Creating Standards for Knowledge and Innovation Management



 Hi everybody. Within the past couple of years, ISO has released standards on knowledge management, which is ISO 30401, and innovation management, which is ISO 56002. But how do you standardize knowledge and innovation, and more importantly, how do you manage them in a rapidly changing world?

Today we have two great guests who will help us explore these questions. Peter Merrill is president of Quest Management based in Ontario, Canada. He is one of the foremost authorities on management systems and innovation, which he has implemented in such companies as IBM, AIG, and RIM. He chairs the Canadian committee on innovation for ISO TC176 and is Founding Chair of ASQ Innovation Division. Merrill authored the books Innovation Generation, Innovation Never Stops, and recently was part of the publish of the ISO 56000, building an innovation management system. 

We also have with us today Ron Young. He is the CEO and Chief Knowledge Officer of Knowledge Associates International, a knowledge management consulting group that he founded in 1994, based in Cambridge and London. He has consulted with multinational corporations, the United Nations, agencies, governments, and professional institutions, in addition to presenting and leading knowledge management and innovation conferences around the world. He's also chaired British Standards Institute, and European CEN Standards committees. 

So our experts today bring not only knowledge about the standards, but also significant practical experience in how these standards apply to real organizational challenges. So Peter and Ron, pleasure to have you. So let's just jump right in. Let's start with dispelling some myths. Ironically, neither the innovation nor the knowledge management standards actually standardize innovation or knowledge. Both standards focus on establishing enablement systems that can be managed. Peter, can you briefly elaborate on how the innovation management standard does that?


Yes, thanks Joe, and it's worth saying at the outset what we mean when we're talking about a system, and ISO gives us a very simple definition. It talks about a set of interrelated elements. What do we mean by the elements? They’re people, process, and technology, and immediately you start to see a system is complex, and that's the challenge that we're dealing with, and very much I think the turning point in what we call today's systems thinking was back in the 90s when Peter Senge published his book, The Fifth Discipline, which was about the learning organization. In the 90s, ISO picked this up, initially in the environmental standard, and then in the quality management standard, which was around about the year 2000. 

The innovation management standard started its life in 2013, much more recently. But it's fair to say that all of these standards have a commonality, and that's in terms of the systems structure. And the systems structure that ISO has adopted is based on what is not new knowledge, and that is one of our challenges in terms of knowledge these days. The Standards structure is based on Francis Bacon's scientific method which was developed back in 1620, would you believe, and what he defined as the scientific method was “Observe, Plan, Do, Check, Act.” Today we hear “Plan, Do, Check, Act” very commonly, we don't always hear the Observe part of it. 

So what we've got at the moment is a body of knowledge of elements that are interrelated and interacting. And what it gives people is elements that they can match, and that's how it becomes a management system. We're not trying to hug an elephant, we're managing each element, but importantly those elements are linked together. 

And the value of developing an auditable standard is that it, it pushes the thing. People have much more incentive to make the standard work, rather than just saying, well this is useful. So that's something we're going to be probably publishing in two, maybe three years from now. So hopefully that gives a background, Joe, back to you.


That was very helpful. So, Ron, let me turn to you. Can you briefly elaborate on knowledge management standard, and its management systems approach. 


Yeah, thanks Joe. I think Peter said it, most of it really, I mean, and very well. I mean, yes, it is not a standard to manage knowledge, as you quite rightly said, it's a management system for knowledge. And there is a big difference, of course. What it contains for me, what I would add further to Peter, is that it basically contains the principles of good leadership and management, you know - leading, planning, support, operations, performance evaluation, and continual improvement. 

These principles are fundamental to anything that we want to manage, not least knowledge. Knowledge is in our heads. But if we have wrapped around knowledge - and the better way, the better processes for creating knowledge and transferring knowledge and applying knowledge - a set of principles, which are good leadership and management principles… We need them, and we need them badly because in the early days of knowledge management, sometimes the initiatives in organizations were at best mediocre and often failed in the beginning. And one of the reasons wasn't just our knowledge about knowledge, it was lacking the leadership and management principles that are sound principles around that. 

