The space between: How to get the word out without letting the word get out

The origin story of a proprietary journal

September 09, 2021 in Innovation, Technology

Author: By Ken Hardman, Boeing Technical Journal founder and chair

Celebrating a decade of discussion, the founder of the Boeing Technical Journal revives some of his original thoughts from the debut edition and demonstrates how this conversation among inventors nurtures innovation.

You’ve just completed significant research for a project, capturing your work with references, theory, derivations, analysis, experiment and test. Knowing that your results could benefit the work of others, you feel motivated to share it in a reputable journal and add to the world’s body of knowledge.

In conference with your manager, you both agree, however, that releasing this information might deprive the company of a competitive advantage. Therefore, your paper is confirmed proprietary and, for the time being, must remain as protected intellectual property. As you reflect on the dilemma, you are caught between two good but conflicting principles: getting the word out and protecting company value. And yet, you feel there must be a way to satisfy both.

Consider your motivation. Is it recognition by professional peers? Notoriety? Verification of your work? Or do you desire to see your work put to good use? If you are like me, it is several of these factors. You reason: Is external publication the only way to obtain value to both you and the company? What about internal distribution? In a sizable company, couldn’t I find reviewers, receive recognition by my professional peers, verify research and have my work put to good use? Innovative thoughts click in. How about a high-quality, peer-reviewed, internal journal for proprietary scholarly works?

You need help getting such a grassroots journal off the ground. You need to know how other employees feel about the idea and the best way to proceed according to company policies and procedures. You figure you are not alone in your quandary. In fact, you realize you have the tools to find others with similar concerns and needs, using your company’s internal social network.

In a matter of days, you receive a handful of positive responses with encouragement to move to the next level. In our case, we created a group called Boeing Technical Journal (BTJ) and wrote a well-thought-out description of our vision with a draft of notional processes to stimulate discussion.

Colleagues began to join our group. Many added comments, recommendations, concerns and support to the discussion threads. Membership grew quickly, confirming that many peers in the company had strong interest. Help was offered by editorial and subject matter experts, members of the company technical community and others who felt the need to get their work into the hands of appropriate users.

Over the course of one year, presentations were made, surveys were conducted, volunteer committees were formed, an executive sponsor was identified, procedures were developed, a call for papers was circulated and paper submittals commenced. Subject matter experts throughout the company compiled valuable work in a scholarly form, submitted to rigorous peer review and shared knowledge for their collective success.

The Boeing Technical Journal was born.

During its first decade, the BTJ engaged more than 400 employee authors and co-authors, as well as 600 peer reviewers and editors, resulting in more than 200 high-quality, distinct papers on diverse topics important to Boeing. In addition to the expansion of working relationships and networks, knowledge within BTJ papers was leveraged, increasing value throughout the enterprise.

For example, “Checklists to Enhance Safety,” by Daniel Boorman and William Higgins, resulted in author opportunities to consult and increase critical process safety on multiple programs. “What Is a Game-Changing Design,” by Dr. Miriam Grace, expands company understanding of design principles and practices and promotes the company Human-Centered Design movement and User Experience Community of Practice. “Model and Analysis of an Active Cradle System,” by Dr. William Ferng and Dr. Jeffrey Hunt, enhances discussions to improve aircraft manufacturing methods.

The BTJ demonstrates how a large organization can find the space between. It is possible to develop proprietary technology, obtain broad traditional peer review and share knowledge while still maintaining knowledge protection. Employees are encouraged to develop and capture (and help others capture) knowledge, then get the word out, while limiting access where necessary.

You, too, can find ways in your organization and in your career to find resolutions to conflicting requirements. With some careful thought and collaboration, you can find the space between.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Systems engineer and Associate Technical Fellow Ken Hardman founded the Boeing Technical Journal in 2010 and is the host of “BTJ Reflections,” a Boeing internal video series featuring interviews with BTJ authors. In his three decades at Boeing, he’s worked on satellites, missiles, telescopes and passenger jets. He’s mentored hundreds of college engineering students and published “Engineering Stories,” a book for youth, young adults and educators that offers an inside look at working on teams and innovatively solving engineering problems.

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