No. 17: March 1998
Creativity is not Innovation
Virtual Laboratories become a Reality
Making Sense of Mind Tools
KE (Knowledge Ecology) Fair Review - A Virtual Event
Some Real Events
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David J. Skyrme
David J. Skyrme
I am continually struck by the number of executives who talk of the need
for their companies to be creative so that they can innovate more
successfully. Yet our own experience is that their people are very
creative, so where do they go wrong? The first thing is that too often
innovation is equated with invention. As has been said by many writers,
including Rosabeth Moss Kanter in 'When a Thousand Flowers Bloom':
"Innovation is the creation and exploitation of new ideas"
Similarly, my colleague Debra Amidon writes in 'Innovation Strategy for the
Knowledge Economy', that innovation is:
"the creation, evolution, exchange and application of new ideas into marketable goods and services".
Along with other observers of innovation, they stress that it is the
CONVERSION of ideas into commercial revenue streams that is the essence of
innovation. Idea creation is simply the starting point. Amidon uses the
notions of an Idea Quotient (the percentage of employees with good ideas)
and Innovation Quotient (the percentage of those people whose ideas finally
make it into practice). The former is usually very high and the latter
"woefully low", she says. The major challenges that organizations face in
increasing the innovation quotient are:
- Sharing individual ideas so they become part of organization memory
- Nurturing relevant ideas and shaping them into projects and prototypes
- Encapsulating the resulting knowledge into products and processes and the
organization's intellectual capital
This can be achieved by considering the innovation process in terms of
flows of knowledge and its conversion between tacit and explicit - flows
between people, codification into designs and databases, combinations and
restructuring of knowledge into new forms and so on. And as we know today,
this is not a neat, linear, sequential process. It depends on knowledge
flows across various organizational and discipline boundaries and extensive
informal networking by everybody involved in the product or service
development process, including customers and business partners. Let's look
at a few practical steps which can contribute to better innovation.
Just in case you do need additional creativity, there is no shortage of
tried and tested techniques, ranging from brainstorming to morphological
analysis, from attribute analogy chains to synectics. If you want to learn
about these, you could do little better than reading;
'Techniques of Structured Problem Solving' by Arthur B. Van Gundy
which describes over 60 idea generation techniques and another 30 or so for
refining and applying them. Or you could get involved with one of the many
specialist organizations who run creativity sessions, such as The
Creativity Consortium in Canada (email Walter Derzko: email@example.com).
Develop Idea Banks
This is one way that organizations encourage individuals to have their
ideas more widely exposed. "Don't tell your boss, tell us" runs the slogan
of one organization's idea bank. Their aim is to get as many ideas from
throughout the organization into the ideabank, which is then a source of
ideas for others in a position to exploit them.
Companies like Hoechst Celanese not only encourage creativity, but provide
some support for those with ideas to shape them into embryonic proposals
that business managers can explore or invest in.
Run Knowledge Sharing Fairs
This acts like a marketplace of ideas, bringing those with the ideas into
contact with people from business units, or even outside companies, who are
potential investors in the much more lengthy process of converting the
ideas into prototypes and products. Inventors and idea creators are given
help in creating posters and 'stands' at an exhibition like setting. Quite
often, separate workshops that discuss a range of comparable ideas also
enrich the knowledge exchange.
3M is a company renowned for its innovation. They and other innovative
companies allow individuals to spend a proportion of their time - typically
10 or 15 per cent - pursuing their own ideas and interests. In 3M their
philosophy is to back people, not just projects. But more important in our
own experience is that individuals AND the organization learn from such
experimentation. Are the conditions of the experiments, and the results
properly recorded? Is this learning readily accessible elsewhere? Do others
in the organization know who was involved in experiments that could be of
benefit to them?
Provide the Right Climate and Support
The above practices are all aimed at improving the processes of creation
and conversion through better knowledge flow. However, the most crucial
ingredient for success in our experience is the culture and climate of the
organization and the attitudes of managers to these practices:
- If ideas do not work - are people encouraged to try again or stigmatized
- Are product development processes too formalized into stages with
unrealistic hurdles to move from one phase to another?
