Friday, October 31, 2008

Wikis ... Useful Or ...

Olaf S has asked a question over at linkedin, about the utility of wikis as a tool for Knowledge Management. What’s more interesting are the responses this question has generated. The responses are actually a wide spectrum, in terms of the way people perceive the utility of wikis as a tool for externalizing knowledge.

These responses range from wikis being an excellent tool for sharing knowledge, to them being not as useful as they are made out to be. But please read them for yourself.

So, what are wikis all about? The way I see it, a completely open solution a-la Wikipedia may not be the appropriate solution within the organization. On the other hand, however, from what I have experienced, people in organizations are more comfortable with wiki based collaboration within teams, rather than with a larger audience. This is where I think a tool like knoll could add more value.

Coming now to the question of adoption … it would be folly to assume that just because you have built it, they will come. Far from it, the challenge is rather to get people to contribute. And this is the challenge, I feel, which needs to be addressed, if wikis are to be successful. For, people will not take to them till they see value coming from them, and wikis will not deliver value, till people take to them. So, in a cyclical situation like this, some mechanism is required for the initial push. And this is where quite some thought process must go in. The way I see it, there are going to be no big wins on the way to wiki adoption. Rather, it would be a better option to accumulate a set of small wins, thereby building up a much larger adoption footprint.

For example, the first thing that could be done is to identify the people who would benefit most from a tool like a wiki. For instance, it may be Project Managers who could use wikis for managing project data, schedules, issues, etc. Or, it could be a helpdesk team using wikis to manage commonly occurring issues, documenting problem and resolution on a single wiki source. Once this has been identified, then one could look at targeting positioning of wikis to this select audience. And once we can get wikis to deliver value in the context of a particular role, we can then use this as a base to launch to other target audiences in the organization.

What this presupposes is that there wont be a widespread adoption of wikis in the organization. This, in fact, is a realistic assumption, given the experience we have had with social computing tools, and this is indeed not unique to wikis alone.

Coming to the idea that wiki contribution is high to begin with, and tapers off at a later point, the question that comes is whether this is to be expected? If there is a wiki for a particular topic, over a period of time, most of the things that need to be written have been written, and hence, maybe its reasonable to assume that this would happen, and that, as the wiki matures, there could be more emphasis on the usage in terms of read rather than write, on the wiki? Any thoughts, anyone? Would like to hear them …

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Search Or Communities ...

No, i dont think they are mutually exclusive. Interesting post by Nirmala ... where she is posing the question ... about what is it that lets your choose between google and wikipedia? to my mind, not much ... or, to put it differently, when i search on google, more often than not, wikipedia results are among the first few to appear.

Now, this is interesting. Nirmala mentions someone being of the opinion that the rise of social networking would spell the end of search. While, on the face of it, this sounds like a tempting assumption, this is probably a bit of an oversimplification. Let me put it this way ... if i am looking for something, i search. If someone on my network has found something, and i find it useful, i go through it. The opinion here seems to be a bit too much of a stretch, if you ask me.

Lets look at it this way ... social networking is about knowing who you know, and this leads to (more often than not) knowing what you know. And the two, to my mind, are related, but different things. What could happen (and this is something i have been looking at, for some time now ...) is that search could change ... in the way tools enable users to interact with them. One of the possibilities is the availability of aggregators, or the possibility of searching for opinions.

In other words, and this is something i have been chatting about on the KM India Forum as well (as i am sure, my friend Sumeet Anand would agree ...), that "collaboration", and what i like to call "codification" are complementary, and not competitive in terms of the value they can add to the larger KM initiatives, and stressing on one, to the deteiment of the other, is not something which is nice. And if we agree with this, we would also tend to agree with the idea that content is an integral part of the knowledge inventory of the organization, and as long as this is so, search (in some form or the other), must also be around.

Where, then, does this bring social networking? To my mind, social networking is about bringing value which was not possible with the "KM 1.0" paradigm of the 90s. This is more about bringing the people aspect into the entire way of doing things, which was lacking. Now, one could argue that documents originate from people, and hence, looking at the people aspect should be enough to enable us to not look at the "codification" aspect, but the point remains that its not possible for you to know everyone in the organization (even if you are working in a mid-sized organization), and hence, to some extent, it is imperative to abstract knowledge, and this is where the content, and the search aspects come in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Belonging To ...

The Orlov Trotter has been immortalized by Count Lev Tolstoy, in the short story titled Kholstomer. This is, indeed, a wonderful story ... reflecting on some of the events that happened, and at the same time, a reflection on the rationale behind some of the things people do ... like the treatment of Kholstomer at the hands of people ... from a celebrated descendant of Smetanka, to the gelding it died.

Why am i writing about this? There are a few reasons ... One, the chord the story touches. For its amazing description of Russian society as it looked then, to the attitudes of people, which only someone with the genius of Count Tolstoy can depict. Another, probably larger reason, is one part of the story, which goes somewhat like ...

The mistake he made was to think of me belonging to him. Human beings believe that others belong to them, which is not true. We after all belong only to God, and to ourselves.

