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Innovation With A Little Help From Your Friends

Innovation With A Little Help From Your Friends

| On 28, Jan 2009

James Todhunter

Community and Web 2.0 continue to be a recurrent theme in many of the conversations I have with innovation leaders.  Helping innovation workers leverage each other is extremely important.  The value of intellectual assets within most companies is largely untapped.  Designers and engineers need better connectivity to the knowledge that will speed them toward value creating innovations.

In many organizations, the response to this need is to create internal innovation networks.  Often ad hoc in nature, the success of these networks has been spotty.  Even so, participants are often very excited because even a drop of water is joyous to the parched soul.  Information technology can help add significant value to the internal information network, but care must be taken in understanding what needs must be met.

Innovation Network

Traditional knowledge management initiatives are broadly viewed as having failed to deliver the goods when it comes to innovation.  IT groups have, in good faith, built impressive infrastructures for knowledge management; yet, workers are still frustrated by an inability to get at information effectively when they need it.  This is large because the traditional approach builds the access paradigm on models of physical data deployment and arbitrary taxonomy rather that the mental models of access held by knowledge consumers.

Information becomes actionable knowledge only when it is delivered to the knowledge worker when it is needed, in the form it is needed, and in the context of the knowledge worker job.  Once the knowledge management system requires the worker to leave their work paradigm and adapt to the model of the data delivery system, the effectiveness of the system is severely undermined.

So, what is to be done to empower innovation practitioners to connect with knowledge and each other?  Here are a few tips to answer the question.

  1. Build knowledge management structures around the jobs and thought models of the workers

  2. Provide active concept delivery systems – toss out the old and failed search metaphor – anticipate knowledge needs and integrate concept delivery seamlessly into the innovation workers tasks

  3. Think Passive – build an internal innovation network, but don’t be satisfied with an approach that requires workers to actively look for help.  Make sure your network is designed to reach out to workers and connect them not just to knowledge but also to each other.

The theme here is simple.  Innovation thrives when the innovation workers are enabled through knowledge and community connections.  But, these facilities must be provided in a way that support the work of these designers and engineers, and not one that adds more hurdles.