Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Training And KM

This is something i have been thinking about for some time now. This is also a topic i have written about earlier. And this is a topic which i think should probably receive more attention that it does.

The reason why i feel that this should probably receive more attention is because Training, and Knowledge Management are two disciplines which complement each other ... i like to see them as making up an umbrella discipline of Capability Management. OK, so i can almost visualize you wondering why i had to go and make up another term, to add to the already burgeoning lexicon of management jargon. But really, if you look at these two disciplines as contributing to the development of the skill pool available to the organization, this line of reasoning begins to make sense.

Having said this, there is also an inherent tension between the two, which, more often than not, remains unresolved. On the one hand is training ... which is a highly structured approach towards learning. At least the way its being done today. There is a Training Needs Analysis, Training Strategy, and a myriad other steps on the training pyramid or workflow. It all culminates in the curriculum, the course outline which is well-defined, structured course material, and delivery of training in a highly structured manner. Well, sometimes highly, and sometimes less so, but the point is that there is a certain amount of structure associated with it.

Knowledge flows in the organization, on the other hand, tend to be totally, or at least to large extent, unstructured. You cannot define the sources of knowledge in the organization, the consumers of knowledge, and hence, the channels of knowledge flow in the organization, the way you can attach structure to a training.

And this is one more reason that i believe that the two disciplines cannot replace each other, but rather, must complement each other in the organization. However, the issue i see in organizations i interact with, is not so much that they are tending too much on each other's turf, but rather, the other way round, i.e., there seems to be very less appreciation of this basic similarity in their goals, and hence, the requirements to align them, the structural differences notwithstanding.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I read this article in the ToI today ... about G-Drive taking your desktop online ... The article says ...

The GDrive would make it possible to access and update information like emails, photographs, music, documents and spreadsheets from any device with an internet connection.

Now, this is quite interesting. What this is saying is that there need not be a distributed mechanism for storing information. Now, this has been a concept which has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. I remember coming across this in the 90s. Question then is, how is this different from some of the earlier attempts at getting data onto a central server rather than store it on your desktops? This is close on to the massive advertising campaign that Microsoft is running for Windows Skydrive. The idea seems to be to have people store their data onto a "cloud computing" resource (apologies for having misquoted the concept, but then, i never really understood it completely ... or, to be precise, haven't been able to understand how the concept is different from the World Grid project, or Grid Computing, that Oracle was talking about a few years back!).

The article also raises a very important question ...

However, there are some who think that trusting Google with so much personal or commercial data is dangerous, for information may not be as safe in the cloud as it is in a computer.

Now, this is the classical dilemma that a lot of organizations, especially folks within organizations, who are trying to get people to share the information they have access to, have been facing. How do we get people to share information, and knowledge which flows from this, with others. Here, however, its not about how, but the question seems to be rather, of, how to address these concerns.

Though, thats not even what i am thinking about. I am looking at how a concept like this is different from the content management systems which a lot of organizations implement, with an idea of getting content from people's hard drives, and putting them on a server, for easier, and wider accessibility. But then, even in a scenario like this, the question is not so much about the "cloud resource", or the platform for storing this information, but rather, about the need of people to do so, this need, in turn, being derived from the motivation to do so.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Encyclopaedical Change

 It's finally here. The vaunted portals of the hallowed Encyclopaedia Britannica have been thrown open to some of the lower life forms on the planet. OK, so it's not really wide open, but open nevertheless. A move which takes the Britannica in the direction travelled first by wikipedia, it seems to be a step in the right direction. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is all set to enable readers to edit entries in the encyclopaedia.

Why step? For the simple reason that the Britannica has not gone for the laissez-faire of wikipedia, but rather, seems to be a controlled step in the direction which was probably coming for some time now. And, they have acted in a way which was expected ... the Britannica has for long been the ultimate word on the topics which are there in there. Which means that they would like to keep away from the unbridled edits which can happen on wikipedia, at times to the detriment of the accuracy or the brevity of content. And to this effect, they have made sure that all content must be approved by the panel of experts before it can feature in the encyclopaedia. This is definitely additional cost, but maybe worth the while?

Now, the laissez-faire of wikipedia has its set of supporters and retractors. But i am neither. I believe that wikipedia is a source of information, much like a lot of others. As i have written before, wikipedia is not the ideal source to base your research on. But, having said that, if you were doing research on a particular topic, you wouldnt just consult one source, would you? To that extent, isnt wikipedia as good as a whole host of other sources available out there? Something i have written about earlier.

Now comes the question of wikis within the organization. There has been a long held belief that within an organization, you cannot afford to have the anyone-do-anything kind of approach. Instead, i have long held the opinion that within the organization, nothing is really anonymous. Which is why i believe that rather than an open wiki, a tool like a knol is more useful in the organizational context ... as i have written earlier. The fact is that with this kind of approach, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is ensuring, at least to a considerable extent, the quality of the content that goes on it. And this, to my mind, is also an issue which organizations are also dealing with, to varying extents.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cause And Effect ...

