Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Create vs Re-use - the core tension in KM

Reinventing The Wheel
Originally uploaded by kevinspencer
Where does the drive to innovate, turn into re-inventing the wheel? Where does creativity become counter-productive?

This is a question we cover in our Bird Island exercise. Towards the end of the exercise, we provide people with a complete knowledge asset for performing a task. People who re-use the knowledge, succeed in the task, as the knowledge is now well-established after 10 years of experience. People who try to innovate usually fail (although as a facilitator, I usually allow them to construct a fall-back version using the existing knowledge). Then afterwards we have a really good debate about the drive to innovate, versus the need to re-use knowledge.

This is often a real tension at work. People love to create, they are hired to be creative, and many companies now are looking to promote creativity and innovation. However innovation in the wrong place turns into reinvention of the wheel. Where the wheel is well established, then reinvention is a waste of time. Creativity in the wrong place is a waste of time and effort. Just as knowledge-reuse in the wrong place is a waste of time.

Take something well established such as the rules of the road. Should we be creative with these? Should we experiment with driving on the other side of the road? Or stopping on green and going on red? Perhaps if we are a formula 1 driver, or in the Dakar rally, creative driving is something to aim for. For the rest of us, it would be a real risk.

The secret, and our aim as professional knowledge managers, is to ensure that people reuse knowledge wherever knowledge is well established, and are creative and innovative where there is room to be creative and innovative. Re-using well established knowledge actually releases time for creativity and innovation in the other areas of the task. However creativity in the wrong place can be very wasteful.

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