Fusion, Flow and Fluidity are needed in our Management Practices

We are caught in a real tug of war within much of what we do in business today; in our responses and reactions to many of the dramatic business conditions we are facing, many deteriorating or being challenged by greater global competition.

We are facing a very uncertain future if we base our actions on past practices. We need a new management model, one where we are pushing to seek increasing new knowledge.

We actually are in urgent need of a new management operating model.

A new management model where we are pushing to seek increasing ‘fusion’ but still want degree’s of separation, we are seeking out ‘flows’ through new knowledge to break down barriers that restrict new insights so as to turn these into new value creation, and we are encouraged to seek out and establish a higher ‘fluidity’ in what we do and reduce the rigidity we presently have in place in our current organizations.

There are growing concerns centered around how we need to adapt our management practices to manage in a digital world, we are grappling with the consequences and we need to find new solutions and approaches. We face issues made up of increasing information overload, coming at us at increasing speed and failing in our abilities to fully interpret this. We lack the agility and flexibility to respond to what this all means in both its implications and potential, for sensing and seizing new value creation from understanding this.

We need a new management practice to deal with our digital world. One real need is for increasing knowledge and then being equipped in interpreting this in our learning, daily routines and activities is becoming paramount to break out of a declining performance cycle.

Applying the three horizon lens to develop new management practices

If you apply the three horizon lens we need to construct management and its performance approaches differently you begin to see the pathway for change.

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Tacit Knowledge- Rich in its Innovation Implications.

Imagine if we could understood tacit knowledge better—what it was, how we can set about to capture it and organise it effectively, once acquired how it can be built upon even further. How can we learn to recognize it more actively as as essential part of our lives, when to trust it, how to teach it to others, how to share what it has offered to us, as individuals, to others.

Then imagine what it could provide us for this knowledge to be leveraged within any broader community use, so it is knowingly valued by others as something they can gain from, not as we often do, simply reject it as not within ‘our’ experience. That could be pretty valuable. It could give us a deeper understanding and empower us to function better in many sorts of situations. Then surely we must search for understanding this more and what it means, as in this case, for relating it to innovation.

Let’s start off by stating tacit knowledge is inherently inefficient, so is good innovation; it is messy, often unstructured. Why do we continue to not give this TK sufficient ‘head space’ in our thinking? Is this because it is not tangible, that softer aspect that we reject as we don’t have time for it or simply we don’t ‘trust’ it like those ‘hard’ quantifiable measuring points?

Using Michael Polanyi as my main anchoring point here.

Michael Polanyi, was a scientist and philosopher, who while writing Personal Knowledge he identified what he calls the “structure of tacit knowing”. He viewed it as his most important discovery. He claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness.

To quote part of an entry in the Wikipedia and get the ‘heavy stuff’ out of the way:

Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. It involves learning and skill, but not in a way that can be written down. Tacit knowledge consists often of habits and culture that we do often do not recognize in ourselves. In the field of knowledge management, the concept of tacit knowledge refers to a knowledge possessed only by an individual and difficult to communicate to others via words and symbols. Knowledge that is easy to communicate is called explicit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” – as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science), or “know-who” (networking). It involves learning and skill but not in a way that can be written down. The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience.

Tacit knowledge (TK) is a crucial input to the innovation process

We depend on many of our different levels of tacit knowledge on how to innovate.

Firstly, new and novel problems require TK about ‘ways’ to tackle the unknowns associated with discovery and how to bring this out into a final innovative concept. The more we can form into teams and share what we know or why we do things in certain ways the greater the potential power of the collaborative effort. So the more interactions we have, especially face-to-face, direct contacts the more our tacit knowledge is seen and applied. The value of knowledge transfer to the innovation process is vital. Often we employ knowledge experts, subject matter experts and have a diversity of specialists collaborating as they are surprisingly as individuals, often unaware, often unable to articulate, communicate and describe what they know; it often requires others around them to bring it out. The important point is they know but often cannot articulate it without prompting or drawing out what they know in a ‘given’ context to make clearer meaning of it, moving it from tacit to explicit.

Secondly, tacit knowledge can be a real sustainable competitive advantage. The more you can transfer knowledge, tacit and explicit and embed it in group settings, to in-build in shared core values, assumptions and beliefs, the better but as we know, it is often hard to pin this down, to locate this, quantify it, map or value it. Especially without encouraging and stimulating the environment to allow time to draw it out.

Thirdly, TK makes up a large part of our human capital, the knowing part. To give TK the chance to spread or diffuse across the organization or outside, organizations not have to invest in their individuals but bring groups together to greatly increase this human capital. Also this knowledge has to  simultaneously be captured (if possible) so it ‘resides’ and can be diffused out even more. Knowledge management systems can help here if tacit knowledge was given the appropriate weight of focus it does need and a skill to decide the ‘what’ in its relevancy (and value) to any discussions.

Fouthly, and central to Michael Polanyi’s thinking on TK was the belief that creative acts (especially acts of discovery) are filled with strong personal feelings and commitments. He saw this as ‘creative tension’ where informed guesses, hunches and imaginings are part of exploratory acts and motivated by what he describes as our ‘passions’.  This is why there is always such a strong argument for innovation champions as well as the need to encourage anyone with a strong belief or insight, to find the time to explore it by clearing the path for them to do this as part of their work day- not just in their ‘free time’.

Conviction is always required for realizing innovation.

