Sunday, September 30, 2007

Generating Knowledge

While this is a question that has been asked over and over, without us being any closer to the answer, nevertheless, it is important to develop an understanding of how people generate knowledge. For, unless we understand this, how can we, or today's organizations, find out how to maximize this, how to facilitate knowledge creation? While I am not trying to come up with a solution, I am trying to develop a framework. I would think its a simplistic one, but this is not meant to be an elaborate one. Also, I believe that if you take a complex concept, and put it into a particular context, then it becomes quite simple, almost like describing something with an example.

Of course, this doesnt have a starting point (a circle doesnt have one), but we must begin somewhere. So, we will begin with an individual. This individual, through reading, training, or observation, develops an understanding about something. This understanding is placed in a context (which actually could be quite different from the original context, in which it was developed, for example, classroom versus on-the-job) by actually doing, and experiencing. This is the first step.

Once this individual knowledge has been developed, it is shared. This sharing is done in a number of ways, like storytelling (this is getting to be a bit of a fad), or at times, even unknowingly. For example, others might actually learn something simply by observing you, or seeing what you do in a particular scenario, and so on. This sharing of knowledge is by itself generating new knowledge, in the form of a shared understanding, or a shared model. This is the second step, and leads to a repitition of the first step.

I admit that this is a rather simplistic model, but it takes care of a few things. To begin with, it takes care of the concept of generating knowledge by sharing. Also, it takes care of the multitude of vectors which facilitate the movement of knowledge in directions and ways which are not fully understood (though it doesnt quite explain them). The drawback is that it doesnt take into consideration the nature of the knowledge being considered, whether explicit or implicit. This model assumes that the mechanism of assimilating and sharing varies based on the classification, but not the basic process.

I believe this model can be used to develop more complex models for the generation of knowledge in the organization, and I look at this only as a first step. Of course, if you look at this closely, you will be able to discern the similarly with the SECI model, but the fact is, this is focussing on the individual mechanism of learning, while the SECI model describes the mechanisms for transformation of knowledge from one form into another. Needless to say, this model must be looked at in conjunction with the SECI model, to develop a fuller picture.

All thoughts, feedback, doubts, clarifications ... more than welcome!

Your Friendly Red Neighbour

What do Bangladesh and India have in common? Both have a red neighbour ... OK, so I tried to pre-empt your guesses, because Bangladesh and India do have a lot in common, including the famed, self-professed Bengali intelligentsia! But I wanted to guide your answer to one particular avenue, that is to the red neighbour Bangladesh has ... aka West Bengal, or Poshchim Bongo ... Who see red in just about anything anybody does.

Take the example of the 123 agreement. I know a lot of the blogosphere has been talking about this ... there was an article in the ToI today, titled Bengal urgently needs industry which is based on a dialogue with Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The CM talks about a pro-Soviet lobby (as in the past, it would seem), and there were those who followed the China line during the 1962 war (a border dispute). While every citizen of the country to hold whatever opinion they feel like, one must ask ... What does one say of people who toe the enemy line during hostilities?

Sadly, this is not just relegated to the past. The blogosphere is abuzz with thoughts that the Left is toeing the Beijing line. Read this for an example. What does the Congress do? I think the Congress would do well to go it alone ... There is plenty of support in the country for the deal, and the country shouldnt let one element of a coalition hold the entire country to ransom.

This should be taken in the light of the fact that China is doing far more with respect to their energy security than India is. Neither is China per se opposed to nuclear power, nor are they allergic to working out a similar deal with Pakistan (its been reported in the press, but I cant seem to find the link). For one, India is hampered by the relationship with Pakistan. We dont seem to be having a strategic outlook with the Indo-China region, nor do we seem to be having an integrated policy towards the Central Asian Republics. There is huge scope for India to work very closely with them, but somewhere, we seem to be losing the race. While we might well say that "slow and steady wins the race", but the fact remains, we are not doing anything close to running. Add to this the fact that we dont even seem to have a policy towards exploitation of renewable resources, be it solar, or wind energy (we have plenty of them, as I am sure anybody student of Geography would agree!). Why cant we, for example, take a leaf out of the Dutch book, in the form of windmills? Surely, this is not a Quixotic idea?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Competitive Advantage and Knowledge ...

I came across a quote (thanks, Prof. Prashant) ...

Where absolute superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skilful use of what you have.

This is from the legendary, early 19th century Prussian soldier, Karl von Clausewitz. A telling commentary on what it takes to win at battle. And, he should know. Today's business environment, at times, is nothing short of it. Would it be too much to say that some principles of war could be applied to the corporate world?

Let us look at this quote, and analyze different parts of this.

When absolute superiority is not attainable ... this is the usual scenario in today's world, as I am sure all of us would agree.

You must produce a relative superiority ... Its enough to be able to run faster than the rest, and not necesarrily at the fastest possible (speed of light?)

At the decisive point ... those little everyday moments when you have to take one of those multitude of decisions as part of your job role (this is not about whether you want Tea, or Coffee)

By making skilful use of what you have ... knowledge!

It stands to reason that the more we have, the easier it is for us to create the relative advantage that is required, at the decisive points. After all, these decisive points are numerous in our daily working life.

Hence, KM ...

Social Networking ... Behind the Firewall

I came across a very interesting blog post about Why Social Networks Don't Work for Business where Paul Pedrazzi talks about the two major reason for social networks not working for business ... Trust. And, that, once you have trusted sources, then you need content.

While I agree with Paul, I would like to add another aspect to this, and that is relevance. I would say it is relevance and trust which together bring value to a social network. While there are a lot of people who are digg ing, it is also a fact that information overload is something which is a very important phenomenon. For example, I have been thinking of reading all those nice things people read, one of these days, but never coming round to them, because theres just so many of them.

Which is why the idea of the internal social network is very appeling. In fact, this is something I have written about earlier, here, here, and here. The primary question I am asking is, why is it that organizations are not catching up on the ideas of social networking within the context of the organization, especially when the benefits seem to be so straightforward.

Chinese Toys ...

There was this one doing the rounds ...

Chinese officials have recalled one ton of lead ... It was suspected to contain toys.

While this might be funny, the controversy isnt. Imagine what our children are playing with. And, it ceases to be funny at all. The ToI ran an article about Chinese toys, jewellery being recalled due to excessive amounts of lead. Sure, this is a reflection of the industry. But, more than that, is it the way large organizations are besotted with China. Be it Leo Mattel, or be it Boeing. One would shudder to think if Being's parts were recalled! Not a pleasant thought at all.

Though, this is art of the larger picture which is being missed out. Sure, China is the emerging superpower. They are the largest market in the world. But, they are authoritarian (or so we are told). Does any of this matter? Looks like in the pursuit of "globalization", there is nothing but the profit motive which matters. Though, taken from the larger picture's view, India should be alarmed. That the Chinese are expanding aggresively into Indo-China is public knowledge. And, one is not sure whether Government of India even has a policy to counter the Chinese expansion. Belatedly, there was an article about deployment of a Sukhoi squadron at Tezpur. One squadron to manage the Chinese threat?

More than the military threat (one would Hope it doesnt come to The Dragon Fire scenario), its the diplomatic piece which needs to be considered. The Indian Government doesnt seem to have any coherent policy to engage neighbours. If anything, we seem to be disengaged, if Bangladesh is anything to go by. More than Bangladesh, I would think there has to be a policy of positive, aggressive engagement with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. These are the no-man's land in international geopolitics, but not for long, and it is in our interest to make sure they are not.

Innovation and KM

There is a rather interesting Book I am reading these days ... Marketing as Strategy by Nirmalya Kumar. I am sure you must have figured out that it is not out of any love for the subject, but out of the fact that the Exam is on Saturday.

But he writes an interesting piece about innovation. While he is writing about the idea of Breakthrough Innovation, and illustrates the point with how Sony manages it, this piece got me thinking about the applicability of KM. The following are my drowsy thoughts on the subject (ya, ya, I have been awake quite early writing this ...).

Breakthrough innovation that reshapes the industry usually occurs in bursts in an organization, and is interspersed with large extents of incremental innovation. These periods of incremental innovation can get quite prolonged, even to the extent of eliminating the innovative component of the organization, with the result that the organization, during these periods, faces the possibility of losing its competitive thrust, and move from a company that is market-driving, to a company that is market-driven.

