In response to my post on Intranets take second place to public internet, Lilia commented about the work of Dick Stenmark at GÃ¶tebord University, who has been doing some interesting work in this area. In the paper Knowledge Creation and the Web: Factors Indicating Why Some Intranets Succeed Where Others Fail (pdf), Stenmark discusses knowledge creation and how this may be enabled in an intranet:
ABSTRACT: In today's highly dynamic business environment, organizational creativity is one of the most important sources of competitive advantage. Although the unpredictability of creativity makes it difficult to plan for, it may still be possible to facilitate knowledge creation given that we understand what affects it. In this paper, seven enabling factors of organizational creativity are identified and discussed. These factors are then compared to the specific characteristics of intranet technology in order to find out when and how this environment may stimulate creativity. The conclusion is that intranets are most likely to contribute by providing a variety of information in dynamic and unpredictable environments. However, standard management literature instead unanimously prescribes organizational convergence as the default strategy for the modern manager. Our analysis suggests that this control approach not only conflicts with some of the creativity-enabling factors but also clashes with the fundamental principles underpinning the web. The organizational implication of the conclusion presented in this paper is that only in organizations where management has embraced an updated attitude towards information management, can the corporate intranet truly contribute to knowledge creation and creativity. (emphasis mine)
The seven enabling factors for knowledge creation are
- no-preconceptions principle - don't artificially limit the creativity of thge organization by defining who, what, how or when
- autonomy - let people operate autonomously, as encouraged by 3M and Google
- serendipity - enable both "accidental discovery" and the ability to recognize fruitful collisions
- diverse stimuli - enable people to interact with people who are not just like them
- rich information provision - expose people to a variety of information, even beyond information pertinent to the topic at hand
- internal communication - support communication throughout the organization to enhance people's interest in their colleagues' problems
- motivation - incent people to create for the good of creation, rather than for external "rewards"
Stenmark then take theses seven attributes and relate them to the technical characteristics of intranets to see where there are good fits and where there are inconsistencies -- where intranets might not succeed. The largest areas of concern for the author are that intranets provide no inherent motivation to knowledge workers and that autonomy is not completely enabled by an intranet. The other five attributes are well supported technically by the intranet concept.
If it is true that intranets can support creativity, then why do so many articles tell us that intranets are providing little value to innovation? Stenmark argues that while the technical features of intranets support creativity, the actual implementations of intranets within companies have been burdened by an "old management" approach that essentially removes the creativity-supporting features from the intranet. Just as with any other new approach within an organization, management systems must change to support the new approach to doing business.