Thursday, December 6, 2007

e-learning Adoption

There was a question in linkedin ... about the reason which holds back e-learning. Why is it that adoption of a tool like e-learning is not high. And, even in companies where e-learning has been deployed, it is only in skeletal way, more like an item on a check-list. For a tool, the value proposition of e-learning is immense ... People can learn at a place and time they choose ... So, learning doesnt have to interfere with their day to day work, and they can have learning complement profession. That its not necessary that learning happens at the expense of work. This should be music to the HR folks, but somehow, its not.

While e-learning should play a much larger role than it does, i dont think it would really achieve what has been promised as its potential ... this is for one simple reason ... and that is, we are still human beings, and learning, in large part, is a social activity, much more than it is an intellectual activity.

Which means that the primary challenge to bring the social part into learning. The solutions which are found today address the intellectual part well, but ... I guess this is why you would find that e-learning works ok when you have experienced people upgrading their skills, but if you have to learn something new, e-learning doesnt really replace face-to-face learning. Some of this can be addressed by the rich context of virtual worlds, and the way they enable creation of a social environment, which enables us to learn with co-learners, while at the same time, maintaining some of the benefits of e-learning.

Social Networking ...

Might this lead to another round of writings about the problems with social networking? There was the orkut connection to the murder of a teenager in Mumbai, there was the orkut connection to terrorist bombings, and now, there are the Facebook, MySpace, and Youtube connections to the murder of the young British student in Italy. ToI has written an article about this.

The important point to note here, however, would be that we cant blame the tool for its usage. It would be folly to think the concept of social networking is all bad. We need to understand that the concept is an immature concept yet, and there are points in social networks which are prone to misuse. This definitely doesnt mean the tool itself is to be blamed.

On the contrary ...

The media have latched on to the trend. A Youtube video of Finnish schoolboy Pekka-Eric Auvinen showed him brandishing guns before he shot nine people in November. In the Perugia case, images and information taken from these sites has filled the void of verifiable facts.

What this points out to is that we need to watch out for trends in the things which are happening on social networking site. The idea here is somewhat similar to searching for opinions. Today, most of the search is geared towards words or numbers, but not much which is geared towards searching for patterns, whether those be patterns in data, or whether that be patterns in opinions (a la blogosphere). Some of this could be a reliable indicator of things to come?

The Tea-Pot by the Sun

My friend, Mr. Nanawaty mentions in a comment on my post that just because Science cannot disprove the existence of God, one must not blindly believe in God. Having said this, can we not put it this way ... Because Science has not proved the existence of God, we should not blindly disbelieve in God? Logically, one argument is as sound as the other. There is also the Tea-Pot by the Sun ... Of course, if someone just comes up and says that theres a Tea-Pot floating by the Sun, Science cannot go out and try to prove or disprove its existence. Its simply not worth it. I totally agree with Mr. Nanawaty. However, the concept of God is no Tea-Cup. If there is a Tea-Cup which has been haunting humanity ever since we came into existence, one which we have been thinking about for quite some time now (how many centuries?), I would think this is one helluva Tea-Cup. Besides, doesnt all Science begin with the idea of a maverick? Isnt all new scientific thinking maverick in some form or the other?

Look at the Theory of Relativity ... or, the concept of the Space Twins that Albert Einstein talks about ... quite a fanciful concept, I am sure. And, wasnt something which was a pressing need at the time. On the other hand, I would think it was more like the proverbial Tea-Cup ... of not much significance. So was the idea of the automobile ... Nobody ever took them seriously ... Taking two examples, one from pure sciences, and one from engineering, to make the point. But, one never knows where a trail might lead us to. On the other hand, if we are to keep this hypothesis in hibernation till some concrete proof comes up, and if this whole concept is that of the tea-cup floating by the sun, then no concrete proof will ever come up. One way or the other. This, to my mind, is some kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Somewhat like we used to pull fun of our Economics friends ... Assume the can is open, hence the can is open!

The debate has been eternal ... Has been going on for some time, and will continue for quite some more time to come ...

What isn't KM

That would sound like a completely uninteresting topic for the post ... on a blog which revolves more or less around KM. But, this is a question which I am thinking about these days. This comes from a scenario like this ... There is a project team, who are all located at a client site, delivering a project. They have weekly team meetings, where they discuss any specific issues which the consultants are facing, and try to arrive at possible solutions to these. This is in addition to the discission on weekly performance metrics, variation from plan, etc. etc.

My question is ... Would we label this team meeting as KM? Maybe yes, I would think. But, you ask the Consultants or the Project Managers, they would disagree. And, this is the crux of the question ... Let be clear on one thing ... Everything requires human knowledge ... The industrial model of the smart manager who gave orders, and the workers who just followed them, and the machine did the rest was flawed. Even operating a machine, much like driving a car, requires human knowledge. Hence, it can be said that everything that we do depends on knowledge. Hence, KM should, by definition be something which pervades other aspects of management. Because, management itself depends on knowledge, and hence ...

And, this is the question that comes in, in the context of the organization ... That, should KM be a part of another initiative within the organization, or whether KM should be treated as a standalone entity? One way, in fact, could be that KM becomes a loose idea, with the exact delivery of the concepts depending on the context in which they are delivered ... So, KM in the context of Six Sigma could be quite a bit different in form, than KM in the context of CRM. I dont quite agree with this model, but having said that, there has to be this linkage between business objectives and KM. Without this, there is the real danger that we end up looking at KM as an end in itself, which is quite an exercise in futility.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Essential Unity

Sant Kabir had said ... and, it has been said in the Guru Granth Sahib ...

Awwal Allah Noor Upaya, Qudrat ke sab Bande
Ek Noor ke sab Jag Upjeya, Kon Bhale, Ko Mande!

The one, the All-Encompassing Allah, in His Light, from Hid Light, came forth the men of God, from Nature. And, from this very Light of Allah, all the worlds emerged, so who is Good, and who Bad?

Eternal Truth ... Though, do we even think about this? Do we even look at the very truth of this couplet? If we did ... would we not recognize all as part of a single Spirituality?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Communities and Collective Identity

There is a nice post by Dave Snowden about Aggregative or emergent identity? Rethinking Communities. Quite an interesting read, and thought provoking, too ... Something I have been thinking about, for some time. One important thing that Dave highlights ...

My take on that issue by the way is that while all communities are networks, not all networks are communities.

This rings a bell. We network a lot with folks we like to interact with, but that couldnt necessarily be called as a community. Whats the difference? Basic difference ... Shared goal. Which is why, networks that we find on social networking sites, and networks we find in organizations should not be equated, and should be studied as two distinct identities. This distinction derives from the goal ... OK, so we could argue that a lot of times, communities dont necessarily share the same goal. But then, more often than not, they do. Whether mutually decided by the community, or imposed by the environment, the goal is there.

And this, to my mind, is where quite a few of us are erring. The dynamics of communities, regardless of the parallels, are different within and outside the organizational context. And, this organizational context is what makes the difference. Communities within the organization, for example, need some kind of organizational support. This is a paradox of communities that I have written about earlier. Its important we stopped seeing this as a paradox, though, and consider this an important part of the creation and sustenance of communities in the organization.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Whither Humanity?

An incident is being reported from Assam ... Somewhere around 3000 Adivasi students were marching in the capital, Guwahati. They were walking towards the Vidhan Sabha, when the Police stopped them. They got angry ... went on a rampage. Burnt quite a few vehicles, looted and tried to damage shops, when the local people retaliated ... and beat to death, with bare hands, around 60 of these youths. The point? Simple ... What makes people take out their frustration by burning vehicles, looting and pillaging? What kinds of political activists are these? Seems to be the dominant activity most such rallies end up doing ... no matter which part of the country. This was demonstrated in Kolkata, and this was demonstrated in Guwahati.

Another, more important point ... What makes a man so heartless? What makes a man heartless enough to beat another human being to death? Its not as though you are shooting someone ... this is beating someone on and on and on ... the victim could be bleeding all over, and still getting beaten. How can someone be so insensitive to a fellow human being? One part is the ethics, and the other sensitivity. The question is larger ... What is making us, as a society, so intolerant? Across the world, we have less and less time ... we talk more (cellphones, land lines, email, RSS feeds ...), but we communicate less. I had got a mail a few days ago, and it summed it up quite well ...

People are meant to be loved, and things to be used.
Today, we love things, and use people!

Shall this be the way humanity will evolve? Are we increasing the level of sophistication of our civilization, or reverting to barbarism?

Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Today is Guru Nanak Dev Ji Janma Tithi ... Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, one of those Eternally Free ... those who come to this world to teach us ... people like us, who are still either trying to find our way out, or not even trying.

Has been said ... The True Guru shall lead you to the path of Enlightenment. As Sri Yogananda Paramahansa was told, that His Guru was yet to come ... that, there is The Guru, who shall delight you with the Eternal Peace ... acquaint you with the Eternal. And, take you on your journey.

