Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calcutta ...

On a flight i was reading the magazine and the magazine was talking about the "City of Joy". What is interesting is that the article about things in Calcutta (or Kolkata if you may) was refering to the parts of Calcutta which i think are not things which make Calcutta stand out as one of the most charming tourist destinations, leave aside being one of the most wonderful cities in the world. The things about Calcutta which the article was talking about were Nicco Park, Science City, and a few of the things which more or less you could find in most of the cities around the world.
What i am talking about are the things about Calcutta which make the city stand apart as a city with a soul. The article didnt talk about the Phuchkas of Calcutta (to someone who loves eating thats probably the first thing that comes to mind when one talks about Calcutta given that Delhi and Mumbai claim their place in the Phuchka world with their Gol-Guppas and Pani Puris). Of course ther was no mention of the wonderful view of the city on a rain drenched morning having breakfast at Flury's, one of the landmarks and a must-go-to place if you a re a visitor to the city. There was also no mention of the Egg-Chicken Rolls on some of the places to eat on Park Street. Nor does it tell you about the veritable gastronomic delights of Park Street or rather the half-kilometre stretch of road which can give you probably the best fare you could find in any part of the country. From Trinca's (the music is probably not the same as the Iyer Sisters but nevertheless quite good) to Ming Room, or the wonderful fare of Kwality's to One Step Up or (if you are an old-timer) the Steaks at Ollie Pub (a landmark of venerable vintage) to the veritable delights of Flury's or the delightful Chelo Kababs (yes they come from Iran but Peter Cat knows the way to make them probably as delightful) at Peter Cat. There are also the delights of Tung Fong or if you are a die-hard Bengali food fan, Kosturi or Rodhuni which specialize in Bengali cuisine. The Prawns and the Fish there are simply amazing but then reading about them is not quite the same as eating them. There are the modern eateries too, Eats n Treats for example, which gives some very good food. And the Fish and Rice on the roadside at Sector V which is a veritable treat though not when Calcutta is having her affair with high humidity.

The article also doesnt tell about the mini bus waiting for a passenger who is probably half a mile away and the indignant fury of the passengers wondering aloud whether the bus will move at all or not. This doesnt also talk about the banter in the bus. Nor about the charms of travelling on an overcast day by tram through Maidan at a speed which can at best be described as leisurely. The article though did say that the CTC has introduced glass ceiling trams. Looked nice.
More than these, though, what the article didnt talk about was the spirit of Calcutta. Of the friendliness of the people of Calcutta, of their way of making you at at ease (with a bit of condescension but thats to be had with a pinch of salt) of their love for anything intellectual, whether it be politics, football, Dada's (Sourav for the uninitiated) scoring average or Shakespeare to Satyajit Ray or Jamini Roy. Of course it definitely doesnt include the spirit of College Street, the pilgrimege of anyone who has more than a passinf interest in books, or of the intellectual atmosphere of the Coffee House there.
What Calcutta has is very difficult to describe and i know that many writers who i am not capable to holding a candle to have written volumes about the charms of the city but still, i try to write and say that the city has the charm and delight which is rather more than a trifle difficult to find in today's world. Whether it be the Radha-Bollobhis or the Indrayanis, or the Sondesh or Roshogollas, Calcutta has them all and Calcutta can have you eating out of her many varied colours or charms for as long as you would like. And this is something which belongs to the people of Calcutta, and no matter where the city goes in terms of modern economic terms, this is something which onone can take away from the people of the city. What i would say is that having Breakfast at Flury's on a leisurely morning, with a few cups of Tea, watching the city walk by you is an experience which is quite difficult to find anywhere in the world, more so with the backdrop of Park Street, or maybe i should say Calcutta.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Memories Of Guavas ...

I think Guavas are my favourite fruit. Huh? Ok, this is what any writer faces. Go straight into the narrative and the audience has no idea where the author is coming, or how they are coming, too. Go too slow, and you have a set of yawning readers. While i wouldnt want you yawning (except under a hangover, in which case too, i think a guava would be just right), a little bit of background may be required.

Travelling from Dehradun to Delhi, one would go to Haridwar. While a dip wasn't really happening, given that there was very little water, as they were cleaning the Ghats, the guavas on the fruit-vendor's cart seemed most inviting, and hence this. As a child i have found the guava to be one of my favourite fruits, along with the musk-melon ... Kharbooza. Not just about any, but the kharboozas which used to come from Baghpat ... Large, succulent, sweet ... Sinful. Regrettably those aren't to be found in the market during summers. Which is why i am thankful that the large, ripe (yellow in colour, not green), soft, sweet guavas are still available aplenty.

Now to the background ...

As a child, i remember walks with my grandfather, to the fruit bazaar. Fruits, you see, were the invariable dessert of choice. Pity i didn't inherit this, though i am discovering this trait post the blood-test, which had doomsayers predicting dire consequences from diabetes. I remember the way Dadaji used to look for fruit which was a little ruptured (kharboozas get ruptured as they ripen, which means that ruptured fruit is sweeter and more succulent, more often than not). Another way of finding, of course, is sniffing. A well-trained nose is almost an infallible way to find whether fruit would be sweet. Glad to believe i have inherited the nose.

Dadaji in his trademark shorts (this was the 80s, but Dadaji always rocked), t-shirt, and shoes, me holding his hand, or riding sitting on the cross-bar of the bicycle. Exhilarating! But getting back to the guavas, i dont think too highly of them. Huh? Somehow, Amrood sounds far more delicious. Of course, amrood used to coincide with gobhi-shalgam ka achaar, and the absence of ghia, tori, tinde, much to my relief. But thats not the reason i love the amrood.

Granted, i love amrood as a fruit. But more so because of memories. Memories of cold winter mornings sitting on the terrace, on the manji, amrood and mathematics. Now, i can imagine you trying to picture me part of a looney bin, but mathematics was actually my favourite subject, much to the detriment of my performance in other subjects. Preparing for IIT-JEE, the amrood was one of my companions. Especially because it was it was at times stolen (for no particular reason), and at times, was shared with Dadaji. This also gave me pictures of children in other, seemingly diverse parts of the country being hounded by their parents to study subjects which they found unsavoury, while being comforted by their grandparents with amrood. Now this might sound a little silly, but growing up in the 80s, one wasnt too aware of the way things are in other parts of the country, and i am not talking about general knowledge. So, somehow, we used to believe that boys from the southern, western, or eastern parts of the country (i am not going to talk about stereotypes ... They have been long discarded, so maybe on another occasion, when i am writing something comical) were all good, hardworking, conscientious students, and that it was only boys from Delhi, Punjab, or Haryana who were the lafangas. After all, haven't we all heard the refrain ...

Padhoge, likhoge hoge kharaab,

kheloge, koodoge banoge nawab!

Experience hasnt really shaken this idea. But the primary reason is still Dadaji.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The China Debate ...

There seems to be a tectonic shift in Indian foreign policy. Or at least, the way the establishment in India looks at the geo-political situation in our neighbourhood. I am not an expert in foreign policy, but still, felt there are a few points which are probably not being adequately highlighted in the debate which is going on these days.

It seems that it started with recent Chinese incursions into Indian territory. And with the Chinese display of military might on the occasion of their national day, there is a lot of attention that China has got in the media. The question which a lot of people seem to be asking is whether China is India's enemy number one. Why i call this tectonic is because with this, the mindshare of Pakistan seems to have fallen quite a bit, and Pakistan's loss is China's gain, if they would like to call it that.

So what is the question? In simple terms, should we read anything significant into Chinese incursions, or into their show of military might. Are we repeating the mistake of 1962? The question that this question raises is whether the India of 2009 is the same as the India of 1962, and whether internal geo-politics is the same, or even similar to 1962. But then, is the China of today the same as the China of 1962. The answer to both questions seems to be no. Which means that we need to learn the mistakes of 1962, but place them in the context of today.

First of all, we in India face a psychological threat from China, probably more than a real one. Ask normal people, and you will get a reply that India can anyday beat Pakistan militarily. Ask the question about China, and the same confidence seems to be missing. Let us keep this in mind when trying to answer this question lest we allow this prejudice to influence the line of thought with respect to this question.

Let's understand something clearly. Whether China intends to attack India or not, or whether China is simply trying to browbeat us, or whether this display of military might is meant for global consumption, rather than for Indian consumption, is one dimension of the problem. Another dimension which we need to keep in mind is that it is not very pertinent to think that China sees India as a threat. However, that, to my mind is a short-term point of view, as a lot of economists believe, that the Indian economic and political model is much more enduring if you look at the long term. Another dimension is that it is one thing to put up a show of strength, and quite another to sustain it over time, as we have seen from the Soviet experience.