So that's what it means to me, and of course it's also got roots in Business Excellence models. If you look at them over the last 25 years, many of the business excellence models, you'll find the same components around leadership, planning, support, performance evaluation and improvement, at least in context. And if you look at methodologies to try and do this successfully, they're built around the critical success factors that we've all learned. And that's exactly what a management systems standard has, it’s embraced the critical success factors, it's embraced good leadership and management principles. That's what it means to me.


I’m very curious. So how would you, in this context, how would you distinguish for the audience the differences between standards and principles?


When we say principles, I guess we have to be a bit clearer. What we mean we don't mean the fundamental principles of truth, although we'd like to get as near as we could to that. I think we're talking about sound business principles, and these sound business principles, the big difference is that, in our organizations we are facing daily, and working with people, but people join organizations and people leave organizations. We’re working with processes, no matter how innovative these processes are they continually change. We're working with technologies and tools and they’re changing by the day. And so when we look at people, processes, and technologies, we can certainly start to see the requirements, but they do change. 

The great thing about business principles is, if they do change, they change a lot slower. And if they're really good principles, they're almost changeless and timeless. And that's what drives the standards. If the standards are principles-led, then the requirements of the standards, which we'll explore, naturally follow on from that, and I believe the challenge is to get those principles into the daily work, and the requirements help us to do that. 


And Joe, I can probably add to that in describing how the innovation management principles were actually developed. When we first sat down together in the international group, we were talking - an initial group of 30 to 50 people, it's now a couple hundred people. Back then, we had an amorphous body of knowledge, and we hammered out half a dozen or so basic thoughts. They were not yet principles, we then hammered them into principles. 

But then we said, do you know, we're not 100% on this. So we went ahead with the writing the guidance standard. We spent the next two or three years over that. And that might sound a long time but remember, this is international, we're bringing together people from all over the planet. When we got to the end of writing the guidance standard, we went back to the principles. I was on the… I had the fortune of being on that task group, and we actually made a few changes in the light of the knowledge that we’d hammered out over the previous three years. 

And you know, when you look at the standard, which is what I would call the elephant that you might try to hug, it is a bit overwhelming. And so coming back to what Ron said, those principles are really the start point. And it's very easy for people who've worked on the standard to take the principle for granted, but quite recently I gave, actually, two or three talks in different audiences on the principles, and I was absolutely struck by how they resonated with the people in the audience. They liked the sort of succinct nature of the principles better than a single definition of innovation, not as overwhelming as the full standard. In fact, a very good introduction to the standard.


So that's probably important for people like me, right, because I don't have a deep knowledge. If I pick up on the principles it would draw me in to the more detailed information so hopefully the audience can take a look at those principles on both of these standards. 

So I want to talk a little bit about PMI’s areas of focus, including waterfall, agile, hyperagile, hybrid type projects, programs, and portfolios. For companies that have really strong organizational project management systems, they certainly collect lessons learned and retrospectives to support their continuous improvement. 

How might our stakeholders that are listening today, you know, rethink lessons learned or retrospectives through the lens of knowledge value creation and innovation.


A number of things that we found in implementing the innovation standard is that portfolio management, which you mentioned, is very much the hub of a successful innovation management system. And that is getting a lot of attention. 

Another aspect that we're finding companies are not doing well, is the actual storage of knowledge and the lessons learned that you mentioned. We find that people tend to use their so called lessons learned repository is something of a dustbin. They just drop things into it, and if you then think about the human mind, we so often in the organization, we do not have the hippocampus which sorts things during our sleep. 

And so I found that organizations have this dumping ground. They capture lessons learned, but even that capturing is not good. The reason why, and I go back 10 years ago, I used to back then do CMMI assessment for the Software Engineering Institute, and we often found that people had moved on to new projects. Get to the end of the projects, too often lessons learned done at the end of the project, everybody's gone. Everybody's personal memory has eroded, as well. 

So there needs to be a much more structured and disciplined approach to capturing lessons as you move along, and lessons will change as well so it's dynamic. Then the second part is storage, and this is a real challenge. I think of my own body of knowledge for my business. I’ve got 25 years of knowledge, and I find that I'm needing to have a fresh look at structure periodically. 

