Collaboration of ideas through knowledge brokering

leap through knowledge brokering

knowledge brokering- Summary

Curious as I was, it was first time I heard about the concept called the “knowledge brokering cycle”. I was pleasantly stunned and surprised that much has already been researched and written about this technique of new idea generation process. Never the less, this a best practice followed the world over.

Knowledge brokering helps us make those leaps from old ideas to new ideas and apply them to newer contexts in an easier fashion.

I am talking about the article “Building an innovation factory” written by Andrew Hargadon and Robert E. Sutton in the June 2000 issue of Harvard business review. After going through the concepts presented in the article, felt it was widely relevant even today considering how businesses can be innovative in the changing dynamics of the business environment. We all know that new ideas are so precious in the modern economy. It does not have to be done in an isolated fashion. The business of producing new ideas and testing them have now been made more systematic and it can be followed and implemented by any organization.

Let us have a look at Wikipedia and see  what it says about “Knowledge Brokering”

“A knowledge broker is an intermediary (an organization or a person), that aims to develop relationships and networks with, among, and between producers and users of knowledge by providing linkages, knowledge sources, and in some cases knowledge itself.”

The recycling of old ideas has been the primary engine for generating new ideas. This generation of new ideas is done through a set of processes or best practices known as the knowledge brokering cycle. The knowledge brokering cycle has four parts leading to innovation.

  1. Recording and capturing all the old ideas.
  2. Discussion and interaction on the older ideas to keep it alive.
  3. Brainstorming on the old ideas to generate new ideas.
  4. Finally, converting the new ideas into useful and commercially viable business concepts, processes or products.

The wonderful part is that each one of the parts can be practiced independently by individuals or companies or they can be used as a set of processes for generating new ideas. They serve as a best practice. Leaders and individuals who use these processes have to change their thinking and should foster that culture within their organizations.

Such thinking is increasingly practiced by more and more companies. These companies know that it is the new ideas that move their companies ahead and without which they would become obsolete.

Understanding the Knowledge brokering cycle

Organizational leaders  know that it is no longer about working in silos but it is all about the attitude and helping each other. The more the ideas from each and everyone in the company, the better. They have learnt to systematically use the old ideas as raw materials to generate new ideas.

The process of conversion of old ideas to new ideas by following a set of systematic processes is what the knowledge brokering cycle for innovation is all about. There are some intermediary companies and organizations who take up the work of bringing together all the old ideas and make a newer connection. They make use of the old ideas in a new way, in a different combination and in a different industry.

There are many wonderful examples, where proven and established concepts are reused and recycled in a different contexts. This is an excellent way to spark creativity and innovation.

A wonderful example to mention is that of the steam engines. For more than 75 years, the steam engines ran in mines and then came Robert Fulton. Robert Fulton thought deeply about it and then came up with the idea of using the same steam engine for propelling a steam boat.  He then later on developed the first commercially accepted steam boat using a steam engine. A classic example of using a steam engine in an altogether different problem. He thus made the leap.

So it is obvious, that we need to make those leaps from older ideas and apply them in newer contexts. Knowledge brokering as a concept and as a best practice helps us make those leaps. The leaps become more and more easier as we keep embracing the knowledge brokering processes.

Now let’s quickly look at the four parts of the knowledge brokering cycle. As we have said earlier, even though the article is written in the year 2000, it is widely relevant and prevalent even today. We would say that these processes have matured, as most organizations not just within the design firms like “Ideo” and startup incubators like “Idea labs” but also other smaller organizations, consulting companies across many industries across the world who have applied these best practices within their own processes and work practices.

1.Recording and capturing old ideas

The first obvious step is of-course to record and capture all old ideas. Leave no stone un-turned. Even if you are not sure, whether a particular idea may/may not be of use, record and capture it anyway. We never know, how it can be of use in the future.

The process is simple. When you find an old idea, you simply do not throw it away but you play with it within your mind and see what more can be done. How it works and doesn’t work in certain situations and so on. One can start imagining different ways of doing and applying the idea. But, all these mental calculations start after you have recorded and captured it.

