January 2016: The Story so Far, KM and Creativity

[Note: I originally wrote this article for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Knowledge Management wiki, which can be accessed here: https://wiki-nkm.iaea.org/wiki/index.php/The_IAEA_Wiki_on_Nuclear_Knowledge_Management]

Creativity and Knowledge Management

Introduction, definitions, background

Knowledge management and creativity would seem to be two completely different ideas and disciplines, but in fact they can and do enable and enrich each other and in the process of doing that enhance innovation.

Knowledge management is defined as: the process of capturing, developing, sharing, and effectively using organizational knowledge. It refers to a multi-disciplinary approach to achieving organizational objectives by making the best use of knowledge.

Creativity is defined as: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts. Another definition says that creativity is the reorganization of experience into new configurations: a function of knowledge, imagination, and evaluation.

Innovation is defined as: a new idea, more effective device or process, it can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. The term innovation can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

According to “inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity,” by Tina Seelig, creativity can be learned.

Nonaka discusses the idea of “ba” in his book, “The Knowledge Creating Company,” as well as other published articles; “ba” is the idea of making space for (knowledge) creation. This idea of space is through the use of physical and/or virtual space, and includes the idea of (emergent) relationships and mental/intellectual/emotional space (reflection, and just being).

Connection between creativity and knowledge management

Knowledge management is the set of tools that underlies any knowledge-based activity; everything is knowledge-based. The question is how to facilitate, enhance, and improve efficiency and effectiveness of any process/activity through the use of knowledge management activities.

Improved efficiency and effectiveness comes from finding new, creative, innovative solutions. How do we do this?

Two books can give us insights on solving this problem. The first is in the process of being written, the other was published in 2000. The book that is in the process of being written is by Ger Driesen and is about what we can learn about learning from Vincent Van Gogh; the second was written by Michael J. Gelb and is entitled, “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.”

From Van Gogh we learn:

  1. Think inside the box (apply scarcity/constraints)
  2. Practice/study
  3. Reflect
  4. Understand your own story/motivation
  5. When you master a level change the rules
  6. Value solitude, not loneliness
  7. Circumstances: join them or beat them

From Leonard da Vinci we learn:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Independent thinking/diversity
  3. Sharpen your senses (listen/mindfulness, appreciate beauty)
  4. Embrace uncertainty
  5. Balance logic and imagination
  6. Balance body and mind
  7. Make new connections

To do these things we need to have the space, or as Nonaka identified, the Ba for knowledge creation.

Using these activities as well as specific knowledge management activities to aid in innovation helps us to move between the organized knowledge and the unorganized knowledge that exists. The KM activities that aid in innovation are:

  1. Business driven action learning (learn through doing)
  2. Coaching and mentoring
  3. Communities of practice
  4. External assessment and benchmarking
  5. Knowledge capture from projects
  6. Knowledge exchange
  7. Knowledge harvesting from individuals
  8. Lessons learned
  9. Peer assists
  10. Project learning
  11. Organizational Learning, Training

Organized knowledge includes things that have been documented, in books, journals, repositories, libraries, databases, and slide decks, that we know/have access to. Whereas unorganized knowledge is knowledge that hasn’t been discovered yet either because the experiments haven’t been preformed or it resides in the heads of people we haven’t met yet.

What allows us to pass back and forth between organized and unorganized is the use of critical thinking. Critical thinking allows us to question what we know and to ask questions to discover new knowledge, but it also allows us to take the new knowledge and organize it into new or existing models. Critical thinking allows us to apply “the rules” but it also allows us to question and break “the rules” in order to make new discoveries and learn.

Additionally, we can use creativity and innovation to enhance knowledge management; we do this by applying critical thinking to our knowledge management activities. For example, instead of just looking at other similar projects that have been done within our organization or industry and learning from them, we can think critically about other industries that might have had a similar strategic issue and how they solved it. A nuclear power plant may learn how to resolve a training issue from the automotive industry or from an NGO who also struggled with just-in-time training delivery. Alternatively, what results have we discovered in participating in a Community of Practice, in a Peer Assist, or After Action Review how does this impact what we already thought we knew?

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. It underlies all of knowledge management; it is what pushes us to learn. Asking “why” 5 times will help us get to the root of a problem or understanding our assumptions and asking, “what if that’s not true?” can also help use to see things differently, to look at things from a different perspective. Without the ability to think/reflect on and to question our experiences the whole foundation of knowledge management crumbles.

Critical thinking encourages us to keep an open mind and gather information and evidence before coming to a conclusion.

Creative Pursuits

There are three main types of creative domains:

  1. Art (ah!) as in beauty
  2. Discovery (aha!) as in enlightenment
  3. Humor (haha!) as in joyful pleasure

Art as in beauty ties into one of the items that we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci, about sharpening your senses, which is really about paying attention, listening, and observing the world around you. Art (painting, sculpture, music, literature, and dance) in this case helps to think about and observe, to ask questions about what you are seeing. In the case where you get involved in the creation of art, it magnifies this effect and can have a more significant impact on the outcome.

Making time to be creative in day-to-day life opens up possibilities, it can help you look at things differently.

Graphical Depiction

The figure below illustrates how all of these ideas fit together.

