Shifting our thinking within the Fourth Industrial Revolution

I always enjoy selected parts of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos and in this year’s #WEF18 agenda, it certainly had its good points. I don’t attend, I listen and read.

Overhaul though, I was a little disappointed, as it lacked the real leadership insights you come to expect, strong personalities did not seem to shine through this year from the speakers and panelists. They gave fragmented insights for the future, mostly seemed to be retrospective, caught in the present, or simply trying to catch up.

I certainly felt the WEF theme for this meeting, of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” showed through, actually more re-affirmed as fractured. We seem all to be still working on what the future will look like, as it is in danger of being fractured even more before it coalesces around new directions and order.

Some suggest we should allow the future to just simply unfold but I don’t share this view, our future does need to be shaped in so many ways but in what ways and what to allow to “simply evolve” is a very complex question and we are not getting many cohesive answers. So, it continues where it continues, based on individual perspective. The future is never easy to map out but you would expect more answers than questions

Yet what this forum provided, was in its bringing me back to refocus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It helped deliver a far sharper focus on its impact, potential, and scope beyond just manufacturing. Now, this was the major ‘bright spot’ of future collaborative potential for us all. Also the growing concensus around the skills and future of work Continue reading


Munich Re offers a real clarity to their innovating future

The most impressive presentation I reviewed in 2017 was the one from Munich Re, held on 21st November 2017 under their investor day link

This, for me, was so well structured and offered such a high level of clarity on the pathway they are pursuing, combining innovation and digital, with the outcomes emerging, of building a new suite of Business Models.

I can only simply touch on it here, I suggest you do your own drawing of conclusions.

The Insurance industry has been struggling to adjust and adapt to the rapid changes occurring yet so many are hanging onto the traditional way of doing things. It is so refreshing to see how Munich Re are venturing out, exploring and exploiting, in multiple ways to learn a new innovation pathway.

I follow the two big Re-Insurers, Swiss Re and Munich Re specifically and the innovative differences are quite significant. Swiss Re seems locked far more into traditions and I am still to be convinced they have yet to embrace innovation, certainly from an external perspective, in the same way as Munich Re is undertaking. I struggle with Swiss Re’s messages on where they are exploring the future of Insurance. The way I view, it seems far more unclear, even random, they seem far more closed down with isolated attempts to explore opportunities.  Whereas Munich Re is constantly opening up to change, exploring and seems far more comprehensive and holistic. It seems one is undertaking “words are simply spoken” the other “actions underscored”. Maybe I am wrong. Continue reading

As we enter 2018 we will need Knowledge Graphs

I received an early New Year present, actually, it came from Siemens. They had invited me to their Siemens Innovation Day in mid-December 2017. I really appreciated it, yet it took me time to absorb all that was provided, over these past two weeks.

My early present, well actually an idea, came the day before the event. I was included in the Industry Analysts visit to the Siemens Technology Center, at Neuperlach in Munich. We were provided a variety of insights in different presentations and demonstrations, of the technology they are working upon but one stood out for me, being introduced to Knowledge Graphs.

This one ‘thing’ really caught my attention. It was showcased in the technology center, briefly, as part of a broader set of presentations. It immediately struck me as having the potential to be very vital for the connected innovation I see, as our future.  These few insights set me off on a new train of thought and I scribbled down some hasty notes while listening to this concept. I then was able to review this a little more after the brief presentation. I then started to research on (Industrial) Knowledge Graphs for the initial depth of understanding I was seeking. Continue reading

Delving into a complex world: helping to keep pace

Complex World 1“The world has never been as complex, dynamic and uncertain as it is today and the pace of change will only increase.”

We hear this consistently, our continual problem is trying to make sense of it for ourselves, we know all around us seems to constantly increase in its complexity but how are we keeping pace or at least trying too? I can’t check out of the human race just yet, can you afford too? If not then read on.

