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?