Friday, February 26, 2010

Tom & Jerry: An Ode to Today's Organizations

It is only once in a rare while that you come across articles that resonate with you and your values, put hope in your heart, a smile on your face and positive thoughts in your mind. On the particular topic of organizations and business, the last time I remember feeling this way was when I read an article by Peter Senge. I hung on to every word. This article by Gary Hamel gives me a sense of deja vu - of hanging on to every word and indulging in a musical chord-striking experience or whatever. Thanks to @rajwaghray for leading me to this article via his blog post. I am going to do what Raj has done, put out some extracts of the article here because I am so fascinated by it. 

Here’s an experiment for you. Pull together your company’s latest annual report, its mission statement, and your CEOs last few blog posts. Read through these documents and note the key phrases. Make a list of oft-repeated words. Now do a little content analysis. What are the goals and ideas that get a lot of airtime in your company? It’s probably notions like superiority, advantage, leadership, differentiation, value, focus, discipline, accountability, and efficiency. Nothing wrong with this, but do these goals quicken your pulse? Do they speak to your heart? Are they “good” in any cosmic sense?
Now think about Michelangelo, Galileo, Jefferson, Gandhi, William Wilberforce. Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. What were the ideals that inspired these individuals to acts of greatness? Was it anything on your list of commercial values? Probably not. Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by a passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.
.........A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance. In so doing, it transforms great talent into exceptional accomplishment. That’s a fact—and it leaves me wondering: Why are words like “love,” “devotion” and “honor” so seldom heard within the halls of corporate-dom? Why are the ideals that matter most to human beings the ones that are most notably absent in managerial discourse?
...........The next time you’re stuck in a corporate staff meeting, wait until everyone’s eyes have begun to glaze over from PowerPoint fatigue and then get up and announce that what your company really needs is a lot more luuuuuv. When addressing a large group of managers, I often challenge them to stand up for love (or beauty or justice or truth) in just this way. “When you get back to work, tell your boss your company has a love deficit.” This suggestions invariably provokes a wave of nervous laughter, which has always struck me as a bit strange. Why is it that managers are so willing to acknowledge the idea of a company dedicated to timeless human values and yet so unwilling to become practical advocates for those values within their own organizations? I have a hunch. I think corporate life is so manifestly inhuman—so mechanical, mundane and materialistic—that any attempt to inject a spiritual note into the overtly secular proceedings just feels wildly out of place—the workplace equivalent of reading a Bible in a brothel.
............Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, held a similar view, which he expressed forcefully in “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . .."
So, dear reader, a couple of questions for you: Why do you believe the language of beauty, love, justice and service is so notably absent in the corporate realm? And what would you do to remedy that fact?

My immediate response to Gary's post went something like this:

I relished this article. Thanks so much for such a wonderful post. It also reminds me of some of Peter Senge's wonderful thoughts. I wish more people like you would instill such values in the corporate world. Well, I am no expert in collective human behaviour but I guess it all boils down to the fact that there will always be a set of people who listen to their minds and bodies rather than their souls and also the fact that many of us have been conditioned gradually since ages to focus on money/profits/efficiency etc. Like some of the comments indicate, most senior managers with a severe focus on profits would ask you to cut the article short or just go back to work and stop being so impractical and idealistic. *wry smile* It is up to the small set of people who listen to their souls to do whatever they can to make a difference and then leave the rest to nature! :-|

Another thing is that people are ruled by fear. Fear of not making enough money to indulge in their silly needs. If they don't toe the line and bring in the moolah, they are not going to get their monthly paycheck. They need to be appreciated and recognized as someone who toes the line and accomplishes the goal in order to survive and thrive. So why unnecessarily take the trouble to think of and advocate things that don't fit in? Just keep running in the said direction becomes the motto.


Additionally, there's one another - to my mind - related story that I want to share. It's an interesting coincidence that this happened just a few hours after I read Gary's post. When I went back home and the door was opened to let me in (by a person who was perhaps muttering 'Why Me?') I froze on my tracks and did not even take the trouble to put down my heavy laptop bag, for in front of me was something delightful - A rollicking episode of Tom and Jerry on TV. Now, being a person who does not watch a lot of TV and for some crazy reason it having been ages since I had watched Tom and Jerry, this was like Manna from Heaven. I picked up a yummy-looking bun that was lying nearby (without caring about who it was actually meant for) and plunked into the sofa to munch on and roar with laughter at Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse (Just making sure you got the names right). Now, catch this and see it in juxtaposition with Gary's article. Shut the jaw. You'll see what I mean. 

