Mark these two words: Absorptive capacity. Without it, you risk losing out.
If you want to succeed with creativity or innovation, staying open to knowledge outside your company can be key. Blending familiar and novel elements increases your chances of success, and external knowledge/ideas/input can be just what you need to arrive at something worthwhile that pays off.
Absorptive capacity is defined as “the ability of a firm to recognize the value of new, external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends” by Cohen and Levinthal (1990). By not identifying and applying this, you may end up in a cognitive trap that robs you from the outcome you want.
This often happens within companies who depend on “secret processes” to keep competition at bay, or those who are worried about creative acclaim. But opening up and letting others in on your projects (if not working on the patenting process etc) brings in many cases more back to you than initially thought. Sharing is caring: for your own success.
With what we live and work in referred to as a knowledge economy, it is important to remember that all learning takes place within a social context.
The finding, interpreting and exploiting of external knowledge is a critical component of creative and innovative processes. Below are my suggestions to increase your absorptive capacity:
- Attend morning meetings, speeches and network events and talk to people, the topic does not have to be work-specific for fruitful combinations.
- Start collaborative workshops with companies interested in the same goals as yours.
- Work at least once a month at a cafe with a diversity of other individuals, for inspiration or small conversations that might get your mind up and running.
- Get to learn more about a topic that is not specifically within to your area of business, but related to it, or for the brave: significantly different.
- Create a “get to know us” day for other companies in the area
- Encourage employees to adopt a curious mindset to all types of input/ideas
- Are you sharing lunch facilities with other companies? Arrange a “speed date” day for the building or simply sit down with someone from another firm for a conversation that might turn useful.
- Attend open university lectures where you live
- Opt for mixed seating arrangements or social gatherings across different departments within a diverse company
- Seek out options for your company to relocate to within a co-working building
- Shift from a “not invented here” view to “proudly found elsewhere”
Remember that getting value out of absorptive capacity might not be immediate, but more often later down the road. It is our mind’s ability to combine old and new input and it might be “paired” with something valuable months from now. It is worth the wait. And as author Tim Harford writes in his Messy book: “Sometimes ideas sneak up on us when we are paying attention to something else”. Happy knowledge-hunting and mixing!
How is your company working for or against absorptive capacity? Comment below.
Term from paper: Cohen, W.M., and Levinthal, D.A. (1990). Absorptive Capacity: A New Perspective on Learning and Innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35, pp. 128-152.