Tag Archives: Innovation & Knowledge Management

Any similarities between Knowledge Management and the divided brain?

In this RSAnimate, Iain McGilchrist explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain as part of the RSA’s free public events programme.

To view the full lecture, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUHxC4wiWk

Many thanks to Chris Collison who pointed this out.

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Where does KM fit in?

Open Knowledge
Image by okfn via Flickr

At the end of the 90’s, KM challenges were addressed through technology-based solutions. When you told someone about KM, they would reply with a tool or a software-driven initiative; usually a corporate-wide one. It took a few years to find out that an IT project would not solve the need of knowledge and would not necessarily improve knowledge sharing culture within company.

Later on, KM was perceived not along with IT but rather with HR. To comply with both, a key message soon became that organizations have to acknowledge people over technology as the active protagonists in knowledge-sharing. And now we come to the next step: processes. KM later was associated to managing processes and understanding the knowledge flow. So, where does KM fit in at the end? Does it need a separate entity? Should it be part of something else?

After reviewing a large number of situations, reports and statistics, I see that there are two situations:

  1. KM is perceived as a response to a strategic need (especially after the downturn) that often even remains unidentified. They call it somehow else but they are trying to manage knowledge flows, have a knowledge-sharing culture and even build some IT if necessary. As KM is not defined, it’s not even called that way.

or

  1. Top management perceives KM as something they “must do” to be ahead of competition. They say they are engaged to harmonizing knowledge-sharing processes across the organization but the exact reasons why they are strategically implementing KM is still not very clear. As KM is defined, it is established as an individual separate entity from other organisational structures.

So, again, where does KM fit in? Any experience is different but here might be similarities we can work on to better understand how this is developing.

The 160 characters speech. How to get the attention of Generation Y.

Web 2.0

I presented a KM tool this year twice for two different groups in the same company. Once in January and once in June. In January the audience was aged around 30 and over with at least some years of work experience. In June I had people around 20 or slightly over, I assume most of them new joiners.

The presentation was highly interactive, practice-based, with no PowerPoint but… what a difference between the two groups! The first one showed an interest in all aspects of the tool, asked relevant questions to clarify how they can use it best for their own projects and you could see the thrill when they found something new. The second group did not ask many questions and when they did there was more a superficial clarification of functionalities. Moreover, even if it was a new tool for them and highly applicable for their daily job, the thrill of discovery was just not there…

This made me thinking about the new generation. How do you get their attention and what would be a better way to train these people?

Working environment

Raised in an educational culture of working in teams and being highly socially connected through computers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, social networking, blogs, multi-player gaming, etc., the new generation is extremely social-centric. They are building relationships virtually and they are bringing a culture of constantly working together into the workplace – wherever that is. They make sure their friends remain “in the know” by sharing information such as articles, job opportunities or YouTube videos. It is a continual habit – not daily, but hourly.

Education

Statistically, generation Y (and Z) will be the most educated generation ever. According to the “UNESCO Global Education Digest 2010” the number of secondary education students rose from 195 million in 1970 to 526 million in 2008, meanwhile, the number of tertiary students increased by six times over the same period, from 32 million to 159 million students in 2008.

Is this relevant? How much do this change the interest they will show in doing their job at the highest standards? Does this mean they will be ready for a life-long learning environment? In some cases it may be so but I’m not convinced about the majority. Education nowadays is a “must have” because you cannot find a proper job otherwise but I see way too much superficial behaviour here. You can do a paper work a lot faster by web searching today than you could have done it 5 or 6 years ago (needless to say 15 years ago) but you don’t pay much time analysing the information and its sources. Issues such as credibility of sources have melt down into wiki and blog posts. In this way you may have time to chat or post a joke on Facebook but this will not make you a better performer at your work place.

Training

When it comes to learning IBM has found different age groups respond best to different methods of training and professional development. Baby Boomers prefer the traditional structure of a classroom and teacher. Generation X typically opts for online courses that are self-paced, while Generation Y benefits more from social-based learning approaches.

I do agree with IBM’s results. The new generation needs an informal learning environment and messages have to be short and action based. It’s the culture. You need to communicate to them with some of the techniques used in advertising. You have to advertise your new tool the same way you would do with a new tooth paste. Otherwise, they will not be interested in using it. It just won’t create the buzz!

