Entovation International
The IRI Steps up to the Knowledge Plate
– Bringing a Constituency up to Speed

by Debra M. Amidon

Founded in 1938, the Industrial Research Institute – http://www.iriinc.org – has always been a professional organization dedicated to the creation, exchange and application of ideas (i.e., the innovation process). In fact, their mission "enhancing the effectiveness of innovation in industry" has been a leadership beacon for industrial organizations throughout the United States and now around the world. Their sphere of influence is well known in research circles. "Industry recognizes that research and development are indispensable to the security and progress of a nation. Concern for improvement of the environment, conservation of resources, and a better life for all persons underlie the importance of research. A 130 billion-dollar enterprise, industrial research and development programs in the United States utilize the services of well over one-half million scientists and engineers."

What is not so well known is their simultaneous leadership in the knowledge field.

It was 1992 in Vancouver, Canada, when the Institute convened its fall meeting of Fortune 500 Chief Research/Technology Officers where we explored the role of R&D in creating a knowledge system. At that time, Dr. Bill Miller, then Vice President of Research and Business Development for Steelcase (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA) and EDS released the Proceedings of their Knowledge Productivity Conference. To my knowledge, it was the first US industrial-strength examination of the topic since the 1987 Digital Roundtable – "Managing the Knowledge Assets into the 21st Century." By the way, Bill Miller – wlmnet@aol.com – who was one of the original ENTOVATION colleagues - has recently released his own book – Fourth Generation R&D: Managing Knowledge, Technology and Innovation (John Wiley & Sons).

In the fall, 7 years later – the IRI held their annual meeting entitled: "Knowledge Management and the Innovation Process" in San Antonio, Texas. This meeting of attendees brought back over a dozen mavericks from the early years that understood the knowledge practice long before their peers. Many are already considered part of the ENTOVATION Network – Dr. Peter Cannon (formerly Rockwell Industries), Col. Cy Betz, Dr. Robert S. Wood (Rohm & Haas) who chaired the program committee and Dr. Parry Norling (DuPont) – who appears on the Global Knowledge Leadership Map. He is the current President of the IRI. It was a great opportunity to take a barometer reading of the progress of the movement.

In 1992, there was little talk of measurement. Case studies were virtually non-existent. Presentations were loaded with the quotes of others – theorists, consultants and academicians at best. Definitions were non-existent. The focus was still on technological innovation and the audience was miffed. San Antonio was different!

At this meeting, a Knowledge Management sub-committee was responsible for the program and the upcoming Annual Spring meeting in Palm Springs. The co-chairman, Cecil Chappelow (Air Products & Chemicals, Inc) – chappecc@apci.com – and Ross Armbrecht (Witco Corp.) - armbrro@witco.com – have more information on the progress and direction of the committee. In short, there were major addresses and carefully architected case study examples from John David Meyer (HP), Jeffrey E Stemke (Chevron), Jacqueline Michel (Monsanto), Deborah E. Dixon (Becton Dickinson) and Pamela A. Drew (Boeing) among others. I presented "The Knowledge Millennium: An Innovation Compass" that described the concepts in the paper co-authored with Darius Mahdjoubi - http://www.entovation.com/whatsnew/atlas1.htm.

John Seely Brown (Chief Scientist of Xerox PARC) received the Maurice Holland Award in recognition for his contributions to new management concepts and his work on operationalizing ‘communities of practice’ to structure collaboration is well known. Others may be interested in his more recent article "Sustaining the Ecology of Knowledge" that appears in ‘Leader to Leader’ (Spring 1999) where he outlines 3 fundamental economic shifts being driven from the generation of new knowledge, largely based upon digital technology:

(1) From conglomeration to demassification.

(2) From simply making products and services to making sense.

(3) From established rules of engagement to self-determined rules.

Brown outlines a ‘New Law of Knowledge.’ If knowledge (K) equals a warranted belief leading to action; learning is the rate of change of knowledge over time (L = dK/dt). Then where m represents the size of a firm, sustainable competitive advantage – or the force of a firm – is the differential rate of learning (F = dL/dt = md2K/dt2).

In other words, in a time when both the rate of change and the growth of knowledge keep accelerating, the more people you have who can learn more in a shorter period of time, the more competitive you will be. The real formula for success is less mechanistic; it requires the creative energies of everyone associated with an organization, as well as careful stewardship of an organization’s shared purpose and practices. [Author’s Note: Imagine the power of the model when applied to building collaborative, not competitive advantage!]

Today, the mandate for measurement is clear…and it includes the value of intangible as well as tangible assets. We are not sure of the right indicators; but we are certain that it is possible and necessary. We now have solid case study examples from major firms of what works and what doesn’t work. We now have taxonomy of terms evolving – "Giving Words to Intellectual Capital" – as reported in our previous issue http://www.ericsson.se/intellectualcapital. The focus has shifted toward knowledge (not technological) innovation, the monitoring of knowledge flow and an appreciation for the imperative of knowledge strategy as one way to building sustainable advantage. People understand the imperative and a common language is emerging.

It’s a Long Way from Vancouver!

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Reprinted from I3 Update.