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?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Required ... Social Aggregators

I came across a blog by Luis Suarez about How to Boost your Social Capital with Facebook. Interesting read. To quote ...

I am not sure what you would think, but, to me, one of the best ways to connect with people is by being able to find common ground, interests, ice-breakers, something in common to both that we can share going further than just the pure business contact, so that we can start slowly building up our trust levels and collaborative working. To me that is the whole key behind social networks, that kind of connection. And Facebook seems to be exceedingly good at it, although I can agree there is still room for improvement, but I am sure that over time it will eventually get there.

I agree completely with Luis that the basic building block of social networking is the common ground which you would share with the other person. Definitely, this has to be more than simply work. I am sure you would never have gone to a real life meeting where the conversation was entirely about work. As human beings, we need to connect at a personal level. Of course, what this leads to is a lot of chatter in the network, but I guess that is one of the by-products.

I am quite into LinkedIn. I find linked to be a very nice network ... Though, purely focused on work. Actually, I find building up a work related network to be far more important, though of course, it cannot be totally work related. Having said that, I came across an article about The Missing Link. Quite a comprehensive article, but again, it makes out more than what actually is. To me, this leads to some confusion. Which is the better social network? Or, is there any such thing as the better network? I would think so. Though, which one you would vote for would depend on what you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for a date, I dont think linkedin would rate very highly.

Of course, a lot of folks are members of multiple social networks. Its about making sure you dont miss out on anything. If you restrict yourself only to linkedin, you are missing out on whats happening over at facebook, or myspace. And, vice-versa. In a working day, where attention spans and time is in short supply, I wonder how this can endure. How about some social network aggregation? What I am asking for is a tool like RSS which lets me connect to my social networks, regardless of where they reside. Somewhat on the lines of an indiatimes messenger which came and went quite a few years ago, which could get you connected to your yahoo, msn, and aol (and a few more) IM lists from a single place. Lets you just connect to a single point, and reach out to your connections no matter which social network. Or, is this asking for a lot?

Web 2.0 and Learning

Something I havent really looked at. I came across a neat post by Ismael Pena-Lopez. Some of the things he talks about, and I didnt even know existed, for example the MIT Lecture Browser. This seems to be an amazing tool. You can browse lectures, and though I couldnt open them for some reason, I am told you could edit content if you think a sentence is written wrong. This could be taken a step further? I am talking about an integration between the e-learning concept, and the concept of a wiki. Though, I doubt whether a true wiki would be useful in this context. Not so much in terms of content, I am sure, but more in terms of accessibility (how many of us tend to pay as much importance to what a fellow-student says, compared to what a Professor says! The Professor, after all, is the Professor, and hes the guy who gives out the grades, remember?).

However, something on the lines of a class wiki? One of the things this could work towards, is to work as a check of understanding. And to interact with fellow students, discuss, develop models, and create a greater understanding of the subject among the entire class community. Of course, a lot of our grading mechanisms wouldnt encourage that, what with the scores of the other guy impacting my grades, and so on ... They wont even let you ask the guy sitting next to you the answer to that tricky question in the exam! :-O Jokes apart, this has the potential of bringing collaborative learning to a level of generating far greater understanding and knowledge about things which are taught in class (net?).

Add to this a very nice presentation Juan Freire about Universities and Web 2.0: Institutional Challenges. Quite an amazing presentation, I must say. Especially the part about the teacher evolving from the leader to the facilitator. In fact, the model of broadcast, where the assumption is that children are blank slates, and the teacher can write upon them the way she wants to is, and has not been true. And, as access to resources proliferates (even if we take the digital divide into consideration), this is becoming more so. As an aside, theres some really simple to understand definitions of what web 2.0 is (minus the jargon).

Coming back to the point, though ... till now, corporate training has also operated on the same assumption as teaching has. That the students are blank slates ... Which is all the less true when it comes to adults. Because they bring with them a lifetime of experiences. I have had scenarios of having taught people much elder to me, with much more experience than me, and it can be an experience by itself, with the instructor learning more from the class than the student did, i think. But, corporate training has not been able to institutionalize this. Whether in class, or online. Instructors have been taught to "manage" the disruptive students, not listen to them. Most course material today is based on this logic, even including ice-breakers, or role-plays. Typical games that instructors get students to play in class, while being participative, are not really the types which encourage participation when it comes to deriving lessons from the game.

