Sharing Sticky Knowledge

What do we really know about innovation? We style ourselves innovation consultants, but what is the specific nature of our expertise?

We held a workshop at the CKS innovation lab in Delhi earlier this week to generate provisional answers to this large question. We asked senior members of our innovation team to write out on post its particular examples of knowledge or skill or other capabilities and insights that were resident within our organization.

A wide variety of responses were received, and these ranged from highly formalized forms of knowledge, including academic and professional disciplines in which team members had been trained, to entirely informal and residual kinds of knowledge, which gave innovation experts a kind of gut or feel for how an innovation process was going to work out, and whether it was on track or not. In the middle were a variety of different kinds of skills, more or less tangible or abstract. There were also value systems and elements of a shared worldview, something we chose to call a ‘learned philosophy of action.’

At CKS we have developed formal training tools to address many of these tangible and ephemeral forms of knowledge, so as to try and provide a window into the way we work for new recruits. Sometimes these training tools have even been requested and used by clients. In many cases, however, we find that the training tool is fully understood only after the learner has been through the innovation process it seeks to provide knowledge about.

While some kinds of knowledge can be easily transferred to others, there are types of knowledge that are inherently sticky — that is to say, knowledge that is inherently ingrained within one’s own lived experience and therefore nearly impossible to share. Therefore, any type of training program for innovation would necessarily need to be composed of an array of different modules and activities, with the correct balance of theoretical grounding and practical application of that theory. This is the kind of immersive approach to innovation training that we are now in the process of developing.