Managing Knowledge for Innovation Gain

Michael O’Duffy unleashed some of his animal passion for innovation at the Irish Computer Society last Friday with ducks, elephants and squirrels all thrown in to the mix.blind_men_and_elephant

Timed to coincide with the Innovation Dublin festival, O’Duffy’s (@mnod) talk was on what we know, who knows what, and what we can do with it. His next talk will be at Dublin City University Oct. 22 on “Profiling Innovation — The Spiral Journey.”

Citing the fable of the six blind men who were shown an elephant for the first time, O’Duffy said, “One of the things about knowledge is we tend to think in silos.” He added, “The knowledge that is in demand is the knowledge that is most scarce.” One classic example is Coca Cola’s legendary secret recipe for the soft drink. Noting there are only five or six people in the world who know it, O’Duffy said, “We can’t afford to know one of them down with a bus.”

Knowledge Pyramid

The squirrel, meanwhile, seems like a pleasant enough rodent. But its knowledge of its environment is huge, O’Duffy said. Its ability to find, store and retrieve food when needed is impressive for such a small creature.

On the human level, O’Duffy’s premise was that the “capture, marshaling and sharing of knowledge has a transformative impact on an organization.”


Categories of Knowledge

The table below was put together from my notes. Any gaps are because I could not keep up!

Category Examples Uses
Master Data Customer, supplier, assets Investment
People Skills, experience, attributes, tacit knowledge Core competencies
Processes Procedures, systems, planning and control Efficiency, organizational maturity
Technology Products, service, platforms
Design Product, service brands
Ideas, Concepts Internal: create or develop
External: acquire
Crowdsource, open innovation, new opportunities
Strategies, Plans Goals, milestones, change Direction
Analytics Product life cycle, market segmentation
Performance Comparative, competitive
Foresight Product, opportunities, services, brands Trends, market, society
Tacit Knowledge


Tacit knowledge is the most challenging to get at, O’Duffy said. “If an individual has really, really great insights, he could be reluctant to make that available because it gives him the edge,” he said. Another problem is that the insights may not always be appreciated.

Why Build & Share

There are many reasons to build an organizational knowledge, O’Duffy said. It:

  • Builds core competence.
  • Feeds ideas
  • Feeds innovation
  • Opens possibilities for exploitation
  • Provides opportunities for novel marketing campaigns
  • Complements strategies and plans
  • Builds and enhances relationships and partnerships
  • Helps select and develop partnerships

At this point, the poor mother duck was introduced. She achieved fame earlier this year while leading her duckling to water in Burlington, Vt. Showing the first in a series of photos (below), O’Duffy said foresight would have helped the ducks avoid the situation.

The ducks crossed a grate, but all of the ducklings but one fell through the holes. The story had a happy ending, by the way. Bystanders lifted the grate and reunited the family.


ducks about to walk over grate



  • Image of elephant courtesy of Wikimedia.
  • Knowledge Pyramid put together by me based on O’Duffy’s slides using various images under the Creative Commons license.
  • Images of ducks courtesy AP.