Thinking : Idea Management

Recording Ideas

If I discover something new, a new or better way to do something or an answer to a problem or something like that, then what do I do with it?

  • Tell someone.
  • Write it down.
  • Draw a diagram of it.
  • Video it.
  • Take a picture of it.
  • Record it on audio

The top item involves passing the idea on to someone else. If the other person can use the idea straight away, then two people who use the new idea can now pass it on to more who also may use it. In this way, a new idea that finds constant use can proliferate but may never become known to the organisation in any formal way. In fact the formal way of doing things may be the way that subsequently nobody ever applies because the new ideas is better. This can lead to a situation where there is a known correct way of doing things and then there is the way that everyone actually does it.

If the idea is not in constant use, however, the idea may be lost if it is not recorded in some way. If the idea is passed on (and the responsibility for it) then the other person will also have to consider what to do with the idea so we are back to the same choices shown above.

Storage and Retrieval

Filing CabinetIf I take the responsibility to do something myself and then have the idea recorded, there is then the same question, what do I do with it.

  • Give it to someone
  • Put it in a filing cabinet
  • Put it somewhere else
  • Store it on computer

Again the top answer just passes the same problem on to someone else. For anyone of the other answers, there is a follow up question of how do I (or others) find this again? Another list of possibilities can be drawn up.

Magnifying Glass
  • Ask someone to find it
  • Look for it but without any idea where to find it
  • Look for it in a location amongst other similar things
  • Use a retrieval formulae for speed


ScalesIf I can save ideas and also recover ideas, how do I know if I have got the best one or how do I know if I have got the best match or how do I know how many similar ideas there are in the storage system?

  • How do I decide on the best way to calculate a close match?
  • How do I know how many matches to consider?
  • How do I know which match to choose?

These problems arise if there is more than one relevant idea in the knowledge archive for any particular problem description. If I can select an answer to my query - problem, how can I be sure that this is a good idea.

The problem of validation could raise questions like the following:

  • How do I know that the idea I retrieve is a good one?
  • What support can I get that an idea presented is sound?
  • How do I know that an old idea will still work today?

The knowledge archive that I retrieve my answer from must also be able to give me confidence in the correctness and applicability of the idea. As an expert I must accept some of this responsibility myself but presumably the idea was posted by an expert, did it work, did it stand the test of time, are there better ideas, how good was the expert etc.

Should it be the responsibility of the one who has an idea to store that idea and make sure that it is both clear and easily recoverable. This is probably unreasonable. It is also unlikely that the person having the idea would also be the best person to select the representation method.


This raises questions about responsibility for knowledge. If the knowledge is my own and only I will need it then the responsibility and resulting consequences and implications should rightly be mine. If I forget something important then maybe I should have stored it somewhere other than in my head. If I want access to a lot of personal knowledge that I may forget then I have to devise a way of storage and retrieval that suits me. However, I do have one advantage, I know the reliability of the original source of the knowledge.

If the discussion is about shared knowledge or organisational knowledge then there are options for storage and retrieval:

'yes, we are all
  • Let every individual store their own knowledge where and how they like!
  • Devise a common storage method and system and teach this to every individual!
  • Let one person or team be responsible for storage and train everyone in retrieval!
  • Let one person or team be responsible for both storage and retrieval!

The first option is clearly chaotic. The second is a possibility but all experts would be diverted to knowledge related duties for part of their time and even this would require a system design and training investment. The last option seems reasonable but the person or team may become a bottleneck that prevents efficient use if the knowledge archive. The third option seems very practical. It allows for easy and rapid access whilst the time consuming formatting, storing and indexing of knowledge is done by experts with a sole responsibility for the organisational knowledge archive.

The choice of options 2 or 3 would really depend on the size of an organisation but option 3 clearly has advantages over 2 at an extra cost.

An Example

An illustrative example of the new business idea or piece of knowledge and what to do with it can be made here.

The context for this example is an installation team or individual who are also responsible for testing during commissioning. If the team or individual are experienced in the testing procedures they will carry them out as normal.

During one of the testing phases, an engineer notices that some further test should really be done to ensure that a particular fault is not present. This test may have been omitted before and the problem may never have arisen. However, the problem could, it is predicted, easily arise, and current procedures would not pick this up. The engineer may now always carry out the new test or if this particular installation is not carried out for a long time, may forget.

NutsThe issue is the same as initially outlined in this discussion, what should the engineer do with the idea. In this case, the options are the same as originally stated but the this case could be looked at in one of two ways.

  1. The company allows experienced engineers to test installations because they are responsible, experienced and usually do a good job.
  2. The company has a documented test procedure that all engineers are expected to follow.

In the case of option 1, the engineer with the new idea can only remember it and tell someone else, leaving the new knowledge to either enter the engineering staff good practice or be forgotten, but in either case be unknown to the company in general.

In the case of option 2, the engineer can and should take steps to have the documented procedure modified to incorporate the new knowledge. In this way, the knowledge will get used subsequently and will become part of the companies visible knowledge resource. Some would argue that they prefer to let their engineers express their individual knowledge and methodology freely and do not want to be prescriptive. This can clearly be dangerous but also has merits. Option 2 can still allow engineers to interpret procedures and even extend and develop them. But the procedure itself now becomes a focus for discussion concerning best practice between engineers, if managed correctly.

This example illustrates a general principle that can be clearly stated.....

"New knowledge can only be stored effectively if there is a well structured place to store it...Disorganised and unstructured knowledge means LOST KNOWLEDGE..."

Lost Knowledge