For me, I try to attempt to keep up to date by investing increasing time in acquiring a better understanding, a deeper knowledge of all the interconnected parts. As part of my job, advising others on all things swirling around innovation, I invest significant time in researching, learning and applying what I feel is important to others to understand or at least to raise their awareness.

Even if we are “time starved” we simply must try and keep moving along in this understanding and hopefully once in a while keeping ahead of the curve, or think we are!

There is one rich source of knowledge that comes from many of the larger consulting firms.

Continue reading

Learning favours the brave

Knowledge and learning 4The challenges we are facing today seem to be coming faster at us, more complex to decipher and then re-evaluate how we should respond. To achieve faster response we certainly need to educate the organization more than ever.

We need to absorb more, we need to encourage learning more especially to pursue innovation. We need to actively set up learning ways within our organizations to establish their abilities to recognize the value of new, external information (knowledge), to assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends.

Innovation within the organization needs not just greater recognition of its vital parts, but also of its status as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event that we need to move towards increasingly in more organized ways. Innovation needs to be recognized as a clear discipline, a new expertise that is as powerful as Marketing became some decades ago.

Seeking out knowledge that feeds our innovations

Knowledge and learning 3The more we embrace change and recognize innovation demands more of our time, the more we seek out knowledge that ‘feeds’ innovation. And the more we ‘push’ for learning, the greater chance we have of thriving in a challenging world.

The expectation ‘bar’ needs to be raised from those practicing innovation, I feel the constant need is for those working within innovation they have this real need to raise their game significantly. Innovation needs organizing but it also needs a better understanding of its contributing parts.

Learning and Education should always start at home.

The earlier we learn, have open interactions and form linkages, the more we will be ready to advance innovation into what it must become: a discipline highly valued for what it contributes with in terms of wealth and growth potential.

We need to find the determination to underpin the capacity for innovation, lying within us all, and that comes from knowledge and education through collaborative learning. So what is your capacity for innovation really like within your organization? Is the learning required for innovation set up in structured ways or left to individual learning and experimentation?

Do either structured or informal ways feed back into the organizational learning system to benefit others? Or is the knowledge gained just left ‘resident’ in the person, not being put to that greater use?

Knowledge exchange is the way forward but we need to avoid the easy paths.

Knowledge and learning 2Organizations need to move well beyond their lazy reliance on best practice comparison and they need to find better ways to explore emerging practices. But that takes many into the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this exploration and experimentation.

It is easy to copy but we often fail to recognize all the contextual factors that went into making it that one specific organizations good practice, and I guarantee these are not yours!

Best practice has their comparable uses but it is your focusing on the good and emerging practices within your own organization is the area to focus, for learning and wanting to improve into those that make your practices really work. Then applying, experimenting and learning from novel practices that provide growing confidence in creative thinking.

Also give some thought for next practice, those practices that prompt reinvention. They start such totally fresh thinking, they challenge existing paradigms and move you towards considering new business models.

Organizations constantly anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, as long as we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, and the shareholder just expects consistent dividends as their part of the equation and is quickly mobilized to force change if it does not meet this immediate aim, we head down the wrong path.

We are not sustaining our organization and we are not advancing ourselves either, we are destroying much in our current approaches. We do need to focus more on the competence-enhancing not competence-destroying aspects.

We need to re-balance the “risk and opportunity” to push our use of new knowledge into fresh innovation that ‘advances’ on the existing. To recognize the difference we need to encourage knowledge to be ‘freely’ exchanged, and then provide the environment to encourage a re-educating on ‘seeing and exploring’ new possibilities that allow us to grow.

Shifting the knowledge needle takes real commitment

Knowledge and learning 1Can we recognize that choosing the tougher pathway of building our own distinct capabilities, learning block by learning block, is the right one to follow. This allows us to build capacities that are ours, seeking out the knowledge to build the absorptive capacity that acquire, assimilate, transform and exploit, so as to give us greater chances of finding new innovation that is valued and allows us all to grow and gain from this dedicated learning.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, ones pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted. These are building on novel and unique practices, extracted not from others best practices but from emerging practices learn by deliberate design and our own personal experiences, formed within our organizations unique view of the ‘take of and place in’ the world.

