The bicycle, a seemingly simple machine, is a culmination of innovation that many rarely appreciate fully. Compare that to the intellectual effort that goes into making airplanes and spaceships. Leveraging knowledge is the key!

The late English cycling historian, John Pinkerton, once remarked, “Think of a new idea in bicycle design and someone will have already invented it, probably in the nineteenth century.” But as we know, we are still not done perfecting the bicycle. Every so often bicycle manufacturers innovate several aspects of the humble bicycle, be it materials, engineering, ergonomics, aesthetics, pneumatics, and so on. What makes it possible? The constantly moving pedals of knowledge. And bicycle manufacturers are not the only people busy innovating: all business activities are constantly being innovated and improved upon.

A case can be made that only cutting edge innovation provides any competitive advantage anymore, rest can be sourced. And a natural basis for constant and structured innovation, in contrast to random “aha” moments of insights and great ideas, is knowledge. The process of innovation may vary, but it leverages intellectual property created in R&D labs, insights gleaned by marketing, new production techniques discovered on the shop floor, as well as the collective experience of everyone in the organization. These vast stores of knowledge are critical to facilitate creation of innovative, products and services.

But how does knowledge move the innovative into a higher gear? Here are some best practices:

  • Collect data, create knowledge. Only when an organization has created well-defined processes to exploit the assets of its knowledge, can it mine the content to its best advantage. This is the hard work of innovation, going through what’s already available and looking for the nuggets of ideas that need to be extracted. One way it can be done is by using tailored text-analysis tools; another is just going back through the institutional memory of the company: learning from the collective wisdom, knowledge, and insights of an organization.
     
  • Everyday ideas, creative insights. The best discovery of insights is done during the course of everyday work, especially within project-based organizations, where team members interact, share, and create while interacting with each other. These insights need to be gathered, embedded into everyday work, and shared using collaboration tools and then pushed out to the whole company.
     
  • Think externally, share locally. Innovation can be found not only within what the organization is doing but in finding out what is happening in the broader field, especially how the customers actually use products and services, comparing how things are done across multiple locations and/or business units, looking for anomalous customer requests, dealing with “difficult” customers. All of this requires for structured data collection, analysis, and knowledge creating and sharing.
     
  • Here today, gone tomorrow. In today’s knowledge-based economy, team members carry knowledge, ideas, expertise in their brains. Companies are most at risk for losing their innovations when their most valued and experienced employees leave. Therefore, structured Knowledge Management (KM) aided by appropriate tools is imperative to avoid an intellectual discontinuity.

As businesses, organizations, and teams become increasingly knowledge-centric, innovation is ever more dependent on knowledge creation and sharing. In fact, a company may increasingly thrive on innovating certain aspects of value chain. Examples include Dell (supply chain), Apple (usability and aesthetics), and Nike (design).

As we pedal our way forward riding the innovation bike, we will be constantly reminded to leverage knowledge, and to share knowledge. Only that way, the next generations of bikes (and everything else) will be better. Pedal on!

 

Learn more. Reach out to Ian Poole and Pranay Kohli.