Friday, August 29, 2008

Social Computing ... Observations And Implications

I was watching this awesome video which Luis Suarez has made, posted over at his blog. There are some very imortant point that Luis is making over here, especially when he says that with social computing it is no longer you versus others, its you as part of a team, of a community.

What i liked probably the most was the idea that in an open platform as social computing can provide, it quickly becomes clear who is contributing how much, and what. The whole idea of free-riding is something which can be taken care of. Though, to my mind, that is a tad oversimplistic. Folks will find out ways to get around this. This also could have implications for the way people work ... bringing in more transparency ... and, to my mind, this is one of the very reasons this kind of a change would be resisted in a large number of organizations. Not just because change is usually resisted (which i believe is not, its just that the value proposition of the change is not usually communicated well enough ...), but also because a lot of people are not comfortable saying out things in the open.

What is also interesting is that unlike with email, you can control what you read. Of course, this might mean you miss out on something. But, as Luis says, networks have a way of informing you. While this is valid logic, this rests on the assumption of adoption. And, this is where the chicken-and-egg situation i have written about earlier comes into the picture ... the network cannot deliver value till there are plenty of people in it, and you wont have plenty of people in the network till it start delivering value.

There are two things i would add to the number of excellent points Luis has made ...

Let us first ask, what is the most important asset for an organization (knowledge-based, i am assuming here ...)! The most probable answer you would get to this question is ... People! Yes, they sure are. But, if people are the most important asset, why is it that Knowledge Management systems are content-centric, and not people centric? After all, content is a proxy for people, isnt it?

Look at facebook, for instance ... the focus of the entire network is the people ... when you login, you see what your friends are doing ... you are seeing content which is generated, for sure ... but, content that is generated by people, or, in other words, content in the context of people, which brings people to the centre of the entire schema. Ditto for twitter, too ... the first thing on a tweet is the picture, and the name of the person who has written it. Even your favourites are content, but they are about the people ... the focus being on the people who are generating the content.

This has another benefit ... Unlike documents, or static content, which goes obsolete over a period of time (by the time you post it, as Luis says), the people who write the content dont! People are more up-to-date than platforms are!

Another thing which comes up is, if you are emailing a document to ten different people, you are sending ten different copies, one to each one of them ... you are in effect isolating one from another. Contrast this to the social computing paradigm, where you are bringing people together, by bringing them to a single copy of the document.

Next Generation?

Interesting post ... about the future of the web ... this post talks about Web 1.0 through Web 4.0 ... if you leave the jargon aside, and just look at the content ... there is an interesting point the writer is making. About communities being the real essence of web 2.0, and the movement of these communities from asynchronous to synchronous modes of collaboration.

Having said this, i dont see the difference so much in terms of a paradigm, as in terms of a technology. Whereas the difference between 1.0 and 2.0 is essentially one of paradigm ... from a publishing mode, with a webmaster creating and managing content, and people having the option to write to the webmaster, and the webmaster choosing what they want to do with whatever people have written, to a mode where the webmaster has more or less become redundant, with more and more content being generated collaboratively. This change has been a change from uni-directional content, to multi-directional ... more so, a change from content-centric, to people-centric.

There is a point, however, that the post is making. For example, you can get reviews about restaurants in Kolkata at this site. Thing is, when you are going out, these reviews are not something which you can access on the go. Which is probably the direction which the web might take ... just-in-time information ... built largely on the manufacturing model of JIT?

Sign Of The Times

A little girl was asking her Mom how many nickels make up 50 cents. Innocuous question, except that this is India. And we dont have nickels and cents here. Right? Almost ... Well, this got me thinking about the way things have changed.

As a child, when 25 Paisa were still around (as were 2, 5, and 10 Paisa coins ... inflation obviously hadnt hit us so bad back then), nobody used to call them 25 Paisa. For the time-honoured system of Annas was still alive and well ... that 16 Annas made the Rupee, and that 25 Paisa was "Chaar Anna", or "Chowannee", depending on where you came from. And 50 Paisa was "Aath Anne", or "Athyannee", again depending on where you came from.

That was also the time i used to hear my Grandma wonder aloud about "the things today's kids are learning!" ... we were learning such novel concepts as Kilograms, etc. ... remember, Grandma had grown up learning to convert Ratti, Maashshe, and Tole ... words which are fast fading ... except for jewellers who refuse to give these up! And, courtesy jewellers, women actually know more about these units than men do!

Cut to today, and you have Dad (me) wondering about "the things today's kids are learning!" ... and it makes me wonder ... maybe Grandma had a point? OK OK ... so i am getting old!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

AppGap On Facebook

AppGap has put up the recording for the webcast on Facebook for Business ... Quite an interesting one, this ... the summary is available here. They are making some very important points. One thing which they point out is that facebook has a way of getting group information propagating seamlessly, and information tends to find its way to other groups quite easily on facebook.

If, on the other hand, you look at linkedin, you would not find something like this happening. In fact, the groups over at linkedin are not nearly as dynamic as what you could find over at facebook (unless i am missing those which are ...). From this, or from other research, they arrive at the conclusion that facebook users are more social than linkedin users. First of all, i dont think this distinction can be made. You find more or less the same set of guys around. To my mind, this is more to do with positioning ... linkedin have positioned themselves around work ... its a very serious network! On the other hand, facebook is fun ... which is probably why folks believe that facebook is for "kids", while nobody has this opinion about linkedin.

