I can't stop wondering how almost every other conversation I have with a young niece or a nephew (of which I have many) is either enlightening or hilarious or, well, amusing. You might consider me lucky in this regard....or maybe you could take into consideration that it is a good idea for an adult to let herself become vulnerable when having conversations with children. Being seen as vulnerable by children allows them to open up, be bold and speak their mind. They propose the weirdest of ideas without batting an eyelid and if you play along, you may very well end up being influenced and inspired enough to contemplate turning your life upside down/changing the course of your life. As you can see, I am getting carried away. I'll stop myself and get back on track; come back to the purpose of this post. It is to describe a conversation that may not have been life-altering but it nevertheless provided me with food for thought.
So, it all started with this little telephonic discussion that I was to have with a cousin and her daughter, my 10-year-old niece. My niece is normally busy watching Tom and Jerry or one of the other cartoon shows and rarely finds the time to talk with me. If she does find the time for a quick chat, we limit ourselves to our respective experiences of a particular Tom and Jerry episode - which is a common area of interest. This time around, she apparently had a lot of time for me and in the bargain I discovered her ability to drill people down to the components of their soul.
The conversation, right from the time it began, was, er, largely controlled by her. She started with a series of questions and continued with many more series of questions that had me exercising my lethargic weekend brain cells more than I'd have otherwise been capable of. I was caught unawares but went on to answer her questions like my life depended on it (I wonder if she was able to appreciate that though). Sometimes the questions were a lot faster than I could handle. Her Mother, meanwhile, was (I heard later) wringing her hands, sighing and hoping that there would be a day when the phone would be passed on to her.
One of the key portions of the, er, interview was when my niece questioned me about my work. Now, this isn't new to any KMer worth her salt, spice or sugar. Every KMer I know has wondered at some time or the other about how she ought to explain KM to her Mother, Grandmother, Child, Aunt's Sister-in-law and other such near and dear relatives. Coming to how I fared in this particular context, despite the fact that I'd never ever rehearsed it, I was glad I did not draw a blank.
The first question was "So what do you do? What kind of a job are you on?"
I said "Knowledge Manager" with as much dignity as possible
The next question was the inevitable one. "What does that mean? What exactly do you have to do?"
I pulled out a random answer that presented itself to me at that moment "I help people in my office learn"
I thought she sniggered but it must have been my fertile imagination. "But people in organizations are all educated!"
I smiled what I assumed to be a wise smile "No...employees need to keep learning. They need to be told to learn. More than you children are asked to"
She seemed stuck on the previous point "But the employees' bosses will not employ them unless they know most of the things they need to know"
I furrowed my eyebrows and said "Even bosses need to learn"
She retorted "And you? What about you?"
I had to stifle a laugh before answering that one. "Me too..."
I thought she would pause here and consider the complexities of making a person like me learn...but nothing seemed to stop her. She was a rolling juggernaut and I was a poor but inviting object on her path.
"Aah...so you help your organization learn, do you?"
"Yes....I help them learn...!" I don't know what she would have said if I'd not continued but I'd like to think I had a narrow escape. "When you have some homework or assignments to do at School, what do you do? You check out the books, or surf the internet, or ask your parents or maybe get together with your friends for a discussion. Right?"
She murmered in agreement "Mmmmm"
I went on with a satisfied expression (unjustified, I admit) on my face "Well, we make it possible for folks in our organization to do something similar while at work...we make knowledge available to them, connect them with people who can answer their questions etc!"
I don't know if I imagined it but she seemed quite satisfied that I was doing something worthwhile at office. While one part of me wanted to grind the whole thing into powder and get further down into the details and show her I meant business, another part of me knew it would be suicidal- "You should be glad she is happy with this answer", this second, wiser, part told me. Better senses prevailed and I paused for a few seconds, which naturally led my niece to pose another series of questions about other areas of my blighted life. I answered them all. Every single one of them. My cousin, much later, wanted to know if I'd like her daughter to be the author of my biography (after which she, unnecessarily, added "Not that she'd make any money out of it though!").