Changing Places

When workers change departments for a short time–for example, shadowing another employee in a totally different part of the organization–it enhances the innovation potential of the entire organization. That’s because it results in more “weak links” throughout the organization’s social network. And from research, we know that creativity is more likely to result when information flows through these weak links–because it brings together diverse types of knowledge into surprising new combinations.

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal* describes many companies that are successfully using this strategy:

To help workers sharpen their skills, stay motivated and identify new roles they might aim for in the future. Moreover, they help address a challenge that many companies are facing: how to better foster collaboration across different specialties and regions.

An Intel, employees can find temporary assignments by searching an internal database. This program just launched last March, and already 1,300 positions have been filled. Other companies finding success with this approach include Virgin America and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

My book Group Genius explains why this works: Because it helps resolve the challenge of “knowledge management.” How do you get information moving through the organization effectively, particularly across organizational boundaries? In addition to this “shadowing” technique, other knowledge management techniques help accomplish the same goal:

  • “Idea labs” that bring cross-disciplinary teams together for one or two weeks
  • Job descriptions that are broad, allowing each employee to cross multiple areas
  • More frequent reassignment of staff

Research shows that all of these methods help to diffuse tacit knowledge–the kind of knowledge that’s hard to capture in computerized knowledge management systems, or in formal documents. And research shows that it’s this tacit knowledge that, more often than not, results in innovation.

*Lauren Weber and Leslie Kwoh, “Co-workers change places.” Wall Street Journal, Tuesday February 21, 2012, p. B8.

Managing Knowledge for Innovation

Innovation is often cited as a primary reason for organizations to get involved with knowledge management (KM)–a term used to refer to any systematic efforts to capture and disseminate all of the knowledge that people and groups possess in an organization. After more than a decade of knowledge management (KM) research, we are still not certain how knowledge is created and transformed into business value. Managers This is a problem, because managers want to know how KM contributes to creativity and innovation.

Over the past few years, our understanding of KM has been fundamentally transformed. The inflows and outflows of knowledge have expanded to accelerate internal innovation and expand the markets for external use of innovation. Alternative approaches to organizing for innovation– in an open environment with multiple participants (i.e., customers, suppliers, partner firms, and developers) in communities or markets, seem to hold great potential to distribute organizational knowledge. These new methods and organizational structures engage a broader base of outside knowledge holders.  Yet, they raise important new issues about how knowledge is created and applied to derive business value, generate new ideas, and develop new products and solutions.

With my colleagues Benbya Hind and Lynne Cooper, we are organizing a minitrack on knowledge management for Creativity and Innovation at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.  The conference will be held in Kauai, and we are looking for papers on a variety of emerging topics on Creativity and Innovation (including knowledge co-creation in communities, markets and open platforms, and ideas lifecycle management).

You can find more details about potential topics and how to submit proposals on the following website:

The deadline for full manuscripts submissions is June 15th, 2009.