Finding our own way relies mostly on us to find the answers. We grow by seeking out knowledge as it feeds our minds to find our unique ways to contribute and share.

Work to be done is innovation’s invisible hand

Back in 1776 Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations” discussed the concept of the ‘work to be done.’ This has fascinated me for what we need to do for achieving any new innovation, it is the ‘work to be done’ that generates and pushes boundaries beyond the existing.  This ‘classic’ book has become regarded as the one that described the birth of modern capitalism as well as economics.

Adam Smith also introduced the concept of ‘the Invisible Hand as a core part of his thesis, that man’s natural tendency toward self-interest – in modern terms, looking out for No.1 – results in prosperity, not just for the individual but for society.  ‘The invisible hand’ is essential for free markets and capitalism, through how it generates wealth in competition for scarce resources. By maximizing their own interest as the direct intention, this ‘invisible hand’ also stimulates those around you and in the society you belong. As you seek to leverage your own assets, you are promoting society as a whole. Today this can be more by design, or through an unintended consequence of how knowledge flows.

Arguably the ‘invisible hand’ can today be seen as realizing all our potential, individual and collective, exploiting all available existing assets for benefit and gain. We call these our tangible and intangible assets.  Often overlooked, or under-appreciated are those more intangible assets, that can significantly differentiate, are surely today’s ‘invisible hand?’

The make-up of intangible assets

There are many thoughts around what makes up our intangible assets but these can be summarized as made up of 1) human assets– the knowledge, skills, experiences, our abilities to organize these within our thinking, 2) structured capital as the pool of knowledge made up in our institutions, our rules, norms, knowledge diffusion across broad communities, 3) the social capital that forms today more around our networking that relies on infrastructure, access to knowledge, exchanges and relationships.

It is the ability to combine our tangibles with our intangible capitals that allows us to think and explore all that is around, to discover and exploit the potentials within this ‘work to be done’.

The volatile world we are dealing with today.

Today we seem to live in more volatile times where it becomes more important for us to focus on the work to be done is, not the work done. We have to keep focusing on the future. The ‘work done’ is the accumulated knowledge; the built up ‘stock’ that has contributed and been embodied in the organizations results to date, seen in the past where innovation has contributed in part to this. We have built up ‘know how’ and competencies in the ‘work done’ but this needs improving upon and challenging.

The ‘work to be done’ is where we push forward and explore greater possibilities. Part of this is focused on how we are going to adapt to change, to add more knowledge. For instance, we have operated in the past in far more of a mass production era, where systems could be designed for stable, more homogenized markets, where we could extract the maximum effectiveness and efficiencies. The ‘work done’ was equivalent to the ‘work to be done’ due to this predictability. This is not the case anymore, markets have fragmented, and we set about to design for the individual’s needs or in modular approaches for example.

We are in a ‘race’ to win

Today much has changed; we are faced with rapidly evolving technology diffusion. There is a race among nations and organizations to ‘win’ in global markets. This is causing increasing disruptive forces to come into play, where constant change is becoming more the norm and the emphasis has changed from ‘just’ efficiency and effectiveness but to be constantly adaptive, fluid and have increasing agility.

We focus far more on building in ‘tailored’ service, based on knowing the customers’ needs and understanding, on designing around new business models and in this, the ‘work to be done’ is becoming far more important than the ‘work done.’ It is the realization that it is the contribution of the intangibles assets, our growing intellectual capital, are becoming the real differentiation point to exploit the future potential.

The intangible assets provide the intellectual capital base, these allow us to react to changing demand for the required future value creation so we can effectively compete and sustain ourselves. This constant search for the ‘work to be done’ is fueling what has to be done.