Something to that effect ... i am sure something would have gotten lost in the translation, and not knowing Russian myself, i would prefer to let someone better than me at the translation (which is a lot of people, i must say!) dwell on the details of the passage. All i would like to write about is the idea ... that we belong only to God, and to ourselves. We do not belong to anything or anyone else in this world. That such a belonging, while being obvious, is only temporary, and must go away. So it would only stand to reason that all belonging must be only to the soul, and to the Supreme Soul ...

Interesting ... especially if we try to understand what this could imply.

Measurement And E2.0 ...

Back after a week ... and, Diwali! And here's wishing all of you Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year. The Mahurat trading session yesterday had most stocks going up on the BSE, so thats a nice start.

Andrew McAfee has a rather interesting conversationg going ... about a topic which tends to have about the most divergent views when it comes to social computing ... yes, you got it ... measurement. Andrew has written a rather interesting post about the whole idea of rating knowledge workers, encapsulating a large range of divergent views on the subject.

What i believe comes out of the entire discussion is that while the whole idea of putting a rating to someone's contribution to a social computing platform is quite against the entire idea of social computing, there has to be a way this can be addressed. After all, when we look at anything in the organizational perspective, there has to be a way of finding out whether we are on the right track, and whether there need to be changes to the way things are being done.

There could be two ways of looking at this ... one could be in terms of a performance appraisal type of rating on contributions and knowledge sharing efforts, and the other in terms of community feedback on these. While the first could end up stifling the entire effort (because this would look at it more quantitatively, rather than qualitatively ... how many blog posts could your boss go through to give you a rating ...), the second option is actually quite in line with the overall idea of social computing.

Lets take an example ... when someone from your network posts something on their profile, say, on facebook, you, and lots of others have the means to comment on this. These comments are essentially feedback, and could work as a form of ranking on this contribution. Take this one step further, into the organizational context ... if people had the possibility of giving you stars (ya, this is something i picked up from my son ... they get stars for doing well at school), they could show their appreciation of whatever you have contributed. The nice part is that there is no limit to the supply of these stars ... so, you dont necessarily rank someone to the exclusion of someone else, and considered over the larger audience, this could be a reasonable way for people to show their appreciation of your work, at the same time, work well in terms of recommending things to others.

In addition to this, different people look at the same contribution from different perspective. An expert looks at it trying to understand how well this could communicate a concept to a larger audience, a novice could look at it to learn something new, while someone who is simply trying to solve a problem would look at it from the perspective of relevance. Aggregating feedback from such diverse viewpoints would, i think, give an overall qualitative perspective.

In other words, if we take a scenario where feedback could be gathered by the larger community, this could be a reasonably nice way of understanding how the entire idea of social computing is working in the organization.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Enterprise Apps Weds Web 2.0 ...

Oracle has announced its new product ... Social CRM. When i read this, my first reaction was ... maybe this is just something about marketing. You know, how a lot of vendors are putting the magic 2 after their product names, and believe that they have come up with a market-capturing product.

And then, i read the details. And, they are quite interesting. As of now, there are three modules which they are launching (are there going to be more?) ... Oracle Sales Prospector, Oracle Sales Campaigns, and Oracle Sales Library.

Oracle Sales Prospector seems to be a tool which is combining some of the business intelligence aspects of enterprise applications, and building in the collaboration aspect to provide a solution, which seems to be quite an interesting one. However, i would have liked to see more of the social networking aspects (or maybe they are there, but i am missing something). There seems to be some amount of networking here, but there could have been more. This reminded me of a demo i had seen some time back, of Lotus Connections, and  it would be quite interesting to see some of those capabilities integrated with this application.

Oracle Sales Campaigns is the application which i havent been able to understand much, so i guess i will wait for more material to be available, before writing about it.

Oracle Sales Library seems to be the new-look content system, which can be used to manage collateral, along with some of the collaborative aspects like tagging, reviews, etc. This seems to be an interesting application, because this seems to be able to enable sales people to leverage the inputs of others on collateral which they are going to use when trying to close a deal. This could be used well with the Oracle Sales Campaign, and  the Oracle Sales Prospector applications.

Taking this one step further, it would be useful to have recommendations from Oracle Sales Library in the Oracle Sales Prospector application, as well as integration with Oracle Sales Campaigns, to enable sales people to pull out content from either application, based on their requirements, and to review comments, tags, ratings, and more importantly, it would be nice to see a recommendation engine, which could use tags to recommend content to users.

I guess having been a Consultant, its a natural instinct to go into solution mode ... but then, these are solutions, arent they? So, heres to the wedding ... when's the reception?

Memories ... Dilli Or Dehli

I was seeing this program on travel & living channel ... This program is called Feast India. I don't know what its supposed to be about ... Feast gives the impression its about food. But I guess the program is about the feast that is India ... A feast for the senses, body, mind, and soul. From the Aazaan at the Jama Masjid ... Or, if you have lived in Darya Ganj, the Ghataa Masjid, or the Zinat-Ul Masjid ... To the Langar at Gurudwara Sis Ganj, the Jawan Gurdwara at Darya Ganj (from where my Grandmother would get a cup-ful of Kaadhaa every morning, only small portions for the rest of the family, the rest for me ...), or at any Gurudwara anywhere you might go ... Feast again for the senses, definitely for the body, and the soul.

