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KM - A Mental Clearing House for the Mind?

Published
  • November 01 1999, 1:00am EST

"An immense and ever-increasing wealth of knowledge is scattered about the world today; knowledge that would probably suffice to solve all the mighty difficulties of our age, but it is dispersed and unorganized. We need a sort of mental clearing house for the mind: a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared." ­ H.G. Wells

How far have we come in managing knowledge since H.G. Wells wrote these words nearly fifty years ago? Do we really understand the concept of knowledge management, or is it just another buzzword vendors are using to sell their latest products? How far have we progressed in achieving the ability to manage even the wealth of knowledge within our own organizations? Is it still dispersed and unorganized?

What is Knowledge?

Ask any CEO today what knowledge is to them and the answer they will give is "power." Companies have recognized that knowledge is not only power, it's the key to competitive survival. In this day and age, the ability of a company to produce new knowledge or innovation is what separates the survivors from the non-survivors.

Companies today rely heavily on their fundamental asset: knowledge ­ both human knowledge and organizational knowledge. Human knowledge refers to the innovative ideas provided by anyone and everyone within a company; organizational knowledge is the historical intellectual property a company has developed and captured over time. It's the combination of both assets that give companies the edge in today's fast-paced world.

If this is our understanding, why aren't companies moving forward more quickly to be more innovative and produce new knowledge? There are several reasons. One of the problems faced by companies today is that classical economic theory has overlooked the fundamental role played by human knowledge, especially organizational knowledge, in the overall performance of business. The information systems built in the past supported the day-to-day company operations and failed to capture much of the company's intellectual property. Even the newly developed company data warehouses and data marts that are transforming data into information still have a long way to go in becoming knowledge warehouse.


Figure 1: Knowledge is a fundamental asset.

Another issue companies are tackling is the ability to store and manage the company's intellectual property. Despite the proliferation of data warehouses, much intellectual property still remains in employee's heads, on handwritten slips of paper in file cabinets or drawers, in e-mail communications or in memos and letters stored on personal computers. Even when companies believe they are beginning to get a handle around their internal information by employing data management practices and implementing data warehouses and document management systems, there is still the issue of accessing external information that is needed to produce new company knowledge.

Finally, to make the situation still more complex, along come vendors touting their knowledge management systems as the solution. Vendors, however well intended, ask companies to change the way they do business to fit their system. Knowledge management systems are merely tools to support the knowledge management environment ­ not drive it ­ and, as such, should be flexible enough to accommodate the company's requirements.

Human and Organizational Knowledge

With all these issues to contend with, how do we move forward to develop an environment that will support innovation and the development of knowledge within an organization? For the first time in the history of human affairs, knowledge is being approached as a potentially manageable aspect of organizational behavior. Companies are acutely aware and protective of the enormous value of ideas and innovations generated by employees ­ their intellectual property.

The majority of companies today recognize that the organization that manages to innovate faster than before will not only be more successful in solving more problems in less time, but will also be more competitive in their respective fields. The ability to be more innovative than one's competitors will be of enormous economic and social value. Companies should be doing all that is in their power to promote innovation. In fact, companies should be taking innovation to the extreme and attempting to innovate innovation itself. To do that, a company should attempt to capture all the available internal and external information that is needed to support innovation and, by applying knowledge or innovation to it, speed up the process of innovation itself. Think of the advances that could be made in the fields of medicine, science and business! New drugs could be developed more quickly. Science could advance at a more rapid pace; companies could stay abreast of the times, compete and survive!


Figure 2: Innovation and insight are applied to the existing knowledge base.

One approach is a patent-pending process called the Extreme Innovation Technique (EIT) that takes breakthroughs in research and breakthroughs in the discovery of better approaches and leverages them to accelerate the rate of innovation. It introduces the notion of many levels of knowledge and an entirely new model of management and decision making in business affairs.

In the new model, innovation happens at all levels of a firm. Moreover, innovations experienced at one level can benefit others at all levels above, below and sideways in the organization. As a result, internal rates of discovery and course corrections are dramatically increased.

The model employs a spiral approach to innovate, apply the innovation and then reinnovate. It provides the ability to turn the knowledge back on itself, allowing for the attainment of more knowledge and then more. The secret to success is innovating innovation itself.

Figures 1, 2 and 3 attempt to portray that when innovation and insight is applied to existing information and knowledge, the result is new knowledge. That new knowledge becomes the company's intellectual property and is used to stimulate more innovation.


Figure 3: Innovation/insight is applied to information to create more knowledge.

All innovative ideas and knowledge from all levels of the company should be stored within the organizational knowledge base. The knowledge base should be used to stimulate still more innovation.

We may have progressed somewhat since H.G. Wells's comments some fifty years ago, but we still have a long way to go.

For more information on EIT, contact the Extreme Innovation Web site at http://www.extremeinnnovation.com/ .

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