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Unite your people and create the right conditions for valuable conversations

Unite your people and create the right conditions for valuable conversations


“KM teams can encourage innovation at their organisation by uniting different groups of people and facilitating conversations,” says Andrew Pope, partner at Innosis and speaker at Knowledge Management UK 2017.

  1. Andrew, thank you for your time ahead of Knowledge Management UK 2017 on 14-15 June. Your session is entitled “KM: How to go from zero to innovation”. How would you describe the elusive term, ‘innovation’?

I learned the hard way some years ago after a role change to Innovation Manager for an engineering firm. Very quickly it became apparent that it is so much more than throwing ideas around and much more about how we interact around needs and issues in order to leverage our combined thinking and produce outcomes none of us individually might have thought of.

Innovation is rather overused these days, and as a result I feel its true meaning has been lost. It’s often used in place of ‘new’ or ‘incrementally progressive’ which completely dilutes its worth. 

I would describe it as a way of thinking and working with the constant focus of regeneration and transformation. 

We also tend to confuse the term ‘ideas’ with innovation. True innovation is a response to an opportunity; something that needs a new outcome, whether it be a problem or an insight. And whether it comes from an individual or a team, innovation is not an idea looking for a problem to solve.

  1. How do businesses know they have truly achieved the goal of innovation? What are its defining characteristics?

To me the goal of innovation is a culture of innovation, i.e. where an innovative mindset is embedded as a natural way of working. The best indicator is often acknowledging getting things wrong. Talking openly about mistakes suggests that people are trying new approaches and that the business supports this.

Seeing sustainable, repeating improvements in products, services or work practices as a result shows that you are on the right path. Businesses should look at building innovation in small ways before expecting quantum leaps. Change the thinking first, the big ideas will follow.

  1. You’ll be speaking about valuable conversations and how they open the door to creating innovation. What are the conversations KM teams should be encouraging to create a breeding ground for innovation?

Very simply, by getting different people working together. Getting insights from other areas of the organisation, stakeholders and customers and shaping these through a conversation.

All too often we work in isolation, not aware of what impacts our work, or what our work impacts upon. Bring in outside inputs and at the very least, it will stimulate new thinking. There are many ways in which conversations can be triggered, and I will be talking about these.

If KM teams can take the lead in facilitating conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, then we open so many doors to innovation.

  1. What conditions should be present in a KM working environment to feed innovation and innovative thinking?

It’s very  important that people feel safe, that they can be honest when having a conversation. Innovation comes about from opportunities; the best place to surface those opportunities is in conversations where we can air problems and crucially challenge and question assumptions. Management need to trust their people to do this. If KM teams can facilitate a safe, trusted place to talk, with management on board, then they are really creating the right conditions.

  1. How do we encourage new ways of thinking among our colleagues and peers?

The first step is to allow people to challenge existing norms. Encouraging them to look at the bigger picture, not just their individual tasks. 

One simple yet effective tactic is to re-focus team meetings. Let’s drop status updates (they can easily be posted on a collaboration platform), scrub a formal agenda and instead focus on a topic of common interest. It could be a project objective, a problem or even an opportunity.

But by allowing an ‘everything goes’ conversation rather than following a strict agenda, and pre-conceived updates, we allow for new thinking to emerge. Add in some new speakers, bring in insights from out of your normal sphere of work and you start to build a less parochial way of thinking.

  1. You’ll be examining the potential innovation blockers and how to remove them in more detail at Knowledge Management UK 2017, but what would you say are the typical characteristics of an ‘innovation’ blocker’?

Largely, it’s the environment that we work in that blocks us. We all have the same potential ability to innovate but we either keep this locked in our heads, or don’t feel that it’s worth our while to try.

Embryonic ideas are very fragile and we really need confidence to bring them out. Confidence is very easily eroded by the behaviours of those around us, whether it’s the expectations of management that we should focus on our immediate tasks, or that we feel having open, honest conversations are not to be encouraged, or even career-limiting. Conditions like these create blockers which stop us collaborating, stop us having robust conversations and stop us being ourselves.

I tend to focus on what stops teams innovating and how they can respond to this. Once we’ve identified the blockers, it’s amazing how easy it can be to build confidence and coax new thinking out that was previously kept under wraps. Innovation is something that we can, and should, all look to do. Not just a secret group of ‘top people’.

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