Thinking about all these I reached the conclusion that the best presentation for the new generation is a 160 characters speech. Maybe, just maybe, this “twitter-like” message would have a chance.

And just wait for Generation Z…

The next decade – the “most innovative time” ?

A recent PwC survey found that that innovation is high on the executive agenda in virtually every industry. In all, 78% of CEOs surveyed believe innovation will generate “significant” new revenue and cost reduction opportunities over the next three years. But it is highest for those where technology is changing customer expectations. In both the pharmaceutical and entertainment and media sectors, for example, more than 40% of CEOs believe their greatest opportunities for growth come from spawning new products and services.

Additionally, the survey found that CEOs are re-thinking their approach to innovation and increasingly seeking to collaborate with outside partners and in markets other than where they are based. For example, a majority of entertainment and media CEOs said they expect to co-develop new products and services.

The innovation process generally has four phases: 

  • Discovery: Identifying and sourcing ideas and problems that are the basis for future innovation. Sources may include employees as well as customers, suppliers, partners and other external organisations.
  • Incubation: Refining, developing and testing good ideas to see if they are technically feasible and make business sense.
  • Acceleration: Establishing pilot programs to test commercial feasibility.
  • Scale:  Integrating the innovation into the company; commercialisation and mass marketing.

However, the drive for innovation must arise from the CEO and other executive leadership by creating a culture that is open to new ideas and systematic in its approach to their development.

Therefore, the study also identifies 7 misconceptions about the innovation process:

  • Innovation can be delegated.  Not so. The drive to innovate begins at the top. If the CEO doesn’t protect and reward the process, it will fail.
  • Middle Management is the ally of innovation. Managers are not natural champions of innovation. They to reject new ideas in favor of efficiency.
  • Innovative people work for the money. Establishing a culture that embeds innovation in the organisation will attract and retain creative talent.
  • Innovation is a lucky accident. Successful innovation most often results from a disciplined process that sorts through many ideas.
  • The more open the innovation process, the less disciplined. Advances in collaborative tools, like social networking, are accelerating open innovation.
  • Businesses know how much innovation they need. Leaders must calculate their potential for inorganic growth to determine their need to innovate.
  • Innovation can’t be measured. Leadership needs to identify its ROII (Return on Innovation Investment).

Details about the study here.

Competitive intelligence: a real value or a buzzword?

ATWS Slide presentation from Sandra Carvao WTO...
Image by !/_PeacePlusOne via Flickr

“What competitive intelligence? We are in the middle of a crizes, we need to survive!” That may be the statement of many executives today, and it seems that competitive advantage is nothing but an elusive goal. The results of a recent McKinsey survey suggest one reason: just 53% of executives characterize their companies’ strategies as emphasizing the creation of relative advantage over competitors; the rest say their strategies are better described as matching industry best practices and delivering operational imperatives. In other words – this is nothing but a buzzword for stakeholders to make them feel safe.

What I even find more interesting is that only 33% say their companies’ strategies rest on novel data and insights not available to competitors, rather than widely available data. We are more or less used to see companies (especially the big ones) as having some “CIA” teams in charge with competitive intelligence but it seems that this is only true in some of them. What we don’t know from McKinsey’s survey is how many of those 33% are large multinationals and how many are not.

However, there may be one likely explanation of this fact that wouldn’t be affected by the size of the company or the existence of such intelligence units: the widespread availability of information and adoption of sophisticated strategy frameworks creates an impression that “everyone knows what we know and is probably analyzing the data in the same ways we are.” Yet if strategists question their ability to see something that no one else does, the question that raises is how reach are the powerful insight that are most likely to differentiate them from competitors?

Another astonishing result: only 12% of surveyed executives place novel insights in strategy among the top three influencers of financial performance. The financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed revealed weaknesses in many strategies and forced many companies to confront choices and trade-offs they put off in boom years. Not surprisingly, 56% report that their companies are making strategic decisions more frequently than before. This increased speed may make it difficult for some companies to analyze each decision in detail. However, a shift toward shorter planning cycles only increases the need to focus on the timeless aspects of strategy that can drive competitive advantage.

And this brings us back to our main question: is competitive intelligence a buzzword or does it bring a genuine value to the company and its financial performance?

KM Democracy: would a Parliament’s structure improve company knowledge management?