As Sri Ramakrishna said ... there are three types of people ... the ignorant, whome He equated with the fish who, when caught in the fisherman's net, burrow into the mud, and think they are safe, then there are the striving, whome He equated to those fish who, when caught in the net, try hard to come out and break free (some succeed, others dont ...), then there are the Eternally Free ... those who refuse to get trapped in the net. The True Guru shall be Eternally Free ... Those who come upon this world to guide us ... at the least, who who are seeking, who are striving ...

But shall we strive, shall we seek the Ultimate Answers on the foundation of violence? Shall we not find liberation in love? For, what we seek is Eternal Love. Or, shall we believe violence and intolerance will liberate us? The Teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji tell us that the only way to liberation is Eternal Love ... and, attain that we must. Or, shall we have lived in vain?

Open Sourcing ...

I am reding the chapter on Peer Production in Wikinomics ... And they are taking peer production to the next level with the Wikinomics Playbook. I am joining up there. This post is about two things ...

1. They have written about some of the ground rules of open-sourcing ... primarily from the IBM experience ... In this regard, I have already written earlier, that participating in open-source initiatives is one thing, and being an open-source modelled organization (if there is any such thing ... if there isnt, maybe i could coin the term?) is another. Though, this is not the point I am writing about here. One point that seems to come out of the discussion in the book is that open-sourcing be the port of last call ... when you dont see anything coming coming out of an initiative (read OS/2, or the Barrick Challenge), open-source it, and see if you can extract something out of it. I dont think this is the best way of doing this. With diverse companies showing the way, too. With companies as diverse as Lego and (cant find the link where I read it) ... Unilever, with their Dove brand of soaps ... (correct me if I am wrong, though ...), and I think theres much more to open-sourcing than meets the eye. This aspect of open-sourcing needs to be explored further.

2. The chapter also talks about open-sourced ERP ... thats interesting. One of the things that ERP implementations today entail is lengthy implementation cycles ... whether it be SAP, or one of the Oracle products ... Open-source ERP would be an interesting thing ... small components which can be downloaded, and modified as per the requirements of the company ... with small consulting firms creating the ecosystem around the software, tweakin the software, and implementing updates on an ongoing basis (and I am sure there would be lots ...). This should keep the IT folks into the loop, and involved completely as well. But, this is a huge deviation from the existing model. What I am talking about here, is open-source ERP software, with a clutch of innovative consulting firms providing implementation and support services around these. Considering that the ERP wars are now being fought in the "SMB" segment, with the biggie segment already saturated, this could be the road forward for enterprise software. Oracle has already done this, with making their documentation, and software available for download, with some terms and conditions, of course ... Anyone interested in open-sourcing ERP software, please feel free to contact me! :-)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Volunteered Wikinomics

I am reading a nice book ... Wikinomics ... they even have a website now. Its quite an interesting read ... and, gives you a convincing view of the way things are shaping up ... and, not just in the trendy hi-tech, or publishing, media, or entertainment industries ... but, something as "old world" as mining ... read the Barrick Challenge. I am currently reading the chapter on Peer Production. Quite an interesting reading. The key word here is collaboration, as we know by now ... Another word which stands out in the discussion, but doesnt really get discussed too often is voluntary.

And, this has some interesting connotations. If a large part of the changing landscape is based on voluntary work (no, this is not in the sense of social service, but rather, the individuals also stand to gain a lot by participation in the effort ... think Linux?), then this raises a few thoughts on two different levels.

1. This has massive implications on the future of business. While this means that there is a lot of value that can be realized by bringing on the power of collaboration. While this is a very nice thing, I am trying to understand the implications of this in the current organizational scenario. Lets face it ... How many folks would volunteer for an open source project on-the-job? In the organizational context, there are not many volunteers. Which means, that this entire idea of collaborating to the extent of creating an operating system is probably not going to happen within the organizational context, skunkworks notwithstanding.

2. If this model sustains ... There is the usual set of detractors of the model (lots of folks tout IBM's success with open source ... but, not many who mention that IBM doesnt create open source ... they create business models to make money from there ... and, end of the day, IBM is a corporate, much like a lot of others). This is the part which we need to watch out for ... Something I have written about earlier. What this implies is that there is a fundamental friction between the form of the organization as we see it today, and the form of the organization which is emerging. One school of thought believes that if you are able to show value to managers, they would embrace this change. After all, its a more efficient way of doing business. But, managers are not such rational beings. Which is why, this friction is here to stay, at least in the near to medium term.

Putting these two thoughts together ... unless the contradictions of both these thoughts are resolved, I dont think the power of collaboration can be harnessed to a large degree within today's organizations. Its still early days yet, and organizations do evolve, and this is where I agree with Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams is that this wave of collaboration is going to grow ... and, those companies who try to resist this, would not be right there, at the forefront of business.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taslima in Kolkata

THere are parts of the city which suddenly seem to have gone up in arms ... while the rest of the city looks on ... in horror. Is this the Kolkata of yore? Is this the Kolkata that we love? I wouldnt like to believe that, but does one have an option except to believe? That maybe theres a method to the madness ... that somewhere, some kind of human expression will arise. But, we wait, and we wait ... in vain. Not for long, Hopefully?

Add to this the statement of Mr. Biman Bose ... simply put, he says ... if peace in the city is endangered, then Taslima Nasrin should leave. Does this mean the Left Front believes that anyone who is not liked by someone else should leave? Or, is this simply because there is a certain vote bank, and that vote bank needs to be pampered? Either way ... does this mean the Government shall abdicate its duty to maintain law and order? Or, shall the Government be dictated to by one section of society? Not to say that the section may not even be civil society.

Taslima and Nandigram

I was reading on the site of NDTV that the Army has been asked to come outin Kolkata. Sad enough state of affairs ... What is even more surprising is that the protestors, who were protesting against what happened at Nandigram, were demanding that the visa for Taslima Nasreen be revoked ...

Not sure what Taslima Nasreen has to do with Nandigram. Was she there? Nobody said so. Then, why are two things being confused? Some say she is un-Islamic ... Lets assume she is ... Is the issue here not Nandigram?

KM -- Tool or Function

I was at the KM India Summit last week. Which explains the long time since the last post. Well well ... Traffic in Delhi can have that effect. As you can see, the who's who of the knowledge fraternity in India were there ... and talking. Dr. Rory Chase delivered some interesting insights. And, Dave Snowden was there ... via telephone. A little bit of a disappointment not being able to meet him, but he did deliver a talk which was very insightful (had read a bit of it on his blog, which should go to show the power of web 2.0 ...).

Well ... one theme which came out of the summit throughout, and something which you couldnt help observing was this ... More and more people were talking about KM being used to achieve a particular thing ... Which is the way it should be ... End of the day, KM cannot be the end in itself, but has to be a means towards a larger business goal. Having said this, there are two things which I thought need a little more reflection ... Not because I disagree with the idea of KM being a means to a larger business objective, but because the larger discussions threw up a few questions in my mind ...

1. It seems to me that in a lot of scenarios, KM is encroaching ... on the domains which used to be those of other functions in the organization. It could be production, or operations, or it could be quality, or it could be sales, or finance, or hr ... Its one thing that KM enables these functions, and another thing to have things being drawn from other functions, packaged together, and labelled KM. Having said that, it is also a fact that the business demarcations between functions are blurring as the world around us getting more and more multi-disciplinary. But, somewhere I think there is a little bit of confusion about where KM should fit into the jigsaw. Of course this would be different for different contexts, and for different problems, but KM cant be all things to all people.

2. Taking the previous point forward, and the logical conclusion from this is ... KM can either be a function, or a tool. As a function, I think the definition of KM is blurred in the current applicability context, which leaves us with one option ... a tool. The question this then throws up, is that if KM is a tool, and this is something which explains a lot of the things and practices taken up by KM practitioners, is how does one measure a tool? Does this then mean that our efforts to look at measurement of the effectiveness of our KM efforts are misguided?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Virtual Worlds in the Organization

Jessie Paul wrote a comment a comment on my previous post about virtual worlds. The idea she is putting forth is that in all probability, the evolution and adoption of virtual worlds would occur over a period of time much in a way similar to the way the web was first adopted in organizations, and that virtual worlds would evolve, as organizations try to meet more of their requirements with the virtual world environment. For example, today, virtual worlds have caught the attention of the marketing fraternity, or of support functions, but not in the mainstream of the business. Nor was the web mainstream initially.

The way I see it, the emergence of virtual worlds, at one level, could be quite similar to the emergence of web 2.0 technologies. There is a basic similarity between the two ... That of their participative and collaborative nature ... With the development of content, and the posting of thoughts moving out from the realm of the webmaster, to the realm of the users. And something that is collaborative in nature would, by definition, be adopted by individuals first. And it is from the experiences of these individuals that organizations would learn, and develop a plan for adoption.

And here lies the key ... Adoption by individuals ... and, this is primarily going to be for non-work related purposes. And, as we use these platforms, these platforms would also evolve and become more sophisticated, such that they can move into the organizational context. Something like we have seen with web 2.0 technologies ... Evolving into a space where the adoption can be far simpler from the organizational perspective.