For example, in IDEO, the design firm, employees take a field trip to a local toy shop or a hardware store to just get to see how things work. By seeing and being there, there are chances that new ideas might happen. Similarly, there are organizations which arrange employees on training to go on a field trip to visit local industries.

We can take another example from Thomas Alva Edison. This was almost hundred years ago. Edison followed many work practices, which he sincerely followed and the result of course are so many of his inventions. He says,

  1. First study the present model or construction
  2. Then, look for past experiences
  3. Do as much background reading and researching on the subject as possible.

Many innovative companies including consulting companies follow the same model for re-engineering their business processes and for process and work improvements as well.

The idea collection goes on and takes up different shapes in many industries. As mentioned earlier, many companies operate as intermediaries or play the role of knowledge brokering. They collect as much information as possible on the products and observe the users. They also engage in scanning the environment. Such scanning, recording and capturing ideas aid in initiating the next big project.

Usually, big consulting companies like Accenture engage all their clients from diverse industries once in a while and invite them over for a conference to talk about diverse industry issues and challenges. Some of these issues may lead to new ideas and thereby innovation. You just need to keep imagining. Some may click and some may not. The important thing here is that we need to keep collecting all the ideas.

2.Discussion and interaction on the old ideas to keep it alive

This is the second step in the knowledge brokering process and which is also very crucial for the successful outcome of generating new ideas in the knowledge brokering cycle.  We need to keep the ideas alive. Discussion and interaction of the existing ideas is a continuous activity. Often, the biggest obstacles in solving the problems is not ignorance, it is not getting the right information at right time. Many people miss this information, even if they have already known or learnt about it.

Lot of information is tacit in the minds of employees. Companies lose information when employees leave them. The notion that “All ideas are good” holds true. We just need to keep piling with more and more ideas.

We need to keep discussing about the ideas and interacting with each other on “What works” and “What does not work”.

An excellent example, is the use of “Tech boxes” at IDEO. Each employee at the company owns a Tech box.  A “Tech box” is a huge collection of material (usually, interesting ideas) that the employee has collected over the years and curates it.  Over a weekly conference call, the employees discuss new additions to these boxes. This is an excellent way for employees to keep looking at their boxes and discuss it over with their colleagues. In this way, the ideas are kept alive, discussed over and passed on to others. Sometimes these stored ideas can be reused by others as well.

Ideas would die, if they are not kept alive. Practice and experience says that if the ideas are not embedded in real life objects, they would eventually die.

It was for these very characteristics that the employees at IDEO were respected for they went out of their way to help others.

Another classic example is the knowledge management system at Accenture. Initially, when they developed, they thought that the presentation slides and reference documents would be sufficient. But, this didn’t really serve the purpose. The employees did not warm up to it.

The employees used the reference documents and slides as annotated yellow pages. These pages would give them information on whom to connect to, for getting the information. Whom they should really talk to, to get the rest of the information.  The team at Accenture learnt the hard way that “having a huge database of information, is alone not enough to solve the problems”. There were lot of learnings from this direct observation and they redesigned the system.

The team at Mc-Kinsey accomplishes this by maintaining a database of “who knows what”. Through this method, the Ideas were kept alive, fresh and they were always discussed about.

Edison was also known for keeping his ideas alive. He remembered all his old ideas and had the ability to know, when and where it was used.

3.Brainstorming on the old ideas to get newer ideas

The next important step in the knowledge brokering cycle is to find out and identify new uses for the old ideas, apply and test them for newer contexts and situations.

Nowadays, we find lot of crosspollination of ideas that happen. The internet and the social media is full of such examples. Would like to talk about two of them which caught the fancy.

The first one is the usage of old plastic pet bottles. Instead of throwing them away in the garbage can for recycling, people have found innovative ways of cutting them into two halves and using them for growing small house plants, pen stands, magazine stands and shoe racks etc.

The second one is the usage of the big plastic water drum. These plastic drums are sliced into thin strips of plastic. These strips are then used for making garden chairs.