Tom exhibits extreme laziness and does not care to bring Jerry's naughtiness to a halt, much to the chagrin of the house lady. So, the house lady decides to order for a cat-machine (that looks exactly like a cat) whose vendors claim that it can catch mice come what may. Stop me if you've already seen this episode. So...the cat-machine with no soul arrives. It knows just one thing - its only goal is to catch any mice that may be around. The cat-machine is extraordinarily innovative in its methods and seems to know a way out of every difficulty. 

But Jerry gets smart a little later and introduces plenty of mechanical mice (mice-machines) into the house in order to fight the cat-machine. The cat-machine now has many mice to catch and goes about maniacally and ends up destroying the house in order to trap all the mice! Jerry watches on in glee while Tom watches in bewilderment from outside (he gets sent off after the arrival of the cat-machine). And then the lady of the house realizes her folly and decides to call Tom back. Meanwhile, ironically, our cat-machine ends up almost destroying itself as well in its relentless, err, shall we say, rat race? ;-) The one last piece of machine that perhaps represents the mouse sensor in the cat-machine is all that remains and it accidentally slips into Tom's throat! Even as the house lady tells Tom to go about things in his own way and that she wants peace and quiet in the house, Tom starts behaving like the cat-machine because of the mouse-sensor in his tummy! The episode ends as Tom speeds toward Jerry in a cat-machine-like manner and the house lady screams in exasperation. 

Now, this, to my mind, is a very metaphorical example (no soul, rat race, human-machines, destruction and what not!) of the situation in today's organizations as explained by Gary. Let's just hope that we don't fully replicate the Tom and Jerry episode and realize, before it is too late, that there is in us - especially as a member in a ruthless commercial organization - an artificial and mechanical object that needs to be removed. I don't believe this is a case of adding an ingredient to ourselves. I dare say it is a pure case of removing from our minds, a foreign ingredient that is beginning to condition our souls!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Need for KM+Collaboration

Came across some compelling but, however, old evidence that clearly reiterates the need for KM and Collaboration and want to capture (and share) it here.

Tacit sponsored a Harris Poll in 2003 which HBR ran amongst 536 knowledge workers at various levels and discovered the following:

  • 67% of those polled said some people in their organization could help them do better on their job (performance) - and 39% did not know how to find these people
  • 54% said opportunities to innovate are being missed because the right people were not working together
  • 51% said wrong decisions were being taken regularly because employees' knowledge weren't being efficiently tapped
  • 60% felt that often work was duplicated because people were unaware of each others' work

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Thanks to Mary for sharing this wonderful piece of 'research'! It sounds vaguely familiar - I must have surely read it before, but this time I'm capturing it in this post.

"My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good." - Richard Wiseman describing the attributes of lucky people

Ideas....! Ideal or Idle?

An idea that is worth it can both rob you of your sleep & appear sweeter than sleep. Robbery when it eludes you & sweetness when you near it...(does that resonate?)

Here is a weak attempt to put this thought into a clumsy graph! :-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Infinite Inspiration

This could easily be one of the most inspiring things you'll ever read in your life. At least, for me, it definitely is. Period.

Source: This website


Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian
Dr. Mani is a heart surgeon, an internet entrepreneur and a founder of the Children's Heart Foundation, which saves the lives of underprivileged kids.

A dream fueled by purpose, fired by passion and followed with persistence will definitely change the world. ~Dr Mani Sivasubramanian

If today were my last day on Earth and I could share 500 words of brilliance with the world, here are the important things I'd want to pass along to others...If I had five minutes to tell my daughter what I believe to be the success of living happily, this is what it would be...

Have a dream. It may be lofty or small - but it should be yours. And it must do two things. It should make you happy. And it should be of value to others.

Live your dream with passion. Passion is the energy that fires the spark of your desire, fans it into a glorious flame, and shows off your radiant brilliance.

Pursue your dream with determination. Believe with all your heart that it will come true, no matter how remote or difficult or impossible it may seem at the moment.

Dare to be different. Throw off the shackles of what is 'regular' or 'conventional' or 'accepted' - and follow your heart. Yes, it is often scary, unnerving and terrifying to give up the familiar and the secure to follow your dreams. It takes a lot of courage. Find it.

Feel gratitude. Wake up every morning feeling thankful for all the things you have - even the ones that, until now, you've taken for granted. Think about those who do not have those things.

