Lee Baker Spurs Innovation: HUM 305 at Work at GE

Baker spotted a problem at GE: knowledge continuously being created and lost. In his final paper for HUM 305, he writes:

I broke the problem I saw into four parts. The first issue I saw is knowledge sharing across the whole industry does not occur. The second issue I saw was the lack of a collection system to archive and retrieve helpful experiential information. The third issue was convincing people that it is okay to ask for help. The fourth issue was buy-in, or how to drive participation in those you hope to aid. There is clearly a culture issue, where asking for help isn’t stressed or encouraged, thus forcing technicians to tackle complex problems armed only with their own knowledge and experiences.

Baker says this problem isn’t unique to GE, though. He explains, “Sharing knowledge intelligently is a problem faced by many industries and businesses. Even at the highest levels of academic research, there is information being generated, but unless you read the right article in the right journal, that ‘ah-ha’ moment doesn’t happen.”

HUM 305 offers the tools to learn how to “think big” in order to get to those ah-ha moments. “Anyone who plans on being a leader or is already working as a leader will see value in this class,” says Baker, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Technology Management. “Anyone planning on working in tech would also benefit greatly, especially engineering focuses.” He goes on to explain that being a leader is only as good as one’s team and learning how to promote innovation is a good way to improve a team.

As a corporate instructor, Baker is able to make suggestions that can be heard by those at higher levels, thereby standing a greater chance of affecting change. The solution he came up with for GE’s knowledge loss problem is a combination IT knowledge base and social media platform. “By creating a searchable record, future users will be able to leverage the experiences of others,” he writes. He continues in his paper:

This approach will tackle the first three problems identified very easily. It will be accessible on a global scale thanks to the GE cloud services, which also have a mobile platform app for “in your pocket” convenience and notification. It will be indexed and curated, and provide a way to search for answers quickly without the delay of waiting for people to reply to a formal request for information. This last part is a major stumbling block today with our current PAC case system, which limits respondents to a small population of engineers. The database will also allow design engineers and project managers to read feedback about their design work and the product, and see how they can improve their designs.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate isolationism by stimulating conversation amongst the entire segment which will improve the successes of GE and the Renewable Energy team. Thus, ending the era of “every technician for themselves” or “every site for themselves,” and replacing it with an advanced culture of support, assistance, co-operations, and improved understanding….

By enhancing understanding, providing a space for discussions across the group, and eliminating guesswork, the Services team will be a lean and competitive tool that GE can use to drive sales as well as public and customer confidence.

It is the goal of Think Big: Innovations in Art, Communications, and Culture for students to be able to implement their solutions. Baker intends to bring his idea to GE’s next crowdsourcing competition, which looks at solutions to problems not normally seen from executive levels. “I am confident [it] will be seen as a stand-out idea worth pursuing with real effort and the support team it will need to construct,” he writes in the paper’s conclusion.

Baker encourages others with innovative ideas: “If you have an idea, just try something. Until it doesn’t work, then figure your way around that hurdle. Eventually you will succeed, or your idea will evolve into another iteration that will succeed where the original just wasn’t going to work.” And HUM 305 might be the stepping stone people need to get started. Says Baker, “[It] gave me a framework to use to speak about my ideas to promote them successfully.”