E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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APQC KM & Innovation 2007 – The Role of Knowledge Management in Innovation by Carla O’Dell – Part Deux

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After the few days break sharing my thoughts over here, having attended the APQC Knowledge Management and Innovation event in Houston, I thought it would be a good opportunity to again pick up the subject and continue to share with you folks some of the experiences I went through while attending the two day event. If you would remember, the last weblog post that I created was on the keynote session that Carla O’Dell did around the subject of The Role of Knowledge Management in Innovation.

Back then, I finished off mentioning how crucial and important the role of communities has been all along in helping boost collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst knowledge workers, which, as a result, would help drive innovation further. Very strong and powerful messages, indeed, from Carla, but I am going to stop here for a minute as I feel that she surely hit the nail on the head when stressing out how important communities are for collaboration to help drive that innovation.

Yes, indeed, collaboration through communities is key and here you have got the three main bullets  that Carla shared to demonstrate it:

"1. Collaboration is the fountain of innovation. Global companies report that more profitable new ideas come from the boundaries -partners, suppliers and customers.

2. Innovation cannot happen without an explicit process to enable knowledge sharing, integration and insights -linked explicitly to an innovation "receptor".

3. Communities of practice can be structured to enable innovation -or the principles can be applied to innovation processed and issues."

After going through this, Carla showed as well why communities are so important and I guess that instead of me detailing why they would be I am just going to include them over here as well so that you, too, can go through them:

"1. "The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate" (Thomas Watson, Sr.) Corollary: and learn from it.

2. Experts identify "gaps" between current practices and best practices in respective business processes

3. Document successful practices for others to use

4. Support and enhance a knowledge-sharing culture.

5. Speed rate of innovation by linking appropriate groups to diverse bodies of knowledge and expertise."

Those are surely very good points, I am not going to deny them. I think Carla is just so spot on. However, I am not sure it would be the complete picture, and the main reason being two different key factors that are part of most of the different communities that keep emerging over the last few years:

– Firstly, just as communities are very good at capturing good practices, they are equally impressive at collecting lessons learned on what may have gone wrong and, as a result of it, become much more knowledgeable for the next time. Because after all, whether we like it or not, we have a tendency to learn a whole lot more from what goes wrong than from what goes right. That is just how our brain works. And, like I said, communities seem to be very good at handling those painful experiences, get the most out of them and re-use those knowledge snippets for a later time to help address similar situations and overcome them successfully next time around. And they will always do.

– And, secondly, most of the stuff I have tried to reproduce in here has got a very strong flavour of how formal communities tend to operate. However, we should not ignore, nor neglect, that perhaps the communities that manage to drive innovation the furthest are those with a very informal flavour, mainly because the different community members are driving their motivation to share, collaborate and innovate due to their passion for that particular topic. They do not care much about processes, structures, hierarchies or whatever else. They just hang out together, drive on their passion for that subject and they keep innovating as a result of that collaboration.

If you take a look into it that is how most of the communities out there on the Internet in this space of social computing have been operating all along and how they will continue to operate. So, in a way, that informal nature of those communities is provoked by their usage of social software and in reality it is that particular usage that helps them innovate further in the community space.

Thus, as you would be able to see, Carla touched base on some of the key fundamental aspects of how communities can help boost the sharing of knowledge and collaboration so that knowledge workers have got the opportunity to keep innovating. However, for that to happen we need to ensure that communities keep that informal flavour as much as they can possibly do at the same time that they would try to combine what has worked with what hasn’t. Focusing on best practices is just no longer good enough.

Finally, from there onwards Carla touched base on something that I have been stressing myself for a number of years and which plenty of people seem to underestimate as it may not have much to do with a business environment nor provide much business value, according to some: social capital. Yes, indeed, social capital, over the course of the next few years, will not only become a very empowering and essential skill, but will also help drive the next wave of interactions in the current business environment where the boundaries between work and personal, work and play, are more blurred than ever before.

And that is what communities can help achieve: a comfortable level of social capital skills, amongst several others, thanks to, amongst other things, the extensive usage and adoption of social computing within the enterprise. So who said again that social computing does not drive innovation? Who said again that communities do not have a degree of importance within the business world to drive such innovation? Well, think again!

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