In other words, the social network is heavily reliant on its positioning. Which is true of most of the tools you would come across in the web 2.0 stable ... they are, after all, all about people participation, and people will participate in a way in which they perceive the tool. Hence, this perception needs to be created and managed, more so in the organizational context. A well-hidden social network is totally irrelevant. So if you are looking at introducing social networking at the office, it might be a good idea to run advertisements for this.

About A Story ...

My friend and ex-colleague, Nirmala, has written a nice post about The Story of a Story ... Interesting, the part she writes about what makes a story useful to people listening to it. She does have a point there. We all love to discover the meaning hidden in a story. Which is why, stories with a meaning, or a moral hidden in the story is worth so much more than just a drab statement which just tells you what the story is. This is somewhat reflected in the fact that a lot of folks dont learn from other people's mistakes ... what could be called experiential learning.

Having said that, another aspect which we might need to focus upon, is that the basic idea of the story is to appeal to the thinking processes of the listener ... it is only by doing this, that a story can actually get the listeners to gather value from it ... and the fact that the story must successfully create a context which the listeners can identify with. It is this context which creates an intersection between what the listeners already know, and what the story is trying to convey. This is something i have written about earlier ... that new knowledge is created at the intersection of two fields of knowledge. And, the most important aspect of the story is that it builds up this intersection in a way which can be identified and understood by the listener, so they can build a connect between the existing, and the new.

A Nation's Attitude ...

I have a dilemma. Whenever the media in India talks about, say, Bobby Jindal, they never fail to mention that he is "Indian-American", or Indian-origin, or some other term which stresses the fact that Mr. Jindal's ancestors come from some part of India. Sample this, for instance ...This, though, is not just true of Mr. Jindal, but also of a lot of the successful people, who happen to be able to trace their lineage to India. Nothing at all wrong with this. However, this is restricted only to the western hemisphere. Why, for example, does the media fail to recognize India-born Pervez Musharraf, the now ex-President of Pakistan? They even missed this when they were writing about General Zia, once the President of Pakistan, or for that matter, Dr. Khan, of Nuclear Wal-Mart fame. I wonder why ... Just a fascination with all things Amreekkan?

On a serious note ... much serious, actually ... I am listening to the latest album by Rabbi, titled Aavengi ja Nahin ... some nice songs. On the whole, Rabbi has not disappointed. But, thats not what i am writing about. There is a song titled "Jinhein naaz hai Hind par wo kahaan hain ..." ... this song talks about some of the modern heroes of India ... he talks about Satyendra Dubey, and about S. Manjunath ... heroes to a nation which is too busy fighting about the looks, rather than the achievements of another hero ... the Shaheed ... Bhagat Singh!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

India's Food Map

This is a picture which is doing the rounds of the email circuit ... too many people have sent me this one. My friend Arghaya has blogged about it, too. Even though, i couldnt resist the temptation to write about this. Given the current dietary regime i am going through (which means all the good things on the plate are out ...), the only thing i could do with this was write ... otherwise ... yes, you got it ... i would have been eating!

As you can see from this map, diversity is the buzzword when it comes to food in India. From the Gustaba, up north in Kashmir, to the Avial (and they missed out the Mutton Pepper Fry, an old favourite whenever down South ...), and from the Dhoklas in the west, to the Momos in the east, variety is the one word which describes the culinary culture of India.

Of course, there is so much variety out there, that this map doesnt even begin to cover the different delicacies which are on offer in different. They dont talk about Missal Pao when in Maharashtra, or the Jalebis of Punjab (of course, had either by themselves, or with piping hot Milk), or the Kosha Maangsho of Bengal, or the Lassi of Punjab, or Banaras, or the Daal Gosht which comes with the people from Punjab, too!

Of course, there is no way this could have captured the wonders of Phuchkas at Vivekananda Park, or Pindi ke Chholle Bhature at Darya Ganj, or the Mutton Qorma at Karim's, or the Missal Pao at Lalbagh ... But, that would be going into too much of specifics, which i am sure is way beyond any map can draw!

These apart, this also doesnt even begin to describe how the same dish, made in different parts comes out different. Take the Kadi for instance ... The way Kadi is made in Punjab, or in Rajasthan (which, incidentally, is where the Kadi originates), or in Gujarat is quite different. Or, the chhaunk in the Daal, which changes probably every 10 kms., much like the dialect of Hindi.
Overall, though, nice effort ... Wonderful point to begin an exploration into Indian food! Now, time for Lunch ... hey ... you dont think i could resist eating, having written all this?

Communities And Structure

I had written about whether communities can cope ... some thoughts about a post by Rachel Happe ... Rachel has written some of her thoughts here. It seems i got the central point of her post wrong ... though i do agree with her, something which i havent really read too much about, but have been thinking about for some time.

While i agree with Rachel's central point about the tension between structure, as described by the corporate hierarchy, and the self-forming, self-regulating nature of communities, i also believe that there is some sort of common ground between the two paradigms ... agreed that successive generations have been looking for it, as Rachel points out in the example of the Church, but having said that, we need to keep in mind that most of the work in organizations doesnt bring out the passions that religion does. As such, there are basic differences between the way we need to communities within the organization, and without.

Since i can afford to look at communities within the limited context of the organization, and that makes it easier to treat them, since there is a particular context you are looking at them in, i would tend to do that. And in the organizational context, the organization, through shared goals is the ideal medium for discovering this common ground. Definitely, this common ground would keep on shifting from tie to time, and as such, communities would either need to be realigned, or recreated altogether. Matter of fact, we are yet to see this tension between the structure on the one hand, and the free-spirited communities on the other ... for the simple reason, that within the organizational context, communities tend to be not as free-spirited, and not as self-regulating as they are in the more generic context. This is of course not true for all organizations, but this has been my exerience with the organizations i have interacted with.

