Seen & Heard

Innovation knowledge

As a reliability engineer and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence with more than 10 years of experience working in alternative energy industries, I have an interest in how quality tools can be used to foster innovation, and have followed with great interest the establishment of a body of knowledge (BoK) and potentially an ASQ certification related to innovation.

After reading Peter Merrill’s Innovation Imperative column, “Put it on Paper” (January 2013, pp. 48–49), I felt I should make a case for the importance of knowledge management and its role in fostering innovation. In my role as a reliability engineer, some of the quickest and most economically rewarding innovations I’ve seen were not “blue-sky ideas”, but incremental improvements required to solve design or production problems.

In these cases, the process of innovation benefited from the access, understanding and sharing of information that had been collected using quality tools (quality function deployment, failure mode and effects analysis, capability study and test results). By quickly identifying the limits of the organization’s knowledge of a particular problem, we were able to identify opportunities for new materials, processes and measurement techniques. Our team’s innovation created value by helping the company avoid loss.

I believe that knowledge management, using quality tools and techniques to cultivate information for ready use in times of opportunity (or crisis), is at least as important as the seven elements listed in Merrill’s column. ASQ’s white paper “Fresh Thinking on Innovation and Quality1 presented a strong framework for balancing the structure of a quality-focused organization, and the creativity required for innovation. This paper makes the points that innovation is a change process; that most profits are derived from incremental innovations; and that innovation is more likely the product of a cross-functional team working together, instead of being the product of a solitary genius, working alone.

Knowledge management enables all of these points, but there’s a real skill to helping an organization recognize, collect, evaluate and disseminate information in a way that supports future innovation. I hope the opportunity to include these skills will not be lost as the BoK for innovation is defined.

Alex Saegert
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


  1. ASQ, “Fresh Thinking on Innovation and Quality, January 2010.

Author’s response: I totally agree about knowledge management. I was deeply immersed in it about 10 years ago and still feel it has not been given the credit it deserves. If we go back to the work of Plato, Alexander the Great and the birth of dialogue, we see the use of collective knowledge for the creation of new ideas. I find that exciting. There is a great book on this topic titled Group Genius.1 You should also look at joining ASQ’s new Innovation Interest Group.

Peter Merrill
Burlington, Ontario, Canada


  1. Keith Sawyer, Group Genius, Basic Books, 2007.

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