Lot of organizations are looking for ways to prevent this. While I am not saying KM is the panacea for this (cannot be), at one level, KM is an essential ingredient of this. One could say that the key is to create a culture of innovation, but if it were that simple, we would be working with innovation 3.5 by now. But we are not.

Lets look at the transition from disruptive to incremental innovation. An organization which can drive disruptive innovation obviously has been able to achieve success with the innovation cycle. But, the challenge faced by the organization is to ingrain innovation as part of its "corporate DNA". But, in order to do this, the organization needs to understand the concept of innovation, and this understanding of innovation must permeate different parts of the organization.

What does this require?

  • An understanding of what is innovation, what consitutes the phenomenon, and an understanding of the boundaries of the definition.
  • An understanding of the motivation for the disruptive mode of innovation (after all, it didnt happen by chance, and even if it did, there needs to be a way to understand the chance factor, and determine how that can be leveraged repeatedly).
  • An understanding of the process (in terms of people, and organizational processes). When I am talking about people processes, I am essentially talking about the thinking processes which led to the landmark.
  • An understanding of the organizational structure which led to the breakthrough (though this does not necessarily mean that the same organizational structure by itself would lead to a repeat burst, but then, none of the things I am writing about would, by themselves, manage the change!).
  • An understanding of the relationship of the innovation with the larger organizational context, in terms of market structures, the organizational business and strategic scenario, and related concepts which make up the business context in which the organization is operating.

As you can see, all of these ingredients which are essential chapters in the book of innovation, are not things which can be documented. Having said that, it is very improtant to have the answers to these questions, these elements of understanding, to permeate the larger organization milieu. And this is where KM needs to play role. Like I said, this is not to say that KM is driving innovation, but surely, as a management discipline, can play a facilitating role. This is something which is largely ignored from the perspective of KM practitioners, because the emphasis is not there on connecting KM with organizational processes, and even where there is the emphasis, it is more of embedding knowledge sources into transactional processes, and not tactical or strategic processes. Though, in this context, I think storytelling can play a vital role. More on this in my next post.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Taxonomy versus Search

I am being so web 1.0 as I write this post ... Whoever is thinking about taxonomy today, what with the emergence of folksonomy as a major mover in the content space. But, this is a question worth asking. And, a question which probably doesnt have a straight-forward answer. Or, if there is one, then I dont know it (anyone out there could give it to me?). There is a lot written out there about the benefits of taxonomy vis vis folksonomy (and both of them have many), but search ...

The question I am asking ... Is search relevant? For example, when google searches for a document, it doesnt necessarily depend on tags to search. Can we extend this to say that if we can make search more powerful (assuming we can), would that make taxonomy more redundant? Doubtless, taxonomy makes search simpler. But, this brings up another question ... How much taxonomy is enough taxonomy.

Penny Crosman, for example, mentions 10 reasons for using taxonomy which make sense to a certain level, but beyond that, I find it hard to agree with them. For example, one of the reasons she mentions is to "make corporate assets more accessible". However, there is sch a thing as too much taxonomy. It is tempting to create a very rigorous structure, which is too detailed. While this does improve search, it also tends to discourage people from contributing their nuggets to a KM system (the why do they want me to fill out all this information syndrome).

The point here is that there are folks who prefer to use a defined, hierarchical navigation to find a document they want, and then there are folks who detest navigation, as can be seen by the popularity of search. Which means, that the design of such a system has to tread a middle path quite carefully, so as not to lose out on the advantages of taxonomy, while at the same time, not overdoing it.

The question then is ... How? I would look at a methodology which is based on the reason for the documentation. This is to ask the question ... Why are people contributing documents here. Why are people searching for documents here. I think the answer to the question of where the middle path lies in the answers to questions like these. Making the entire discussion more complex is the fact that its not just about what people do, what are the things which could make it much easier for them to find documents (a la disruptive innovation!).

The other extreme is, of course, no taxonomy, and a powerful search (assuming such a thing exists). This is a surefire way to make sure that people are not able to find what they are looking for. Because, unless the search is powerful, they may not find what they are looking for. To give you an example, I was search for KM on technorati some time back, and I came across quite a few hits for F1 racing, and automobile reviews (km/hr is what technorati was showing me).

The way I see it ... Taxonomy should cover the basics ... The reasons why people contribute, and why people search ... Anything more would, in all probability, be counter-productive.


Kolkata has faced quite heavy rains over the last few days. But, this one is not about the rains, but the forecaasting with them. The met department at Alipore forecast a clear day Monday, based on the prediction that the atmospheric depression woul move towards Orissa. This, actually, was borne out by folks at a shipping compan who said that the weather pattern had actually moved away from West Bengal. But somehow, Kolkata received more massive rains on Monday, than it did on Sunday.
Not content with that, the met office predicted "Terrible Tuesday", with heavy rains, and guess what ... bright and sunny Tuesday. By then, though, Kolkatans were in s frame of mind that if someone switched on the fan, they got scared because they thought that it had begun raining again.
A beautiful phenomenon ... the Monsoons ... the harbinger of joy, of fertifility to a culture parched by the Summer ... when children love to get wet in the rain, when "Saawan ke jhoole lag gaye ...", has been converted into a scene where people have to wade through waist high water, and instead of sitting on the balcony, and enjoying garam-garam Chai, with Pakodas, they are wondering about how they will make it to the Office tomorrow. And all this, when we are celebrating the Incredible !ndia @ 60 campaign in New York ...

Read Lips

There is an excellent report by National Geographic which talks about the way the brain recognizes faces (thanks, Manu). This makes the point that the brain of the Macaque Monkey has a portion of the brain that is dedicated to the brain. One would expect the same for humans, too! There is also a very nice blog about this here.

What are the implications? In a purely online interaction between people, this portion of the brain is starved of stimuli, and one would think that this would lead to the brain building an incomplete picture of the interaction. This is purely conjecture, but stands to logic, nevertheless. If this is a valid proposition, what follows is what must be a case for face to face interactions. And, that too, in the world of web 2.0.

Though, I would look at this as a case for taking our web 2.0 interactions to the next level (without coming up with a grand term like web 2.5). The question of course is how. This is not so difficult to answer. Introducing the latest social computing tool ... the webcam! One way to look at this (and, not something which is infeasible, because the technology has been around for a long time), is using good old webcams, and voice ... Something which can build the interactions in the community to a level of richness which is missing to a certain extent. Of course, the next challenge would be to record these discussions, and make them persistent.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Global Warming and ... Calcutta!

There is a video presented by Al Gore ... Inconvenient Truth ... Which talks about Global Warming! This talks about global warming, and climate change.

The video talks about land masses changing shape, and large parts of land masses getting submerged in water. This is a real concern. One of the areas which could get submerged in this is Calcutta. My thought ... Do we need Global Warming to do that? Monsoons are enough to achieve this.

Every time it rains in Calcutta, half the city is submerged ... People trying to figure out whether they will be able to reach Office, and if they reach, then trying to figure out whether they will be able to get back home!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Community Performance ...

Bruce Tuckman's team development model has been around, and has been more or less the acceptable theory for team development in organizations. It seems to be founded on sound logic. However, the question I am considering here is not whether this is valid or not, but assuming that it is a valid model, can this model be applied to the communities that we are seeing coming up in our business environment, and communities that we are encouraging as KM practitioners.

I would think, to a certain extent, the model should be applicable to communities as well. After all, we are still the same set of human beings that we were when Bruce Tuckman developed the model. There are, of course, a few differences.

Firstly, the model refers to an ordained leader in the forming stage of the team. However, in a community, the word leader is basically an anathema, because the basic idea of the communty is a group of people who are peers in the professional space. But, once the comunity has been formed, it develops its own patterns, with a core set of people who tend to participate more in the conversation, and a larger group who are content listening in on the conversation. This is the same as in teams, as well in conference-calls. So, in a way, people have their profiles getting developed over a period of time, based on their participation. There is a school of thought that maybe this classification should be formalized in the community, but I believe this would defeat the entire purpose. Sure, the community needs to be pushed along from time to time (something I like to call "constructive intervention"), and this responsibility typically goes to the people in the community who have a high participation profile, but I think this is more because they are the people who are speaking up, rather than any other reason.

