Here is my “blog-book” on KM India. Give me my PhD in rambling now.
Right now, I feel like a woman who is going on a one-year trip around the world and needs to pack her bags in no more than one or two hours. Where does one start? How big a bag does one need? What can I afford to leave out? Actually, another way to make you understand how I feel is to ask you to imagine a person with a huge gunny bag full of random and mostly unconnected tidbits. The easiest way to share them with you is to probably just turn the bag upside down on the table and let the tidbits roll out on the table – and, er, lie scattered. Which means you’ll have to pick up the bits that matter to you. Don’t look at me like that.
I think, in a way, it’s good I had to wait for a while to complete this post, as I had to wade through the work backlog and get it out of my mind to start with. The delay has at least forced me to rummage around in the gunny bag for some key tidbits and present them to you rather than just throw every single thing at you in a random order. But despite the 3-week delay in posting this, I feel like Calvin in the strip below.
There was many a time I started writing this or filling in the gaps only to end up stumbling and falling because of continuous twitter/email/IM distractions. I finally decided I had had enough and turned off all notifications and made myself invisible on IM so I could peacefully finish this post. Thanks for sympathizing with me. Let’s move on, now. If the purpose of this post is not clear from the title, let me make it clear now - I’ll be making a list of some key things I picked up at the KM India conference - between Oct 28th and Nov 1st 09 - and it’s here for you to filter and take what you want. :-)
To start with, I shared some of the one-liners and other thought-provoking stuff I came across at the conference in the form of one-liners via Twitter a couple of weeks back. Let me try and filter them for you here. But please note that these are in reverse order.
#kmindia I am going to wrap up now. A lot of other people have already shared great tidbits. I may have repeated many. Search for #kmindia [to find all the relevant tweets]
#kmindia HCL conducts empathy workshops wherein project teams and customers understand each other (wow!)
#kmindia Vittal - One can be an apple falling on Newton and trigger off ideas even if one is not Newton himself :-)
#kmindia Vittal - Stone age did not come to an end because we ran out of stones! (LoL)
#kmindia - Use processes for exploitation but not for exploration - Snowden
#kmindia Jagdish - Hospitals have to depend on processes during an operation, not on innovation
#kmindia Jagdish - Music cannot be mastered without a process
#kmindia Jagdish - Average people become better with good systems [better processes]
#kmindia Snowden - Innovation thrives under starvation of resources, pressure of time & perspective shift
#kmindia Snowden - Process should not be confused with adaptation
#kmindia Snowden (What a speaker!) - When you control things, variation and deviation decreases. [Not good for innovation]
#kmindia Cognizant CEO believes that blogging leads to openness, progress and transparency/honesty. [More CEOs should talk like that]
#kmindia - Sukumar- Cognizant has 5 key design principles for KM. Drive Consumption. Freedom. Fun. Workflow Integration. Perpetual Beta [I like this. Good to distill approaches and attitudes into key guiding principles]
Dinesh (Thoughtworks) - Culture is what differentiates organizations, not its business model #kmindia
Thoughtworks's Dinesh - His presentation proves that there is a lot of alignment between the agile culture and KM. #kmindia
Tata Steel looks at 2 types of focus areas for KM [communities] - thrust areas or pain areas and aspirational areas or new ideas #kmindia
Atul Rai of Wipro - Participation and Value forms a vicious circle. #kmindia [The single biggest cribbing point when KMers meet, perhaps? :-)]
Gopi of GE - The future may be about Search + Integration + Unified Communication + Tech. Intelligence #kmindia
Gopi of GE - Indians knew a novel way of remembering the complicated Sin Table through a Shloka - default IP protection! #kmindia
Gopi of GE compared KM processes with the human body's Neurons. Collect, Process, Distribute #kmindia
TCS - Their process library is managed via Wikis and is therefore a collectively managed knowledge asset #kmindia
Eureka Forbes- Knowledge Pearls are diff from Knowledge Gems in the sense that the former are 'born' out of irritation (stories of failure) #kmindia
Prof Sadagopan - Knowledge is a special resource, a liberator and supreme. #kmindia [It’s exciting to think of knowledge as a liberator!]
