Continuing in the series on knowledge and education for innovation.
Part two – what needs to improve in innovation?
I asked in the first part of this series of blogs –How do we advance the learning needed for innovation? So first, do we (all) agree that we do need to improve the education around the subject of innovation and its management? Do we need to recognize it as an essential discipline that should be fully recognized with our organizations? Today it is not central, it is not driving the business surprisingly when you stop and think about it, older more established practices drive the business and innovation is a responder. I think this needs reversing totally.
We live in knowledge-based societies and we need to constantly increase our share of understanding as this new knowledge becomes the building block for innovation to take hold and grow our wealth, create the next generation of products or services.
Our challenges are greater and more complex today.
Modern society is becoming a fairly intense place, it is growing in complexity, reducing constantly our need to reduce our reaction times so we need to ‘read and react’ far quicker than in the past. We are being highly challenged in adapting our existing practices and processes within innovation to speed up. In reality top of mind for CEO’s is the innovation gap, they want to quickly see and fill and secondly, their worry over the innovation delay.
We need to find new mechanisms on innovation to allow for a better transfer.
The appreciation of knowledge – its collection, its understanding and interpretation and in its transformation and exploitation are not being valued as highly as they should within this need to speed up, to close gaps and reduce delay but more importantly, to contribute to higher value outputs that “fuels” new innovation activity.
The production and reproduction of knowledge becomes key - it drives activity and direction for innovation activity. As we create, accumulate and disperse knowledge we become more engaged outside our own walls. We need to seek constantly a comparative advantage and to achieve this goal we are seeking more and more open exchanges to allow this flow of knowledge to be captured.
We are becoming increasingly interdependent and permeable to disturb what “we think we know” to “what we need to know”. Relationships, networks, dedicated resources searching; collecting and assessing knowledge all rapidly contribute to our growing need for new capacities. We then need to build the appropriate capabilities to translate and exploit this new knowledge. Our “need to innovate” is becoming our sole means to survive and prosper in this highly competitive world we continue to create and knowledge becomes the key to this.
Knowledge cannot be allowed to be left to chance today but needs a coherent, structured way to be captured, used and valued. “Our knowledge” is our potentially most highly prized tradable asset. The skills we build from this understanding allow us to build, explore and experiment so we can translate this into new innovations.
Content and Context are the essential partners.
As we look at innovation today, often one of four aspects are missing or under-served for what an organization is trying to achieve. The ‘context’ that innovation is set is usually the most poorly described part. The ‘content’ can fill rapidly but this tends to be full of endeavour and activity as the results have not been as clearly articulated as they should have been. The ‘purpose’ and the ‘process’ make up the other parts. Knowing the purpose comes from setting the context - this clarifies the inputs that form purpose. Lastly we have the process where the activities should flow through. Each of these four dimensions is often not as solid or robust as they should be, and increasingly, new knowledge is not getting translated to leverage its potential due to these weaknesses within our management of innovation.
Absorptive Capacity becomes essential to understand
As we rely increasingly on our growing ‘interactions and linkages’ we need a system to manage this. Absorptive capacity was introduced as an idea and first explored by Wesley Cohen and Daniel Levinthal in a 1990 article (“Absorptive capacity: a new perspective on learning and innovation”) and can provide us the knowledge learning path for building a real “knowledge exchange” process.
We can learn to exploit both innovation and learning in the following ways:
- Learning by searching – as we formalize our search activities we absorb new understanding that leads to new innovation potential
- Learning by doing – as we accumulate knowledge gained, we gain experience and the more we establish repetitive activities through exploring, prototyping methods and reduce the ad-hoc activities the more we can learn and gain from this approach
- Learning by using – as we utilize and adopt more, through exploration and adoption of new products, new technologies and methods, we are opening up to experiment and possibilities to extend this new ‘experience or knowledge’ even further.
- Learning from advances in science and technology – as we absorb new discoveries we capitalize on adding further value or diffusing this even more
- Learning from inter-industry spillovers – the increasing value of cross industry collaboration and exchanges is going beyond ‘just’ spillovers, they are increasingly significant to our learning and applying different approaches that lend themselves to a greater commonality
- Learning by interacting – we increasingly go ‘across’ organizations and equally move ‘up and down’ them to seek out interactions with other sources of knowledge and growing expertise. These are further augmented by external collaborative exchanges and cooperation activities allowing for deepening knowledge, greater experimentation and interactions to deliver potentially ‘richer’ innovation.
Each of these six points of learning need exploiting for innovation.
Finally in this part, I’ve discussed absorptive capacity in previous articles “making innovation practice spread”, learning to absorb new knowledge for innovation and moving towards a more distributed innovation model to provide a fairly comprehensive set of discussions on this critical aspect of innovation and knowledge provision.
We are equally in need to recognize differences and value in tacit and explicit knowledge.
The distinctions and discussions about tacit and explicit knowledge are equally important to our “knowledge exchange”. Ikujiro Nonaka discussed four different modes of knowledge conversion and subsequent organizational learning in his SECI model
- Socialisation (the conversion of tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge);
- Combination (the conversion of explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge);
- Externalisation (the conversion of tacit to explicit knowledge); and
- Internalisation (the conversion of explicit to tacit knowledge).
To explain this we need to distinguish between tacit and explicit I outlined some thoughts in a previous article “tacit knowledge rich in its innovation implications” and further explored this in “making the appropriate impact”. The critical message here is that tacit knowledge vs. explicit knowledge is where the interaction between these two is vital for the creation of new knowledge that leads to future innovation potential.
Knowledge for innovation needs to build in both formal and informal ways.
With the recognition that absorptive capacity and richer combinations between tacit and explicit knowledge needs a real recognition of their vital part they are playing within innovation’s future health. Without new knowledge we can’t explore the potential for innovation. We do need to explore these far more in our advancing knowledge and education for innovation
My last part within this knowledge exchange series I want to finish with the ‘coupling’ within the innovation system, our need for greater convergence and the dangers lurking in innovation. Each has its place within knowledge and education for innovation.