Diversity, creativity and innovation

“Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First there was no subject under the sun in which he [sic] could not easily get interested – from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all fields of information.”
 – James Webb Young in A Technique for Producing Ideas (1965)

There have been a number of discussions on and off about what makes a good knowledge manager.  In various discussions, I have always been interested to note the amazing range of backgrounds people come from – and usually a somewhat chequered career path – to get to this point.  Personally, I have come via an IT degree, Project Management, Telecoms Consultancy, with a dash of adult learning and communications thrown in.

As “knowledge management” is such a broad church, there are a range of disciplines such as librarianship, information management, content management and IT that you would expect to see, but why are there so many zoologists now working in KM?  I must admit that I haven’t met too many in the field from an advertising background (as per the quote above – highlighted in actKM a while ago), but these fields may well share a preference for diversity – and creativity. 

Many KMers do seem to have a creative flair.  In fact, I have just learned about a group called the Creative Skills Training Council through a KM colleague.

“It is essential for an entrepreneur to be curious.”
 – Amanda Gome

Does managing knowledge give you a thirst for knowledge?  Or is it the other way around?  Maybe it is just an innate curiosity, which I must admit to always having.  How many KMers have appeared at Trivia nights or on TV quiz shows?

Patrick Lambe made a distinction between different types of knowledge acquisition a while ago:

“To me, one of the strengthening demands is the ability to pay attention to and process “fast knowledge” (peripheral awareness of what’s going on around you, staying abreast, managing many fast-moving information sources) as compared to “slow knowledge” (expertise and technical knowledge built up and consolidated and leveraged continually and repetitively). This is partly I think a shift in the balance between the two (increasing “fast knowledge” demands) and partly a matter of managing the balance optimally (managing the balance between depth and breadth of knowledge).”

This perhaps highlights a potential difference between “knowledge worker” and “knowledge manager”.  Not that one is superior to the other, just managing a different type of knowledge.

As many have been turning away from the title “knowledge manager”, maybe we should coin a new term – “meta-expert“?


“Innovation occurs in the white spaces between disciplines.”
 – John Seely Brown

Much has been written about innovation and knowledge.  One example of the need for more cross-disciplinary thinking that I love to relate happened to me in the early 90s in Telstra.  I was working in a team managing the internal telecoms function in the company, but we had been set up organisationally adjacent to some of the more traditional IT functions.  One day, I was chatting to one of the email guys.  He said: “We are working on this great new idea!  We have set up a special email address – if you send a message to this address, it will use your employee ID to look up the HR system, and send you back an email with your annual leave credits!”

A short while later, I was talking to one of the voice comms people.  His story was: “We are working on this great new idea!  We have set up a special Interactive Voice Response system – if you make a call to this number and key in your employee ID on the phone, it will look up the HR system, and send you back a fax with (guess what) your annual leave credits!”

Hmm… Neither of these people knew that the other was working on a solution to the same business issue.  They were each using company resources independently.  Could we have benefited by having them work together?

Which one of them came up with the “right” answer? In fact, neither of them.  What was put in place (some years later) was direct staff online access to the HR system, via web browser on the Intranet.

One comment

  1. Hi Keith.

    Good “out loud” thinking. We seem to be on the same wavelength. I’m working on some stories about professional associations that are educating their membership on knowledge work.

    Out of curiosity I attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) because they had lots of KM and KM-like topics on their agenda. Just wanted to see if they knew what they were talking about. They did!

    Truth is, KM is migrating from the core group — KM wonks and celebrated practitioners — to the workface. It’s causing the folks in the core group to proclaim KM is dead, but they haven’t figured out it isn’t dead, it just left.

    That’s a good thing. We all knew that KM would not fulfill its promise until it became embedded in the organization. That’s what’s happening.

    Currently I am creating an architecture for people on the front lines of KM and I’ve started on Facebook. You, of course, are connected, and now I’m connected to your Blog.

    What fun!

    Jerry Ash
    Managing editor
    Inside Knowledge magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.