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Knowledge Activities and Innovation: Overview

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Knowledge Activities and Innovation: Overview

Indy Neogy

Introduction

This post will introduce a new* quadrant to aid understanding of how knowledge activies fit into an innovation program. Crucially, it helps explain why no single innovation activity, no matter how fashionable (e.g Open Innovation, Design Thinking) can cover all the knowledge activities required for a comprehensively successful innovation program. A preview of the broadest conclusion: You need a suite of techniques to succeed, no single approach covers everything in depth.

Knowledge, Innovation and the Johari Window

Innovation runs on knowledge activities, both new applications of old knowledge and finding new knowledge to apply. The Johari window is a technique often used for personal development and classifies knowledge to help guide interpersonal interactions. Below I've retooled it from the perspective of a corporation to help identify different arenas of knowledge and how they interact with innovation. 

Image by Indy Neogy

In this case, "Us" is the corporation/corporate eco-system and "Others" represents the world outside.

The Quadrants

1) Execution (Known to Us, Known to Others)

This is the ground zero of any innovation program. There are things that are well-known to us and the world, the key is to act upon them. Very often this the area of "incremental innovation". Competitive advantage comes out of the quality of our execution. Formalising the innovation process is often the key starting point  in covering this quadrant. The KILN system was created to help formalise the Front End of the Innovation Process.

2) Archaeology/Disclosure (Known to Us, Unknown to Others)

This is a dual category because the "Us" of the corporation is a complex one.

In the first case the corporation, like any person, "knows" many things in  subconscious (the heads of the individuals) but this knowledge may not be accessible to the conscious (the wider group). The main activity here is a kind of Archaeology, excavating inside the company for knowledge. At its simplest, this is the realm of suggestion boxes, intranets and idea/knowledge management systems.

The second case is that we have some knowledge (perhaps a scientific discovery.) In some cases this may just require execution: build it into a new, better version of the product and reap the rewards. However, more and more in the modern age any new element requires changes in both the product and the ecosystem. Thus, in order to take advantage of this knowledge, it must be disclosed to suppliers and other partners. This has been against the secretive instincts of many companies and a major productive response has come from Open Innovation techniques.

3) Research (Unknown to Us, Known to Others) In some minds

"Research" may first imply the R&D lab. And indeed, should your competitors have developed something, you may find the best response is to put your research efforts in the same direction. However, this quadrant is most often associated with knowledge about the world of your customers. This can be explicit questions about what would make their lives easier and how much they value that. There is also useful implicit knowledge about what they are doing and how they are doing it. KILN's TrendTrail exists to monitor and reveal the shifts in the culture of customers. The observation elements of Design Thinking and the co-creation elements of both DT and Open Innovation techniques are powerful here.

4) Imagination (Unknown to Us, Unknown to Others)

Again, blue-sky research from the R&D dept is the first response of many companies to this challenge - and technological advancement is important. However, even when new materials or mechanisms are developed, how to create a product often remains a question of "unknown unknowns."

The key response is to harness Imagination, to truly ask "what might be?"

However, it isn't always easy. "Scaffolding Imaginationis the heart of what KILN is about. Our product range helps in other areas too, but it is strongest at helping companies develop their imagination as a business tool. 

Conclusions

Innovation depends on knowledge. The quadrant above highlights some of the different challenges and the activities needed to meet them. Future posts will take up some popular techniques and see where they match best. The key takeaway: Different challenges need different techniques and you will need to address them all.

 

* The quadrant was shared in June 2012 in Kate Hammer's StoryFORMs talk at City University's Innovation, Creativity and Leadership Day, and in her "Heroes of the Purchase Journey" keynote at Institute of International Research's Shoppers Insights 2012 conference in July.  

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