And this is the aspect of communities which i refer to when i talk about the paradox of communities ... that while communities are self-forming, and self-sustaining, they are nevertheless looking at the organization for poviding the context for their functioning. Without a well-defined context, they are definitely going to be rudderless, and are going to lose direction. What this however means is that given the context to operate upon, communities can actually keep their direction. This is not to say that they would be laser-focused, or anything like that ... they are definitely going to meander, that being human nature, but having said that, on the whole, communities can be taking direction from the organizational context.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Communities Going Forward ...

I came across this wonderful post by Rachel Happe, thinking Can Communities Cope? ... interesting what Rachel has written in this ... why i say this is because this sort of encapsulates what i have been thinking about for some time now, without being able to articulate it.

Rachel has it right that communities have lifecycles ... lets face it, human civilizations have lifecycles (although we do feel a sense of permanence, but this is only because we are experiencing only a small slice of this lifecycle, and hence, this seems to be permanent, much like a sufficiently small slice of a circle would look like a straight line), so it would be only normal to assume that communities would, too. And this is where the organization must step in ... first of all, the organization needs to realize the value that communities can bring, and once this can be experienced (maybe not directly demonstrated, but experienced, either through participation, or anecdotally), the organization must put in the effort to rejuvenate communities when they seem to be flagging. And, this, to my mind, is the paradox of communities ... supposedly self-forming and self-sustaining, they nevertheless need the organizational push, because this is what provides them the context for their existence, at least within the organizational perspective.

Of  course, this is also having an impact on the structure of the organization. Though, it would be naive to assume that structure would go away ... something i have written about before here, and here. It would, however, be naive to assume the end of the organization (not that i have come across anybody doing that), though change is definitely happening.

Study In Contrast ...

The other day, i was flying Air India, and was reminded about the sheer contrast in the working style of companies operating in India. Let me write about this ... one of them, Air India ... solid government of India carrier, and the other, Airtel ... shining example of private sector enterprise.

Air India, when you walk into the airport, is not the most shining check-in counter. The check-in can be quite an experience ... they somehow havent quite gotten the hang of checking in maximum number of people in the minimum amount of time, though the check-in counter people can be nice, or surly depending on their mood. Airtel, on the other hand, is suave, swanky, the perfect marketing machine ... your interactions with Airtel will get you thinking about the amazing effeiciency, etc., etc. ...

Walk behind the facade, and the story is quite different. While Air India gives you good, rock-solid service with a smile within the aircraft (coupled with some of the smoothest landings you could get, and food which is excellent, too, at least compared with some other airlines ... Kingfisher comes close ... and, i remember reading an article by veteran journalist Jerry Pinto, comparing an experience he had with Virgin, and with Air India ... few years back, though i cant find a link to it!), when it comes to Airtel, the service ends at the front-end. Behind the facade, its all about dropped calls, no network coverage (go anywhere, do anything, except in the heart of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore ...), and a call centre which has perfected the art of providing no service, and only apologies for lack of it.

Go, Air India!

Goa ... In Gurgaon, And Other Food Stuff ...

There is a cute little restaurant in the heart of Gurgaon ... Bernardo's ... serving reasonably good Goanese food. In fact, for some reason, this time round the food was better than what it has been at other times. We ordered the Roast Prawns, which were nice, and then there were the Fish Croquettes, which though not well done, were delicious, nevertheless ... not friend well, though this was made up for by the fresh Fish.

Top that with the Pomfret (they had some kind of Green Masala stuffing the fish), fried, with the Masala stuffing, it is excellent ... could actually chew off the tail, too ... and the Prawns cooked in Goan Curry, exuding the delicate flavours of the delicate land ... definitely something which is worth a try, or two ... it makes for a wonderful meal, and the important thing to note is the almost homely ambience, and a price tag, which doesnt make you blink twice when you see the bill.

And then, there is the program on Times NOW called The Foodie, hosted by Kunal. The interesting thing about the program is the variety of food they explore. Yesterday, they were at the Taj Palace, and at the Shangri-La, at Delhi, and there was a wide variety of cooking on sample. What came as a surprise is that the restaurant at the Taj actually serves Phulkas (unless they made it especially for the Foodie team ... havent seen too many restaurants do that, actually!). What also surprises me is that there is not a negative word about any of the food which is sampled.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chicken ... Or Not

There is a wonderful restaurant here in Bangalore ... Hotel Empire at Church Street (which, by the way, i have no idea how it got the name) is a wonderful place to eat, as you would be able to read from the reviews about the place (incidentally, one of them is written by me). However, there are times when even the best of restaurants can disappoint.

If you try the Dosas there, for instance ... they have some really nice ones ... there's Keema Dosa, then there's Dosa Chicken, and Prawns Dosa ... they look delicious, and they taste delicious, too. Only thing, the Chicken in the Dosa Chicken lacks the Chicken ... for some reason there's more bone, and very little real Chicken in the curry, so maybe they should consider renaming the dish.

For my friends who believe i can turn anything to a discussion on KM, for a change i am not doing so, although with my current topic of discussion on "big picture", it could have been quite easy!

Diversity ...

