Good Ideas Often Come From Unlikely Sources
Developing organizational supports for idea diversity is essential to advancing knowledge. In order to improve upon an idea it is necessary to understand the ideas which surround it and those which stand in contrast to it. Within our organization we want to create a culture where the importance idea diversity is prized. (core values, performance management, professional development, rewards and recognition etc.) - A rich environment for ideas to evolve into new and more refined forms and develop mechanisms for these ideas to be transformed into tangible outcomes and results which have value to employees and to the organization as a whole.
It is not uncommon for organizations to have idea silos which reflect their functional silos (Management, Marketing, Engineering, HR, IT etc.), so when faced with a "Management" challenge, idea diversity is limited to those within this department. Organizations tend to limit their "reach" for good ideas according to perceived experience of their people, often determined by title or role. Rarely is a management challenge isolated to those within management and decisions made tend to have a cascading impact throughout the organization. The same would apply to all the functional areas noted above e.g. If IT decides to change a policy, procedure or procure new technology this would have an impact across all functional areas of the organization. Undoubtedly, the impact would be positive for IT, but might not be so positive for other functional areas, so it would make sense to want to solicit their input.
As we well know the experience of our people is not limited to their job description or the title on their business cards. Organizations need to tap into the breadth of experience and expertise of their people when faced with complex challenges. This is not as difficult to do as one might think.
Imagine if you will that management is building a new strategy for IT. Presumably in drafting the strategy they have consulted IT for their ideas. Typically this is where the consultative process might end. In order to create more idea diversity leading to better business outcome, try taking the ideas developed by IT and rolling them out to other departments to build upon and improve these ideas.
Where Critical Knowledge Resides - Idea Diversity - The Bigger Picture
The graphic below is my adaptation of the KSN model developed by Scardamalia and Bereiter. It illustrates where pockets of critical (and competitive) knowledge reside within organizations. Above I discussed how to increase idea diversity within your organization. Now we need to look at bringing the customer and the Industry at large into the mix.
However fewer organizations solicit ideas from customers about how to improve their business, enhance the value of existing products and services and/or provide new products and services to address future needs.
Why is this important? - Capturing ideas from customers allows your organization to be pro-active rather than re-active; It helps you expand your sales/marketing pipeline while improving the accuracy of your forecasting and budgeting and most important, the customer's ideas will guide the continual improvement of your existing products and services and energize your R&D program through the targeted development of new products and services, which you know the customers actually want and are willing to to pay for.
Disruptive Change - The Importance of Capturing Industry Knowledge
When planning your organization's knowledge strategy remember to develop mechanisms for capturing ideas and insights from across your industry as well as from other industries.
There are many industry sectors which have gone through disruptive change over the past 10 years e.g the Music Industry, the Video Industry and the Training industry to name just a few. I heard yesterday that Block Buster has closed their doors for good - who would have thought this might happen 10 years ago? Well, the answer is those individuals and companies who looked forward and sought to understand ideas from within their industry as well as ideas which were developing in other industries which might impact theirs.
When I was in the Aerospace simulator/simulation training business, we spent a great deal of time investigating what was going on in the gaming industry. Some very insightful people in the company observed that the gaming industry was beginning to evolve to the point where they were developing products which would soon challenge the market space held by companies that developed Simulators to train pilots, maintenance technicians etc. (think MS Flight Sim) and they were doing so at a significantly lower price point. To cite an example, when we were developing a virtual reality helicopter simulator, the cost of of VR helmet was approximately $200,000 dollars. The gamers were developing VR interfaces for less than $100.00 - were they comparable - no, but the writing was on the wall and understanding what was happening in the gaming industry and the potential impact these developments might have on our business, gave us the ability to to proactively prepare for the advent of this disruptive technology; learn from others and improve our business as a result.