Successful innovation requires more than just an idea, but the knowledge necessary to develop and deliver innovation based on those ideas. Even with access to rich knowledge resources, failure is an inherent part of the innovation process (McGrath, 2011). Processes for selecting, promoting, and executing innovative ideas are critical to innovative strategy.
Different Types of Knowledge Development Processes
Capturing the full value of an organization’s knowledge resources requires understanding the value of various knowledge sources and the processes for selecting, promoting, and executing on the most promising ideas. Not all knowledge has the same value to the organization, nor can it be captured using the same processes (Mahroeian & Forozia, 2012; Wilson & Doz, 2011). Wilson and Doz identified three different types of knowledge: existential, embedded, and explicit; although, Mahroeian and Forozia simply define knowledge as existing on a continuum between explicit and existential (or tacit). Each of these knowledge resources requires unique processes and systems for effective utilization by the organization. Leveraging the concepts of agile innovation (Wilson & Doz, 2011), these processes include attracting, foraying, and experiencing.
Attracting is a process designed to bring ideas into the organization from outside. What may once have been the sole domain of customer experience surveys and suggestion boxes has evolved rapidly over the last few years. Today, attracting is commonly achieved via communities of excellence, online community forums, and crowdsourcing platforms.
Leveraging the concepts of agile innovation, these processes include attracting, foraying, and experiencing.
While attracting, once initiated, is mostly a passive activity managing the influx of ideas and opportunities, foraying is a much more active activity. Foraying is a process where individuals within the organization seek out and discover information and ideas. This can be formalized as business development activities, or accidental as part of the normal business interactions with customers, vendors, or other employees. Foraying requires more direct involvement in uncovering potential ides.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from attracting is experiencing. Some knowledge and ideas cannot be fully understood or mastered without experiencing them directly. This is particularly true with tacit knowledge, or ideas rooted intricately in the culture or context in which they originated.
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
The process to capture, promote, and execute on the different types of knowledge requires varying degrees of effort. For instance, Wilson and Doz suggested explicit knowledge was easiest to capture through an attracting process similar to virtual communities (VC’s) or crowdsourcing approaches (Hammon & Hippner, 2012; Schröder & Hölzle, 2010). VC’s provide an organization a simple, cost-effective method for capturing the innovative ideas of the masses. At the same time, this easily codified and transmitted knowledge can also be easily stolen or replicated by competitors, diminishing its competitive value.
On the other end of the spectrum, Wilson and Doz argued tacit knowledge can only be acquired through an experiencing process involving greater time and investment targeted at specific markets, challenges, and geographies. This tacit knowledge is more difficult and expensive to obtain. Yet, because of the time and investment, it is also much more difficult for competitors to replicate, which means it also holds much greater strategic value.
Organizations need to develop integrated methods of accessing and converting these resources into viable products and service opportunities, suggesting processes cannot only be for ideation, but also for the selection and continued development of innovative solutions. At the same time, they must fully understand the risks and rewards associated with the means of accumulating and developing that knowledge. This is a critical element of innovation success.
Fitting Process into the Innovation Strategy Framework
Innovation processes represent the specific tools through which the organization engages knowledge resources in ideation and execution (black boxes in Figure 1). Per Wilson and Doz, these are not mutually exclusive, but represent potential means of engaging knowledge resources as required in the development of innovative solutions. For instance, ideation might be achieved using VC’s (attracting), but further development might require rapid prototyping (Sandmeier, Morrison, & Gassmann, 2010; Tuulenmäki & Välikangas, 2011) using direct, on-site customer engagement (foraying), or long-term development within market (experiencing). Likewise, innovative ideas developed through experiencing might be tested in different markets (foraying) or through crowdsourced selection processes (attracting). The processes are the formalized ways in which the people across the model interact; they are the tools of innovation selection and development.
Furthermore, successful innovation practices require the continued application of knowledge resources from ideation through execution. The prospect of failure is not only inherent to innovation, failure is a likely part of innovation execution (McGrath, 2011). McGrath encouraged organizations to embrace the learning opportunities inherent in innovation execution, proposing the use of small-scale experimentation to minimize large-scale failure. The application of rapid-prototyping and extreme programming processes to new product and service development promote similar practices (Abele, 2011; Sandmeier et al., 2010; Tuulenmäki & Välikangas, 2011). Sandmeier et al. investigated the use of extreme programming practices in the development of innovative products, and found the early and continued involvement of diverse external knowledge resources was positively related to successful innovation. Tuulenmäki and Välikangas extolled the similar value of rapid prototyping and experimentation in the successful execution of innovative solutions. Each of these perspectives suggest the continued inclusion of an organization’s knowledge resources throughout innovation execution to refine and develop optimal solutions. As a result, the use of attracting, foraying, and experiencing processes to leverage an organization’s knowledge network does not end once ideation is complete, but must be integrated across the entire innovation process.
Opening the entire innovation process to actors beyond the direct control of the organization requires significant dedication from an organization’s leadership. Developing a culture of innovation is the final major element of innovation strategy.
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