If you were to see this picture, you would believe the Honda City is the most popular car in India. This actually is an interesting thought ... the first time i came across this idea was when i was studying Statistics ... and, this kind of drove home the point about the importanc of sample size.

Though, i am not writing about this here. Like i have written before, we need to look outside our fields of specialization, to come up with new ideas. If we focus only on our limted areas, we will be seeing only the two Honda City cars parked there, and not the other cars which are parked around them, and would lose out on a whole lot of knowledge which we could have otherwise gained. As we can see, if we focus only on the narrow area which surrounds us, we will not come up with thoughts which are outside of the limited scope of thoughts we run with. Also, the knowledge that the Honda City is one of the popular models, not the only one, would escape us.

Any of us who have done the KM seminar circuit would see this. You see the same set of people, you hear the same things being said in most of them ... new ideas are missing. Only if you look outside of this circuit would you come up with thoughts which are not on lines which are already being circulated.

This also drives home the point that professionals in any field of work must look at scenarios where they can look at the larger picture, because the smaller picture, as you can see from this photograph, can be quite misleading.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wikis ... Out And In

This is something i have been thinking about, and trying out ... and something i finally decided to write about. I came across a very interesting post ... If the US State Department Can Use Wikis and Blogs Effectively, So Can Your Organization ... Must read, i must say.

Why? Simple ... One of the major reasons which are given for people in organizations not even looking at wikis and blogs is the whole idea of data security. Every team believes that they have some data which they cannot share with anyone in the organization. More often than not, this is not the scene, but this is one reason you cannot argue with, and hence ...

Now, come on ... Nobody could be more bothered about information confidentiality than these guys Jon Husband has written about. So, why not ...

Having said that, there is definitely the point that there is always some information which one would not like to share outside of a particular team. And this is where some of the concepts of closed wikis can come in. Take for example, the knol ... as i have written before, this kind of tool, somewhere between a multi-author blog, and a wiki, is something which could be quite the thing that organizations might be looking for ... of course, if they can implement within the firewall.

Having said this, let us also understand that the challenge is not so much the concern for information confidentiality, rather than the unwillingness to share. Luis talks about the kind of transparency that social computing can bring in, but then, how many folks actually appreciate transparency. Those who do, love it. For instance, i find, in my discussions, that wikis can be quite popular with Project Managers, because it gives them the tool to get the team to collaborate each other, but this is more so because this is in their own interest. Which means, that rather than the tool, we need to address the "need to share" of people, rather than the ability or inability to use the tool (hey, how difficult can it get to use a wiki!).

For example, the McKinsey report on Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise says, there are quite a few organizations which are not satisfied with the web 2.0 tools they have deployed. I would not quite look at it in this light ... because, i would look at the adoption rather than the tool. Lets face it, the social in social computing has been around for centuries ... but unless the organization is able to sell the idea of social computing to people, and show them that they stand to gain, adoption will continue to be something which would be the challenge.

Which is why, when folks ask me what my job as a Knowledge Manager is, the way i see it ... its basically Sales! Selling the concept ...

Philosophy ... Worth A Few Thoughts

As i have written earlier, i am reading Living With The Himalayan Masters ... There are a few thoughts which struck, and i just had to write about them ...

First, Swami Rama is writing about the difference between love, and attachment ...

Many people confuse attachment with love. But in attachment you become selfish, interested in your own pleasure, and you misuse love. You become possessive and try to gain the objects of your desires. Attachment creates bondage, while love bestows freedom. When yogis speak of non-attachment, they are not teaching indifference, but are teaching how to genuinely and selflessly love others. Non-attachment, properly understood, means love. Non-attachment or love can be practiced by those who live in the world as well as those who are renunciates.

Interesting ... and, if you look around, quite something which will strike a chord somewhere. And it makes one think ... attachment is so much easier than to love.

Another thought which struck a chord ...

No matter where you are, live cheerfully. This is the mantra. Be cheerful at all times. Create heaven even in a hellish place. Remember, cheerfulness if of your own making. It only requires human effort. You have to create cheerfulness for yourself.

Interesting ... something which The Secret also talks about ... something which, in some form, goes against what we have been taught ... that we need to rely on the world around us for all our happiness, when in fact, the real source of happiness lies within us. This can be manifested in the fact that we all run around looking for things ... all of us are looking for different things. At the end of the day, we are all seeking happiness, its just that we feel we will find it in something in the world, whereas the real source of this is within ... and, interestingly, its not even hard to find! We just have to look.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Social Networking ... Today, Yesterday!

Shiv Singh has written an interesting piece about how facebook is blurring the lines between personal and professional lives. Interesting because this is something which we can see all around us. And interesting also because i dont think this is completely owing to facebook, or the social networking phenonomenon which is all around.

My two bits ... the way i see it, the lines between professional and personal lives have never been completely well defined. They have always been blurred. Remember those networking dinners? Office parties, and the kind of chatting that goes on? Human beings are social ... and, human beings need to network, because none of us are in a position to do everything that we need all by ourselves. Ergo, social networking.

Having said that, the technology wave is definitely catalyzing things, and the sheer scope and breadth of social networks today is remarkable. Having said this, this is true of a whole host of technologies. Take CRm, for example ... the entire idea of CRM has been built around something which the neighbourhood grocer has been doing for ages, although on a totally different scale.

On to the most interesting part ... the reach which social networking gives us. Just to give some statistics ... On linkedin i have (at the time of writing) 200 connections, which gives me access to a network of more than 2 million people (at least theoretically). The numbers are mind-boggling. That, to my mind, is the real secret behind social networking.