#kmindia Ashok Soota mentioned that Tiger Woods's mentor won tournaments for the first time after he began mentoring! [That goes a long way to show that one learns more when one teaches!]
Loved this at #kmindia - Create like a child. Nurture like a maniac. Detach yourself like a warrior. Came from GE's Gopi [Philosophical and reminiscent of the teachings of the Gita….]
The KCafe by @DavidGurteen at #kmindia was an example of how simple ideas are as meaningful and important as sophisticated practices/tools
Infosys mentions 3 types of metrics for KM #kmindia. Business Benefits, Performance/Health & Basic Usage/Contribution (can someone who knows verify this please?)
OK. All these were self-explanatory messages that did not need any additional comments from yours truly. Now, here are some thoughts I sort of derived out of what was said and discussed at the conference (or maybe these are thoughts that occurred to me due to some subconscious influence I might not be able to articulate here)
Food for thought - derived from #kmindia - Is starting with dissent a great way to ultimately build consensus? #paradox I think this is a very interesting concept. When you want people to come to a common conclusion, don’t start off by asking them to do so. Instead ask them to come up with their own views, promote rigorous discussions, opposing views and debates and finally arrive at a conclusion/decision. This way, all potential obstacles might be considered beforehand and, secondly, people are going to be better convinced due to the intellectual rigor that they’ve been subjected to.
#kmindia Methinks "Social KM" is the opposite of an oxymoron...what? How can KM not be social by default? Expanding on this, knowledge management by nature is a concept involving sharing, learning, collaboration etc. So, is ‘Social KM’ a term that might indicate KM (conventionally speaking) is otherwise not ‘social’?
#kmindia Maybe we should move from holistic KM case studies and get into the details based on proactive audience surveys. I am, personally, glad to be made aware of KM case studies…but, honestly, as far as I’ve observed most case studies are now becoming predictable. They need to be expanded and dug into for the intricacies – for the real learning. Or, even better, they need to be challenged!
I was wondering about @snowded 's talk at #kmindia. How does one become a chef & not a consultant with a recipe book? Passion? Experience? Natural Talent? Sukumar responded to that and said one needs to be observant and analytical to become a chef. Snowden, later, blogged about it and said a chef understands the principles behind cooking and is therefore much better than a consultant. A chef can adapt to any situation because he knows how to apply these principles. You can read Snowden’s full post here.
Extending that further, imagine this particular scenario - a chef will know what is likely to be a good substitute for an ingredient that is missing while a consultant will probably freeze on the spot and wonder what to do next or perhaps waste time and energy by going out to buy the missing ingredient.
Another thing that flashed on me during #kmindia was “By making everything democratic and ‘collective’, are we going to lose out on esoteric and eccentric ideas from e. and e. individuals?” Are we creating a culture and environment that will neglect or not tolerate something that is undemocratic? Maybe, that’s why, starting with dissent is a great way to consider all perspectives and give them the merit they deserve.
Now, consider this interesting observation I chanced to make while at the conference: TCS has its tag-line as “Promising certainty” – addressed primarily to customers - while Thoughtworks likes to ‘see’ the inherent ambiguity in the world and as a consequence wants its employees to have a passion for and accept ambiguity.
Two other intriguing things that I made a note of were from Snowden.
You can never tell a lie backwards unless trained for it. :-P
Children learn a lot of fundamental things between ages 1 and 6 and then start considering opposing views but are unable to make up their minds on most things until they are 19 or 20. Then, they start concluding on what the world should be like and want to change it to meet their conclusions and perspectives till they are 45 or so. Finally, they become soft and yielding – when over 45 - and are ready to accept different perspectives once more.
OK. Here is some intermediate respite from my random chattering. Here are links to resources from KM India.