We’re not always good at our own body of knowledge. Google does a marvelous job on global knowledge, but when I look, and I know this sounds pretty… look at Microsoft's method of knowledge retrieval on one's own body of knowledge, it's not good. We need more effective search engines for a company's own body of knowledge, and by the way, speed of retrieval of knowledge is another big issue.


I think, in the context of knowledge management, I mean, the reason that we're interested in more effective management of knowledge, knowledge management, is because of two things. People are still… organizations are still reinventing the wheel all over the place. They don't know that somebody else already knew. They don't know who, and they haven't had the ability to get to them. 

But the other thing is, because they're always repeating the same mistakes, which is, in other words, that they're not learning the lessons. And this term, lessons learned, is confusing, because as Peter’s already sort of indicated, and I think Joe did, they're not actually lessons learned, they’re lessons identified.

We might have identified that there are some lessons to learn, but we haven't actually turned them into actionable, demonstrable behaviors, even measurable behaviors. And so the key thing is to rethink this term “lessons learned” and what we should be looking for instead of just sort of doing it as an exercise… 

I get fed up, I get really frustrated when I listen on the television news continuously over the years, particularly the government public sector would say, we've learned the lessons or we've…. and they have not. They've identified the lessons but very rarely do they turn them… Because to do that effectively, they need continuous, more systematic methods, tools, techniques, practices, habits, particularly within the project, to continually harvest these learnings, these new learnings, these new ideas, these new insights, as they are happening, and turn them into better knowledge as they are happening, not at the end, you know. 

Typically a project may be six or 12 months and then people come together for a lessons learned, and they’ve forgotten all the best lessons and the best ideas, because they were all in the beginning, typically, in most projects. They do it all as a once off, rather than it's part of what we do every day, it's part of our work, and we're continually improving that. So I hope that makes a bit more sense. I would support the idea of rethinking lessons learned into better continuous systematic processes for identifying and changing behaviors in a demonstrable way.


We definitely see that with our agile practitioners. They conduct a practice of retrospectives which is a continuous part of the project, so it's a very much a culturally driven exercise if you will. 

And I think that actually the importance of culture here is something we should talk about, because I know in the standards of knowledge management, and the innovation standards, it's very much, it's emphasized, the cultural aspects of it. So can you give us some examples of organizations, whether they're for-profit or government, that reflect the supportive culture needed?


With innovation, there’s a huge issue of culture. One of the questions I get most frequently asked is, Peter, how do we create an innovation culture? At the risk of sounding cynical, I don't say, well that's the wrong question. But I do say, well, I think you're actually asking how do you get a creative culture to co-exist with your existing execution culture, because the last 20 years people have focused very heavily on execution and the consequent culture, which is highly focused very much on delivery. 

And so what we get into is issues of organizational structure. And so, in general terms, we recognize that to have an innovative organization - and the same is probably true of a knowledge or management as well - there's a tendency towards flatter organizations or more networked organizations. But once you say that, that puts a lot of pressure on having more competent people, and highly competent leadership. 


Ah right, well, Peter, I was chuckling to myself when you said that the question you get asked is how do we create an innovation culture, because the most popular question I get in workshops is how do we create a knowledge-sharing culture. Basically, I have a similar view, so briefly I do believe that it's about values and beliefs. 

If you have the right shared values and beliefs in an organization, you have the right culture. If you're trying to develop a knowledge-driven, a more knowledge-driven organization that's more effective with its knowledge, then it's the values and beliefs associated with knowledge that make this happen. 

And if I'm giving an example, what I’ve found in many organizations I've gone into, they initially… People, you can almost categorize them into three different levels. There is the first which is, “Oh, it's a great idea, knowledge management, but I don't have the time even to do my own work. It's extra to my work.” And that isn't really values and beliefs, high values and beliefs for knowledge. 

But it goes on and people then start to understand this better and then they say, “You know what, this is important. I need to look at this more closely. Knowledge is important to my work. It’s more valuable than I realized.” So they're putting a higher value to knowledge. 

And then the final, what it should be, is people get to the realization that, “Well, actually knowledge management, now I understand what it is and what the benefits are to me, and what the benefits are to my team, and what the benefits are to my organization. This is my work, this is what I do. I'm effectively communicating, collaborating, learning and sharing and applying my knowledge.” 