Looking at this, it is difficult to determine the Chinese intentions. Even so,common sense says that its better to be safe than sorry. This would mean that one would need to be on the guard. To make sure we are prepared for eventualities. But take it too far, and military preparedness could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having said that, though, we also need to understand that military tensions are something neither China nor India can afford, given the march towards prosperity we are both engaged in, while competition can only bring out the best in both.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Of Definitions ...

This is the season of discussing and describing some of the fundamental aspects of Knowledge Management. On similar lines is the post by Luis Suarez about using stories for defining KM and e2.0 ... interesting reading.

Beginning with the idea of definitions, there is the important part about defining KM. This is where i believe we need to do a bit of rethink. I believe that there is no single universal definition of KM, simply because there is no single, universal definition of knowledge. What i am trying to say is that if we dont know what we are managing, then the definition of the management process itself must be a little hazy. Hence, the starting point for this has to be a definition for the concept of knowledge. Now, this is not to say that i claim to have come up with a definition. And i am not even trying. All i am trying to say here is that if a universal definition eludes us, then we must look for definitions which are specific in nature, from the perspective of the world of business, and then try to build up a somewhat universal definition, which covers ample ground.

What this means is that we can define knowledge in the context of a particular scenario. Now, this definition may not be applicable outside of this context but thats ok, because if we look at a series of contexts, then every scenario, within the organization, that is, forms a context. This is akin to looking for a working definition, rather than a precse one. And once this definition can be found out, then the definition of Knowledge Management can get derived from there. Again, by definition, this definition would be contextual, but again, being a working definition, this gives us a good starting point for building up KM initiatives. And if we look at enough of these definitions, we could come up with something which is generic enough to cover ample ground, which is why i quite like the definition which Dave Snowden has given at his blog.

Having said this, this kind of working knowledge can be built up using the art of story-telling as well. However, this probably doesnt take away much from the need of a definition, because i believe that what you cannot define in two sentences is something you havent understood. But, yes, i do believe that stories can be an excellent way of building up this understanding, which in turn can be quite a good way to approach a better understanding. For example, i use stories, too, rather, examples, when trying to define Knowledge, and from there, define Knowledge Management when i am running sessions for this. I like to distinguish between three terms before proceeding:

Data: Meteorological data, collected from across the world by weather satellites.

Information: Its going to rain in Kolkata

Knowledge: Better carry an umbrella if you are travelling to Kolkata.

This also bring up the idea of relevance of knowledge, illustrating the idea that what is considered knowledge by one person may not be so by another. What i like to take as an example of this is the incident from A Study in Scarlet, where, when told by Dr Watson, that the earth revolves around the sun, Sherlock Holmes informs him that now that he knows this, he will try to forget it, because this is not relevant to him. While it is true that its very difficult to say what information, from which sphere, could lead to what new discovery, in which sphere, it is impractical to have access to all knowledge on the world, and hence, the notion of knowledge being that which is relevant comes into the picture.

These ideas can be refined by the audience to arrive at a definition of Knowledge Management, which, while being different each time, usually comes to something like:

Knowledge Management is the management discipline of facilitating the flow of knowledge in the organization, ensuring relevant information is made available to the relevant people, in a timely manner, to enable them to perform their job more effectively.

As you can see, this definition is something which is specific to the working context, like i said that probably its better to create something which is contextual, and then build upon it. Any ideas of where this definition might lead you?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Defining ... Some Thoughts

This seems to be the season for fundamental re-thinks. It began with Dave Snowden's post about alternative to CKO, which delved into the relationship between business units and KM. I had published a poll about the same topic (which is open till 10th October), and blogged about Dave's thoughts. And something i have been thinking about for a few days (the reason i havent been able to blog about this earlier is simply laziness) ... how could one define KM. And came across this post by Dave Snowden, defining KM, which i think is a very good description of what KM should be doing in an organization.
I think the definition Dave gives describes KM quite well:

The purpose of Knowledge Management is to provide support for improved decision-making and innovation throughout the organization. This is achieved through the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information, processes and technology together with training and mentoring program.

Improved decision-making ... this is something which was promised by information systems more than a decade back. Though decisions did improve, there is still the possibility of decision-making being more improved. How, one may ask. Till now, the paradigm of decision-making hasnt considered that decision-making is not a perfectly rational process. In other words, decisions arent always made on perfectly rational assumptions, or on information available, and that, even if theoretically, all possible information were available (which it cant), there would still be that factor x which is not totally definable, and which cannot be externalized, which influences decision-making. Could we call this tacit knowledge? Probably. Could we call this experience? Maybe. No matter what we call this, this remains the major aspect of Knowledge Management.

Add to this the aspect that it is not usually possible for everyone to have access to all possible information required to make a decision. Not only is this because of systemic constraints, but also because there is usually no single definition about what information is relevant, or required, for making a decision. In some scenarios there is, but not in all. Given this, one aspect of KM is also to get people connected with sources of knowledge, whether repositories, or people, and to get them access to knowledge, whether directly or indirectly, which may be relevant for decision-making. This is the essential value-proposition for tools like social networking.

Another aspect which Dave mentioned is about the positioning of KM in the organization. The essence is that at a centralized level, KM needs to be synchronized with the strategic imperatives of the organization, while implementation should be done at localized level. Implementation of KM initiatives should be within the context of the localized business requirements. This has a number of benefits. One, this ensures that while overall KM is aligned with strategic requirements, at the point of implementation, KM is aligned with specifics of business requirements. Two, this also creates a level of ownership for  KM initiatives among business units. Three, it is easier to measure the impact of KM initiatives in highly localized context, where it is easy to define the way KM can impact the business, rather than at a generic level.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dead, Or Alive?

There is a very interesting article that ToI has run on the front page. This article is about a rare heart operation. While i dont know details, and even if i did, i wouldnt have been able to understand them. But i am not writing about my ignorance. I dont have to, its quite well known.

So what am i writing about? This surgical procedure which is rare, for a heart condition which is rare, too. Though thats not what i am writing about. What i am thinking about is what the state of suspended animation means. What the article says is that the patient was put in a state of suspended animation. What that meant, according to the article, is that the patient was put in a state where the brain wasnt functioning. In other words, the patient was in a state where the body was not functioning. Not that it wasnt functioning normally, it just wasnt functioning.

While this aspect is quite understood with respect to micro-organisms (high school biology will tell you thatif you freeze food, the micro-organisms get frozen too ... The thaw brings them back to the realm of activity), apart from the biological aspect, this opens up interesting lines of thought. What is the difference, for example, between someone who is in suspended, and someone who is dead? If both states are about the bodily functions stopping, one temporary, another permanent, how does one know, when in the middle, whether it is temporary or permanent?

Exploring this further, if theres no way to make out, in the middle of it, whether this is a temporary or permanent state, then what is it that makes it temporary, or permanent? Obviously, there must be some component the absence of which makes this permanent state. What, then, is this component? It cant be biological. Which implies that we have not yet completely understood the structure of human existence. This isnt something a lot of people would disagree with. Since that is so, we seem to be on the right track.

So what makes the difference between suspended animation and death? Let me ask another question to illustrate what i am thinking. Is the difference between suspended animation and death the same as the difference between the living and the dead? And i am not even talking about the subject of awareness. Thats another complex aspect which i will write about later. I think it is. While i may be oversimplifying, one is either in this world or not. If we say that as long as one is on this world, they are alive, then the rest follows from there. Now, why would we say that? If we appreciate the fact that death is irreversible, we can, from there, lead to the idea that one cannot come back from the state of death. But one can come back from the state of suspended animation, so this is definitely not equivalent to death. Which, in our binary scenario, is equivalent to being alive. This would mean the presence of consciousness in the state of suspended animation, and this, i believe, is what distinguishes between one and the other, between whether its temporary or permanent. Any thoughts, please do comment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Knowledge Management Team ...

There is a wonderful post by Dave Snowden discussing alternatives to CKO. I would put this post as one of those which is a must-read for anyone who has some interest in the realm of Knowledge Management. This is because the post gives a very clear picture of the way a KM team should be structured, and what should be some aspects of the role of a CKO in the organization.