- Are creative individuals forced to find market opportunities themselves
or are they given help and support in making appropriate connections to the
people and resources they need?
- Are ideas grabbed by those seeking the limelight with no recognition (or
reward) given to their originators or shapers?
The nub of the management challenge is to balance a set of complex
interactions. There is a judgement to be made between putting product ideas
through formal processes yet encouraging informal experimentation; of
allowing free and unrestricted knowledge flow yet protecting valuable
intellectual property; of encouraging creativity yet accepting failure; of
giving verbal support but not practical help and support. One practical way
that is adopted by companies in collaboration with universities and other
partners is that of the business incubator, perhaps the best example being
those of IC2 - the Institute of Creativity and Capital at Austin, Texas.
The Messy Truth
We have outlined above just a few practices that have proved successful.
Yet in many companies they are not yet widely practiced. You will find
other practices described in various books and reports on knowledge and
reality, innovation is a messy business, partly chaotic and serendipitous,
that is not an easy bedfellow with scientific and systematized management
processes. Why is it that many large companies are not as innovative as
smaller newer ones? If innovation is to succeed in larger companies, lack
of creativity is generally not the issue. It is providing the environment,
people support processes and organizational climate that stimulates and
supports Idea Conversion. Only then will organizations achieve higher
Footnote: This feature appeared in 'The Creative Landscapes Column: Creatovation', Bob Muller, AI & Society, Vol. 12, pp.297-300, Springer-Verlag (1998).
Virtual Laboratories Become A Reality
David J. Skyrme
The recent IQPC event 'Managing the Virtual Laboratory' provided some
useful insights into how corporate R&D laboratories are being transformed
through the use of technology. While there was some disagreement on the
meaning of the term 'virtual laboratory' (some said it was simply a
dispersion of the function from one central lab to several distributed
laboratories; others that it was any form of research collaborations
through information and communications technologies) there was general
agreement on several key trends:
- The devolution of R&D from central laboratories into business units; a shift from almost wholly central research to only 10 per cent done
centrally was not untypical.
- The belief that research and innovation gain "robustness through
diversity"; the need to collaborate across functions and between
organizations and universities was increasing all the time
- That the world is the resource bank for knowledge - no single laboratory
or company has all it needs for sustained innovation
- In turn this leads to better 'surveillance systems', that monitor technical and market developments - and where the talent is!
- The Internet is having a profound effect on the way that research is
conducted and how global collaboration takes place - there were several
examples in genetics and molecular biology where genetic data is pooled and
- The growing problems of information overload and being "challenged by
search engine technology"
- That competitors may become collaborators and vice versa; every project
The Virtual Laboratory in Practice
Participants were exposed to many examples of the virtual laboratory in
action. We learnt about "sunshine engineering" where work is transferred
around the world from one time zone to another to provide 24 hours a day
project engineering. We heard how bioinformatics is speeding up the process
of drug discovery targeting. We found out about a "spouses web", which
serves the information and support needs for partners of global trotting
executives who relocate - this is part of Schlumberger's strategy of being
a "family friendly" company. We also saw video coverage of how effective
laboratory design can enhance the environment for creativity and knowledge
As with all conferences, the participants gained a richness of input and
interchange that is impossible to recreate on a medium such as this.
Two presentations which, in particular, provided useful insights were those
of Dr Reid Smith of Schlumberger and Dr Heinz Hefter of Du Pont.
Reid Smith described Schlumberger's key processes that included technology
watch, vision and road maps, portfolio analysis and concurrent engineering,
Of particular interest was ClientLink in which researchers actively
identify client needs, leading to joint research initiatives. The needs are
stored on an internal WWW database in three categories:
- A solution exists, and there is best practice that can be transferred
- There is partial solutions with opportunities and capabilities for
tailoring and/or joint development
- There is no known solution.
This then forms one part of the equation of balancing needs with solutions.