Business Relationships ...

Something i have been meaning to write about for some time now ... First, let me get this straight ... I am not trying to sell any product. Having said that, i do have a close relationship with Oracle, given that i have spent most of my working life there.

One of the najor aspects of the workspace that we are focussing today is relationships. Interestingly, Oracle came up with an interesting idea quite some time back ... only thing, i dont see them talking about it the way they could have had. They have a rather interesting tool ... The Trading Community Architecture. From what i know about the tool, the idea is to be able to capture the eco-system of the organization ... including customers, partners, employees ...

Though, thats not the main aspect that i am writing about here. The thing which impresses, looking back, is the way the tool addresses relationships. There is a neat way to define relationships between customers, partners, vendors, etc., not just in terms of organizational relationships, but in terms of relationships between people, too. And this is the impressive part ... the way the tool recognizes the value that can be derived from these relationships. So, for example, if Ms. X is working for Customer A, and Mr. Y is working for Customer B, and they happen to be husband and wife, then the value to be derived from this relationship can also be captured in this paradigm. Another source for identifying and leveraging relationships for the organization. Though of course not something which is comparable to a facebook (definitely not), it is the way the paradigm of the relationship is recognized here, which is impressive.

Monday, August 11, 2008

CT 2.0 ... or Mobile 2.0

Nothing really cryptic about it. This post is inspired by my friend and colleague Pushpanjali ... today at Lunch, she was telling about the way caller tunes are infectious. Yes, caller tunes. For the uninitiated, caller tunes are those nice songs you hear when you call up your friends. Well, what Pushpanjali had to tell me was that she had setup the caller tune for a particular song (its actually a hot favourite these days!) on her number. Now, service providers give the functionality, in one way or the other, to copy your friend's caller tune! So, her husband copied the caller from her, and his friend copied the caller tune from him! And this can be really cool , considering the number of songs you have to browse through in order to setup your caller tune.

This, to my mind, is the essence of web 2.0. People connecting with people, and generating, discovering, and sharing content through these connections. Of course, the nature of these connections is what actually defines the nature and quality of the content you would discover, which is why, social networks become all the more important. More often than not, if you have a query, you would not get the answer from a friend, but from someone your friend knows!

The Weekend ...

Between Lunch at the new Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood, and watching a movie ... something i just had to write about.

Lunch was at this new restaurant here in Gurgaon ... this is named 56, but i am not sure where the name comes from. And i even forgot to ask them where the name (or maybe the number) came from. Well, the Mushroom Soup reminded me of the Chicken Stew which the wife used to feed the big fella (before he was old enough to protest, of course), the Pasta was nothing much to write home about, though the Seafood was quite delicious! The place seems like they decided to put a roof on the passage between two buildings, though the end result seems to be quite nice ... but they sure charge you a bomb.

Coming to the movie ... as sequels go, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor doesnt come close to the originals ... The Mummy, The Mummy Returns ... Though the effects are awesome, i was still missing the original. The rule of the sequels again?

Learning ...

Swami Rama tells a story in the wonderful book, Living With The Himalayan Masters ... This story is about a student of a Master who had never seen a cow, nortasted milk, but wanted to, because he had heard that milk is very nutritious. He went to the Master, and asked for his help. The master described the cow in great detail, and then described milk as being white, and being very good for the health. Now, the student went to search for a cow in the nearby village, where he couldnt come across a cow, but did see a statue of a cow. Now, nearby, people were whitewashing a house, and the bucket of whitewash was kept near the statue of the cow. Seeing this, and the white liquid in the bucket, the student thought this to be milk, and drank it. Needless to say, he was taken ill, and had to be admitted to hospital.

This story tells us of the value of direct experience. This is an invaluable asset to enable us to learn. We may learn a lot of concepts, but without direct experience, this learning is at best, partial. This is really the value of Internalization, as termed by Nonaka and Takeuchi, too. And this is something which we need to keep in mind when the question of training comes up ... Usually, the concept of direct experience is not factored into the curriculum itself within the training, and this takes a bit away from the value of the training itself.

Over the weekend, i was seeing my son doing numbers. Yes, he is actually taking time off from being part-time Batman, and part-time footballer, to learn calculations using the method of the Abacus. Interestingly, he uses exactly the phrases that his teacher uses in class, to try to calculate. "Look down, is it enough?", he asks himself. "No", comes the answer, from himself, and so, he looks up to carry on the calculation. This, from his scrapbook, is the exact language his teacher, uses, too.

And this is the aspect about learning which we need to leverage with stories. Whenever i used to teach Min-Max Planning, i used to tell a story ... about Mom going to buy Rice ... buying a fixed quantity for the month, not on a daily basis, and replenishing while there is still some Rice at home. I have written about this here. This goes to illustrate the value of building a picture for learners which they can carry with them, instead of dry concepts, and which enables them to relate concepts to things in the real world.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wonderful Verse ...

I came across this wonderful verse ... written by the celebrated poet ... Bulle Shah ... these lines seem to bring out the essence of humanity ... something which we need to understand, and once we do that, remember ... after all, we have all been through a lot ... and there are lessons we should have learnt, but dont seem to have ... the chapters are fearsome, to say the least!

These lines bring out the essence of humanity, the way we can live life ...

Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar,
Ved Quranan parh parh thakkay,
Sajde kardeyaan ghis gaye matthe,
Na Rabb Teerath, na Rabb Makkay,
Jis paayaa tis noor anwar,
Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar!

or ...

