Do We Want to Know?

Knowledge Management is everywhere. In discussions, blogs, corporate strategies, individual minds, etc. If one is unaware of or not convinced about the benefits, there is an army of consultants and vendors who can change that. I am a convert without needing any more help.

For evidence, one needs only to look at traditions passed from one generation to the next. The artisan/farmer/xyz made sure that the next generation understood and learnt the sum of their knowledge so that it may be built upon and improved. This was actually necessary for survival. Today, organizations are fighting for survival/success in a way they have probably never fought before. Every asset is being analyzed in order to increase the efficiency of usage. Knowledge is one such asset which is underutilized and can provide significant returns. The question then is, why is knowledge underutilized? To use any asset efficiently, the nature of the asset needs to be understood; the asset transformed to be usable in the manner desired; the asset used in an optimal manner; the asset maintained in a usable/relevant state and measurements of the benefits coming out of this. Let us apply this to knowledge.

The nature of “knowledge” has been well studied and classified and is constantly being refined. Most of the literature I read today relates to the transformation of knowledge into a usable state. Tools to capture explicit knowledge are widely available. There is also good direction on how to start capturing implicit knowledge; direct interaction and collaboration between the haves and have-nots being used to speed up this process. Curation and maintenance of this “library” is also an oft-touched upon topic. But what about the users of this knowledge? When there is a need for context based answers (typically quick problem-solving type things), people do approach other people. However, a large part of the problem is around re-inventing the wheel and re-learning lessons. My experience has shown me that the not built here syndrome continues to exist in this space. Large swathes of the organization (including and specially managers) do not believe that solutions created and lessons learnt by other people apply to them. Their problem is always different. (Code re-use & Service re-use anybody?). What is done to change this attitude will decide the pay-off from any KM strategy. Another issue is training. While internal corporate providers can play a just in time game with knowledge, vendor organizations and service providers need to be on the bleeding edge. They need to prepare people with knowledge in expectation of its use, not after they develop a need.

I have seen multiple organizations repeat mistakes or re-invent things because people do not want to talk to the people with the knowledge. I have also seen different groups at different levels of preparedness with knowledge (within and across organizations) which they know will be needed. Unfortunately, this depends on the attitude of individuals. We need to work on the culture to spread the “correct” version of the attitude.

We know that Po’s father would confide the secret ingredient to him at some point. But, we need the whole organizational kitchen to know it. What can be done to make it happen? Any thoughts from the 9-to-whatevers?

Teaching Creativity…

Oxymoron, right?  Well, let’s see.

Today, creativity, innovation and the ilk are corporate buzzwords.  Every manager is looking to increase these to improve product appeal and to reduce costs.  The debate is over how.

Can we increase these competencies in our teams today or do we need structural changes to happen.  The answer may depend upon what the organization’s views on these skills are.

One point which elicits agreement is that there are already instances of creativity and innovation in most teams.  The incentive structures and organization around these efforts, in most cases, is not sufficient to tap into these instances and derive the desired benefit or sustainability.  Further, some of the organizational frameworks actively discourage out-of-the-box thinking which is a severe limitation towards these competencies.  Tapping into the existing instances is necessary, but probably not sufficient for the needs of the organization.

Solution?  A culture change is necessary.  The people need to believe that the creative and innovative competency is something that is not only rewarded, but is expected.  However, the larger question is can they deliver?  Is this competency static or is something that can be built up in the individual and the team?  That is where I see disagreement.

One argument is that you cannot teach people to be creative.  That is an inherent part of ones nature and cannot be infused.  To really be able to create these competencies in an organization, you need to acquire it externally.  Evidence the increase in evaluation of creativity and innovation ability during the interview process!

My view is different.  I believe that these competencies can be encouraged, nurtured and taught.  These competencies revolve around a state of mind where people think outside of the standard script.  This can be encouraged if there is sufficient latitude for bringing up new ideas and sufficient allowances for failure.  The expectations also have to be realistic.  We probably will not get a Mona Lisa, but we can definitely do better than draw stick figures.

There are also some reasons that internal growth of these competencies is preferred over external infusion.  The subject matter experts of the organization, especially a knowledge organization, are the key drivers.  Without this expertise, creativity and innovation will mean little.  You cannot create a masterpiece painting without knowing how to paint.  Similarly, you cannot create a concept car without understanding cars.  If you know the current product range inside out, the concept product will be much closer to your organizations ability to deliver – faster time to market and better quality!

Fact of the matter is that these competencies cannot be “taught” in the sense that there is no roadmap or textbook which can be followed blindly.  The acquiring of these competencies is riddled with experimentation and hitting brick walls.  But, if teaching is limited to imparting skills which can be learnt only with a roadmap, our whole education system is in trouble!

Wait a minute!  Isn’t that what is already happening???  Aaagghh…