Thursday, July 31, 2008

Animal Sacrifice ...

There are interesting articles in the ToI today ... In the View-Counterview section ... about animal sacrifice. This is a topic which is quite controversial, so let me just write my two bits on this.

Actually, on second thoughts, maybe i dont want to write about animal sacrifice, because i dont have an opinion about it. I believe that if someone doesnt like the idea, they are welcome to abstain from doing it, while on the other hand, anyone does believe in it, they are free to do as they choose. Either way, when something is sanctioned by religion, it becomes a part of personal belief and hence, must be looked at, as such. For, if this was a universal reality, we should all have been Vegetarian. Of course, my personal view on this is not material to this blog, so i am not mentioning it.

What i wanted to write about, instead, is the way certain journalists treat the idea. We are a secular country, and one would expect journalists, who are responsible for forming public opinion, to be secular too. But when animal sacrifice at Kamakhya makes them write about the barbarity of the act, and this is the only occasion when they feel that it is a barbaric act, this brings into question their standing as being truly secular. Though i would like to applaud the newspaper in bringing this out in the form of a debate, the concern is the occasion, or the reason behind the debate, which seems to be restricted to only one dimension of our society.

The Craze Over Knol

There are a lot of things being written about Knol ... first glance? The user interace rocks. But, if we go beneath that, what would we find? Lets examine this for a minute ...

Firstly, knol is like a multi-author blog ... a place where, with controlled access, multiple authors can pen their thoughts. At the same time, it is a wiki. Now, i know this is a crude way of compartmentalizing something which is a completely new concept, into concepts which have been around for some time now (wouldnt call blogs and wikis old!), but i thought this was called for, because these are the kinds of descriptions i am hearing about knol. This is not fair to the tool, while at the same time, restrictive in terms of defining what the tool is all about.

Having said this, i am more interested in looking at knol from the perspective of an organization, and how a tool like knol may have advantages over existing tools.

First of all, controlled authorship. As i am sure you would appreciate, controlled authorship of wikis is something which is required in the organizational context. While you might want everyone to read a wiki about a particular topic, you might want specific people to write on the topic. Now, this does take a bit away from the egalitarian idea of the wiki, as espoused by wikipedia, but then, whoever said that the tool can remain that way within the organizational context, too? Two reasons ... Firstly, you dont want a novice to write to the wiki, because this might mislead people, and have them make mistakes which is not desirable. Second, the possibility of leakage of IP. While these are not concerns on the internet, behind the firewall, these are concerns which a lot of knowledge managers face when it comes to social computing. Now, they are not necessarily justified, and i am sure there cannot be a single justification for all, and that existence of non-existence of justifications for this would depend on the unique context of each sutiation. But, where there is a valid requirement, this concept can be quite useful.

Second, this doesnt restrict the organization to having only one entry on a particular topic. If there are multiple projects running on similar domains, they might have different viewpoints on the same topic, so instead of having to compartmentalize them into a single page, it would be a better option to give them their own space on the intranet. Of course, this could be provided by a blogging engine, but then, blogs, once written, are written, and editing them takes quite a bit away from the flow of the conversation. This is functionality which is more suited to the wiki compartment.

Bottomline ... this seems to be a tool which can address a few requirements which come up in the organizational context, and which have not been addressed by the internet based, completely open paradigm of web 2.0 tools.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fantasy App ...

Is it a pointer to me being a wierdo if i am fantasizing about an application? Well ... maybe! But then, whatever ...

I have been using both facebook and twitter for over a week now. And the way i see it, both of these applications actually complement each other. While facebook is about connecting with folks, and doing your own thing, twitter is about being yourself, and just penning down your thoughts from time to time. I am thinking of a facebook homepage where updates from twitter, from my network get reflected, and where i can not just keep in touch with what my friends are doing, with their statuses, photos, work, play, etc., i can also keep in touch with what they are thinking.

And, this is a pointer to a larger thought process ... Right now, i am confused about which social network i want to log into. So, i log into twitter, because i want to share my "thoughts of the moment" with others, and i log into facebook to connect with friends. And, i log into ning for communities, and ... What is required, to an extent, is an aggregator, which can give the functionality of the social networks i am a part of, in a single place. This way, i am sure a lot of folks would save a lot of time not having to update multiple social networks?

There is, of course, the argument of diversity which multiple social networks brings in, but i dont see too much logic in that, considering that most of the folks on my network in facebook overlap with those on twitter, and hence, the impact of diversity is only minimal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saddening Thought ...

Everyday when i come to the office, i think that i should write this post ... i have been thinking this for some time now. But when i do come to the office, there is work to do, and hence, i tend to forget about this. And, this is the sad part about the society we are a part of ... no, i am not exempted, all of us are equal.

Why is this sad? What am i talking about? It started when i read (dont remember which newspaper it was) someone writing about Gurgaon as the Millenium City. This is really nice. Though, this makes me laugh. You might ask why. Simple ... If you see the way the city is, it doesnt seem to augur well for the next millenium. Because if this is the picture of this millenium, then we are looking at a millenium with roads riddled with potholes the size of lunar craters, traffic which can make sluggish snails seem swift, electricity which loves to play hide-and-seek, and of late, mountains of mud, which have been the same way for months.

Now, this is, by no means a picture only of Gurgaon ... this is true of Mumbai, where the potholes on some of the roads actually lend credence to the theory that Dinosaurs were made extinct by meteor showers (and the remnants of those meteors landed here), or Kolkata, where water-logging plays a crucial role in teaching kids how to swim (or dodge fish swimming by, as they walk through the Great Lakes of Kolkata!), or Delhi where rainfall of two drops of water leads to water-logging of four drops (remember the Water Conjurer?) ...

In short, the way things are, this promises to be an interesting millenium.

On E-Mail ...

I quite agree with Luis when he says that email is probably not the best way to communicate. In fact, looking at the way email has come into the business ecosystem, it basically replaces the inter-office memos that used to circulate in offices. Email brought those online, and made them instant, so an electronic "inter-office memo" could be sent instantly to someone, without having it being sent by hand, and reaching the other person after hours, if not days, depending on whether he was based in the other building across town, or across the globe.

Thing is, with the advent of email, and its widespread adoption, the mindset of people has not changed much. While e-commerce technologies were changing the way things were being done, the fact is, people still have the mindset of inter-office memos. So, what is wrong with it, is the question that comes up. Something is ... The way the world is changing, and the way the world of business, and the nature of work is evolving, this inter-office mindset may not be the best possible tool for building a business for tomorrow, when the participants in the business are going to be far more distributed (if not fragmented), with work going more and more to places and people who can do it much better than where it is being done now.

However, i was reading a post by Dave Pollard ... interesting reading! He makes a compelling case for more open-ness in business interactions. The new paradigm of openness in the organization could change the way things are being done ... though, i would guess this is going to take a long time. No matter, as long as the world of business is on the path, we will get there sometime. Having said that, i am not sure whether there would be any such thing as "nothing in the inbox", because it would, in all probability, be "lots in your feed reader"!

A lot has been written about this, too ... about the feed reader replacing the inbox ... but, thats not so much the issue, considering that this would be symptomatic of increasing open-ness in interactions, and generation of content far more dynamic, and up-to-date. After all, people are usually more up-to-date than platforms.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Value of KM

Admittedly, theres plenty written about the subject. And, we are yet nowhere closer to what could be a framework for measuring the value of KM. So why am i writing about this? I came across an interesting blog by Jenna Sweeney about the idea of measurement of Training ... and, look at it closely, Training and Knowledge Management are related, so i have thought for a long time.

The basic point that Jenna is making here is the fact that measurement must be done in the context of whatever you are measuring. And, this is quite valid for the entire question of value of KM. First of all, KM means different things to different people ... and if this is so, it is quite difficult to come up with adequate measurement norms. Leave aside the fact that even if it were to be able to come up with these norms, it would still be very difficult to measure, because of the basic structure of knowledge. And this is something i have written about before ... that when we are measuring something as nebulous as knowledge, it is a nice idea to not abstract it from its context, and try to build up something generic, but instead, stick to things which are specific to the context of the measurement.

Whither General Knowledge ...

There was a time when your prominence depended on the amount of things you knew about a variety of subjects. Those were the days when people actually memorized time-tables, knew the schedules of trains, buses, and flights by heart, and knew so much about so many things which they remembered. And this was all possible because there was the requirement to remember.