- Dave Snowden’s post and presentation
- Madan Rao’s excellent and immediate posts on his learnings from KM India - Snowden’s keynote, Top 12 KM learnings, and the process vs innovation debate
- Sukumar’s presentation on KM at Cognizant
- Dinesh’s presentation on KM at Thoughtworks
Sorry. Will have to bring you back – rudely - to my ramblings now. There was a potentially interesting session arranged for at the conference that however turned out to be a disappointment in some ways. The idea involved groups of people clustering around 2-3 presenters from a certain organization and getting to know about their KM initiative for around 15 minutes and then moving on to the next organization’s presenters planted at various nodes in the room. I loved the idea and was looking forward to having useful conversations with all of the organizations presenting their KM strategies but ended up familiarizing myself with just two organizations’ strategies and not even getting a proper whiff of what the remaining 4-5 companies were doing! All because some people got carried away and continued waiting at the same organization’s desk and asking plenty of queries and refusing to move on to the next node thus depriving the next group of people from getting a low down on things from the beginning. I could only catch bits and pieces of information from the third node onwards as only questions from intractable members of the previous group were being answered. I was left shrugging and wringing my hands for the rest of the session. Think there should have been a neutral observer at each node shooing away the previous group and making way for a fresh session. Or the presenters themselves should have taken up the responsibility of addressing a fresh group rather than encourage the previous group’s questions beyond the allocated time.
From the little I gathered in this session, I was impressed with Mindtree’s focus on personal KM, it’s emphasis on workspace design, connection with nature, brainstorming practices and usage of tools like six thinking hats. I was also impressed with Eureka Forbes’s mature and customized KM practices. It was also interesting to see how L&T was leveraging on KM practices to meet their business needs and operations in a methodical manner.
Going back to the talks (I warned you about the randomness of this post, did I not?) Dinesh’s talk for me was a clear indication of how important it is to have organizational values and culture that is ‘already’ or rather naturally aligned with KM. It can make a world of difference! Thoughtworks believes in the Agile methodology for project management and this methodology, in my view, overlaps with some of the KM concepts. In such an environment, it may be advisable to leverage on the culture and silently blend other dimensions of KM with the existing business approaches and not even label it as KM.
Now, swinging back to the schedule - Snowden’s Cognitive Edge course - on Complexity Theory - was thought provoking and entertaining. I kept shifting between giggles and deep-thinking at regular intervals. Snowden has a nonchalant way of delivering his speech and peppering it with plenty of stories and both subtle as well as no-holds-barred humor. :-) The course lasted two whole days and dealt with a lot of new concepts, theories, ideas and stories. I obviously am not equipped or even allowed to share the entire proceedings of the course, but I will try to share enough to perhaps arouse your curiosity after which you would be able to decide whether you want to explore the topic or not. Like I was mentioning to a friend, you can’t possibly list down something a wise person with a diverse background and decades of experience has come up with in as many years, in a few minutes or hours. First of all, it takes a while to even grasp some of the basics of Complexity Theory and its implications. We’re all used to decades of simplification, organization and control. Complexity theory is radically opposite to what many of us want to experience in life – order, control and predictability. It advises us to allow and facilitate things to emerge. It states that excessive control, standardization and insisting on compliance do not help. Some of the concepts therein are related to social network simulation and formation of crews (On a related note, I once remember reading my blog-mentor Gautam Ghosh’s blog post – many years ago - dwelling upon how Movie crews are formed and dismantled and whether organizations can learn from these methods.)
Actually, if you want a good overview of the basics of Complexity Theory or the Cynefin Framework, here’s a good resource you can look up - Keith’s presentation – It has a neat explanation and illustration of how to read the framework and is well worth your time.
Something I derived out of both Gurteen’s Knowledge Café as well as Snowden’s course is the powerful idea of creating small groups, getting them to discuss something, mixing or juggling up the groups, facilitating the cross-pollination of ideas and obtaining a, if you will, knowledge cocktail that can throw you off your balance, figuratively! ;-)
On a related note, I think organizations should really experiment and explore the concept of Unconferences and design it on the lines of a Knowledge Café.
