Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Tsunami Lessons (KM)

This is the second article that I wrote for the Global Knowledge Review published by David Gurteen in 2005.... (I reproduced the first one called Learning to Love to Learn on this blog a few days ago)

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the tsunami lessons

Networks, blogs and experts – Difference between life and death?

Tragedies leave an unforgettable scar in the lives of the affected people, but they also give us an opportunity to learn some things that are equally unforgettable. The tsunami, preceded by the earthquake, that struck parts of Asia on the 26th of December, 2004 also struck terror in the hearts of millions of people. Since then, there have been a series of earthquakes across Asia indicating that similar tragedies could reoccur. The agonizing scenes and distressing stories that I encountered made me think very hard about the possible lessons. I found myself recalling the adage “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson” and made the, difficult, effort to see light amidst the appalling situation.

Apart from the philosophical implications of the tragedy that came through gradually, I discovered a very intriguing KM pattern emerge from the gloomy situation. Three of the situational aspects struck me as ‘KM’ish. It was clear that some of the consequences of the tsunami could have been pre-empted and some events alleviated in the post-tsunami scenario, had we taken refuge under three practices - networking, blogging (communication & expression) and seeking experts’ advice.

Networking: The concept of people connecting with others who have the wherewithal for conversation on a common topic can make a lot of difference. This unassuming act results in miracles like early indications of what’s to come as well as solutions for seemingly unsolvable problems. India and Sri Lanka may have received early warnings of the signs of a tsunami if only they had been members of appropriate networks. Japan’s disaster warning networks is an example. A positive sign with regard to this is the organization of world-wide conferences to discuss the combating of natural disasters. One only hopes that the lessons learned are implemented!

Communication & Expression: Blogging has the ability to lend itself as an effective self-publishing and networking tool. It has turned out to be a great way to spread news, locate people, gather support, build communities, and communicate the ‘raw’ truth. The tsunami turned out to be something that elicited these very qualities of blogs and blog networks. There were blogs that spread news from the tsunami affected sites, gathered financial and physical support from across the globe, identified people and connected them to their roots, and provided credible information - sometimes more than what Television Channels did.

Expert’s Advice: From the tsunami perspective, this is perhaps the most important of the three concepts discussed. A Japanese earthquake survivor says (on the BBC News website): "We have great faith in the JMA (Japan Meteorological Society), they do a good job in saving people's lives, if some of these countries like Sri Lanka had a system like ours perhaps we could have saved lots of lives." I couldn’t agree more! A proactive attempt to learn from the Japanese who are tsunami-prone would have helped us be better prepared for the calamity. Their methods include early warning systems, tsunami walls, tsunami and earth-quake resistant shelters, floodgates, specialized society (JMA), and use of technology (telecommunications, television, and internet). For Japan, these measures cost US $20 million a year but life is certainly worth much more than that. Tsuneo Katayama, International Center for Disaster-Mitigation Engineering, in a presentation made on the occasion of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction in 1993 had this to say. “I tried to explain how Japan itself has come through difficult years to achieve the level we have today. Learning from Japan is the wisest thing that other countries can do. It is important to identify areas and practices, where the time tested successful experience of one country can be applied in another country with similar conditions. Exchange of information, experience and practices evolved in developed countries would be useful in developing countries…” Thus, proactive approaches rather than reactive learning would have helped prevent loss of lives.

The three practices mentioned need not be labeled as KM. It would suffice to understand that the practice of connecting with experts, networking and expressing oneself to relate to the society at large can change the picture from desolate to thriving. KM, or whatever one wants to label it as, helps improve organizational performance. And…it could also help save lives!

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