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.