Imagine you’re at the wheel of a car. If you’re an experienced driver, you will take multiple decisions without really thinking about them. Interpreting spatial information, reading traffic signs and using turn signals: all of it happens almost automatically. The ability to do something without giving it much thought is called ‘implicit’ or ‘tacit’ knowledge. If the ability to innovate is implicit as well, how can we measure this particular skill? That’s one of the things is researching in close collaboration with Frederik Anseel, who was at that time professor of work psychology and behavioral economics at Ghent University and is currently professor of management and associate dean Research at UNSW Business School, Sydney.

Measuring implicit knowledge

Some people are exceptionally good at something, but they’re unable to explain why. A smooth sales person who closes deal after deal is called ‘a natural’, because he has a skill set that can’t be written down or verbalized. This sales person’s career probably started with some type of ‘explicit knowledge’: look sharp and well groomed, stay friendly and courteous, listen well and know your product. Yet somewhere along the way, an ‘implicit skill’ was developed. Subtle body language, a specific choice of words or superior character insight have created an advanced competency that is difficult to copy or transfer through teaching or training.

Trust your gut and innovate?

It’s plausible that implicit knowledge is closely related to notions like experience, intuition or ‘gut feeling’. Most R&D professionals will agree that innovation success requires quite a bit of fingerspitzengefühl. Some people are simply better at coming up with ideas than others. But as we wrote earlier: innovation is more than creativity and ideation. Successful innovation is a complex process that goes through a number of stages. Taking the right decisions in the follow-through and having an eye for the right details during implementation processes requires implicit knowledge as well.

Three innovation skill sets

The first step in measuring this ‘innovation intuition’ is defining the necessary skills and optimal behaviors for each of the innovation stages:

  • Ideators have a unique ability to identify new opportunities, generate creative ideas, solve problems in original ways, suggest novel approaches or make well-considered judgements on the potential of new ideas.
  • Champions are particularly good at selling ideas. They have the skills to create enthusiasm, acquire support from stakeholders and mobilize resources.
  • Implementers have a knack for turning innovative ideas into solutions that work. During the implementation, they are the ones who know how to tackle problems such as resource shortages, time constraints or complaints.

Why self-assessments are not an option

Although innovation skills sets are clearly definable, people are generally unable to judge their own competencies within these areas. Most people think they can make accurate judgements about their personality, behavior and performance, but psychological research has proven time and again that this is a misconception. Overall, people tend to overestimate their own knowledge and competences. This is why self-assessments are fundamentally flawed, rendering them utterly useless during professional selection and training processes.

Skill measurement through simulations

In order to accurately assess someone’s skills within a clearly defined area, simulation tests or ‘situational judgement tests’ have proven their worth as reliable and valid measuring tools. Think of flight simulators for pilots in training or operating simulations for medical students.

By confronting people with real situations or cases, they have to make decisions relying on both their explicit and implicit knowledge. In determining the score, it is not only observed how many ‘right decisions’ a participant makes but whether the response pattern is consistent. People who lack advanced competence – or ‘implicit knowledge’ – will be able to cope with the easy and medium situations, but their success rate will quickly decrease as the questions get more difficult.

How works is a simulation test that measures a person’s competency in the three main innovations skills – ideation, championing and implementing. Users are presented with real innovation challenges, based on existing problems or challenges of innovation professionals. The given answers are compared to the judgement of a diverse group of innovation experts, whom we asked to rate the effectivity of each response.

An example – You work as an R&D manager for a big toilet paper manufacturer. Market research indicates that 70% of the consumers think the packaging of toilet paper is too big. What is your next step in dealing with this information?

Based on the choices a user makes within 15 of these scenarios, an ‘innovation profile’ emerges. The degree of correspondence with the judgement of innovation experts – who have gathered implicit knowledge – allows us to calculate a score on all three innovations skills.

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Assessing the innovation performance of employees and the company as a whole, can support you in building efficient innovation dream teams, by re-orientating employees or organizing specific coaching. Eager to find out how can help? Schedule a demo!

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