Also, be a little crazy. Have a little fun. Let that little child within you come out and enjoy itself every now and then. Have a personal philosophy that directs all that you do. Mine is a simple four-word mantra... "Be Kind. Help Others."

And in the end, have no regrets. We are all human, and therefore imperfect. We will always make mistakes. And that's ok. Yes, things could have been better. But they also could have been worse.

The only question you must ask yourself is this: "Did I do my best?"
I hope your answer will be "Yes, I did."
That's all that matters.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Wisdom Gadget

Another thoughtful moment....
The dance between Thinking and Doing is a tough one to choreograph. The 'music' is sometimes deafening & sometimes too soft to be heard...

We need to have our own personalized "gadgets" to filter the noise, reduce the volume or amplify the input signals. And that is the wisdom gadget. Order one for me, please. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In a Nut Shell...

Sigh. Twitter is deadly. Not to mention, dangerous as well. Take my word for it. Unless you're extremely careful and maintain a dreadful silence in which case you'd rather not be using it in the first place, IMO.

Many weeks back, I made the mistake of saying I was inspired by the Groundnut Avataars of a friend on Twitter (He puts up pictures of tiny groundnuts sleeping, thinking, reading etc and you know my weakness for cartoons of any sort) and a huge gang (comprising no less than two people in all) of Mumbaikars got together and threatened me into writing something on groundnuts or getting ready to face the consequences of a mortal life. So, here's my timid and weird essay on groundnuts. Not open to criticism of any sort, mind you. If you want, you can go write a better article on groundnuts or any other nut you  may prefer to write about. I've been dilly dallying on this task for too long. Finally seem to be in a mood to talk some groundnut-nonsense. Nevertheless, I am not inclined to put up with any nonsensical comments.  

Being a KMer, the first thing I am going to do is to point out what Wikipedia has to say about groundnuts. Here you go -

First things first. Groundnuts have a lot of alternative names. Let me help you get this straight, lest you let this article go unnoticed because you've always been referring to groundnuts as something else like Goober Peas or for that matter Arachis Hypogaea. Groundnuts are referred to as Peanuts in the western parts of the world. They are also, amusingly enough, known as monkey nuts and pig nuts. Not sure if that's because monkeys and pigs love them. I, personally, know a lot of nice people who are not monkeys or pigs but who love them. If you don't happen to like any of these names, you can exercise your tongue and refer to groundnuts as Arachis Hypogaea.  

Groundnuts have quite hard shells if you've not seen one so far, like that of a fragile Tortoise, I presume. But the pods are relatively softer. Groundnuts can be consumed as is, fried, boiled, sprayed with spices and salts, mixed with nuts from other families, mixed with some Indian rice-based dishes etc. And there's also the popular peanut butter that people in the US seem to be very fond of. This includes a US-based niece of mine. (This niece once even attempted to teach me how to make peanut butter and had her narrative going pretty well when she started off by saying "you need to take one peanut and put it in the grinder - which you can in turn buy from a shop". But then she abruptly stopped on seeing me and a few others giggle. To this day, I regret it and wonder whether I unwittingly crushed a champion chef in her growing years)

Peanut oil and flour are also used in cooking. The top three producers of groundnuts are China, India and USA. Peanuts are known for their nutritious (protein) quality and are even prescribed for children suffering from malnutrition. If you ever happen to think that your body needs niacin, folate, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, manganese and phosphorus, please pop in a few peanuts. Peanuts are considered high in fat, but according to the Wikipedia, these are good or unsaturated fats. The US is the biggest exporter of peanuts. India and China produce lots of them but eat most of it themselves. Sounds somewhat selfish, what?

Here are some other tidbits that are, I guarantee, of absolutely no value to you. 

1. Peanuts remind some people of the number eight. If you don't know how to write the number eight, derive inspiration from peanuts. This also means that peanuts can easily take on a human form. Peanut art is also common in some rural areas. You can do lots with the shells like use it in paintings etc. 

2. If you're paid a very meager amount of money for something you sold or services you provided, it may be said that you were paid peanuts. My intelligent guess is that this alludes to the fact that peanuts come real cheap. 

3. If you act a little goofy or silly or unintelligent, people may accuse you of being nuts or exhibiting nutty behaviour. These phrases, however, are not attributable only to groundnuts. There are a lot of other nuts that could be held responsible for such behaviour.

4. Groundnuts are sold everywhere - in India. Trains, bus stations, beaches, roads etc. Surprisingly enough, you can buy groundnuts even if all you happen to have in your wallet is Rs.2. Isn't that amazing? 