Prix du Sénat du livre d'Histoire
Image by Sénat via Flickr

At the heart of Eureka Forbes’ approach is the EuroSenate, a 14-member body of elected representatives – one for each of Eureka Forbes’ 14 strategic business units, or geographic zones. The Senators and their Councillors have a clear mandate. They are to be the emissaries of the head office in the zones, and the conduit between knowledge workers and headquarters.

A three-member council, also elected from the strategic business units, assists the 14 representatives, called Senators. The 42 Councillors and the 14 Senators report to six Governors – regional heads of the company. There is also a President, Speaker and a Senate Administration Committee (for details see “How Eureka Forbes Uses Indian Parliamentary Model to Connect with its Staff,” Labonita Ghosh, The Economics Times, November 12, 2010).

What do you think?

  • How would such a structure improve knowledge management?
  • Would that work efficiently in your company? Why?
  • What other models would you suggest?

Challenges of today’s knowledge management: providing the tools is just not enough

knowledge share fair 2009 - fishbowl demonstration
Image by Petr Kosina via Flickr

Genuine business value comes on one hand from managing knowledge acquired from external sources and, on the other hand, from creating and exchanging it internally. Keeping knowledge in the heads of your most experienced talent lowers your return on investment to its minimum. How can other colleagues from the same unit or even other territories replicate and improve it? Well, there are two stages of this point:

Stage 1: Your experienced talent has to invest time and energy to transform their knowledge into a form in which it can be exchanged. I should also say that the value of knowledge should be high enough to cover the cost of sharing.

Stage 2: Team members from similar projects invest time in searching for knowledge, replicating and improving it. They might as well become “Stage 1” experts as the improved knowledge may be shared if there is significant added value. I should mention again that at this stage, in order to be cost-effective, knowledge should worth the price of seeking it.

You can call it a market and in some companies it literally is. Maybe at a later time I’ll come back with a story of a company that pays employees with its own currency for sharing knowledge and charges knowledge consumption – a way to determine talent to share at least as much knowledge as they benefit of.

You may observe that there is a strong technological background for knowledge sharing but I’m not going to refer to this side for the time being. I’d rather have a look at one of the most common management mistakes we face on the process today. The trap is to assume that with some big investments in technology solutions such as document management systems, shared repositories, and intranets, employees will become eager to put their knowledge in the internal marketplace.

Investments in technology alone are useless because of two basic reasons:

Firstly, your talent may not be so eager to share what they know. In many cases that is merely because they know their knowledge is their strongest asset in the corporate hierarchy. You have to motivate them to share. They have to realize that the value of sharing is worth their own investment.

Secondly, most of shared knowledge may not be some of the best quality it can be. Volume of irrelevant documents may become overwhelming, and you may find many of them of poor quality and hard to replicate. Controlling both the quality of shared knowledge and the usefulness of the search systems is an imperative to ensure that shared knowledge is worth the price of seeking it.

Both centralised and decentralised approached to knowledge management can bring value to your business; it really depends on what your business is about and how knowledge is created or where it is most relevant. Distributing top-down messages about previously filtered knowledge has its limitations but can work in a process-focused risk averse company.  At the opposite, letting local units solve their own knowledge problems may bring enthusiasm and motivation to highly creative businesses with a focus on local markets rather than on the global one. Approaches have pluses and minuses and, most likely, a company may be in the position of having a mix of both.

60% of executives say R&D will be top priority this year

Scientist Nestlé R&D Centre Tours, France
Image by Nestlé via Flickr

Research and development has risen sharply on the corporate agenda in the wake of the global economic crisis, a McKinsey survey finds. Four in ten respondents report that both R&D budgets and activity levels are up this year relative to 2009. What’s more, executives are remarkably optimistic that the R&D moves their companies made during the downturn will serve them well in the coming three to five years.

Moreover, nearly 60% of executives say R&D will be either the top priority or among the top three priorities this year – significantly higher than the 47% of executives who said the same last year. Despite the increased levels of spending and activity, companies are taking a wait-and-see approach to R&D hiring. Relatively few respondents say their companies are hiring or firing; the most common approach is a focus on retention.

Executives recognize that delaying, reducing, and eliminating R&D projects can limit long term competitiveness. Still, 42% of respondents say their organizations cut R&D costs in 2009, perhaps reflecting the lengths to which some companies needed to go in order to survive the recent economic turmoil. Further, when compared to the moves companies had made in spring 2009 (when McKinsey’s first R&D survey was conducted) with the moves they made by year’s end, it becomes clear that for many R&D organizations, conditions worsened steadily. Far more companies eliminated projects, delayed spending, and instituted hiring freezes as the year progressed.