More later in the week ... Will be writing about the KM India Summit, that I am going to, the next three days.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Leadership in Virtual Worlds

Kuldeep Reyatt asked a question on linkedin the other day ... About the possible nature of leadership in the virtual world. While I responded to his query on linkedin, this did open up a thought process ... What does a leader in the virtual worlds look like? Definitely not with 2 heads ... But, with a head which matches the scenario?

The question, I think, has implications on the way Enterprise 2.0 shapes up, too. To my mind, there are aspects of the virtual world, and the problem solving process there, and the same process in the web 2.0 world, which are similar. The largest one being participation. Or, the collaborative nature of problem solving activities. Does this mean the two are going to be identical? I dont think so. Would they be similar ... I think so.

The word to describe it could be "democratic". Or participative, if you may? Though, in a totally different connotation. What this means is that there may not be any permanent leaders ... and this is something which we find in organizations today as well, with specific folks leading teams tasked with solving a particular problem. Rather than rely on the organization hierarchy, more and more, there may be people emerging as leaders in the specific scenario, or to solve a particular problem, based on their expertise. There could be different kinds of leaders ... thought leaders, action leaders ... And different scenarios, or different problems might find different, at times highly unlikely leaders emerging from the community itself. IBM has done a story about Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders which points somewhat in this direction, too. The underlying idea being ... It will be the passion, and the knowledge that people bring to the problem solving scenario, which, in all probability would decide the shape of leadership to solve that particular problem. What this implies is a much more fluid leadership scenario, with leaders not being decided on traditional parameters.

Does this mean traditional leadership will go away? Not at all. It wouldnt, and I would think, it shouldnt. Leadership, in its able form, provides the glue which keeps things together, and people pointed towards a common passion, or a common vision. But, within this context, there could be a level of leadership which is much more open. And, this is happening today, too!

Second Life -- Marketing Perspective

Jessie Paul has written a post about Second Life ... Second Life - Hype or not? presents the marketeer's view to SL. And, its an interesting view. If we look at SL from two different perspectives, we can see the value an environment like this can add to the marketing efforts ...

1. Virtual worlds can be used as a cool new medium of interactive reach ... Think reach, or participative marketing (apologies for inventing another term which nobody would like to use), and you could think blogs ... Dynamic interactions with customers, and other stakeholders, but more often than not, asynchronous. Taking this to the synchronous level, imagine this ... rather than leaving comments on a blog like this, you could have the possibility of interacting with the blog author real time ... Think reaching out to customers, taking customer feedback, and working on the feedback real time (whether it be in the form of taking customer calls, or comments about the ifferent aspects of the product, or company).

2. A far cooler way of interacting with customers ... the experience being far richer than 2 dimensional customer feedback forms.

Or, how about this ... nstead of customers being exposed to pre-packaged advertisements, why not customers allowed to ask their own questions, and getting answers to their specific queries which they have, about the product, or the company. This is something which can be a very time-consuming process. This requires a certain kind of infrastructure, and I wouldnt think a database of FAQ's would be the way to go here. Or, a contact centre, where the customer, rather than calling a helpline, can interact with the call agent in a virtual world ... How could that enrich these interactions.

Nandigram ...

Sad state of affairs ... Why does it have to come to this? The dispute began with a simple disagreement ... Whether the Salim group should be allowed to set up operations at Nandigram. Why Nandigram? I dont know. But, whatever the reasons ... A simple question ... which an answer which ought to have been equally simple. But, it turns out, it wasnt so.

Today, it seems, the basic question of whether the Salim group should set up operations at Nandigram or not, has been forgotten. Today, Nandigram seems to have become a "war-zone" ... Or so they said on the media. Maybe the media is hyping it ... But then, maybe not. And, even if they are, does that mean the things that are happening at Nandigram should happen in any civilized society? It doesnt matter which political party is doing what ... does it? I dont think so ... What matters is the plight of the people. They have a life to live ... and, this life has been dispurted ... in a manner which does not befit any civilized society, much less India.

People being attacked with guns ... killed, maimed. Women being raped ... Are these things which we shall be proud of? I dont think any of us would be ... Never should have happened, and never should happen again. Can we sit down at a table, and talk things through? I am not here to blame any political party, and even if they are to blame, we must not lose sight of the issue ... People suffering. One way for people to display their angush ... Bandh! What purpose does a Bandh serve? Lots of people have written, and talked about the impact these have on people who make a living on a aily basis. Shall society not be answerable to each of us?

Simple question ... Can we talk about this?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Idea Management ...

It began with a question I came across, from a gentleman on linkedin ... This was a question about Idea Management Systems. This was a new one on me. Though, and this is the beauty of the information architecture ... it took me all of 20 seconds to find out more. And what I read was not too impressive. No no ... Dont get me wrong ... Great idea ... Only thing, I didnt know there was a separate name for something which a lot of other things and initiatives which are taught in B-Schools, are supposed to achieve. Or, it is term the invention of an over-zealous software company trying to sell something which is touted as the next big thing?

Though, there is something I see here ... I can see the role social computing can play in this. There are software tools available out there, which are essentially meant for managing the idea generation and validation processes, in a conference-room atmosphere ... Something which is essentially a face to face process, whether it be brainstorming software, or tools for mind-mapping ... Question is ... How can these be deployed in a distributed scenario. Here, when I say distributed, I am talking as much about geographical as well as functional distribution. This is where, to my mind, social computing can play an important role. Tols which are readily available to us today can be cheaply, and easily integrated into the IT infrastructure of the organization.

Though, there is some merit to what I see here. Mind mapping ... Hmmm ... If we were to look at mapping the mind of the crowd ... I think by now you would be on to what I am talking about, and this is just a shade crazy. Mind mapping as a technique has been around for some time now ... What would it take to apply this to the collective mind ... the wisdom of the crowd? I had written about this ... Tools which can be used to mine the voices that are being expressed in the blogosphere (much easier to do in the confines of the corporate intranet, because the range of meanings you would need to look for would be quite limited), and to map the linkages between the different thoughts being expressed by folks out there. Basically, to aggregate the voice being expressed out there?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Communities and Participation

A conundrum which a lot of us have been facing ... How do we know where our social computing efforts are headed. Something I have been thinking about for some time, and thought I would blog about some of my thoughts on this, basically with reference to online communities within the organizational context. One of the most important aspects of the social computing initiative in the organization could be the communities into which the folks out there organize themselves (ok, so they do need some kind of structure to guide, but not to enforce ...), and the way these communities are generating value. I am not talking about these communities generating thoughts, but generating value, which is the next logical step.

It would have been quite simple, if communities were like task-forces ... Come together for a particular project, complete the project, and over. This would lend these communities to measurement which could be performed by traditional project management tools. Only thing, communities are not task-forces. The question to answer before we can proceed towards measurement is, to my mind, why these communities are created. Why do we find that people organize themselves into communities? Is it because man is essentially a social animal? I dont think so ... Our social instincts can be satisfied by the world around us. Especially when we are talking about communities in the organizational context. The reason, therefore, has to be a little more complex. Actually, I dont think it is. People form themselves into communities for two reasons ...

1. Because they see value in the communities.
2. Because they can form communities, therefore they do.

I would think, in the organizational context, its the first point which plays an important role in the emergence of communities. Which means that if we are to define the ROI of communities, we need to do this from the perspective of the community members. With a difference ... First of all, we cannot have a cost and value calculation for this, so to this extent this is different from the traditional ROI calculations. To begin with, we could calculate, more in terms of value perceived versus value expected. Remember, communities are as effective or otherwise as their members see them to be. So, the starting point for any such measurement has to be the expectations of the members, and the perceptions of the members. I would think, over a set of people, the answers we get are going to be the aggregated opinion of the community about itself.

Thing is, you ask people, they are not going to reply in terms of numbers. How is a community performing at 60% any different from a community performing at 70%, for example? Its not. So, we need some proxies which can supplement these. Broadly, I think these proxies can be divided into three parts:

1. Membership

2. Activity

3. Interactions

As you can see, any of these dimensions alone would not be enough to determine how a community is shaping up. A large community may actually not be too effective, if these members are not really contributing to the cause of the community. On the other hand, the activity in the community (the number of people logging in regularly to read posts, the number of posts), and the interactions (the number of responses to posts, follow-up posts), alone would not be enough, because in a small community, these may not be reaching a sizeable part of the intended audience. This is, obviously, assuming these to be proxies for the real thing, because the real thing is something we cant really measure, at least not as of now. More on this as I work this out ...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Paradox of Communities ...

There is a scenario that is often observed in communities ... Especially communities within the organizational perspective ... This is typically not valid in social networking scenarios on the internet, but within the corporate intranet, this is to be found quite frequently.

Communities that begin with good membership, and with a high level of participation (and I think these are among the parameters that can be applied for determining the level of activity that is happening in the community), over a period of time, tend to wither. Membership may be there ... But the conversation soon dries up. This is to be expected, too.

