KM for Innovation

Knowledge Management for Innovation – Brief note from a TFPL Meeting on 17 09 2013

The chair, Ian Wooler, set us a puzzle at the start of the meeting and I can’t resist puzzles. The subject was how organisations can obtain value using knowledge management to achieve innovation. Tfpl brought together three speakers on this topic.

Ian presented a three circle Venn diagram and popped one presentation in each circle. He placed a question mark in the intersection of all three. We were challenged to find the essential ingredient that should appear in the overlap from the three speeches. Then surely we would discover the nirvana for knowledge management practitioners aiming to use their discipline to achieve innovation!  So what did I decide belonged in that central place?

Here are my personal thoughts on the three speeches. Julia Duggan presented a case study and her presentation took us through how her knowledge management team provide support to each step of the innovation process. Knowledge management and innovation may bring to mind yet another rehash of Nonaka and Takeuchi’s theory of the knowledge creation cycle. But Julia took us right into the nitty-gritty of innovation from the original generating of ideas through to providing a finished product or service in the market. She gave some great examples of ways to motivate people to offer their new suggestions with fun incentives and appropriate technology.

Her talk was good on the big picture, but I wanted some examples – although, of course, I was aware they might be commercially confidential, or too complex to explain in the course of a short presentation.  Luckily in the break I got a chance to talk to Julia and she came up with several fascinating examples.  They were not confidential but too complex to include in her main presentation.  For me, this discussion enhanced her credibility. All in all it was a practical talk full of reusable ideas for knowledge management practitioners.

The presentation from Victor Newman and Simon Evans considered how you provide a supportive ecosystem for innovation. They broke down all the different factors for leading, generating, developing and delivering innovation.  And without being prescriptive made clear that there were indications of best practice in creating the environment for success.  They not only had thought through the possible options, but had embodied them in a game, which we were all very happy to try out – though alas not much time was available at this short evening meeting.  Still we did our best to try our gaming skills to build a suitable innovation ecosystem.

The overlap between these two presentations was very clear.  Avoid focusing on one part of the process such as a brainstorm or a suggestion box which results in no follow up except perhaps a document solemnly circulated and then ignored. The case study and the supportive ecosystem fitted together like hand in glove. Innovation fails if processes are not robust from initial idea through to delivery and that means knowledge management can take a powerful role in supporting organisations as they nurture an innovative culture.

Paul Corney gave us a creative thought piece.  He threw out pictures and mind boggling ideas.  How did the Bedouin tent in Switzerland help with knowledge management? Who was sending a postcard? What did that have to do with knowledge management in Sudan? We had to join up the dots to make the connections.  He finished with a very clear summary though.  You can embody ideas and stimulate inspiration through the use of objects.  And you need to provide people with space to reflect, to re-think and so to innovate.

And so – what does go in that elusive middle space to replace the question mark? The idea of ‘space’ provided a good answer for me.  I wonder if you agree?

Space for Julia was a workroom called The Cube – rife with interactive whiteboards but no chairs, to promote a fast and productive meeting place. For Simon and Vincent it was where they could get players to gather to populate their board game and discuss the implications.  For Paul it was that mysterious Bedouin tent. I think most employees also feel that face to face meetings are the best method for exchanging knowledge, even if they don’t love regulation corporate meetings.

By the way, virtual meetings can, of course, provide space too – but Paul reminded us that they can be more difficult and therefore require more support.  So to conclude: make space, and time for people to get to grips with great innovative ideas and let knowledge management support them through the long, complex path to fruition.

For me this was very pertinent solution to Ian’s puzzle. It was a good meeting with excellent networking opportunities and I hope all the many participants enjoyed it as much as I did.

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