What am I writing about? Nothing in particular. Quite a few things in general. Having born and grown up in Darya Ganj, I have experienced, and continue to experience, the magic of Dilli ... Or Dehli, if you may. From the fruit juice shops of nayaa Darya Ganj, to the small shop, with some of the best Mutton on offer. From Bedmiyaan (Pooris stuffed with ground Daal ... Which is also called Pitthi) at Jain's next to Ansari Road, to the Seekh Kababs sold on carts in the neighbourhood of Jama Masjid, to the Mutton Korma and Nargisi Koftas at Karim's, or the Rabdi Faloodaa at Akashdeep, to the Giani's Fruit Cream, and of course ... Pindi de Chholle Bhatoore ... You can be assured of a feast.

So much for the feast for the palate. Now, to the senses. From the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Chawri Bazaar, to the chaos and magic of Meena Bazaar (wikipedia doesnt have an article for Meena Bazar ... at least, not the original one). That's an expression I quite liked ... Chaos and Magic. Describes Dilli to the T. So, chaos and magic it is. Or, is the chaos part of the magic? Or does the magic spring from chaos? I don't know, and maybe, beyond a point, I would just call this semantics. What I do know ... I am Hindu, but I do miss, at times, the wafting of the strains of the Aazaan across rooftops, carried forth by the breeze, accompanied by those beautiful kites.

Shelflife ...

A rather interesting post by Darcy Lemons over at APQC about the shelflife of knowledge ... or, how long should we retain knowledge? Interesting question. This is a question which frequently comes up whenever there is a discussion about a content management system. People usually come up with the question of how old is too old. Especially if you talk to technology firms, this question becomes even more pertinent, because a particular solution which would work with a particular release of a software would, in all probability, not work in a newer release.

My take on this ... its not the age, rather, the relevance of knowledge which matters. Again, lets take an example ... or rather, lets extend the earlier example. While the solution which worked on an earlier version of the software may not work in the newer version, if you are supporting the older version of the software, this knowledge is important for you. In other words, this knowledge may not be useful for implementation projects, but quite useful for sustenance projects. Hence, its not about the age, but about relevance ... or, shall we say usage? Because, in a content management system, for example, relevance can be determined by usage. If people are using some knowledge elements, then they are in all probability still relevant, even if they are dated. Lets take the example Darcy has taken ... if tomorrow we decide to do away with cars and trucks, and decide to go back to horse drawn carriages, there are still parts of Delhi where the expertise is alive and kicking. More on that later ...

The issue here is, the people who generated the knowledge in the first place, may ot longer be around. How, then, do we attempt to recreate something which, in all probability, has already been created. This is an area where the entire idea of social computing can be quite useful. Lets illustrate this ... a lot of people, when writing books about history, or topics about which not much knowledge exists today, refer to papers, documents, plaques, photographs, archaeological remains, etc., of the topic they are writing about. For example, I just completed reading a book titled In the Shadow of the Great Game ... by Narendra Singh Sarila (though i have no idea how some folks get the idea that this is a partisan book ... its anything but that, but then, thats my opinion ... you are free to have your own) ... and here, the author has extensively quoted sources, including official archives, personal papers, etc. ... Personal diaries, for example, are a description of the then current events ... as such, they become a valuable source of information about things that were happening, as well as the opinions of people (stakeholders?) about these. Somewhat similar to blogs?

From this description, we could go on to the possibility that blogs, discussion fora, and other, similar platforms could be a good way of preserving the thoughts of people about contemporary events ... whether outside, or within the organization.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Give To Get, And E 2.0 ...

There is an interesting post over at the Greater IBM Connection ... 2.0 means give to get ... its gives, in a nutshell, some of the basic ideas behind the 2.0 world (and no, thats not a new term ... wonder when someone is going to come up with that, anyway?).

What caught the eye is the idea about e 2.0 ... about conversations happening openly across company firewalls. This is an interesting idea. Especially the part about conversations happening across company firewalls. While this is happening, i think the larger question is about conversations happening more and more openly within the firewall to begin with. One aspect of e 2.0 which needs to be highlighted (and there are quite a few folks out there who are ...), is the idea of increased participation. And this, inside the firewall. One of the things e 2.0 is about is the scenario where more and more ideas can flow more and more easily within the organization, across traditional organizational structures, like hierarchies, and work functions.

This is an important aspect to knowledge sharing, primarily because, the way i see it, organizations have "knowledge structures" which are quite distinct to the traditional, formal structures within organizations. And e 2.0 is all about facilitating these knowledge structures to evolve and come into the value-creation process as acknowledged sources of value, not necessarily formal.

Driver Or Enabler ...