What this means is that the training industry has to change. Change in a way which changes it into a learning industry, rather than training. With much more interactions, and participation from students.

Theres more in the ppt there, but more on that later ...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Devi

I came across a very nice site ... This tells the story of The Devi ... The Divine Mother. This is a very nice read. Can be read from two perspectives ... Could be read as a story, as mythology, or could be read as the description of the power of The Divine Mother.

This is the time of Durga Puja! And, there are different stories which are told for the Puja. One is that The Mother leaves Her divine abode, and comes visiting Her parents with Her children. Which is why Lord Shiva, the Father is not to be found on the dias. Another story, which not many know about. That this is not the original time for the worship of Goddess Durga. Though, its there on the wikipedia page for Durga Puja.

The worship of Ma Durga is supposed to happen in the month of Chaitra, Spring. During the Autumn, Sharad, Lord Rama had invoked The Goddess for Her blessings to defeat Ravana at battle. Which is why this is called Okaal Bodhun.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Money and then some ...

There was an advertisement .. by a woman, to find a rich husband, in New York. She is looking for a husband who earns more than $500000. Thats a lot of money, but apparently not so in New York. ToI brought out an article about this.

It would be very easy for anyone to condemn the woman ... Question is, isnt everyone looking for more money? The woman here seems to have just put it plainly. Nothing right, nothing wrong ... Just that different strokes for different folks.

Lets look at it this way ... there are a lot of people who are earning a lot of money ... not exactly honestly. The question I would like to raise here ... which is worse?

Comments welcome ...

Internal Social Computing ... Continued

I have written about internal social computing earlier (with links to other posts I have written on this). You can see how I feel towards this, seeing how much I have written about this. However, a lot of companies are looking at the external, more visible form of social computing. Maybe this is based on the mindset a lot of us have, which is of broadcasting thoughts ... a la tv. There is a certain amount of interaction, but I dont think this is reaching anywhere near the potential it could. After all, for all the talk about suppliers being "trading partners", the fact is, you are a different company, and the supplier is a different company, and will continue to remain so. Which means that the aims of the two would conitunue to be mis-aligned. This happens with different divisions within the company, what can one talk about multiple companies. Which is why I feel that at the moment, companies must look at getting this moving internally, rather than try to be ambitious and get partners, vendors, customers into the fold.

An interesting post I came across about this ... This is by Dan Bricklin about wikis at Motorola. Interesting reading. Could have been more informative about the things they are doing there, but one very interesting thing which Dan writes about ...

Process management data that shows a choke point or other problem in a process can link back automatically to a search of wiki data to find prior material relating to that situation and even identify individuals to be called in.

What we are talking about here is that process data, or transactional data can, indeed be integrated with the emerging vision of internal social computing. If we take the thought of "baking knowledge into business processes", then the logical conclusion we could come to, from there, is to take business processes (and the data they generate), and link this into social computing tools which are deployed internally. I have written about this, where I was mentioning the fact that SAP is looking at integrating the two thought processes. This has huge potential ... Imagine using the power of social computing, integrated with business process management. This could be huge. The major reason ... This would harness the power of knowledge of the masses into identifying and solving inherent problems which are there in the business. Its not that this knowledge is not there. How many times have we heard someone saying ... if only they would listen to the guys around here, they would know whats wrong.

A lot had been written about the drawbacks of wikis ... definitely this is not a perfect tool, but having said that, theres maybe no such thing as a perfect tool ... considering the tool is just about as good as the situation to which it is applied, and the expertise of the people applying the tool.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Case for the Corner Grocery Store

We have heard the thought that global retailers would be so great for our economy. Maybe they will be. I am not an Economist, so not in the best position to comment on this. However, I am a customer, and I find that this may not be necessarily true. How did I find that out, you may ask!

This happened today ... Actually, happened earlier, too, but I wasnt blogging then, so ... Had to take my Father in Law to the Hospital ... High BP ... Doctor says nothing to worry about, Thankfully. Of course, he prescribed some Medicines, which we promptly went to buy. As you know, there are two large pharmacy chains in India ... Theres 98.4 and theres Guardian ... These are large chains of pharmacies, and if we apply the logic of the large retailers, then I dont think the experience with them is something which validates the thought process.