In fact, I believe that this constructive intervention is something which is the test of the team. This would show the basic nature of the community, essentially about whether the community is all about participation in a genuine form, or whether the team is hinging on a handful of individuals to run it. The latter probably needs to move to the 5th stage: Adjourning.

Which brings up the question ... Who should indulge in this constructive intervention? I think this, to a large part, must be the responsibility of the KM team. Basically, that there should be some organizational prodding which should move the community forward. While a lot of practitioners look at this as anathema considering the supposed self-forming nature of communities, there is also the paradox of communities, that while they are autonomous, they need direction from the organization (to make sure they are not pulling in the wrong direction), as well as to ensure the communities leverage on the momentum which would typically be generated at the forming stage.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Religion ... Fragile?

Where does this come from? And, why does this tend to make sense to people? Series of incidents over a period of time ... Makes a sham of secularism, and degrades religion, I must say.

First, there is the priestof the Guruvayoor Temple, in Kerala ... Who believes that the Lord is polluted by the presence of a woman in His vicinity. For, the aspect of the Lord worshipped there is the Brahmachari. Question ... Is the woman not the Mother, the Sister? Even the Brahmachari would defer to the Mother! Polluted? How?

Then, there is the incident of the Salman Fatwa ... By an organization based in Bareilley (dont ask me the name, I dont remember) ... They dont like Salman Khan ... have issued a Fatwa against him ... his fault? Attending the Ganapati prayers! Not participating, too, but being in the same room where the Prayers were happening, and clapping with the chanting.

Makes me wonder ... is religion so fragile? Is our God so fragile? Or our faith in Him so fragile? I dont think either of the two ... The first ... cannot be! The second ... should not be. Which is why I look at the M. F. Hussain controversy, and the pseudo-secularism prevalent in the country, not as a religious issue, but as a socio-political issue, as does most of the population in the country.

What I find unnervind, is that such trivial issues tend to inflame passions. There are lots of people who believe that such a trifle can upset their religious or spiritual balance with God. Who believe that something like this is, God forbid, worth killing for. Reminds me of a sher (ok ... I dont remember the poet):

Aaj agar khaamosh rahe, to kal sannata chhaayega,
Har basti mein aag lagegi, har basti jal jaayegi,
Sannaate ke peechhe se bas ek sada phir aayegi,
Koi nahin hai, koi nahin hai, koi nahin hai, koi nahin!

And, the sad part ... Intolerance breeds intolerance! And, an eye for an eye leads to a nation of blind people.

Romance of Punjab

This is going to be a short post ... though heavy on emotions ... This was a sher my Grandfather used to tell me ... A sher which captures the romance of Punjab ... And believe you me, it is an amazing reportoire. After all, the legends of Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Shirhi-Farhad ... The romance of Punjab!

Wagg wagg ve Chenaa deya paaniya,
Tere kandeyaan te aashkaan ne maujaan maariyaan!

Translated ...

Flow on, water of the Chenab,
On your banks, lovers have had pleasant times!

This shows a number of things ... the charm, the romance ... and, the simplicity of Punjabi poetry!

Management by Community

In his recent blog post about inputs by many, Andrew McAfee talks about

why shouldn’t companies take the next logical step and also use the tools to let the crowds themselves make decisions related to this knowledge?

This is a thought provoking question. In fact, this is happening in some places ... There are a handful of organizations which has specific businesses being run by communities ... The basic idea ... The salesrep, or the service engineer who are interacting with customers on a daily basis know more about the requirements of customers, and the problems customers face, much more than their managers sitting in the Office. Is this a valid assumption? Definitely ... Thomas Davenport, and Laurence Prusak, in their book, Working Knowledge, give the example of Kao, Japan's largest household and chemical products manufacturer, where the culture is such that all meeting, including top management meetings are open to any employee. This is ensuring that the ideas of the people who are closest to customers are being heard at the appropriate places, and incorporated in the decision making. The idea of management by communities is simply taking this one step further.

How can we do this? Expecially in an organization which is large, with a geographically dispersed workforce, which comes from very diverse backgrounds ... Thats where we need to look at technology to come in. This is where the ideas of web 2.0 come into the picture, and can enable the kind of collaboration, and "meeting of minds", which could enable a paradigm like the one I am talking about.

Knowledge Access and Internal Facing Social Computing

I came across a post by Andrew McAfee (more about this later) where is he referring to a paper by F. A. Hayek, about The Use of Knowledge in Society. Among other things, F. A. Hayek mentions (and I think I would be writing more about this going forward, but at the moment ...):

It will at once be evident that on this point the position will be different with respect to different kinds of knowledge; and the answer to our question will therefore largely turn on the relative importance of the different kinds of knowledge; those more likely to be at the disposal of particular individuals and those which we should with greater confidence expect to find in the possession of an authority made up of suitably chosen experts. If it is today so widely assumed that the latter will be in a better position, this is because one kind of knowledge, namely, scientific knowledge, occupies now so prominent a place in public imagination that we tend to forget that it is not the only kind that is relevant.

This shows an understanding which we are working towards today, i.e., its not just the elite few who know everything ... That people at all levels in an organization carry a certain kind of knowledge which is useful for them to perform their work.

He also goes on to say:

How much knowledge does he need to do so successfully? Which of the events which happen beyond the horizon of his immediate knowledge are of relevance to his immediate decision, and how much of them need he know?

Now, this is a question that has been obviated by the developments in technology we have witnessed, with electronic databases, and the internet technology, the question of how much the "man on the spot" needs to know is not relevant, because unlike the time when this paper was written, the costs of getting the information the information to the person who needs it have reduced to a considerable extent. Which means, as Andrew McAfee says, in his post The Great Decoupling, organizations today need not constrain themselves in the way they design the processes which influence decision making.

An important point that Andrew makes is of the internal blogosphere. This is an issue I have written about earlier, and my thoughts on this are the this is where the real power of social computing lies ...

The Guru ... Another Post

Yesterday, I had written my thoughts about the importance of the Guru. And today, ToI middle page, which carries a column ... The Speaking Tree ... came out with a column about A Guru to Provide Safe Harbour which talks about the importance of the Guru.

The article contains a beautiful story (one among many that you ould read in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna ...), about the Master's initial interactions with Swami Vivekananda! About how, the Guru can lead you down the road which leads to spiritual upliftment (Salvation would be too heavy a word, when I am a beginner).

It also goes to mention that the Gods themselves sought out Gurus ... So, Lord Krishna's Guru was Sandipani Rishi, and Lord Rama, and Laxman, ha their Guru ... Guru Vasishtha. The Guru, we are told, is to take responsibility of the spiritual life of the disciple, but wait ... First, the disciple must give complete surrender ... Otherwise, this doesnt go any further.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Enterprise Applications and Web 2.0

I came across an interesting article ...

This article discusses how SAP has commissioned a team of "Imagineers" to work on the concept of Web 2.0, and to build a set of applications to enrich their cre ERP and CRM applications. Oracle is talking about the web2.0 concept, too. Though, I am yet to see a post about the strategy Oracle is planning to take with respect to doing a web 2.0 on their set of applications (admittedly a far more complex task, considering the bouquet of products they have). There is word about enabling web 2.0 development but not about the Apps.

This is an interesting development. There has been a thought process out there for quite some time, that at the next level of KM, collaboration strategies (read knowledge sharing strategies), need to be "baked" into business process, and this could be the first step in doing this. SAP is the leader in enterprise software, and if they endorse web 2.0, this would have a large impact on the entire web 2.0 story. More so, I think, because this would bring web 2.0 into the ambit of business applications, and the debate about social networking, which I wrote about earlier, in another post, too, would probably change its course. Of course, we are yet to see the direction that these applications would see, and this, to my mind, would define the direction of the debate, too.

Trust and Knowledge Management

When knowledge is considered power, and hence, hoarding of knowledge is something which is very important to a lot of people (rightly or wrongly, thats a different issue!), a large challenge for KM practitioners is that people may be willing to share. There has been a lot written about the subject.