Today, we dont remember as many things as folks used to remember, say, in Dad's generation. The reason, to my mind is that the requirement to remember is not there (no, it has nothing to do with shrinking brains, though there are folks who lend credence to that theory, too!). Probably this is why quizzing was an activity which was way high in prominence on college campuses, and the more you knew about different things, the better it was for you, because it meant you were really smart. Today, however, this is not the scene. And probably this is why i dont see so many quiz shows these days?

The other day, i was talking to my nephew, and our man had just been for an interview at reputed consulting firm. One of the things they asked him (maybe because he is straight out of college ...) was the GDP of India in the last financial year. And this got me thinking. Here was a consulting firm (and they do a lot of projects on KM, too ...), asking in an interview the GDP of India? Do kids need to remember this kind of information nowadays? Isnt it far simpler to just google it? Or, better still, with wikipedia, you could find the GDP of India here. Which is why it got me thinking ... what were they thinking! Between the content and the conversation which is around in the virtual world, this is not even required.

The Destination ...

I was talking to my Sister in Law the other day ... Being the elder one, i was trying to be the "in the know" guy, dishing out pearls of wisdom, otherwise known as gyaan to anyone who liked to listen ... So, i was asking her what she wants to do in her career. She has some ideas, and i was trying to encourage her to ask the standard questions ... where do you want to see yourself ten years down the line?

When she was able to give me a vague answer to this one, i prodded on ... little knowing i was prodding on to stuff even i didnt understand. So, i asked her where she sees herself twenty years down the line, and then thirty. And, then, at retirement. And then it struck me. Whats this all about? When we are in the rat race, is there a specific destination which we can achieve, and rest on it? Not at all. In fact, the destination for all is the same ... departure. So, why run faster, when all of us are going to reach the same place? Rather, shouldnt we treat life just as a journey of sight-seeing, without any specific destination in mind? Not only would it remove a lot of heartburn, it would also help us see life for what she is ... Beautiful!

Whereas today, we treat life basically as a set of events, tied up with a set of targets, which we achieve, and then move on to the next set of achievements. But, life is to be lived, isnt it? Whats the point of achieving life, when we fail to live it?

Friday, July 25, 2008

About Twitter ...

I have logged onto twitter ... finally! OK ... so i was trying out facebook all this while. And, for all the cool things that twitter gives, i somehow find the functionality at facebook way too cool. Actually, this is early days yet, but from what i am seeing, one thing which is really like about facebook, which i am missing at twitter is the way i can see all the applications my friends are installing, all the groups they are joining, etc., etc. ... this, to my mind, is a wonderful way of easing the process of discovery. These were my thoughts when i had joined facebook. And not much which is changing here.

Though, the thing i really like about twitter is the way short, sweet, quick messages can just be shot out. This is an interesting thing to do, especially because this enables me to capture the "thought of the moment". Rather than writing a long blog, i can write a series of short snippets, which could basically become the source for my blog. Its akin to something i have been thinking of doing for some time now (since i started writing my book ... yes, more about that soon!), that is, carrying a dictaphone and just recording whatever thought occurs right at the moment when it occurs. Its this kind of functionality that i find quite interesting. More so, in the organizational context, this could be really nice, because with this, rather than asking folks to write their experiences in a blog which could be quite lengthy for people to write, or worse still, asking them to write documents, people can simple capture this "thought of the moment", and share this with whoever wants to see what they are reading ... especially with their social networks!

Education Tales ...

Sitarampur (and i am impressed when i find an entry for the town in wikipedia) is a town in the coal belt of West Bengal, in the Asansol sub-division of Bardhaman (Borddhomaan, if you are a purist). Last night, there was a story run on one of the news channels (it was either NDTV, or CNN-IBN) ...

There is a school in Sitarampur. You can read about this school in this article. What is most interesting is the attitude of the powers that be. Delays are understandable. By all means, there are delays in the best executed of projects, no doubt. But, 44 years? Makes the mind boggle. What is also so interesting about the entire episode is the fact that the powers that be dont really care whether the money is actually being put to good use or not. As one can make out, in this example, it is not.

Another story which came out in the paper today ... Nirjharani Chakraborty ... this, a story of human grit and perseverance. Of a person who decides that she has much more to attain than has been hers till now. And, has the courage to reach out, and achieve. This is a story both touching and encouraging.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Social Networking ... A Study

Alain has pointed on his blog, to a post about corporate social networks being a waste of time. Interesting post ... and, the study seems to be an interesting one. But then, isnt this something which was waiting to happen? Somehow, what managers seem to ignore is the fact that when people network outside the firewall, they are having fun, while when they do so inside the firewall, they are working (not necessarily the same thing as having fun, isnt it?). Something i have written about before, and here, and here.

Actually, this is something to be expected. Though, there are a couple of things that i was thinking about, with this post ...

1. Million Dollars for Social Networking? What were they even thinking! First of all, we must understand, that most of the web 2.0 pieces are quite anti-thetical to the traditional technology project management scenarios. There is no need for multi-million dollar contracts, and 2 year, T&M project life-cycles, with consultants flying back every Thursday, blah blah ... This is a different paradigm altogether, and unless we understand this, we are probably going to end up grabbing the wrong end of the stick. because, once we realize this, we will understand that its of prime importance that web 2.0 be driven by business users rather than technology users. And, once we can get business users to drive this, there's still hope.

2. We also need to understand that advertising of these tools is also of prime importance. Dont advertise about it, and people wont come to know about it, and if they dont know about it, they wont come there, and if they dont come there, the entire point is lost, as the post says.

3. Community Managers, to my mind, is something which is definitely required as a concept. Whether full-time, or part-time, dedicated or not, is a different issue altogether. For all that is said about Communities of Practice being self-organizing, in the corporate sphere, communities need some amount of prodding from the organization. Remember, smooth functioning of these communities is in the interest of the organization. Thing is, this is an aspect which a lot of managers forget. Rather than being managers, these are essentially champions. These could either be people who are Knowledge Managers, who are driving the adoption of communities in the organization, or these could be Subject Matter Experts taking an active interest in social networking.

Either way, there has to be a separate effort to drive adoption ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Global Warming

I had posted an idea over at idopia ... About Global Warming. Well, the idea didnt generate too many responses (in fact, only 1 ...). But, the response it did generate is quite interesting ... The cynicism is apparent in the comment itself.

The basic idea is that whoever is bothered about global warming, and about the possible future of our world, are already trying to do something about it. This is the nice part. The shocking part is, the large majority of the population couldnt be bothered less. And, they wouldnt even be bothered, unless the problem reaches a crisis proportion. And, this is a thought that is disturbing.

Question is, what can we do about it? Not much, i am afraid. Plenty of awareness generated ... Nobel prize ... the works! And, where does that lead us? To a point, where our future is decided based on highly short-sighted considerations by people who either dont understand implications, or couldnt be bothered less about them.

And this collective myopia, to my mind, is a large part of the problem ...

Application in Facebook ...

I came across an interesting application on facebook ... But, more than the application itself, the idea of the application is quite interesting. We all know that facebook, and similar social networking sites are a platform which enables us to get in touch with friends and family, as well as to come in touch with more people with whome we might share some interests.

Interestingly, more and more, there is the need for people to be able to categorize their friends. On social networking sites, we tend to have a large number of friends, and this brings up the requirement of categorizing them, maybe even colour-coding them. This, to my mind, is an interesting phenomenon. Outside these social networking sites, we dont need to colour-code our friends. This raises the question of why. And this is one of the most interesting things about social networking. When it comes to social networking, we are all creating ties which go way beyond the ties outside the circle of social networking. These ties which we end up creating include friends and family, for sure, but at the same time, we are in a position to discover ... discover groups we might want to join, and more importantly, discover people we might want, or need to connect with, for shared interests. These could be people who are experts in a particular subject we are interested in, or they could be people who are also working on a particular topic, which is also of interest to us. And this idea of discovery is the essential value of social networking.

Lets take an example. One of my favourite bands is one by the name Junoon. Well, there is a nice group which is their fan club on facebook, and i was quick to join it. Interestingly, six of my friends from facebook also joined the group. In all probability, they also wanted to, but either they never came round to it, or they werent able to find it. This is the nature of discovery from social networking. And to my mind, this is one of the major issues knowledge managers need to work on, to make sure that we are able to bring about a similar nature of ease of discovery behind the firewall, as there is, outside the firewall.

