand what is involved in industrial, process, particularly smaller business, and corporate engineering.The mass of rapidly expanding theoretical KM literature seems to lack focus on one word, ‘essence’, and the meaning therein and thereof. Knowledge valuation systems were tested and found wanting when the e-bubble burst a few years ago. The trappings and substance of business provided context, but there was no essence. So too it is that knowledge is lost when removed from context, but by recognizing its essence you retain its value.I submit that the successful corner store or global corporate has already established the knowledge management essence of their business; the awareness of what efforts matter, what approaches work, what’s coming next, and the fit with the social norms within which they must operate. The needs for adapting, innovation and responsiveness are implicit, and existing business metrics will reflect KM without manipulation of timescales; these are basic survival tools, not break through stuff.Knowledge management is neither more simple nor complex that enforced apprenticeship on a grand scale, benefiting both master and apprentice in the process. There is still no doubt the master will be maximizing his share. This breakthrough is the re-discovery of the need for and usefulness of knowledge essence. This fits with constraints on available time and attention in today’s world. Go and research the ancient apprentice systems. It’s like rediscovering fairies , regards, Claymore.

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