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

Hope you liked reading this article. If yes, then please do share us.

 

Learning from HBR: How to say ‘I have an idea’

I have an idea

Saying “I have an idea”, is one of the most difficult thing these days seriously particularly, when you are pitching the idea to a business crowd. This article has been republished from last year from our archives with the title ” All ideas are good, we just need to make it brilliant”.

The content has been enhanced to be more readable and actionable for the audience. I would like to thank Dr. Kimberly from Harvard Business Review from whose article I have referred content for this post.

 

Good ideas are everywhere. The world is replete with ideas from aspiring entrepreneurs, corporate managers to movie and ad makers. Saying ‘I have an idea’ is not enough. The hard one is the selling part.

You are supposed to sell your good ideas to a complete stranger or even to a team of decision makers. These strangers in their truest sense are actually decision makers who can either make or break your idea. In other words, these are the people, who can either leave your idea in the dumps or take it to the bigger league.

Dr. Kimberly D. Elsbach‘s article on HBR

Dr. Kimberly D. Elsbach is associate dean and a professor of organizational behavior at the Graduate School of Management, University of California.

Dr. Elsbach wrote at length about how to pitch a brilliant idea to the decision makers. This article was published in Harvard business review in the September 2003 issue. It was delightful to read through the contents of the article and we should be making use of the techniques and approaches mentioned there. You can click for the article here.

The story very well relates to the fact that there are no “good ideas or bad ideas”. All ideas are good.

The success or the failure of the idea or in other words, the idea taking off or not lies on the person who is pitching it or selling it, i.e. the pitcher.  The idea pitcher who says ‘I have an idea’, needs to be brilliant as well. It is the characteristics of the pitcher that matters.  Whether he is able to communicate his passion and articulate his idea in a convincing manner and his inherent qualities are the deciding factors.

Usually, the decision makers at the receiving end, view the idea’s worth from the pitcher’s abilities to project it “right”. The pitcher’s abilities usually overshadow the perception about the workability of the idea itself.

Pitcher Classifications

In all this milieu of things, there are some classifications that are made based on the characteristics of the pitcher.  The premise is that people generally judge us within few minutes of seeing us in action and neatly place us or classify us under some categories. So the good thing is that a pitcher needs to be wary of the fact the audience is judging and will show no mercy on that evaluation and this will have a lasting impression about the pitcher’s qualities and character.

Generally, there are no objective measures for measuring the elusive trait of creativity in a person. So the criteria for judgment is very subjective. In these scenarios, the pitcher needs to be smart to take the decision makers along with them for developing the idea during the presentation. Decision makers respond well to such suggestions on idea development.

Pitcher and stereotypes

Dr. Elsbach has made several observations of pitchers trying to communicate their ideas in a way to convince the decision makers. These observations range from the $ 50 billion US Television and the Movie Industry to other global corporate companies.

Many of us have built stereotypes on how a creative person would behave and act. Psychologically, these stereotypes play a major role in sifting through hundreds of presentations that pitchers make for the decision makers to evaluate.

Many a time, the decision makes have so much on their plate that they hardly have time to objectively evaluate the pitcher and the idea on pure merit. Rather they tend to put the pitcher in a pattern matching and typecasting fray. Such stereotyping is hardwired in the human psyche. It is rather unfair, but that’s how it has been.

Typical typecast characteristics of a creative person would be intuitiveness, sensitivity and being passionate and sometimes even youthful. These typecast are based on the direct or indirect experiences of the decision makers.

So in a typical evaluation of an idea presentation, the decision makers subconsciously award points to those pitchers who have those creative traits but punish those who do not fit or fit into negative stereotyping. A rapid process of elimination happens on the “No-Go” process based on the negative stereotypes exhibited by the pitchers.

brilliant idea for rowing
brilliant idea for rowing

When you say ‘I have an idea’, Articulate your brilliant ideas to the decision makers.

A stark observation that only 1% of the ideas make it beyond the initial pitch. And why is that?

So how do pitchers stay away from these negative stereotypes? So before we launch ourselves into the classic stereotype classification of the pitchers, let’s look at the “do’s” or “positive cues” that a pitcher needs to take care so as not to kill an idea presentation.

The pitcher needs to demonstrate passion in his ideas:

There may be times when the decision makers pinpoint concerns on the idea and doubt its execution. But it is in our best interest to safeguard our ideas or rather the concept of  ‘I have an idea’ and have a proper response on the actions and recourse that needs to be taken to make the ideas workable.

Do not present ideas in a bookish fashion:

It has been noticed that sometimes pitchers present their cases in a formulaic fashion going from one point to another. Their responses and talk are overdone and packaged from a power point presentation. We need to avoid such bookish talk. It has to be more natural, being extempore and story needs to flow.