There is a very interesting my friend Nirmala has created ... to get a better understanding of the nature of KM initiatives in organizations, and the answer queries about KM. You could read about it here. Its a rather interesting idea ... in that, it attempts to provide a certain amount of structure about the entire idea of facilitating knowledge.

There is, however, a thought i had regarding this. One question which came to mind when i was reading this was about the entire idea of whether KM is the driver or the enabler. This, to my mind, is not the appropriate question to ask. This is because, in my opinion, KM is not the end in itself. Rather, a means towards achieving something. Hence, KM should not be considered the driver in the first place. Rather, i would look at KM as an enabler of specific business processes, or drivers.

This is analogous to the question that i have asked earlier ... whether KM should be considered a function, or a tool. This question is an important one for the reason that this gets us thinking about whether KM should be a business objective, or a facilitator to specific business objectives. As a function, KM becomes an area of business itself, like Sales, with objectives which drive the working of this function. However, as a tool, KM becomes aligned with business functions, and functions in a way determined by the needs of the business.

In other words, what i am saying here is that KM needs to be more closely aligned with business objectives in order to derive mileage from the initiatives that form a part of KM activities, along with the toolset that KM brings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Subsidiary And Focal

I had read about the concepts of subsidiary knowledge and focal knowledge, dimensions of tacit knowledge, as propounded by Polanyi. So? Well ... the other day, i actually experienced this.

Over the years, i have managed to build an understanding of the Bengali language. I can read the language, although with a considerable amount of effort (though writing is something i am still struggling with, given the differences in the spoken and written language, but thats another story altogether ...). The other day, i managed to lay my hands on a collection of stories of Feluda, written by Satyajit Ray (and yes, i do believe the character was primarily modelled around Soumitra Chatterjee, while  Santosh Dutta was just the right actor for Jatayu).

So what, you might ask. Exactly ... not much. I have really enjoyed reading these stories ... they are available in an English translation. However, this one is the original ... written in the Bengali language (Bangla). And, this is when i realized ... while i could read the book (although haltingly), i just wasnt enjoying the stories as much as i had enjoyed them in the English translation. This was because most of my attention was taken up trying to understand whats written in terms of deciphering the language, rather than focussing on the plot of the story. And this is where i realized the importance of "subsidiary" knowledge. When reading a text in a language we understand, we dont have to focus on trying to understand the language, but rather, we need only try to understand the concepts which are written there.

What this highlights is the fact that even when we talk about knowledge, knowledge is not a simple, single-layered entity. Rather, most knowledge is multi-layered, in that it consists of a number of layers of meanings, and we need to understand all of them in order to make sense of it. For example, one would not be able to understand the mathematics behind the theory of relativity without first understanding basic algebra. And this is where illustrations, examples ... concepts which serve to simplify some of the concepts come in handy. This is an important concept to understand, both for trying to understand the representation of knowledge, as well as for training professionals.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bangalore's Ceasar's ...

When you go to Bangalore next ... tucked away on M. G. Road (and i say tucked away, because if you drive too fast, which, by the way, isnt possible on M. G. Road ... never was, but with the Metro rail making its presence felt, even more so ...), is a restaurant which goes by the name of Caesar's. You can even find it listed at burrp, but surprisingly, nobody has reviewed the place yet.
Surprising because this is a place, which, while being easy to miss, shouldnt be. Quite unassuming from the outside, and if you didnt know any better, you might not even think too much about going there ... but, step in you must. Caesar's has been around for quite some time now ... the decor and the elegance tells you that. You go through an old-fashioned, elegant entrance to the dining area, which itself is well appointed. Not something which is quite contemporary ... not too many straight lines, and sharp edges ... the decor is rounded, and doesnt jar. Add to this a well-appointed bar, and you have all the makings of a place which is quite plush, though admittedly one which has seen days when it was far more visited.

Coming to the food ... the variety here is quite interesting. But, something about the signature of a restaurant tells you what kind of food you should order here. And, i was going for something top of mind ... there were Fried Prawns, Grilled Fish Sizzler, and the Fish and Chips. The Prawns were nice, though not among the most delectable. The Sizzler is nice, too, not disguising the delicacy of the Fish too much, leaving it grilled well, while keeping it quite tender, and the Vegetables are ok. The most recommendable dish here is the Fish and Chips. The Chips are crisp, and so is the Fish. Done just right, the Fish is not too hard, and not too soft, and cooked in a way that leaves the flavour of the Fish intact. Having eaten Fish and Chips at quite a few places, i must recommend this.

Web 2.0 ... All About Adoption

There is an interesting post by Jevon MacDonald, about e 2.0 taking the stage. Especially where he says ...

The interconnections and interactions between people spark great value, but the more costly traditional tools have missed out on this great reservoir of of value, but the newer lower cost solutions offer these gems up wonderfully with a little coaxing.

What is interesting here is the part about little coaxing. And this, in my experience, has been the trickiest part. Like i have written before, the key to web 2.0, and the evolution of the structures around e 2.0 is heavily dependant on the adoption of these initiatives. And, more often than now, this requires more than a little coaxing.

Another thing he mentions ...