I have long believed, and continue to believe (unless someone can convince me otherwise) that innovation is best when it is broad-based. No, i am not saying this with the benefit of hindsight, but rather, from the many Rum and Water consumed with colleagues (primarily Old Monk, but then, i am no connoiseur ... did i get the spellings right there?), cribbing about the so many stupid things which the senior managers keep doing from time to time. No, i am not taking names ... i am still good friends with most of them, so dont even bother to ask, my dears! Fact of the matter is, if you ask the many people working on the field about the things which the organization is doing wrong, you will be sure to get answers ... plenty of them! Of course, you got to be careful how you ask, though. Ask it too stiff-collared, and you might not get any answers whatsoever.

So, whats the point, i hear you asking. Stifling a yawn, maybe? Well well ... the point is simply this ... that when it comes to innovation, the ideas are out there. Legend tells of legendary innovations the creation of which is the stuff of legends (my take on Kung Fu Panda, which, by the way, if you still havent seen, you probably must ...), so let me not interfere with the legend. But the point is, so many of the innovations we see around us, have come from, at times, stupid ideas. Which is something i believe in strongly. That at the "bottom of the pyramid" is where the brilliant ideas exist. For another similar idea, read my previous post. And i believe, that social computing is a fabulous tool to tap into this vast treasure of ideas which is readily available, only needing the possibility of a treasure hunter coming and discovering the treasure, and generating value from it. In other words, the one most important aspect is that people have the ideas, and these ideas are based on knowledge. Most of these ideas come from very intimate understanding of work, organization, market, customers ... only thing, the organization must be willing to invest the energy required to listen.

And probably the most fabulous tool till now to enable organizations to listen ... whether to customers, or partners, or employees, is social computing. True, you have had discussion forums and similar technologies around for some time now, but then, i dont think they have been maningfully deployed. This is not to say that social computing tools by themselves are a magic pill, which implies that they too have to be meaningfully deployed. In addition, they are, at best, the ears ... the organization also needs to be build up the entire apparatus, from the external auditory meatus, to the tympanic membrane, the cochlea, the cochlear nerve ... all the way to the brain (click here for the diagram). Without this, all the organization has is the proverbial "deaf ear".

Having said that, a question which i am asked quite a few times is whats the cause, and what effect. Can the success of social computing lead to greater participation, or could greater participation lead to the success of social computing. It is obvious that the latter it is, but what is not so obvious is that the former is equally valid. In fact, if we look at it as a circular phenomenon, we would be able to understand that social computing cannot succeed without enhanced participation, and enhanced participation wont come about till social computing is seen as a success (why would someone waste their time contributing to a platform which is not too widely accepted?). The answer is give is simple ... Value. Value creation, and the perception of this, is the way to break this circle. There are a number of organizations which have done it, and a lot of organizations which have struggled. But the fact is, the possibilities are enormous.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Social Media

The human brain sometimes creates connections where none seem to exist. And maybe this ability of people to create connections between seemingly unrelated things which creates value. No, i am not saying i am doing that, but reading a rather thought-provoking post about Social media needing to grow up, actually got me thinking about some rather interesting thoughts which have been doing the rounds.

To begin with, this is an interesting post. I would think this is more to do with the shape of things going much into the future, but maybe this is a possibility. I have written a bit about this earlier. The basic concern i see is that there are plenty of interests in the current organizational structures, and web 2.0 technologies, in large part, seem to have the tendency of tugging at these, and it is this which could be the central point of resistance to evolution of organizations into the e 2.0 environment.

But thats moving away from the thought i was writing about. There is, these days, an advertisement running on tv, for !dea Cellular ... about the proposal to making shopping malls in the fields, and the possibility of having an opinion poll, reaching out to the people, to get their opinion on a particular proposal. What seemingly is only an advertisement, can become the vehicle for possible change ... change, which could possibly change the way a lot of things work. Click here and you could post your opinion, as well as see the ad ...

The point i am trying to make here is that one doesnt need a highly complex complex technology platform to move towards a more participative way of doing things ... whether it be in the political space, as the advertisement shows, or it be in the organizational environment. Relatively simple platforms can be used to reach out, and to develop participative value-creation in the organization, too. The iportant point is the recognition of the need to tap into the resources which are distributed, and not always recognizable. For, one doesnt know what ideas could emerge from where. As i have written before, this is something which Cisco seems to be doing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Conversation ...

