Wednesday, March 10, 2010

KM & Innovation are the Best of Friends

Well, a long time ago......but not a very long time ago, a passionate innovation evangelist wondered whether KM 'disables' innovation. Yours truly was shocked, stunned, concerned, curious and disturbed enough to want to vehemently deny it. Ironically, one of the reasons why this blogger loves KM is because of the potential role it can play in Innovation! You see the thing now? So, I decided to ramble non-stop (politely and smilingly though) in response to the post by the aforementioned person. Not sure whether that had any impact but this morning I found a student from Singapore posing a similar but milder question, in Linked In, on whether KM and Innovation are on the opposite sides of the table. So, I decided to refer back to the post that I'd come across last year and knew I could pick up my comment on it and sort of quote myself in response to the Linked In query. But to my surprise, the comment I'd left on the post was missing! No trace of it at all. Whatsoever. Strange, eh? You know what that meant....I had to ramble all over again on Linked In. Sad for the student perhaps, for I may have put in more energy into it this time around ;-) 

Here we go. If you believe KM does not enable innovation or, err, 'disables' innovation, then please get a cuppa or a chocolate bar, put aside your belief for just a few moments and consider my ramblings. But please do let me know if what I say makes no sense or if you have better and more points to add to this post. 


This is a topic very close to my heart. I am quite passionate about removing (or at least debating furiously upon) this not so uncommon belief that KM and Innovation don't go along together or are detrimental to each other. Like many responses above indicate, this is far from the truth, IMHO. It all depends on the KM objectives and strategy, overall corporate culture and its ability to focus on the objectives as well as balance different approaches. 

If the organization is exclusively focused on cost cutting and productivity improvements via KM, then obviously the KM team and the management may chant the 'reuse knowledge material' and 'collaborate to avoid redundancy' mantras more than anything else. But if the focus is on combining views in creative ways (which is nothing but innovation) there's nothing like KM for it! KM is about bringing people together, helping them learn from each other, collaborate in creative ways and add each other's learnings and experiences to create something fresh and new! Think of brainstorming sessions. Think of communities of practice! Think of team work. Think of experts in different areas coming together to combine their expertise and making something cool out of almost nothing. 

And, even otherwise, please note that KM strategies have undergone a significant transformation over the last few years. Long gone are the days when organizations and KM teams only used to emphasize on documenting and sharing knowledge via document repositories. Organizations started shifting toward tools for expertise location, social networking, collaboration spaces and now Enterprise 2.0 - which is all about connecting people and letting them innovate as a collective force! All said and done, the culture and the environment must help employees balance reuse and innovation via appropriate KM approaches. 

Finally, I think Nick Milton puts it well - KM should be used only to kill unnecessary innovation! Each individual needs to introspect on the context and the situation  in order to decide whether it calls for a quick reuse of material or independent introspection that could even later be complemented with some reusable material. And do remember - Innovation is generally considered to be the art of looking at old ideas in new ways or combining two or more old ideas in a 'new' way. :-)


jackvinson said...

Good stuff, Nimmy. Can you summarize the claims of how KM can hurt innovation? Maybe we should trim those concerns as well.

Nimmy said...

Thanks so much, Jack! And I think your suggestion is great. In retrospect, it should have been done as a part of the post. Let me attempt to that now...!

Claim #1. The first ever time I heard someone say KM hindered creativity was many years ago. To be honest, I could not dismiss the claim without considering it seriously. But I came to the conclusion that it was not a fair accusation. a)Such a claim generally comes from people who have only seen repositories being built as part of KM initiatives. b)They seem to forget that, KM is about capturing knowledge especially for people who *need* it. People who are new to the task, who are looking for help and who have no clue where to start. c)People already in the know may not be so affected by the knowledge captured that they completely switch off their own thinking. d)In a way, such a claim is an insult to our native intelligence - We are smart enough to at least decide when to reuse something when under time constraints and when to creatively rearrange knowledge (even if we are only talking about facts)

Claim #2. KM is about reusing knowledge. Innovation is about creating new knowledge. I beg to differ on this. KM is not only about reusing knowledge. It is about combining existing knowledge in new ways as well. And Innovation - when seen from one angle - is the creative combination of multiple (old) ideas or even a fresh 'treatment' of an old idea.

Claim #3. KM is about cost cutting and productivity improvements which is the opposite of innovation. Nah. If the organization decides it wants to employ the concepts of KM to innovate rather than just improve productivity through reuse, who's going to stop them? KM practices like communities of innovation, crowdsourcing and its variations and social networking-based serendipity are designed around the concept of allowing organizations to innovate. We've been told by many a thought leader that innovation always happens when people come together and combine their intelligence and expertise. Need more be said?

I rest my case here. :-) Any more inputs in terms of claims etc is more than welcome. Please do add to this thread.