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Innovating in the era of the global idea machine – and the concept of “Just-in-time Knowledge”

If you want to known why you need to speed up your organization, spend a bit more time staring at an iPhone — or for that matter, any Apple device that you might happen to have in your home or office.

Think about the fact that Apple now masters such a torrid pace of product development that 60% of its’ revenue comes from products that didn’t exist four years ago. Then ask yourself if your organization could do the same thing.

Many of the organizations who bring me in for a CEO level leadership meeting, board retreat or staff event want to focus on a message that revolves around the idea of ‘how can we innovate faster.’ They recognize that increasingly, they too are becoming like Apple, in a world in which they must continually reinvent their products and services to stay relevant to their customers, or simply to keep up with the pacesetters in their industry.

With that context in mind, watch this video from a recent keynote in which I talk about the how innovators align themselves for this world of fast-paced innovation by taking advantage of what I call the “big global idea machine.”

 This is a great story, since it demonstrates how organizations are realizing that we are in a world of ever accelerating scientific velocity, driven by global collaboration, increasing speed with pure and accidental research, the impact of a global ‘tinkering’ culture, and other factors which are speeding up the discovery of new knowledge.

New knowledge drives new innovation — and its’ by learning to tap into new knowledge that you can accelerate your innovation cycles.

That’s where an increasing number of organizations have been engaging me — to help them understand how to speed up their knowledge ingestion capabilities. They know they have to do this because the shelf life of the product or service that they have in the marketplace is continuing to decrease at an often alarming rate. And in some industries, products are obsolete before they get to market. (Just ask HP with its’ new Tablet product, which was abandoned shortly after being brought to market!)

Think about that for a moment: we now find ourselves in a period of time in which innovation and change is occurring so quickly that the very concept of a product lifecycle is beginning to disappear. And just as product lifecycles collapse, so too does the half life of knowledge and the relevance of skills. It’s only by picking up the pace of reinventing that knowledge and skills that you can get ahead — and one of the ways to do that is through the “global idea machine.” Hence, people are focused on open innovation, global innovate idea sourcing, new forms of collaboration, and other methods to generate insight and knowledge faster — to speed up the process of R&D.

Whether I’m dealing with a company driven by rapid change in the  medical, scientific, financial, mechanical or engineering knowledge, one thing is clear: the knowledge that a organization needs to succeed in the future  is becoming infinitely more complex every minute, with a constant, relentless flood of that which is new. And from my perspective, the story of the Apple is becoming increasingly common — as every organization is driven by the same rates of change that are enveloping this global giant.

The bottom line is simple:

  • the ability of obtaining rapid, instant knowledge generation is becoming an urgent necessity in almost every field of endeavor;
  • the ability to quickly digest, understand and assess new knowledge is an increasingly important skill – one that not a lot of organizations have mastered;
  • the ability to reformulate our thinking, assumptions and capabilities to respond to the constant change being thrust upon our organization is of increasing importance

In a nutshell, I coined the phrase “just in time knowledge” over a decade ago to describe the nexus of these realities. In the world of hyper-change represented by the Apple iPhone, it’s clear that we are already there.

Just in time knowledge involves a form of continuous learning that is instant, fast, and urgent. Think about situations where a need for JIT-knowledge is evident:

  • Some estimates suggest that medical knowledge is now doubling every eight years. Rapid advances in new methodologies, technologies, treatments and methods of care evolve at a furious pace. In such a world, medical professionals can’t be expected to know everything there is to know within their particular field of endeavor. The new reality going forward for doctors, nurses and any other professional is that these professionals are increasingly forced to go out and obtain new knowledge, just at the time that they need it. The same holds true for pharmaceutical companies, medical device technology manufacturers, and anyone else remotely involved with health care.
  • Sales based organizations are quickly discovering that furious rates of hyper-innovation in their marketplace require a sales force that is extremely adaptable, agile, flexible — and quick to understand the potential of new markets. If a product has a life of about six months in the marketplace, an organization can’t afford to waste any time in preparing to assault the market. The result is that there is an ever increasing need for sales based organizations gain deep, rapid insight into the sales potential of a new product line, while discarding the knowledge and understanding they have of the old product line.
  • Mechanical engineers continue to see rapid developments in manufacturing methodologies, as well as a need to quickly master the art of managing ever more complex global supply chains. With increasing sophistication and agility in the manufacturing process, every engineer involved in process automation must have the ability to quickly gain insight and intelligence into leading edge issues associated with plant design, construction, automation, assembly, robotics, and all kinds of other complex topics.

The reality going forward? If an organization is to succeed in the future, it must be a master of the ability to succeed with just-in-time-knowledge.

Are you ready for the world of just-in-time knowledge? Here’s what you should do to answer the question:

  • Undertake a knowledge turnover assessment. The first thing you need to do is get an accurate picture of just how quickly the issue of just-in-time knowledge is becoming a critical success factor in your industry. How quickly does new knowledge expire? How quickly is new knowledge generated? And what does this suggest to you in terms of the knowledge replenishment role that you need to master?
  • Consider the risks and opportunities. What happens if your company doesn’t adapt to this fast paced new reality? What’s the downside? Now is a good time to frame the future in terms of bold contrasts, and in terms of the cost of inaction.
  • Envision the future. If your organization excels at just-in-time knowledge, what will they be doing in 2015? 2020? How will their role have changed? What might they be doing day to day on January 15, 2015, compared to what they are doing today? And what you will, as their knowledge mentor, have done to have helped them make the transition?
  • Educate your leadership and staff. I’d hazard a guess that few of your executive team are even thinking about the issue and challenges that come with just-in-time knowledge. If they aren’t aware that it is an issue, they likely aren’t aware that their future opportunity and success will come from mastering this critical new corporate capability. If they don’t know about the challenges that lie ahead, educate them now.
  • Prepare a road map and adjust your strategy. Attaining the objective of having an organization master just in time knowledge promises to be a long, complex and arduous task – but what an opportunity! Start to rethink everything you do in terms of your new just-in-time knowledge role – whether in your board meetings, strategy sessions, or leadership discussions, and you’ll find that everyone is thinking the same thing: we need to start working to prepare for it now.

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