Many people, including management experts and consultants, have an inkling of Knowledge Management (KM) is linked to Innovation in some way. Some even go further by saying that Innovation would justify investment in KM. However, when you asked these people how KM would be linked to Innovation, you may receive divergent answers.
It is hard to expect a unified answer when the notion of Innovation is not immediately clear. It is not uncommon to define innovation as a process that produces new product. But, this is a pretty narrow definition of Innovation. We can innovate not only on product and service, but also on business process. In fact, to commercialize Innovation, organizations need to combine product/service innovation with business process innovation.
The above paragraph shed some light on the mystery of Innovation. However, we can’t completely understand Innovation without addressing the question of ‘who should innovate’. Some experts opine that only those people, who are qualified – such as researchers or senior management, should be involved in the Innovation process. Others think that everybody – including the customer and in the case of ‘open innovation’, the public – should be involved in the Innovation process.
‘Who should be involved in the Innovation processes’ is a question that can never be answered satisfactorily, because we do not know for sure who have brilliant ideas – the nutrients for Innovation – in their mind. The best thing we can do is connect people who have some common ground, but with enough diversity, to spur Innovation. To put it simple, we need what Dorothy Leonard called ‘Creative abrasion’ to spark Innovation. This is where Knowledge Management (KM) and Innovation coincide.
KM is about connecting the right people to knowledge sources, which can be either experts or written records. Of course this involves stimulating conversation that matters, i.e. conversation among people who are bound by mutual interest in a knowledge domain, or shared passion to solve their organisation’s problem. I would have to underline that although these people are attracted to the same thing, they may have different views or come from the different background.
Inviting people to join conversation that matters to them is now easier than ever, thanks to the advent of web 2.0 tools like discussion forums, social networking sites, wikis and blogs. These tools are revolutionizing the way people collaborate and catalyzing the process of finding ‘similarity in diversity’ – a common ground among the divergent views on a topic of interest – which is the necessary condition for creative abrasion to happen. The collaborative features in web 2.0 (social computing) make this technology the new frontier of KM (APQC*, 2009).
The illustration below summarizes my point.
In addition, KM could offer ‘a shortcut’ to innovation by managing what the organisation knows – past project experience, lessons learnt – which could be used as cues to build new ideas. Thus, KM facilitates Innovation.
*APQC stands for American Productivity and Quality Center