The promise of bringing social tools into organizations has never been about complicating worker productivity. It centers on allowing individuals to act more independently and to make smarter decisions more easily.

The idea here shouldnt be to have people taking time from their daily schedule, to contribute to the network. Rather, the contributions to the network have to be an outcome of the daily work of people. Much like facebook ... you dont have to specifically go out there and mention that you have written on someone's wall. The activities you perform are reflected on the page. And something like this is also required within the firewall.

Update ... after having written and published this, i came across this article about SocialText 3.0.

Recommendation Market ...

This is something i have been thinking about ... one of the applications of the web 2.0 technologies, and of what some call the semantic web (one of these days, i am actually going to figure out what this means, and maybe even understand the difference between the two concepts) is the recommendation platform which this technology provides. What we are talking about is, at the basic, recommendations of products and services (reading the Times Good Food Guide to find new places to go to, or checking out burrp). As we are seeing this aspect is becoming more and more sophisticated (not so much in terms of technology as in terms of users).

Why i am talking about this is simple. People are coming up with more and more ways to use technologies to collaborate, and share thoughts and opinions. One aspect that catches the eye is the way you can share content which you appreciate with your social networks. Its quite simple to click an icon, and share content, ranging from articles, blogs, to videos, on facebook, for example. What i am talking about is from the reader's perspective. And from this perspective, at times, this can be overwhelming. And it can become even more so when you try to apply this to your job. Theres just so much of opinion, it can become quite an effort going through it, leave aside taking any decisions based on this. Which is why i blogged about searching for opinions.

One tool i came across is idopia ... something i have written about. This seems to be a tool which is more than just a survey tool, which also captures the qualitative aspect of your opinion. Another thing which comes to mind is the define functionality on google. If you want a formal definition for Knowledge Management, just type "define:Knowledge Management" and it will give you definitions of the term as they appear on the net. Something on these lines, working around opinions ... covering a set of sources, including blogs, wikis, your communities ... which can give you what people out there are thinking ... especially when it comes to giving their opinions on a particular topic.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some Thoughts ...

They say that when people are low, they can be cheered up by two things ... humour, and sex. For the latter, this is not the right place to look (hey, i am sure you already know where to look ...), and as far as the former goes, here's a glossary of some of the terms from everyday use, redefined by the current financial crisis ... not original, though ...

CEO: Chief Embezzlement Officer

CFO: Corporate Fraud Officer

Bull Market: A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius

Broker: What the broker made you

Standard and Poor: Your life, in a nutshell

Stock Analyst: The idiot who downgraded your stock

Yahoo: The exclamation when you sell it at $240

Windows: What the sucker who bought it at $240 jumps out of

Institutional Investor: Last year's investor who's now either in the nuthouse, or busy expatriating funds from India (a nut, any which ways)

Profit: An archaic word no longer in use

On a rather less humorous note ... something which i havent been able to figure out ... not rationally, at the least ... why is it that when the Dow Jones drops by 1%, the Sensex (with or without the Saas and Bahu), drops by 10%? Whats the amplifying all about? How is it that the fundamentals of companies have changed overnight, so much so, that a lot of companies lost 75% of their market capitalization? Or is it just that everyone is going by what their neighbour (and his uncle) is doing?

ToI ran an article today, about Hapur investors making hay in the market mayhem ... a must-read for anybody who thinks he's smarter that his neighbour (or his uncle). This very nice article goes to show that Hapur knows much more about Finance than Wall Street does ... and, another thing ... that common-sense makes more sense than most of the smartest folks around. Way to go ...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sitting In The Lawn ...

Sitting out in the lawn ... Something you wouldn't even think of during the summer months, and something which you wouldn't get the opportunity for during the monsoons ... Is something which is a very attractive scenario during certain parts of the year. When you find sitting in the lawn on a late morning (preferably having gotten up early, which is quite a wonderful thing to do if you ask me, though I don't do much of it myself) something pleasant, then you also know that autumn is here, and winter is just round the corner.

This is something I have seen a lot of folks do. I have my Grandfather sitting out at his vantage point where he could catch the maximum sunlight ... Reading the newspaper. Unless he was discussing politics with his friends ... Otherwise, they could have been discussing grandchildren (quite unlikely ... That was more Grandma's domain). That was the time of the mohalla ... When Grandpa would sit on his favourite chair, along with his friends ... On another part of the street we (the boys) would be playing Kanche, Gilli Danda, Lattoo, or as we grew up, Cricket ...

This was the scene in the mornings ... Wonderful mornings, when the vacations were on, and thanks to Grandpa, Mom couldn't bully me into completing my homework before going out to play. Homework was something which could be done on the last day of the holidays, which is something my son has definitely inherited from me.

Grandmas wouldn’t be found there just yet, as Lunch had to be cooked, and the street would be a heady mix of aromas ... Aaloo Gobhi, Matar Paneer, Paalak da Saag,and of course ... Saron da Saag, Maanh di Daal, or Aaloo Methi, the Paraanthaas (there was Aaloo, Gobhi, Methi, Mooli and more …), and of course ... The ubiquitous Gobhi Shalgam da Achaar. And for those of us who managed to get entangled in Mom's clutches, there would the inevitable Saron de tel (or Badaam Rogan, though this was usually reserved for the kids ... You see, we were grown up ... All of seven?) di maalish.