The usual scenario here is that if you go there with, say, a prescription for 4 Medicines, they wouldnt, in all probability, have 2 out of the 4. This is interesting ... Durex is always available, in all possible SKUs, but Medicines are a different thing altogether. Whats more interesting thing is, that whenever I have had a scenario where these chains are not carrying a Medicine, the neighbourhood pharmacist usually carries these Medicines in stock.

So, does this mean that the big guys dont know how to plan for restocking of stock? Maybe, they dont. Though, I doubt it. Such large chains would have invested in their Supply Chains, and hence, this shouldnt be the logical explanation. Then, what is the reason? The only reason I can come up with ... The large chains are not customer friendly.

How so? They are not looking at what their customers want. Instead, they are interested more in the vendors who give them the heftiest discounts, and most advantageous terms, and then try to push these things down the customer's throats. Whether customers want it or not, doesnt matter. This is something on the lines of the fact that all news channels will show advertisements at the same time ... Which means that even if you switch channels to avoid the commercials, you would still need to see them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Retro Post ... Social Networking

The more I wonder, the more I think ... there is an amazing social computing tool that we are probably missing out on ... its called email. Social computing as we know it today, seems to be more about discovery than anything else. Let me explain ...

What are the advantages of social computing over email? The primary advantage is that social networking can enable discovery. Discovery of others who are interested in a particular subject. This is what enables you to get in touch with flks who are like-minded. Once this is done, its about communication. How different is communication over email from communication on a social networking site? If you are clued into email, then you can catch up on all the happenings.

Now, let us look at social networks within the purview of the organization. Within the organization, more often than not, the discovery part is taken care of. There are corporate directories which most organizations have, which serve this purpose quite well. In addition to these directories, there are plenty of informal networks which can guide you to the right resources. Why should someone go to that extent? One reason ... Trust. Somthing I have written about earlier. And, I am sure you would agree, thats a very important ingredient. Why should there be more trust here? Because it is within the organization? No. Because of the fundamentally informal nature of these networks.

So, we could say, that email could be a very good way of generating social networks, at least within the organization. Mailing lists have, in fact, been used quite effectively in organizations, much before KM becamse fashionable. One issue is persistence. Emails tend to reside in mail-boxes of people, and hence, are not accessible to people who are not part of the list. This is where, I believe, Knowledge Managers, people who are proficient at managing content, should come into the picture. In fact, there is a very interesting post about this here. While Joe is talking primarily about the buzz nature of communities, where I am coming from is the buzz value of email. At any rate, a thought which is going away from the usual tenor of discussions happening out there. All comments more than welcome ... :-)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Entrepreneurship and Social Computing

Did i get the spellings right? I guess so. But, more than the spellings, the content should be ok. I am taking off on the social computing bit, and the impact its been having on the organizational setup. I have written about this earlier. Here, I am just trying to take this one step further.

This thought process was triggered by an email. More and more, organizations are trying to innovate ... As they realize that breakthrough innovation, which changes the name of the game, is what can give an organization an edge in the marketplace. But, this kind of innovation doesnt come on a daily basis. What does come on a daily basis, though, is continuous improvement. What also comes on a daily basis, but something that companies are not able to tap ... is incremental innovation.

And this is where KM can play a role. Basically, one doesnt know where the next breakthrough idea is going to come from. Which means, that to be able to tap into the next big thing, the organization should be geared up with tools to do the capturing. And this is where social computing can play a very improtant role. Social computing is taking the idea of creation to people ... Ever wondered where the "webmaster" went? I dont see too many of them on websites today. Because, as we go along, there arent any, and there is the move towards "pervasive computing". I had read the term somewhere, but dont ask me where. It sounded fancy enough, therefore ...