Work to be done is the make-up of learning new skills, develop a greater dexterity and judgement based on what we need to ‘actively’ go out and seek. ‘Work to be done’ is searching for our future growth and well-being and this is derived through our future innovation activities. So much of this is made up of the intangible parts that can combine with what we know, what we have previously achieved, in work done, to provide the new wealth of organizations, as we participate more actively in the knowledge sharing economy of today and the near future.

We can’t remain islands of limited knowledge, we must seek out others to combine and achieve the work to be done. We are arguably in the network era, yet so many are failing to optimize their intangible assets and exploiting different organization dynamics that would greatly benefit their growth, especially when you operate with scarce resource.

Today’s need is for increasing interactions, linkages and seeking new knowledge to stay competitive in global markets.

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. Innovation ‘feeds off’ knowledge, they are inseparable, like twins, needing each other.

We can learn to exploit innovation, both in learning internally through the process of purposefully searching, doing and using what we gain and externally, by exploring new discoveries, collaborating, exchanging and generally interacting and so gaining fresh expertise, insight and knowledge.

As organizations seek increasingly outside their own walls, the appreciation of how they are managing knowledge, learning and interpreting this, is becoming a critical aspect of a more ‘open’ collaborative innovation to be successful. There is a growing need to absorb, integrate and apply this in new and novel ways for accelerating the innovation performance.  As we seek out more to compete in global markets, the more the knowledge increases in complexity we add more to the ‘work to be done’.

Markets are in constant flux, rapidly changing and we need to manage all the new insights. The more we are relying on knowledge flowing into the organization the more we have to strength our inter-dependence and collaboration efforts to extract the knowledge we are acquiring for it potential value. There is a consistent self-interest in doing this for our prosperity as well as others – the invisible hand.

Are organizations recognizing the value of structuring their knowledge flows?

This is the make-up of much of the work to be done in managing the knowledge flows. We need to recognize the importance of this shift from (physical) ‘work done’ to (intellectual) ‘work to be done’ and reconfigure the changing capabilities and capacities required, so as to grow our future ‘wealth’ of organizations, of nations and within ourselves to learn and respond. We needs to understand that today’s ‘ invisible hand’ is how our intangible assets are increasingly crucial and need to be actively managed, for this essential work to be done.

Forget ‘work done’, that’s in our past, it is already in the (knowledge) bank, we need to focus on the work that needs to be done so we can compete and thrive, there is so much more to understand and learn from as the challenges become more demanding to deliver on our innovation efforts.

There’s so much work to be done.

Our future progress is tied up in offering meaningful work, providing that sense of purpose. Building greater capabilities to quote Saul Kaplan “are the amino acids of innovation.  They are the building blocks that enable value delivery”. We are looking at increasing “the random capability collisions” where new innovation will happen at different intersections that combine knowledge from global markets, other competitors, different cultures and a variety of disciplines.

We need to build new capabilities that are far more market orientated, from co-creation and knowledge acquisition, from sense making, tapping into collective memories across a vast network of understanding. We need to unlearn, we need to reflect. All of these are in the ‘work to be done’ to stay ahead, be relevant and compete in today’s world. A world that is far, far different from the world seen by Adam Smith and what he saw needed doing.

The value in his observations are still valid today, the ‘invisible hand’ is as important today through our successful utilization of our intangible assets as we exploit new knowledge and apply this to innovating our future. One that combines our need with societies, not just based on growth but also on well-being as well. It is knowing the ‘work to be done’ that is so necessary for innovation and much of this remains hidden, waiting to be discovered.

The real value of knowledge exchange

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:


  1. Learning by searching – as we formalize our search activities we absorb new understanding that leads to new innovation potential
  2. 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
  3. 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.


  1. Learning from advances in science and technology – as we absorb new discoveries we capitalize on adding further value or diffusing this even more
  2. 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
  3. 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

  1. Socialisation (the conversion of tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge);
  2. Combination (the conversion of explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge);
  3. Externalisation (the conversion of tacit to explicit knowledge); and
  4. 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.