Lets say you meet a friend after a long time ... If you are as old as I am, it could be a really long time. You have lots to catch up on. What happened to so-and-so, where is such-and-such ... There are years to catch up on. The two of you are talking excitedly ... But there comes a point, when the conversation falls silent. When neither of you have anything to say. The pause may be short, or it may be long. It may even go on ... If this is how we as individuals interact, could we expect communities, which are, after all, made up of individuals, to behave any differently? One could say that at least someone in the community would be saying something ... But, that doesnt usually happen.

And, this is where the paradox of communities is. This is not the first time this is being written about, not the last. But, the fact is, communities, in addition to corporate sponsorship (which is something which a lot of us must have see in our experiences, that communities need some kind of encouragement from the management, and that managers have a key role to play here ... something AndrewMcAfee has written about ... and I wrote about the paper earlier), communities also need some kind of constructive intervention, to move them ... reinvigorate them, or move the conversation forward, so to say ... And, I think stories have a role to play here. A story, well told, could lead the conversation to a different plane, maybe into avenues which werent explored earlier.

Being Good ...

I am thinking about something. Something I am coming to realize ... It doesnt matter what others think about you ... Its what you think about yourself. I know ... this has been said by the wise for long, but it takes realization to find out the true meaning. That what we do, is what we choose, and this leads to us learning ... more at a Spiritual level, even if not at the physical level.

What this means ... Be Good! Two simple words ... But, to be honest, very difficult to understand. Being good is about doing to others as you would want them to do to you. Does this hold to the suicide bomber? No! So, what does being good mean? Maybe, each of us, depending on our Spiritual state, can define ourselves? Maybe ... I dont know! What I need to ask ... What if someone is being bad to you? Do you react in kind? There was a story I had read ...

There was once a snake. The people in the villages used to fear him, and used to try to kill him every time they saw him. One day, he met a Sage. The Sage told him that they fear his nature ... that, if he was nice to them, greeted them whenever he met them, they would lose their fear, and they wouldnt hurt him. The snake decided to follow the Sage's advice. The next time he came across people, he went to greet them, but they threw stones at him. He was hurt, both physically, and Spiritually. This continued. Time went by ... One day, the Sage was again passing through the jungle, and the snake met him. The Sage was surprised at his condition, all bruised ... The snake told him all that happened. The Sage told him ... Who asked you to not even show them your fangs? Show them your fangs, so they will run away, and you wont need to bite them.

Thing is, in real life, it becomes very difficult to find out when the fangs turn into bite. Being Good, you wouldnt want to bite ... but, when someone is not being nice to you, you have to protect yourself ... How to make sure you are only showing fangs, and not biting? This is the question ...

Search for Opinions

This is something I have been thinking about ... Most search that we are doing today, is based on the content. When you search the blogosphere, or any part of the internet, you are searching primarily for keywords. These keywords could either be words which occur in the document (this could be a document, or a site, a blog, or a wiki entry). Or, these could be corresponding to tags which are attached to the document by others.

This goes to show some of the things social computing has changed. In fact, shows the heart of the thing. Earlier, when you would search (remember those days when google wasnt there?), you would search only for keywords, which would be matched against those words occuring in the site, or document, and based on this search results would be thrown up. This has been extended by the evolution of the web, into web 2.0, where we can now search for things based on the way others have classified them. So now, we have two ways of searching. Well, simplistically speaking, that is ... But, thats the bottomline. Google changed the name of the game with some highly sophisticated algorithms.

How about giving some more? With the explosing of blogs, I think this is a requirement which is bound to come up sooner or later. Today, we search for words. But, blogs are more than words. Blogs represent opinions, and these opinions vary with people. Opinions are like noses (the original one is unmentionables, so I found someone change it to noses, and will stick by that), in that everyone has one. Fact is, what I find, at times, we need a way to search for opinions of people. True, these opinions are made up of words (and hence, we can search blogs), but what I am talking about is the aggregate. A way of searching for the aggregate opinion. Much has been written about prediction markets, and the fact is, groupthink notwithstanding, prediction markets have a way of getting things right more often than not. Not that groupthink would play a role in a diverse group like a prediction market, but the point I am trying to make here is, to make more sense out of the divergent voices which are emerging from the blogosphere, we probably are soon going to need a tool which can help us make sense of them, and bring out a picture of what the blogosphere is saying, on the aggregate. Dion Hinchliffe has mentioned sensemaker as a tool which can do this, but I couldnt really make too much sense from their site. A tool for this has to go beyond RSS, and needs to identify meanings from what people are writing, and bring this to a single platform.

Let me take an example ... When a new movie is released, you can get a general sense of how the movie is being received if you hang around the theatre. I am talking about something similar ... That, if you hang around the blogosphere, for a particular topic (as opposed to keyword), then you should be able to make sense of the conversation that is happening, and the general direction the conversation is taking, and this should be much simpler than it is now. Maybe something which take wikimindmap to a new dimension? If there are tools out there, would like to hear about them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

SaaS, SOA, Web 2.0 ...

There are a plethora of terms ... And, if you ask me, I am confused. So, a little bit of thinking, and I am trying to get to the root of some of these terms. Of course, this would, by no stretch of the imagination, be anything authoritative, but a little effort.

The way I see it, SOA and SaaS are related concepts ... Cant have one without the other. Software as a service can be provided only with an architecture that is oriented towards the service approach to software. So far, we are ok. Now, coming to the web 2.0 piece, in terms of technology ... At the core, I think the two are related. While SOA and SaaS are talking about the technology infrastructure to make software more flexible, and to ensure the software can mould itself to changing business requirements, web 2.0 is doing the same thing at the front end level. In other words, basically, web 2.0 is what you see, and SOA and SaaS are things the developers who are developing these applications see. So, in a sense, these concepts are related, and are components of a single jigsaw which is emerging as we go along.

For example, google has come up with OpenSocial, and Facebook has already done this. And, mashups are a part of the emergent jargong. None of these would have been possible without the componentization of software which is something SOA claims to achieve. Though, to an extent, I think this is essentially old wine in new bottles, but the fact is, there has been talk of modularity in software design for quite some time now, and SOA take this one step further. Of course, this is quite devoid of the technical aspects (much of which I dont know), but just thought would put thoughts together to bring these to a point where they are seen as being aspects which are complementing each other.

What to write about

I am in a scenario where I am trying to think ... what should I write about on this blog? Writer's block, you could say, but then, who said I am a writer. But then, this is how the new web is changing things. But no, the confusion is not there. The confusions tems from somewhere else ... I am trying to explore the world spiritually. Seems to be a calling ... Something which is attracting me. Something I want to do. Something I feel I need to do. At the same time, the state of affairs in Pakistan is disturbing. For two reasons ... one, its happening to common people ... they are the ones who will suffer. And two, in India, we cannot afford to overlook these developments, as everyone knows.

About Spirituality ... I guess this is about the part of life which probably everyone goes through sometime in life, asking questions ... these questions are nothing new ... where did I come from, and where am I going? What awaits me on the other side .... the other side of removing this garb? I am not the first guy to have asked these questions, and wont definitely be the last. And yet, something tells me that the answers are at hand ... Shall we have the courage to reach out, and touch them? To feel the answers, and understand ... and learn? Courage ... an interesting word ... it implies there is something to be feared there. No, I dont think there is anything to fear there, but the truth. And, the reason why we would fear the truth is not because it would hurt, but because we might not like what we see.

About Pakistan ... the Constitution has been revoked. And, the people are not sure where they are headed. Or so the media would tell us. And, it would be understandable, too. But, the fact is, stability is something that is crucial for the world, considering the way the stakes are laid out. What role must India play in this? Surely not the usual ... This may just be the opportunity the sub-continent may have been looking for ... To create a new pattern for the relationship between India and Pakistan, and take it into a direction which brings enduring peace, and trust.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Enterprise 2.0 Adoption Paradox

There is an excellent paper written by Andrew McAfee titled Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration, which he has referenced in his post titled Enterprise 2.0 is Free. The link doesnt seem to be working, but I think I downloaded the paper before they broke the link. Interesting read about the evolution and adoption of Enterprise 2.0 in companies.

There is the aspect of content that Andrew writes about ... Something most KM practitioners would be familiar with, or at least, should be. The basic fact that content is generated by people, and tags are here to stay. This is, of course, not to say that taxonomy is on its way out. The way I think, there would be an emergence, within the intranet, at least, of a structure, which is a mix of taxonomy and folksonomy. There are people who prefer the navigational mode provided by corporate taxonomies, and there are those who just prefer to search. This is the conundrum which is not going away, at least not anytime soon, and this needs to be recognized. What this leads to is the question of how folksonomy would play out in the intranet, because taxonomy is already there, and organizations know the concept quite well.

In addition, few aspects in this, which caught the eye. After describing the different aspects of Enterprise 2.0 in the organization, he goes on to talk about the role managers woul play in adoption. First of all, Andrew says that adoption is the key. This is a very important aspect, which, to my mind is the most important aspect of web 2.0 technologies, in that they are just about as good as the folks who are using them. This is by definition ... content being developed by people, in a collaborative mode ... implies that participation of people is the key. The issue organizations are facing here is that knowledge workers are as it is quite a harried lot, with lots of demands on their time. I have written about this here, and here.