Polanyi talks of knowledge of approaching discovery. To hold such knowledge is an act deeply committed to the conviction that there is something there to be discovered -what we try to do through invention and innovation? It is through our determinations and beliefs we ‘push’ our tacit knowledge as we believe this is a path to go on bringing something new into the world, our new innovation. He placed a strong emphasis on dialogue within an open community- our networks for innovation to work. This is why open collaborative innovation is making such headway. We are allowing more ‘convictions’ to enter the innovation pipeline

Polanyi wrote in The Tacit Dimension, we should start from the fact that ‘we can know more than we can tell‘. He termed this pre-logical phase of knowing as ‘tacit knowledge’.

We need to move tacit knowledge out- into the open and main stream- so it can be shared.

Finally, tacit knowledge is certainly very personal, rooted in action and for us needing to acquire new experiences consistently we need to push ‘the organisation’ to find the ways to be more committed, involved and identifying with wanting to strenthen this. Organizations seek the knowledge owned by the individual as it is highly valuable to be shared, to be drawn out and not, as is often the way, the other way around, imposed upon individuals to bury their passions , guesses and hunches, the mistake we make today. A top down process by determining only the knowledge they need to know stifles creativity, enquiry and innovation discovery. We need a ‘healthy’ mix and open minds to allow discovery.

Management certainly needs to lead. It needs to give the context so knowledge can flow. For instance leadership inspires and identifies the right targets, while management identifies the right practice and encourages dialogues and sharing. We need to ‘codify’ as much as we can, hence why I argue, it needs to be built around context. This then allows people, time to explore, to exchange ideas and experiences so they all come together within the appropriate context or ‘spin out’ into something radical that leads to potential real breakthroughs. Finding time and making connections, simply being allowed to explore is rich for innovation possibilities, set around some even loose context.

Having a more open network that seeks out diversity and through this, delves potentially deeper in this often latent tacit knowledge that resides in the individual does needs significant focus and commitment to allow it to happen.

To encourage the free flow requires extensive personal contact and trust. Do we provide this in today’s organisation? Seemingly we are going the other way and perhaps knowledge attainment might actually be suffering?

For this blog I drew on an exchange I had with someone within my network, Jim Burke, Manager, Futures, Forecasting & Change Mgt at TASC, Inc.  These were in his private capacity for the exchanges we had that covered a range of different subjects we both wanted to explore our thinking ‘out loud’. Also I drew upon different references that explore tacit knowledge to help me in making some of the points expressed here.

Taking the Open Services Innovation Road.

I have been looking forward to this book; it addresses one of the most important areas of innovation that we have, the service sector. In this last week I have been reading Professor Henry Chesbrough’s new book “Open Services Innovation: Rethinking your business to grow and compete in a new era”, published by Jossey-Bass, released last week on 18th January.

Services are critical to understand and focus upon, for our continued economic growth, for the ability to offer often distinct and unique competitive advantage, as well as provide much of our future employment opportunities, especially crucial in the Western economies. Services today comprise roughly 80% of economic activity in the United States, and 60% of economic activity in the top forty economies of the world (source OECD).

Mixed Emotions

After reading this book a couple of times I must admit I had a set of very mixed emotions.

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The Hidden Human Dimension of Innovation

Why do so many of us get fixated on new technologies, discoveries, inventions, the process, the structures, even the art of creativity within innovation? Certainly each of these have their important contributing part to play in building a coherency for innovation, but the ingredient that tops them all and often forgotten or assigned as the afterthought is people. People making innovation work, all the rest are the enablers to help them.

The Australian Business Foundation published a report last year- the Hidden Human Dimensions of Innovation (http://www.abfoundation.com.au/research_knowledge) and in part of a speech given by its Chief Executive, Narelle Kennedy at an Innovation 2009 conference she spoke of this people factor.

Let me quote as her comments are really powerful and help encourage people to conceive that innovation is more of a social process first, and not a technical one so often a misconception of many.

–  People are innovation’s active ingredient, the catalyst that turns novelty into real benefits for economies and communities. Benefits like jobs, wealth, productivity and life-changing progress”

–  The role of people in innovation is a fact that remains hidden in plain sight. It is axiomatic – everyone says it and believes it, but few understand anything at all about the human factors in innovation”

It is the pivotal role of people as innovation carriers – their networks, collaborations, knowledge flows, interactions and tacit knowledge – and how innovation itself is a potent competitive force that drives productivity”

–  People who innovate together capitalise on their tacit knowledge and informal know-how and on past strategic investments to “navigate the white-water risks” of innovation more successfully than their competitors.”

–  “It is tacit knowledge, accumulated experience and learning by doing result in a highly valuable intangible asset that boosts the innovation odds”

–  “(It is people who) form a community of practice with a clear intangible asset value in the form of intellectual capital and human capital”

–  “(People rely) on long term and sustained investments in strategic capacity-building and continuity of interpersonal innovation networks and gains in value by sharing and usage”.

Where I do feel Narelle Kennedy nicely sums up is a much needed re-think for innovation for it to really work and be valued for what it can truly offer comes from this statement:drawing on knowledge and creativity to add value in products and processes is an expansive view of innovation – new things or ways of working; knowledge and creativity; add value; products and processes – it is a dynamic view

Everything else today that does not place people in the centre of the innovation equation offers a dangerous misconception about innovation and why it should work.  It is our people that make it happen and we need to make innovation the social process it needs to be.

Original post was submitted to http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/wordpress/2009/12/innovation-perspectives-hidden-human-dimensions/