BTW, the two amusing stories I wanted to share happened off the conference circuit. In the hotel where I was staying, on one of the evenings, I tiredly tottered into the in-house restaurant for dinner. While waiting for my food (which I took a pretty long time to choose) to arrive, I sleepily flipped through the menu card and registered shock (internally) on seeing some of the prices. With no strength to think about anything intellectually demanding, I began forcing my tired brain to list down the various kinds of people who were likely to visit the restaurant. I thought of politicians (imagined some of their faces in the process) and then thought of businessmen, sports personalities, the obscenely rich and people from the film industry. As I thought of the last in the list, the face that I saw in my mind’s eye – for no reason in particular – was that of a local south Indian actor called Prasanna. (I think I even vaguely imagined him flipping through the menu card, laughing and discussing what to order along with his non-descript friends). The imaginary scene lasted half a minute or so and was interrupted by the arrival of the food on seeing whose quantity, I almost fainted – and that was supposed to be half a plate only! Makes me wonder why some of these restaurants imagine their customers to be gluttons of the highest order. So, I trekked through the food with my spoon and fork and managed to chew 1/4th of the provided quantity without any grave danger of the stomach giving in to the onslaught. I then slowly made my way out of the restaurant and back to my room silently chiding the restaurant managers for not providing lighter options for a lone and not-so-hungry diner.
As I stepped out and walked towards the lifts I saw the side profile of a person jabbing the ‘Up Arrow’ button on the lift. (There was no one else around) Guess who this lift-button jabber turned out to be? No prizes for guessing. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that it was none other than the very same Prasanna who had made a sudden and inexplicable appearance in my half-dream! What happened next was very quick and was a surprise to me myself. It was like as if someone else was speaking from inside my head. I screamed like I had just spotted my long-lost brother after ages. I said “Prasanna!!! You won’t believe this! You simply won’t believe this!” And he turned around and looked at me in a confused manner. In retrospect, I think he was expecting someone familiar to him and must have been confused to see an unknown person talk to him like she was his movie’s producer! I switched to Tamil and said “You won’t believe it” once again. Meanwhile the lift’s doors opened and I walked in like a programmed human. Meanwhile, our poor actor was probably bewildered and racking his brains to recall whether he knew me or not. In the process, he almost stumbled at the entrance of the lift probably cursing his memory for deserting him. But there was no stopping me. I continued like I had known him for ages and said “I just thought of you while in the restaurant. I don’t know why I had to think of you because there are so many other actors I could have potentially thought about. You know….what they call sixth sense!”. I stopped for breath and he cleverly used the opportunity to get a word in sideways and ask me “Have we met before? You seem familiar”. I said “No….of course, you seem familiar to me…but…”. He laughed and I smiled and then I noticed that the lift had already arrived at my floor. I continued my funny behaviour and walked out without much ado and said “Have a nice evening” as the doors closed. I think the way I uttered the last word was incoherent but he must have been busy recovering from the incident to even notice what I was babbling. So, that was that. It was only after I made my way to my room did I realize how strange the whole thing would have seemed to him…the way I told him that he “wouldn’t believe it” without even introducing myself or giving him the awed look that an actor normally expects from the general public! Far from it, I probably behaved like he was a student of the school in which I was once the principal. Hee Haw. I do surprise myself!
The second amusing incident was again to do with the hotel I was in. On day 2, I noticed a cockroach of gigantic proportions vibrating at an enormous frequency in the washroom – the good news was that the insect was lying on its backside and seemed to be extremely unhappy with something on the ceiling and not, fortunately, flying around. Having witnessed the above-mentioned scene, I screamed my way to the phone to call up housekeeping and put the aforementioned insect in what I hoped would be its rightful place. After I had told the housekeeping lady that I had a funny request and explained the situation, she responded with a nervous laugh and sent her army along to wage the war. I am not sure what kind of treatment was meted out to the cockroach but there was a strong smell of insecticide wafting into the room for a while. Later in the evening, when I went back to my room, I found an apology letter and three milk chocolates waiting for me on the table. The apology letter, by the way, did not specify exactly why it happened to be there. It just referred to the above-mentioned incident in a very mysterious and anonymous manner and said, “We are sorry for the incident…”. After wondering if the cockroach was a celebrity cockroach that had instructed the housekeeping to not reveal its particulars, I popped in one of the milk chocolates and wished they’d left pure cocoa chocolates instead.
Finally, here’s Snowden’s video on how NOT to organize a children’s party – a satirical story to help us understand how we normally deal with something that’s complex – as if it were something that ought to be well-controlled and directed – and are then surprised about the repercussions!
Let me go now. Enough of rambling for many weeks to come, what?
PS: I realize that I'm quite obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes and will find every possible opportunity to link it with whatever topic I happen to be rambling about.