There is an interesting application i came across the other day. This is a facebook-like application developed by Trampoline Systems. Or, the facebook-like application from Microsoft. The idea is to bring the idea of social networking into the firewall. However, having said that, there is a bit of euphoria which might be a little misplaced. For, the entire motivation for adoption of social networking behind the firewall is quite different from what it is outside the firewall. To that extent, there might need to be a few changes to the approach to social networking which might need to be brought in to bring about this change within the firewall. All ideas on how to do this invited ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kung-Fu Panda ...

This whole thing of weekend movies with the big fella rocks ... i get to see some wonderful movies in the bargain. Of course, sharing the Pop-Corn with him is an altogether cool idea. Though, he might not like it as much as i do, of course. But then, having said that, these movie outings are a fun thing for both of us! Its one of those things that boys do, you see! And no, i am not discouraging that. Not actively, at least ...

Well, to cut a long story short, we are running a week behind schedule. A wedding in the family, and ... So, we were late by a week for watching Kung-Fu Panda. Never mind ... the movie is worth the wait. As always, i am not sure who enjoyed the movie more.

For starters ... Po rocks. Definitely, he does! More so because i could almost empathize with the guy ... you see, having to do any kind of physical activity, more so when it is in the nature of exercise ... ah, how could anyone give up the luxurious paunch? Not me, not Po definitely. Which is nice.Though, the most interesting part is the message the movie gives ...

There is no secret ingredient!

If you look at it another way, its the same thing as saying there is no secret to the source of limitless power. As the movie says, one would get limitless power from the Dragon Scroll. However, the scroll is blank. All Po sees in it is his own reflection. And, thats the secret ...

You, yourself, are the source of limitless power ... there is no secret ingredient to it!

Food for Thought ... its not Secret Ingredient Soup!

Flattened World

Sometimes its a nice idea to not read a book too carefully. I recently re-read The World is Flat. As i am sure you would agree, this is quite an interesting book to read.

The last time i read this book, it was on flights, and at airports (the way i used to travel back then, this was the only time i used to get to read), and let me be honest ... i didnt read the book carefully. Because of which, over a period of time, i built up my own concept of a flattening world (something which i found out is referred to, though not directly ...). And, i use this as a concept to explain the whole idea of knowledge sharing, whenever i am giving a talk about KM.

One of the questions which i am called upon to address most of the talks i give on the subject is the WIIFM of KM. This is a question which is of high relevance to Knowledge Managers ... having grown up in a scenario where we were told that "Knowledge is Power", obviously a large part of the working population are loath to sharing knowledge. If knowledge be power, why should i share the power i have accumulated by years of studies and experience, they ask. Valid question, one would think.

And this is something i counter with the idea of the flattened world. Till a few years ago (decades?), the world was undulating. There were the "knowledge-haves", and the "knowledge-havenots". The former were the people who were called managers, who were supposed to know what needs to be done, and why. The latter were the people who were "not to ask why, but to do and die" ... figuratively! And, there was a disparity in terms of the knowledge they were supposed to have, and indeed, did have.

And this is where the world is flattening. From a topography of hills and valleys with respect to knowledge distribution, the world is getting flattened out. Today, it is no longer uneven with respect to the knowledge one can have. Instead, google and wikipedia, and a host of blogs and wikis, social networks, are flattening the world into a place where there are no undulating hills and valleys of knowledge distribution. Of course, its quite easy to pepper this discussion with anecdotes, which also illustrate the point more graphically with the audience. As a result, information today is available to anyone with a willingness to know more about it.

Now, using this concept of a knpwledge based flattening of the world within the organization, one can build up a case for the people in the organization to understand that the paradigm of knowledge-hoarding is no longer relevant, and that, sharing is the way to power in the future.

Monday, July 21, 2008

About Wikipedia ... Inaccuracies, and Kung-Fun Panda, Dark Knight ...

Lots written about the veracity of the content which you can find out wikipedia ... And yes, there is a lot of misinformation out there ... at the same time, there is also a lot of self-promotion that is happening there. Due to which there is a lot written about the relevance of wikipedia for academics. However, having said that ... this phenomenon isnt just a property of wikipedia ... this has been there since the dawn of humanity. Take for example, the web ... there is plenty of misinformation that is out there. And, it is not only limited to spaces with user-generated content.

Lets face it, any medium, whether it be the web, or it be newspapers, are the tool for people to present their viewpoint, and their viewpoint alone. Which is why, the same news story is, in all possibility, taken up by two different newspapers, with different political leanings, and presented in two different ways. The same is true for websites as well. Or, with scholarly books, too ... take for example, history written by left leaning, and by right leaning authors ... the content would typically be very different, because the areas they would focus on, and the way they would perceive these would be very different.

Having said this, wikipedia is quite a good source for information ... I found this out over the weekend ... went with my son to watch Kung Fu Panda, and you wont believe the kind of information which is available about the movie on wikipedia ... that, for a movie which hit theatres only around a week ago. Of course, one could argue that in the age of web 2.0, a week is a very long time, but then, in the weekend following the release of The Dark Knight, you should see the page over at wikipedia for the movie.

The challenge i see, as a Knowledge Manager, is to tap into this natural enthusiasm within the firewall. This, to my mind, is one of the largest challenges Knowledge Managers face ...

My Patch Of Sky ...

They say the night sky is not the same in all directions ... but, the day sky can be said to be. Standing yesterday, in the courtyard in our ancestral house, i couldnt agree. This patch of sky was different ... it was mine, one that i had gazed at for years, and years altogether. This patch of sky had seen me toddle, had seen me grow, had seen my joy at the simple pleasures of life, and had seen my tantrums of teenage. This patch of sky had seen it all. This patch saw me going to school ... it saw me have those crushes, and coming out of them. It saw me graduate to college, turning into a man. This patch of sky has seen it all.

Right under this patch of sky, is the courtyard of cricket ... the little courtyard where cricket was played as children. And yesterday, we played again. When my son, me, and my father decided on a game of cricket ... And, one thing i can say ... that is, its not half as much fun playing cricket when theres no scene of any windowpanes being broken. Or, the possibility of hitting a six (read, hitting the ball on a terrace, from where its quite impossible to retrieve it). In fact, hitting it on the neighbour's terrace was out, and breaking a windowpane was a 6. Interesting rules, indeed ...

Right next to this is the corridor, leading to the attic of memories. This is the attic where i used to spend quite a bit of time. The room where i used to settle down to study, where i used to think about those crushes ... where we used to play all sorts of games, from Ludo (actually, starting from Snakes and Ladders), to Chess, and Carrom ... this is the room which i have inhabited for more than a decade. And, there is a part of me in this room. A part of me which probably hasnt grown up. And, a part of me, which the room beckons. For, this room, which is an attic, sits in an important place, in the attic of memories.

Then, there was the trip to the book bazaar ... something which is the envy of all who know about it. This is a veritable goldmine of books ... and, you get them cheap here. OK, so they are used books, but hey ... that doesnt matter. From 17th Century Irish Divorce Law, to Midwifery, to pulp fiction nobody has ever heard of ... this bazaar packs something incredible. Though, of course, a trip to the bazaar cannot be without a little detour (around 10 metres) to Pindi ... The shop that makes the best Chholle Bhature in the world. I am sure they dont make them as good in Rawalpindi, too!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bongs (Not Original)

What do you call:

A mad Bengali?

In Sen.

A dark Bengali who lives in a cave?

Kalidas Guha.

A Bengali mobster?

Robin Ganguli.

A perfumed Bengali?

Chandan Dass

A Bengali goldsmith?

Shonar Bongla.

What's bigger than the state of Bengal?

The Bay of Bengal (or the cubic volume of hot air in their heads?).

An angry Bengali letter?

Chitti-chitti Bong Bong.

A talkative Bengali?

Bulbul Chatterjee (or the entire population of Bengal? thats all they do in the first place!).

An outlawed Bengali?

Kanoon Banerjee or Bonduk Bannerjee.

An enlightened Bengali?

Jyoti Basu.

A stupid Bengali girl?

Balika Buddhu.

A Bengali marriage?


What do you call a Bengali who takes bribe?

Mr. Ghoosh.

What does a ghati call a burping Bong?


How does the Bong learn the alphabet?

A for Orange, B for Begetable....

How does a Bong relax in the evening?

He goes to the Howrah Breej to get some Briz.

What does a Bong with a broken heart say?

'My hurt is hearting'

And finally, what do you call a Bengali who works?

A work of fiction.

Content Ownership And Role Of KM ...

