Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

T1-5 High-Octane Knowledge Products by a Development Organization

January 29, 2010

Imagine: the top managers and executives of a development-oriented organization are ready to listen to you about KM. They are open to KM but they want to be sure that KM will benefit their organization. They are all busy and although it is difficult to bring them together, you succeeded in scheduling a one-hour slot for a KM activity you will design and execute. What will you do?

I was actually faced with this situation in two instances: a regional inter-governmental organization and a United Nations regional office. What I did then I now call “Zeroing in on High-Octane Knowledge Products”.

Development-oriented organizations are after results and outcomes that are far more complex than those of private corporations. Their stakeholders (the equivalent of “customers” for private corporations) pursue varied interests and agendas, operate at different levels (some are at the community and local level, some are at the national level, and others may be at the bilateral, regional or international level) and wield different types and magnitudes of power (financial clout of donors, regulatory clout of governments, military power of rebels and militias, local monopoly power of dominant businessmen, etc.).

The process I designed and found quite effective proceeded as follows:

  1. Brief lecture (5 minutes): using prepared PowerPoint presentation on what is “knowledge” (assets that enable effective action) and “knowledge management.”
  2. Small-group workshop (20 minutes) on the first question: “List three of your most important stakeholders, and for each one, what important action does your organization want them to do more effectively?” The group outputs are written in large kraft or Manila paper and posted where everyone can read. If there are 5 groups, there will be 15 important stakeholder-actions (duplication can occur across small group outputs).
  3. Voting (5 minutes): Each participant is given a red ball pen and he/she is asked to read all the important stakeholder-action pairs listed by all the groups. He/she selects three which he/she regards as the most important, and writes a red asterisk on each of the three.
  4. Plenary discussion (15 minutes) on the following questions: “Which stakeholder-action pairs garnered the highest votes? Do you agree or disagree? Comments? Did we miss any important stakeholder-action pair?”
  5. Last question followed by plenary discussion (15 minutes): “What knowledge product/service (existing or still to be innovated) of your organization can best support each of the top three stakeholder-action pair?” Those are “high-octane knowledge products” or services the organization is producing or can produce.

The logic follows from the same KM framework discussed in the F Series of my blogs (and the same color-coding also applies).

Identifying high-octane knowledge products

My observations:

  • The workshop illustrates the principle that knowledge enables more effective action, and makes this concrete via the concept of “knowledge product” or “knowledge service.”
  • Best ideas tend to come from the topmost executives, most likely because they are the ones more familiar and concerned with stakeholders in relation to the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Development organizations often do not directly produce the desired social outcomes they aim for. What they do is to provide products/services to various development actors or stakeholders who produce or contribute to those outcomes. The workshop is a good way to prioritize and identify the greatest social value-adding outputs (or “high-octane knowledge products“) that the organization can produce.
  • The exercise can lead to identifying a high-octane knowledge product/service that the organization is not yet doing, i.e. it can help them set specific targets for R&D or innovation/design of new knowledge products/services.

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T2-3 Cues for Product or Service Improvement

December 22, 2009

An inexpensive source of valuable knowledge for product and/or service improvement is customer complaints and customer dissatisfactions. Of course, solving customer complaints or dissatisfactions prevents or reduces loss of customers.

Some customer dissatisfactions are so mild that the customer herself may not be aware of them. Ask a customer for feedback during the initial stages of use; long afterwards, she would have adjusted to the product and forgotten her mild dissatisfaction. Ask “What feature(s) of the product do you like least? Why?” Different features of a product produces different value added for the average customer; least value-adding features offer the best opportunities for product improvement. Non-value adding features could be removed. Two different product features appealing to different customer segments suggest creating two versions of the product that are customized (i.e. more value adding for both) to their respective segments.

Observe if the customer makes improvisations (which can be unconscious) in the product or how she uses it. These little customer improvisations are cues that she perceives a gap in the product’s usefulness.

A bakery company in Japan involves customers (housewives) during all stages of their R&D, from the evolution of the product idea to exploring and testing various options and on to product launching. Of course, if you are one of these housewives it would be natural and expected that you personally promote the product to other customers after product launching!

An indication that a company sees and captures the value of customers’ feedbacks for its R&D is when the R&D unit and the sales or after-sales services (or other frontline or customer-facing unit) is under the same company executive. Otherwise, the flow of feedback information from frontline units to the R&D unit is either absent or inefficient. These two seemingly unrelated departments are actually crucial for value creation by the company. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Marketing and innovation produce results. All the rest are costs.”