The conundrum that needs to be addressed is that web 2.0 technologies be adopted till people see value, and they wont generate value till people adopt them. And this is where I agree with Andrew that the paradox here is that the new form of collaboration, while being egalitarian, needs some kind of push from the management. This, on the face f it, seems counter-intuitive, but this could be the important aspect which could spur adoption, and buil the kind of value from web 2.0 technologies that they promise.

Another aspect that Andrew touches upon, is the fact that web 2.0 is going to change the way organizations function. At least, it is going to change the way organization structures play out in the long term. I have written about this here, and I do believe there would be resistance to this change in structure, and this is to be expected.

Jehad ... Good for Whome?

Recently, Pakistan has declared Emergency. The reasons have been compelling ... And, the opinions have been predictable. Political parties in Pakistan have condemned it, the leadership in India is treading carefully, and the people in India think this should have happened considering the upsurge in Jehadi activities in Pakistan.

There has been a report in the newspapers, which tells that in this year, Pakistan has lost more lives in Jehadi activities, than India has. What kind of Jehadis are these? They dont even spare the people for whome they are supposedly fighting? And, are Jehadis actually fighting? And, what are they fighting? Are they fighting India, or Pakistan, Israel, or the USA? I dont think any of the lot. What they are fighting ... Humanity. Nobody is the gainer here, and I am repeating myself, and a lot of people who have said this before me, but isnt this repitition required?

What shall ever man gain by killing another human being? Who has given us the right to end a life? Life ... precious as it is, shall we not cherish it? Can we not learn that at the core, we are all the same? Human feelings, human emotions transcend all such barriers. Why can we not understand this? Why can we not go back to the Primal Source ... to learn ... learn a simple lesson ... that we have the essence of Spirit. That we are made to travel a road, which is taking us to perfection, to a state where we shall have learnt the difference between us as human beings, and us as spirit, to begin with. Can we not achieve this, simply ... Simply by looking insides? It has been said in The Holy Koran ... that there are two types of Jehad ... that the more important one is the one we shall fight within our hearts ... to conquer our own hearts, and bring ourselves onto a path which God cherishes for His children. What would it take to ask the Jehadis ... What would it take for them to realize this simple truth?

"Last Mile Connectivity" and Enterprise 2.0

While discussing the idea of what is Knowledge, and hence, what is KM, and from there, the role that KM needs to play in the organization, and whether it does really have a role to play or not, I have come to a point where the perception of knowledge looks like this ...

If the cook-book is information, then the ability to cook a good meal from the cook-book is knowledge. In other words, that knowledge is the internalization, or the understanding, and the application of the information to a particular scenario. Something we could call "last mile connectivity", or the linkage between your computer monitor, and your brain. And, that this is where knowledge is actually generated. And, that managing this part is what "Knowledge Management" is all about. This brings me to something that has been written about for some time now ... that maybe, Knowledge Management may be a misnomer, and rather, Knowledge Facilitation is what we ought to look at. Because, Knowledge Management may be about managing your head, and that is something no KM practitioner would like to do.

And, herein lies the nub. How can KM ensure that the guy (ok, I am being gender neutral here, so please read this the way you would like ...) who is reading the cook-book would be able to make the dish the way it was meant to be, and that the dish would taste exactly the way the author of the cook-book wanted it to taste. While this is great from the perspective of repeatibility, and of making sure everybody is doing the same thing, this may not necessarily be what is intended to be achieved by KM. It is in the differences between perceptions and outcomes, that opportunity may lie.

Let us look at it this way ... Let us say your master craftsman is retiring (thanks to Shafnas Siddiq for the example), and you have hired a new guy to take over. Now, it is one thing to have KT processes in place, so the experiences of the retiring craftsman are written down, documentd, and can be handed over to the new guy, in the form of a set of documents so he can go through them, and is good to go. But, it just doesnt work that way. There could be two ways of looking at this:

Knowledge --> Information --> Knowledge (Externalization, followed by internalization), which would suffer from the fact that everything just cannot be documented, and hence, there would be huge experience loss with this approach.

Knowledge (of A) --> Knowledge (of B) (socialization), which is where we are looking at setting up a dialog, where the picture of the facts, and experiences, is transferred to the new guy. Now, this is easier said than done, as a lot of us would agree, but the fact remains, that this seems to be a better way of sharing experiences (as has been done down the ages ... Guru-Shishya, apprentice ...). This can also be seen from the recent surge in the use of storytelling as a tool for sharing knowledge.

And this is where the current state of technology, and technology and people thinking (aka Web 2.0, or Enterprise 2.0, or Social Computing ... to my mind, different aspects, some upstream, some downstream, of the same concept) can play a role. The way I like to put it ... collaboration, which can be augmented by codification, rather than having codification being the corner-stone of the KM strategy. There is an excellent post by Andrew McAfee, where he has built up a model for adoption of Enterprise 2.0, the theory behind it (a paper by Mark S. Granovetter, titled The Strength of Weak Ties, which even I could understand), and how organizations can analyze the need for social computing, where it should be positioned in the organization's knowledge structure (I look at this as being different from the process or hierarchy structure of the organization), and how the different tools can be leveraged.

The concern ... What the author of the cook-book intended, and what our budding cook interpreted (in terms of the mental pictures they have developed about the process and the activities in cooking the dish), could be very different. Certainly, there would be elements of the author's mental picture, which would get dropped in the process of this transfer, but at the same time, while generating a mental picture of the process, would typically be a little different from what the author tried to convey. Now, this is where opportunity lies. What this means is two things ... One, that the dish would not be an exact replica of what it would have been if the author had cooked it, and second, and more important, the differences might lead to a dish which is actually more delicious. And, this is one of the key ways in which businesses evolve. By a series of improvisations, which occur as a natural consequence of the differences in perception of the person who is speaking, and the one who is listening. This is not to say that there is no value in repatability of processes, but verbatim would mean that there is an absolute lack of variation, and that there would simply be clones ... killing the entire idea of harnessing the wisdom, and the improvisations of the people on the field. And, this would simply lead to perpetuation of a particular way, which would, typically, result in blocking any change to this, and stagnation of the organization. And, as we can see all around us, this doesnt happen, and that is one of the things that leads to evolution of things around us.

Friday, November 2, 2007

10 Facebook Lessons for the Enterprise

I came across this really neat article (yes, its so web 1.0 to call something an article, but they actually ask you to type numbers from a picture into a textbox to make sure you are human) by Derek Abdinor about 10 lessons the enterprise could learn from Facebook. There is nothing web 1.0 about the lessons, though ... The neat part about discussions like these is that you know these lessons all along, just that you couldnt articulate them, and this is actually quite a nice compilation.

Though, at times it seems that Derek is saying the obvious, but then, these are things which arent seeming to be obvious to managers in most organizations across the world. Some observations of a few of these ...

1. Simple web publishing would just get more and more people publishing more and more simply. This is going to happen, question is, are you going to tap into it, and leverage the potential, or are you going to be looking at the time-wasting side of the coin? Sure, a little bit of time is wasted (or, maybe, just a little bit more than a little bit), but as a lot of literature has pointed out, those extended coffee breaks were not necessarily a waste of time. Because they were enabling people to network, find out who does what, whome can they go to if they needed something, and build up a level of trust, a kind of an informal relationship which keeps the knowledge flows going in the company, and this, according to literature, is something BPR missed out on big time.

2. I would like to interpret this a little differently. Bottomline, there are two reasons I network ... a. I have a need to network, being a social animal, and b. I need to know something, or learn something, and that I can do by talking with someone else. As such, social networks would end up being the front page, sort of an aggregator if you may, to other resources. Ever had a scenario where you found a post in your feed reader, and clicked on a link there, and before you know it, you are on a completely new page, which you hadnt seen before, and has some quite nice stuff. Happens to me a lot, and most of the blogs that I subscribe to now, I came to know about them from other blogs, which I was reading in my feedreader. Can the same logic be extended to the social network? I think so. Of course, there is the issue of a multitude of social networks, and I have written before about the need to aggregate these. Dave mentioned about fuser which I thought is a very nice tool. This is early days yet, though I think its quite neat.

Apart from this, there is the usual blah about how social networking is changing, and will continue to change the way organizations interact, how organizations are interacting with their customers in a totally new way, and how this can fuel innovation ... Let me not dwell on this for too long, at the risk of falling asleep, and I am sure you would also have read ad nauseum about this.