When you get those sort of values and beliefs, you have automatically a knowledge-driven culture, a culture within an organization that appreciates and highly values knowledge. Otherwise I think it's an uphill battle. It was Drucker that said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It's incredibly powerful. If those values and beliefs are not right, you won't have the right culture.


Indeed, it's true. And it’s a difficult one to actually establish and then of course maintain, right? It's not something you can just hand a pamphlet out to everybody. It's something that needs to be worked on day in and day out, just like any culture. 

I do want to take the conversation into the topic of diversity and inclusion, and I want to ask Peter…. Well first of all I want to just set the stage here. I interviewed Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a few months back and she spoke really deeply about entrepreneurship in Africa. In fact, she talked about the challenges that African entrepreneurs actually have in bringing their ideas to life. And what I want to ask you, Peter, is what can we do to unleash entrepreneurship in the developing nations. It was clear in the innovation standard, there's a very specific topic on diversity, inclusion and partnership. So what actions are you seeing by global organizations to embrace these principles where the developing nations are concerned?


The challenge is the same in a developing nation, as it is for a startup in, shall we say, in the Western world. The startup problem is twofold. It's about funding, and it's about having competent people. But it's also, if I were to add a third factor, it's about having a framework for that startup to develop. 

And just quickly taking a step sideways on this, one of the things that we've recently introduced in ISO is that when new work item proposal goes forward, ISO works very closely with United Nations. And one of the questions that is now asked for a new work item is, how do you support the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. So, for global organizations, I'm going to be a little critical. I think it's fair to say that global organizations have not yet woken up to global thinking. This ascendancy, and this has been historical, for global organizations to exploit developing nations, economically and militaristically as well. 

And there needs to be a realization in global thinking that using those sustainable development goals as part of a business strategy is really fundamental in assisting the developing nations. This isn't a handout. This is recognizing that working together gets better results. I sound a bit, sort of, a bit like a preacher and I'm saying this, but you can tell it is something I feel really passionate about. 


No, and I can hear it and I can… ironically I can say that PMI’s new strategy includes a big pillar for social good and specifically we're implementing that through our relationship with United Nations and the sustainable development goals.

So let's talk about… Ron, let's talk about some knowledge management components. You know, one of the fascinating elements of that knowledge management standard is the question about whether artificial intelligence and machine learning can actually create knowledge. I understand this question is hotly debated, we've had people on Center Stage here talking about the ethics of AI and some of these issues. Ron, can you share some of your insights into this debate, as well as your own personal views?


Sure, Joe, I'll do my best but yeah, let me stress, this is my own personal opinion because it is very hotly, very hotly debated at the moment. There is some good work going on in the development of standards for artificial intelligence in various quarters already, most noticeably, the IEEE P7000 is a standard entitled “Ethical design of autonomous intelligent systems.” And the key thing there which I want to support and underline is the words “ethical design.” 

To me, my personal view, it is inevitable that artificial intelligence will make a huge impact, and already is, working with humanity and it's the way it works with humanity, the way machine learning and knowledge actually works together with human learning and human knowledge. You might even say how they collaborate together, if you would. 

I think the critical issue is the ethical design of these systems, because already today, machines learn faster than humans, much faster in fact, and they are exponentially learning. And of course, the best example I can give of that if anybody is interested in this and hasn't looked at this is, go to the movie 2016 AlphaGo. AlphaGo, the Deep Mind, it was when there was the championship for go for the South Korean champion of the world was playing AlphaGo, which won, and won inevitably. 

Machine intelligence can do things faster and better than the human, but equally humans can do things much, much better than machines ever will. And that's the secret, its knowing how the two can work together to enhance one another. It's no surprise to me that Google acquired DeepMind with AlphaGo in 2014, and it's staggering to see what is actually happening around the world. 

To me in my personal view, it's inevitable and I believe, because I'm a positive character, that it will be for the benefit of humanity that we work with these intelligent technologies to enhance human capability. 


Something I'd like to add to that, Joe, is that there's a very important social consequence of this. John Maynard Keynes, way back, projected by 2030 the average working week would be three hours. What he didn't say was that that would mean the majority of people would have no work. They'll be those working 24/7, and those working eight to 12 hours a day, and a vast majority not working at all. 