There are many classic examples. The one on Edison’s bulb was memorable. The bulbs kept falling from their fixtures. A technician thought about this problem and suggested that they use threads after noticing a threaded cap of a kerosene bottle. And thus the threaded bulb was born.

When you start talking a lot about your problems, at one point in time you will know, who will be able to help you better. Conferences on specific issues and topics that happen all the time around the world, informal talk with colleagues and formal brainstorming sessions are some of the ways that people share their problems and this way new ideas are born.

There is also the redesign of office physical spaces. The designs are made in such a way that people always bump into each other.  Very typical of an open office space  where everyone meets everybody.

A wise man once said “the real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded in 24 hours”.

4.Converting the new ideas into useful and commercially viable business concepts, processes or products.

The fourth and final step in the knowledge brokering cycle looks into the aspect of turning those ideas into useful concepts or products. A good idea needs to be converted into something that can be tested and experimented and if successful needs to be integrated into the rest of the other processes or pursued independently.

It is in this stage, as we experiment and test with the ideas that the mistakes can be known, rectified and improvements can be made.

There are many organizations within this knowledge brokering step that involve themselves in prototyping and making simulations. These techniques aid in refining and further developing on those ideas so that they become commercially viable.

The focus should be on testing and solving the problems and not on the final solutions. Final solutions will fall in place once we get it right with highest quality. Prototyping and testing should be part and parcel of the process towards innovation.

The positive aspects of such testing and experiments are that we know where the failures are and we learn from our mistakes and improve upon them.

Knowledge brokering groups – inside organizations.

Any company can make use of the knowledge brokering groups that exist informally within the various functions. They can be formally assigned as the knowledge brokering group and can be given the task of assimilating facts and figures of what everybody is doing and moving the ideas from one place to another place. They act as a point of contact for further knowledge.  Other employees and business groups within the function can count on them and avoid re-inventing the wheel scenarios.

If a particular concept has already been implemented in another business unit even if it is across the globe, The knowledge brokering group can help disseminate it to the rest of the organization or to where it is needed.

A good example of this case is the Hewlett Packard’s SPAM group which was formed way back in the 1990’s to optimize the supply chains. SPAM (Strategic planning and modelling) used powerful modelling techniques to analyze “What if” scenarios and spread it to the rest of the organization.

It goes without saying, innovation can always be given a boost if the organizations can foster the right culture and if the people working inside can carry the same attitude of openness in helping others.

The people should cultivate an attitude of shared culture and openness in helping others.

Particularly, people working in the knowledge brokering groups should be curious as to know “what else they can do with the ideas and concepts and where it can be used “ rather than “from where it has come from or who has given it “. Interestingly, an “Ego scale” has been developed to screen staff from joining or raising a startup organization. This scale was developed by one “James Rabbins”.

So on a scale of 1-10, an “Ego scale” rating of 7 or 8 would suffice. A rating of 10 would be somebody who acts as if they know everything and have nothing more to learn and rating of 3 would mean somebody who lacks the confidence to be successful entrepreneurs.

The idea of the “Ego scale” is to have somebody with a right mix of confidence and humility. Such individuals will create the collaborative culture needed for the knowledge brokering groups to thrive.

Financial rewards from the organizations might help but true respect, self-worth and success for the knowledge brokering groups come when they are selfless in contributing new ideas and freely brainstorming without inhibitions. They understand that “when you give, a new insight happens”.

Please also read our internal resource from Work Monkey Labs on a similar topic

Learning from inventors and scientists- Successive collaboration of ideas

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11 diverse perspectives for finding happiness at workplace and achieving more

Finding happiness in hard work

Finding happiness at work is the secret towards achieving more and being more productive at work. The following perspectives explores 11 different ways for being happy at our workplaces.

1. If you want to achieve, find happiness.

According to Elyse Gorman from the “Mind body green” magazine, happy people realize that life changes quickly and big transformation is possible. They see when they follow their passions, circumstances, right people and right opportunities appear in their life. They need not know all the steps. They just have a clear vision of the end result, they want to achieve and keep taking steps in that direction .