There is also a nice post by Bill Ives about Letting Facebook and MySpace into the Enterprise where he is looking at the result of a survey which seems to have concluded that more companies are not blocking social networks because they have other issues to resolve, and this might come later. This isnt something I can quite agree with ... This was being said of the internet too, and look where we are. The point that Darin Stahl seems to be missing out is that a. social networking need not necessarily be only outside the organization, but that can add a lot of value within the organization, especially in the large, geographically organizations, and b. social networks would, in all likelihood, get slowly integrated into business processes, changing them from the way we see them today. I have written about this here. Add to this cauldron the idea of virtual worlds, and the entire potion can become quite interesting. Social networks have, and are, changing the principles of the who, why, where of social interactions (we are today interacting with people, sharing thoughts, ideas, issues, solutions, etc., with people whome we didnt even know till the other day), and knowledge seeking, and sharing, while virtual worlds can change the mechanics, or the very way we interact, or seek and share knowledge, bringing in the richness and the spontaneity that is inherent in them.

Rizwan, Mr. Todi, and Baangaalees.

The Rizwan murder eipsode is progressing, and Ashok Todi, and Snehashish Ganguly have been summoned by the CBI. While this may be as it ought to be, I am not writing about this aspect, but about an aspect which not many are even looking at, and even fewer would like to acknowledge. Actually, not one (the not many are looking at), but two (the not many would like to acknowledge).

Bachi Karkaria wrote this article ... and I know many people would have read it. Which is why I am surprised ... There has not been a single bandh call from West Bengal about this article.

Ms. Karkaria has raised two valid points. First, and most important point, I thought, was the sentiments of the girl. Priyanka would be torn, I would think ... between father and husband. She has told anyone who would care to listen that she loves Rizwan. But, what might the future hold for her? Should she take a stand against her Father, or should she stand by the memory of her late Husband? I dont think this is a simple issue to resolve for anyone.

Another thing, would the intelligentsia of Kolkata have been so indignant if Mr. Todi was a Baangaalee "Bhodrolok"? Would they have been so vehement in denouncing Ashok Todi if he was a respectable Baangaalee, instead of being a Marwari, a set of people, which even the Baangaalees admit, they detest. Though, I think, if that was the scene, the whole incident would have taken a communal angle.

What this shos is just one thing ... The issue is not the people involved in the episode, and least of all their feelings.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Culture Aspect of Adoption

Theres an excellent post by Stan Garfield about Culture and Values in the organization, with the context of KM. This is one of the most important aspects, to to my mind, one of the trickiest, too. It is one thing to espouse values, and totally another to be able to actually get the people in the organization to actually live those. Lets face it ... Each one of us have a set of values. Values we grew up with, and values which are closer to us, than values which a company might want us to espouse. Which is why, there is usually the disconnect to be found. This is compounded by the legacy that the company might have fostered. In relatively younger companies, it is relatively easier to get adoption of a set of values, than in a company where there is a legacy which hinders the change.

This is probably the reason why there is typically a disconnect between the managers, and the people on the field. For example, when there is the adoption challenge being addressed in the organization, managers usually love the idea of KM (of course, there are lots of them who dont), but by and large ... But, on the field, which is where the work is being done, and value delivered to customers, people have a different set of thoughts. In an era where managers want their people to do more with less, the pressure on people is huge, and this is one sure hindrance to adoption of KM as a tool to develop a better business. I have written about this before, and I think adoption is the challenge that needs to be addressed. To put it in a Chicken-and-Egg situation: People wont adopt KM till they see value, and KM wont generate value till people adopt KM. This is the scenario which needs to be addressed. This is happening, definitely, but are we in the direction where this is becoming pervasive? I dont think we are even close, even with CEO bloggers, who are few and far between.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another Blast

There has been another blast in Pakistan ... Rawalpindi! And, right next door to the Army HQ. This, to my mind, has serious implications. Not just for Pakistan, but for India, too. Not that this is politically as sensitive as the Karachi blasts, but this brings out the point that the Jihadis are becoming more and more open about their activities ... trying to hit at the heart of the establishment (read the Army), in Pakistan. How much more would it take for them to replicate this in India? How much is the figurative distance for these people from Rawalpindi to Rajkot?

The Pakistan Army is hitting out at militant hideouts in Swat. Maybe, one day, they ill realize that a terrorist is a terrorist. That, a terrorist has no ideology, no affiliations ... And, has no problems bombing Pakistan, just as he has no problems bombing places in India. And, in the end, it is people, common people, who would die. Who have to die, unnecessarily, in a conflict which they probably dont even understand, much less, care for.

Maybe its time the Army and the ISI consider terrorists for what they are ... fomenting terror! Tackling them with an iron fist ... Thats the solution? Not many people who would think so. But, having said that, thats probably the solution that works best. Because, thats the language they would understand ... As we have seen in the lesson India has learnt from Punjab. Can India Pakistan collaborate? Can we break the barrier that we have built between ourselves, and build a better world for people on both sides of the border?

Social Computing@Delta

I came across a blog about the adoption of social computing at Delta. Nice read ... Brings out some of the benefits that can be expected leveraging social computing tools as part of a marketing and PR toolkit. There are, though, a few thoughts I had about this:

1. First of all, this is all about adoption. I have written about this before, and by definition, the whole magic of social computing revolves around adoption, or participation. It has been called the "participatory web", but without getting into terminology, depends purely on the way the participants see it. In the examples of a lot of companies, they have not been able to build traction with their customer communities towards social computing, where the customers see these as just another useless thing the company wants them to waste their time upon. Which is why, it is extremely important to understand what the customer wants before jumping into this. If the customer is simply looking for a transaction, or a sales relationship/delivery partnership, maybe this is not the right model (though this is counter-intuitive, since social computing can add far more value in that scenario). Or, maybe, this scenario may work better in a B2C rather than a B2B scenario (sorry to bring those terms back, but typically, industrial buyers tend to be more hooked into talking with salesreps, and complaining about their stupid policies).

2. When discussing adoption of social computing, it is common practice to build scenarios which describe how people would behave or respond to social computing tools in their environment or cultural setting. These scenarios are built in a context where there is usually an attempt to second-guess human behaviour. It is quite a usual thing to hear statements like "people would look at this blog in this way" ... This is essentially second-guessing, and the participants in the debate tend to emphasize on their own preferences, and sort of project them on their audience. This is not an altogether healthy practice, and we must look at more psychlogical and statistical inferences that can be drawn from case studies of organizations who have already treaded the path. Though, I am looking for psychological studies which can define, to some extent, the way people look at social computing, and how it impacts their thinking. Any inputs more than welcome!

Something about Social Computing

You cn blame this post on the M&A class in the management program. According to management theory, whenever there are transactions that are happening in the value chain of an organizations, these transactions have a cost associated with them. In some scenarios, the cost of internalizing these transactions (which includes acquisition activity), is less than the cost associated with externalizing these transactions (outsourcing them). Which route the organization follows depends on the relative costs of these.

Lets take an example ... Say you have a production line. On a production line, each worker is an employee of the organization. Could we turn this around, and look at a scenario where they are not? Lets take a scenario where each worker on the production line is a separate company, an external entity. While the production line might function as effectively as it would if all of them were employees, the cost of transactions, including contracting costs, and the like, would be quite high, which is why this scenario doesnt really happen in real life. In other words, there is a scenario possible where each step of the work done in the organization is performed by an external entity, but this model is not very viable, and hence, is not to be found in the world of business. Or so management theory tells us.

Let us now extend this example to the realm of "knowledge work". Let us take a scenario where each aspect of the knowledge work in the organization is taken care of by en external entity. Again, the costs associated with externalizing these transactions is very high (and, in certain industries, these could include the costs of contracting, the costs of synchronization, etc.). So, in a marketing process, the market segmentation is done by one entity, the targetting is done by another entity, and the positioning is done by another entity. The copy is produced by a separate entity, approved by another one, and executed by another one.

Let us now bring in social computing into this scenario. With the collaborative mechanisms which are available to us, this scenario can be theoretically operationalized. Each such transactional process, for example, could have a wiki page, which brings together all the participants in the process to a single place, where they can work on a single set of assumptions, a single set of documents, and a single set of deliverables for their downstream customers.

While we are quite a bit away from working in a scenario, we are moving in this direction. Oranizations are already using wikis for managing complex projects, which are being delivered across multiple locations. What this means is, that to some extent, the costs of externalizing transactions (and bringing in the best of capabilities that are available globally in that particular transaction), are being reduced by social computing. And this has the potential of changing the way companies do business. This is already happening, and more of this is to follow, but I wanted to put this entire thing in perspective.

This is not to say that this is going to be a smooth transition. As we have seen with the music industry, the entrenched players would not necessarily like this idea (neither does Mr Bill Gates like Linux), but the fact remains that successful business models of the future would be created using this model, where successful companies would make money by deploying this model, to varying degrees, and by building on top of this model.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Disconnect Somewhere

I have been thinking about this for some time ... In fact, ever since I created an account over at feedburner which I think is really cool. This allows you to keep a track of who all are connecting to you. Nice thing ... In fact, if you look at it carefully, this is the market share equivalent of the web 2.0 world. While the parallel may not be exact, the idea is similar. And, something like this is required to take the idea of blogs to the next level. I have written about the requirement for aggregators and how they are required more to make a little bit of sense of this all. For example, I have subscribed to more than 10 blogs over at google reader, but I probably only follow 4 to 5 of them on a regular basis.