A key tool in Schlumberger's work is SINet (Schlumberger Information
Network) that connects around 25,000 users at 500 locations in over 55
countries. Schlumberger's use of the Internet has been highlighted as a
good case in several articles and books (see for example Mary Cronin Doing
Business on the Internet). As well as all the databases you might expect,
there are features that help knowledge sharing, such as project archives
with project histories, discussion and decisions e.g. What are we doing?
Why are we doing this? What have we learned? Such a resource helps
Schlumberger capture the knowledge it generates and minimizes the knowledge
drain caused when people move or leave.
Commenting on their knowledge management approach, Smith reiterated the
need to integrate people, technology and processes. Their future plans are
to "amplify their current efforts" by building on and nurturing existing
communities of practice and (something we are increasingly seeing in
knowledge management initiatives) borrowing ideas from journalism in
helping the communication of knowledge.
The presentation by Heinz Hefter described the role of his function as the
"virtual hub" in a technology transfer network, that included 30 R&D
directors and representatives from all business units, joint ventures and
central R&D. He contrasted the old linear paradigm of R&D with today's more interdependent arrangements involving universities, other companies,
national labs, information systems and legal advisers. Their approach
involves six key aspects:
- Strategic selection of project - selecting the development method (such
as acquisition, in-house or partnership) based on a business-competitive
- Selecting partners based on key criteria - world class competency,
commitment, trust etc.
- Matching projects and partners - meshing complementary competencies,
matching interests, and in general creating a win-win situation.
- Effective project management, with clear understanding of goals
- A strong co-manager (business champion) who sets the pace, respects
cultural diversity and has high credibility
- Effective communications and networking, not forgetting the importance
of face-to-face communications and local support infrastructures.
He cited several cases, such as the phase out of CFCs where Du Pont's
collaborative virtual research had created new discoveries, and saved time
The conference posed a number of recurring challenges, many not unexpected
as companies move to improve their innovation performance:
- How to shift from a competitive to a collaborative mentality, both
externally and internally: "managers did not get where they are by being
- How to protect intellectual property when knowledge is shared more
freely; preventing leakage of vital knowledge
- Working across different cultures, both company and national
- Entry and exit strategies for collaborations
- The blurring of boundaries between companies and between employees,
contractors, suppliers and partners
- Using technology effectively, to help people communicate as well as
What did strike me is that R&D managers, like those in other functions,
have to move much further and faster from behind their functional walls if
their companies are to be leaders in innovation. The knowledge
collaboration agenda and these challenges will provide fuel for thought,
experimentation and output for many more conferences to come!
Jan Wyllie, Trend Monitor International
Both the information systems community and business managers are
increasingly focusing on knowledge management and collaborative processes.
At the moment, there is a significant need for clarifying thinking and
discussion on these topics which are particularly fraught with cross
purposes and misunderstandings. In this context, the concept of Mind should
not be used in a way which begs the scientific and philosophical question
of how Mind works and how it is related to the brain and the body. It
should be sufficient to agree that Mind has at least two facets:
consciousness which is all about experience, feelings and purposes, and
tools which is about techniques, such as language and writing, for example,
used by human minds to attain their purposes.
This article, based on the first stage of Trend Monitor's intelligence
gathering and synthesis process called content analysis, outlines four
trends that are already apparent, and introduces a classification schema
for monitoring developments and selecting tools. It is based on analysis of
material on some 75 or so mind tools. The trends we have identified
- FROM tools that try and replicate human thinking TO those that augment it
- FROM providing passive information TO delivering active intelligence
- FROM reasoning with text TO visualization and pattern discovery
- FROM logical proof TO felt experience.
The first three trends are in the 'emerging' category which means that they
already represent early practice. The fourth trend is 'over the horizon',
which means that we are beginning to pick up the first signs of something
new and quite different.
Helping Humans Think Better
Trend 1 - FROM AI software that replaces human intellect TO methodologies
that augment it.