These actions may well haunt some companies for years to come. A significant share of executives whose companies cut costs expect that these moves will have adverse effects in the coming three to five years. The problems respondents are most likely to expect include reduced market share, a loss of technological ground to competitors, a weaker R&D talent pool, a loss of institutional knowledge, and damage to morale.

Meanwhile, a significant number of companies appear to have used the downturn as an opportunity to add a measure of discipline to their R&D organizations, infrastructure, or processes. Among the most frequent changes in 2009 were increased accountability for performance and spending, increased collaboration with outside R&D groups, increased use of global R&D resources, and the streamlining of core R&D processes. All these moves should help companies innovate more effectively over the long term.

Moreover, high performers in the survey appear more attuned to the “softer” aspects of R&D than other companies are. Executives at high-performing companies, for instance, are significantly more likely to say their organizations are focusing on retention of key employees (40% versus 29%). And while the majority of high-performing companies didn’t cut R&D costs in 2009 — 63% of high performers didn’t, versus 56% of the others — those that did are far more likely than other companies to fear weaker R&D talent pools, a loss of institutional knowledge, and damage to company morale. Finally, high-performing companies appear to be markedly more proactive than the others in two operational areas that represent significant long-term investments: the streamlining of core R&D processes and the expansion of R&D infrastructure.

You may find more details at:
https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com

The value companies have realized from their Web 2.0 deployments

McKinsey Quarterly conducted a survey in June 2009 and received nearly 1,700 executives from around the world, across a range of industries and functional areas. The survey focused on the value they have realized from their Web 2.0 deployments in three main areas: within their organizations; externally, in their relations with customers; and in their dealings with suppliers, partners, and outside experts.

Their responses suggest why Web 2.0 remains of high interest: 69% of respondents report that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues. Companies that made greater use of the technologies, the results show, report even greater benefits. The survey also looked closely at the factors driving these improvements—for example, the types of technologies companies are using, management practices that produce benefits, and any organizational and cultural characteristics that may contribute to the gains. The results show that successful companies not only tightly integrate Web 2.0 technologies with the work flows of their employees but also create a “networked company,” linking themselves with customers and suppliers through the use of Web 2.0 tools. Despite the current recession, respondents overwhelmingly say that they will continue to invest in Web 2.0.

What benefits do Web 2.0 deployments bring to a company?

This year’s survey turned up strong evidence that these advantages are translating into measurable business gains: greater ability to share ideas; improved access to knowledge experts; and reduced costs of communications, travel, and operations. Many respondents also say Web 2.0 tools have decreased the time to market for products and have had the effect of improving employee satisfaction.

Looking beyond company borders, significant benefits have stemmed from better interactions with organizations and customers. The ability to forge closer ties has increased customers’ awareness and consideration of companies’ products and has improved customer satisfaction. Some respondents report that these customer interactions have resulted in measurable increases in revenues.

Respondents cite similar gains resulting from better ties to suppliers and partners: the ability to gain access to expertise outside company walls more quickly, lower costs of communication with business partners and lower travel costs.

How do companies use Web 2.0?

Among respondents who report seeing benefits within their companies, many cite blogs, RSS, and social networks as important means of exchanging knowledge. These networks often help companies coalesce affinity groups internally. Finally, respondents report using Web videos more frequently since the previous survey; technology improvements have made videos easier to produce and disseminate within organizations.

Respondents who report that Web technologies have strengthened their companies’ links to customers also cite blogs and social networks as important. Both allow companies to distribute product information more readily and, perhaps more critically, they invite customer feedback and even participation in the creation of products.

What’s next?

• Over half of the companies in this year’s survey plan to increase their investments in Web 2.0 technologies, while another quarter expect to maintain investments at current levels.
• The current downturn has increased interest in the technologies, presumably because companies count on extending their gains.
• About 1/3 of respondents have not yet achieved business benefits, either because they aren’t using Web 2.0 for one of the three major usage categories (internal, customer, and partner/supplier) or because they have yet to learn how to achieve measurable benefits with the tools they are using.

For a closer look at how companies are using Web 2.0 and their benefits, see the articles “Business and Web 2.0: An interactive feature,” and “How companies are benefiting from Web 2.0” on www.mckinseyquarterly.com