Fresh and new is the breeze of love,
People have grown tired of reading the Veds and the Quran,
Foreheads have gotten worn-out by rubbing them on the ground in Prayer,
God is there neither in the Hindu Pilgrimege, nor at Mecca,
One who had found love, his light is the most powerful!

A powerful message ... one we cannot, and indeed, for the sake of our future, and that of our children, we must not ignore!

Blogging ... Not All Fair

There is an article in the Hindustan Times today ... this article describes the not so savoury aspects of human nature when brought to light on the blogosphere. This article brings out some of the important aspect of the web 2.0 environment which have been overlooked in the initial euphoria of something new.

First of all, this is an axiom ... web 2.0 is participatory. In all senses of the term. It gives a say to everyone. Which is a nice thing. But, that would be an utopian world. In the real world, there are people who use a tool, and there are people who abuse the tool. This is true of anything in this world ... there was, for example, a dialogue from the movie Maachis (this was a movie around the them of terrorism in the Punjab!) ... it went something like ...

Ye maachis, diya bhi jalati hai, aur chita bhi!

Or ...

This matchbox lights the candle, as well as the funeral pyre!

This aspect of the usage of the tool is something which a lot of us seem to have missed out on. I usually look at web 2.0 primarily in the organizational context, and this is the issue which is raised by a lot of people whenever i am talking to them about blogs, and wikis ... what if someone wilfully writes something which is not nice, or inaccurate? Simply put, in the organization, there is no such thing as anonymous contribution. Not only is this something which helps to surface who is doing what, it also is an important ingredient in the organizational context, of adoption, because one of the reasons for adoption is reputation.

Coming back to the article, this is something which happens in the real world too, though to a much lesser extent, mainly because of the lack of anonymity, as the author of the article puts it. Kudos to the ladies who would, all sorts of feedback notwithstanding, continue to put their viewpoints across. I do tend to agree with Melody Laila when she says ...

When you start a blog, you start with the premise that it will be open to all ...

Keeping this in mind, would it not be a nice idea to ensure some kind of control on the kinds of things which can go on with your blog? This is the balancing line one must draw between reputation, and the cost for it. Overall, though, i would give complete credit to Neha Tara Mehta for raising an issue which otherwise doesnt get debated too much ...

The encouraging part? Neha cites the Blogging India: A Windows Live Report, 2006 which says that nearly 45% of the netizens believe that blogging content is as trustworthy as the traditional media. Goes to show that bloggers must be getting something right!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Reducing ...

No, i am not just talking about reducing weight (which, by the way, is something i am quite keen on, these days ...)! What i am talking about is reducing the number of blogs i write ... from 2 to 1.

Two reasons ... first, the time factor ... no, not that theres scarcity of time, just that as i grow older, i need to think more to write less ... and hence! Though, the major reason ... Why i had started writing 2 blogs, was on the idea that the work life, and personal space are mutually exclusive, and that anyone who is interested in reading about my work life would not at all be interested in reading about my thoughts on subjects not related to work. While this might be a valid idea (of course, you would need to tell me), the fact is that one cannot actually understand what the other person is saying unless one actually knows the context of what they are talking about, where they are coming from, and where they are going. And hence ...

My older posts from the blog can be found here.

This was also, to an extent, catalyzed by this post by Luis about doing what works for you. No, not necessarily what he had in mind, but the idea is that i think writing one blog is something which is somewhat of a better idea. Somewhat the same reason as to why about the only social network i can be found at is facebook. And, of late, at twitter ... An old mule ... i still refuse to try out the rest. Maybe soon, though ...

Our Place, Banjara Hill

This place is not necessarily easy to find. If you drive down Road No. 10, Banjara Hill, you would have to be careful to not miss the lane which goes uphill to the restaurant which goes by the name of Our Place.

I was getting in touch with Rajesh da after a few years. He suggested the place and I was not too particular. And this brought us here. I was pleasantly surprised by the place. Driving up, the first thing you see is the beautiful vintage car which greets you. The fa├žade is nicely done. The entrance, Homage to Lord Ganesha ... Passageway which is quite elegant. Probably one of the most elegantly designed restaurants I have been to. The only thing is that they failed to appreciate the fact that you will let go of some space in circular enclosures.
Coming to the food ... The service is reasonably good, but I guess that's probably because we were in a leisurely mood. The Prawns were good, though the Golden Fry doesn't do justice to them. While the Fish Tikka had good, fresh Fish, and the marinade for the tikkas adds a wonderful touch to the taste, derived no doubt from the kitchens of Hyderabad. And topping this up with Fig and Honey Ice Cream is a really cool way to wrap up Lunch on a rainy Hyderabad afternoon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eating Out In Kolkata ... 1

It has been said about Calcutta that the city is an epicurean delight. And, rightly so. Here is a bit about my experience over the last few days. Of course, this doesn’t even come close to the wide variety of experiences you can have in the city, but has to do, for starters. Which means, of course, that you can expect more to follow …

This time round, I decided to go to a restaurant where, for some reason or the other, I have never been to before … Flavours of China … Ok, so its not some reason or the other, its just one reason … Peter Cat! Simple … whenever I go to Park Street, the overwhelming urge to tuck into those Chelo Kababs is enough to overcome the urge to explore. Well, at least nine times out of ten.

