Knowledge : Nurturing Knowledge to Power Innovation Dynamics

Touraj Nasseri, Ph.D, P.Eng. has had 20 years of experience in engineering, research & technology management, and education. He has performed and managed engineering and research projects for resource and engineering industries in Canada, the UK and the US.

In senior management positions, Touraj Nasseri has developed technology and business strategies, and has advised government and industry in technology strategy. He is currently president of his consultancy TechnoVantage Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, and prior to that , he was president and CEO of an engineering innovation corporation in Edmonton. He can be reached at: tourajn@msn.com

Knowledge is HOT

Knowledge is hot, and deservedly so. Knowledge leadership entails market leadership. Major international companies in industries such as construction, engineering, telecommunications, computer software and hardware, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, energy, and management consulting have started reaping the competitive advantages of knowing what they know, knowing what to know, knowing how to know, and knowing how to use their knowledge most gainfully.

Literature on knowledge management is rapidly proliferating, and so are knowledge sites and activities on the Web. The first ever knowledge professorship, sponsored by Xerox and Fuji-Xerox, has been established at the University of California, Berkeley, and Japan's eminent knowledge scholar, Dr. Ikujiro Nonaka, has been appointed as the world's first knowledge professor.

The growing focus on knowledge and its productivity is hardly surprising in increasingly knowledge-intensive economies. The economic value of knowledge consists of how it creates sustained superior performance: measured foremost by admiration and profitability. Knowledge does this by the contribution it makes to winning innovations and operational excellence. It yields significant short-term value, and it is essential to seizing future opportunities.

Knowledge capital comprises two interactive components: human capital and information. Human capital is the totality of human competence determined by imagination, intuition, education, skills, and experience, as influenced by emotional and volitional attributes ( e.g., motivation ). This kind of knowledge can be difficult to document, communicate, and transfer. Information, on the other hand, comprises the documented experiences and achievements of humankind. The contents of books, papers, studies, reports, software, databases, CDs, and patents are all examples of information

Once documented and communicated, information becomes independent of its creators; it survives them and can be tested objectively for reliability and validity. It can be improved, readily transferred, and used, simultaneously if need be, by any number of people and in many applications. For example, a new engineering design can be copied and used time and again in many places and by many people. Because the value of information is collectively appropriable, capturing, documenting, and transferring individual knowledge within an organization and tapping external sources of information and are critical to effective knowledge management.

Knowledge management derives its power by achieving a synthesis of human capital, information, and technology. In so doing it enables investments in human capital development, information capital formation, and technology design to yield maximum returns. A recent report by Deloitte and Touche Consulting Group concludes that while investment in information technology is fast rising, there is little correlation between spending and benefit. There has been a growing disillusionment with information technology, but it can be turned into great satisfaction when technology is managed as a tool of knowledge management.

Recent surveys and studies show that there is a growing consensus as to the critical importance of knowledge and its management to business. The challenge is to develop and implement management systems that deliver on the promises of knowledge capital( the capital of the third millennium. As knowledge gains ascendancy over physical and financial capital, innovation capability remains the hallmark of market leadership. The challenge of knowledge management is to empower the innovation process.

Leveraging Minds, Information, and Technology for Winning Innovation Dynamics

The fundamental drive of a business is to excel in adding value: generating the most valuable outputs, as judged by the customers, from its inputs. Organizations generate increasing value by synthesizing knowledge capital and technology, and managing them to create winning innovations. Technology, including information technology, is a tool for managing knowledge and it can deliver its highest value if acquired and managed for this purpose.

Markets reward the innovation potential of companies by pricing them significantly higher than their book values. To win at innovation, companies must design and implement an innovation dynamic that enables them to unlock the potential of knowledge.

Innovation dynamics stresses the importance of competing by using knowledge-building processes to command market leadership. Buying technology and information that are available to all competitors enables, by itself, competitive parity at best. Using the unique processes and practices that constitute an organization's innovation dynamics is what wins enduring competitive superiority. Innovation dynamics are created to match what a company does best with what its customers value most.

Know Thine Ignorance

Socrates became the thought leader of knowledge management about 2,400 years ago when he said that the wisest are those who know their ignorance. Hence the value of perceptive questions and well-formulated problems. Without recognizing ignorance there will be no problems, without problems there will be no solutions, and without solutions there will be no knowledge. So ignorance is the source of knowledge. This is fortunate for ignorance is infinite and knowledge finite.

It may seem paradoxical to dwell on ignorance when writing about knowledge, yet the incentive to manage knowledge as a strategically critical asset originates in the recognition by organizational leaders that there are questions about knowledge management in their organizations whose answers they must know. To begin the process of determining if there is a need to improve knowledge management in your organization, you might wish to ponder the following questions:-

  • Has your organization's knowledge capital been mapped ?
  • Is innovation important to your organization ? If so, what are your organization's innovation strategies and processes ?
  • Is there a gap between your organization's current knowledge capital and what it needs to meet its operational and strategic objectives ? If so, what has been done about it ?
  • What are the processes and practices by which your organization acquires and deploys knowledge and technology to optimize its operations ?
  • Are your organization's knowledge capital and technology synthesized into a mutually enhancing system ?
  • Is contribution to the growth of your organization's knowledge capital a performance criterion ?
  • Does your organization assess its effectiveness in knowledge/technology management ? If so, how ?

© 1997 By Touraj Nasseri  

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