Until very recently releases of new Knowledge Management Tools were
predominantly the product of AI software developers increasingly applying
neural networking and machine learning to problems, such as data mining and
visualization which have hitherto been outside the reach of the human
intellect. Content analysis suggests that the utility of this second wave
of AI solutions is being increasingly questioned by a second wave of
doubters. Meanwhile, a new generation of powerful mental enhancement tools
based on knowledge of how people - i.e. potential customers - learn and
think is coming onto a market which is becoming acutely aware of the
knowledge deficit caused by information overload.
There is still a lot of disagreement among our sources on the nature and
role of knowledge tools. One strand of thinking is epitomized by Michael
L. Weiner in The Journal of AGSI. He says that AI systems:
"will spot the emerging problems, threats and warnings as they emerge from
the data; learn from the data they are reading, answer specific questions,
generate predictions and early warnings of changing scenarios, and alert to
potential outcomes while there is still time to intervene and to take
His view is that a new generation of 'knowledge products' will be based on
technology that is
"beginning to live up to and exceed the dreams and promises of over 30
years of artificial intelligence and computer science visionaries".
Content analysis of about 15 years of AI development suggests that at best
its practitioners still have huge fundamental problems to overcome before
machines can be claimed to have such awesome capabilities.
Most recently, Gene Bellinger, a long-term reviewer of AI tools, in
particular the burgeoning numbers of data mining tools, has warned:
"There exists a whole set of false beliefs which contribute to our
continuing failure to achieve what we set out to accomplish."
The small AI research community has been making these kinds of claims for
years. What is different now is that people who are not computer scientists
are developing software supported human process methodologies aimed at
helping people interpret and make sense of the floods of information with
which they are faced. An instance of this phenomenon is the view of a UK
Economist, David Owen, who is cited in The Financial Times saying that the
knowledge age "will favour the brightest brains".
Tools for assisting completely human processes are coming on to the market
now. An excellent example is Natrificial's Brain
(http://www.natrificial.com) which enables people to organize their own
information / knowledge as thought webs encompassing their hard disk as
well as Web sources and email. Update (1999) - This is now called The Brain.
Trend 2 - FROM providing passive information TO delivering active intelligence
During the 1980s the dominant electronic information paradigm was being
able to design clever search queries to ferret and sort useful knowledge
out of the massive chaos of mainly text. Now, it is being able to ask
anything you like in any words you like to make the retrieval engine
automatically retrieve what you want in order of relevance from an even
larger chaos of text. Neither paradigm helps with the huge problem of the
pertinent knowledge which the user simply does not know that he or she
could or should ask for. There is evidence that the market is beginning to
realize that what it needs is active intelligence whereby the person is
presented with the intelligence he or she needs to know in a volume and
form which can be assimilated in the time available, without even having to
ask, let alone having to search.
An example is Agent Knowledgebase (from Agent Knowledgebase Associates),
that targets the market for competitive intelligence with the proposition
"Information alone is not enough". Agent knowledge base uses 'knowledge
objects' produced by experts who find intelligence which is described as
"the careful collection, integration, synthesis, and analysis of
information that brings critical insight to business decision-making".
Agent Knowledgebase uses a combination of the kind of intelligence that can
be encapsulated in software and human intelligence to assist in thinking
about the right questions and in designing and interpreting feedback loops.
On the human interpretation end of the spectrum, content analysis research
techniques are becoming increasingly recognized as being useful tools in
the delivery of active intelligence.
Trend 3 - FROM reasoning with text TO discovering new patterns through
The need to deal with vast amounts of information has been driving the
trend towards graphical representation of knowledge. Currently, there are
many inconsistent graphical formats being tried and tested. In time,
conventions will become established, and eventually they will become
standards. When this happens, humanity will begin evolving a new visual
metalanguage. Tony Buzan's MindMaps are an early form of a visual language.
The influence that this new level of human language and human interaction
tools will have on consciousness is likely to be profound,
as shared insights and understandings become much easier to achieve. In a
world of visual language, people's understanding of reality is likely to
depend much less on linear chains of cause and effect and much more on
cyclical organic patterns.
