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Learning from Dirt Bikes

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Learning from Dirt Bikes

Jan 28, 2016   |  By
Rustin Diehl, JD, CKM

The ability to learn and repurpose knowledge from a specific circumstance is a key to ingredient to innovation.  There are a number of ways that KM practitioners can leverage knowledge and learning.  Some of the techniques most used by KM practitioners include: (1) knowledge capture, (2) knowledge leveraging, (3) knowledge creation, (4) Lessons learned and (5) Best practices.

Learning always begins with a question, although finding the right question can be very difficult.  As Einstein said:  “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” 

Try asking these powerful questions to enhance learning and capture broadly applicable meta-knowledge:

  • Can we derive or abstract a higher lesson from this?
  • Can our work be captured visually?
  • What are we doing here at a higher level – can we capture higher principles at work?
  • What business are we really in?

The history of the Honda dirt bike shows how corporate learning, combined with a flexible or “emergent” business development strategy can lead to dramatic innovations.  As the story goes, when Honda first entered the US motorcycle market after WWII, the company planned to compete head-to-head with the iconic Harley Davidson.  With a shoe string budget and no track-record, the small team of Japanese sent to preside over the Honda motorcycle introduction soon found their product failing.

Strapped for cash, the team began to ride around on the smaller-sized motorcycles that had also taken to the US for personal transportation.  One of the Honda team members took to riding in the hills of California on weekends and noticed that many of the locals were admired his rugged, small Honda motorcycle.

The spark of innovation happened when Honda’s team was able to abstract from these learning experience that there might be an emerging American market for off-road motorcycles. The failing Honda team decided to take action on the new knowledge and try selling the small bikes. Rather than selling through the usual outlets – motorcycle dealers, they chose instead to sell the bikes through sporting goods stores. Honda’s off-road motorcycles quickly became a best seller and the rest is history.

The audacious Honda motorcycle team’s ability to abstract the Meta-Knowledge of a potential market from a few comments and observations is the essence of corporate learning. Their ability to flexibly to redefine the business to incorporate the new learning was ultimately a key ingredient to Honda’s innovative and successful entry into the US motorcycle market.

About the author:  Rustin Diehl, JD, CKM is an innovation advisor and trainer, focused on business modeling and training
with businesses, private clients, and non-profits.  Rustin emphasizes models and tools that mobilize and connect knowledge resources in support of strategic innovation objectives.  He is a member of Manifest Advisors, a training and certification firm based in Salt Lake City, with a core focus on innovation, knowledge management, and strategy development.

Rustin is the lead instructor for KMI's "Innovation and KM" program - contact: for more info.

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