"This episode taught me a few things about innovation and creativity, which I list below:
Interesting opportunities lurk in unexpected places: A kitchen sink – who would have thought….
…but it takes work and training to recognise opportunities for what they are: If I hadn’t the background in the physics of fluid jets, I wouldn’t have seen the stationary waves for what they were.
A sense progress is important, even when things aren’t going well: Tony left me to my own devices initially, but then nudged me towards a productive direction when he saw I was going nowhere. This had the effect of giving me a sense of progress towards a goal (my degree), which kept my spirits up through a hard time.
It is best to work on things that interest you, not those that interest others: I stuck to my primary interest (mathematical modelling) rather than do something that was not of much interest but may have been a better career choice."
My stint in the polymer lab, very different from my solo research experience, taught me a few more things about creativity and innovation. These are:
Collaboration between diversely skilled individuals enhances creativity. It is important to interact with others, particularly professionals from other disciplines. I’m grateful to my colleagues from the lab for drawing me out of my “comfort zone” of theoretical work.
Being part of a larger effort does not preclude creativity and innovation – although I did not do any experiments, I was able to develop models that explained some of the phenomena that my colleagues found.
Even modest contributions add value to the end product – great insights and epiphanies aren’t necessary – none of the modelling work that I did was particularly profound or new. It was all fairly routine stuff, done using existing methods and algorithms. Yet, my contributions to the research added a piece that was essential for completeness.
"Mikhail Bulgakov spent his first couple of years (1916-1917) after graduating as a doctor in the depths of rural Russia. He wrote a number of semi-autobiographical short stories about the experience. In one of them, he is called out in the middle of the night to deal with a difficult and dangerous pregnancy, a transverse lie, in which the baby is lying horizontally with its shoulder nearest to the birth canal. His two experienced midwives looking on, Bulgakov tries to give an impression of competence, but while he aced his obstetrics paper, he knows the task of turning the baby – called a version – in the womb is hazardous, and all his book knowledge flies from him. On the pretext of getting his cigarettes while the midwives prep the mother, he rushes to his room and goes through his obstetrics textbook. Then as he scrubbed up for the procedure, his midwife “described to me how my predecessor, an experienced surgeon, had performed versions. I listened avidly to her, trying not to miss a single word. Those ten minutes told me more than everything I had read on obstetrics for my qualifying exams…”
After the procedure, which was successful, he returns to his room and starts flipping through his obstetrics manual again. “And an interesting thing happened: all the previously obscure passages became entirely comprehensible, as though they had been flooded with light; and there, at night, under the lamplight in the depth of the countryside I realised what real knowledge was.”
We sometimes think of explicit technical knowledge and tacit experiential knowledge as distinct things, because they come in different forms. In knowledge management we certainly manage them in different ways. But Bulgakov’s story reminds us of how intimately connected they are. The knowledge in the obstetrics manual is codified for reading no doubt. But it is itself a hardening and crystallisation of centuries of experiential knowledge. And getting the words into your head gets some knowledge into your head, for sure, but the experience of working with bodies is what brings that technical knowledge to fruition. What Bulgakov describes is a process of reciprocal enrichment and fusion between outer and inner knowledge, making the outer knowledge more accessible than before. So now I’m thinking, how do we manage for that kind of process? "
If you’re in a similar situation, here are a couple of ideas about how you may lessen the (over-) reliance on a few individuals:<br /><br /> Create regular knowledge sharing sessions where the central/program team don’t act as ‘experts’, but as brokers<br /> Rotate the role of ‘chair’ for meetings so more people take ownership<br /> Make ‘site visits’ a part of the induction process to foster sideways collaboration<br /> Short exchanges of team members. Working along side someone else creates a stronger connection<br /> Peer reviews of major deliverables before ‘top down’ approvals<br /><br />Organisations should be acutely aware of the risk of relying on a few passionate souls. The first step to mitigate this risk is to map out exactly how reliant you are and on whom. Once you understand the exact gap you can put in place very targeted interventions to minimise the risk. Finally, map the relationship patterns at regular intervals to check the effectiveness of your interventions.
""What would it take, to get you to share more of your knowledge"
This was a question Shell asked in an internal survey, several years ago, in order to understand the incentives and barriers for knowledge sharing. The top 5 answers were as follows
More feedback on use of the knowledge
Recognition from peers
Knowing that it made an impact
An easier way to do it
Thank you from colleagues
What's missing from this list? Money, hard incentives, and directives from management.
If you want people to share, then make it easy, free up some time from them, and give them feedback on the difference it made (including some "thank-you"s)"
"These elements, to a great or lesser degree, are present in the informal interaction among people doing the same work, as we saw in the copy repair example. But in a world where the community of practitioners is spread across the globe, and many practitioners work at locations out of the office, the development of judgment cannot not be left to chance and proximity. It must be designed and supported by the organization including: 1) experimentation that leads to learning, 2) treating failure as an opportunity for learning, 3) establishing a systematic process through which reflective conversation occurs about both team and individual actions, 4) and promoting communities of practice."
For me, it’s quite simple: knowledge is not tangible and is certainly not a commodity. And the noun ‘knowledge’ itself sometimes leads to delusional assumptions about what knowledge is. I find it more fruitful to think of knowledge as two different things:
Knowledge is a latent capacity that we call upon to combine information available with various insights we have from past experiences, and use it in a given context.
Knowledge is also the collection of insights that we have in ourselves, based on information, emotions and intuitions we have. It is in that collection of insights that we tap to use our ‘knowledge capacity’ or our ‘capacity to know’.
At Knoco, we use this principle all the time in Knowledge Management.
Rather than asking people to write down lessons, we discuss it as a team, and decide the lessons we want to teach others based on what we have learned.
When those lessons are captured, we hold a knowledge handover to allow the next level of teaching, and to get the next level of detail.
Rather than asking retiring experts to write down their best practices, we ask them to teach a younger employee, and ask that younger employee to do the documentation.
Without that teaching step, it can be hard to get to the real, detailed and valuable knowledge
The general principles of this rapid-learning ecology are pretty clear.
First, we probably have about the same number of smart people as we did twenty years ago, so what's making us all smarter is that we're on a network together.
Second, the network has evolved a culture in which there's nothing wrong with not knowing. So we ask. In public.
Third, we learn in public.
Fourth, learning need not be private act that occurs between a book and a person, or between a teacher and a student in a classroom. Learning that is done in public also adds to that public.
Fifth, show your work. Without the "show source" button on browsers, the ability to create HTML pages would have been left in the hands of HTML Professionals.
Sixth, sharing is learning is sharing. Holy crap but the increased particularity of our ownership demands about our ideas gets in the way of learning!
Knowledge once was developed among small networks of people. Now knowledge is the network.
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