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February 28, 2006

Finding New Use for Existing Knowledge

T.J. Elliott, Chief Learning Officer of ETS, would like members of the Babson Working Knowledge community to reflect and comment on a question that he and colleagues have been exploring at ETS. They would like to know what processes or practices organizations have devised (or stumbled on) to encourage the application of existing knowledge to new purposes.

One of the goals of knowledge management has been to support the creative re-use of knowledge. Knowledge developed in one area, the thinking goes, may be just what is needed to solve a problem in another or trigger important innovation (since most “new” ideas are really novel combinations of existing ideas).

The hope for this kind of productive matchmaking has led some companies to design cafes and lounges to encourage people to chat and possibly learn things from one another that can be used in new ways. Probably the best known case of applying knowledge developed in one part of an organization to an unanticipated opportunity somewhere else is the Post-it Note story. It was the combination of Spence Silver’s invention of an adhesive that didn’t stick strongly with Art Fry’s idea of the usefulness of notes that wouldn’t slip out of books or reports that produced the successful product. (In this case, 3M’s practice of encouraging internal seminars on new ideas and inventions helped bring the two concepts together.)

Let us know what practices you use or have heard about and what your experience has been in this important area. If you have spaces designed to encourage unplanned meetings, do you find that they actually work to get knowledge to where it can be used in new ways? Are there organizational practices or values that encourage this kind of knowledge re-use? Are there formal processes that work? Are there ways that electronic repositories can be designed to encourage new applications of existing knowledge? Is this a subject that people in your organization are thinking about and working on?

Posted by Don Cohen at 06:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 15, 2006

Clear Boundaries and Close Collaboration

I was talking the other day to a member of a project team of about a hundred people from several organizations located at more than half a dozen sites. High levels of trust and cooperation contributed to the quality and speed of the work they did, he said.

One source of that collaborative spirit won’t surprise you. The project leader made a point of bringing many team members together for frequent meetings (rotating them among the “home” sites of participants). After the meetings, they had dinner together; once, they spent some hours on a farm that belonged to a friend of the leader. That helped them get to know and trust each other.

Another contributing factor is less obvious. The project leader, he said, created a clear sense of tasks and boundaries. People knew precisely what elements of the project they were responsible for. As a result, they did not worry that other team members would encroach on their territory. That sense of security made them more willing to talk about their work to others and to offer and ask for help. Clarity and openness about people’s work also helped members understand what others on the team were doing and, therefore, where it made sense to look for and share needed expertise.

So establishing appropriate clear roles, tasks, and boundaries may be one way to encourage collaboration.

A familiar example that suggests the same point is the movie industry. Commentators have pointed to the fact that independent contractors come together to make films as proof that virtual (or maybe temporary) organizations can be successfully formed to carry out particular projects. But there are two special features of these movie-making groups. One is that they are drawn from networks of people who already know each other and each other’s work well. The other (relevant to my point here) is that roles, responsibilities, and boundaries are precisely defined in the movie industry. Directors direct, actors act, gaffers do lighting, the best boy helps the gaffer, and foley artists do sound. When they gather to do a movie, they know what their jobs are and how they can help each other.

Posted by Don Cohen at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)

February 04, 2006

You Know You Compete on Analytics When...

1. You apply sophisticated information systems and rigorous analysis not only to your core capability but also to a range of functions as varied as marketing and human resources.

2. Your senior executive team not only recognizes the importance of analytics capabilities but also makes their development and maintenance a primary focus.

3. You treat fact-based decision making not only as a best practice but also as a part of the culture that’s constantly emphasized and communicated by senior executives.

4. You hire not only people with analytical skills but a lot of people with the very best analytical skills—and consider them a key to your success.

5. You not only employ analytics in almost every function and department but also consider it so strategically important that you manage it at the enterprise level.

6. You not only are expert at number crunching but also invent proprietary metrics for use in key business processes.

7. You not only use copious data and in-house analysis but also share them with customers and suppliers.

8. You not only avidly consume data but also seize every opportunity to generate information, creating a “test and learn” culture based on numerous small experiments.

9. You not only have committed to competing on analytics but also have been building your capabilities for several years.

10. You not only emphasize the importance of analytics internally but also make quantitative capabilities part of your company’s story, to be shared in the annual report and in discussions with financial analysts.

These points are from my January 2006 HBR article- "Competing on Analytics."

Posted by Tom Davenport at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (2)