Though, that is not the reason I am writing this post. The reason I am writing this post has to do with the data I am seeing over at feedbrner. While I am in India, and most of my experiences are coming from the perspective of the KM practitioner working in India, in he Indian market, if you juxtapose two pieces of information on top of this, the picture is quite queer.

Firstly, google trends ... I tried to see the trends for who is searching for Knowledge Management. The trend results are not surprising. Actually, they would have been a few months back, but I had read a post about this earlier, so this didnt come as a surprise ... The epicentre of KM search (most people searching for the term KM ... though, what they are doing that for, I am yet to figure out), comes from Asia. The top 10 countries are ... Malaysia, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Taiwan, United Kingdom ... Add to this the fact that KM is hot ... The largest growing sector in India still happens to be IT and ITeS. And, these companies are investing heavily in KM.

Now, add to this the data from feedburner ... Nobody from India subscribes to my blog, inspite of KM being a hot area in India! :-( I am not quite sure why, and this is the disconnect that I am thinking about. Any thoughts, anyone?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Management Thoughts ... Chak De!

A lot has been said about the teamwork ethos that Chak De! brings out. The movie is about the coach bringing together a set of individuals, who play good hockey, and transforms them into a team. There are 16 girls, who are slated to play for India at the Women's Hockey World Cup (Melbourne). How a set of individuals evolves into a world beater team. An amazing movie, and quite interesting, too. There are, however, a few things I wanted to write ... Add to the cacophony, you might say!

While the movie brings out the ethos of teamwork, and how, a set of individuals, working towards a common goal, can achieve anything, as can be seen by India beating Australia, and picking the World Cup, there are a few things which also must be considered.

First, is the leader, in this example, the coach. A brilliant man, who understands that the entire team needs to work as a single unit. That even the most experienced player must sit out a few matches, if that is going to help the team win. In other words, get the team to put the team above the individuals. However, this is easier said than done, and what a lot of folks have commented on this, ignores the fact that this can be done only, and only by developing passionate resolve. This kind of passionate resolve is usually lacking in most organizations, and a lot of leaders, while singing odes to teamwork, dont invest too much of their emotional capital into developing passion.

Another thing which needs to be brought out ... Individual brilliance. This is a given in a national team, where the best of the best come together, to play for the nation. Having said that, there is one lesson which we might want to consider ... In organizations, today, the command and control aspect of mangement is fast losing its way, and is being replaced by a more "democratized" way of doing things. Gone are the days when the managers were supposed to know everything, and the others were supposed to just follow. This is something coach Kabir Khan ably demonstrates when he tells the team to just go and play ... Chak De! The aspect of tapping into the "wisdom of the crowd" is not too apparent. Having said that, this would reflect what happens in most organizations ... Where the wisdom of the crowds is paid lip service to, and the thoughts of a set of managers are what the company is run by. This, to a lot of folks, is set to change, and change it will, considering the way social computing is putting the tools for collaboration into the hands of everyone.

Lastly, though, the point to be made is that the movie brings out the idea of a shared passion, and teamwork very well, and this also shows something else ... That a story is worth more than the number of words in it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rationalism ... Contd.

There was a very interesting comment which Mr. Nanavaty posted on my post the other day. Just thought I would blog a little on that.

First of all, let me say that I agree with Mr. Nanavaty's observations. But, what I am trying to say is that while there are certain things that Science knows (or shall I say, the current state of scientific knowledge is aware of), there are yet others which we may not be aware of. As you rightly said, there are things for which we dont yet have scientific proof, one way or the other. All I am asking here, is that till such a time as we have proof, let us not debunk theories. God, to me, shall always remain about personal Faith. But, other phenomenon, while eluding proof at the moment, may not be so, in the future. So, let us not negate them just because we cannot affirm them.

To add to this, let us also understand that all that we see may or may not be. There was an article in the Guradian, about how scientists have been able to induce out of body experience in a laboratory setting. What this points to is, that what we see may not always be, and what is, we may not always be able to see. Or, take the instance of research on the bionic eye. People without sight being able to see. What this points to is that there are, at times, things which are beyond the scope of our reasoning. There was an article (I cant seem to find the link to that), about the Universe expanding from the Big Bang singularity at speed greater than the speed of light. THis, and other experiments have brought out facts which show that the constant c is not unbreakable.

Which is why, all i ask for is an open mind, both ways! Nothing more is what I request. If, by this, we can take our understanding of the world around us to the next level (to me, whether we do it using rationalistic tools, or philosophical, is not as important as developing an understanding, though I do believe that at any point, we shall never have arrived, which means that we shall probably never reach a point of knowing all, somewhat like limit x --> 0), that would be something which would be very nice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Enterprise 2.0 Lessons from Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe write about the State of Enterprise 2.0 in a very nice post. Here, he talks about two things. To quote:

The big question for many of those on the fence now is: 1) Do we now have the right capabilities in terms of ready Enterprise 2.0 products? And 2) Do we generally understand how to apply them properly to obtain good returns on our investment in them? Knowing the answers to both questions will almost certainly tell us if we’re ready for mainstream adoption of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 any time soon.

If we look at this, there are two questions ... one around the technology, and one around the people. With respect to technology, its quite simple to say that technology, while leading the transformation of organizations, is, in a way, also slowing it down. There are times when you find so many things which you would like to see in your social computing kit, but they are not there. To be fair, since this is early days, I would expect technology to scale up to this quite soon, and more so because by its very nature, social computing is about getting the non-experts to take it up. Bottomline, this is the simpler piece to address.

The second piece, the people, is slightly trickier. While on the surface, it can be expected that adoption would be quite robust, that doesnt seem to happen in a lot of organizations. In some instances, its because of technology restrictions, but in most others, it seems to be inertia. Couple with this the fact that social computing is bound to ruffle more than a few feathers, this is an interesting thing to handle. I have written about this here, and here. Building on from there, the larger "democratization" of work would lead to changing structures in the organization. In other words, social computing is getting people at all levels of the organizations collaborating, and has the potential of turning everyone into thought leaders. Not exactly, but somewhat ... Fact is, there are organizations that celebrate this. These are organizations which realize the fact that path-breaking innovation could come from anywhere. And, that process improvement is also something which anyone, anywhere, at any level of the organization can drive. This is an important lesson, and one which needs to be leveraged for organizations, if they would like to see breakthrough growth going forward.

In addition to this, the lessons Dion writes about are quite interesting, too ... One important point he makes is that people would need to be made aware, or trained in the use of social computing tools. This, at a level seems counter-intuitive, but the fact is, in a lot of organizations, you end up having scenarios where people look at these tools as yet another thing that is thrown at them, which is not really going to add value to them. And therein lies the problem. Social computing, to my mind, rests on one basic word ... Participation. And, if we look at it this way ... Participation doesnt happen till people see value, and by its basic definition, social computing doesnt generate value for people without participation. And, this, to my mind, is going to be the cycle that organizations will have to break, in order to generate greater adoption. There is also the important aspect that social computing is not the all in all. In other words, its not that social computing is going to be the last word on computing. There are going to be a lot of applications, which would remain, whether they be your ERP implementation, or whether it be your Supply Chain software. However, these would merge at some point, though it remains to be seen how. SAP is already working on this. And of course, I couldnt agree more with Dion when he says ...

Enterprise 2.0 is more a state of mind than a product you can purchase.

Considering that this is about the people more than the technology, this is the bottomline which needs to be kept in mind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Training and KM Conundrum

I am reading a book ... Beyond Training and Development, by William J. Rothwell. The book is dedicated to the subject of Human Performance Enhancement. To be honest, I had never heard of the subject before I picked up the book. Or, rather, was gifted the book, and decided to read it. I just began reading, so I am yet to figure out how the book is, and what I think about the subject.

But, I get the feeling I am going to thoroughly relate to this. Let me explain. A lot of this doesnt seem like its all Greek to me. Two reasons ... One, I come from a training background, and have spent a large part of my working life in the training industry (a la Oracle University). So the entire lifecycle of training is not new to me. But, and this is interesting ... I read a Case Study in the book ... which is introducing the way the training department should evolve to more than simply training, the old fashioned way (something on those lines. Bear with me, I will surely write more). And, as I read this Case Study, i was thinking how this Case Study could be one which could be used to explain and illustrate the requirement and the applicability of concepts like Communities of Practice to students who may be completely new to the subject. True, the author comes up with a solution which is training oriented, but the fact is, I could see a solution to the problem more in the realm of KM rather than Training.

Which brings me to the question ... Where does Training end, and KM begin? The way I see it, the line can be quite imaginary at times. If the point of both is skills enhancement, then they are essentially two parts of the same machine. But, if the point of Training is to run as per a calendar, rather than developing skills (which, by definition, has to be in accordance with the larger organizational context), then the two cannot be part of a single sub-system. Or, one could develop a working distinction ... Acquisition of new skills ... Training, dissemination of existing skills ... KM. But, this definition doesnt quite hold true, either. Remember T3?