To add my two bits to the debate, the fact remains that its not necessarily that people dont want to share, or people dont want to help. Man is, after all, a social animal (no, I am using the term to be gender neutral, and will continue to do so), and hence, craves acceptance in a society in which he needs to live and operate. And, helping others is something which is very important to gaining this acceptance. Helping and cooperation has been a part of human society since the ays when ancient man was the hunter-gatherer. But, one major element of this cooperation is trust. Luis Suarez had written about this some time back.

The question now boils down to how to develop this trust. Lets face it ... We are evolving, but having said that, we havent yet evolved to Man 2.0, unlike the Web, or the Enterprise, of even the Knowledge Worker (each of which have version 2.0 out in the market, and being treated as the next best thing in the world of business). And, this implies that a lot of the old fashioned ways of generating trust still hold good. And, the most important way ... meeting someone face to face. I, for one, still feel that there is adegree of comfort, and hence, trust, which is generated once I meet someone face to face. I think its about getting to know the person, to discover the personality of the person ... Not sure I can define this completely, and not sure whether I am qualified to do that either. Let me post this question on LinkedIn (more about LinkedIn, and some of my favourite features later).

Now, the question is, how can this be achieved in virtual teams, and in teams which are geographically dispersed, as most teams today tend to be, with organizations being more and more fashioned around business functions rather than geography, supported by the rise of the Net. And, this is where social computing, and related technologies come into the picture (read mobile phones, actually ...). I am not talking anything fancy here. More like webcams (get to see the person you are interacting with, their body postures, their non-verbal cues), and virtual worlds where you could work, and collaborate in an informal manner (a la secondlife).

The Guru ...

Because our mind can fathom only a particular dimension of an entity that is beyond dimensions ... God ... we tend to believe that there is no dimension save ours! and, if you look at it closely, over the ages, this has been a sore point. whether it be the Crusades, or the persecution of the Jews, or the modern scourge ... Terrorism!

I shudder to think there are people who believe that God has ordered them to kill others. God ... beyond dimenstions, and beyond characteristics ... and yet, of them ... how shall we fathom Him in the shallowness of our minds? Is it at all possible? No, there has to be another level of understanding to begin to understand ... and, this level is where we need to go ... How? If only I knew ... But, I believe that this is where the Guru, the Master, who is Himself at an exalted state can work miracles (though this is not necessarily the only place!).

But first, we must prepare ourselves for the acceptance ... somewhat like the ritual bath? Only, this preparation is not of the body, maybe not even of the mind, but of the spirit ... And, it is an acceptance which is both way ... First of all, we need to accept God without condition! Cynics ask ... If there is God, why is there so much misery? A story comes to mind ... one of those innumerable email forwards ...

There was once a barber. While shaving a customer, they got into a discussion over God. The barber summarily dismissed God, using the same argument. That if there is God, why is there such misery? (This is the argument of the humanist. Extremely laudable, but looking in the wrong direction, I believe ...). The man didnt say anything. He went out after getting the shave ... And came back in a few minutes, declaring to the barber ... You dont exist. What nonsense ... I am standing right in front of you, the barber retorted ... To which the man said ... Then why are there so many people out there with beards? Because they dont come to me, the barber said.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Business Case for KM

This is something a lot of knowledge managers are struggling with ... How do develop a business case for KM. In other words, how to convince the senior managers in the organization that KM is important, and that it is worth the Money they are being asked to invest. To an extent, this is linked to the problems that are faced whenever companies try to value the knowledge they have.

Since there is no way as of yet to measure knowledge, and hence, to associate a ROI number to the KM initiatives, the dilemma is how much to invest. If a business case cannot be developed based on what KM can do for the organization, then we could try the flip test ... What would happen if KM was not there. In other words, how would KM impact business if it werent there. This again is a tricky proposition, but definitely simpler than a rigid analysis.

The key here is to ensure the KM initiative is linked to the strategy of the organization. If one works backwards from the strategy, one can find out which are the critical business processes in the organization, which are what are also called levers of business. Once these are identified, then the task at hand for the knowledge manager is reduced to determining how KM adds value to these processes. This is a far easier thing to do, because, as I wrote earlier, it is far easier to define measurements and value in a specific context than it is to do this in the generic sense.

Noor Jahan

The Light of the World ... So Jahangir named her. But, I am not writing about this. I was just reminded of a sher my Grandfather used to tell me about ... This is the epitaph on Noor Jahan's Maqbara ...

Bar mazar-i-ma ghareeban, nay chiraage nay gule,
Nay par-e-parvana sozad, nay sada-e-bulbule


On the grave of the poor woman, do not light any lamps, nor shower flowers ...
No moths to burn themselves in the fir of the lamp, and no nightingale shall announce her Death!

There ... But I think a lot of the meaning is lost in the translation. But, of course, the beauty remains ...

KM and Training

This is a question that is being asked in a lot of places ... Where does KM fit into the Training Strategy of the organization? Or, maybe, the question need be where Training fits into the KM strategy? Semantics ... Either way, we need to find a way of integrating these.

I was just talking with a friend of mine, where he was mentioning that they do trainings based on work they have done with clients. Interesting thought ... A lot of organizations look at this as KM ... Harvesting learnings from customer facing work, and communicating to the larger community. And here we have a school of thought which looks at this as training.

The problem is, to my mind, that training is seen purely as an in-class, or an e-learning event. Where people listen to someone who is discussing her thoughts about a particular experience she has had. However, if we look at this in the larger context, there is the thought that end of the day, this is all about sharing thoughts and experiences. Dont instructors do the very thing in class? Some people ask where the dividing line between training and KM is. To my mind, there is no such line, and even if there is, it should be ignored to make both the training, and the KM initiatives effective.


Sri Ramakrishna said that a place where God is Worshipped, becomes a holy place. That where the name of God is chanted in true earnest, the vibrations of the Holy Name persist. Thing is, how many of us take His name in true earnest.

This is the feeling I got when I went to Dakshineswar. You can feel the vibrations, the presence of the Holy in the atmosphere. Atmosphere sanctified by the presence of the Master.

Another interesting thing He said ... The Mother would make different dishes for Her children depending on their tastes and constitution. For one child, She would make a Pulao, for another, Curry, and for yet another, a Soup (obviously this was before instant food came in) ... Similarly, God, in all His Divinity, would prepare the dish of Religion based on the tastes of His children. Surely, someone who prefers the road of Bhakti shall not be denied it, one who prefers the road of Gnan wont be denied it, and one who prefers the road of Prayer shall not be denied. End of the day, like all the dishes the Mother makes, these are all Food ... for the Soul.

Why, then, do we fight over trivia? Whose God is better than whose? Is that even a question worth asking? We do find a scenario where we all have beliefs, and at times these beliefs contradict each other. But, surely, in an Infinite Universe, there is place for all beliefs to co-exist?

Can we not follow the path of God? For, thats the only path that shall lead us anywhere!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Virtual Collaboration

The book has been around for some time now, but the ideas presented in the book still hold true, to a very large extent. I am talking about a book titled Working Knowledge - How Organizations Manage What They Know by Davenport and Prusak. This is a book which I think is a must read for anyone seriously interested in Knowledge Management (though if you are not seriously interested, you should maybe read the one I am writing! :-D).

At one point in the book, they are talking about a scenario where BP got the problem with a drilling equipment from an expert using video and audio. Quite impressive, considering most help desks or call centres dont do this. In fact, at times I wonder if they use computers as well or not. On the other hand, this brought to mind experiments IBM has been doing in the Virtual World, a la Mayapur, and much more. I have written about this earlier ... And, the fact is that the possibilities are immense. Consider the possibility of a customer, calling from her mobile phone, being able to see the the person she is talking with, describing the problem, and the two of them working together to solve the problem in real time. This promises to enrich the customer support experience to a large extent, and help in simpler and speedier closure of issues, as demonstrated by the people at BP.

A lot of companies in the Information Technology space (hardware, software, as well as services firms) are already doing this when they provide remote support by taking control over your computer, and diagnosing the problem (as opposed to looking at the problem from the layman's perspective), but this interaction can be taken to a new level of richness with the virtual worlds technology.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Collaboration ... The Other Side

I came across a very nice article by Prof. Karl-Erik Sveiby. This article is looking at something a lot of us are not questioning in the current climate of Web 2.0. The reason I am talking about this is because this is a sobering thought ... Whether collaboration is all that it is made out to be.