Lunch, and as one of the protagonists in Malgudi would say ... It is only the tribe of boys who cannot or would not sleep in the afternoon ... And Grandma gets some time to gossip. This, however, is accompanied by some frenetic activities ... The clatter if needles as they dash around knitting something or the other ... The count of loops being kept under their breath ... Or the tweezers plying themselves with all of Grandma's enthusiasm to make the delicacy for the kids, peeling the skin off those hapless Kharboozaa seeds, which once skinned, would find their way into the Sooji da Halwa (believe me, these are an acquired taste).

So, the next time someone asks me, I am going to tell them that sitting in the lawn on a late autumn morning reminds me of Kharbooze de beej ... And let them figure out the rest.

For, when the warm sunshine feels soothing, and the breeze tickles your senses, and she dances, waving her supple fingers in the sunshine, winter cannot be far away. And when winter isn't far away, would these memories be far away.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Leadership and Social Computing ...

A rather interesting post by Rachel Happe ... the distinction between wisdom of crowds and mob rule ... interesting reading ... more so because it brings in some form of sobering to the euphoria around social computing. Having said that, however, the key point i think Rachel brings out is the idea about leadership. And this is something which i have experienced in my interactions with different organizations.

Especially within the context of the organization leadership plays a critical role. As i have written before, the difference between succesful adoption pf and hence deriving benefits from social computing and Knowledge Management initiatives, and the other way round, comes, to a large extent from the leadership and the attitude of leadership towards these initiatives. Now, leadership is not the only parameter here, but it is definitely one of the most important parameters towards determining how an organization is going to take to the larger social computing picture.

If we have an organization where leaders look askance at blogs (there are quite a few organizations, where senior management, and i am equating them with leadership, look at blogging as a waste of time), then the probability of the organization adopting blogging on a large scale is quite low. Similarly, for communities ... One of the paradoxes about communities is that while they are supposed to be self-forming, and self-governing, they really cannot sustain without some amount of stimulus provided by the organization itself, and when i say organization here, i am really talking about leadership.

Which brings us to the question ... how to get the leadership to buy into these initiatives. Lot has been written about this, but more and more, the ROI concept comes in. Managers need to see what is the benefit the organization gets from investing time and effort into an initiative like adopting web 2.0 technologies, in order to justify the investment of resources into this, rather than into other initiatives which are competing for the same funding. Having said this, ROI is not a concept which lends itself easily to calculation when it comes to knowledge, for reasons which i have written about before. This is not to say that we can do without something which is as basic as this in the minds of the decision-makers. Now, i am not writing about a score-card here, but some measures for performance (which are usually already in place), and their relation with KM initiatives is something which needs to be developed. And this, to my mind, can be developed only within the context of a specific scenario, rather than being generalized.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

ROI And Training ... Again

A very interesting post by Jay Cross about ROI … it got me thinking. A question which has been coming up time and again in discussions I have been having with friends is about the extent to which we measure ROI has been responsible for the crisis the markets are facing. Or is it, at all? Hey … I am not a management guru, and hence, I don’t even claim to know whether it does or not.

There is, however, something which I have been thinking about, and this post actually brought this out quite well. Especially the part where he says …

Making strategic decisions is fundamentally different from making operating decisions. Senior leadership uses gut feel, informed judgment, and vision to set direction. Managers at lower levels decide what projects to fund by describing the logic of how they will help carry out the strategy; this is where running the numbers is useful. ROI hurdles help identify the projects with the greatest potential return. They don’t address the big picture.

This is an interesting thought, if we take this forward. When we talk about vision, we are not talking about this quarter, or the next. We are, instead, talking about a process of reaching from point A to point B, whatever these points may be. Question is, if, in this process, some of the measures take a hit for a quarter or two, sort of giving up on some short term gains for more long terms gains, do these trade-offs actually come into the radar, or the intelligence dashboards of business leaders?

Consider this … There are a number of construction projects going on in Delhi these days, in preparation for Commonwealth Games, 2010. Now, these project sites are not a pretty site as of now, but by the time these are completed, its going to be a different picture altogether. Should one give up on a not so pretty near-term picture in order to attain a nicer picture in the long term?

In this context, lets look at training. Lets remember … training is usually work in progress. When people come out of a training, they have learnt some things, and they are yet to learn some things more, which is where the experience of applying the concepts of what they have learnt on the job comes into the picture. The first question, hence, is what is the point at which we should measure the ROI of training? Traditional means are feedback forms which participants to trainings fill out at the end of the training, when they have no idea how relevant the training has been, and how well it has equipped them to deliver work on the job. So does this mean that effectiveness should be measured at a later point? Here, the question that comes up is, what is the extent that operating improvements can be attributed to training, and to what extent can they be attributed to experience, on the job learning, or collaboration?

