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Managing knowledge spaghetti

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Image: @chaded on Freepik

Innovation is all about knowledge spaghetti.

Just like a plate of pasta innovation involves many different strands. Only this time we are talking about knowledge - technical knowledge, market knowledge, legal knowledge, financial knowledge and so on. They need to be woven together to create value.

And these knowledge strands are held by different people, inside and outside the organization. We have to find them and connect them, link them together to enable us to innovate. Whilst we can superimpose structures on it to help us with this task we shouldn’t forget that we’re really working with knowledge spaghetti.

So how do we work with it? Just like recipes for spaghetti there are many variations. One approach is to employ specialists and create cross-functional teams which bring together the relevant strands and align them towards a focused target. That’s proved to be a good model for developing new products and services, especially if we can find ways to bring in all the relevant players including users.

We can use a similar cross-functional approach to the design and implementation of major internal process innovations – things like introducing a new IT system or reorganizing to become more customer-focused. And a third approach involves carefully constructed strategic collaborations, bringing knowledge partners together with complementary strands of knowledge spaghetti.

One very powerful model is based on the idea that everyone in the organization has something to contribute to the innovation story – high involvement innovation. Here we’re working on the belief that even small strands of knowledge can be important and if we could bring them in to the story we’d make significant progress.

Which history tells us we can.In countless embodiments the principle of high involvement has been shown to pay dividends.Ask people for what they know that might help solve problems around quality, cost, delivery, etc – and there’s no shortage of good ideas in response.

But it’s not just the raw return on investment which collaboration platforms offer – thought these benefits are impressive. Their real value lies in the way they enable ‘emergent properties’ – the innovation whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

They give us new and powerful ways of working with the knowledge spaghetti. Not only can we handle the sheer scale of the knowledge challenge and focus it towards key objectives but we can do so in ways which yield surprising additional benefits. They effectively turbocharge our innovation system.

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