The article argues that a lot of the value that we see released in the marketplace is due to competition, rather than collaboration. Valid point. In addition to this, the article makes the point about Groupthink becoming a real issue when collaboration begins to work very well.

Both are extremely valid points. Though, the way I see it, this is looking at a rather narrow definition of the concept of collaboration. Let us look at collaboration from two different perspectives: Collaboration in the marketplace ... Another name for this is networking. Something we do all the time. And, we havent waited for Social Networking tools to come up, to start networking. I have written before about this, and this is essentially collaboration. Another perspective on collaboration ... that is within the organization. This seems to be obvious ... Hence, I would think Dr. Sveiby is talking about the former perspective.

Having said all of this, the fact remains ... There is no way we can measure the value, or the contribution of collaboration to business success. If sales increase after a KM program has been implemented, there is nothing to show that these wouldnt have happened without the KM program. Essentially, there are no straightforward causal relationships between knowledge and financial performance, much less between KM and financial performance. The only way we can do this is through a suitable proxy ... Which means we need to be careful in selecting a particular proxy. There are a number of tools for doing this. Balanced Scorecard is something that is touted as a framework that could be used, but a lot of people dont really understand the details of the framework. I dont, either. But, the fact is, we need to look at the applicability of the framework to our business scenario. Having said that, if we work backwards from the business strategy, we can come up with a set of proxies for measuring KM, each mapping to a particular aspect to the corporate strategy. Issue is, moment we look at a set of measures, the interrelationships between these measures tend to fall by the wayside.

The Next Innovation ...

Now that we have seen how T20 can be so similar to gali cricket, and is evidently the latest thing to happen in the world of instant Karma, where a 50-over one-day match is suddenly becoming too long. Where the game has moved from 5 days to 60 overs a side, to 50 overs a side, and now, to 20 overs a side.

Of course, there is so much more innovations that the ICC should come out with:

1. Ball hitting the sight screen ... Out! Considering that any batsman hitting a window-pane was immediately given out. Quite gleefully, that too!

2. One tip-one hand ... Out! This is our equivalent to underarm bowling, and a very nice thing, because this guarantees that everyone will be out before you can spell Ratatouille.

3. Cutting Chai ... The quintessential Mumbai beverage (the rest of the country believes in glass-fulls of Tea!). This is the quintessential companion for the brand of cricket that is changing the face of the game!


Not that I would confuse anything with spellings, but what I mean here is the staple of cricket played in the street where we grew up. I think that is something which is unique to our part of the world. Not just is this unique, it is also a staple fare for boys, and on occasion, girls.

You might be wondering what makes me dust the cobwebs of memory, and write about gali cricket. Simple ... its the T20! Much of the format reminds me of the gali cricket scenario that we have grown up with. For beginners, its cheeky. The bowl-out is something which I personally liked, considering its similarity to football, and hockey, and also the cheekiness that this brings to the game.

But even more so ... the players sitting on the bench just outside the boundary, instead of in a pavillion. This reminds me so of gali cricket. While the two batsmen were out there, the rest of the batting side would be perched not on benches, but on the seats of scooters or motorcycles, which happen to be parked in the street, due to their owners being busy with their work while we were playing. Though, this is where the similarity ends. From here on, dismissals were an exciting affair, especially those clean bowled. Because there was nothing clean about it. Considering we didnt have stumps, there were just two pieces of stone which represented the leg, an the off stumps, As a result, nobody was really sure whether the batsman would have been bowled out, or whether the ball was anywhere close to the stone-stumps. Of course, what you thought depended on which side you were playing for.

Oh, and another similrity ... The way our team fields reminds me of a bitter-sweet term we had for guys who couldnt get their hands to meet the ball ... Gaddha!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa ...

This was an episode of the very popular Sa Re Ga Ma Pa ... Today, they are down to the last 5. Why am I blogging about this? Well, thats simple ... Two of my favourite singers on the show were among the doubtfuls ... Raja Hassan (a la Bikaner), and Mussarat Abbas (the Lahoria).

More than this ... the man who got eliminated ... He sang Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, almost as enchanting as the legend hmself ... At times, improvising upon the original to render an effect which was sheer brilliance ...

Rafta rafta, jo tha begana tera hua,
Rafta rafta, mera afsana tera hua ...

Though, I am sure Mussarat will be remembered long after the show is over. Or was it just Lahore?

Structural Difference

The basic concept which surrounds the whole idea of Knowledge Management can be summed up in a riddle we used to play with as children ...

What is the one thing which increases when you give it away (apart from love, of course!)?


And, this is a basic difference between the concepts involved in the economics of the industrial economy, and the knowledge economy. Essentially, every Dr need not be balanced by a corresponding Cr because unlike with the traditional accounting principles, the sum total of resources in the system do not remain constant when we are talking about knowledge. In other words, the basic concepts of accounting value cannot be applied to knowledge.

So, for example, if you take the theory of Demand and Supply, and the concept of the Equilibrium Price, the question we need to ask is whether this concept can be applied to knowledge. For example, if we take value as a proxy for price, can we determine the equilibrium value using traditional economics? I dont think so. This is simply because, unlike traditional economics, the economics of knowledge are not dealing with a finite resource. Also, they are not dealing with a resource which comes in quanta, and where the supply of the resource follows the demand for the resource. And, most importantly, because exchange of the resource actually increases the total value of the resource availabe in the system.

What this implies is that there needs to be a rethink on the way the concepts of economics can be applied to knowledge, and to the economy which is driven by knowledge. And, this is something which should come not from economists, and not from KM practitioners, but rather, from the users of knowledge, because they are the people who are in the best position to attach a value to knowledge, and hence, define how, and to what extent it is adding value to their work. This, of course, also means that it is not only about the quantum of value (I think we still need to look at value in the form of quanta, unless someone can come up with an idea which goes otherwise), but about the how ... The context within which the knowledge is being utilized. More on this soon ...

Ram Setu, and Tsunami Warning

Its heartening to read that the ASI has conducted a survey of the Ram Setu, and found that the structure is a natural formation. At the same time, the wording ... that "characters in the Ramayana" didnt exist ... leaves a lot to be desired. From what the ToI says, they are rectifying this.

While there may not be historical proof, the fact remains ...

Kan kan mein base hain Ram!

For, Religion is one of the cornerstones of life, the way we see it ... There is the opinion that man made God, and not the other way round ... While I am not going to argue with the opinion (dont you think that after all, an opinion is an opinion, and there is noting inherently right or wrong with them), I dont agree with that opinion. The problem, I think, comes when people try to impose their opinions on others, because of a belief that their opinion is better than the other person's opinion.

I am trying to figure out, though ... Why is it that there is so much of increased tectonic activity of late? Day before yesterday, there was a massive Earthquke off Sumatra ... India was on Tsunami alert, too. Either the fury of Nature has increased, or public memory has increased. I know not which. But, something we need to look into?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chake De! and Management

The Indian women's team won the World Cup, and the movie became a runaway hit. Yes, we are talking about the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Chak De! India which is running to packed theatres across the country. I think I have figured out the reason why the halls are packed. One of the reasons, from what the press tells us, is the liking Corporate India has taken to the movie. There was an article about Mr. Narayana Murthy going to see the movie with Mrs. Murthy, and being impressed about the content of the movie.

The movie is a story about a Hockey coach who takes his team out of mediocrity, with each player identifying themselves with the state which they represented on the way to representing India at the World Cup (Melbourne, is what they showed in the movie, I think ...). There can be a number of parallels that can be drawn with the scenarios in the movie, and what can be found in offices. Apart from that, there are quite a few things to be learnt in Leadership from Kabir Khan. And, you would find that the point is driven home so well, that I found it much better than any leadership training program. More useful, more power packed, and more impact.