Do not oversell:

It is better not to over-sell. Keep you calm and not be argumentative. Know when to be silent and be genuine.

Do not plead:

Have confidence. Believe in yourself and the idea. Do not keep pleading beyond a point that you need finances. Things and destiny will always take its natural course.

Have confidence. Believe in yourself and the idea. Do not keep pleading beyond a point that you need finances. Things and destiny will always take its natural course.

Important point: the pitchers need to take the decision makers along with them on the creative process. That’s the way out. ”

Continue reading

24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

Brighton beach, Creative ideas

24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace

Good ideas just happen. We just need to be aware. The ideas are all around us. They just pop up out of nowhere. Everyone has the potential to be creative. It is not connected to the innate intelligence we all possess nor it is an aptitude. It is in the way we live, work and enjoys.

[gview file=”http://www.workmonkeylabs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/24-simple-approaches-to-generate-new-ideas-at-work-1.pdf” profile=”3″ save=”1″]

What is creativity? Then…

Creativity is a random act of awareness, which pops out of nowhere and usually and always turns a raw or an unrefined thing into something beautiful, real and of great value.

Creative easter egg idea
Creative Easter egg idea

Creativity is Ubiquitous. The “Creativity at work” blog says Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Wikipedia on Creativity  says that, Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new or somehow valuable is formed. The created item is usually intangible.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch wrote in their book “Instant creativity” that Creativity is illusive. There is an “artistic creativity” which involves writing a book or producing a piece of music and then there is the “creativity of discovery”, here we discover or invent new products and things and then finally there is the “creativity of Humor” which involves seeing the world differently. From the perspective of organizational, business or work challenges, creativity or solving with creative ideas usually involves all the three aspects of creativity.

What are the practical challenges for having creative ideas?

Different colour pencils
Challenges are many

From an organizational or a business context, creativity is not a fancy nice to have feature anymore. In fact, without it very few companies would have survived today. When solving our work challenges, without a creative idea, we would be looking at the same problem day in and day out, without viewing it from a different frame of mind. Old problems would still remain.

We may just accept the need for creativity and acknowledge it by recruiting a few creative people from the market to serve our needs. It is good in a way, but we are missing to solve our work challenges through our own creative ideas. We may not know, our ideas may be the best and we are the ones who know the problems better than the paid external talent.

Everyone has the creative potential and it is just that we are not aware of it and therefore not using it. Some have even suppressed it.  There could be many reasons.

The reasons for not using our creativity could be many. It could be that we are not in the right mood, or it is the wrong timing and also it could be in the way we have been educated. We know it or not the major emphasis on today’s education is focused on getting the right answer or the required answer rather than coming up with a creative solution.

Many of us would have come through an education system which lays emphasis on regurgitation. Our examinations force us to write answers which the examiners want rather than writing creative answers or offering creative solutions to problems.  Even in the corporate business environments, there is no chance for failure the focus is more on quick results.

But it is only through failures that we learn. Failures shouldn’t matter to us. It is only through facing them that we will achieve creativity. Everyone should be given a free hand to express and contribute. Knowing that you would fail shouldn’t be ridiculed.

The other areas are psychological which involve having a tunnel vision, which is not being able to see beyond one’s immediate activity having a narrow view of things and then there is also the lack of inspiration.

Practical approaches to adopt to solve challenges at work

The approaches mentioned here, willingly take you off from a well proven established viewpoint to compel you to do something which you otherwise wouldn’t do. This would be uncomfortable in the beginning but it slowly leads you on to the path of generating creative ideas.

When you follow these methods, it is natural that you come up with something that is entirely different. It is an opportunity to look at your work challenges from a fresh perspective and from a different frame of mind.

Practical method 1:  Ask the question “What’s the Problem”?

 

Have a cup of tea
What’s the problem, have a cup of tea

This addresses the question what’s the problem within your current work area. Generating creative ideas is generally a two-step process where it involves individually approaching the problem as well as taking help of the group. As an individual, you come up with an initial rough idea and then you develop and refine those creative ideas better with a group.

Let’s look at some practical ways in addressing “what’s the problem ?”. This aims at coming up with an appropriate set of requirements. Initially, we may not know what we may need. The question may not be clear in the beginning. But after a series of “How to” questioning or questions, something begins to emerge.

  1. New pathways

Here, this method is used to find the real work challenge or the problem underlying the problem statement. We need to keep asking the question “Why” when somebody uses the question “How to”. We keep asking “Why” a lot of times. This keeps continuing for some time till we reach a situation where each ‘Why” question becomes a “How to” question on its own.

Continue reading