Taking this one step further, though, in addition to the tools, there is the mindset which needs to be addressed. Most companies grapple with the scenario where managers believe that their job is only to manage. Not to create. This, to my mind, is the larger challenge than having the tools which enable companies to listen to what people are creating. This is more of an issue about the working environment of the company, and the kind of signals the senior management of the company sends out. Here's an interesting article to get the thought process going.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Measurement and Business Processes

I got back from a trip to one of my favourite cities ... Hyderabad. And, when one talks about Hyderabad, then can thoughts of Biryani be far behind? I am continuing ths from my previous post ... Where I was writing about Frank Jani'a post on Luis Suarez's post ... about measuring deltas, and deriving the efficacy of KM from there on.

Two things which I think we need to keep this in mind ...

1. The approach of measurement must be applied to specific business processes ... We cannot have a universal measurement (deltas of operating parameters over a period of time) for the efficacy of KM. The question that this brings up ... If you are starting a KM initiative in your organization, then what are the things you must consider to determine where the pilot should be done?

  • is the process customer-facing
  • are process participants geographically dispersed
  • is the process cross-functional
  • is this a line or support function
  • is this a cost centre
  • is this politically sensitive

These questions must be answered to determine whether a particular process in the organization is a suitable candidate for being the pilot.

2. Be prepared to have people dispute the fact that KM is responsible for process improvement. For example, in any typical organization, there are usually a number of initiatives which are running, for example, TQM, Six Sigma, Lean, FMS ... And, all of these are claimants to being the root cause for process improvement. What this means is that the process improvement pie could be politically sensitive, and might need to be treated carefully.

Of Government Undertakings, Missed Flight, and Biryani

A short trip to Hyderabad ... If you ask me, any trip to Hyderabad seems short. Hyderabad is not one of my favourite cities for nothing, after all. There is something about the city ... The charm, the warmth, the welcome the city extends you the moment you reach her. Much like, Kolkat, if you ask me. Though, different, charming in her own way. Also, a city in transformation ... a la flyovers (although some of them fall down under their own weight from time to time). To cut a long story short, we got stuck in a traffic jam for more than an hour, and this meant I missed my flight.

And, that is the point I am writing about. I was told to go and talk with the Station Manager. I had a word with her, and she was more than happy to reschedule the ticket to the next day morning flight. Not batting an eyelid, she solved my problem. And, apologized for the traffic ... She didnt have to, after all! A lady as charming as the city?

Compare this incident with another airline ... My wife and son were flying from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur via Chennai, both sectors by the same airline. With more than two hours between the two flights, it was supposed to be a comfortable journey. Except that they delayed the Delhi-Chennai flight by more than two hours waiting for soe "VIPs". These VIPs happened to be firangs who got delayed on another flight of the same airline. The airline crew maintained that they would wait like this for anyone ... Even if he or she was an Indian. Interesting ... Only thing, they didnt live up to their claim. When my wife figured out that she would definitely miss her Chennai-KL connection, they were very non-chalant, and simply sid we cant do anything about it, we will put you on the same flight tomorrow. It didnt seem to matter to them that the lady was to meet up with her husband in a foreign nation, and she was travelling alone with her 4 year old child. It was not until a gentleman physically prevented them from closing the gates of the aircraft till the lady's ticket was confirmed for the Chennai-KL sector, did they agree to book her on another airline the same night.

The players ... the first example, of the charming Station Manager ... Indian Airlines aka Indian aka Air India, and the second example, India's largest private airline ... yes, thats Jet Airways! I just had to write this, because I think Government enterprises get a lot of brickbats, and out current state of thinking that all private enterprise would lead to greater efficiencies and customer-friendliness. Not so! Neither are the former deserved, nor is the latter.

Coming now to the Biryani ... Well, thats a non-existent topic ... Most of the noteworthy establishments being closed for Lunch, this being the Holy month of Ramazan. So, it was a Hyderabadi Biryani, in a Punjabi Dhaba ... Quite good, if you ask me, carrying quite a bit of the signature taste, aroma, and the tender Chicken of the Hyderabadi Biryani, where the flavours of the meat can be throughout the Rice. Something which is left to the imagination when having a Biryani at Kolkata (for all the culinary attractions of the city, something left to be desired from the Kolkata Biryani, though I do like the Boiled Potato they put in!).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Business Case for KM ... Continued ...

