Thursday, November 6, 2008

KM India ... Day 1

OK ... I am at Mumbai ... attending KM India 2008. So this is a little dated, considering that today was day 2 of the event ... but then, with the Cocktails and Dinner last night, you didnt think i would have been blogging, did you? I did think i would blog live from the venue, but then i realized i am yet to perfect the art of listening, understanding, and commenting about a topic, all at the same time. Hence the delay ...

Nevertheless, the opening day brought up some interesting topics. It opened with an address by K. V. Kamath. Needless to say, a large part of the address was about the current (ok, so most of us would like to use the word recent rather than current) financial crisis. This was followed by a talk by Suresh Prabhu ... and i must say that when K. V. Kamath said that he would go anywhere to hear Suresh Prabhu speak, he wasnt exaggerating. Prabhu made a strong pitch for integrating knowledge into the organizational structures. Of course, we know this is far easier said than done, but then, this did kick-off the proceedings in the appropriate way. Especially interesting point he made ...

A conformist attitude is a problem in any social setup, and can be handled if some level of deviation from the ideal is encouraged.

Of course, this makes sense. This was, in fact, brought forth quite strongly by S. K. Sharma from Airtel, who raised the point ... about the inherent tension between Knowledge Management, and Quality. This was in response to my question at the panel discussion with few of the MAKE award winners ... actually, i was trying to understand the difference between the communities they have been able to foster at Tata Steel (i still call it TISCO ... guess i am too old to call it anything else) and some similar initiatives which have been around for some time now ... especially Quality Circles. To cut a long story short, one way of addressing this tension could be to make the KM initiatives dovetail into the quality initiatives running in the organization. So, if you generate some great ideas, you work with the Quality team to bring them in as an integral part of the quality processes in the organization.

With this, the session on KM Strategy and Assessment got underway ... and Prof. Jayanta Chatterjee from IIT-Kanpur (or, IITK, to the old hands ...) made a rather impressive presentation about the work they have done with creating a platform for knowledge-sharing in the agriculture value-chain, from the farmer to the trader. Its quite an impressive model, bringing together all the participants in the agriculture value-chain. What i found stood out in this discussion was the description of the "knowledge-grid". Here, to take an example, they would take a particular crop variety, e.g. Pulses on one axis, and different aspects of cultivating the crop, e.g. pesticides, harvesting, etc., on another axis, and clicking on the intersection one can reach the discussions around the intersection of the two. The question this brought to mind was how they managed to address the fuidity in topics, or whether they did even have such a fluidity. I think not, if they can capture the various aspects of cultivating the crop, then all information related to this can be classified into one aspect or the other. Some sort of taxonomy, but what is interesting is the way they have worked out the intersection of the two dimensions.

William Miller gave a very interesting talk about the whole idea of knowledge and innovation. He used the example, where he likened inhaling to learning, and exhaling to innovation, to make the point that knowledge creation must lead to innovation, and vice-versa. Quite convincing, especially the way i look at it ... that we create knowledge through everyday work that we do. And in this manner, this learning, or the process of creation of knowledge, must lead to new ideas, new ways of doing things ... whether we know it or not. He also tried to bring in the whole idea of best practices, as not necessarily the place where you need to stop ... rather, to use best practices as the benchmark in a way so that you can use them as a launchpad to create something better.

Dr. J. K. Suresh from Infosys reflected on the idea that knowledge is communal property, which means that it belongs not just to one individual, but rather, by its very nature of multiplying by sharing, to the community. However, when we are trying to measure knowledge, we are trying to ascribe it to particular individuals. This is a basic mis-match which needs to be addressed. This, i believe, must be something which must be looked at, when we are trying to understand the basic dynamics of knowledge creation in the organization. One possibility is to encourage the treatment of knowledge as belonging to the entire community, rather than to the individual. Of course, this is far easier said than done, and i agree that this is a rather vague way of looking at things, but this mis-match must be addressed.

Ed Cohen from Satyam made a rather interesting point ... that the essence of leadership is collaboration. Or, in other words, that the main role of leaders is to facilitate collaboration. This makes sense to an extent (no, i am not going into the other aspects of leadership ... i dont think i am best suited to write about them), since collaboration is about getting people to work with each other, together, towards a common goal, in a way where the whole is greater than the sum. It made sense when i was listening to him, but i guess somewhere i lost my threads on this line of thinking ... need to think more.

Debra Miller made a rather interesting comment ... about the need to empower people to contribute and share knowledge as themselves, as individuals, rather than as parts of a business process. This is pretty much similar to the philosophy of social networking ... the focus being on people, rather than on the content, and the role of people in generating knowledge, and sharing knowledge, being central, and being acknowledged as such.

David Tai from IBM made a very impressive presentation about the web 2.0 initiatives being run at IBM. I say impressive, because this presentation described very well the journey IBM has taken over the years from the ICM days of Lotus Notes databases, to the new w3, and KnowledgeView, and the further step towards social computing. An interesting point that David made is about the way he uses his social network within IBM, and outside to learn, because people in his network have already synthesized knowledge, and he gets to see the outcome of this synthesis, so he has a lot to learn from his network, rather than searching for things. This is something i have written about before. This brought up an interesting conversation i had with my friend Nirmala Palaniappan, though i still do believe that social networking is not going to do away with search, though it is going to impact search in some ways.

Raj Datta (looking quite different from the picture you see in the profile) from MindTree Consulting came up with a very interesting idea ... of breaking up knowledge-space into four quadrants:

  • Q1: i know what i know
  • Q2:  i dont know what i know
  • Q3: i dont know what i know
  • Q4: i dont know what i dont know
From here, he went on to raise the question that since the largest of the four is the "i dont know what i dont know" quadrant, and this is also the fastest growing of the four, why is it that most KM strategies focus on the "i know what i know" Q1? The interesting part here is that the Q4 "i dont know what i dont know" quadrant, while being the most difficult to discover, is the one with the most possibilities. Of course, this is easier said than done, but this does take us somewhat into the realm of innovation, but this is something that William Miller mentioned, too, describing knowledge and innovation as being two parts of a single whole.

As you can see, it was quite a packed day at KM India, and this was followed by Cocktails and Dinner, and though i couldnt commune with the Old Monk (please read the odes penned by a number of followers), with Mr. Walker for company, you wont be surprised at the delay in writing, would you?

Oh, and please do look to the right, to see the most interesting aspect of KM India ... and no marks for guessing why there's only half a plate of Cookies there!


Anjali said...

Hey Atul!

Thanks a bunch for the almost live updates ;). Those of us who are not there were curious to know.

I'm sending this post off to Kmers.

Meanwhile you enjoy the spirit-uality :)

Subash said...

Hey Atul,
I wish I could have come.... Thanks for the updates... the Jonny walker stuff did make me jealous


Atul said...

thanks, Anjali. Subash, they still didnt have Old Monk!

Nimmy said...

Me too was waiting for a 'report' from Mumbai! Hail ho! Cheers! :)

Thanks a ton...i'll be tweeting your post right away!

Atul said...

thanks, Nirmala. :-) i will be blogging soon about days 2 and 3 as well.