Thursday, 22 January 2009


A while ago one of the experts in a Rooftop session dropped a question "So all people are connected... and then what?" It seemed quite bold at first, but he actually was so right, asking for the reason WHY you would want to be connected, why would you want something... just for the sake of wanting it?

It got me thinking about the role of asking 'why' in the innovation process. As a child you were always asking why? why? Just to get a grip on things and try to understand things. And even though I still ask this question quite often, I noticed that you often stop asking this and just deal with a situation as it comes along. But how wrong can you be!

A well known Japanese business scholar, Ikujiro Nonaka, has some interesting reasoning behind the importance of asking why when it comes to innovation. It all has to do with the 2, probably familiar, types of knowledge that exist: explicit and tacit knowledge (also called episteme and techne, Aristotle). Episteme or explicit knowledge is about knowing WHAT & HOW. It's concrete, measurable knowledge that we can learn from a book or by (individual) training. Something we're particularly fond of in the West. We assume that this is more accurate and reliable, and we just looove information to be measurable and reliable...

In Eastern cultures people embrace the techne or tacit knowledge, which is about knowing WHY. It's based on personal awareness & feelings, a subjective interpretation of situations. It's about knowing why you do or feel things in a specific way. It cannot be universalised or measured scientifically. It grows through experience and is inseparable from the human being who possesses it. Uhhh, freaky...

So in Western cultures we just like to know WHAT the problem is and HOW to fix it. Not wasting time on figuring out why there is a problem and if it's even necessary to fix it at all. But only the tacit knowledge puts the explicit knowledge in a context, something that is quite crucial in innovation... It's the interaction between expertise (knowing what) and experience (knowing why) that makes it possible to evolve, create knowledge and truly innovate. When you find the way to combine this Western and Eastern thinking, you will eventually know the right steps to take.

This only leaves us with the question how to realise this interaction...(since we still like the explicit 'how to' steps, right?). Lets try this:

1) Create a comfortable environment
2) Invite people that dare to ask why
3) Create an open dialogue where why is not a dirty word
4) Always keep in mind the 'so-what'
5) Start sharing knowledge & experience, start to co-create!

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