We have been having this debate for a long time now ... Since the time of "KM 1.0" ... who owns the content that is being maintained on the KM systems. Of course, there are diverse points of view.

One point of view is that Knowledge Managers, by the very definition of the term, should manage all knowledge ... explicit of tacit. This implies that explicit knowledge too is the responsibility of these knowledge managers. Which means that Knowledge Managers should create content which is really high quality content, for consumption by the entire organization.

The other point of view is that knowledge managers are simply brokers. I was reading a blog some time back (tried looking, but ...) which quite sums up the way i look at things (almost!). This blog was mentioning that the essence of the role of Knowledge Managers in the organization is a sales role. I quite agree with that. Knowledge Sharing is an idea. And, this idea needs to be sold to the entire organization, so that the basic idea of sharing thoughts, experiences, indeed knowledge, over a period of time, can become one of the basic thought processes of the organization.

I prefer to take a slightly broader view, though. I believe that Knowledge Managers are essentially brokers. They need to be the salespeople ... selling the idea of knowledge creation and consumption to the organization, but at the same time, they also need to be sourcing professionals, making sure that the content is sourced according to the requirements of the consumers. From this perspective, i believe that the role of Knowledge Managers is essentially Content Management rather than creation in their capacity as content brokers. Or, in other words, facilitators! Lets look at it this way ... Knowledge Managers dont create content, and they dont consume content ... all they do is act as the bridge between the creators, and the consumers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Organizational Layers ...

I am not sure whether this is the appropriate topic for this post. But, whatever ...

As you probably already know, i am currently reading The Knowledge-Creating Company (almost through), and maybe its because my expectations from the book were sky-high (having heard so much, over a period of time, before i got round to reading it ...), but i found the book, while bringing out very prolific insights, at places, has ideas, which were, at the time of writing, quite appropriate, but over a period of time, tend to seem dated.

One such idea is the concept of the hypertext organization. As the concept of synthesis of the beauraucratic and the task-force oriented organizational structures, this is a wonderful idea (and, one which has not really been implemented too well in organizations to date ... primarily because the various components linked together by the hypertext tend to become islands or mini-organizations in their own right, and the balance to be obtained between the beauraucratic and the task-force oriented organization structures is very hard to achieve). However, there is a concern i have with some concepts mentioned about this.

What i am talking about is the relationship between the business system, the project team, and the knowledge base. I dont think i am competent enough to comment on the relationship between the project team and the business system (after all, i am myself still trying to achieve this balance between the two contrasts of beauraucracy and task-force orientation ... much like a lot of other managers), what i find a little discomforting is the distinction which is made between these two, and the knowledge base layer.

To my mind, this distinction is at best artificial. According to the authors' own model, knowledge is an inherent part of the business system, and the project teams (read tacit knowledge). To this extent, shouldnt the systems related to identifying, and then sharing of knowledge, leading to the generation of the knowledge spiral, and to the unhindered discovery and flow of knowledge, be an integral part of the operational structure of the organization itself? Otherwise, Knowledge Management by itself becomes an end, rather than a means to another end, as envisioned in the corporate vision.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shape Of Things At Night

It is true ... things take on peculiar shapes, colours and meaning at night. This is realized last night ... in my hotel room. Or rather, looking out of my hotel room. But first, let me clarify ... since i am still groggy, any typoes are all mine! Well, i was sitting in a nice, comfortable chair, by the window in my room, reading a nice book (The Knowledge-Creating Company is actually a nice book ... i have even blogged about it!). This was the scene when the power went off.

Unable to see a thing, i decided to try the view from the window. I parted the curtains, and was looking out ... a beautiful tree right outside my window. The lights from the cars passing by ... They create living shadows in the trees ... i am sure you didnt know that. But then, this is something you can find out only if you are looking at it, which a lot of us dont. Anyway, coming back to what was going on ... the lights of the cars passing by were creating playful shadows on the leaves. These shadows were of different, beautiful, at times unknown shapes, but beautiful they were for sure, as was their dance. Suddenly, my attention was caught by something.

Something white in the tree. Usually, one wouldnt expect something white in the tree. So, i blinked and looked hard. Yes, it was still there. But, what was it? And thats when it struck me ... It has to be a ghost! What else could be white, and dangling from the branches of a tree? Imagine, barely a few feet from you, in the pitch dark of the night, punctuated only by the lights of the passing cars (and these were quite infrequent, so by now, there were prolonged spells of darkness), there was the silhouette of a ghost. Captivating the thoughts. And, the senses. Fear was slowly creeping in. Unknown to me, being felt only by my peripheral senses, fear was slowly taking over my emotions ... my senses slowly coming to face it.

Just as fear was about to take total control over me, power came back. At first it was startling, this sudden change in the environment. And, it took a few minutes to adjust to the explosion of light. And then i looked out again. It was still there. It was a Kurta. I dont know why it was there, how it got to be there, or why was it dangling right in front of my window. Thats not really the end of the story. This was close to bed-time, and i was feeling drowsy (these days, i am subscribing to the early to bed, early to rise phenomenon ...). But, i was too shaken to face the darkness. Which is why, i had to leave on all the lights, keep the tv switched on, and sleep with all these distractions.

Art Fry and Social Computing

I was reminded of the story of how the Post-Its were invented. Though this post is not about Post-Its. Or, you might find this an interesting read. Or, if you look closely at the story of the Post-Its ... From what i read ...

The marketing people did some surveys with potential customers, who said they didnt see the need for paper with a weak adhesive. Fry said, "Even though i felt that there would be demand for this product, i didnt know how to explain this in words. Even if i found the words to explain, no on would understand ..." Instead, Fry distributed samples within 3M and asked people to try them out.The rest was history.

The part about not being able to explain in words, and even if one found the words to explain, no one would understand, reminds me of social computing. Strange how one thing could lead to another? This, to my mind, is the beauty of human thought. One doesnt know what thought might lead where. The interesting part here is that, like Post-Its, senior management usually doesnt see the need for sticky web-pages where people can scribble their thoughts. However, just give these pages to them, and one could come up with quite interesting uses. And, the interesting thing is, it may not just be restricted to the usual things.

Why should a wiki be used only for maintaining project plans and communications, or for preparing presentations? Why cant a systems administrator create a wiki for maintaining help and FAQs for the new system? Or, a sales guy create a blog to keep track of the orders he has closed this quarter, so that, for reporting, he doesnt have to go back asking for reports, but rather, just go to his blog, and get the numbers from there? Or, why cant just about anybody write down their objectives or targets for the year on a wiki page, an track their achievements against their targets, in a wiki, so that come appraisal time, one could just send the link of the wiki to their boss (if one is feeling adventurous, that is ... otherwise, copy-paste and send it in an email!).

The point i am trying to make is that given the chance, people could come up with uses of social computing technology which were probably not even thought about. There are, of course, the usual, well-defined ways of using them, but these may just be one of the few.

Of course, if usage cannot be completely predicted, the next question that arises is whether anything like ROI can be predicted with any reasonable level of confidence? I dont think so. Of course, the question still remains whether one could tag ROI to something as intangible as social computing (simply because there is usually no causal relationship between the tools, and the outcome ... the tools are the software, and the outcome occurs in the heads of people!). Though, of course, somethng which keeps coming back to me is that if a senior manager is to make an investment, surely, they would need to make sure that it is worth it. And this, to my mind, is where the catch lies. This ROI is to be experienced, not necessarily calculated, to begin with!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

True Story ...

So this is not an original ... but then, if its true, why does it need to be? Well ... heres one which you might want to hear. And one which the girls dont know about (and maybe we should keep it this way ... dont wannt antagonize them, do we?).

Well, in a time distant ... there was Adam ... roaming The Garden! He was having a really good time. He could go out for a drink whenever he wanted to. He could come back home when he pleased, sleep late, in general, do whatever he pleased. And then, one day, he had an idea ... Wouldnt it be nice to have someone to talk to? In this frame of mind, he approached God. And he asked ... God, can i have someone to talk with? God, in His wisdom, said ... Yes, my son ... you shall have a companion. She shall be called Eve, and she shall be the best thing to have happened to you. You wouldnt be able to ask for anything better. And this caught Adam's attention ... Tell me more, he said.

