Friday, January 12, 2007

Why do we reinvent the wheel?

One of the simple reasons why some organizations (read managers) understand the need for KM without having to go through an RoI (Return on Investment) debate is that KM aims to avoid the ‘reinvention of the wheel’. Especially the organizations that are obsessed with improving their efficiency and cutting costs. (That doesn’t leave out too many organizations, does it? But methinks there may be innovation-focused organizations that believe that the benefit of not being so focused on reuse will encourage their employees to discover/invent…start afresh. After all, starting afresh despite existence of previous records of solutions may result in the identification of things that were missed out earlier. The employees who are subjected to NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome will agree no doubt ;))

Coming back to the focus intended for this post…in large organizations, the possibility of individuals, teams and departments wasting time, money and effort on something that someone else (in the organization or outside it) has already done is huge. One of KM’s purposes is to prevent this from happening. A recent episode wherein I came across a team discussing some ideas at length whilst the very same thoughts had been expressed and discussed by another team at a different point of time made me introspect on why such a thing was happening. Yes, WHY was it happening? Why do we (as an organization) waste so much time and effort (and money) discussing things again and again….and more often than not, coming to the same conclusion as well? Here are some of my thoughts in response to the question….some obvious, some deserving a little bit of thought….

  1. NIH - In the case of philosophies/concepts/approaches, the NIH syndrome is a block that prevents ‘reuse’ (I understand that you might call it ‘adoption’)
  2. Difference of opinion – This is different from NIH. NIH reflects an ‘attitude’ problem. A genuine difference of opinion will result in reinvention of the wheel. (This may be useful from the perspective of innovation and improvements)
  3. Consumer Behaviour – In the world of marketing we talk about early adopters, followers and laggards. Early adopters grab anything new immediately. Followers hesitate a little and watch the early adopters benefit or struggle with the newly introduced product and decide on going for it based on the latter’s experience. Laggards wait till the very end before deciding to purchase the new (now old :-)) product. The same explanation may hold good in the context of reusing concepts/solutions/tools in organizations. Different from NIH and difference of opinion.
  4. No record and/or communication – Simple. Holds good for concepts and the like; not solutions. Happens when discussions are not recorded for future reference. And also when the concept is not communicated at the right time to the right people through the right medium(s)
  5. Not implemented – When solutions, tools, process improvement ideas etc are discussed for the Nth time, the reason may be an obvious one. The responsibility needs to be taken by the people who originally came up with the same. The reason why the wheel is being reinvented may be simply because the solution was limited to a discussion or maybe paper. That is, it has not been implemented. Implementation will effectively rule out the possibility of repeated discussions because the need for the solution no longer exists. Simple again.
  6. Implemented but not institutionalized – In the case of situations where the solution is tried out as a pilot in just one pocket of the organization and there has been no effort to replicate and institutionalize it (or share it as a best practice) across the organization, there are bound to be repeated discussions. These discussions or reinvention will of course happen in parts of the organization other than the pilot department.

So what?

  1. Ensure that teams and individuals subjected to NIH syndrome are addressed when marketing KM as a philosophy for avoiding reinvention
  2. When ideas and solutions that have the potential to be reused are circulated, do everything to address difference of opinion. If it is a genuine and valid difference of opinion, it augurs well for…it is an opportunity to further improve the idea/solution.
  3. Identify the followers and laggards and do some smart marketing to get them to join the early adopters faster than they otherwise would
  4. Make sure reusable ideas and solutions are at least recorded, communicated and made easily available on demand
  5. If an idea is worth it, strike while the iron is hot. Get it implemented immediately. If the time is not ripe don’t spend too much time on discussing the idea in the first place.
  6. Know when to move out of the pilot phase and do everything to replicate and institutionalize it across the organization so others get to make use of the idea/solution and not think through the very same things again. (In many organizations, new and useful ideas are implemented in pockets and the rest of the organization is not even aware of it because of lack of institutionalization or best practice sharing mechanisms. What a shame!)

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