So how come two and a half hour in a theatre can deliver so much more about management common-sense than can be done in a day in a workshop? The way I see it, the answer is simple ... Story! Here, the concepts are not told at all. Only a story is told, which the audience can then match with their life-experiences, and develop a management parallel, or draw a management lesson from. The story brings out the emotional connection with the content, and at the same time, gets the audience to think about ideas that they can take away from the movie, rather than pushing prepackaged ideas, which they may not appreciate, or worse still, relate with, down their throats. This is a nice illustration of the power of story-telling in organizational learning.

Controversy ...

The ToI ran an article today about there being no historical proof of the Ram Setu being man made ... Also, that there is no proof that Ram ever existed. I would believe that this is something which is not a very nice thing to say. But, having said that, I think the Government is within its rights to say that ...

But, no matter ... Lets look at it this way ... The Government can decide on what position the policy wants to hold, and what position it doesnt want to hold. But, there is no way anyone can dictate Faith. And, it is on this edifice that I am looking at resting this issue.

Having said that, it would be extremely nice if the powers that be got a study done to determine whether there is any possibility that the structure is anything other than natural. I am not asking for study to determine whether the structure is man made, because in any circumstance, it is not man made.

Even if we keep the spiritual dimension aside (and that is a considerable dimension), the fact remains that Lord Ram has been more than God Incarnate for millions of Hindus ... Lord Ram has been the cornerstone of our civilization ... Or should I say society?

KM and IP

Few days back, I had blogged about IP ... KK had come up with a very interesting question ... Something which we all are grappling with, and something not everybody has the answer to. And something which is one of the largest challenges for the KM professional. For, KM is all about sharing, and IP is all about not ...

And then, there is the kid brother of IP ... Customer Confiderntiality. While a very respectable idea, in my experience, I have seen things which you could find on google as being customer confidential, simply because project teams get used to uploading al documents in the customer confidential folder. The challenge for the KM professional here is to strike the balance between the various factors which are pulling in opposite directions.

While there is no single mechanism we have for doing this, I think we could look at the following (and no, this is not a laundry list ... i am not an expert on IP, remember? So, this is just my two bits) ...

  • Does the asset you are talking about fit into the business strategy of the organization?
  • Does it have any implications for incremental revenue, or for a new revenue model?
  • Does it have any implications for cost savings?
  • Does it have any implications for operational excellence?
  • Lastly, can it be found on google?

If the answer to ny of these is yes, and the answer to the last one is no, then you need to look at the asset carefully, and decide which way to go. While these are my thoughts, I would invite all practitioners out there to please react to this, and contribute to the thought process!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Whither Social Networking

I read an interesting blog post by Luis Suarez where he is taking off on the BBC article about Facebook costing organizations a lot of Money. I think the issue is a little more than that.

Social networking has always existed (read old boys' club, alumni associations, office parties ...), and some have seen these as being positive and some as negative. I find these to be a very nice way of gathering information. Of course, from there on, its up to the person who is gathering information, to figure out how to use it. Could we blame the tool for its usage?

Once we agree that social networking has always existed, then the next question is, why is online, or virtual social networking seen to be such a pain ... Maybe it is, or maybe it isnt. I dont think I should comment on that, considering that I havent studied the subject enough. The fact of the matter, though, is, that if social networking sites are seen as time wasters, then people having extended smoke breaks, discussing so many different things in the smoking area, or over a cup of Coffee are also wasting time.

Should we, then, look at isolating online social networking? I dont think its about online versus offline in the first place. The way I see it, as I have written before, this is a manifestation of the friction of the existing organizational structure, and something that is emerging. While this may or may not be the actual reason (I am sure I am overlooking a lot more ...), the fact is that its not about Social Networking.

Food a la Bangalore

Bangalore is no longer the retired people's paradise. I would think there are very few retirees left in this erstwhile City of Gardens. There are still a few gardens around, but they primarily conspicuous by their absence (I know, I know, lots of people have written about this, but all I am trying to do is introduce the post).

What I would like to mention here ... Food! Bangalore is somewhere between Hyderabad, and Kerala. Mathematically, this makes Bangalore the ideal place to average out the two influences. And, that is what we did ...

Hyderabad Biryaani House ... on Palm Grove Road ... is every bit as enticing as the counterpart in the Biryaani Capital. The place comes with a legacy ... HBH conjures pictures of some of the best Biryaanis you can dig into ... Anywhere! And, thats a pretty stiff legacy. But the otlet at Palm Grove Road does full justice to the Biryaani of the Biryaani House, and hence, to the reputation the place carries. The Biryaani I had must have been some of the best Biryaani I have ever dug into ... A must-try!

Dinner was at a venerable Bangalore establishment ... Empire Hotel at the corner of Church Street and Museum Road ... The spices are enough to put the house on fire! But the Food is delectable. Though, I am still trying to figure out why the Kerala Parottas are round, while the Ceylon Parottas are square (theres no other difference, or so the waiter informed us). Mutton, and Prawns, with Kerala Parottas (we are talking about the neighbourhood here, remember?) ... Delectable ...

This averaging business reminds me ...

Mathematically, an average is about having your feet in the 0ven, and your head in the freezer, and feeling comfortable on the average!

Rum Therapy

When you catch a cold ... Especially when the weather is warm, is that time of the year when you feel miserable. I want to have a chilled Beer, but ... So, whats to be done? Simple ... Doctors prescribe Brandy ... Though, our friends in Garhwal prescribe Rum ... with warm Water. It tastes like something nasty ... But, it works wonders for a cold!

Of course, one needs to stick to only one drink ... Which anyway we have to do ... Considering being a married man! :-) What did you think? Reminds me of the opening from the movie, Ijazat ... Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha at the waiting room ... Naseeruddin Shah pulls out the bottle of Whiskey ...

Rekha: Tumne phir peenee shuru kar dee?
Naseeruddin: Bahut thand hai.
Rekha: To jacket pehen lo!
Naseeruddin: Ye bhi koi baat hui, Daaroo na pee, jacket pehen li!

Friends, we are not alone ...

Internal Blogs

There has been a lot written about this (including by me), and yet again, I find more being written about it. The point, however, is ... People are missing the point. Agreed ... Blogs are a great way to market ... Its a great tool available to marketeers to reach consumers or consumer groups like never before, or to PR execs making sure the company's point of view is stated clearly in the blogosphere somewhere. But, does that mean that this is all there is to blogging? I think not. Can we not have internal blogs as a tool which can be used for simple collaboration?

If there are Service Engineers geographically distributed, can they not benefit from the concept of blogs about their specific area of technology? Can not the folks from Finance host a blog where they could discuss SOX? Bottomline ... I think there is a lot more to blogs than just marketing ... Though, I do agree that this is an amazing tool for 21st century marketing, blogs can serve as a much bigger tool if used internally ...

Blogs can be used to facilitate knowledge flows within the organization. Agreed, a lot of organizations today find no practical use for changing knowledge flows (the typical reaction being that knowledge flows the way they exist today are ok), but we find that once we make knowledge freely available, people in the organization will work out innovative new ways of using the knowledge. I am not trying to make an argument for completely throwing all the windows open (thats never going to happen), but this would get the dialogue going within the organization, and who knows what might come out of this.

Another nice thing about blogs ... They can be used to replace the grapevine! We would all agree that the grapevine is not a very nice thing ... While you will find more often than not the grapevine carries facts, but then, it serves to distort the facts, too. Blogs, and their related communities can be used as an interventionist tool to counter these phenomenon.

Changing Nature of the Organization ... Cont'd ...

If you look at my earlier blog post here on How Knowledge is Changing Organizations you would find that one of the major shifts I am discussing there is that shift from the current form of an organization, of being a group of employees working for a single entity, to a new form of a set of individuals, pooling their skills for a single "client". Of course, the word client is too dramatic a word here, but thats precisely the reason why I am using it.

There is a very interesting post by Andrew McAfee about The Great Decoupling where he talks about the changing nature of the relationship between information flows in the organization, and the decision making rights, and the implications of this on the structure of the organization.

This is a rather interesting concept ... Because, this would imply that work, and more importantly, decision making rights, would get relocated to the places and the people best suited to do that work (best suited in terms, of course, of having the most relevant knowledge to do the work). Andrew is of the opinion that this would lead to centralization of the decision making part of the organization. I would much rather coin a phrase like "pocketization" (ok, so another word for you to much on), which basically implies that there would typically be pockets where work of a particular nature would be concentrated. While this is very similar to the functional department structure of the organization, this one would be very different, because this would recognize expertise in pockets cutting across the organization, and across levels of the hierarchy.