Well ... God said ... She shall be the perfect companion. First of all, she shall never go shopping. She shall have an extreme allergy to expensive new clothes, to perfumes, and to any kinds of cosmetics. Hence, she shall stay away from all of these. In short, she shall never go shopping. She will always listen to you. And, she will never argue with you. She will, after you have had your say, apologize to you even if (hold your breath, friends!), the mistake was yours. She shall never complain about anything, and will take care of you and your home without any complaints. She will have absolutely no problems with you drinking Beer, and your boy's evenings out. Hmmm ... Interesting ... thought Adam. And then he turned to God, and asked ... Father, how much is she going to cost me? (for he also knew, in his Smithonian form, that there is no such thing as a free lunch!) ... God quickly did some costing calculations, and told him ... My son, she is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Adam thought, and then he thought some more. God of course told him that this was a limited period offer, so he had to make up his mind fast. Like, in the next 5 seconds. Inspired by the idea of getting a good deal, Adam decided to bargain (a la Janpath, or Fashion Street!). He asked God ... what do i get for a rib? (the rest, of course, is history ... the 5 seconds were over!)

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Knowledge Creating Company ...

This book is one of the most renowned books when it comes to the subject of knowledge. This is The Knowledge-Creating Company by Nonaka and Takeuchi. Interesting reading, no doubt. And, i am sure i am learning a lot from the book. But, having said that (and you could say this could be because of very high expectations), i find the book a bit of a disappointment. Firstly, it is a bit confusing in the way it addresses definitional issues, and secondly, it focuses on the new product development aspect, in a way which at times doesnt feel relevant in other scenarios.

Firstly, the authors mention that metaphor and analogy are tools for externalization. However, this raises the question as to whether storytelling as a means of knowledge sharing should be treated as externalization, or whether it should be treated as socialization. According to the definition in the book, it should be treated as externalization, and this somehow doesnt ring too true, because a story is not really exlicit ... By the meaning of the word, the story is really tacit, because the real meaning and moral is hidden somewhere in the story, rather than being explicitly detailed, like in in data sheet. These two are qualitatively different, and this theory doesnt seem to address this difference. In other words, there is, to my mind, a difference between specific and generic knowledge (essentially, knowledge that is presented in the context in which it was created, vis a vis knowledge that has been abstracted from its context and presented in a generalized form), and this dimension of knowledge doesnt seem to be addressed here.

Secondly, somehow, another thing doesnt really come out too well ... That socialization, externalization, and combination are modes which are primarily from the sender's perspective, and in a sense, all of these must be followed by a step of internalization, otherwise the communication is incomplete. As such, internalization should be a component of all the three steps, but this doesnt come out well. For example, if someone were to write a document (externalization), does this by itself imply knowledge sharing? Or, would someone need to read and understand this document for the knowledge sharing cycle to be completed (ok, so a rather simplistic example, but adequate to actually get the point across, i suppose)? Also, the demarcation between the different steps doesnt come out too well. Although the impression one gets is that these four are substantially different forms of knowledge sharing, this difference doesnt come out clearly, and at the same time, the idea that comes out is that demarcation between the different modes is blurred. For example, if a discussion is considered to be socialization, when does this discussion move from being socialization, to being externalization? Or, if someone is writing a document based on their experiences, and is referring to other documents, would this be in the realm of externalization, or would this be combination? Somehow, the fact that many forms of knowledge sharing are a combination of these multiple modes, and people would move seamlessly from one mode to the other (as these modes are defined) doesnt come out too clearly.

Having said this, the theory is a very useful model to understand the concepts, and it would be extremely nice if the authors had built upon it, to take the nuances to the next level.

Would welcome all your thoughts and criticisms on the topic. Please do write in ... Would help me understand the fallacies in my arguments. Thank You!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shubho Mahurat

As whodunits come, this one is quite the same ... and yet different. This is something about the movie which makes it different from the rest. Dont ask me what it is. Is it the way the story is told, or is it the acting? No idea ... but different it is, which is why i have seen this movie again and again ... last night was the firth time ... usually you cant see whodunit kinds more than a couple of times, if they are really good. But, in Shubho Mahurat, Rituparno Ghosh has come up with an incomparable way of telling this Agatha Christie story.

For starters, the direction is right up there with the best ... those details match. Usually, in a scene where one of the actors is smoking, you would find that suddenly, in mid-sentence, the cigarette has gone from just-lit to almost-through. This is something which doesnt happen here. Even apart from this, the little things, like the street noises of Kolkata have been captured in the background. The shouts of the vendors, the sounds of vehicles driving past ... they are all there.

Direction apart, the acting in the movie is in a league of its own. To begin with, Sharmila Tagore ... she is, today, acting in a way she never even came close to, in her heyday. She has come up with a truly superlative performance. And, this must be said ... Sharmila Tagore gets more and more beautiful with age. The elegance and grace with which she carries off the role is simply superb.

And as far as the acting, goes, Rakhee (trivia ... she is the true Independance child ... born on 15th August, 1947) has shown what it means to act. With her acting in this movie, she has, to my mind, given a totally new dimension to the idea of acting. Her performance in the movie is simply the best i have ever seen (if you dont consider Sanjeev Kumar in Nayaa Din Nayee Raat, has to be the best performance of all times). The way she has taken care of the the slightest nuances of the role really takes this performance to a different league altogether.

And then, there is Nandita Das and Anindya (i am not attaching a link to Anindya, because couldnt find one ... except for Chandrabindu). Nandita has given far better performances, and then, a mediocre performance when put next to the superlative ones by Rakhee and Sharmila Tagore seems totally lacklustre. Anindya, on the other hand, is a wonderful singer, and he should stick to it.

Overall, a movie which i would recommend to all my readers ... the CD even has English sub-titles.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Relevance of Communication

The other day i was asked a question ... about the role communication skills might play in the realm of knowledge management. This got me thinking ... interesting topics ... this is not something i have read much about, nor have i written about it myself.

Let us try to look at it from two perspectives:

From the perspective of explicit knowledge, this is a no-brainer ... if you are trying to write something, put something to paper, you are in the process of communicating with the world through the document which will result. So, there must be ample and proper articulation, which in turn requires sufficiently good writing skills. This is important because when you are doing so, you are trying to translate a picture which you are carrying in your head, to a set of words, and there is the very real possibility (something which happens more than one would like to see) of meaning being lost in the translation.

Moving now to the realm of collaboration ... today, when we are talking about web 2.0, collaboration deals more and more with an ongoing conversation ... through blogs, wikis, through social networks, etc. However, this is where my viewpoint begins to differ from the traditional one. the way they have been developed, and their essential philosophy, is totally opposed to any kind of structure. There is some, of course, which is in the interest of brevity (which is why we still divide posts into paragraphs which can be more easily digested), but apart from this, this paradigm of social computing has rather little to do with the sophisiticated techniques that one is taught during communication skills trainings. Apart from the basics ... Keep it short, capture the interest of the audience, and make sense at what you are talking about.

The impact is interesting ... while communications are becoming more and more informal, they are also becoming more and more vibrant (read twitter ... which reminds me, i need to graduate to twitter one of these days, except that i am just too lazy to create my network all over again over there, when i have already done so over at facebook). Lots has been written about the way sms has changed the way people communicate. To my mind, a lot of this is applicable to the social computing space as well.

Looking Ahead ...

This is a question a lot of people are asking, and a lot of people are talking about. Is web 2.0 going to change the way we work? The answer seems to be yes … that web 2.0 is more than just a set of tools … that it’s a new paradigm for business. The basic concept of this paradigm being the "democratization" of knowledge creation, dissemination, and absorption. In other words, anyone today can write a blog, create knowledge, disseminate it, and anyone can read anyone's blog, interact with the blog (through RSS Feeds, and Comments), and absorb what the author of the blog is saying (simplistic example).

What not too many people are talking about is how this new paradigm is going to change the way business functions. Like, in the 90s, e-commerce changed the way companies worked, by expanding their boundaries, and increasing collaboration with business partners. However, web 2.0, to my mind, is far more profound a change. Why? In one word ... People! Till now, all changes have been focussed around the classical management approach ... optimize, streamline, etc. ... where the focus has been on analytical functions, and business processes. Even the web, for all the changes it brought about in the 90s, had these changes focussed primarily around business processes, and not people ... something i have written about.

Take a simple example ... in the 90s, there was the concept of the webmaster. For the last so many years, the concept has quietly disappeared from the websites i frequent. Indeed, i would believe, that to a large extent, the webmaster is getting replaced by ... hold your breath ... users. No, we are not quite there yet, but the fact is, more and more, users are creating content rather than just relying on webmasters to do that. Once we realize this, its simple to also figure out that the possibilities that are there with people are far more than there are with business processes. People can do so much more than processes can. And this is why i believe why this change is more profound.