When you are positive, finding happiness is easy and effortless. your brain is happier and works more successfully and it allows you to focus on the task at hand. If we can raise somebody’s positiveness in the present it increases creativity, intelligence and more energy. Research shows that it results in 31 % more productivity and results in more positive business outcomes.

2.Have a strong support network.

Have a support network
Have a support network

People who have achieved usually have a strong support network.  Having a support network is a way to be happy and finding happiness. They are typically givers who extend help towards their families and friends. They also have diverse interests and are open to new learning and possibilities. They are open, curious and experience life to the fullest.

3. Live in the moment – What did you achieve and enjoy today

Live in the moment to be happy
Live in the moment

Living in the moment is a way to be happy. “Achievement” and “enjoyment” are at the core of Work life balance. Both are like two sides of the same coin.

We all know what “achievement” means. For some it is “getting a better job or income” and for some others it is making enough money to settle down” and yet for some it is just “doing a good job today”. But then, in spite of the achievement many of us want to be happy but we are not happy.

It is the enjoyment part that needs to be understood little more. Enjoyment doesn’t mean happiness alone or the “Laughs” It also means sense of satisfaction, pride, celebration, love and well being. These are the joys of living in everyday life.

In a half-awake condition we would say that, I want to enjoy and achieve today. That’s a good start. If we start achieving and enjoying every day of our life, for the rest of our lives, then that’s something. We would have had a pretty good life, having achieved and enjoyed in all the important areas of our life and the balance and value we always desired to be happy and for finding happiness in life and at work.

So ask today, what did I achieve and enjoy today? These are simple concepts but if we follow and implement them for ourselves, for our family and work, it would be a wonderful life lived.

4.Support and value diversity – How women can achieve equality in the workplace and be happy.

Women's equality
Women’s equality

Annie Marie Slaughter, is a respected American foreign policy expert, who has written a recent book “Unfinished business, women, men work family”. Ms. Slaughter has become a household name in America on how “Women can raise both healthy families and lead a high profile career.

Women need to embrace the concept of masculinity. Even when their men earn less than them or do household chores and take care of children. And yet be sexy and attractive.  Once they embrace this, they can expect to have equality at the workplace. Fair enough

This is a brief from the article which appeared in the Economist, Juggling mums and Halo dads, Oct 10th, 2015.

5. Overcome your fears and be approachable.

Human speech is the most complex form of communication. We have so many ways to express ideas, feelings. Thoughts, intents, love, desire etc. When you can’t open up to people, they may think that you are unapproachable. Sometimes there is this danger of isolation. Every living being on the planet communicates in some form or the other. Some people have the fear of expressing themselves and sometimes it is hardest thing to do.

Here are some ways, you can follow to overcome these fears and become more approachable while expressing yourself and of course to be happy.

1. Do not fear people’s judgment: Do not fear what other people think about you. Your imagination will create far worst scenarios.

  1. Reading a lot: Reading will help you learn how other people express themselves. Notice the word usage, diction, flow, voice and tone.
  2. Write something on your own: Start by writing on anything. Write letters. Writing organizes your thoughts and sets focus and direction.
  3. Willingness to listen: listen to people’s conversations. Express maturely with thoughtfulness and consideration
  4. Asking questions: Asking questions, is a great way for starting the conversation and expressing yourself.

The ways above will naturally make you to be happy and for finding happiness at work and in life.

Excerpts from ” How to express yourself to others” By Greg S Baker.

6. Have an effective work-life balance to be happy

According to a report from Telegraph, 60 % of families are putting extra unpaid work just to get their job done. This results in a combination of work pressure, jobs growing too large to be done during normal “work hours” and company culture. Survey found that 58 % say “staying late” is the only way to get the job done. Fathers are more likely to work longer hours than mothers.

There is a move in Sweden to introduce 6 hour a day to increase productivity. In Finland, no-body schedules a meeting after 16.30. Because, everybody understands that we need to go home and be with our families.

