“Improvisation Takes Practice” in HBR is a great read. When I first read it, I chuckled at how it brings my gamer hobby and my quality practice together.
Employee creativity—the production of novel and useful solutions, procedures, products, and services—is critical to organizational success. I would argue, creativity drives excellence. Improvisation is a key employee behavior that drives creativity and innovation.
Improvisation is essential for navigating volatile, uncertain, and complex environments and dealing with unforeseen obstacles. Improvisation is also key to drawing distinctions, implementing new ideas, and converting knowledge and insights into action in real time. When confronted with critical and disruptive events, employees can resolve challenges by following existing protocols and procedures. In contrast, when faced with novel events, employees cannot rely on routines and conventions to respond. Rather, they will have to shift their focus to new perspectives, features, and behaviors.
The process of building expertise, when practices are assimilated, embodied, and rendered tacit, creates improvisational competence. Improvisation is an important source of action generating learning: people act to make events meaningful and situations understandable and, in the process, deepen their expertise through further learning, becoming reflective practitioners.
Nonaka classified knowledge as explicit and tacit. This concept has become the center piece of knowledge management and fundamental concept in process improvement.
Explicit knowledge is documented and accepted knowledge. Tacit knowledge stems more from experience and is more undocumented in nature. In spite of being difficult to interpret and transfer, tacit knowledge is regarded as the root of all organizational knowledge.
Tacit knowledge, unlike its explicit counterpart, mostly consists of perceptions and is often unstructured and non-documented in nature. Therefore, mental models, justification of beliefs, heuristics, judgments, “gut feelings” and the communication skills of the individual can influence the quality of tacit knowledge.
The process of creation of knowledge begins with the creation and sharing of tacit knowledge, which stems from socialization, facilitation of experience and interactive capacity of individuals with their coworkers.
Knowledge creation involved organizations and it’s individual transcending the boundaries of the old to the new by acquiring new knowledge, which is considered to be mostly tacit in nature. The key to tacit knowledge sharing lies in the willingness and capacity of individuals to share what they know (knowledge donation) and to use what they learn (knowledge collection).
Knowledge quality is the acquisition of useful and innovative knowledge and is the degree to which people are satisfied with the quality of the shared knowledge and find it useful in accomplishing their activities. The quality of knowledge can be measured by frequency, usefulness and innovativeness, and can be innovative or new for the system or organization. However, if the knowledge is not beneficial to achieving the objective of the objective of the organization then it does not fulfill the criteria of knowledge quality. There are six attributes to knowledge quality: adaptability, innovativeness, applicability, expandability, justifiability and authenticity,
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Our organizations are based on the interactions of individuals, teams and other organizations into a complex adaptive environment. We need to manage productive relationships as part of a complex system and interactions among parts can produce valuable, new, and unpredictable capabilities that are not inherent in any of the parts acting alone. This is why knowledge management, having a learning culture, is such a fundamental part of the work we do.
There are seven major categories we engage in when we manage, maintain, and create knowledge.
The activity of bringing tacit knowledge into action (e.g. translating a mental model of a process activity into the actual operating tasks)
Knowledge Work Activities
As can be seen in the table above these seven activities involve moving between tacit and explicit knowledge. The apply to both declarative and procedural knowledge.
Socialization is the level of interaction between, and communication of, various actors within an organization, which leads to the building of personal familiarity, improved communication, and problem solving. Often called learning the roles, this is the the process by which an individual acquires the social knowledge and skills necessary to assume an organizational role. Socialization encourages two-way information exchange, builds and establishes relationship trust, and enable transparency of information.
Socialization creates an operating style, enabling people to communicate with each other, have a language that they all understand and behavioral styles that are compatible. It reinforces basic assumptions and shares espoused values by helping create common norms and compatible cultures.
The combination of knowledge drives innovation and a learning culture. This includes the ability to identify different sources of knowledge, understand different learning processes, and combine internal and external knowledge effectively.
Knowledge combination capability generates through exchange of knowledge between individuals and work teams is a process that allows the transfer of knowledge to the organization and that can be applied to develop and improve products and processes.
One of the dangers in any organization is that the hard-won know-how of our experts remains locked in their brains and is not shared. To beat this tendency, knowledge management should be a continuous activity in any quality system. So why not start by documenting your own knowledge as an expert?
Answer these Questions
Things to clarify
What reference materials do you use?
How do you track technical trends?
Should a knowledge recipient own any of these reference materials? What are the best websites? Are there particular journals that you fi nd useful? What about associations?
What kinds of problems do people come to you to solve?
What are the biggest risks in the project, process, or system you manage?
Can you describe a problem brought to you recently? What technical mistakes is a novice likely to make in that project or process?
Whom do you ask about technology trends and innovation?
Whom do you contact for information about government regulations?
What is this go-to person’s complete contact information? What medium does he or she prefer (email versus telephone)? What is his or her background? How do you know this person?
Who are the major stakeholders in the project, process, or system you manage?
What are the biggest mistakes newcomers make in trying to get projects going here?
What are the positions of the major stakeholders? Where are there competing priorities? Can you give me an example of a newcomer mistake and suggest how to avoid such mistakes?
Regarding team leadership, what criteria do you use to select team members?
How do you ensure the team is connected to the overall business strategy?
On a general level, how do you motivate people who report to you?
Why do you use these particular criteria? Have you ever chosen unwisely? What communication strategies are most effective? Can you give an example of what has really helped?
Once you’ve documented this knowledge, identify who else needs to know it, and then ensure the knowledge is transferred.