Another aspect which we might need to look at ... With this "democratization" of knowledge happening, there are certain things which could change fundamentally. First of all, this "democratization" would lead to concentration of decision-making rights on a particular subject to a particular set of people, while at the same time, decision-making rights would get diffused across the organization (or maybe, the word might be scattered), if we look at it from the corporate level. In other words, decision-making rights would no longer rest with a privileged few, but rather, be distributed among people best suited to take them. Something i have written about before, based on a post by Andrew McAfee. This has interesting implications ... What this means is that the patterns of power-holding would also shift drastically.

Which brings me to the point of power ... The nature of power has changed over the centuries, since the modern business world has come into being. This has been manifested by the way power has been wielded in human relationships. Now, "democratization' of knowledge, and the consequent distribution of decision-making rights would imply distribution of power in the organizational context. Now, human beings crave power ... there cannot be ay disputing that. Which means, that one could expect staunch resistance to this kind of movement. Some of which we are seeing even now in the organizational context. Though, in all probability, this may not be enough to stop the way technology, and hence, business is going to evolve. This, too, is something we are witnessing today. In other words, we are, today, seeing the evolution of business, and the resistance to this evolution which one would expect.

The important offshoot of this is that while we are seeing changes in the way power is distributed in organizations, if we superimpose on this the fact that human beings crave power, one would expect, over a period of time, the nature of power to change, both in terms of its sources, as well as in terms of its manifestation. One would expect this change to occur based on knowledge sharing. In other words, reputation of individuals, and how worthy they are seen to be (regardless of seniority, function, etc.), would probably play a key role in defining the position of people in the organization. In the "web 1.0" context, position defined reputation ... going forward, this could change diametrically.

More about how networks could impact this ...

Just a few thoughts i have been pondering upon ... Welcome all comments, and thoughts! Thanks ...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Old vs New?

My friend Mark pointed me to a an interesting blog by Chuck Hollis ... about The End of Knowledge Management? ... interesting read this. About the end of Knowledge Management as we knew it. Or, KM 1.0 ... or was it KM 0.0? Gosh ... these decimals sure do get me confused, dont they?

Though i do agree with Chuck when he talks about the long winded discussions about taxonomy, and the role taxonomy has played in the scheme of things. The way i see it, this was the stage where the central aspect of KM was documents ... where the focus was only on documentation. And i am sure we have all been there done that ... building huge repositories of documents, and spending sleepless nights trying to figure out the perfect taxonomy (as if there ever was some such thing!).

The departure, to my mind, though, is in two different directions. If we are to look at KM as having two components ... Codification, and Collaboration ... then, today, the focus is shifting towards collaboration. Much as it should. Though, codification must still remain as part of the KM strategy of the organization. What the term means would probably evolve ... which is why i have used a more generic term.

One aspect of the codification strategy is the idea of taxonomy ... and this is something i have written about before ... Whether there is any such thing as too much taxonomy ... definitely there is. And, there is the question where most folks dont know the answer ... what is the point at which taxonomy tends towards towards too much taxonomy, and should rather be replaced by search?

The other aspect of course is the idea of collaboration. This is gaining momentum with the evolution of web 2.0 technologies. Now, collaboration has always been something which has been far more beneficial that simply going through documentation. Lets take an example ...

At college, whenever there was a topic which i couldnt understand (and there were plenty of them), rather than going through the book again (there was hardly any time ... what with preparing on the night before the exam!), i would simply head to a friend, and ask him to explain the topic to me.

In other words, collaboration has always held a position at the centre of sharing of thoughts in human society. What has happened over a period of time is that documentation has been artificially been given a place of prominence in the scheme of things, and the evolution of web 2.0 is basically, in a sense, a back to basics, albeit in an altogether different way, and an altogether different scale and scope. And, these basics are essentially centred around people, with the interactions and the entire process of knowledge sharing being the spokes which radiate from the people. Which is something we find in the popularity of social computing, and social networking tools.

Marriage ... Forever!

There are a few who believe that the marriage of institution has changed ... that it has evolved over a period of time, along with the evolution of the human species. To all of them, i would say ... i disagree. Well ... the basic concept of marriage has been incorporated into a picture (whoever said a picture speaks louder than a thousand words ... and i did google to try to find who uttered these words, but failed ... really knew his Beans from his Bacon!) ... this picture speaks more than a whole lot of words. Speaks for the lifetimes of generations of married men? I would think it does.

In case you were wondering what this picture is ...

Interesting picture ... though, it begins even more interesting if you try to analyze it. For, there are a number of very interesting things which come out of this picture!

To begin with ... lets analyze this picture from the dimension of time ... the actions of the harried man would have totally different meanings depending on the presence or absence of a little strip of metal around his finger ...

Before marriage ... This is the usual male way of pleading with the woman to make his life full (poor fellow, he is not yet married, so how is he to know that a life thats full is also a life thats finished!). He will go to the extent of giving her his credit card, for her to spend as she wishes, if she will just rule his heart. From the vantage point of his heart, she could swipe and swipe, till the card melts, for all he cares ... plastic is renewable, love isnt, after all. Of course, the view from where he is doesnt hurt either! For centuries, men have left no stone unturned to please their mate. Actually, they probably had no choice. And fuelling this fire is the picture of the Taj Mahal with the caption ...

And to think, today's men get away by gifting flowers and chocolates to their wives!

This must have been designed by a geriatric, well beyond the "have to gift" stage, only to egg on their daughters to a new stage of marital bliss.

After marriage ... well ... he seems to be saying just one thing ... Please take this credit card ... i implore you ... take this credit card, and spend all you wish, my dear ... but please ... oh please ... spare me! After all, plastic is renewable, but life isnt!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Technology Shift

I was reading an interesting paper written by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson about Investing in the IT That Makes a Competitive Difference ... Quite an interesting paper. Brings up some thoughts ... about the way i have seen the technology landscape shift.

Having worked in the ERP domain for quite some time, the one thing i would see that ERP has managed to bring about is a shift. This shift has been from a primarily function based structure of the organization, with departmental silos dividing the organization into interdependant parts which, nevertheless, didnt talk to each other, to a structure which is more based on business processes, and the flows of these process tasks across various business functions, in the organization. Perhaps the functional, departmental silo based structure was necessitated by the lack of opportunities to communicate, and due to the power equations in the organization. In a world where there are a number of stakeholders for every business process (say, having the Materials/Inventory folks, the Procurement/Buying folks, the Finance/Payables folks, distributed across locations), and no single means for actuallycoordinating work across these in a seamless manner, inter-office memos being the norm, a sort of beauraucracy, leading to rigidity would be something to be expected. With an integrated approach to business, ERP changed this in the 90s, leading into this millenium. ERP vendors, such as SAP and Oracle, have long talked about the process-centric approach that they espouse, more or less.

However, ERP, for instance, has not been the unqualified success one would have accepted it to have been, or the success that SAP or Oracle would have liked to see it as. The reason, to my mind, is essentially to do with the fact that a lot of organizations brought brand new ERP packages, and implemented them on top of existing organizational structures and business processes. Automating a wrong way of doing things, is only going to lead to more mistakes per minute. Having said that, in my experience, senior management teams have come around to the realization that a process-based way of thinking can yield immense benefits. Something similar can be said of frontline executives, who also find the enhanced efficiencies coming from the process-based approach. Somehow, middle management is what hasnt really brought in as much as one would have liked them to have. But, on the whole, mindsets have changed to a very large extent.

Having said that, one thing this process-centric approach doesnt address is people. The process, from this perspective, is assumed to be totally people independant. While this is a nice thing from the perspective of standardization, the fact is that there are always aspects of the business process which benefit from the experience of the people performing those tasks in the process. This experience has not been harnessed too effectively. Going forward, i would like to see a shift in enterprise applications, in a direction where the "people aspect" of business processes gets more highlighted, in a way that people performing business processes should be able to gain from the experiences of others in similar roles, while at the same time, capturing their thoughts in real time. What i am talking about is including web 2.0 aspects to enterprise applications ... to make the shift from a purely business process centric platform, to a process-people centric platform.

In the current scheme of things, enterprise applications, and collaboration tools are two different, seemingly independant components of the enterprise technology landscape. However, somewhere, the context of the collaboration is something which gets diluted in this model. This context (say, the transactional context), could be carried forward to the collaboration.