I agree with Dave that with the current model, of having a CKO as being distinct from the "business units" or LoBs in the organization, KM is seen as being something which needs to be done by someone else. This is one of the reasons why KM initiatives in a lot of organizations face a scenario of low engagement with business units. Unless we can come up with a scenario where KM is not seen as being something has to be done by someone else, this seems as though it would continue. KM, in other words, needs to be the responsibility of everyone. However, an important part of this is that KM must be relevant. KM today is seen as a set of practices, and platforms which can be used by everyone in the organization uniformly. This is where i believe there must be a change. That different people in the organization need KM to solve different problems, that different people would engage with KM in different ways and scenarios, and that different people need different things from KM is something which needs to be understood well. If KM is something additional which needs to be "done", probability is that it wont get "done". Which means that KM needs to be more and more a part of the day-to-day work of people. In other words, we need to look at a scenario where KM practices are integrated with the business processes in the organization, as i have written before (and still looking for inptus, folks).

Another important thing that Dave says is that central support is a must-have, though it should not be the driving factor, but rather, the supporting the factor in KM initiatives. The way i look at it, the KM initiatives should be driven by the business units, with some form of support which comes from a centralized KM function, which can leverage their expertise at KM initiatives to support the KM initiatives being run by business units. This will ensure that the KM initiatives are synchronized with the business needs of the business unit, while at the same time, ensuring that the business units own the KM initiatives. A small example ... When you are talking to a team to introduce the KM portal to them, are you able to introduce the portal as a KM portal, or as their portal, which, by the way, is hosted by KM, being the facilitator. What this means, i believe, is that the KM function in the organization should look at a form of a federated structure, with a central KM team, which are the facilitators, or rather, i would look at them as being consultants, who are also facilitators, supporting the KM initiatives decided and run by business units, with their own KM teams.

Dave also says that the role of the CKO should not be rotating role, with people from the different functions and business units taking up this role for a period of time. This would ensure that there is no drying up of new ideas to take KM to the next level, and also that the KM initiatives are synchronized with business needs. Another way, though, i feel, could be to create a clear distinction between the ownership for KM initiatives, and the facilitation for these KM initiatives. If the CKO should be someone from business units, then the career path for people who are part of the central KM team seems to lead to the bogs. On the other hand, if you have a dedicated, full-time CKO, and he happens to be a CKO 1.0 (please pardon the pun), then that, probably, is the surest way of taking your KM initiatives downhill. A large number of organizations, for example, have CKO's who dont really appreciate the power of web 2.0 in knowledge-sharing, and this is a sure way of getting the KM initiatives going the way i mentioned before.

In a nutshell, KM should be a two-tiered structure, with a central, support team, and a business unit-owned team, which actually formulates, and drives the KM strategy, and the resultant initiatives. While on this topic, please look to the right of the screen, and right below the beautiful picture of the Victoria Memorial, please do take a moment and post your opinion on the poll i have posted (isnt this the season for KM team structure?).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Conversations ...

There is a rather interesting post by Nick Milton about the value of dialogue in KM. Nick makes a very important point about the non-clarity of the knowledge available with "suppliers", and the knowledge required by "customers". This is so because, by definition, we cannot articulate everything. And this makes conversations very important. And with conversations, i am not just talking about people talking face-to-face, but conversation as a generic presence within organizations.

Another aspect which i wanted to bring out here is that the value of conversations also comes from the fact that conversations bring out a shared context which is important for knowledge-sharing to happen. While i believe that with knowledge-sharing within the organizational context, the organization plays an important role in creating a shared context, within this larger picture, between the supplier and customer, there must be a shared understanding of what is being shared. This becomes even more important the more diverse the supplier and customer in terms of their background, whether geographic, work area, experience, etc., because the more diverse they are, the more important conversation becomes a way to bridge this contextual gap.

Lets take another step further. If we look at the KM scenario today, we find that content management is something which is already a given. Its not as though organizations are starting to implement content management. Rather, the concept of content management is already matured, with organizations already having a good understanding of what it is about, and what it entails, and the benefits they could expect from it. On the other hand, collaboration, rather, conversation, is something which is emerging as a concept in organizations. Which means that CKO's probably need to look more closely at this aspect of KM. Maybe we need, in addition to CKO, someone as CCO ... Chief Conversation Officer?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

twtpoll :: What should be the relation between the KM team and Business Units in an organization? (via @atulrai)

twtpoll :: What should be the relation between the KM team and Business Units in an organization? (via @atulrai)

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Wikis ...

I had run a poll, on twtpoll, posted on this blog, about the way wikis are used in organizations. The results, i think, havent been too unexpected. What i see from the results is what i have seen with the organizations that i interact with. So, what are the results? Lets first look at the question:

What are wikis primarily used for in your organization?

There were three options to choose from: Team Wiki, Corporate Wiki, and Others. What comes from the poll is that 67% of the people who polled, say that wikis are used as team wikis in their organization, while 11% say that their organization has deployed wikis both as a corporate tool, as well as a team collaboration tool. This means that 77% of the people say that wikis are used as team wikis, while 11% say that they are used as a corporate wiki. What wasnt asked here was what the wikis were used for. Maybe that could go on another poll?

The answers, as i said, are not unexpected. More organizations i see today either have, or are deploying wikis as a team collaboration tool. Even some of the organizations which have deployed wikis as a corporate-wide tool, tend to find that usage of wikis within teams is far more. One of the reasons could be that within the team, people are more free to write what they feel like, and interactions tend to be more open. This makes this somewhat on the lines of a knol. As i have written before, this is a tool i believe could be the way forward. I dont believe i know why knol hasnt really taken off the way i had expected it to (i dont use it too much, nor do i see too many people using it, either), but having said that, what i am writing is within the organizational context, so maybe we are talking apples and oranges here. As i have written before here, and here, the completely open form of wikis may not be the option best meeting the requriements of organizations, and a model with limited authoring of wikis widely read, commented and discussed across the organization is probably the way wikis are going to be more and more deployed.

This also goes with the way i think E 2.0 could go forward ... as a blend of community and hierarchy ... as i have written before here, and here, since this model is one where there is the form of community, with some level of control over specific aspects of the community being built up in the organization hierarchy. Whether this hierarchy is in terms of reporting structures, or in terms of technical expertise is not really relevant, probably.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big KM ...

There is a rather interesting post by Patti Anklam about three forms of KM ... i am looking forward to the post about little KM, but at the moment, thought i would blog about this post. For a few reasons. First, this post is a wonderful way of introducing the subject of KM to someone who maybe has not interacted with the formal structures of KM as a practitioner. In addition, it describes well the possibilities which are available to us with a KM toolkit. Which is why i would recommend this post.

In addition to that, one aspect that Patti brings out:

Set of services provided by or through a central KM organization to business units.

This describes the scenario quite well. At the same time, one thing to see from here is that in most organizations (the ones i have interacted with), KM is seen as an external entity. This is something which someone from corporate has decided must be "done", so they ask folks to fill out some templates and upload them on portals. Are they useful? How does that matter? Does anyone use them? Again, how does that matter? While a consultative approach may be helpful (something Patti mentions), i feel that the important challenge we as a community of Knowledge Managers face is to understand that KM is a wonderful thing, but that KM is a tool which is part of the managers toolkit for solving business problems, and for meeting some requirements. Once we look at this, its easy to derive that the positioning of KM must as a solution to meet specific requirements, not as an additional activity which needs to be done. Rather, you may find that not using the term KM, but rather, terming and positioning it in terms the business users understand, and can relate to, is an important aspect of selling the ideas of KM, leading to larger adoption.

Another aspect that needs to be looked at ... what is the impact of having KM as an external entity, vis a vis having KM as a part of the business units themselves. While i dont have much experience of the latter, one way to look at this could be to position KM as a part of the business unit, for operational perspective, while at the strategy/planning level, this could be something which could be centralized (with inputs from business units), because while a KM strategy must be synchronized with corporate requirements, the implementation of this strategy must be aligned to the business requirements of business units, because at the business units is where KM is actually going to find engagement, and create value. And since in different business scenarios KM could deliver value in different ways, the implementation of the strategy could be something which could be worked out by a KM team within the business units. If you would like to share a thought, or an experience you have come across, please do comment.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are We On The Right Track?

There is a post written by Luis Suarez about whether the way we are describing Social Computing, and Enterprise 2.0 is the right way, and if it is, whether it is surprising that results are not as quick in coming as one would like them to be. So this post is a little late, and i had thought of writing this last week, but knowing me, you wouldnt be surprised. The question Luis is raising is whether change would be happening anytime soon:

Maybe we are just planting the seed for that change to take place in 20, 30 or 50 years from now!

Or maybe it just wont? Maybe the change that we are talking about would be in a form quite different from the change that we are working towards. More about that, though ...