A dad’s challenge too

Fortune, recently reported that Half of MBA’s plan to prioritize their families over their careers. And yet 42% of male MBA’s feared that keeping balance in their lives would derail their career ambitions.

Just like public opinion, many employer policies have also failed to recognize the shifts in pysche of working dads. “Boss expects no change in working patterns as a result of they becoming parents”. Working part time is also looked down upon, acccording to Boston college centre for work and family.

Excerpts from Fortune, You’re not alone, Paul Ryan. Work-life balance is a dad issue, Kristen Bellstrom

7.  Make time and add value for career development and advancement

Sip a cup of coffee. It is a big question we all like to ask ourselves and that too when it concerns our career development and advancement. Our actions make a lot of impact in our workplace, whether we know it or not. These actions need to be measurable and should have valuable outcomes in order for people to take notice and for you to be happy. The more value we contribute, the more they will acknowledge and reward you in return with salary hikes, promotion and job security and the more we will achieve at our workplaces and be happy. This is universal.

While our job description is a list of tasks, how we achieve these tasks through our actions for a more measurable and valuable outcome matters. Our actions on these tasks influences the amount and the degree of value we contribute to the organization.

The following list highlights the ways in which we can add value to our organization and for you to be happy and for finding happiness at workplace.
1. Saving money.
2. Making money.
3. Improving the efficiency and doing things the right way.
4. Making corrective action and preventive action of existing and future problems.

Even as we take up every task from your objectives or job description, we can ask, how I can add value to this task. We can make compelling case from all our achievements and can even include it the next resume. This makes a superior investment and who wouldn’t want to hire such a candidate or give a salary hike.

8. Be a great partner at home to be happy

Breakfast at home
Cooking at home

“You have to be a ruthless prioritizer” for Work life balance says Brady Stewart, vice president of global E-commerce operations for Levi Strauss & Company.

Brady balances work and life and talks about the live pressing problems of managing her Husband ‘s breakfast office meeting,  her own office conference calls during breakfast, the dogs barking and feeding her son in the midst.  In all this, she has to plan for the evening dinner as well.

It is time squeeze to be a great partner, professional, be in shape and be great at marriage.

We need to fix our priorities to be happy and for finding happiness. Her priorities shape up in this order.

  1. Kids
  2. Relationship
  3. Careers
  4. Staying in shape
  5. Social life

This is an excerpt from the article “Work life balance poses challenges regardless of wealth” which appeared in The New York times

9. Look good and feel good for being happy – even the bald ones

Firstly, one needs to embrace the bald look. Going bald is a close investigation in contrasts and it steadily grows on a man. When you are balding, one of the redefining styles is that you should start growing your hair on your beard, for we know the fact that male pattern baldness does not affect the beard. It actually makes the person look younger.

You can even try the “buzz cut” look. The “Buzz cut”  works because it camouflages the thinning hair on the top and make you look neat and rounded. Sport a stubble beard along with it. Another one is the “Military crew cut”. It is a great style actually. It creates an illusion of having full hair for the onlooker.

Celebrities like Sean Connery, who is famously known for portraying the character of James bond has carried the bald look with panache and redefined it in many ways and so was Hollywood actor Bruce wills who often sports a beard to compensate his shining pate.

Some might think that growing a beard over a bald head will add years to their look and they might look aged but actually, it gives a balanced look. There are a number of things that men can do to embrace it and for finding happiness. One needs to take care of the dressing as well. Wear a dress that goes with the shape of the head. Regularly shampoo the head well and apply a moisturizer. You are all set for the look you deserve at work. One of the important things for finding happiness at work.

10. Know what you have to do next at work

Have you figured out the ingredients that make up your dish   (In other words, your mission or what you want to do in your next job). One of those things that comes to us is that your background might be anything, if you have a purpose and a mission, then connecting those threads become easier. It’s like figuring out the ingredients that you make up your dish (your purpose). It could be even your next job for that matter. A sure way to be happy and for finding happiness.

You need to observe and notice that a lot of transference of skills happen. For example, I might have been a global program manager, an IT consultant, a sales man, a waiter and a burger maker at a restaurant.

