Create early, use often: Lego™ blocks, learning objects, and ecosystems. Part 2Posted: October 13, 2013
Notes on the practice of innovation and technology commercialization
Aristotle (384-322) in his Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, in writing about a person’s voluntary and involuntary acts, distinguishes between (i) who is acting, (ii) what is the act, (iii) the circumstances of the act, (iv) the instrument or tool, (v) the aim of the action, and (vi) the manner of doing the act; for example quickly or slowly.
As we shall see, it turns out Aristotle had rather good advice for applying the reusable knowledge tools introduced in my last blog Create early, use often: Lego™ blocks, learning objects, and ecosystems. Part 1 https://innovationrainforest.com/2013/09/19/create-early-use-often-lego-blocks-learning-objects-and-ecosystems-part-1/ in which I speculated about the appealing simplicity of building technology commercialization programs, and, more broadly, supportive ecosystems, by plugging Lego™ blocks of learning into each other.
Well, can we? Let’s see how far we can go. If you’ve read my other blogs you’ll remember that “context” is a perennial theme. We meet it once again here.
Actually, the Lego™ block idea has been discussed extensively by educators and found to be an imperfect analogy. The problem is that the metaphor’s assumption suggests any learning object should be combinable with any other learning object; this is not always the case as we shall see – because of our old acquaintance: context.
It’s not that you cannot reuse these learning objects (we will call them ‘tools’ from now on) because contexts are never the same, it’s that context must be fully understood. We can think of every tool as being embedded in its own contextual cloud. For example, the tool to decide whether to license a technology or create a spin-off company which was introduced in an earlier blog Solving the Right Problem: Part 1 https://innovationrainforest.com/2013/03/24/solving-the-right-problem-part-1/ has a rather small context cloud; it is largely context independent. By contrast, a tool for use in developing intermediaries Network holes and how to plug them https://innovationrainforest.com/2013/07/31/network-holes-and-how-to-plug-them/ has a large context cloud; it is highly context dependent. This is mostly because “… no two knowledge intermediaries are the same; their work is entirely context specific, which means that, while it is possible to draw general lessons as to how they [a user] could chose to act, it is impossible to develop a standard set of rules as to how they should act.” Jones, Harry, et al (2012) Knowledge Policy and Power in International Development: A Practical Guide. The Policy Press. Chapter Five: Facilitation knowledge interaction, p 123. The authors also caution that (p. 135) … “it will not be possible to anticipate how the information will be used [by those seeking solutions] and its likely effects.”
I have not been able to come up with any tool which is entirely context free.
We next need to introduce the concept of ‘contextual qualifiers’ which are those pieces of knowledge that allow a user to assess whether a given policy or practice, implemented elsewhere, is truly relevant or applicable to the user’s environment. Conditional qualifiers are statements, which refer to knowledge Lego™ blocks (documents, videos, etc.) which ‘qualify’ the knowledge presented as being dependent on certain conditions. In more detail:
- Contextual qualifiers are those knowledge fragments (also called “facets”) that allow a user to assess whether a given policy or practice, implemented elsewhere, is truly relevant or applicable to the user’s environment.
- Contextual qualifiers are statements, which refer to knowledge sources (documents, videos, etc.) which qualify the knowledge presented as being dependent on certain conditions.
- Contextual qualifiers acknowledge that “one size doesn’t fit all” and that a tool is needed that helps knowledge users to better appreciate the influence of contextual factors.
- Contextual qualifiers facilitate the presentation and comprehension of context when locating potentially relevant resources.
- Reusable knowledge products may include embedded contextual qualifiers.
- Users should be able to contribute contextual qualifiers such as “how to use” or “when to use,” or “when not to use” based on their experience.
Contextual qualifiers are important not only when selecting, designing and implementing actions – what we might call ‘formulating solutions’ – but also in diagnosing where the failures and bottlenecks lie – what we might call ‘identifying problems’.
Identifying problems brings us back full circle to knowledge reuse in innovation and commercialization. Studies on knowledge reuse for innovation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab at Caltech cited in Knowledge reuse – the process of knowledge reuse in radical innovation situations http://knowledgeputeri.wordpress.com/articles/knowledge-reuse-the-process-of-knowledge-reuse-in-radical-innovation-situations/ found that users were motivated to reuse others’ ideas if:
- They are confronted with an insurmountable problem with their current knowledge and resources.
- They re-conceptualized the problem and approach to require an ambitious new perspective.
- They believed that they can find useful existing ideas elsewhere.
Are not these common technology commercialization challenges, and again, more broadly, challenges of developing supportive innovation ecosystems? Additional motivating factors found in the studies included:
- Work processes that optimize exposure to diverse knowledge sources.
- Use of extensive personal knowledge bases with both weak and strong ties (for more about weak and strong ties see my blog: The ties that bind us: networks, strong links, weak links, and expanding our knowledge https://innovationrainforest.com/2013/06/30/the-ties-that-bind-us-networks-strong-links-weak-links-and-expanding-our-knowledge/)
- Culture within the project which encourages reuse.
- Availability of flexible ways to assess credibility of potentially reusable knowledge.
- Ability to scan for fit.
- Ability to quickly determine malleability of reusable knowledge.
Or, as some time earlier, Aristotle might have expressed the stages:
(i) Person seeking a solution to a problem, (ii) applying the solution, (iii) context, (iv) tool, (v) re-conceptualizing the problem, (vi) short-term or long-term impacts.
Next time: Response Ability: Learning from agile manufacturing.