The way i look at the idea of change being too slow, i dont think this is surprising. The way i look at this change, its quite similar, in terms of magnitude, to the change from the individual mode of production to the industrial mode of production, and this didnt happen in a day. Sure, it probably took much less time than we would expect similar change to take now (after all, we are living in a world where the speed of change is increasing with every passing day). The change that we are talking about is not so much about the technology, or about people for that matter, as it is about the form, or structure of mode of production, both in terms of the processes which are required to create value, as well as the nature of the work, and the interrelations between different participants in these processes, whether individuals, or organizations. In other words, this change is about the way people interact with each other, both as individuals, as well as participants in the value-creation process, though i believe, its much more the former than the latter, unless you believe that human beings are a logical species, which, being a logical person yourself, you wouldnt subscribe to. This change is about the changing roles of participants in the value-creation process, which brings along with it changes in the decision-making structures of the organization. If you look at it carefully, the earlier transformation, to the organizational mode of production, saw movement of decision-making from the many to the few, and the change we are talking about today, is about movement the other way round.

Coming back to the question of why the change we are looking for, may not exactly be the way we are thinking it would be. As i have written before, looking at a community-based model of the organization replacing the model of the organization we have today may not be a bright idea. This is simply because an organization needs to drive in a particular direction, and for the organization to do so, the parts of the organization must be synchronized with each other, rather than pulling in different directions. Which is why, to bring coherence in the direction that communities take (assuming that at some point in the future, communities are a normal occurence in organizations), hierarchies would play a role. This may mean that the change that we could see may be somewhere between the community and hierarchy way of looking at the organization. Any thoughts on this, please leave a comment.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Education Changes ...

The HRD ministry is trying to change the way children are educated in India. And they seem to be well up to the task. One of the changes is the movement from marks-based evaluation to a system of grading. Like most initiatives which Government of India runs, this one too finds some who believe this is not the right thing to do. Then, of course, there are those who think this was long due. If you have a child with a little less than a decade to go for this stage of education, you really aren't a stakeholder in this debate for reasons other than academic.

And thats why what i am writing is from the perspective of someone who, while not being a teacher, has been working within the realm of training for some time. And this is where my thoughts about this topics come from. Though, another perspective which so many of us could have is that of ex-students.

So, what am i writing? Not much new, really, for finer minds have dwelt on the subject on a number of television channels and newspapers, except that, without going into the debate of which board is better (i know of only CBSE, so wont be able to comment on ICSE or IB), i would like to look at the question of where this would take the competetiveness of children. There is fear expressed that examinations like the Xth and XIIth boards generate the spirit of competition among children, which enables them to compete. While to an extent i agree, i also believe that this spirit of competition probably doesnt have much to do with board examinations. Do we find children facing the pressure of competition only when it comes to the board examinations? Look around and you wont think so. Class tests in junior school can do that, too. Whats worse is that these examinations raise the spirit of competition among parents much more than in children.

What am i referring to? Its quite simple, actually. Most of us parents tend to forget that children are individuals, in addition to being our children. And this leads us to a scenario where we either try ot live our dreams through our children, or we believe ''baap ka naam raushan karega'' ... The child will illuminate the name of the father (in other words, make Papa proud). This, though, raises the question that if father wasnt able to illuminate his name, how will the child do so? Here, i am not being sexist, and using the male gender only for the sake of brevity, so please feel free to make adjustments for gender, because this kind of parental pressure is not restricted only to fathers. This is not to say that i dont indulge from time to time, but the point is, i would rather try to check this indulgence, rather than trying to get my son to relive my childhood. He cant ... We played kanche, gulli danda, pitthoo, smoked Phantom cigarettes (for the uninitiated, these are sticks made of sugar, made to look like cigarettes). So i think i am ok with the childhood i had, and am content with the childhood my son is having. Dont you think the childhood we had was different from that of our parents?

But i am digressing, even though this took you down memory lane (including the two cashewnuts with the rasgulla between them ... No, you dont get anything for guessing this). So whats the point i am writing about? If by now, after a walk down memory lane at Darya Ganj, and nearby parts of Delhi, i remember correct what i was planning to write about is the reason why i agree with the idea of grades.

If we look at it objectively, the idea behind educating children is to make sure they learn to understand and appreciate the world around them (not necessarily teach them everything about it ... That would be impossible, as undesirable, too), to help them grow into well-rounded adults (round is not geometrically), and to enable them to embark on a journey of acquiring skills (if not acquiring the skills themselves) which can enable them to lead productive lives. Rather a lengthy one, but thought would be nice to look into the different lines that occured to me. But if we work backwards from there, the reasoning that we can take can be that the idea of education is to enable children to acquire skills, maybe to acquire skills in a better way than other children, but definitely not to remember some data which they neither understand, nor appreciate. Brings to mind an old Hindi song ...

Sikandar ne Porus se ki thi ladaai,
Jo ki thi ladaai, to main kya karoon?

Translated, if King Porus fought Alexander what should i do about it? This obviously means that children are not learning the lessons from history. But coming back to the main point, the idea of the educational systemis to teach children the things they are to learn, not just to figure out which child has learnt more than which other child. Sure, thats one of the things, too, but that cant be the cornerstone of the system, and this is something which can be achieved with grades, and a system of qualitative evaluation, because one number cannot determine how well the child has learnt (learning is far more comprehensive than can be imprinted in one number), and the emphasis on this number is, at times, at the cost of learning.

However, this change along wont help take the educational system in the country to the next level of understanding. Whats the other component, you may ask. And that, i believe, is the inclusion of parents in this change. This change could degenerate into a clamour for grades instead of marks, and this defeats the entire purpose of the change. Rather, parents need to understand that the system we were educated in (quite good, actually, but a shade outdated ... How many of my contemporaries actually remember Bernoulli's Principle, and some applications to real life, or how many of us can actually remember the formula for integrating any trigonometric function, and why one would do that. Lets please exclude those who actually do this professionally ... They would remember. Now, the point is, if we dont even remember some basic things, then what was the point of having our vocation in life based on how well we could remember these formulae? Would it not have been more productive to have focused on understanding these concepts well? This is the point we as parents need to understand, though believe, coming from the background that we do, it wont be an easy transition, and this is where schools need to play an important role.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Getting Web 2.0 To Work

Before you get any ideas, let me tell you that the title of this post has nothing to do with any kind of magic potion which can get you to get web 2.0 to work. Though, if there was such a potion, i am not sure how many folks would queue up to get-a-fix! this post is titled around a McKinsey article which looks at the reasons which executives say are the major hindrances to adoption of web 2.0, and six ways they think could get web 2.0 to work.

The six ways they have come up with to get web 2.0 to work, you can read for yourself (you will need to register), what i am writing about here is what the report has come up with, about the impediments to web 2.0 adoption. There are three reasons which executives think impede adoption:

  • Organization structure
  • Inability of managers to understand the levers of change
  • Lack of understanding of how value is created
If the organization structure is an impediment to adoption of web 2.0, thats probably to be expected. This could be because web 2.0 tools are not compatible with the organization structures as we see them today. In other words, web 2.0 tools are a way to driving the move towards Enterpriser 2.0 (i still believe Enterprise 2.0 is about organization structure and the nature of interactions that generate value in organizations).

Looking at the other two points ... one is that managers dont understand the levers of change. The question this raises is, what are these levers? Maybe theres only one lever ... that is that of distributed decision-making. In other words, greater role for people across the organization in the decision-making process. What is important to understand here is that the important aspect about web 2.0 is that value cannot be defined for them. Its very difficult for anyone to attach a monetary figure to their adoption, and say that with a particular level of adoption, this is the level of value which is delivered. While its intuitive that web 2.0 tools bring value, this is not too easy to demonstrate.

The point about there being only one lever is something i have (almost) written about before, here and here. Till a few years back, there was an implicit relation people built between expertsie and grey hair. This no longer happens. This is something i talk about when i am making a presentation about Knowledge Management. Since i look at Expertise Location as an important part of Knowledge Management, i try to tell people that you can be an expert even if you dont have a single white hair (or have all the hair on your head intact). This is the lever which i feel is important for managers to understand. When looking at the lack of understanding of how value is created, as i mentioned, this is something which is quite difficult to demonstrate, but as i have written before, if we try to bring this into the context of a specific business process, rather than a context which is generic, this is something which can be understood.

More Enterprise 2.0 ...

There have been quite a few blogs written around what Enterprise 2.0 is over the last few days. One of the blogs which brings together thoughts from a number of blogs has been posted by Paula Thornton. There is quite a wide view of Enterprise 2.0 which you get from here. Though, more people think that theres something to look at with Enterprise 2.0, there are people who also believe that this is nothing much more than the flavour of the week/month/year ... or thoughts on similar lines.

