Innovation depends heavily on ideas but ideas come from learning and reflecting as out of the blue. How many of us take the time to learn? What do we actually consider learning to be? To many of us it is simply reading journals or scouring the internet and these can often be discarded when time pressures build up. Take a look at your desk and those of your colleagues and see how many copies of Computing or New Scientist are balanced on the edge!
So what is a good way to do this on a daily basis? The answer really is anything that can become part of a habit. Depending on your working environment why not share workday experiences. This is easily done in a lab but can be done around the water cooler or coffee machine. I have seen people run up to team leaders and middle managers on the factory floor just to pass on a useful piece of information or idea about a production process. You can learn from anything – people, conferences, billboards, customers …..
Learning is all very well but we need to grab hold of what we have learned so that it can be recalled and used later. Individuals should make a habit of having a method of recording anything from ideas to feed back and useful snippets of information. As a group why not consider a Wiki, blog or other shared system for capturing thoughts? Articles can be tagged in useful ways e.g. feedback, failure, improvements. The only requirement should be that everybody can contribute, feel safe in doing so and that the knowledge captured is in a form that can be useful in the future.
This is not hard to think about doing because it seems so sensible but in practice it is the hardest habit of all to cultivate as an organisation. This is because much of what we call reflection is seen as time wasting or daydreaming by management. Once knowledge is captured we need to revisit it for our own purposes to see if a) it is complete b) if it jogs our memories. Also it is useful for it to be seen in a different light so showing it to people who may be colleagues but who work in a different department or on a different project. Often this may cause further information to be captured.
Each of these 3 things will help us understand what we do well and what requires improvement if we just record details of our own projects but if we scan further afield we also gain valuable knowledge, fuel for our innovation processes.