You must all be following the news, and all the goings-on at Satyam. Again, i am not a management expert, so better for all that i dont comment on that and expose my ignorance. Having said that, i would say that equating this to large-scale corruption in Indian industry would be quite similar to speculating about large-scale corruption in American industry in the wake of Enron. Which, to my mind, is not something which is reasonable.

Coming now to the point of this post ... a few days back, Satyam stock was seeing quite a bit of fluctuations in trades on the stock exchange. I was having a talk with my friend, Arvind Dixit, and was asking him who are the people who are buying Satyam at this stage. I wont write here about his hypothesis, but an interesting thing that he mentioned ... something to the effect that if it was a brick-and-mortar company, it would have been easy to figure out what should be the fair value of the Satyam stock, but because the nature of Satyam's business is knowledge-based, its very difficult to determine the fair value of Satyam stock.

I would see this based on two considerations:

1. It is inherently very difficult to determine fair value based on intangibles.
2. Since knowledge is the main ingredient of the business, and this knowledge is inherently carried by people, it becomes all the more difficult to determine the fair value, because as people leave, they take away a large part of the resources of the organization with them.

And this is what i wanted to write about ... the fact that it is very difficult to determine the value of knowledge to the organization, or to society at large. However, it would not be correct to assume from this that there is no value (nobody would agree even if you said that), but the fact is, while there are exhaustive mechanisms for valuing tangibles, there is still little to value intangibles. One could estimate value based on the projected revenues which could be generated based on this knowledge, but this at most a proxy measure.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Global Financial ...

No, i am not a finance expert. Far from it, actually. Which is why, expectedly (for those who know me), i have not written a single blog about the way the financial markets have turned out over the last few months. Well, this article i read (ok, so i read this maybe two weeks back, but still ...), got me thinking, and this was a train of thought i had to blog about.

I came across this article by Thomas Friedman about Time to Reboot ... Thomas Friedman has raised a question about something which i havent been able to understand. To quote ...

we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering.

And this is something i havent been able to understand. Why is it that returns are not too closely related to the value one is adding to society? And when i say value, i am talking about real value, not something notional which is great as long as its going, but then, one morning, vaporates with the news. Why is it that people working on technology, whether it be nano-technology, or solar probes are not the ones drawing the top salaries?

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure

Somehow, the business world has gone into a scenario where notional concepts are far more valuable than real concepts. Like, making money out of money becomes more valuable than making money out of value add. As i had referred earlier to an article which was about how some businessmen in smalltown India are making hay in the market downturn ... its all about basic common sense.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Cisco ...

Happy New Year ... Here i am back to blogging. And i thought it might be cool to blog about an artile which is quite interesting ... about how John Chambers is turning Cisco socialist ... no, dont get too carried away by the topic. What comes as socialism seems to be more of democratization. In a nutshell, what we are talking about is the way John Chambers is getting Cisco into a struture where ideas, and delivery on these ideas happens at various levels and geographies in the organization. What seems like the logical next step from web 2.0 technologies, the form of enterprise 2.0 seems to be taking shape at Cisco, is what one would gather from this article.

There are a few thoughts that come out ...

distributed idea engine where leadership emerges organically, unfettered by a central command

The logical next step from the initial idea of e 2.0 ... though the point to see here is that the way, and the level to which this can be distributed depends on the level to which the central command is ready to relinquish authority. And this is the question which is either being asked, or will be asked in most organizations as web 2.0 proceeds.

"We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know," he says. So he promotes all kinds of social networking at Cisco: You can write a blog, upload a video, and tag your myriad strengths in the Facebook-style internal directory.

This is the important part ... the atmosphere where people believe that its desirable to actually share what you know. Without this, any kind of organization structure, or any kinds of web 2.0 tools would fall flat, not delivering on their possibilities. And this can actually be facilitated quite simply ... by turning people into contributors. By keeping in mind that everybody at every level of the organization has some form of expertise and knowledge which can be leveraged by the organization.

Chambers is convinced that the role of the CEO has to morph. He recalls a lesson he learned working for An Wang of Wang Laboratories, whom he has often called one of the smartest people he's ever known: "One person cannot anticipate a market transition.

And this is the key. Assumption has been in most organizations that there are a set of people who have the know-how which can be leveraged to drive innovation, and to take advantage of opportunities that evolving markets present. This is the assumption which is being questioned more and more by organizations, and this is the kind of thought process which would bring up ideas ... maybe not all ideas radical, but definitely, can bring up ideas which are in synch with the market, as well as bring up ideas which can drive the new ideas to delivery. What John Chambers also comes up with is interesting ... that the key is that the CEO, and the leadership of the organization has to morph. Most management consultants would tell us that managers should be coaches, but this is easier said than done, and misses the point that the leadership has to simply provide direction, and develop an atmosphere where people can actively contribute to the development of the company, if for no other reason, then simply because this development signals their development as individuals as well as employees in the organization.