What comes from here is that Enterprise 2.0 seems to be connected to the technology, to larger or lesser extents by different people. Which probably misses the point. One important thing about Enterprise 2.0, the way i see it, is that this is about the form of the organization in a scenario which has more participation and collaboration from across the organization than we see today. What is important to see is the implication this could have for the organization (at least in theory, because probably this would not be something which would come around, or not anytime soon, but more about that later). The implication is the inclusivity of decision-making within the organization. Again, there have been discussions about how this will impact hierarchies in organizations, and while some believe that hierarchies will disappear, i dont think so, as i have written before. This is the aspect of Enterprise 2.0 (or, the interaction between communities and hierarchy that would probably occur in organizations, and the resultant form the organizational structure would take) that doesnt come out of the discussion.

One of the interesting reactions which Paula mentions is from this post:

Enterprise 2.0’s true potential is to facilitate a paradigm shift that fundamentally changes operating models and leverages the existing reality of work.

Probably the change wont be as huge as had been anticipated earlier, what we can be reasonable certain of is that change is there, and this would be seen going forward, too, though the exact shape is something which we cant be sure of now, not just because this would depend on the interactions between communities and hierarchies, but also because the extent of change would also vary from organization to organziation.

Another interesting idea that comes out is that of emergence, which comes from this post. The idea being that as people discuss things as part of a community, through this conversation, things emerge. Whether these are new products, new markets, strategies, etc., these arise from the minds of people, and emerge through conversations. And this process is enabled by Web 2.0 tools (though these tools are not the organization, which is where the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 comes).

From here, it can be seen that Enterprise 2.0 is about the form and functioning of organizations. To what measure this will come through is something we will need to see, as we have already discussed. Any thoughts, please do post comments.

Listening ...

As i wrote earlier, i am these days reading Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker. Again, as i was reading yesterday, something from the book just came out, something i had to blog about. The point i am writing about is listening.

One of the sources of innovation, he says, is the unexpected. The unexpected failure (thats obvious), the unexpected success (here is a possibility that some of the assumptions that the organization had about the environment are not valid), or the unexpected external event (something external to the organization, or to its sphere, which could represent an opportunity for the organization). OK, i am not an expert at innovation (or anything else, for that matter, but lets just pretend you didnt hear that), so i am not going to dwell on this, except to start this conversation.

In the business ecosystem in which an organization operates, there are a number of unexpected things which happen from time to time. Have interacted with organizations, which have been able to create a new line of business from some experiments (usually done by a small group of folks as something they enjoy doing) which suddenly brought up something which had immense potential for the organization. The story about how Penicillin's medicinal properties were discovered are legendary. For those of us who havent read this, here it is. The idea is that there are a number of things happening in the organization, which, more often than not, the organization doesnt know about. And, since managers dont know about them, they dont know about the potential of some of these ideas to the organization. And this is where the idea of listening comes in.

This brings up the question of how. And this is where the tools of web 2.0 can play a role. By giving the control over creation of content and publishing it, web 2.0 tools can bring about a scenario where anyone anywhere in the organization can publish the things they are doing, what they are working on, and anybody anywhere else in the organization can pick up this idea, refine it, collaborate to take this idea further, and the organization has the tools available to be able to listen to all of this conversation. Doesnt matter if its about listening to employees, suppliers, customers, or any stakeholders. Point is, listening the way web 2.0 tools can enable it can enable the organization to build upon ideas which could germinate anywhere, within or outside the organization. There is one thing, though, which needs to be emphasized. And this is that the organization also has a role to play. People dont necessarily speak when they have an idea. The managers need to create a scenario where people are encouraged to speak, which is more like a scenario where the organization is seen as a facilitator for the ideas which people come up with, being receptive to them, and being open to the possibility of taking them further.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Technology And People ...

I am reading an interesting book ... One named Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker. OK, so i am a little later, but even so, i think some of the ideas put in the book are still relevant almost 25 years after the book was first published. This post that I am writing is about a statement in the book:

Technology can be imported at low cost an with a minimum of cultural risk. Institutions, by contrast, need cultural roots to grow and to prosper.

Now, while this is being written in the context of Japan, and how Japan, in the 19th century, consciously took the route of importing technology, while creating the social institutions locally, this concept can be looked at further, to see whether this is relevant to organizations, and if it is, how it can impact organizations.

To begin with, this idea seems to be as though it is relevant in the context of organizations, too. Technology is straight-forward. Technology works the same way, gives the same output independant of the scenario around it (well, some of us who work as consultants, or with customer support may not agree, but more or less ...). On the other hand, people dont necessarily. Which means that technology, being culture neutral, can be brought into the organization easily, while adapting the culture of the organziation to the cultural framework that is inherent to quite a few new technologies, is a different thing altogether. For example, ERP brought the paradigm of business processes cutting across departments (breaking down silos, that was the idea), while Web 2.0 tools are bringing in the next wave of bringing down silos (which only means that silos didnt really go away, they just metamorphosed to a point where they werent looking like silos).

The question this raises, then, is whether the technology tools which the organization adopts should be compatible with the predominant cultural scenario of the organization, or whether the point of introduction of new technology is leveraged to try and drive the cultural context of the organization to a different direction (remember package-enabled reengineering?).

I dont think there is an answer which would answer this question for all. But the point is, the compatibility must be there. And this is something we looking at this from the KM perspective must also bring to the equation, especially with Web 2.0 technologies, because the paradigm of these tools is quite different from the earlier paradigms of organization structure. True, ERPs also created a different paradigm, which has changed the way organziations work over the last decade or so, but this was around business processes, not about people. Web 2.0 tools, on the other hand, are bringing a change which is oriented towards people, and the interactions between people, which impacts dynamics of interactions between people at the organizational level, with the blending of communities and hierarchy, as i have written before, here and here, which means that the compatibility between technology and culture is more important with these tools.

Actions, Reactions

Something happened this morning ... nothing unusual, but it got me thinking on quite unusual lines. Unusual lines for me, would probably be usual lines for quite a few. If you drive in this part of the world, you are quite used to people driving all over the road, basically treating the entire road as one large lane (actually, these are few, but not unusual). This becomes more so when it rains (and its been raining heavily, which is a relief given the absence of the rains for the last few months) because under the water, nobody knows where the old potholes are, and where the newly created ones would be. Which means that driving can be a guessing game. Now, add to this someone cutting you off on the road, and it can be quite irritating. Yes, i know ... you know the feeling, dont you?

Well, this morning someone did that. And it affected me. But then, i got thinking ... what is impacting me. What is the nature of his action and my reaction. Or, for that matter, my action, and someone's reaction? And i found myself reacting in a way which is quite unusual for me. I was no longer irritated. I was thinking (yes, somewhat unusual for me, but even so ...). So, what was i thinking? Simple ... Was what he did inherently irritating by nature? Is anything anyone does carrying a particular human emotion attached to it? I believe it carries the vibrations of the person who is doing it, but apart from that, things we do are emotion-neutral. Emotions are caused by the way we see those things, and are the cause for how we react.

Take this example. Someone is driving and cuts someone off. No inherent emotions associated with this. Where emotions do come in is the way i reacted to what he did. I could have just shrugged it off, or i could have been irritated, or angry. Which means, that by attaching our emotions to the things someone else does, we are creating we are bringing feelings to the action-reaction equation. The colour of the action (irritating colour superimposed on what he did) is something which i brought, not he. Which means that the light of things being nice, nasty, funny, sweet, or anything else, is brought to the scenario by the perception of the receiver. Which has implications for us humans. By not associating negative colours with things which we see, we can actually change the impact those things have on us. In other words, we can choose the way we react to something, and this choice is something which decides the impact that action has on us, which we express in the form of reaction.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wikis ...

One of the blogs i follow is Grow Your Wiki, by Stewart Mader. Stewart has some wonderful ideas about wikis, the role they play in organizations, and the way they could deliver value in organizations. In his latest post, Stewart talks about specific problems which can be solved with wikis. Here, he refers to the post by Andrew McAfee where he discusses Enterprise 2.0, looking at specific scenarios where social computing tools can be used to meet specific business requirements.

One of the things Andrew talks about is:

Problem: How can we bring new hires up to speed as quickly as possible so that they become effective employees and stop bugging people with all their questions?