Each of these roles create different perceptions about me. Let us say for example, if my mission is to “Help people flourish”. Then I have to bring all the roles into context understand how each of the skills, roles, strengths and values will help me do it or “How to go about it” to “Help people flourish”.

11. Manage conflict at work and at home for finding happiness.

The Gita, How to be happy
The Gita, How to be Happy

The teachings of “The Gita” for career success

Mahatma Gandhi referred to “The Gita” as his spiritual dictionary. There is so much to learn from the “700 verses” of The Gita, a narrative dialogue that happens between Lord Sri Krishna and Arjuna in Hinduism. The teachings emphasizes that all wars start in the minds of people and we need to subdue that mind to attain clarity. The teachings have valuable lessons on managing conflict and how we maintain our relationships in life and at work for career success and most importantly for finding happiness.

Firstly, we need to embrace and accommodate each others shortcoming and flaws to maintain happy and friendly relationships. It is with this element of positiveness that there is a realization that we human beings possess qualities, which are sometimes liked by others and sometimes they are not. We need to embrace this fact of life that we are not liked by everybody all the time. We also need to understand that we will have to be more accommodating with those people, whose qualities we dislike the most.

We cannot build an expectation that for us to be happy, people need to change around us. If we cannot change a person, we have to accept the person as he is. The same expectation is there as well with the people whom we meet, who expects that we change for them. Naturally, a conflict emanates and there is a hindrance to duty.

The relationships we have with people at workplace are far more important for our career success. When the conflict at hand is over a minor matter, then we make an honest and sincere attempt to find merit in the other person’s argument and make him or her succeed. True collaboration comes when we help the other person succeed. When that happens, then in all humbleness it is our success as well.

In all circumstances, have a suitable response which is flexible enough to maintain friendly relationships at the workplace for career success.

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Idea collaboration – Learning from inventors and scientists

idea collaboration by Inventors, vintage sewing machine

Idea Collaboration – What the inventors say

The sentence “What hath god wrought” was the first telegraphic message of the world that was sent in 1844 from the US Supreme Court premises to Baltimore in the United States. From then on it was the onset of a great invention of the Modern times which influenced the world so much. We have seen the use of the Telegraph in so many of the Hollywood’s World War movies today. But then, the question we would like to ask is, what went on those days in the minds of Inventors, Samuel Morse when he invented the telegraph? Was it a flash of creative insight? Or was it series of successive idea collaboration drawn over time that eventually went on to reveal the Telegraph. We will see that in a while.

As we seek to understand and explore these answers, they have profound impact and have great relevance for today’s problem solving methods in our workplaces and if you are an entrepreneur, it becomes much more essential to the way you work.

Similarly, there is this case of Charles Darwin who came up with the Theory of Evolution. Charles reached many dead ends but he finally came up with his significant 1859 book “On the origin of species” which changed the world overcoming previous scientific principles on the subject.

I was reading through the book “Group Genius” by Keith Sawyer. Brilliant analysis of a case study on both the inventors. Both were classic examples to prove that it is not a sudden flash of insight that happened that led to their inventions but over a long drawn case of successive idea collaboration from which the insights arose.

In the next couple of paragraphs, we will see two simple stories as examples how they can be relevant to problem solving approaches in today’s modern workplaces.  In both these examples, an important point to note is that the successive ideas happen over time. It is not instantaneous. Both the inventors had considerable time gaps before they actually came up with their breakthroughs. This time gap provided them the ample space for the discussion and successive  idea collaboration with their peers.

Learning idea collaboration from the classic examples of inventors

Telegraph pole
Telegraph pole

Samuel F Morse was an accomplished painter in his early days. He never had an idea on the workings of the electric current. He was neither trained nor educated in those fields. It was in the year of 1829, a chance meeting with another person had changed the course of events. Morse was on a ship returning back to the United States after extensive tour of Europe. During a conversational chat with a group of people on the ship he had inkling of an idea that electric current can be used to pass messages from one place to another place. The passage of the electric current was instantaneous on wires.

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