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T2-1: A Quick Way of Mining Customer Knowledge for Service Improvement

October 7, 2009

The purpose of KM is to support creation of market value or/and social value. Who is the judge whether in fact value was created?

The answer: your internal and external customers. In the non-government and development sectors, the answer is the same, but the language is different: stakeholders. The user of the output of an action is the best judge of the effectiveness of the action, and the effectiveness of the knowledge assets utilized for that action.

When an action results in satisfaction of customers or stakeholders, value is created. Wherever the results of action is traded, then a measure of the value created is the price customers are willing to pay for a good or service less the production and distribution costs
of that good or service.

In the development sector, where the results of actions are often not traded, what is the measure of value creation? It is the stakeholders’ degree of satisfaction. Within a corporation, results of actions are also not traded and there is no price for an internal good or service. Similarly, the measure of value creation here is the internal customers’ degree of satisfaction.

Improvement or innovation of a product or service that will result in even greater customer or stakeholder satisfaction is another objective of KM. How do we do this? Where do we start? One answer: ask the customer!

In most cases, customers know what they want and they know what will satisfy them better (in the case of breakthrough or exceptionally novel technologies, customers will realize what they want only when the new technology is in front of them). They also definitely know what they don’t want; for this reason, customer complaints are good sources of ideas for product or service innovation.

Making improvements or innovations is faster and easier when the output is a service and not a product. The service delivery process is also subject to greater variability than a product manufacturing process. Improving a service output requires a broadening of perspective: from focus only on the internal business process to focus also on the customer experience process. The two processes overlap in delivering a service. Keep in mind that value creation takes place in the latter process, and not in the former, which is only preparatory.

Based on the above, a low-cost way of mining customer knowledge for service improvement is to ask just two questions. It will take the customer only a couple of minutes to answer, but it can lead to solid creation of greater value for customers. “XX” is where you indicate the name or description of the service.

Question 1: On a scale of 0-100, what is your degree of satisfaction with our XX service or output?
(If the answer is 100, stop and do not proceed to Question 2)

Question 2: What improvements on XX can you suggest to increase your degree of satisfaction?

From asking these two questions numerous times in over a hundred organizational contexts, I observed that:

  • Most of the ideas on product or process improvement from employees who perform a process do not match with those from internal or external customers who use the output of such process.
  • Employees who perform a business process are better judges of process efficiency than of process effectiveness.
  • In many organizations including in the private sector, asking feedback from internal customers is often not a systematic procedure nor a personal habit.
  • The answer to Question 2 is high-value knowledge; acting on that knowledge will surely increase customer value.
  • The entire customer experience process constitute what some calls the “Moment of Truth” or the moment when the value of an output is finally validated. Actually, it is not just one moment or one minute, but it can extend over hours or days.

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L22- 200% Listening

July 26, 2009

During the past four weeks, I have visited five Asian countries. When I travel from the Philippines, my home country, to a less-developed country, one of the striking cultural differences I notice is less ability or willingness of sales people to listen to customers. The opposite is true; when I travel to a more developed country, I am always pleasantly surprised at how much better waiters, stewardesses and sales people try to sense what I, the customer, want and serve me better.

Two weeks ago, I asked a university professor from an Asian country his evaluation of a consultant sent to their campus from another Asian country. His answer was one terse word: “useless”. The online evaluation submitted by the counterpart faculty member was a more shocking negative description of the quality of the service they received. Later, I found out that there were several gaps in the process of matching what the client needs and what technical services will be provided.

Last Friday, I was in Singapore having afternoon tea with a management consultant on business excellence. He told me how unclear was his terms of reference in a consultancy service engagement he was entering with an SME (small/medium enterprise) in another Asian country last year. What did he do? Before starting the project, he called up the owner-manager of the SME and clarified precisely what the SME needs and what services he can provide.

There is no doubt that the ability to listen to customers leads to the ability to create more value, both for the customers or buyers (consumer’s surplus = the positive difference between the consumer’s satisfaction, measured as the price she is willing to pay, and the price she actually paid for a good or service) and for the producers or sellers (producer’s surplus = the positive difference between the price of a good or service and its unit production and distribution costs). There is a direct causal link between enterprises’ ability and willingness to listen to customers and the GNP of the national economy. See a previous blog post: “Q3- The Customer is King; But the King is Blind!?”

At the enterprise level, companies stay competitive by listening better to their customers, and by using the knowledge they gain as inputs to their process or product improvement, redesign or innovation. Customer knowledge is the most valuable input to internal organizational learning processes such as business process improvement, R&D or organizational streamlining.