Use a wiki. Office supply company VistaPrint initiated a wiki in an attempt to capture what a new engineering hire needed to know. Because this knowledge base changed so quickly, the company felt that any peper-based solution would quickly become obsolete. Within 18 months the wiki grew to contain over 11,000 pages placed into 600 categories, all of them generated by employees themselves rather than a professional knowledge management staff. It became a dynamic and up-to-date repository of the company's engineering knowledge.

A question which comes up from here, though, is whether the company is letting all employees write on the wiki. Or whether only people with a specific level of experience, and coming from a specific technical background are allowed to write on this wiki. One would probably think latter. Few of the organizations i interact with have a scenario where wikis are written by a set of people, for use by all. From this, one can see that the benefit of a wiki is that it is dynamic, that unlike a document, it doesnt become obsolete (thats assuming participation levels are appropriate).

What this means is that maybe a true wiki is not the appropriate solution, for a large number of scenarios. Something i have blogged about before. The idea is that authorship for these wikis may not necessarily be with all. A specific set of people write, and anyone can read. This seems to be the model which finds more acceptance within the organization. Somewhat like the knol. So where does the participation come from? Usually, team wikis could have everyone from the team participating, but not so corporate wikis. Collaboration, here, could follow the path of the discussion forum, which is why, i guess, some software providers give functionality for discussion forums attached to wiki pages.

This brings to the question of which are finding greater acceptance ... corporate wikis, or team wikis? Could you please participate on the poll you see?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Further Enterprise 2.0

If you thought the previous post ended abruptly, that was because i was going to continue to write on the topic. One thing that comes out, i think, is that communities have a role to play in organizations, but they wont bring down the hierarchical structure of the organization. Rather, communities would continue to blend with the hierarchies of organizations, while at the same time, deliver value within that context. One way of looking at it is that communities may align with the way the organization delivers value to the customer, contributing to the value creation process. Whether this be product development, marketing, sales, production, communities could be aligned to this. This is because, as i wrote in the previous post, business processes align the efforts of different parts of the organization to the objective, and hence, if communities are to deliver value, they would need to be aligned.

Dion Hinchcliffe writes in his post about social business:

Dozens of Fortune 500 companies are formally using Enterprise 2.0 tools today and are not reporting this. They are however reporting better productivity, improved communications, the ability to find information, and cost reductions. But not the collapse of corporate structure. What is true is that additional lines of communication are opened including channels to weak ties and other broader influences. The traditional org chart, never a very good measure of what people actually do at work other than identifying who does their performance reviews, is being augmented by the social graph, not replaced.

This is the point i am trying to make. That communities would blend with corporate hierarchies, in a way that the organization as a whole can leverage communities for achieving something. Probably the idea that communities are a tool which can be leveraged by organizations to solve business problems needs to be considered? Please do post your comments ...

My Two Bits

Over the last few days, there is a lot of discussion around Enterprise 2.0, started off by the post by Dennis Howlett, where he things Enterprise 2.0 is a crock. Andrew McAfee blogged about what he thinks about this. What are they saying?

Dennis believes:

Like it or not, large enterprises - the big name brands - have to work in structures and hierarchies that most E2.0 mavens ridicule but can’t come up with alternatives that make any sort of corporate sense. Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all.

Andrew writes that:

I believe that over time companies that don’t use them will fall behind those that do, but how far behind, and over what time frame? Not that far, that fast.

He goes on to give examples of how some of these tools can be used to solve specific business problems.

However, the point that we probably need to think about is that the way for organizations could be somewhere between these two. True, people dont have the time for web 2.0 or any other term. But, are there better ways of achieving things than the way they are done now? There probably are. On the other hand, are hierarchies so bad? Not necessarily. Its what you do with them that probably builds or takes away value from these. There would be, in organizations, a mix of hierarchy and community which would co-exist because this is probably the model which would bring value, as also take care of some of the things which communities throw up which organizations cant manage. For example, lets not assume that communities are so self-driven that there is going to be no need for someone to define your objectives, and do a performance appraisal. True, appraisal systems could have a community component which defines how well you can create value by being part of a community, but this would, probably, be the way these two viewpoints would merge, if they do.

Lets look at this in a simple way. Maybe this is oversimplification, but it illustrates. If communities were to be the cornerstone of the business world, the organization would either yield to communities (dont think thats probable), or becomes a loose gathering of communities. Let us keep in mind that with the latter, the communities would need to be in synch with each other, and not pull in oposite directions. How would that happen, if there were not going to be any hierarchy? Today, this is achieved by business processes, which are brought together by some form of hierarchy. To look at it another way, even commuities have hierarchies. You find some people emerging to lead a community, and this may or may not be based on the hierarchy of the organization.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why KM Fails ...

On his blog, Nick Milton brings out the parallels between some of the reasons why E 2.0 fails, to why KM fails. The reasons that are listed here make sense. It stands to reason why these reasons would contribute to the success of a KM initiative. However, there is one reason which, while being mentioned in meaning, is not actually mentiond on this list. This, i would say, is value.

One of the major reasons for KM initiatives to fail is that there is no clear demonstration of value that could come from these initiatives. Now, i agree that quantifying value from KM initiatives is something which is not straightforward. So, thats not what i am talking about here. What i am talking about here is the value that users of these initiatives can expect to get in their day-to-day work. In other words, why they should participate in these initiatives. Without this, KM initiatives become just another initiative among others, and the message of the things which KM could achieve for the organization, and for people, is lost. this does come out in the form of adoption, but maybe this should be stressed upon more clearly.

Another aspect that could probably be added here is that KM should be a part of the day-to-day work of people, and not something additional that they have to do. As i have written before, participation in KM initiatives should be an integral part of people's day-to-day work. This may not sound too important, but this is probably one of the largest impediments to greater adoption.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Education For The Times ...

There is no way anyone could say that the new paradigm of social computing has not changed the way education can be delivered. New ways of reaching out to students have been opened, and this is not just for universities, but also for studetns, a new, different way of doing things.

If OCW was a step into things which werent explored, then this initiative ... Academic Earth ... seems to be the next step. There are two aspects of this that need to be looked at. One is that this is bringing the finest minds from some of the best universities together, and creating a repository of knowledge which can be shared easily with anyone anywhere who can connect to the internet. This was something we couldnt even have dreamt of when we were stusying at school, or college. OK, so that goes to show i am over the hill, but even so ... this is quite an amazing concept. What is also interesting is how students could actually leverage the power of the community ... so, for example, a student taking the course on Newtonian Mechanics by Prof. Shankar knows that this course has been rated A+ by 46 others. Which gives quite a nice indication of how the students perceive the course. This used to happen when we were in college, too. I remember, for example, when we joined college, everyone (from our branch) knew that the exam on Turbo-Machines in the VIIth semester had been the downfall of many a students (so much so that Prof. Roy was one of the dreaded ones), but that used to happen with a particular radius. The community, for this example, was the college students, while for Academic Earth, the community is anyone who wants to, or has studied, a particular course.

Question ... whats the next step? Co-creation of courses by community? One point there, though, is that the community couldnt get the expertise of the Professor to this co-creation exercise, which means that the role of the community primarily has to be to enrich the experience of all the people taking a course, either through direct, or through indirect interactions. Any thoughts what the next step could be? Please do leave your thoughts ...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Wiki Conundrum

This is something which is debated in a lot of organizations, and this is something which wikipedia has also adopted ... some amount of editorial supervision, on articles about living people. This is something which comes back to a question which has been asked before, about how reliable a source like wikipedia is. Having written about this before, the question comes up again. And i am talking about this question from the organizational perspective. The question is, how reliable is information which is written on a wiki application which may be deployed within the organization.

For example, what if someone writes an incorrect solution to a problem on a wiki which is meant as a Knowledge Database, and using this solution leads to further problems? Or, if someone writes something irrelevant or incorrect on the HR policy page? One could say that within the organizational context, everything written can be identified by author, but even so, this means that incorrect information could make its way to what is considered a reliable source of information. This could be more important if this source of information is required for some critical applications.

Does this mean one needs to ask what applications a wiki is ideal for, within the organization? If that is the question which one asks, the answer is maybe ... or then, maybe not. The answer would depend on who is answering the question, actually. But, some people believe it isnt. There are certain applications for which a wiki is ideal, and some for which it isnt. Or, a solution, which is a hybrid. Hybrid would be a solution which is a wiki, but not open to authorship by all. For example, a software company, maintaining a bug-fix database using a wiki may want to have only specific teams writing to this wiki. Something like a knol? As i have written before, this seems to be a solution which could be useful in the organizational context.

Does this mean that a team wiki finds more utility than a corporate wiki? Please do post your comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Manufacturing To Services ...