This essentially means that specific parts of the organization would tend to work with a greater level of autonomy, living into a greater level of decoupling between different organizational units. And this is one of the reasons why we find so much more emphasis on Intellectual Property. While information needs to flow to people who have the expertise to do that work, an important part of information is IP, and if people doing the work are going to be more autonomous, in several instances, not being part of the organization itself, IP would become more and more of a concern. Of course, this is not to say this is the only reason, but this is definitely one of the reasons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Story-Telling and the Case Method

I found out only the other day (ok, ok, so now you know I wasnt the Quiz champ ... nowhere even close!) that Harvard pioneered the Case Method of teaching. Needless to mention, today, the Case Method is more the norm in Management teaching.

What is it that makes the Case Method so socessful, as a teaching tool? Harvard believes its very effective. And, I am not going to argue with that, for obvious reasons. Besides, with B-Schools around the world having adopted the method, there must be something there. Also, if you have been through one of the Case Sessions, you would find them very rewarding too, because you get to learn a lot more from the Case Method than you would in a cut and dried theory class.

One of the reasons for this is that the case typically enables you to apply concepts to a real-life situation. While this is the scenario at times, at others, cases are used to introduce a point. So, is application the only reason the Case Method is so successful? I think not.

The way I look at it, the Case Method is all about storytelling. A case is basically a story. Like any story, the case has a protagonist (at least one), a context (typically half the case study would be devoted to describing the context), and a situation which you have to understand, and unravel. I wouldnt say solve, because its not just about the solution, but more about being able to understand the idea. And, one of the reasons for the success is this ... It presents the concept in the form of a story.

Why do I keep harping about the story? Maybe you could read The Goal and tell me how much you gained in terms of concepts from the book.

Civilizational Differences

A couplet (sher) by Allama Iqbal (I think), which my Grandfather used to recite to me at times:

Yoonan, Misr, Roma, mit gaye jahaan se ...
Kuchh baat hai ke baaqi Hindostaan humaaraa!

There has to be something. Something which gets our civilization (and I am discounting the two-nation theory more as a political concept rather than something which reflects the ground realities and referring to the civilization of Hind, loosely to be defined as the sub-continent, primarily India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) to stand apart from those cvilizations which were about as ancient as the Indus Valley civilization, but havent persisted.

So, what is it? What is it that is inherently different in our civilization? The way I see it ... India has found her children bringing about a frequent renewal ... A renewal powered by intellectual, cultural, and spiritual resurgence. A renewal, which has, over the centuries, renewed the very soul of the civilization, and ensured that the basic tenets, the basic values of the civilization persist, though changing over time, to bring in outside influences. In other words, there has been a kind of continuity in disruption (this is even more believable if you see some of the buildings in Calcutta!). Or, maybe, disruption is too strong a word?

In this respect, Swami Yogananda has made a profound observation in Autobiography of a Yogi, where he mentions that this renewal of the spirit of India has been carried on the shoulders of spiritual Giants.

Any viewpoints?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Buddha Boy Ram Bomjon

Its been some time since the media picked up the story of Ram Bomjon ... He who sat in meditation, not eating for 10 months ... A hoax is what most of the people who follow this call it. And, the credulous ones really believe him to be an incarnation of the Buddha. So, what are the facts? I know not ...

Discovery Channel is running a program titled Looking for India (ya, ya, they need a star to come down from England to look for India ... never was there anyone in India who would be looking for her!). They were covering the Buddha Boy story. Interesting observation ... They observed the boy on camera for 48 hours. All they did was sit there, with their camera, and film the boy on camera ...

Incredible ... He didnt eat or drink for 48 hours. How did he survive ... I dont even claim to know. But, this would definitely be something worth delving into. This is not to say that this necessarily has to do with the Divine (though I would think it does), the point I am trying to make here is that there are always things which cannot be explained by the current state of knowledge. I dont not mention scientific knowledge, because I would much rather look at knowledge of the world in its larger sense.

I think there are large parts of the spiritual world which cannot be, by definition, observed or explained by the scientific method. This doesnt take anything away from the current state of the scientific method. Rather, all it does is acknowledge the fact that there are limitations ... As has been famously demonstrated by Werner Heisenberg in his famous Uncertainty Principle. That there are scenarios where the very act of observation disturbs whatever is being observed.

Past Life Regression ...

There was a front page article on the ToI. The article deals with PLRT. For the uninitiated, thats Past Life Regression Therapy. PLRT was pioneered by Dr. Brian Weiss, with his trailblazing book, Many Lives, Many Masters ... There are more books he has written illustrating the concept.

I think this is an excellent thing to happen. Though, my concern is ... This is more of a fad, just as a lot of others before this. And, somehow, this will fade away with time, as the next fad, the next "flavour of the month" coming along. Whats the problem what that, you might ask. No problem, at all. Except that this is an excellent opportunity for humanity to look at the concept of Reincarnation anew.

Most people in India, especially professing to Hinduism, would stutter the concept of reincarnation, of the soul casting off a body, and taking on a new one, just as we take off our clothes, and wear new ones, as though by rote. And, that, I believe is whats missing. This is something we seem to believe and repeat simply because our Grandparents told us about this, and so did our Parents, and to deny this seems to be a sort of a travesty ...

Today, the world is changing. And, believe you me, some of the changes are phenomenal. We can already do, leave alone imagine, things which were nothing more than a crazy fancy of a science-fiction writer, maybe a century ago. Whether it be the War of the Worlds, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Around the World in 80 Days. Monsieur Phileas Fogg would be considered a leisure traveller in today's travel scenario. We have already made huge inroads into space, studied the origins of the universe as we know it today, made great movements towards understanding the concept of time, and to a certain extent, of changing the very concept of time, at least in relation to human existence.

Researchers have already been able to simulate the Out of Body Experience for people in a laboratory setting. This has gone to prove that the mind can believe that it can traverse the body. Question is ... Can this only be a belief of a mind tricked into believing this, or can this be something which can be made a real physical/mental phenomenon. Why I say mental phenomenon, is because while the physical phenomenon this might represent may be easier to achieve, from a spiritual perspective, I think the mental phenomenon of the "being" surviving without the body, is more important.

Why? I would think thats evident ... A "being" that can survive without the body, would be the being that is the being which moves from one body to another, since this "being" would then be the central phenomenon of existence, at least for those of us who are not inclined spiritually. And, for those who are, this would be the next step in understanding the relationship between the "being" and the world. And, in the light of this, the concept of the Past Life Regression gains far more importance that we are according it today. By no means is the concept devoid of critics, but the only argument I have for the critics is this ...

Every generation makes the mistake of assuming the finality of its knowledge ... Einstein!

OK ... So, I dont remember the exact quote. Anyone who could tell me the exact quote?

All I say here is, lets now assume that things which have no proof cannot exist. Gravitation did exist before there was Mathematics. So did Black Holes. Is it not possible that Reincarnation is a fact, even though there is no "scientific" proof? Does this not submit to a very narrow definition of Science?

Friday, September 7, 2007

How Knowledge is changing Organizations

As organizations are realizing the importance of Knowledge, nd have realized the significance of the basically tacit nature of knowledge, they are waking up to the importance of human interactions (not just humans, but the knowledge that is necessarily generated by people carrying certain tacit knowledge interacting with each other, and it not only about trying to convert tacit into explicit). This has led to a shift in the focus from data processing, and the importance of data, to interactions management. To be fair to them, the Japanese always knew that everything cannot be eplained using data, as have we in India. But, the leading business thinkers, trained in the more American analytical way, seem to have ignored this dimension for a very long time.

The way I see it, this fundamental recognition of the importance of people in the organization is changing the way the nature of the organization is evolving. Lots of business thinkers agree that the structure of the organization is changing (this is quite obvious), but while lots of folks have written about the Open-Source movement, and B-Schools are doing Case Studies on his model, not many are looking at the larger implications. Maybe that is because the changes here are more subtle.

