By Professor Jim Saker
For a slightly (well, maybe fairly) overweight aging academic, the return of Sherlock to the TV screens is always welcome.
Professor Jim Saker is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School and an AM Awards judge. He has been involved in the automotive industry for more than 20 years.
Not that Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman are particular heroes, but more for a quote from the second series when Irene Adler (Holmes’s female adversary) states “Brainy is the new sexy”. This gives hope to a group of people who, by any stretch of the imagination, would never describe themselves in that way.
In truth, most university lecturers are made up of three types, those you can let out in public, those that need to be accompanied and those who are locked in their office and given permission to look out their window once in the afternoon. In the academic world, the members of this last group are usually the most bright and intelligent.
These are the people that push back the frontiers of knowledge. The challenge is how to get such knowledge out of their heads and into the public domain. Historically, this has often been done through formal lectures, but now online delivery is being utilised. The problem is one is unsure whether much is being received. How do you achieve knowledge sharing so that everyone can potentially benefit?
In 1999, Peter Drucker said “the truly unique contribution of management in the 20th century was the 50-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing”.
We have seen the benefits within the motor industry, with increasingly efficient car plants producing better and more reliable cars. Drucker went on to say the most important challenge for management in the 21st century was to do the same for the knowledge workers. Basically, we need to improve how we gain, manage and share knowledge.
The success of the rise in engineering efficiency was based on the sharing of knowledge – there was a systematic build-up within the various engineering disciplines that was shared through conference papers.
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this was the Toyota Production System (TPS).
The company’s engineers developed knowledge of how to improve efficiency and increase productivity.
For all their plants to benefit from this, the knowledge had to be shared. Their success was based on turning tacit knowledge (informal understanding within the company) into explicit knowledge that could be shared with others. This meant codifying and formalising the knowledge into a format that could be communicated effectively.