I have written about this conundrum before. Though, I am no closer to finding the answer to the question I raised than I was then. But, the fact is, that unless the two work in synchronization, you might end up having a scenario where you have a train, with two locomotives at the two ends, pulling the train in two different directions. Bottomline, make sure Training supplements the KM need, or you could look at it the other way round, depending on whether you work in KM, or Training.

Virtual Worlds -- The Elephant Dances?

I came across a very interesting blog by Caleb Booker over at Metaversed. He is writing about a press release by IBM and Linden Labs about their working together in the virtual worlds space. The theme here is interoperability. The idea that people can seamlessly work across virtual worlds (I dont know of any which has caught the imagination the way Second Life has). And, I have written about this earlier. Sure, IBM is betting big on virtual worlds. And, they sure have generated the excitement of having the possibility of changing the way we do things (read half a million L$ a month in spendings, but this has to go way beyond e-commerce, or should we call it v-commerce).

Caleb writes about the technical issues this could come across. And, a few thoughts which have been posted by readers. Point is, standards are only going to take this thus far. Make them rigid, an this would simply end up stifling creativity, and the very reason for the success of Linden Labs may turn out to spawn the next generation SL, which may not be exactly to the liking of the duo. Me, not being a technical oriented guy (some refer to me as the original tech dinosaur ... T-Rex?), I would look forward to see what IBM and Linden Labs come up with. For one, it would be nice to retain user-names across virtual worlds. Your name wouldnt change if you began living on Mars, would it? Though, this would probably take some doing ... We are yet to reach a scenario where we can have a single mail address across domains. The problem is similar, wouldnt you think?

Another thing this does highlight, though ... Lou Gerstner was right when he titled his book. Big Blue yet again is showing that it is very nimble on its feet ... Taking something quite a few in the world still look at as gaming, to the level of the business changer. Of course, this would require a lot of tango, but I am sure they are up to it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pop Rationalism

There is a magazine called Savvy ... Its supposed to be a women's magazine. No, the audience doesnt matter, nor am I trying to say that its a girlie mag or anything of the kind. The only reason I am writing about this is an article ... Its an interview with rationalist Prabhakar Nanawaty, who is talking about Regression Therapy.

Mr. Nanawaty has a quaint, and old fashioned way of debunking things ... To quote the gentleman ...

The experts in the hypnotic 'regression' are of the opinion that hypnosis may implant erroneous memories.

Point taken, Mr. Nanawaty. But, the question I would have is ... Why is it that the so-called 'scientific' method relies so much on presence rather than absence? For example, the scientific method insists on the presence of proof for existence rather than presence of proof for non-existence. Why is this? If you have not been able to prove the existence of ghosts, nor have you been able to dis-prove it. So, why should we take the scientific method, one way or the other? To take the scientific method ... This does not have a positive for the absolute zero temperature. This is defined as the temperature where all atomic motion comes to a halt. In other words, cold is the absence of heat, not a stte by itself.

Given this kind of a scenario, it might be nice if the scientific minded people in the world were to consider their viewpoint, rather than trying to rubbish anything which they cant prove. It might be a commentary on their proving capabilities rather than on the existence of the phenomenon. And, they may do the wise thing, and remember Albert Einstein ...

Every generation commits the mistake of assuming the finality of their knowledge.

Pujo Celebrations

This is the time of year ... and, this is the day of year. Mixed emotions ... There is the joy of Pujo, and the sadness ...

Aashchhe borchhor, aabaar hobe ...

This is the magic of Durga Puja. This is the time of year, which is considered auspicious. The month of Shraadh (the month of paying respects to departed ancestors) has come to a close, and Autumn is whispering in the breeze. The whisper tells of the coming song of winter. And, all across the country, Dassahra is celebrated with great gusto. Of course, the celebrations take on different forms in different parts. Whether it is the Navratte for Punjab, or the Navratri for Gujarat, or the Dassahra celebrated with the pomp and splendour of the palace of Mysore, or Durga Puja.

Like any other part of the world where Bengalis are to be found, there was Durga Puja at DLF, Gurgaon, too. There is a very nice Pujo celebrated in our part of town. This is the occassion, too, for meeting a lot of friends, and of course, ensuring each other that we must meet up soon (which usually doesnt happen, because the next time we would meet is next Pujo).

There is the Shondhi Pujo which, to my mind, is the high point of the celebrations. This is the moment when Ma Durga killed Chanda and Munda. This is the moment when the energy of creation is said to be present at her peak in the form of the Goddess. At the risk of being called crazy, I think this might actually be so. There is a strange, subtle difference to be seen. Last year, it was Energy ... the energy of creation, and this year ... Peace ... the peace of tranquility.

Last night, we had the famous Bangla band Chandrabindu playing here. I am sure there are better sites with far more information about the band there, but then, hey ... why not wikipedia! The show was quite nice ... though, i must say ... they lack stage presence. For some reason, the show was a let down after having heard to their music on CDs for more than 3 years. The sound was not exactly totally there, and the presence on screen, unlike on CD, is not captivating. And, Anindya, for some reason, reminds of Rituparna. Sorry, Anindya ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Another Common Problem

I had once met a guy from Faisalabad (erstwhile Lyallpur ... or so I knew it as, growing up, and for some reason, it took me a long time to fathom that the two are the same city ... or, almost so!). This was at Changi Airport. At Changi, the smoking room is an eclectic mix of people ... people from probably all faiths, and more than a handful of nationalities. There were Japanese (or maybe they were Koreans ... as you know, i couldnt make out one from the other). And of course, the Chineses ... Australians, and Indians ... um, Pakistanis! Phew ... I almost mistook one for the other there. But then, isnt that quite a natural mistake to make? And, is the mistake even an important one?

Well, coming back to the point ... You know how it is (or maybe you dont, so let me explain ...). As individuals, we love each other. As nations, we hate each other. And, its almost the norm for an Indian and a Pakistani, meeting each other, to extoll the shared heritage. It invariably boils down to that ... at least on the surface. Well, we were not going to be any different. And, there was an interesting thing he said to me ...

Gurbat twaadde paasse vi aa, te saadde paasse vi!

Poverty (actually, I dont think I can think of a word which is a literal translation of gurbat), is there on your side, as well as on ours. So true. But, looks like poverty is not the only problem the two neighbours, the estranged neighbours are facing, as shown by the bomb blasts which shook Karachi (I would sy, the entire Pakistan, and a lot of India, too). May they shake up the entire world ... at least the two embittered neighbours ... into realizing that bombs, guns, terror are not the solution to anything. That Pakistan has not learnt from ancient wisdom ... That the Snake will bite the hands that feeds it. Be it the Lal Masjid episode at Islamabad, or the Hyderabad blasts, or Ajmer, Srinagar, or Karachi ... Wheres the difference? How are the Kashmir blasts different from the Karachi blasts? Not at all. So, why should we treat them as being different? And maybe we should just stop and think ... maybe, just maybe ... its not us versus them. Its just humanity versus terror?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Adoption of Knowledge Management?

Lot said about social computing. Indeed, social computing tools, and the resultant social networks are changing the the way people work and interact. Definitely a qualitative shift from the web 1.0 that we have been living with for what seems like quite some time now. A lot has also been written about the fact that KM is all about people. Technology is only the enabler.

However, there is a conundrum which a lot of Knowledge Managers face. There have even been books written ... There is The Attention Economy by Thomas Davenport which I must get round to reading (I guess I will do that after my exams, and The Knowledge Creating Company ... ya, theres still folks who havent read that!). What this means is that people have more and more sources of information, and more and more social networks ... like i have written earlier ... And there is less and less time ... with managers demanding more and more from the same amount of time that people are putting in at the office, there is a serious concern of adoption.

A lot of companies out there are grappling with this issue. While the infrastructure can be built up ... the blogging software, and the wikis are in place, but people are not writing! Even over at IBM, a page about blogging tells us that IBM has close to 12000 blogs. Luis has written about this ... and, a very nice presentation about Social Media at IBM, but the important point i would look at is that this represents around 3% of the population at IBM. While the numbers are huge, what this implies is that there is a huge potential for adoption of tools. Now, this is by no means something peculiar to IBM (and I am sure the scene is even worse at other organizations), the fact is that this means that a lot of people, and hence, a lot of the knowledge floating out there is still not getting into the mainsteram of the knowledge flow patterns of the organization.

Try asking someone why they dont use social computing tools (especially when they feel strongly that these are quite nice), and the most probable reply is ... Wheres the time! Sure enough, time is a big constraint. Add to this that more and more organizations with a regular KM initiative, talk about it in terms more of the infrastructure, and enablers that they have put in place, rather than in terms of the number of people, or percentage, who are embracing, or even adopting them. The question that this raises is ... How does one encourage adoption? Its like this ... People wont adopt social media till they find value there, and by definition, social media wont generate value for people unless more and more people adopt them. What came first ... the Chicken or the Egg?