In the FastCoDesign article, How do you create a culture of innovation? the authors note four skills that most successful innovators exhibit:
- Questioning: Asking probing questions that impose or remove constraints. Example: What if we were legally prohibited from selling to our current customer?
- Networking: Interacting with people from different backgrounds who provide access to new ways of thinking.
- Observing: Watching the world around them for surprising stimuli.
- Experimenting: Consciously complicating their lives by trying new things or going to new places.
One way to practice these skills would be to promote personal knowledge mastery (PKM) in the workplace. The Seek-Sense-Share framework aligns with these innovation skills. Seeking includes observation through effective filters and diverse sources of information. Sense-making starts with questioning our observations and includes experimenting, or probing (Probe-Sense-Respond). Sharing through our networks helps to develop better feedback loops. In an organization where everyone is practising PKM, the chances for more connections increases. Innovation is not so much about having ideas, as making more and better connections.
Innovation is inextricably linked to both networks and learning. We can’t be innovative unless we integrate learning into our work. It sounds easy, but it’s a major cultural change. Why? Because it questions our basic, Taylorist, assumptions about work; assumptions like:
Somebody in a classroom, separate from the work environment, can “teach” you all you need to know.
The higher you are on the “org chart”, the more you know (one of the underlying premises of job competency models).
PKM is a framework that enables the re-integration of learning and work and can help to increase our potential for innovation. It’s time to design workplaces for individuals, and their Personal KM, instead of getting everyone to conform to a sub-optimal structure that maximizes capital but not labour. Knowledge is the new capital, but it resides in each person’s head.
To address complex problems, businesses have to rely more on individual tacit knowledge, but this type of knowledge is never easy to convey to others. It takes time and especially trust to make multiple attempts at clarification. Accepting PKM, as a flowing series of half-baked ideas, can encourage innovation and reduce the feeling that our exposed knowledge has to be ‘executive presentation perfect’. Workplaces that enable the constant narration of work and learning in a trusted space can expose more tacit knowledge. We can foster innovation by accepting that our collective understanding is in a state of perpetual Beta. This is how we create a culture of innovation.