At the lower level of teams and groups, a similar cause-and-effect link operates. Listening is an ingredient in productive group communication. In a previous blog post, “L12- Listening”, I listed several actions that block 100% listening. Let me reproduce them here:

  • Mentally prepare what he will say next while the other person is still talking
  • Mentally comment or judge what a person is saying
  • Recall past experiences, good or bad, about the person talking
  • Automatically defend himself when criticized instead of trying to better understand the reasons and background behind the criticism
  • Retrieve his past emotions, good or bad, he had on the person talking now
  • Fail to listen completely because of an expectation about what the speaker will say
  • Lecture on what he knows about a topic even if the other person is not interested or is not asking about it
  • Notice or get irritated at the bad grammar, bad logic or bad attitude of the person talking
  • Interrupt by saying something when the other person is not yet finished talking
  • Enter a conversation with the belief that there is little he can learn from the other person
  • Talk very long or give long lectures or monopolize the conversation and as a result the other person has less time to talk
  • Think about something else related, or unrelated, to what the person is saying now
  • Mentally dismiss whatever the person is saying because of his belief about the low credibility or trustworthiness of the person talking
  • Focus more on the emotion of the person talking than on what he is saying
  • Answer a question but say so many other extra things unrelated to the question
  • Do something else such as read something while the person is still talking
  • Get distracted by noise or any other external stimulus
  • Etc. etc.

What do you notice? 99% of blocks to listening are internal to the listener!

To fully listen, we must pay 100% attention to the speaker, but at the same time, we must also pay 100% attention to any internal blocks within us. In other words, we must practice simultaneous external attention and internal attention. You may review two bog posts on indigo skill of internal attention: “The Reflective Knowledge Worker” and “L13- Learning How to Learn”.

“200% listening” is the skill of paying full attention to the person speaking while AT THE SAME TIME paying full attention to — and managing — any internal block to listening that may present itself while the speaker is talking. Like the two-faced Roman god, Janus, 200% listening is the practice of simultaneously looking at two worlds, which in this case, are the external world and the internal world.


The second part requires constant practice and constant self-improvement. The second part is parallel to the internal organizational learning processes that a truly customer-oriented company brings itself to do in response to what it senses externally from its customers. There are technologies and tools in customer relationship management, customer surveys, quality management, etc. at the organizational level, but unfortunately there are far fewer parallel tools at the individual and group level.

200% listening is one such tool.

We will touch on a few others in the L Series. In the next blog post, I will describe how internal attention can be used in anger management.


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Ask High-Value Questions

June 25, 2009


“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

— Albert Einstein

Among the 12 Manners of Voicing, asking questions is, from my experience, the most productive of learning and innovation. I have started to illustrate asking high-value questions in a prior blog post (“Personal Learning History”).

Last March 28, 2007 I was invited to be a reactor to several paper presenters in the “National Conference on Improving Competitiveness through Science & Technology Human Resource Development.” It was sponsored by the Science Education Institute of the Department of Science and Technology of the Philippine government.

As reactor I was expected to comment on the papers presented: expand on ideas I agree with, criticize ideas I don’t agree with, etc. I decided to completely change my approach. I decided not to provide answers. Instead my “reaction” was a series of questions:

  1. Provocative questions
  2. Mind-opening questions
  3. Assumption-exposing questions
  4. Mental model-challenging questions
  5. Bias-awareness questions
  6. Blindfolds-discovering questions
  7. Discovering-what-we-don’t-know questions
  8. Attention-shifting questions
  9. Market opportunities-attentive questions
  10. Reframing questions.

You can read my short (only 5 substantive slides) presentation by holding “Ctrl” and left-clicking HERE to view my presentation in a new tab.

Learn to ask high-value questions. I call them “high-value” questions because they can lead to answers that are high-value knowledge, for example:

  1. Delighting customers instead of just satisfying them, and thereby converting customers to willing and eager salespersons convincing their friends to buy your product.
  2. Changing how we see reality: this is why “reframing” questions are very powerful. For example, if we change how we view the market then it may enable us to see new market opportunities that we hardly saw before. This can lead to —
  3. Challenging and changing the assumptions behind our business model, resulting in a better or new business model that can revive a losing business or radically outstrip all competition or lead to an entirely new and successful business venture with its own niche!


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Q28- Recap of KM Virtues and Gaps, or Will KM Disappear?

May 30, 2009

This Q Series had been a successful one; 16,267 hits came in since it started. We end this blog series with this summarizing post. To better appreciate an item that strikes you, I suggest reading the blog which explains that point. The blogs are accessible from this post through embedded links (which appear as colored text). While pressing “Ctrl”, you can click on the colored text to create a new tab to read the previous blog post referred to.