Lets look at it this way … you could train someone to swim … or, they could learn to swim by themselves once pushed into the deep end of the pool (with the lifeguard around, of course …). The person who was trained to swim wouldn’t be able to appreciate the effectiveness of the training because he never experienced the effort required in learning to swim on your own, while the other person never really got trained, so again, he is not the right person.

Europe And Asia ...

Having travelled to Europe recently (ok ... not so recent ... that was August), there is a basic difference in the way things are done in those parts of the world. This post is about my thoughts on this.

In Europe, the way i saw it, there is the stress on order. There is a well defined way of doing things, and things are far more streamlined than they are in Asia. Lets take a look at how you go shopping. In Europe, you walk into a shop, look around, pick up the things you want o buy, pay for them, and walk out. Asia is a different ballgame altogether. You dont just walk into a shop. Shopping is an experience by itself. Whether it be Fashion Street in Mumbai, or Janpath or Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, or New Market in Kolkata, you dont just walk into a shop to buy anything. You go to a shop, and you look through the things you want to buy, and even those you dont want to buy. And then, the shopkeeper keeps showing you things which you didnt even ask for to begin with (which, i must add, is probably the most important revenue stream for the shopkeepers). Then you narrow down to a set of things you might be interested in, and then, the fun begins.

I call this the dance of existence ... of both the shopkeeper and the buyer trying to get maximum value from the transaction ... the (usually) lady trying to bring down the price, while the shopkeeper tries to keep a straight face while telling her that at that price, he would be making a loss. With the (usually) ladies telling the shopkeeper ... theek lagaao, or theek theek bolo, or theek kore boloon (depending on whether you are in Mumbai, Delhi, or Kolkata). And finally, arriving at a price which the (usually) lady will claim is still too expensive, and grudgingly pay for, and the shopkeeper will protest that this is far below his buying price. And so on ... even after the purchase has been made.

In fact, from what i understand (havent been able to locate images for this, so if someone knows of any links, please let me know), the supermarkets in China also have recognized this, and there is the usual bazar kind of atmosphere out there, too. Thing is, this is not just a difference in the way the markets operate. This is a cultural difference. This is a difference in mindset, and you would find this present even in the way work is done in Asia, as opposed to Europe.

Which means that in Asia (i am writing primarily from the perspective of India, but please feel free to let me know about China, and other parts of Asia, too ... would highly appreciate), exchange, not just of merchandise is not a straight-forward transaction ... this is an experience by itself. And, maybe this is something which needs to reflect in the way we look at transactions within organizations as well. More so, for knowledge transactions ... we cannot just assume that people would share knowledge in a linear way, without this dance of existence going on, and the transaction taking a most circuitous route. Knowledge shared, in this context, is accompanied with a lot of things which seem, at first glance, to be irrelevant, but are as much a part of the transaction, as the core knowledge which is being shared.

Marketing And Web 2.0 ...

There is a lot written about the impact of web 2.0 in the marketing space. About how organizations can use the power of web 2.0 to rive their marketing activities. This said, there are still a large number of companies (the majority?) who havent brought onto this concept.

This brings up the question ... why not. Look at it this way ... around a decade ago, Rodgers and Peppers wrote a very interesting book about 1-to-1 marketing ... interesting because the book describes how the entire process of selling would change. And, it has. Today, everyone is talking about, if not doing, personalized campaigns. In a scenario where consumers are receiving more and more media messages from organizations, with one program being sponsored by Coca-Cola, and the next one by Pepsi, these messages can be distracting at best, and confusing at worst.

And this is where the power of web 2.0 can deliver value to marketeers. Look at it this way ... In a web 2.0 world, people are looking towards their friends for advice about things. This has been happening for a long time ... remember that restaurant you went for Dinner to, because a friend recommended it? Or, consulted a doctor because a friend told you he is good? So whats new, you might ask ... put simply, new is the scale. Today, we find web 2.0 taking this entire recommendation process to a different scale altogether. Rather than just talking to your friends (who could be sitting in any part of the world, or whome you arent even in touch with too often), you can access information from your friend's friends.

Put simply, today, consumers can become brand ambassadors who are far more effective than any formal brand ambassador. Most IT companies have some form of referenceability program in place, where they try to get referenceable customers, who can then recommend their work to prospective clients.

How does this impact marketing? Lets look at it in a basic sort of way ... Traditional marketing talks about the STP model. Here, though, the segmentation is based on what the organization feels their market is, and the targetting is done based on what the organization perceives this segmentation requires. So, you identify segments, identify their requirements, and target your products at these requirements ... What a lot of marketeers are missing out on is the role web 2.0 can play in this segmentation process ... identifying communities can help them build segments at a micro level, which couldnt be done earlier. And the positioning part is simple from here on ... blogs targetted at the community, with participation from the community itself.

The most interesting part of this is the simplicity. More useful is the participation aspect ... read consumers describing the products they want, and the organization building products, and positioning around this feedback. What this requires, however, is ample investment, more in terms of effort and organizational time, than money, into community building. And this is where a lot of marketeers today are not focussing.