Righto! We're done folks. In a nut shell, groundnuts are a funny, nutritious and time-pass snack (time-pass: Indian term that refers to "killing time"). Hold a few groundnuts in your palm, sit in an undisturbed or busy spot (beach, park etc) and pop in one nut after another on auto-pilot, let your mind wander and be enlightened! 

Pic Courtesy: Wikipedia

PS: This is the first ever time I've spent so much time and energy thinking and collecting information about groundnuts since the time I suddenly developed groundnut allergy 3 years back - when I consumed some suspicious-looking fat and sweetened groundnuts in the UK and had itchy skin for a while. Thanks to Wikipedia. Wait, not for the allergy but for the knowledge on groundnuts. For me, this has been a curious journey - from unexpected allergies to hidden Twitter allegories!

Truly Badly Madly

A thoughtful moment from my Twitter Timeline:

Pic Courtesy: Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix - Google Images

I'm inclined to believe that 'real' knowledge & insight come to you only when you truly badly madly want them. Like everything else in life?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Life and a Couple of C&H Cartoons

Pic 1: Cartoonist: Bill Watterson (Source: Google Images) 

The last three days have been pretty busy and focused. Been staring at presentations, doing online training programs, creating and juggling slides, testing applications, thinking hard (you'd better believe me), reading up on and learning about some new topics and following up with elusive people etc. So, time for a silly, relaxed, prolonged and deliberate smile. Plus a bloggy breather like this one. 
Pic 2: Cartoonist: Bill Watterson (Source: Google Images)

Closely observe Pic 1 and Pic 2 above (by the world's best cartoonist ever). Do you see what I see? The clue is obvious in Pic 2. Give up? Hold your breath. Let me reveal my stunning, mind-blowing and overwhelming discovery. If you let your eyes swing between these two pictures, you ought to have these words popping up in your mind as you move from Pic 1 to Pic 2.

These pictures are a perfect reflection of life as a function of time.

January --------------------------------------- December
Monday --------------------------------------- Friday
AM -------------------------------------------- PM

Now that I am done with my quota of both the silly smile and the silly bloggy breather, allow me to lead you to Bill Watterson's first ever interview since 1989. Should have been a much longer one given his silence and reclusion all these years...!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Innovation and Communities

Discovered this interesting website on Collective Intelligence/Communities and read this article on "Innovation and Communities of Practice" today. I thoroughly enjoyed the article (it actually happens to be an extract/chapter from a book) and found myself highlighting and underlining quite a few thoughts/statements in it. 

Here are some extracts:

* People with talents in multiple disciplines are better poised to see and connect the dots of breakthrough possibilities
* Managers whose discussion networks more often spanned structural holes were more likely to express their ideas, less likely to have their ideas dismissed by senior management, and more likely to have their ideas evaluated as valuable
* Horizontal mobility is, no doubt, one of the ways to cultivate multidisciplinary performers, among which there is a higher concentration of disruptive innovators than among people with only professional identity 
* The fastest way to get smarter in any domain is to join its community of practice, and this is a trend likely to expand its reach to all industries
* The future belongs to organizations that learned to truly unleash the creative powers of self-organizing project communities, knowledge networks, open source teams, and other new ways of work and learning, based on free associations of people who are passionate about what they do together. Communities of practice are in the center of this widening innovation movement
* We nourish life with our generative relationships, as well as with value creation and exchange. Communities of practice are the “sweet spot” of those two dimensions
* The vitality of knowledge ecology--the rainforest of ideas, insights and inspirations - and innovation ecology depends on the same as the vitality of natural ecosystems: their diversity
* Innovation frequently recombines facts and assessments in existing knowledge and the relationships between them. Therefore, how well those community-based knowledge assets are organized and validated is a substantive factor of the organization’s innovation capacity
* When coordination is lubricated by trustful relationship amongst the players, then there is less friction, its transaction cost is lower and results are better
* The meta-capability of collaboration is the No. 1 competitive advantage in the innovation ecology
* Customer communities of practice are particularly essential to accelerate the adoption of an innovation if it is highly complex
* Radical innovation needs people who are members in multiple communities, and play a role of “cultural translators” between them
* Shift in deeply seated mental models, the mutual inspiration and push-back necessary to radical innovation, are most likely to occur in high-trust relationships fostered by the communities
* People freely associating with another, combining their talents, and sharing their learning edges to complete projects or upgrade their skills and invent new ones, are the most generative source of permanent innovation