Virtues of KM and OL (organizational learning):

Gaps in KM and OL practice:

What we need next, a new KM or the next discipline after KM:

Q28 cartoon

We will start the new L Series on “Indigo Learning Practices” in the next blog. Stay tuned in!

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Emerging Indigo Practices

May 28, 2009

From previous blogs, I tried to show that major world problems stem from our lack of knowledge in the indigo quadrant (lower left quadrant in the diagram below):


When two long-term societal megatrends are combined, we discover (see “Q27- Combining Megatrends #1 and #2: the next societal innovations”) that the next significant societal innovations are expected in the indigo quadrant. In my contribution to the book “The Future of Innovation” (to be published by Gower in the autumn of 2009), entitled “The Future of Innovation Must Be Sought in Non-Technological Spheres” I wrote, in part:

    “Mankind has demonstrated that its ability to technologically innovate is far greater than its ability to anticipate, learn and solve the negative social consequences of those innovations…

    Innovation in the future will be driven by common threats confronting mankind. Ironically, most of those threats are man-made. Innovation will proceed in the general direction of preventing and resolving conflicts, governance at all levels, advancing human rights and human security, cross-border agreements in preventing and fighting crime and terrorism, eliminating social exclusions and other social ills that lead to poverty, generating consensus on environmental problems and solutions, and value creation.”

In the specific area of KM, this means that tools, technologies and practices for effectively managing relationship capital would be important. Below is a list of such KM tools (reproduced from a previous blog post: “Practical Hint #17: Tools for Managing Relationship Capital”):

  • Social Network Analysis (SNA), sociogram or stakeholder analysis: Maps and analyzes frequencies of communication, teammate preferences, perceived closeness of interpersonal relationships, degree of agreement/disagreement, etc. between people in a group, organization or network
  • Team building and team learning exercises
  • Setting up a cross-functional KM Team
  • Customer relations management, business development, account management, or business partnership management: Management of relationships with customers, suppliers, partners, etc.
  • Customer clubs and e-communities: strengthens a company’s communication and relationship with customers, allows customers to participate in product improvement or R&D, makes some customers feel special by receiving advanced news or product prototypes, etc.
  • “Customer ba”: Part of the task of some Japanese customer relations managers is to create an affirmative, trusting and creative “relationship space” between himself and the customer.
  • MBTI, Belvin types and other psychological profiling tests: Assessing potential for complementarity and good mix of thinking and working styles among prospective team members
  • Various tools in brand management and marketing which enhance reputation and credibility of the company
  • Various HR/OD tools to enhance employee loyalty and morale: recognitions, honors and awards; policies that allow appropriate decision-making to employees; CEOs that listen e.g. allow direct emails from employees; facilities that show the company cares e.g. day-care facilities within company premises for young children of mother-employees, etc.
  • Group exercise in mind mapping: Allows members to see and better understand the assumptions of other fellow members
  • Professional and personal profiles of staff, Expertise Directory, company White Pages: Facilitates staff in getting to know each other and each other’s skills, expertise and talents
  • Face-to-face meetings and SN functionalities among e-community or e-CoP members: Mutual trust in a virtual CoP or e-community is best nurtured through face-to-face meetings, and through appropriate social network functionalities in the website of the CoP
  • Visioning exercise: Co-creating and contributing to an organization’s vision tend to enhance buy-in and engagement of members in programs, projects and activities aimed at the vision of the organization.
  • Negotiation: collaborative/integrative negotiation training, skills development (thanks to Peter Spence), and related tools in conflict management
  • Leadership (thanks to Peter Spence): one that knows and appreciates many of the above.

Accordingly, I have decided that the next blog series will be on “Indigo Learning Practices.” We will call it the L Series.


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Evolving Forms of Governance

May 20, 2009

As I type these words I am enjoying the view of Kowloon across the Hong Kong harbour. Beyond Kowloon I can see the distant mountains in the New Territories. Somewhat to my left are the mountains of Hong Kong Island. I can see the moon-shaped Peak Tower on Victoria Peak over the high-rise buildings in Causeway Bay.

Panoramic views from a high place always bring me to a quiet space within me. Very early this morning, in the twilight zone between sleeping and waking, I again experienced an in-flow of new ideas — a process that happens to me countless times before. I am not sure exactly how the process takes place. After I receive them, my mind then shapes and clothes them into words, paragraphs and figures. Today the ideas came at the right time so that they can find their way into this blog. The middle three diagrams below are explicit rendering of the ideas that came to me this morning.