Age Difference ...

I know i am getting old ... and, this was just confirmed by a presentation i made today ... I was to make a presentation about Knowledge Management to a group of kids just out of college. And, it was really an interesting experience. Usually, when i am making these presentations, i am doing so with experienced folk, guys who can boast a few strands of white hair on their heads. To give you an idea of the difference ...

In trying to demonstrate the power of social computing, i use the example of wikipedia ... I always ask the audience how many of them have heard of, or used wikipedia. And, with the usual crowd, i manage to draw blanks from at least half the crowd. In this instance, however, the entire audience had not only heard of wikipedia, but what i could gather from the dicussion was that all of them are quite active users of wikipedia. The entire audience was far more open to the idea of collaboration, and more willing to participate in initiatives of collaboration than an audience in a senior age group than these. The response (through show of hands, and the discussion which usually follows the presentation) was far more positive here, than with the senior age group.

And this is one of the major aspects of change in the workplace, to my mind. A lot of folks have written about this. Just thought i would post this because this was an experience quite different from what i otherwise have.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lest We Forget ...

There is a conflagration up in Jammu and Kashmir ... there was a news piece about the commemoration of the first anniversary of the siege of Lal Masjid. The siege had resulted in armed clashes between security forces, and gunmen operating from the Mosque.

Raises a question ... a disturbing one. Is this the direction humanity is condemned to walk in? Is this what we shall have as our future? As the world and life we give to our children? It is true ... public memory is short ... Its been 60 years ... more than lifetimes in public memory? True ... in large part, we see the event through the mists of time. But, something we need to remember ... It was worth millions of human lives ... worth uncountable drops of blood, and tears.

They called it Partition. And, maybe no other generation can feel the pain of the partition, as much as the children of midnight, the people who lived through it, losing their all ... that was perhaps a political necessity ... and losing scores of their loved ones. The scariest part ... it was not some distant armed force which caused this ... that it was ones own people, their friends, neighbours, people they met on a daily basis, the flower vendor, the ice-candy man, who wreaked this havoc. Maybe this is a lesson we should never forget. So we are, at least, not condemned to repeat some of the greatest follies of humanity. Please see these pictures! They tell the entire story of Partition ... in a way no words can.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Interesting Idea ...

I guess its true ... Every alternate day, there is an interesting idea which is taking shape in the world ... especially on the web. I came across one such idea the other day ... but first, the way i came across this idea is actually as interesting as the idea itself.

I was indulging in some self-awareness ... i have a visitor map on my blog. You can click on this to enlarge the map. I did that the other day, in order to see the visitor map of my blog in more detail. No, this is not what it is. There was a banner of a website on here, which caught the eye ... and, i must say its quite an interesting idea ... Its idopia ... and an interesting idea, i must say.

What can you do here? Not much ... Actually, i am also just exploring this. Off the cuff, what you can do is, ask a question, and post it ... and, people can respond to the question. Not quite a discussion forum, though. Its more of a polling tool. Any question you have in mind, you can ask, and people can support, or oppose the idea. You can also post details about the question you are asking, enabling people to understand what you are asking in detail, before they respond.

In addition, you can also get an overall picture of the kinds of questions people are asking, what are the responses people are posting to them, and also, which are the most active topics which are garnering the most interest.

What is most interesting is the way this could be utilized in the organization. Couple of scenarios come to mind ... Would people prefer e-learning to in-class training for a particular topic? Or, do people like the new compensation plan for salespeople? As a standalone tool, though, this might have limited utility, but used in the larger context of social computing tools, this could be quite an interesting tool. A blog, say, could have a reference to questions related to the topic on the blog, as a quick reference to readers, or members of a network could use this tool to find out what people think about a particular topic. Seems interesting, and i possibly, people could find more innovative ways to use this, than any one of us can think of?

Book In My Head

They say each one of us has a writer somewhere within. I guess that is quite true. Considering the thoughts in my head these days ... There are so many thoughts which course through the neurons merrilly gettng those synapses tingling. In fact, i would say there is not one, but many books which the writer inside is raring to write. There is just one small, tiny, itsy-bitsy problem ... Actually, not one, but two. First, what to write about, and second, where to begin.

There are so many topics i would like to write about. I want to write about some things which have happened during my time this time round on the earth ... some incidents from childhood, some illustrious craziness in college, some of the memorable journeys (yes, this could be a magnum opus), which i have undertaken. I also want to write about my spiritual explorations. And, i want to write about two topics which are very, very close to my heart ... maybe one not as much as the other ... the Partition (well, my family comes from Lahore), and the Silk Road. The political, and more important, the cultural and, of course, culinary history of the wonderful cities which dotted the silk road, and the empires which were created, and which faded away in time. I also want to write about some of the moments engraved in the mind's eye till the time i depart (maybe in the worlds to come, as well ...). I want to write about love, and about human frailty, and heroism.

OK ... I am sure you got the point. There are so many things to write about. First question ...

Should all of these form part of one story, as they are, in my mind, threads tied to each other, with ends chasing each other, or should they be put to paper, in a form where each thread can be told in the form of a separate story?

Once you have understood the dilemma i am facing, i am sure you would understand the second question ... where do i begin?

All thoughts, opinions, suggestions, more than welcome ... Please pass this on to your friends, and do write back on the comments, with your thoughts! Would be highly appreciated ...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Construction ...

Just a thought ... There is the construction boom. If you have been to Gurgaon, you would see the amount of new construction activity which is happening here. This is a very nice sign. It is a sure indicator of the growth of the city, and reflects on the amount of value that is being generated. This is a wonderful thing. Only concern i see here ... Why are we not having higher and higher buildings being constructed?

I am not just talking about Gurgaon here, but in all parts of the country. What is happening is that we are constructing buildings which are short. As a result, more and more land has to be brought under construction, in order to accommodate the same set of people, or to build the same number of housing units, or the same number of office blocks. While this by itself may not be an issue, this has the potential of snowballing into a situation where more and more of agricultural land is taken up for construction purposes. This is already happening in parts of the country, from what i understand from my interactions with people from different parts of the country, and this is not a nice thing to be happening, considering that if we keep going this way, we would end up having major food shortfall in the coming years.

All comments invited ...

Something To Read ...

This is going to be nothing in particular, and everything in general, hence the title. The first thing ... Driving! If you have driven in Kolkata, or Mumbai, you would know how much of a nightmare it can be. Well, Gurgaon is well on its way to becoming a world city, and hence ... Can Gurgaon be far behind? Just today ... there was a lady, driving a SUV ... no, i have no problems with that. Never ... wouldnt even think about it. Just that she was driving while having an Apple, and trying to call up someone on her mobile. Now, this surely is a juggling act highly difficult to emulate, and i would hope not many folks try to do that, either. At least, not the eating ... its always much more wonderful eating in peace, dont you think? Now, this is not to say that this is the preserve of women, but being the MCP that i am (ya, ya, i heard you say this earlier ...), i just had to write this! No, no ... i dont hate women. In fact, much the opposite ... i love them! Tongue in cheek ... its just their driving skills i am worried about.

On the subject of women in Gurgaon ... i think Gurgaon is growing up, and quick. The other day, i was out buying Beer (yes, this was before my Diet, for the record ...). Two girls came in (i would call them girls, given the grey hair in my goatee, and the fact that they looked much, much younger) ... They asked for strong Beer. Now, thats cool ... Girls can drink anything they want to ... What i would like to write about here is that the shopkeeper didnt bat an eyelid. The usual glances, head to toe, sizing them up ... they were just not there! And, this, to my mind, is a sign of a city which is growing up, if not already there!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Training Scenario ... Possibility?

Carrying on from the previous post, i am trying to build up a training scenario which leverages the emerging un-book concept, and social computing. First question ... why? This question gets more or less answered in the last post i have written. Instead of a static handout (even more of an issue if you are doing technology training), the training material could be something which could offer the following benefits:

1. The training material is up-to-date. As people contribute to blogs and wikis (which could be maintained by a training organization, though preferably not!), there is content which is getting generated every day. This means that the latest thought processes on the topic are incorporated into the content.

2. The training material reflects all opinions. Usually, training material is written by one or two people, and reflects the ideas, thoughts, and opinions of these people. This is one of the things which restricts learning to only the specific things which are covered in the training material. Whereas with the un-book concept, the blogs and wikis students could refer to, are actually representative of a large cross-section of viewpoints.