A very interest post by Luis Suarez, where he is trying to make a case for social computing ... and, I think this logic can be applied to the entire concept of KM ... and, a comment on the post by Frank Jania can, indeed, take this entire discussion about measuring the value of KM one step forward.

I have been using the term ROI for measuring the value addition from KM, primarily for want of a better word. However, I think Luis makes a very stroong point in favour of looking at ROI in a new way. This is necessitated by the fundamentally different nature of the intangibles we are working with today. The important point, though, is that while ROI the way it is defined, may not be an apt measure for measuring the value of knowledge, this is no reason to not measure, because end of the day, the CFO would need to look at some numbers to determine whether the investment is worth it.

Frank takes the discussion a few steps forward, with the idea of deltas. I think this could be a good starting point towards an evolving concept for measuring knowledge, because this takes into consideration the fact that there is a baseline (today), and there is a point of measurement (the future). The only thing here is, KM is usually one of the improvement initiatives which run in an organization, and hence, there would be many candidates who could say that the improvement has happened because of them. Which means that there is no way to isolate the impact of KM from other initiatives. So, for example, it is not sure whether Frank would have been able to close the sale without collaborating. He might have, but then, there were are conjecturing.

This, to my mind, is an essential issue which we need to address, because when we look at knowledge, there is no linear relationship between cause and effect, but rather, what I like to call circular relationships between multiple causes and multiple effects. And, we are not even close to being able to figure out these relationships. Having said that, I think Frank has come up with an interesting concept to take the thought process forward.

Comic Learning

The ToI today ran an article titled Comic Relief in History Classes for Mumbai School. A very nice article, and it displays a unique way of learning. When I was thinking of a title for this post, I was choosing between Comic Learning, and Comic Teaching, and I think the apt title was learning. As you can see from the article, this is more of a pull, rather than a push. Traditional teaching has been kind of a broadcast mode, with the teacher broadcasting thoughts to the students, and stopping to take feedback from time to time. And that has not been very interesting. There are not many dates I remember from my History class, except for 1526 (for some reason, I remember the year for the Second Battle of Panipat), and of course, 1857, and the dates related to the Freedom Struggle.

In fact, comics seem to be coming back in a new and reinvented form, as can be seen from the comic about the Ramayana. This just goes to show that the art of telling stories has not died out, and that even today, stories appeal to people, whether children, or elders. Coming from a generation when tv was a novelty, and the staple fare was Amar Chitra Katha, and Phantom and Mandrake were the norm, I think comics are a very powerful way of teaching. And this experiment in teaching History with comics, and the reaction of children to this is indeed heartening.

If we were to say that we are, at a level, grown up children, the fact is, comics, and what they stand for, a story in a non-threatening environment, in an environment which is comfortable, promote learning. This would imply that the art of storytelling can play a major role in the learning process, and there are tools which can add to the richness of the story, and enhance the learning experience.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Mahatma and the Nobel, or Bharat Ratna for Netaji

There was a news piece today on CNN-IBN, about the Nobel committee's regret at never having selected Mahatma Gandhi for the Nobel Prize. Interesting ... There is a school of thought that racism was the reason ... I dont think so! If it was, then Rabindranath, Dr. J. C. Bose, Dr. Chandradrashekhar, wouldnt have received the Nobel Prize.

Of course, this raises an important question ... Does the Nobel Prize matter? More often than not, Nobel has been a prize for Europeans, and Americans ... with a relative minority of Asians, for example, receiving the Nobel Prize. One could say that the Nobel is a benchmark. But, the question I have is, whether the benchmark is something we should look at as an absolute?

On a similar note ... It took the Government of India more than 40 years to award the Bharat Ratna to Netaji Shubhas Chandra Bose. One wonders why. Either Netaji was a great leader of the country, or he wasnt. If he was, what took Government of India so long, and if he wasnt, why was the Bharat Ratna awarded to Netaji posthumously? For some reason, Government of India has always been cool to the idea of Netaji. Whether it be the treatment meted out to the Shahnawaz Committee, or whether it be the rejection of the Mukherjee Committee report, seems like there is something there which doesnt meet the eye. One could argue that even if Netaji didnt die in the Taiwan plane crash, he would be 95 in 1992, when Government of India decided to confer on him the Bharat Ratna. Which means, that by then, he might have gone to a natural death. Which means, that it would be a nice idea to not entertain thoughts that Netaji ould be alive today. But, there are still a lot of questions, which are very important to history, and which are not answered.