The restaurant is everything a Chinese restaurant should be. First of all, its on Park Street, so it scores over Tong Fung, or Jimmy’s Kitchen, which in turn score over Mainland China (though, as i have written earlier, the food at Mainland China is wonderful) in terms of location. Ok ok, that’s about the only thing, though. The food is definitely good, though I don’t think this can match up to the iconic status of Jimmy’s Kitchen. Or, the Soups at Tong Fung … Though, given a choice, I would much rather be here than at Mainland China. This is not to say that Mainland China is lacking, but something about Flavours of China which could attract you there.
Since there were four of us, we were more open to experimenting. The reason being that even if the experiment bombs, someone will be there to help you mop up the pieces. So, we began with the Mixed Meat Fried Rice … Quite nice. Accompanying the Rice was the Hunan Chicken, the Shredded Chicken Chilli Garlic, and Fish Chilli Wine.

The Rice is nice, and something which one should definitely try. The Shredded Chicken Chilli Garlic is quite interesting … they put in crunchy sprouts in the shredded Chicken, giving a crunchy feel to the dish, in addition to the mildly spiced Chicken, which is quite nice. The Hunan Chicken is cooked in Wine Sauce, as is the Fish Chilli Wine … The sauce was quite similar, though on the whole, both of them are worth trying. Mildly spiced, they don’t have the spices standing out, yet you can find chilli flakes in the sauce, adding to the flavour of the wine sauce.
The ambience is not authentic Chinese, as is the food not authentic Chinese either, thankfully, considering that if there is one reason we are able to eat Chinese food, its because of the Calcutta (or Punjab, depending on your viewpoint) influence. The bar is tastefully presented, though nothing much to write home about. Besides, since I was here for Lunch on a working day, I wasn’t indulging. Though the bar does blend nicely into the ambience.
Another restaurant which I decided to eat at, is another old favourite (one of my favourites in the neighbourhood, in fact), that is Eats n Treats. Not much to write home about, the ambience is reasonably well done, not great, and not bad, the lighting is dim, which is nice, though the service leaves a lot to be desired. When here, one must not leave without trying the Fish Punjabi, which is like a Zeeshan or Siraj version of a Punjabi curry, and is something which leaves a wonderful flavour, the Fish is fresh, and the curry is very good. Another must try is the Mutton, or for the faint-hearted, the Chicken Rizala … the Rizala, as we all know, is the contribution of amader Kolkata to the world, and Eats n Treats makes this as good as any reasonably good restaurant in the city. Must have, something you would really like. The Daal Makhani is not much to write home about, though.

So this was about the last two days, and the places I went around eating at. And more to follow …

Training Outsourcing

A number of training organizations are today operating in all conceivable training spaces, providing training on a diverse range of topics. A large part of their business, in fact, practically all of it, revolves around training delivery. So clients come to them having searched through training offerings, asking them to deliver trainings according to particular specifications.

This, however, is changing. There seems to be the emergence of a tend in crain parts of industry to outsource the entire training component. The idea here is that it makes sense for the organization to outsource the fuction to the experts. So, for example, the experts are indeed the best people to perform the training needs analysis and arrive at the training requirements in a particular area.

While this sounds logical, the issue with this line of reasoning is that any third party experts, while being the experts in their area of specialization, they a not the experts at determining the organizational context in which the training need arises. In other words, they would be unable to identify the business requirements which lead to the training needs arising in the first place. This is something which companies should look at retaining internally.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting Around In Kolkata

Getting around in Kolkata can be strange at worst, or an exhilerating experience at best. No matter which, it is bound to be an eperience you cannot forget. Nor can you replicate it in any corner of the world.

Commuting from Sector V, Salt Lake to Theatre Road (or to any other part of the world) could leave you breathless. And I tried to do this at half past eight in the morning.

Being the technology hub of West Bengal (for all that is worth as a tag), this place comes to life only at 10 in the morning. After that, posibly, but defunitely not before. For the enterprising Bengali spirit does not allow the bhodroloks or bhodromohilas (i am trying not to sound sexist here) to venture out before a certain hour. This hour varies from one member of the species to another but is rarely before 10. So this is the scenario that awaits you if you try to look for a taxi anytime before that hour. Because there just aren't any around.

Waiting for a taxi certainly gives you options. The first option to present itself was a private car, the driver ferrying the car from one place to another without employer supervision, making some money on the side. I thought I would wait for a taxi. Carried on waiting, but the taxi didn't appear. Quite soon, I was running out of patience and running into ample sweat. This was when the next option presented itself. Known in this part of the world as shaadaa mini, these are racing equipments (much like most other beings on Kolkata roads) disguised as buses. And one must see it to believe it. Well, this one was a shaadaa mini, to distinguish them from their non-shaadaa cousins from the (almost) F1 circuit. Getting a place to sit was not an issue.

I decided to get down to reading. Though the way the bus was swaying owing basically to the driver's demonstration of his geometric genius by drawing near perfect sine curves on the road in his attempts at getting ahead of every single living creature on the road, no matter it's denomination, reading was to be an exercise in futility.

So I decided to look out of the window. Wonderful day, with the beauty of nature being recently washed by rain. No wonder, I thought, about the person who had told me about the delight of watching the scenery outside the bus when travelling in these parts of the world ... After all, you don't have much choice do you? Not really given that you would much prefer to keep your eyes glued outside the bus, hoping to supplement the driver's sight if not his brains. And try to swallow your internals into the same place where they were before they decided to take an exit route following your alighting the mechanical monster. And trying to keep your legs steady once you are off it. That should keep you occupied enough to keep your eyes on the road ... And in the process also feel the soothing touch of Mother Nature... Specially along the Bypass.