The scenario could work out something like this ...

When a student enrolls for a training program, the training team could email them a set of intro blogs. Links to these blogs, along with their ratings, and comments from previous students could be maintained as part of a wiki page, which could serve as an aggregator for contents on a particular topic, and could be maintained by the training team itself. The training team could also recommend the students to read the "Intro blogs" (these could be blogs which are classified based on user or training team tagging, as being introductory in nature). These recommendations could also come from the faculty who is conducting the training. This ensures that some amount of background resources are available to students before they come to the training.

During the training, there could be a set of blogs, "Training Material" (which represent the thoughts of a number of folks on the topic being taught), though in the interest of brevity, the list of blogs could be pre-selected by the faculty, or identified by the training team. I would recommend this, otherwise, a plethora of resources being available would only tend to confuse students.

What is most important (and this is an issue which most training organizations face), is that these resources are available to students even once they are through with the training, and back to their day-to-day jobs. This would enable the training team to provide resources to students which would enable them to engage with the topic taught in the training, even post-training. And, maybe ... just maybe ... one or two of the students from each batch might start writing their own blog on the topic, and this would only add to the resources which are available to subsequent resources.

I have tried to create a rough model of how the training organization could leverage social computing to deliver training in the organizational context. This might not work too well outside the organizational context (havent thought this through, to be honest), but could be worth a thought, at least?

So Who Is It?

There is a front page piece in the ToI today ... Blame $146 oil on speculators, US House told ... Interesting reading. Apparently, the expert has told the US House that the surge in oil prices is due to speculative activity. Interesting ... On the other hand, there was an article in the Financial Express, which says, Majors say high oil pricess not due to speculators. Even more interesting ... CNBC says ...

Crude prices have surged seven-fold since the start of 2002 as supply struggles to keep up with demand from emerging nations like China. The price spike has caused fuel protests worldwide and hurt demand in consuming nations like the United States.

Interesting ... China and India (though the article doesnt explicitly mention India), are to blame, according to this statement. On the other hand, the United States is seen as a consuming nation. Is China, or India, not a consuming nation? This gives the impression that according to CNBC, China should be "sacrificing" for the "consuming nation", the United States. If anything, this should be a clarion call for the "developed" world to look inwards, and understand why they are consuming hydrocarbons (or anything else for that matter), in disproportionate measure. And, shoulder the responsibility of the implications of relentless consumption. Queer ... Very queer!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dynamic Books ...

A book is a static entity ... it is frozen in time the moment it is published, just like any other document. Which is why i believe that in an organization, as far as the KM program goes, collaboration has to play an increasingly important role than codification. Because no matter how exhaustive a document repository is, the codification of knowledge the repository represents will keep on changing. And this is where i look at blogs, wikis, and communities to keep in synch with this changing knowledge knowledge base, as well as to make sure that it keeps changing, because our knowledge will increase, and evolve only as this happens.

Jay Cross writes about the benefits of the evolving concept of the Un-Book. One thing a lot of people believe is that a wiki, for example, is Work in Progress, while a book represents the final word. This is something we as a civilization need to understand ... there is no such thing as a final word on human knowledge. This is because human knowledge has not yet reached the final frontier (whether it ever will is the question of another debate, given that we dont even know whether is such a thing or not).

Interestingly, if the book is slowly becoming obsolete (not to mention prohibitively expensive), then what is the form of interaction which could generate opinions and thoughts at a level which is at least similar to that of a book. Much as an un-book sounds exciting, it lacks a basic structure which a book can offer. Now, it could be argued that structure is not a nice thing. While that is a viewpoint, i believe that a certain amount of structure (at least a minimal level), is required to aid learning. Now, agreed that different people find different kinds of structures beneficial to their learning process, but structure there must be, to some extent or the other. For example, visit a page on wikipedia, and you would find some rudimentary structure in place.

What would be really neat is a spiral bound collection of dynamic things, like blogs and wikis, which could be presented as an ongoing book. The important part being ongoing, considering that learning is not going to stop is folks stop writing blogs. Blogroll comes to mind with this. Interesting ... it serves as a collection of blogs i could refer to. Thing about blogrolls is that they are one person's viewpoint on the best sources of information and opinions on a particular topic. Could get tricky if you are talking about marketing blogs.

What could be cool could be some kind of a blogroll directory. A collection of the favourite blogs of a number of people on a particular topic, something on the lines of or digg. What would make this more interesting if this could also present cross-referencing of blogs, so that there could emerge a rating mechanism, to give an idea of who are the people who prefer a particular set of "spiral bound" blogs. What could make this even more interesting ... Having a minimal structure. Somewhat like having a blogroll which has sections ... Introduction to Topic blogs, Basic Concepts blogs, Detailed Concepts blog, Implementation blogs, etc. etc. Somewhat like having a book with a Preface which is dynamic, and to which people can add to as they keep learning new things?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Of Social Networking, and Questions ...

Interesting post by Andrew McAfee ... Some Questions You Might Get Asked ... Somewhat like a cheat sheet of some of the top of mind questions you get asked whenever you are trying to sell the idea of social networking. And, Andrew seems to have covered most, if not all.

The interesting thing is that most of these questions are not as novel as they would be made out to be. The argument i would have, to answer quite a few of these questions is that a lot of the questions raised relate to things already happening ... these are part of human nature, not the exclusive domain of social computing. And some of the questions raised have been around for some time, and would be around, social networking withstanding.

This brings me to the point of social networking ... The only thing social networking tools are allowing people to do is to create relationships, which can be leveraged for work, and pleasure. Now, i wouldnt deny that there would be a fun aspect to social networking, even behind the firewall. But, this is simply because we are all human beings. How many times have you been to a meeting where the discussion was totally centred around work, and not a word about anything besides work? (If you can actually think of times, please assume this question to be rhetorical, and take some time to smell the flowers ...). Point is, "time wasting" is not so much that. Its more of a way to create human relationships, rather than simply relationships which can be expressed in the forma of mathematical equations (i am actually reading a book on this these days!).

As for time wasting (read posting photos of vacation), every organization has the system of setting performance targets, and appraising performance against these. I would expect this process to address time-wasting! And, i am sure managers love to give stretch targets to their reportees, which means that folks out there have less and less time to actually do anything apart from work (sometimes they actually forget to breathe?). In fact, this runs counter to the argument which i have heard a lot of times, which goes something like this ... nobody in my team has time for social computing, because they are already piled up with so much work (check it out here).

Larger concern is the possibility of information leakage. Its not to say that leakage doesnt happen now, but its just that social computing tools could act as a catalyst. Which is where, when within the firewall, there might be the requirement to build some amount of walls around content which is considered sensitive (and please dont treat your annual report as being sensitive, especially when its already been released to the markets!). The point i am trying to make is, there is the temptation to mark everything as sensitive. There must be mechanisms to address this, otherwise nobody gets to access anything. In other words, there is the possibility of falling into the silo thought process, which should be avoided (Chinese walls to be avoided?).

Runaway Prices, and Sound-Bites ...

They are kicking up a political storm. And, everyone is left wondering what hit them. I am reading so much about fuel prices, and combine this with the uncertainty around the 123 Agreement, that it seems almost as though the foundations of modern democracy are being shaken. Of course, one of the things anyone would be Hoping for would be restoration of the normal way the world goes round.

However, not many of the soundbites are pointing to this direction, as more and more of the high and mighty folks are busy pointing fingers and allocating blame for this situation, rather than trying to sit together and find a solution which is beneficial to the entire world. Sound bites which are coming through dont sound too encouraging, either ...

There is an article in the Times of India titled OPEC Chief Rules Out Return of Price Band. Interesting reading. According to this, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell believes its hard to prove that the financial markets have anything to do with the price rise. While that may be, common sense ... There hasnt been any drastic change in either demand or supply side, so why such drastic changes in prices? Basic economics would suggest no such reason should exist. More interesting is the CEO of BP saying ...

Speculators believe in the fundamentals... the era of cheap oil is over as expanding economies like China and India are boosting demand.

Interesting ... I just did some back of the envelope calculations ... based on information presented in two sites ... Consumption data from NationMaster and indexmundi, and population data from wikipedia paints a picture quite different. Of course, these are all back of the envelope calculations, and dont represent exact figures, but the point is, that the per capita consumption of India and China is 10% of the American figure. Also, if we look at total consumption numbers, there is a difference of a magnitude of 10 between the two numbers. About time someone looked at the entire picture rationally?