And that is something that too many governments are turning a blind eye to. And I have to say, the Canadian government is starting to address this. The Norwegian government already has addressed this, and I have to be critical in the US where it is, shall we say, criticized in political terms, this approach, because it is seen as taking away from entrepreneurism and the capitalist approach. But we have to remember the social consequence. If you have a majority of the population without work, it's very serious.


Indeed and of course the challenge is the balance and replacing it with something as productive, maybe not in the organizational output sense but more of a productive for mankind. 

So, I want to actually quote you here today from an interview he did with the Mongolian Productivity Organization. You said, “We are all familiar with tangible asset management. We have derived the accounting systems to measure what we can see, hear, touch and taste. But we're in an economy where we're earning income and creating wealth through knowledge. That requires a new knowledge economics.”
So can you share some insights into what this knowledge economy is and how we can measure its intangible value.


Yes that was in 2016, I think, I was invited by the Asian Productivity Organization, which is an inter-governmental agency which has a mission to increase the productivity of Asia, and the 21 Asian member countries, Mongolia is one, and I was invited there in 2016, which is a country which is known for its primary industries of agriculture and mining, and it's nomadic, in that sense, and we had a very interesting discussion. 

Because if you think in terms of the agricultural industry economy, and if you think in terms of the industrial economy, they both have scarce resources. And we have a mindset that we've developed to be more successful in those sorts of economies, because of their scarcity of resources, its competition. We compete. 

But what struck me many years ago when I was starting to look at knowledge was that it's not scarcity at all, it's the opposite. In people who are actually earning their incomes in what we call the knowledge economy, where people are primarily living on thin air if you like, earning their money through their knowledge, then there isn't a scarcity. In fact you can argue there's an abundance. We certainly have an abundance of information and information overload is quite common for many people. 

Therefore, when you need a new form of knowledge economics, it's not just good enough to have measurements and accounting systems which are fine for industrial intangible industries, but for the knowledge economy, we need a new form. We don't have those instruments today, and I've been arguing for many years, that we actually need a new knowledge economic theory to support the knowledge economy, and we need to develop some new instruments to support. 

At the moment, we're quite happily working with copyrights and patents and things of that nature, which serve us well, and will continue to, but they're certainly not enough. So I've been looking at that, there is even a standard the International Accounting Standards Board 38 actually have a standard on intangible assets, where they're trying to identify the measurements to include and be acceptable in the normal balance sheets of standard companies and the like.

But now we're starting to see those instruments emerge. The technologies, the innovative technologies are producing capabilities that weren't possible before and I'll just mention one of them and that's blockchain technologies. Blockchain technologies is all about secure trusted networks of distributed ledgers and that enables us to develop measurement systems for assets, intangible assets. 

We can look at our intangible assets, identify them better. We can identify the measurements, and we can report them alongside the traditional accounting measurements. So that's what I was trying to get at, a new knowledge economics, a new knowledge economic theory, and new measurements and instruments that will enable that. 


Fascinating stuff. So Peter, the innovation management standard grapples with these intangible IP ownership issues, and also the implication of exploiting the knowledge of others to innovate. What is your view on this concern?


Well, we actually have created a supporting standard on intellectual property, although it's about managing intellectual property, and there's a subtle twist, what do we actually do, how do we go about it. That is ISO 56005 which has literally just been published. 

And there's constantly a kind of debate, a sort of tension in terms of two approaches. Do we capture, do we patent, or do we register design or copyright something at the initial concept stage? Or do we just get to market fast and demonstrate that we have this technology, this idea or whatever it is? There's also the question, do we just get out there and do it, and then try and sue people who copy us. We found in practice that people have been copying us and quite frankly, it wasn't worth the time and money suing them. 

So there's always this tension there and you can tell I'm not giving you the perfect answer on this one. It's very much a business decision, and I find many, many companies decide on the speed to market approach. But there's a swamp out there, and as you mentioned in the introduction, I worked with RIM or Blackberry to give its current name, and they got caught out seriously with one of these people who had patented an idea before they even started to develop it. So there are the people out there that are just coming up with ideas and patenting them, and then hoping to make money out of companies by suing the company who’ve used their idea. So it's quite a minefield.