Following the long-term evolutionary framework in the last blog (see “Q27- Combining Megatrends #1 and #2: the Next Societal Innovations?”), we can see that forms of governance have been evolving also according to the two megatrends (the 3×3 diagram below was first presented to the Futuristics in Education course for Malaysian senior education officers last August 23, 2005 at SEAMEO INNOTECH). Glocality and counter-glocality were discussed in the previous blog on “More Power to Glocals!”

governance 1

The great American democratic experiment can be viewed as a steady movement towards the lower left or indigo quadrant, the direction of the two megatrends (see previous blog). It remains to be seen how it will further evolve in the next centuries.

governance 2

Tibetan Buddhism was never a centralized and doctrinaire religion from the beginning; it has been an independent experiential and learning-oriented practice among generations after generations of lamas or monks across Tibet, Mongolia and elsewhere.

Potala Palace (photo credits to Wikimedia Commons)

Potala Palace (photo credits to Wikimedia Commons)

The political loss of Tibet to the Peoples Republic of China led to the farther spread of Tibetan Buddhism as a personal practice across the globe; from our framework, this is movement towards the indigo quadrant. What has happened is consistent with what Padma Sambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, prophesied 1200 years ago that the Tibetan people “will be scattered like ants across the face of the Earth.”

governance 3

However, we see from our framework that the evolution of Christianity was regressive from Pentecost up to the Middle Ages, and then it reversed back towards the indigo quadrant starting with the Protestant Reformation and continuing with Vatican II reforms.

governance 4

The modern corporation is also evolving (see my blog on “From corporate disregard to corporate embrace of stakeholder capital to socially-embedded corporations”). The advent of knowledge management, organizational learning/presencing, corporate social responsibility or CSR practices, the power shift (see Alvin Toffler and Daniel Bell) to knowledge workers/enterprises and a “flatter world” according to Thomas Friedman, are forces that tend to push the modern corporate practice towards the indigo quadrant.

governance 5

What do you think?

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Q27- Combining Megatrends #1 and #2: the Next Societal Innovations?

May 18, 2009

I introduced trans-societal Megatrend #1 in an earlier blog (“Q14- Naming Trans-Societal Megatrend #1: towards Yin?”). I summarized Megatrend #1 (see blog “KM and trans-societal megatrend #1”) as:


Trans-societal Megatrend #2 (introduced in blog Q26- Information: another Force for Democratization) can be summarized as:

Megatrend #2

If we combine these two megatrends and again use Ken Wilber’s framework, we have a new way of characterizing major societal innovations and anticipating where the next major societal innovations would be emerging:

Combining 2 megatrends

Do you agree with the following observations?

  1. The combined trend is towards the lower left or indigo-colored Quadrant 4 in the figure above. Using simplistic language, the trend is towards the democratization of religions (Quadrant 1 to 4) and the spiritualization of democracy, free markets and science (Quadrant 3 to 4).
  2. There is a mega-tension between Quadrants 1 and 3 which can be seen in the conflict between Western democratic values versus Islamic fundamentalism and theocracy (which underlies the events in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, and tension between European cultures and cultures of Muslim immigrants in Europe), the conflict between scientific empiricism and religious faith (seen in Matthew Fox’s creation spirituality versus traditional Catholic doctrines, Darwinian evolution versus creationism from Genesis), and the conflict between laissez faire capitalism and various economic models that emphasize the humanistic, psychological and spiritual dimensions (such as “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered” by Schumacher, Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s “Gross National Happiness”).
  3. Regressive forces are represented by those groups which aim to maintain or go back to communism, dictatorship, theocracy, monopolistic control of national economies, etc.
  4. New practices are emerging in Quadrant 4, which I call “indigo practices.” I will write about this in another blog. The interactive practice in double-loop learning that I am proposing in the last blog (An Invitation to Interactive Practice of Double-Loop Learning) is an indigo practice.
  5. A most interesting convergence between Quadrants 1 and 3 is happening between Tibetan Buddhism and modern science: the Mind and Life Institute. Tibetan Buddhism comes from centuries of learning, experiential studies and applying consensual corroboration in the inner worlds; while modern sciences comes from centuries of learning, empirical studies and applying consensual corroboration in the outer worlds.

interesting convergence

I introduced the ideas in this blog in an earlier paper on “Information Technology and Security in the 21st Century” which I read at the Asia-Pacific Security Forum Conference in Taipei, Taiwan in December 1999.

Please tell us what you think about these.

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