I was seeing an interview of Malvinder Mohan Singh on tv yesterday, when i suddenly realized ... this is probably one of those transformations which one should look at ... the way they have transformed the company. Actually, it would be incorrect to say company, because they did sell it to Daiichi Sankyo, but the transformation in the businesses they are into is quite large, and seems to have been managed quite well.

Till some time back, the Singh brothers were managing Ranbaxy, primarily a manufacturing company, also into retail to some extent. Once they sold their stake to Daiichi Sankyo, they seem to have moved into businesses which are related, and yet, are quite different from the classical manufacturing business that they were into earlier. So, from being into manufacturing pharmaceuticals, they have moved into healthcare, diagnostics, and a host of other businesses. The point is, the transformation has been from being into manufacturing, to being into services. Whether it be Fortis, or Religare, the change has been quite huge. Now, i am not aware of how this has been managed on the inside, but this could be an interesting episode from which we could learn about how such transformations can be successfully managed. Anyone who would like to comment on this, is most welcome. I am sure there would be a lot to learn.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Social Media Study Findings ...

Bill Ives has blogged about the findings Prescient Digital Media study about social computing ... There are some findings of the study which one could look at ...

One, there is the finding about the reason that organizations are looking at social computing for ... as Bill says:

Employee Collaboration - 77%
Knowledge Management - 71%
Employee Engagement - 53%
Executive Communications - 35%

What we need to look at here is that a large number of organizations are looking at social computing for employee collaboration and knowledge management. What this means is that to a large number of organizations, KM is separate from the idea of facilitating employee collaboration. This means that a large number of organizations see KM as essentially document repositories, and not as a means for sharing knowledge, no matter the means for sharing knowledge.

Another aspect, as Bill puts it, is:

Despite the common wisdom that executive involvement greatly aids adoption, the study found relatively little executive involvement as 57% of executives have never contributed content or have done so infrequently (less than once per month) and only 11% of organizations have executives that contribute content on a daily basis.

This seems to be expected because more and more, it is people at junior or middle management levels who seem to be taking to social computing more than senior managers, which leads to the idea that social computing is not a fad, but would probably be around for some time to come, though the shape of social computing may change over a period of time. David Gurteen has put up a poll about this, where again, a large number of people who have responded seem to think that social computing is not a fad.

One Size Fits All?

This is a question which i have been thinking about for some time. Mst of the organizations i interact with have KM programs which are standardized across the organization. There is one portal, there is one set of guidelines and processes which are applied across the organization when it comes to engagement of the business with KM. The assumption is that if you put all the tools out there, people across teams can find the tools which they find useful, and use them as they require.

The assumption behind this approach is that KM is not an initiative which is meant to solve specific problems. In other words, KM is seen as an initiative which is loosely linked to business processes, and as such, the adoption of KM is seen as the logical thing to do, by itself, without any other reason to do it. And this leads to the scenario where the different functions in the organization see KM as an external entity, or at least, external their line of business, leading to a scenario where KM is seen as an initiative which is running on their own with not much engagement either required or existing with the business teams. And this, in turn, leads to far lower engagement, and so, far lower adoption of KM initiatives.

A lot has been written about how KM needs to be linked to business processes. Some folks talk about baking KM into business processes (baking ... not something i want to talk about ... am off sweets!), and as i have written before, this relationship between KM technology and the business processes of the organization is quite important. An important part of this is to keep knowledge-sharing simple, so that it is a part of the day-to-day work of people, rather than additional work, as i have written before. The important aspect of this, however, is that instead of being trying to be one thing which can meet all the requirements of different sets of people across the organization, KM can move to a scenario where it becomes a set of tools, practices, and processes, which are tailored to solve the business requirements of different people at different parts of the organization. In other words, what this means is that different people in different parts of the organization have different requirements, and different problems, which need to be solved by KM. Came across this interesting paper about Social Computing at Intel ... and this talks about something on similar lines.

Any thoughts? I am trying to refine this idea, looking forward to inputs from you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Social Computing ... Concern?

A lot has been written about how social computing, and some of the web 2.0 tools have changed the entire paradigm of content creation, and how today, anyone, in any part of the organization can create content, and discuss things with anyone else, and contribute ideas, and so on. One of the applications of this is what is termed as crowdsourcing.

There is a question which comes, though. And this is probably something which is not too well discussed. The scenario i am talking about is within the organization, and it is in this context that this scenario comes up ... the thing is that today, organizations are using social computing tools for getting people to connect with each, and in the process, the organization can listen in, and identify topics, thoughts, ideas, which could create value for the organization. However, and this is what we probably are not discussing ... when people are writing their thoughts (lets say a blog), they have a specific set of things which are their priority, which probably align with their performance appraisal criteria. What does this mean? This means that if you are trying to crowdsource ideas, for example, the ideas, or thoughts that you would come up with would be closely aligned to the interests of the people participating in this sourcing activity. To this extent, this implies that, at the end of this kind of process, some form of evaluation, whether by a set of people or by a community, is something which may be quite important before these can be taken forward. This is not just the idea of getting approval for specific ideas, for example, but rather, of sieving the ideas that do come up in this activity, and identifying the interests which those ideas serve, if at all, and then, build on those ideas keeping this in mind.

Is this something which you think should be discussed on a broader level?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

KM Today ...

Nancy Dixon has written a very interesting, three-part series on the journey KM has been through till now, and the direction she thinks it is taking. Part 1 refers to Leveraging Explicit Knowledge (all those document repositories), part 2 refers to Leveraring Experiential Knowledge (tacit knowledge?), while part 3 refers to Leveraging Collective Knowledge.

Part 1 is something most of us would be comfortable with, and probably define as the cornerstone of any KM initiative. Part 2, on the other hand, is probably where a lot of us are now. This is the place where the idea that expertise is not necessarily focused with a few people, but rather, everyone has a certain level of expertise on specific things, and an organization can benefit by surfacing this. This can be seen in the idea of blogs, wikis, social networks, and so on. As Nancy says, this difference is like the difference between a warehouse, and a network. I put the difference as being one between a reservoir of water, and a stream.

The part where Nancy talks about leveraging collective knowledge is illuminating. First of all, it is quite a tricky thing to try and define collective knowledge. I agree with Nancy that this cannot be the way it has been ... a summation of all knowledge available. Rather, collective knowledge must be about the creation of new knowledge from existing components. As i have written before, i think new knowledge is created at the intersection of existing knowledge. So what are we talking about with collective knowledge? An important aspect here is to get these different knowledge "sets" together, so that the intersection could be leveraged to generate new knowledge. What gets generated could be quite different from any of the sources from which it got created, and this is where the power of collective knowledge is.

The example i would like to give for the value of collective knowledge is that it is similar to the way colours can be combined to create different colours. Like, how, yellow and blue can be combined to create white. In this example, the result of the combination of the components gives us something which is different from either of them, and yet, contains the inherent characteristics of those. Why is this valuable? In the business scenario of today, where the dynamics of the world of business are such that most of the variables keep changing on a regular basis, an organization cannot simply look at existing knowledge to manage the business. Existing knowledge cannot be totally relied upon to solve problems which the organization probably hasnt faced before. In other words, continually changing problems need continually changing solutions. Question is, why do we assume that the tools of leveraging experiential knowledge, tools which the web 2.0 toolkit has brought, like blogs, networks, may not work in this direction? Actually, thats not what we are assuming. The network is going to continue to be vital to the surfacing of existing knowledge, as well as to the creation of new knowledge. As will blogs, wikis, and the web 2.0 toolkit. Having said that, however, we need components which can bring the thoughts which emerge using some of these tools together, in a way that their direction can be merged to build a direction for creating new knowledge. For example, as i have written before, tools which can help us search for opinions rather than keywords.

Another aspect which comes out of the line of thought, is that rather than being facilitators, going forward, KM has to be more active in terms of achieving business goals. Today, most organizations look at KM as the facilitator for knowledge sharing in the organization, while what Nancy talks about is KM as a tool which can be leveraged to achieve specific business objectives, and solve specific business problems, rather than a facilitator, maybe passive, as a lot of organizations seem to think.

Would like to have a discussion about what you think the nature of collective knowledge should be. Do write back, never know, it could create something something.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Positive ...

You must have read a wonderful book The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Yes, i can hear you saying the book came so long back, that by now, it has also spawned a whole new genre of literature. Skeptics refer to this as feel-good literature. But those who know better ... Well, this post is describing their views. Or at least, the views of someone who believes that this is more than merely feel-good.