If I might add there, as an example of the new instruments, and I briefly mentioned blockchain, as a result of what Peter was just saying. What this new technology enables us to do for the very, very first time ever, is in a very affordable way, we can store, if we're an artist, if we're a software developer, if we're an inventor, if we're a one person, a tiny little company even, which couldn't afford these things before, we can now put our designs, put our work in progress, put our software, onto the blockchain weekly, just for a couple of euros. 

And what this does on the blockchain, it creates a complete audit trail, and this cannot be tampered with. It's highly secure. And this blockchain issues a certificate, weekly or monthly to this inventor or whatever, and they are regulated and the European Commission and China, I'm glad to say, and South Korea's coming on board and many others, they are supporting these certificates in courts of law as defense. 

So, it is possible, economically possible for creatives to use blockchain technologies and tools to record the story of their particular development, and I think that's very encouraging. 


That is fascinating because it really speeds up that arcane process, right? I want to talk about unlearning. So I recently interviewed Barry O’Reilly here on Center Stage and he discussed the topic that he talks quite a bit about, which is unlearning. You know, that teams are sometimes held back by outdated knowledge, ways of working and skills that, you know, basically helped them succeed in the past but it's really irrelevant for them today. 

So how do management systems, like those for knowledge management and innovation, enable unlearning, as well as new learning?


I find this an exciting question, because what it says to me is that… Section 10 of the standard doesn't specifically address unlearning. It addresses improvement, but that's where we should be more forcefully addressing unlearning. And the challenge we have is that we keep creating knowledge, and it's getting more and more difficult to find the knowledge we want amongst all the other knowledge, which may be out of date, no longer usable. 

Machines do this really easily. So, the machine unlearns very quickly. A new recipe’s there? The old one, that's gone. And the problem with people, is that this is… well, yes, we do push old knowledge out of the way, but it's still tucked away. 


So now it's crystal ball time, let's pull out your crystal balls. Recognizing that both the ISO knowledge and innovation standards, they've only just been released in recent years... What measurable difference do you think we can see from these standards in the next three to five years, or even beyond?


I'll kick off, Ron, if that's okay and I'll just pull up a little bit of history. I'll actually go back to the 90s. And that's why it ties into some of the things we've been talking about. Knowledge from the 90s can so easily be dismissed. But you know, we hear that quote attributed to many different people, that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

Well, back in the 90s, ISO 9001, which is now by far the most widely used standard. In the period from ‘87 to ‘95, the first 7-8 years was very flat in its growth. And then there was this surge in the second half of the 90s where it absolutely took off and it followed the classic exponential curve. And I think with new standards, we’re likely to see a similar kind of path.


In fact there was in the early days when the knowledge management standard was being developed, some confusion between the boundaries where it overlaps with innovation. People were actually thinking that knowledge management was just about the past knowledge, and of course that's a key part. But it's also about knowledge creation, and it's about a process for capturing, storing, sharing and applying and creating new knowledge. And therefore knowledge creation from the knowledge management standard feeds into the innovation management standard. 

So I wanted to make the point that they are two sides of the same coin, in my opinion. And therefore what Peter said earlier about integration is fundamental. The management systems standards structure enables all standards that are written under management systems standards rules to integrate much, much more easily. So I think that for the future, standards will enable far greater integration. The management systems standard is designed for far greater integration across any standards that are written that way, which is extremely powerful. 

I believe that also in the future, there's much work to be done, and standards will play a much greater role in being even more principles led. At the moment the standards are written with principles for each domain if you like, but there needs to be an integration and commonality with principles, and that's what I think standards of the future are doing, they are creating this ability to have a faster, more common understanding. A better vocabulary that we can all use in the future.


What we have to do is not rely on organic growth, but actually push the growth so the flat bars of the exponential curve, again, is much shorter, and we get into that rapid growth much faster. 


So thank you Peter Merrill and Ron Young for your time today, and particularly for your expert insight. Our audience and me also learned quite a bit about innovation management and knowledge management. And you know I see clearly, as it's always been, frankly, these two disciplines with a source of value, major source of value in our world today and clearly into the future. So thank you again for your time.