Chapter 2: The Structural and Cultural Context for Knowledge and Innovation

Chapter 2: The Structural and Cultural Context for Knowledge and Innovation

Chapter 2: The Structural and Cultural Context for Knowledge and Innovation


How do we change our culture to be more conducive to knowledge sharing and reuse for innovation? That may be the most frequent question KM practitioners ask APQC, and this study is no exception. Chapter 1 highlighted two characteristics of scientific and technical settings that raise cultural and structural challenges for a KM initiative: the nature of the knowledge being managed and the professionals who have to use it. This chapter will address these and other issues emerging from the culture and context of the partners.

Through its research and practice with many different types of organizations, APQC has found it is more realistic to build a KM strategy starting with the existing culture, rather than to try to change it by exhortation or edict. APQCís 1999 Best-Practice Report Creating a Knowledge-Sharing Culture detailed how successful knowledge sharing is tightly linked to the core cultural values of the organization and works best if it enables people to pursue that value more fully. The approach to KM should closely mimic the organizationís approach to operations (i.e., central or local control, autocratic or laissez-faire, and human-centered or results-centered). The study team also found that the study partners had strong management support and peer pressure for people to help each other, collaborate, and share their knowledge. People who did not share became marginalized.

The study sponsors reported that their cultures profoundly impact how they position, design, deploy, and reinforce knowledge sharing in pursuit of innovation. A supportive culture is not just important to KM; it is essential for successful innovation. In APQCís 2003 Best-Practice Report Improving New Product Development Performance and Practices, more than 100 organizations provided data, including examples of 111 practices, methods, and approaches that could potentially affect success in the marketplace. The report defined new product development success in several ways, including the impact on sales and profits and the extent to which the product opened new markets. Two of the strong correlates of success clearly relate to culture:

  1. a climate for innovation (aligned recognition and reward, no punishment for risk taking, not risk averse, and good communication) and

  2. support for innovation (time dedicated to innovate, resources available for unofficial projects, skunk works, and idea awards).

The partners for this study use many approaches, KM related and not, to create positive circumstances in their organizations. But they face challenges in those efforts.