The nature of employment is changing. The days of retiring from the organization which you joined right from college are no longer there. There is, though, a larger change in the nature of organizational affiliations. Many consulting and tech firms are today moving towards a shared-delivery model. This gives them them greater flexibility in deploying resources, while at the same time have a single resource handle multiple client projects simultaneously. In other words, the primary work variable has become the skill of the individual rather than the client. If we take this argument to the next logical level, even for indiviuals, the skill parameter is more critical than the employer. Which is why one would expect to see more prliferation of freelancers, contractors, or small boutique shops specializing in a particular skill, which can then be sold to multiple "clients".

Look at this closely ... This is changing the nature of the organization. No longer are the boundaries of the organization as solidly and well-defined as they used to be. This trend, of course, is coming up against corporate inertia. The existing corporate structure trying to stave it off. More at places, and less at others, depending more on the corporate climate. But fact it is. A clear sign ... The tension between Collaboration and Intellectual Property.

One way or the other

There is the dilemma that faces all practitioners of KM ... How does one measure the performance of the KM team. Usually, one would find people erring on one or the other side of the spectrum.

One way of looking at it ... Purely in terms of anecdotal measurement! This makes sense if we look at the inherent intangibility of Knowledge, and hence, of the way increases in the aggregate knowledge of the organization can be observed, leave alone measured. People who have been with the organization for some time would be able to deduce this increase but that would be from, at times, totally unrelated things. Drawback? Its not possible to put this in terms of pure numbers, and that is what traditional measurement is all about, isnt it?

The other way of looking at it ... Use a mechanism to put some kind of objectivity around measuring KM. This is definitely lucrative. Drawback? The only way we could do this is by using some sort of appropriate proxy, but this, by definition is an indirect method measurement, and hence, cannot be totally relied upon.

Does this mean that we need a mix of the two approaches for defining measurement standards?

However, lets step one step back ... Look at the larger problem ... We are yet to arrive at a definition of Knowledge. A working definition ... The ability to translate information into meaningful actionables. I am ok going with this definition, but the broader point is that we cannot expect to come up with a measurement framework unless we have a consistent definition.

To be honest, I am not really interested in a universal definition. Rather, I would go with a context specific definition, because with intangibles, it is rather easier to have a contextual definition of the intangible, and I would expect, over a period of time, and over the course of a few Ph. D.'s at B-Schools, a more widely accepted definition would emerge.

Creation ...

I was wondering ... Actually, it all began with misreading a word. I misread the word "Creation", with the with "Cremation". Which raised a simple question ... Is this a coincidence? Why is it that creation and cremation are so close to each other? Is it because the two are so close to each other ... So close, that they go hand in hand? Is it because one must follow from the other? Or, that both are but two sides of the same coin?

On the lighter side ... Marital and Martial are very similar, too!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mother Tongue

There must be a reason ... They dont refer to it as the Father Tongue, even though we live in a patriarchial society, and we inherit the name from the father. The tongue is still the Mother tongue. Why?

Is it because the tongue is the vehicle of all thoughts? That the tongue is the interface between us and the outer world? That the tongue leads us to an understanding of the world, and to a description of our own understanding of the world? Whatever be the reason (and I dont think I have been able to touch upon too many of them here, simply because I dnt know of any more ... anyone like to add to these?), the fact of the matter is that the child does hve a natural affinity to the tongue of the Mother. And, why not!

After all, is not The Mother the one who gives us sustenance? Is not She who gives us our identity. She who has loved us through the ages, and She who would love us for all eternity!

People who Blog

I came across an article about CEO blogers and the way organizations are leveraging blogs. Interesting reading. Two things that come out of this.

Firstly, the fact that corporate blogging needs a huge change in mindset. There is the school of thought which is totally against the sharing of thoughts in an informal setting (no, I dont think thats it per se, its just that they would be against sharing of thoughts on a scale made possible by blogs). This is related to the idea of "Knowledge is Power". But, in a flattening world, does that equation really hold true? I dont think so.

Lets take the example of the Dell episode. Had the company not written about it themselves, and admitted to the issue, and handled it in a way which told customers that they are aware of the issue, and are doing something about it, the world would have still known about it. There probably would have been plenty of voices in the blogosphere talking about it. So, rather than have a conversation going on out there which could potentially harm the company, its in their best interest to join the conversation, and try to influence it, and convey to the the world that they are clued in.

The second thought that comes out is something I have already written about ... Blogs are being used as a PR tool. I would think they are much more than that. Think developers discussing the latest software tool, or support analysts sharing troubleshooting tips, or project managers sharing ideas, or salespeople collaborating to expand the market, or maybe even coming up with ideas to create a new market. IBM is already doing this ... Think InnovationJam. But that again is only a part of the entire picture. The larger aspect here is the democratization of knowledge, and a belief that the old order of elite managers knowing all, and the rest being supposed to follow orders is no longer the order of the day. Or the decade?


As though you didnt already know ... September is here. Autumn is in the air. You can feel it in the breeze. The days are getting shorter ... Being dark by the time you leave office. The freshness of Autumn rings through the breeze.

Though, the most beautiful part about the season ... The Festivities! Durga Puja! The coming of The Mother. For She shall delight in Her children. And, we all look forward to Her ...

Wikis and Social Computing

Something I have been meaning to write about for some time. How great are wikis? Fact ... Wikipedia has more than double the number of entries of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica but their error rate per article is higher. Quite higher, if you consider the volumes.

Question ... How accurate are wikis? Quite a bit. Absolutely? No. But then, neither are books. Mistakes exist in all documents (even the Encyclopaedia Brittanica), so it would be prudent to assume that wikis would have, too. After all, they are not written by "experts". But they are written by people in the know.

Implications ... I wouldnt use Wikipedia for doing research on my Ph. D. (not that I am doing one in the near future). But, having said that, a wiki would serve as an excellent starting point for if you are looking at reading up on something. Starting point being the key word. In addition, wikis also serve as a nice aggregator, because more often than not, people tend to put in a few links to websites, or information about books and experts on the subject they are writing upon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chak De!

Yeah, another one of the army of blogs written about the movie. But, hey ... Why not. But hold on ... Its not exactly the movie I am writing about. The point is ... We went for the movie today (full house on a weeknight!). And that, on a day when the India girls trounced Thailand 16-0, and the boys made a place for themselves in the semi-finals of the men's version of the Asian Cup (played at Hong Kong, and Chennai, respectively!).

Though, of course Balbir Kaur (aka Tanya Abrol) is definitely my favourite in the movie! Favourite scene? When the girls beat up the boys (yay, McDonald's)! Cheers to that ...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Its been some Time, and Punjabi Music.

I know, I know ... thats a rather unimaginative title for a post, but I just wanted to write a couple of thoughts. Well ... Rather unrelated thoughts, if you ask me, but nevertheless ...

Today is 3rd. September, 2007. No, I am not targetting this post (Marketing Strategy classes showing up again?) at some time capsule kind of sci-fi scene. Its just that this day, 18 years ago, a boy from Delhi had landed up in the lovely city of Varanasi (ok, ok ... Fact is, I still prefer Banaras, and of course, Kashi ... She is Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyala, the City of Cities ... Kashi!). He went to this city, reached there on the 3rd. September, 1989, a boy in his teens, and left the city another four years down the line, a man! Such was the metamorphosis brought upon by the city.

Now, I know that the boy have grown into a man anywhere ... It had nothing to do with where he was. But, the kind of man he grew up into does have a relationship with where he grew up. Now, I am not blemishless. Nobody in this world is (Romans 3:23). But, I do believe, I turned out to be a person who is nice (I dont think comparisons have any meaning ... the question is the degree of goodness, I believe!).

The Punjabi Music part ... I am listening to an album of Rabbi Shergill as I write this post ... Apart from that the music grips you, and forces you to hink, apart from listening, there is another aspect of this ... This genre of music is not the good old B3 (Balle Balle Boys!), and this goes to mention a point ... There is much more to Punjabiyat (Punjabi culture, language, lifestyles, way of life ...), than only remixed Bhangra songs! A very nice point ... Tere Bin ... saannoo soneya koi hor naiyo labbana ... Beautiful song (not for nothing I had this as my caller tune when I was in Calcutta ... still trying to make it my caller tune!).