Monday, October 6, 2008


This is that time of the year ... the rains have subsided, and we are somewhere between summer, which held its sway till a few days ago, and winter, which is yet to fully set in. And the warmth of the sun is tempered with the gentle breeze of autumn. When standing out in the sun is no longer so hot that you want to get into the shade, and the breeze makes you feel the advent of winter on the horizon, heralded by the gentle breezes of autumn.

And a warm welcome for The Mother Goddess ... when we welcome Her, feel Her presence among our midst. When people bow in reverence to the Shakti, the Power of God ... The Mother of creation.

This is the time of the year ... whether it be the Navrattas as celebrated in Punjab, or the Navratri, celebrated with the Garba in Gujarat, or the Durga Puja, as celebrated in Bengal ... this is the time when we dont feel like coming to office, and would much rather spend the days at the Pandal, revelling in the glory of The Mother ... celebrating Her presence.

May She bless us all! Amen ...

On Marketing ...

Today, we have a stage where the content that people access is tailored to their requirements. With the web 2.0 explosion that we are seeing today, a user has the option to access more and more of content which is relevant to them, without having to go through lots of content which might not be of interest to them. Search has added to this, and given the way the activities of users can be tracked, companies are more and more (or at least, they need to ...) tailoring their offerings to meet the needs of customers.

The other day, however, i came across something quite different. Here was this advertisement for a Gelato chain (no, this has nothing to do with the flavours, which actually are very nice) ... They had an offer on a particular flavour. So, whats new? Nothing, actually. The advertisement mentioned all the places in Mumbai where you could go and avail of this offer. Again, whats unusual? Nothing ... except that i was in Bangalore!

This is the kind of marketing approach which companies should avoid ... today, there is so much information which is available, and so many marketing offers which are there, too ... more often than not, people dont even read them. How many, for example, read the inserts which come along with the newspaper? Not many ... which means that they are not having the desired impact. Organizations need to come up with offers customers need, rather than offers organizations need.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Destination ... Or Cars!

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?
This reminds me of one of those movies which touch you ... one which you want to see again, and yet again! And, then, few more times, primarily because the big fella loves it! Yes, we are talking about one of the hits of last (?) year ... Cars! Ya, you guessed it ... Lightning McQueen (he rocks, doesnt he?), and Sally (so not fair, there's no wikipedia page for Sally). What about the movie, you might ask. Interesting dialogue ... The point where Sally is telling Lightning the story of Radiator Springs (those of you who arent understanding what i am talking about, watch the movie ... you wont regret it!) ...
Back then, cars didnt drive to make good time, they drove to have a good time!
The journey and destination distinction ...

A Tale Of Two Companies ...

I have recently been trying to understand the differences between organizations, and how this relates to their entire outlook towards the basic idea of knowledge-sharing. And, the results havent been surprising.

This is a post about two companies ... both are in the same industry, both are headquartered in the same city, and both are in more or less the same business, having more or less the same business model. What I have been trying to understand is the differences in their opinions towards collaboration ... specifically towards communities. And, the difference is immense.

Company A has an environment where there are vibrant communities. These communities are more often than not driven by a set of community champions, who understand the requirements of people participating in these communities, and also take up the ways to meet those requirements ... the basic idea ... communities need to provide value to people who are participating in them, otherwise there is no reason people should participate. And people wont participate till they find value coming out of these communities. This is a circle, as i have written before, and organizations need to find ways to break this. In organization A, this is being done primarily by the community champions.

Company B, on the other hand, has communities which are vibrant, essentially in fits and starts ... in other words, the communities will suddenly come alive for some time, and then go off to sleep. What organization B has not been able to do is break the circle.

The question is why ... is this a people issue? Both companies have community champions. And, as i had written earlier, they have community managers ... So, where is the difference? Ah ... the people. But then, it has also been seen that there is not much difference between the types of people these two companies have working at them. After all, they both pay around the same, and they both hire from more or less the same set of colleges ... So, maybe people are not the issue. And, this is intuitive ... We are all social animals. Which means that we need to relate to others. And, collaboration is but a manifestation of this.

The question that this brings up ... If people are not the issue, then what is? The company? Maybe ... Or, maybe, culture ... OK, i brought this up. I still dont know what organizational culture means. Or, even if i do know, i dont think i can articulate this. But, then, there is definitely something else ... One of the reasons is the messages from the top ... what are the messages (not words ...) that emanate from the senior management! If they think its a waste of time, then it is ... If they think its not a waste of time, it isnt.

Reminds me of a story i had heard ... about the traveller who was travelling to Damascus. He met a wise old man just outside the city, and asked about the people of the city. The old man asked him where he was coming from ... he told him Cairo, and also mentioned that he had heard the people of the city are mean, and bad-temered. The old man told him he as right. Later during the day, another traveller was travelling to Damascus ... he, too, met the old man ... and, asked the same question. The old man asked him, too, where he was from. He said he was from Istanbul, and that he had heard that the people of Damascus are very nice and friendly. The old man told him that he had heard right. OK, so thats not the exact story, but i am sure you get the point!