Do we know how to design and manage an open knowledge system?

 

Is it me or are too many organisations focused on closed innovation and/or knowledge systems? What I am trying to say here is that organisation innovation and knowledge systems seem to be very inward facing. We could argue that these organisations are actually operating partially open systems, and, perhaps, no organisation is actually hosting a closed knowledge or innovation system, though not by design. You see, from my point of view, no matter what the organisation, and I include the hyper-secrecy of Apple here, you just can’t stop people form operating as an open knowledge system. They constantly bring new knowledge into the organisation through their personal engagement with the environment and so I would argue that no organisational system is ever truly closed. That said it is too often by accident that the organisation acquires vital knowledge through the individual, without ever considering the need to design systems that stimulate open engagement with its environment – HR, I am pointing my finger at you!

The need to share and, through sharing, extend knowledge in order to innovate and adapt is a core influence on organisational system design. So why is so much of it left to accident? Individuals acquire knowledge on behalf of the organisation to improve their own dynamic capability against their own need: For example, to improve their personal knowledge capital in order to improve their opportunities for promotion. This newly acquired knowledge is brought into the organisation, which, when enabled through a group or team process, produces an outcome greater than the sum of its parts. Now look at KM and innovation process design models for organisations. So many of them appear ‘closed’, with no consideration for the need to transact with the environment, to share apply, develop, acquire and store external knowledge sources in order to improve outputs.

Is this a problem and do we need to worry about something that appears to happen naturally? Yes, I believe it is and we do, especially given the economic environment and the number of company strategies that focus on growth and innovation; I think we need to be doing everything we can to optimise the effectiveness of system design.

The knowledge intensive organisation is an open system by nature and, as such, should acknowledge this in its systems design. Also, acknowledging this within systems design and modelling processes will communicate the importance of the interactions out with the organisation through the organisation’s strategic and operational objectives. If that importance is communicated, and the context set, then it maximises the potential for successful management constructs and processes.

The management of innovation and knowledge is about the individual, the organisation and the processes that bind the two together. We must understand the need to be open with these processes by design, only then can we begin to measure the value of their outputs. Ignore them and you are leaving the future to chance. I worry about those who say that we do not need to manage what will happen naturally; they seem to be missing the implications of managing an open system or, worse still, perhaps they just don’t know what to manage in the first place.

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