Ok, so what am i writing about? Nothing much ... Just a perspective on the law of attraction Rhonda Byrne talks about. It is said that matter is an illusion. That matter is basically energy. Relativity, and Quantum ... These are the two ideas which have influenced this world view. Relativity has established the equivalence of mass and energy, describing how much energy is locked up in mass. Quantum has established that 90% of you and me is empty space. So much of something ''solid'' is actually empty. These are ideas which, if we evaluate them, are quite radical, even though they have been around for almost a century. That there are huge holes in the body structures of people ... Or the holes in the chair you are sitting on ... Unbelievable? Well, we might as well believe it.

Now, if matter be a manifestation of energy, it stands to reason that the manifestations of matter, the things people own, the amount of money they have, the circumstances they see in their lives are a manifestation of energy. This is mathematical ... If B can be derived from A, and C can be derived from B, the B can also be derived from A.

Once we think this sounds logical, the question this arises is where does this energy come from. And this is something people don't understand. Out thoughts have energy associated with them. How, you may ask. Have you ever been around someone who whines and complains all the time? Have you spent an hour with someone like that, and come away from there feeling elevated? Or been arround someone bouncy and positive, and come away feeling low? I wouldn't think so. Have you ever paused to wonder why this is so? If you read The Secret, you would be able to understand. So let me not try to explain that.

Suffice it to say ... I learnt something ... Something simple, and yet profound ...

Run towards the positive things, and you will find yourself going away from the negative things.

Let me explain ... Lot of people spend a lot of time trying to stay away from thing they don't like. I would admit that i have been one of them, though this is something i am changing. But what would you rather have them do? It's simple to describe, but not so to do. Rather than running away from the negative things, if only people could focus on the positive things, everything would be so much better.

As Swami Kriyananda says in Raj Yoga, that energy withheld from one channel, must find another channel down which it can flow. And that's the point i am trying to make. That if we think of running away from negative things, that doesn't necessarily mean we are running towards positive things. There are two different channels, and we need to ensure that we redirct our energies from the negative channel, to the positive channel. And the disused negative channel shall wither away for want of use.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Conversations, Networks, Measurement

This is a question i have been thinking about for some time. The question of ROI ... and, how this impacts the way we look at KM. The question is simply this ... how does one measure the impact of KM initiatives on the financial health of the organization. This question can be answered depending on how you understand the question. Simply put, anything that has a financial impact, has an impact either on the revenues, or on the cost, whether directly or indirectly. Suresh Nair posted a commend over at the post where he refers to the whole discussion from the perspective of need. Do we need something? If yes, and it would have an impact on the performance of the organization, go for it. But then, another aspect to look for is, whether it is worth it, if you go for it. And that is probably the trickier question to answer. How does the CFO decide that its worth it investing in a Social Networking tool, for example.

This question can be looked at in two parts. One, content, and other, collaboration. Lets look at content first. This is a little simpler to address. To begin with, if you have a document, you could always look at the document, and look at how much effort this document would save. So, for example, if a document reduces rework, or reduces cyclc-time by, say, 10%, thats 10% reduction in cost for that particular process. Its a different matter that this kind of determination is by itself not something which is completely accurate, but if you get the opinion of enough people, you could come up with a number which is reasonably accurate, at least in theory.

This brings us to the second point about conversations. And this is where it gets tricky. How do you measure the impact of conversations? Here, lets look at it in two parts. One, when taking a decision to invest in a tool to enable conversation, how does the organization even know how, and in what form conversations are actually going to happen? There is probably no way to determine this, given one of the key factors is the adoption rate, and even once you move past that, the nature of the conversation, according to the basic paradigm, is something you cannot regulate. The other aspect, if you already have such a platform, is how to actually determine what value conversations are adding. This is where it seems the paradigm of ROI faces some resistance.

There was a recent post by John Husband about assessing productivity, where he describes some of the aspects of networks, and hence, conversations, which make measuring them tricky. To quote:

• They multiply rapidly because the value of a network increases exponentially with each additional connection.

• They become faster and faster because the denser the interconnections, the faster the cycle time.
• They subvert (unnecessary) hierarchy because previously scarce resources such as information are available to all.
• Network interactions yield volatile results because echo effects amplify signals.
• Networks connect with other networks to form complex adaptive systems whose outcomes are inherently unpredictable.

The interesting to see from these is that networks can open up ways of working which are new, which we havent yet seen in organizations. For example, the idea of bypassing hierarchies. This is something which is enabled by the network. Does this lead to quicker decision making? Probably, it does. What is the financial impact of quicker decision making? We dont know. Can this be measured in the context of specific decisions? I think so. An organization i was interacting with a few years ago, had a servicing scenario, where the service engineer, if facing a problem which he could not solve, would travel back to the office, consult his manager, who would tell him the solution to the problem, and then he would go back to the customer site, check if the spares required for solving the problem are there or not, and if not there, would come back to the office, order the spares, and when they are available, repair the product. With handheld devices, the engineer could interact directly with their counterparts across the country, and quickly get a solution, either through a Knowledgde Base, or through interactions with service engineers, and reduce the time taken to repair. At the same time, if the spares werent available, the engineer could broadcast a request for spares to other engineers who could provide them if they had stock which they didnt require. There is value in these conversations.

But, these are specific examples, and on the whole, it is not so simple to determine this kind of value from conversations, or from networks. But can at least define scenarios in which conversations can create value, in a specific context? As i have written before, measurements or possible improvements make sense more in a specific context, rather than being broad-based. And, if you can take this to the context of the business process, you can at least begin to understand the applicability. And, within this context, it is rather easy to identify how conversations could create value. Not that this exercise is feasible, especially if you try to do this across the organization, but it at least illustrates the value of conversations in the context of the organization.

Another thing that John mentions:

Continuous flows of information are the raw material of an organization’s value creation and overall performance.

This is the idea on which the concept of ERP was based, too. Of making the relevant information available to the relevant people, so they could take effective decisions, and processes could be streamlined. Only thing, ERPs focus on transaction processing, where data is made available across organization silos or departments, while we are talking about ideas and experiences being made available in a similar manner. It is a little easier to quantify the impact of data sharing (production planning cycle time reduced by 20%).

To take an example, i am having a conversation with Nirmala about something which we realized we were both thinking about. The whole interaction was sparked by a comment on twitter (and also on facebook), and brought out a conversation which could lead to ideas coming out of it. These ideas could have some form of value. Even so, it would be impossible to quantify this to begin with. And even then, if it is a new idea, then its easier to quantify the value, while if its just sharing of ideas, making people more effective in their work, then it is tricky to measure this, too. Add to this, that if nothing comes out of this idea, i would have at least learnt something, which again is very difficult to quantify.

Any thoughts, please feel free to comment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Innovation ... Asia Or America ...

Interesting article over at McKinsey ... about whether Asis, or America will lead innovation in the 21st century. There has been a lot written about the 21st century being the Asian century, and so on ... but, taking this debate in perspective, there are some interesting ideas that come out of it.

To begin with, innovation has always happened, even when management thinkers werent looking for it. I feel the way Asia and America look at innovation is quite different. And, there are a number of reasons for this.

The most important aspect of innovation in Asia, however, is that the contours of Asia, in terms of society, economics, politics and trade, are very different from that of America. While much has been written about the market mechanisms of America, at the micro level, Asia has thriving markets. Its just that the idea of the market is quite different in Asia and in America. This is something i have blogged about before ... and this idea makes a bit of a difference. First of all, things in Asia are not as organized, or as large-scale as in America. Neither are markets, nor is entrepreneurship. Rather, Asia has found these things largely at the micro level.

Another aspect we need to understand, which, as Iqbal points out is that in Asia, resources are scarce. Actually, not really scarce, but given the population, they seem to be scarce. And, scarce resources lead to a scenario where innovation can be the means for survival, not necessarily improvement. Let us look at some examples ...

The first example that comes to mind ... Grameen Bank ... an innovation that by itself has redefined banking for a large number of people. Microfinance as a concept has taken root in Asia ... India, too, is doing remarkably in this respect. Other examples come to mind, too ... the Simputer, for example.

As you can see, none of these are the big-ticket innovations. Rather, these are smaller in nature, but have immense impact. The important thing to udnerstand is, that in Asia, the potential for a small, simple innovation to touch lives is massive, given that it is so much easier for simple innovations to reach out to people, and to reach out to a large number of people, which makes the reach, and the impact these innovations can have huge.

So, what am i trying to say? Simple ... That the way innovation is seen in Asia (or, at least in India), is very different from the way it is seen in America, and the impact of these two perspectives on innovation, and the innovation process is large, which means that the path to innovation for these two different parts of the world could be different from each other.