KM and Crowd Accelerated Innovation

I read with great interest a recent article by Chris Anderson in Wired Features how video on YouTube is having the unexpected effect of allowing people to learn–and innovate–at an accelerated rate. He gives the example of people learning from one another how to dance, developing skills previously unheard of. Take for example the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers:

According to Anderson, many of these dancers were self-taught through Internet video, bringing together tricks and moves previously unknown in dance. Part of this is accelerated learning and innovation, he says, comes from people sharing what they know, so that others who would otherwise be isolated can learn. And they are not just sharing what they know in words, but actually SHOWING what they know through video.

In the article Anderson draws the link between accelerated learning by video, and the increasing quality of TED Talks speakers. But is there a lesson here for knowledge workers and those overseeing our Knowledge Management practices?

Last year at one of our Knowledge Workers Toronto meetings, Stephanie Barnes took us through an interesting exercise called Bird Island (trade mark from Knoco Ltd.). In it, groups work in isolation to do their best to build a structure with a specific purpose. Once they innovate as much as possible on their own, they then share their techniques with one another. The groups are then sent back to the drawing board to see if they have learned anything from one another, and the differences are surprisingly dramatic. I am being purposely vague about the exact exercise because I hope you will try it in person, and I don’t want to give away the secrets and the fun!

So Bird Island is meant to show how sharing within your own organization (under the guise of Knowledge Management) is so essential. But what about the world at large? If we can do so much better within a few–or few thousand–people, are there times when going outside your organization make sense? It is not unusual for organizations to get together with other organizations (either within their own industry or with other industries) to compare notes, but usually within the same geographic vicinity. But what if the key innovation we are seeking, the answers for improvement, are somewhere on the other side of the globe, in a completely unrelated organization?

It may actually make sense to produce video–or perhaps in this case screencasting (video of the screen and voice) to show our online tools and discuss our approaches. We will help others learn to do more, and hopefully they will reciprocate, feeding back what they learn with others. I’ve long felt video can have fantastic affects, but crowd accelerated innovation goes even beyond what I had thought possible.

Hat tip to Ralph Mercer for sharing the link to Anderson’s article.

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Comments

  1. Connie, I think it is important to distinguish between fast learning and innovation, they are two different things and are adverserial most of the time. A learner may get the impression they are innovating this is not usually the case.

    Innovation creates new stories, processes, software/ideas, brands and measures.

    Learning is the acquisition of current stories, processes, software/ideas, brands and measures.

    Consider the common scenario of a rookie real estate agent that drives down the street and believes they can ‘sell’ any of the properties they see. The pro knows that each property has a story and there are many reasons why it may not be able to sell or buy it, now or ever. Rookie realestate agents may also feel they are innovating when they discover and present ideas to clients who then yawn as they have been in the business and know more than the rookie.

    Teaching the rookie faster is not innovation, however if the rookie finds a way to synchronize his services to resonate with his clients faster than his competitors AND speed up client processes we may have an example of innovation.

    Accelerating processes or providing cooler, faster measures to clients are all indicators of innovation and resonate with clients.

    In my practice I have been able to significantly speed learning in small groups by brokering expertise between group members and it is this speed that lets the group innovate by combining things in new ways that would have been impossible for event the smartest member.

    There is a simple parable that saves people the grief of looking for ‘holy innovation grails’ — \If you are not hungry, don’t eat.\
    Quite simply if there is no obvious need then searching for best practices outside or inside is counter productive, though it is all the rage for folks who profit as tour guides.

    Cheers,
    Nick @SpeedSynch

  2. Connie, I think it is important to distinguish between fast learning and innovation as unique and adverserial constructs. A learner may get the impression they are innovating though this is not usually the case.

    Innovation creates new stories, processes, software/ideas, brands and measures.

    Learning is the acquisition of current stories, processes, software/ideas, brands and measures.

    Consider the common scenario of a rookie real estate agent that drives down a street and believes they can ‘sell’ any properties they see. The real estate pro knows that each property has a story and there are many reasons why it may not be able to sell or buy it, now or ever. Rookie realestate agents may also feel they are innovating when they discover and present ideas to clients, although those same clients then yawn as they have been in the business and know more than the rookie.

    Teaching the rookie faster is not innovation, however if the rookie finds a way to synchronize his new learning and services to resonate with the needs of his clients faster than his competitors AND also speed up client processes, we may have an example of innovation.

    Accelerating processes or providing cooler, faster measures to clients are all indicators of innovation and resonate with clients.

    In my practice I have been able to significantly speed learning in small groups by brokering expertise between group members and it is this speed that facilitates group innovation by helping the group to combinethings in new ways that would have been impossible for even the smartest group member.

    There is a simple parable that saves people the grief of looking for ‘holy innovation grails’ — “If you are not hungry, don’t eat.”

    Quite simply if there is no obvious need for change then searching for best practices outside or inside is counter productive–though it is all the rage for folks who profit as tour guides.

    Cheers,
    Nick @SpeedSynch

  3. Hi Nick:

    Thank you for making this distinction, something which I don’t think Chris Anderson does in the article. As you describe, the two can work together but they are not the same thing.

    Cheers,
    Connie

  4. Connie, this is a very intriguing post.

    I’ve noticed in my own life major changes in the way that one can get up to speed on technical, craft, or, for that matter, musical matters.

    With musical matters, for instance, in the span of ten minutes I can be viewing a .pdf of the score of the Magic Flute while watching a YouTube performance, in preparation for the part of the second Armored Man in Act 2 (true story!)

    On technical matters, IT people have built up a huge amount of information, mostly in blogs and discussion forums, that can help relatively novice users solve problems with my own PC that likely would have required senior IT engineers previously.

    How can KM practitioners leverage the new tools that have made this type of sharing and learning possible? How can we make sure the enhanced connectivity is used to promote business-appropriate sharing inside our organizations? There are a lot of possibilities, in areas such as on-demand learning and empowering our clients to help each other better.

  5. I like your ideas of on-demand learning and empowering clients to help each other, David.

    As mentioned above, I like the idea of screencasts in “bite size” chunks (30 seconds to perhaps about 5 minutes in length) that allow a practitioner to get quickly up to speed on a particular point.

    Thinking about empowering clients to help each other, I wonder what that would look like? Would it look like the online customer help forums run by some tech companies, where customers post questions and typically other customers respond? Or perhaps a wiki platform available to clients to allow them to post for each other and possibly even collaborate? Of course, this is thinking in terms of tech solutions, but perhaps there are other ways to achieve this.