The trend towards the visualization of text-based thinking (hitherto known
as illustrations and diagrams) is evidenced in both human and automated
Mind tools. The new Natrificial Brain tool enables people to see their
thoughts in simple patterns based on easy to understand parent
child hierarchies and associations. The now classical practice of Mind
Mapping has emphasized for years, the importance of involving more than one
sense in the learning process. As yet, there has been very little interest
in the aesthetics of visualization. However, it is reasonable
to think that the more attractive a visualization looks, the more effective
it will be as a learning tool.
Trend 4 - FROM logical proof TO felt experience ( ... over the horizon)
Western thinking attempts to validate the 'truth' of a proposition by
logical proof, whether that proof is inductive or deductive. This kind of
thinking is behind the scientific method which is now the dominant, even
official, truth validation process. The kind of belief that the logical
validation process encompasses is a truth that is outside of ourselves
which can be manipulated using the power of logic. It does not encompass
the kind of truth by which most people make most of their
decisions most of the time - even scientists. This totally separate form of
truth takes the form of what philosophers are now calling qualia, the felt
experience of being in the world in the full sensuousness of all the
perceptions which make up that experience. Our Mind Tools Knowledge
base already contains evidence that leading thinkers in knowledge
management and intangible economics are increasingly emphasizing the
importance of experience and personalized stories in creating beliefs and
are warning of the extreme danger of the mental hegemony of the scientific
method which by its nature disregards people's connected experience and
separates them as isolated egos from the world which envelopes them. While
scientific thought cannot be denied - science created the atom bomb and the
space ship - its precepts may be too dominant, creating a dis-functional or
purpose defeating imbalance at the heart of people's learned thought
Our analysis finds a discontinuity in very recent sources about belief
validation. The same kind of thinking is simultaneously arising from a
variety of seminal 'wellsprings' of knowledge. About three years ago, we
began picking up from innovative sources, such as RSA lectures and Internet
newsgroups, material which considered consciousness in direct experiential,
rather than indirect cognitive terms. This thinking is now beginning to
emerge into the public domain, through books, such as David Abram's, The Spell of the Sensuous, which invokes the pre-literate state of consciousness in which people "experience their own consciousness as simply one form of awareness among many others". He warns against "projecting the solution somewhere outside of the perceivable present" which "dulls our senses", and argues that "a genuinely ecological
approach does not work to attain a mentally envisioned future, but strives
to enter, ever more deeply, into the sensorial present".
There are already members of the knowledge management community who are
beginning to explore these questions. For example, Ted Lumley is emailing
his private intelligence list on the theme of knowledge management and the
role of language. Only last week he was writing:
"the choice between 'rules-first' (generalizations first) versus 'creative patterns-first' corresponds to choosing to see the world in terms of
tangible things (icono-causally) or in terms of evolutionary flow
(tuning-in to evolutionary patterns). Lau tzu put it like this; [Lau tzu
lived in the same era as the young Heraclitus]:
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations."
Readers may well at this point be asking how is this re-evaluation of human
truth validation and decision making is pertinent to business. The short
answer is that if it happens, it will transform business into something
nobody yet knows. For this reason alone, it is important to monitor its
development, first to see whether this thought-seed continues to grow, and
second to learn ways of adapting and benefiting from it, if it does.
Editor's Note: Shoshana Zuboff wrote in 'The Age of the Smart Machine' (available at at
about how the use of computers was disconnecting users from physical
reality, replacing it with symbolic representations. Thus, chemical plant
operators at a screen were not able to tap into the tacit knowledge they
had developed over many years by being able to hear, smell and feel the
plant they were controlling. How much does your own computer systems
disconnect their users from reality and their physical senses?
See A Reader Replies
Evolving The Knowledge Base
Readers are invited to contribute their own views on these four trends.
Simply number responses 1) to 4). The views of the readership will then be
added to our evolving Mind Tools database and summarized in a future
edition of I3 UPDATE.
New Schema For A New Collection
Research on knowledge management shows how much more readily knowledge is
shared by using classification schemas (Price Waterhouse's International
Business LanguageSM as used in their KnowledgeViewSM databases is a good example). As a new topic area evolves, analysts like ourselves need to devise a multi-dimensional classification schema which is intuitively
understandable and then test it against samples of source information. It
also needs to be evolved over time as user perspectives adapt. The schema
below is the third iteration for our Knowledge Management/Mind Tools
classification. It is the result of content analysis of suppliers leaflets
and white papers, published articles and reviews, and Web-based searches
over the last year.