Though, this brings out another, related question ... If awards are going to be given based on the whims and fancies of a selection committee, or based on some convenient policy, or something similar, do these awards make any sense? What should be the value that is attached to these awards? Rather than awards, one can see the actions of people, and they speak for themselves.

Social Computing and Decision Making

I am reading (rather, revisiting), a rather nice Book ... The Fifth Discipline ... And, there are a few things which I am seeing in a light in which I didnt quite see them the last time round that I read the book.

One of the concepts that Peter Senge talks about is the concept of Reinforcing Feedback. The idea behind this is that as a particular phenomenon occurs in a system, this works like a kind of a Pygmalion effect. This means that whatever is happening in the system, gets reinforced, or magnified in amplitude in the same direction. So, for example, a pattern of growth gets magnified towards greater growth.

What is the priary means for this happening? To my mind, the most important aspect of this is information flow. So, for example, if you have a good product, some people will buy it, and will generate positive word of mouth, and because of this more eople will buy it, and so on ... No matter what we are referring to, the primary reason for this, to my mind, is information flow.

While we have been living in the information age for some time now, today is qualitatively different. Today, with the emergence of web 2.0 technologies, the flow of information has found uncountable new channels, and information today flows in directions, and using mechanisms which were unthinkable even a few years back.

What this implies is that the adoption of web 2.0 would tend to increase the magnitude of amplification for reinforcing feedback. What this means is that companies had better be prepared to make sure they dont goof up. Any slip-up would get circulated across the world, over the blogosphere, or in online communities, and using numerous other forms.

Now, there is the question of ROI on Social Computing, this is something which is still highly nebulous, and as Luis mentions in his post, social computing (or KM for that matter) doesnt necessarily lend itself to ROI calculations (one of the reasons being the structural differences between material, and knowledge). However, this could be a reasonably convincing argument for adoption of social computing (its anyway coming at you, so why would you want to ignore it? And, even if you did, its better for the organization to have a presence in the web 2.0 world, so it can make sure its voice is heard, and the people commenting on the company dont have a field day!).

Monday, October 1, 2007

Storytelling Interview

The ToI ran an interview with Sarah Kyankya, a writer-publisher from Uganda. The title caught my eye ... Storytelling can make a difference in conflict.

Sarah goes on to say ...

Storytelling can make a parti-cular difference when children are involved. There are many child soldiers in Uganda. When children from the north come to the south and have a chance to tell their stories, and to witness another way of life, they realise that their existence is not normal. The exchange of stories, of experiences can help children from both parts understand each other better.

What this means is that storytelling can help people who are engaged in a conflict to share each other's experiences, and this enables them to create a mutual understanding. And if this helps in bringing about an atmosphere which is a trifle less hostile, its worth it, dont you think? Sarah goes on to describe how stories are related, and make a difference to people in war-torn Uganda. She mentions that stories are used to describe the problem of HIV, and the issues surrounding it. These stories, which may take the form of plays, or songs, in addition to stories, are a very powerful tool to help people to understand the core issue by enabling them to get a better understanding of the entire scenario.

Measurements and KM

The latest post on Jay Cross' blog is a rather interesting one. Theres a point he makes ...

"In brief, you measure the impact of informal learning the same way you measure the impact of any investment in the organization: by its outcomes. Are people able to do their jobs? Are they challenged? Are they working in top form?"

In a nutshell, the point here is, that unless we look at KM as an investment, we are looking at the wrong side of the picture. Whether people are able to do their work better or not will not show up on the financial statements. Though, one could argue that it would, over a period of time, but then, there is no way that a cause and effect relationship can be built up, when they are so separated by space and time.

Which is why, it is importat, as I have written earlier, that KM, and hence Knowledge, must be measured within the context of business results, rather than in a vacuum. Of course, this requires an understanding of two things: One, that training and KM are investments, which should be looked at accordingly, and two, that business outcomes can be related in some way or the other with knowledge within the organization. This would actually follow from this page I came across.