Ron Young's KM Consulting Blog

30th January 2010

Future Centres and Knowledge Hubs

On Tuesday 26th January 2010, I was given the opportunity to join a study tour, which had been organized by a team of Japanese companies, to visit two Future Centres in the UK. Actually, the complete study tour visited 5 Future Centres in UK and Netherlands, in total.

As a knowledge management consultant, I am particularly interested in ways to encourage knowledge creation and innovation.

I visited Innovation Works, part of the University of Reading, and Future Focus in London, part of the UK Government Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

My first impression was very good and I could easily see how dedicated spaces can encourage new, more open creativity and innovation. I was shown in Innovation Works how labs could be designed to take you away from work and think differently. Even the transition from an 'old outside/exterior' building to a completely different 'very new interior' was designed deliberately.

I could see, through the techniques used in both centres, how these centres help organizations to the next big thing. I enjoyed working on innovative white glass walls with 'rich picturing' and I especially enjoyed learning how this technique connects you directly to your feelings/emotions.

I was reminded in both centres about fun, smiling, being less judgemental and relaxing.

I was already familiar with the techniques of 'divergent and convergent' thinking to expand ideas and then focus them on particular areas, and in both centres I enjoyed working with 'anonymous software' for idea creation and even voting.

My japanese friends remarked how anonymous brainstorming etc was so powerful in an otherwise quite heirarchical japanese society.

Emphasis was placed on the importance of proper 'problem definition' in the problem solving process. Apparently, Einstein said "Give me 20 days to solve a problem and I will take 19 days to define it".

At Future Focus in London, we experienced how they had created future scenarios and presented them in films. They viewed this as a purpose built space in Government to explore the future and how this could influence Government and policy development.I also liked their desire to help Government turn problems, threats and key issues into opportunities.

In both centres, they underlined the importance of good facilitators, and how difficult it was to find them.

I was impressed by the desire to link Future Centres together in an international network and how Future Centres could become important hubs to encourage wider knowledge sharing. Maybe a global pool of facilitators would help.

I learned how there must be a proper balance between 'leading and pushing with new ideas' and 'properly responding to customers needs'.

I left with the impression from both centres/labs that even a Future Centre can have a lifecycle of, say, 7 to 10 years, and then it must renew itself. But I was left in no doubt that they will renew themselves, continuously, with new strategies, methods, tools and techniques.

After all, if a creative and innovative Future Centre can't renew itself - who can?

The day broadened my perspective on creativity and innovation and its fusion with knowledge management.

I thoroughly recommend you visit a Future Centre(s) if you get the opportunity.

Ron Young

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