Each tool is classified in a text database according to its functional
attributes. For example, Data mining fits under THINKING / Knowledge
Discovery and Intelligent Agents under CONTENT / Search but also under
CONTENT / Filter. It is not surprising that some tools are more specialized
while others have more broadly based functionality. Hence, a single tool
may well have multiple classifications. In the database, the information
collected about each tool is judged along a hi-mind, hi-tech spectrum (on a
scale of 1 to 5) according to whether it is designed to enhance natural
human mind functions (1) or to replace and improve on natural human mind
functions using automated processes (5), c.f. trend 1 above.
Knowledge Management Tools Schema
A THINKING: Assimilation and Interpretation
a Concept mapping, b Pattern discovery, c Summarisation, d Judgement, e Intelligence synthesis
B COLLABORATION: Interaction and Communication
a Conversation, b Decision support, c Workflow process support, d
Knowledge sharing, e Resource sharing, f Community building, g Skills
C CONTENT: Gathering and Retrieval
a Preparation, b Classification, c Search, d Index, e Filter, f
D MEDIA: Storage and Format
a Physical, b Database
(c) February 1998. Trend Monitor International. Ltd.
The database of tools we have gathered together from published sources and
the Web is possibly the broadest and most coherent set of structured
information that currently exists on knowledge management tools.
It will be used as a primary resource for Knowledge Kaleidoscope, a joint
venture of Trend Monitor, David Skyrme Associates and ENTOVATION
International. In the meantime, tools producers or others who wish to avail
themselves of the analysis and research can do so through Trend Monitor's
customized briefing and reports service.
Trend Monitor International Ltd.
*The Information Refinery*
3 Tower Street, Portsmouth
Hants, P01 2JR, UK
Tel: 44 (0)1705 864714
Update (Aug 1999) - Knowledge Kaleidoscope does not yet exist as a separate publication. The classification and analysis has been updated and incorporated into Knowledge Trends Analysis.
A Virtual Event
This interesting virtual event, that we co-sponsored, is now over. It ran
from 2-23 February and had an interesting mix of workshops, open
discussions, presented papers. Many excellent interchanges took place, and
participants could move from open space to coffee chat to a tools and
library area at a time that suited them.
In reviewing the fair, one of the organizers, Amy Eustace of Metasystems
"One of the biggest challenges of the Fair is coping with the large volume of interesting and valuable contributions being generated in all the
Certainly there was much to choose from, and if you wanted something that
was not covered, you simply created a new strand yourself! Essentially, you
got out of this event what you put in. Unlike traditional conferences,
where you are generally a passive participant, such a virtual event
provides a more balanced approach, with presenter entering active dialogue
with their audience.
My only hope is that someone will do a knowledge editing job, so that
those, like me, who should have spent more time there but were unable to,
will at least get some real proceedings from this virtual event!
David J. Skyrme
Knowledge Management in Oil and Gas, 5-6 March, London. First Conferences.
Increasing Customer Loyalty through Knowledge Management, 10-11 March,
London. World Trade Conferences.
Facilitating Corporate Innovation via Knowledge Management, 1-2 April, New
York. ICM. Meet me there and hear my talk "Avoiding the Measurement Trap".
There is also 1 day post-event workshop by ENTOVATION on 3rd April -
Practical Tools for Creating a Knowledge Innovation Strategy.
Knowledge Management, 2-3 April, London. Learned Information.
Intranets for Knowledge Management, 4-6 May, New York. First Conferences.
Developing Value from Knowledge Management, 1-2 June, London. SMi.
NSF Initiative in Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI). With an
expected budget of $62 million for fiscal 1998. Letters of intent
deadline - April 1, 1998. Full proposals by May 8.
© Copyright, 1998. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge
management, knowledge networking and collaborative technologies.