How Creativity and KM fit together. (c) Stephanie Barnes, Missing Puzzle Piece Consulting
How Creativity and KM fit together.
(c) Stephanie Barnes, Missing Puzzle Piece Consulting

Competitive Advantage

With the pace of change today it is imperative to be constantly improving and innovating in order to stay ahead of the competition and in the case of nuclear energy the competition isn’t just other nuclear energy producers, it is alternative energy generation methods. Creativity can help because it aids in looking at the problem/challenge differently and encourages using solutions that may have been developed in other organizations/industries.


  1. HBR To Get More Creative Become Less Productive, https://hbr.org/2015/11/to-get-more-creative-become-less-productive
  2. Concept of Ba, https://www.cyberartsweb.org/cpace/ht/thonglipfei/ba_concept.html
  3. Definition of Knowledge Management, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_management#cite_note-2UNC-2, accessed on Dec 4, 2015 at 4;07pm CET.
  4. Definition of Creativity, https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity, accessed on Dec 4, 2015 at 3:55pm CET.
  5. Definition of Innovation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation, accessed on Dec 4, 2015 at 4:12pm.
  6. Genius: A Crash Course on Creativity by Tina Seelig, https://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780062020703, accessed December 4, 2015 at 4:25pm.
  7. Vincent van Gogh and Learning, https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1560/emea-reporter-vincent-van-goghpainterand-learning-coach
  8. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb, https://michaelgelb.com/programs/how-to-think-like-leonardo-da-vinci/
  9. Critical Thinking on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking
  10. Developing Critical Thinking Through the Arts, https://www.visionsonlearningdifferences.com/main3.html
  11. Engaged Knowledge Management, https://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/engaged-knowledge-management-kevin-c-desouza/?isb=9781403945105
  12. Blog posts about Creativity and KM, https://missingpuzzlepiececonsulting.ca/category/creativity
  13. Creativity = Competitive Advantage, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/working-creativity/201109/creativity-competitive-advantage-0
  14. Creativity is the Next Competitive Advantage, https://enterprisearchitects.com/creativity-is-the-next-competitive-advantage/
  15. Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage through Collaborative Innovation Networks, https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195304121.001.0001/acprof-9780195304121
  16. Collaborative Innovation Network on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaborative_innovation_network

4 thoughts on “January 2016: The Story so Far, KM and Creativity

  • Bruno Winck January 11, 2016 at 05:23 PM Reply

    I love the holistic view you have around Knowledge. Too often KM is focused on applied Knowledge, while ignoring how this knowledge was originally created. There are two aspects, I think, could be further investigated.

    For me, ideas are the outcome of Creativity, while it’ only inspiring innovation. I learned during an #Innochat back in November (https://innochat.com/innochats/date/2015-11-12/innovative-opportunities-any-ideas) that the classic view even place Ideas outside of innovation. The reason is that there is a large proportions of ideas that don’t make their way to innovation. Innovation is like Creativity * Creativity. once for connecting an need and a solution, once more to find a process to make it feasible and acceptable. Bottom line the overlap is rather small. Where should we place this innovation process?

    I agree that critical thinking is critical for incorporating new knowledge. I tend to think that it’s the last stage of the process and not the single or dominant stage of the process. I think we don’t yet have a term for this. We should be creative and find one. As you said Critical Thinking implies judgement. Judgments are often biased by dominant culture and rationality. In Design Thinking ( I took Tina’s MOOC after the DT MOOC by the same) we learned that judgment should be differed until all conditions are met for applying it. Before judging we need to understand, relate, make sense. Something will be imprinted in our knowledge by those processes even if eventually we judge this knowledge as being inadequate. Also by placing Critical Thinking as the gatekeeper we don’t allow ourselves to incorporate in our knowledge what we can’t prove. This has been a very typical behavior that prevented emergent knowledge to become part of dominant thinking of the 80’s like organic food, design, sustainable development, human-centric organizations etc. For my own governance I tend to become much more flexible and allow not-yet-validated knowledge to come into play and just keep a like tracability tag on it: If you happen to take critical decision on that, it still needs to be validated. This leaves a full range of creativity to keep erupting after knowledge as been engrained.

    • sbarnes January 11, 2016 at 05:37 PM Reply


      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

      I think in allowing the not-yet-validated knowledge into the decision making process it opens up the iterative, creativity/experimental cycle, of trying and testing things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s keeping an open mind and trying it out, there is never just one way to do things (at least most things) 😉

  • Holger Issle January 16, 2016 at 10:29 PM Reply

    This is indeed an interesting concept, and I am eager to dive into. There is one thing that comes to my mind: even though that van Gogh states to think Inside the box, others like de Bono spent his life on making people think outside the box. We should discuss this a bit further… And yes, i am a fan of de Bono. After a very sceptical start, his ideas work well for me.

    • sbarnes January 16, 2016 at 10:49 PM Reply

      Hi Holger,

      Yes, I know what you mean about de Bono’s work and the idea from Van Gogh about “thinking inside the box” is the exact opposite to that, but the idea from Van Gogh is more about “the box” being a constraining factor, which actually can drive creativity and innovation. There are a few articles and studies around that talk about this, here’s a link to one of them: https://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/07/12/creativity-how-constraints-drive-genius/#2715e4857a0ba0fc051a3ceb

      I look forward to continuing this discussion with you. 🙂

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