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Innovation Management - IBM Opens Lid On Its Treasure Chest

IBM, which registered 3248 patents last year, has decided that sharing technology can sometimes be more profitable than jealously guarding its property rights on patents, copyrights and trade secrets (Herald Tribune, April 11 2005).

International Business Machines have come to the above conclusion 205 years after the invention of electric light - thus clearly illustrating that even the 19th largest company in the world ( with a market capitalization on $141 billion ( is still only learning about creativity and innovation.

Of course the issue of control is important but a quick history lesson indicates that the above should not have taken so long!

The first electric light was made in England by Davy, in 1860 Swan attempted to devise a long lasting light using carbon paper, in 1877 Brush lit up Cleveland Ohio and in 1879 Edison began work on a practical light bulb that would eventually glow for 1500 hours.

Recently, Linux - open source software developed through collaboration on the Internet - has grown to the extent that it is closing in on Microsoft's market share (

The above two examples indicate a number of factors about creativity and innovation that IBM should have learned a long time ago, some of which include:

a) Creativity (problem identification and idea generation) and innovation (idea selection, development and commercialisation) can take years and use huge resources - collaboration, networks and shared tacit knowledge rapidly reduce investment and rapidly increase speed to commercialisation.

b) Radical changes result from incremental improvement.

c) Radical shifts require the input of new knowledge.

d) New knowledge and incremental improvements result from eliciting tacit knowledge from a broad knowledge base.

e) New knowledge and incremental improvements result from eliciting ideas from a number of sources, a number of diverse sources and a number of novel sources - by utilising networks.

f) New knowledge and incremental improvements result from eliciting ideas from a number of sources, a number of diverse sources and a number of novel sources - through collaboration.

In conclusion, the probability of producing world changing innovation in-house is low. The knowledge pool is simply too shallow. And that can be said without considering motivation, group structures etc etc etc.

This topic is covered in depth in the MBA dissertation on Managing Creativity & Innovation, which can be purchased (along with a Creativity and Innovation DIY Audit, Good Idea Generator Software and Power Point Presentation) from You can also receive a regular, free newsletter by entering your email address at this site.

Kal Bishop, MBA


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Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on

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