You can also watch from the sidelines the highly intellectual debate between the bus conductor and a passenger about whether the fare should be Rs. 8 or Rs. 9, culminating in the passenger challenging the bus conductor's knowledge of bus fares (that's only his job after all, while being a topic of passion for the passenger) and the bus conductor inviting the gentleman to not avail the services of the bus.

PS: Park Street retains her charms even at this time of day.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Training For The Future

Heres a thought ... we cant learn about the future by learning from the past. Interesting? Well ... this thought could turn a lot of fields of study upside down. But, its worth a thought, or a blog post, nevertheless ... One never knows whether it might strike a chord somewhere.

I have been thinking about this for quite some time now. Till now, we have had trainings which have focused on case studies, on analyzing the past, and synthesizing what worked in the past. And, the assumption is that this would work for the future. As much as it sounds cliched (and i dont even know who said it ...), but "the future aint what it used to be!". Quite clearly ... I remember the time when we grew up, television was to be seen only in a few households. Of course, we are a good three decades from that point, but the point i am trying to make here is that pace of change, especially with respect to technology, is getting to be so drastic, that its not enough to merely catch up with the trends, but to be truly effective, an organization needs to build the groundwork for predicting trends.

Rather than look at what has worked in the past, we must look at what would look in the future. Simply because the trends that defined the way things worked in the past are, in all probability, not the ones which are going to define the shape of things going forward.

Question ... what implication should it have on trainings? First of all, case studies are important ... please dont get me wrong. But, having said that, its important to remember that they give you only a picture of what worked in the past. We probably need to add components of future-seeing in trainings. There should be sessions about what participants see as the shape of the future, and how they see this as impacting them, both personally, as well as professionally. This might sound a little fanciful, but we need to bring in elements of this into training, especially when it comes to technology, if we want teams in the organization to develop a greater penchant for developing things which are going to be relevant by the time they are launched in the market.

Mainland China, Kolkata ...

Dinner at Mainland China at Kolkata ... And though I haven't been to their establishments in other cities (given a choice i much prefer Daal Makhani!) here in Kolkata, the restaurant is not really shining in the service. The gent serving our table was quite good ... He actually advised us against ordering the larger portion. Which is quite pleasant I must say ...

The issue ... The time it took to get the Soup. If you order Vegetable Sweet Corn Soup ...and this is basic, and it takes half an hour and then some more for Crispy Chilly Babycorn, they need to do something about it I guess. Though they needed to be reminded to clear the plates, refilling the glasses ... Its only Water, guys!

Coming to the core of the matter ... The food still has it. Whether the Soup or the Babycorn, they were both delicious. And then the long wait for the main course … in keeping with the starters, the main course didn’t disappoint, in the time it took them to come to the table … though the Crackling Spinach, the Sitake Mushroom Golden Onion Fried Rice, the Prawn Hakka Noodles, and the Sizzling Fish Green Onion were every bit as delicious as they have ever been, and as good as anywhere else you might go out to eat.

And, they even gave us complimentary Ice-Cream (to make up for the wait?), though the ice-cream bowls had some strange green colouration, which were told was Khus syrup … it seems they use Khus syrup at the bar, but then, what were Ice-Cream bowls doing there, even though the flavour was Butterscotch ...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pakistan, ISI, and the US ...

Interesting topic, eh? Well ... read on! There was an interesting article in the ToI today, about Bush ticks off Pak PM ... ... Interesting reading. What this brings out is the fact that there is much more than catches the eye. Or, for that matter, much more than what comes out.

This article represents ample admission from the United States that Pakistan is, willingly or otherwise, backing, in some form or other, terrorism in South Asia. The humorous part about this is that it took Mr. Bush so long to figure this out. When this is something which is common knowledge in this part of the world.

While there might be a lot of truth in that the ISI is an institution unto itself, without much control that can be exercised by the civillian authorities in the nation, this does bring up the question that there must be someone in Pakistan, otherwise outside the country, who should be in a position to tame the institution of terror. After all, it cant be that this hydra monster is totally untamable! And as for Mr. Gilani's statement that they "would not allow that" sounds totally hollow, because, with all due respect, Mr. Gilani should remember that he needs to be able to exercise control in order to decide whether to allow or not.

Knowledge Marketplace

I am reading an interesting book ... Working Knowledge. Quite an interesting read. Especially because they are looking at the dynamics of Knowledge Management in the organizational context. Which makes this quite a bit of a feet on the ground kind of a book. Besides it sort of validates one of the things that I have thought about fo quite some time now.

That between the "encourage people to contribute to knoweledge initiatives" through snazzy mailers trying to tell people that knowledge sharing is the best thing to happen to them since Kingfisher beer, and the "you better contribute or else ..." paradigm which manifests in contribution targets, there is the idea that people share knowledge because they derive some value from it. Now this is intangible value but value nevertheless. This also manifests itself in the idea of addressing the WIIFM aspect. This addresses the basic conundrum facing knowledge managers. This is the idea of a knowledge marketplace.

The interesting part is where they say ...

The promise of reciprocity in such a system (online knowledge repositories) is also weak. The buyer who downloads a document from a server feels less obliged to the provider than he would if he got the same material through a phone call or meeting.

This to my mind is quite an adequate explanation of something which I have observed in a number of organizations where knowledge sharing happens in an informal, offline manner but moment someone tries to take it online, it doesn't quite show the same results. This is probably something knowledge managers need to understand and make sure to develop practices to address this.