KM and Innovation: Converging or Complementary Practices?

KM and Innovation: Converging or Complementary Practices?


by Madanmohan Rao

Editor, The KM Chronicles

Bangalore; April 20, 2011



The monthly meeting of the Bangalore K-Community ( featured a lively discussion on the connections between knowledge management practices and innovation strategies of organisations. The panelists came from three organisations: Wipro, Unisys and Infosys, joined in discussion by KM professionals from Bosch, Oracle, KPMG, MeshLabs, Wolff Frameworks and Sairmay Consulting.


KM practices can address not just productivity aspects of knowledge workers but also innovation strategies through new formats of brainstorming, social media narratives and external alliances. The discussion addressed how innovation strategies should be formulated by KM practitioners, how they should be rolled out in terms of activities and roles, and what the exciting new frontiers in this area are. I had a good time chairing the session, hosted by Oracle; here are some of my observations and takeaways. See also the excellent blogpost by panellist Pavan Soni on the K-Community discussion:


How is Innovation defined?


Unisys defines any practical new engineering idea with a “wow” factor as innovation, especially if it meets customer requirements, has market value and is independent of existing products. Some organisations also require prototypes to be developed by innovators.


Innovation is a logical systematic step after creativity, idea management and invention. One definition discussed was “Innovation = Diversity + Adversity,” though some disagreed whether competitive pressure was absolutely necessary for innovation. Some speakers cautioned that mere idea management will not work unless it is specifically focused, eg. in the context of a project completion.


How is Innovation supported in organisations?


Unisys has a KM practice and also started an Innovation Technology Steering Group in 2008. Its “Big Bet Idea” contest drew 25 submissions. Wipro has an Innovation Evangelist who creates excitement and activities in the organisation centred around innovation. This includes WiCamp (Wipro Innovation Barcamp) and an Innovation Bazaar (exhibitions and demos about innovative practices and products).


How is the Innovation spirit communicated and promoted?


Unisys puts signs on aspiring innovators’ cubicles saying “I took the challenge to innovate: Did you?” This helps motivates others to participate in innovation competitions as well. An Innovation Wall of Fame features patent certificates as well as innovation competition winner certificates. Wipro publishes a Storybook on Innovation, featuring 100 stories about inspiring innovators.


How can organisational innovation harness external inputs?


Unisys conducted a Cloud 20/20 competition for technical papers which drew on submissions from universities across India. Its UNITE practice helps get innovation ideas from customers. Wipro’s Innovation BarCamps also include participants from outside the organisation – such as entrepreneurs, activists, freelancers, housewives and even a police officer and a politician! Its “Inflection Point” newsletter on innovation has been circulated to 1,500 Wipro employees as well as 1,600 external subscribers. Wipro works with IITs and IISc for innovative projects. Its “Let Sparks Fly” innovation workshops are held at B-Schools and T-Schools in India.


How can KM and Innovation work together?


Unisys has had separate KM and Innovation practices, but the two are exploring ways of working together now. In Wipro the two practices are also separate. The same is true of Infosys, but this need not be so. KM practices like CoPs and knowledge mapping lend themselves well to innovation practices and can serve as launching pads for efficient innovation. KM has generally been regarded as “good for improving but not good for improvising;” KM “supports incremental innovation well, but may not be as good for breakthrough innovation.” But KM does provide the starting point and baseline for innovation.


What are key success factors for organisational innovation?


Attract “unreasonable talent” to help challenge the status quo. Hone multiple affinities for innovation in employees. Learn from the examples of successful innovative companies like IDEO. Hire more creative people and make people more creative. Allot a certain proportion of employee time for experimentation (eg. 10% in the case of Wipro innovators). Rules and practices for innovation should be simple and effective; stay away from frequent generic rewards. Do not allow organisation politics to dominate innovation agendas.


Many Indian organisations tend to be conservative and bureaucratic and this can stifle the spirit of innovation. Many large IT companies hinder employees from trying out new emerging platforms and devices; these shackles should be removed. Startups are innovative but a key challenge is to manage growth, stability and scale without losing the innovative edge. On a larger scale, innovation and entrepreneurship should be taught in schools and colleges across India.


Other emerging trends in this space include the use of social media (eg. Wiki, blogging/micro-blogging narratives) to broaden the exposure footprint and participatory base for innovation. The discussion also identified other companies doing successful innovation, eg. TCS’ COIN practice (co-innovation). New books highlighting KM and innovation are “The New Edge in Knowledge” (by Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert of APQC), “Nanovation” (by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg) and “Innovation X” (by Adam Richardson).


All the attendees thanked the panellists for their outstanding contributions to the field; I was delighted to present the speakers with copies of my “Indian Proverbs” book (,


Join us again on the third Wednesday of any month in Bangalore for discussions on the knowledge movement; sign up at for updates and alerts! Suggestions for speakers, topics, activities, hosts and sponsors always welcome…        :-)


See my previous K-Community blogposts at:

“Case Study: Knowledge Management at Titan Industries”

“Knowledge Management Strategies: Formulation and Evolution”

“Embedding KM in Organisational Workflow and Culture”

“Conversational Flows for Knowledge Sharing”

“Open Content and Access in the Knowledge Society”



Quotable quotes:


“The tree of knowledge produces the fruits of innovation.” – Prasad Krishnagiri, Unisys


“Thanks to Google, getting an idea is no big deal.” – Pavan Soni, Wipro


“All people are inherently innovative.” – Kavi Mahesh, PES Institute of Technology


“The curse of growth can cause problems for innovation.” – Nirmala Palaniappan, Oracle


“Evangelist isn’t simply a job title. It is a way of life.” – Guy Kawasaki


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw



Speaker Bios:


Pavan Soni is an Innovation Evangelist at Wipro. He has trained at a three-day Blue Ocean Strategy workshop conducted by INSEAD, and conducted Innovation Workshops for Tata Steel, Titan, Tanishq, Future Group, Glaxo SmithKline, TotalGaz, TVS Motor Company, Cyro Save, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Ericsson. He pioneered the concept of Innovation Bazaar and Story Book on Innovation at Wipro. He has published 21 articles and papers. Pavan is an advisor to the Karnataka Knowledge Commission and is a prolific blogger at


Dr. Kavi Mahesh is a professor at PES Institute of Technology, Bangalore, and co-author of the book “Ten Steps to Maturity in Knowledge Management.” He is also a Principal Consultant with the Knowledge Management Group at Infosys. He has two US patents and has published two books, 9 book chapters and over 50 papers. He was previously with Oracle and has consulted with Hewlett Packard, United Nations and He holds an M. Tech. in Computer Science from IIT-Bombay and a PhD (1995) in Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology.


Prasad Krishnagiri is a project manager at Unisys. He has over 13 years of experience in the IT industry. He has been working with Unisys for the past 6 years. He has expertise in systems engineering including product development and support. Prasad is a key member of the Innovation Technology Steering Group, Unisys’ in-house Innovation program. As a member of this group, Prasad is instrumental in building a culture of innovation across the India, China and Australia teams of Unisys. He has coordinated a successful Innovation contest in 2009-10.


The moderator was K-Community co-founder Dr. Madanmohan Rao, editor of five books series, including “The KM Chronicles” ( 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>