From teaching to enabling assimilation

What should be our techniques of education so that we don’t just transfer knowledge but help people transform?

I

The ideal of education that dominates schooling is “transmission of knowledge” from teacher to student.

A teacher who lives by this ideal will measure his or her own success through parameters such as

  1. acquisition of relevant information by student
  2. comprehension of concepts and ideas
  3. application of concepts to various real-life situations

In contrast, a teacher who seeks to live by the human development ideal would use a completely different set of parameters. These parameters would include

  1. development of self esteem in the student
  2. creation of character, intellectual and physical capacities in the student
  3. awakening of the infinite potential inherent in the student.

II

In this context, let us now examine the challenge we seek to address:

How to achieve the goals of the human development ideal within the context of an existing schooling system that is clearly built on the “transmission of knowledge” ideal?

How to, in effect, accomplish the dual goal of developing dynamic human capacities needed for developing human personality while mastering the “knowledge-domain capacities” required by the educational and commercial systems? 

III

 This paper proposes that teachers who seek to integrate the human development ideal into the contemporary educational system could potentially accomplish their objectives if students were able to assimilate knowledge.

Assimilation of knowledge means not just comprehension of ideas but the translation of ideas into a transformed human being. Put differently, “assimilation of knowledge results in developing the student’s capacity to transform – himself, the situation in which he finds himself, and the possibilities open to him – by effectively leveraging the ideas and knowledge available to him.

However, a school or educational institution that seeks to promote such an assimilation of ideas by its students will need to bring about basic shifts in thinking at all levels of educational design.

These shifts are explored below


Shift 1: Role of the teacher

From “teacher as provider” to “teacher as enabler”

Assimilation means that the responsibility for self-transformation is awakened in the student. This responsibility is invoked when the teacher subtly modifies his/ her role in the classroom from “provider of knowledge” to “enabler of learning”.

Shift 2: Classroom Context

From “providing information” to “supporting growth”

What is communicated by the teacher in class? In the current educational model, teachers elaborate upon what is already available in the text books or provide alternate sources of information that may be more relevant/ comprehensible. In the assimilation model, the teacher provides “triggers for learning” such that the students’ capacity to engage with the subject matter is improved. Such an approach amplifies the teacher’s contribution to the educational process and the students love for, and involvement with, knowledge and self-development.

Shift 3: Instructional Approach

From “mechanistic input” approach to “conditions for growth” approach

In the mechanistic input model, information is an asset that is “poured into” the students mind, much as fuel is filled in a motor vehicle.

In the conditions for growth model, knowledge is viewed as a nutrient or catalyst that can invoke, speed up, and ease the students’ struggles with knowledge and capacity development.

Shift 4: Educational Experience

From “see, hear, and react to stimuli” to “engage with challenges”

Knowledge is born in a space beyond the senses. It is born within the human being, deeper, beyond the senses.

The trans-sensory nature of knowledge means that we go beyond the current obsessions with multi-media and multi-sensory education experiences to creating challenges that invoke inner excitement that comes from meeting challenges head-on.

The outcome, as in the case of the other shifts, is deeper ownership of knowledge, greater assimilation of ideas, and awakening of the evolutionary potential in the heart of every student.

  IV

We now translate these principle-level shifts into a practical model for classroom education. At the heart of this new model for classroom education is the recognition that the relationship between teacher and student is not a “push” relationship (teacher giving knowledge to the student), nor a “pull” relationship (student’s self effort and practice being the main cause of growth), but a “sense-respond” relationship (teacher enabling assimilation by the student)

In the assimilation model, both teacher and student are seen as “co-creators” of the learning experience.

“Co-creating” involves a journey of the teacher and student coming together; who, at the beginning of the process, are ‘far-off’ from each other – not in physical or emotional terms, but in terms of knowledge. Through this process, they come together; until finally, the teacher and student become ‘one’.

In this endstate, there is a ‘conscious’ practice that the student does, which the teacher continuously enables; until they become one single entity learning together.

This is a vision of education that reflects an ancient Indian tradition – the idea of ‘teacher-student’ as one single whole; with the teacher enabling the student’s growth, and the student growing in the environment provided by the teacher.

 V

Here is a model which translates this vision of assimilation into a simple 4-step architected journey which the teacher/ educational leader can use to achieve predictable and replicable assimilation outcomes.

This model, easily adoptable by any school or educational institution that seeks improved quality of education, is described below

The Illumine Assimilation Model says that the teacher in any classroom needs to address four key dimensions of the assimilation challenge.

The dimensions are:

  1. Provide mental access to the subject matter (knowledge transmission goal)
  2. Invoke aspiration in the student (human capacity goal)
  3. Create insight into the subject (knowledge transmission goal)
  4. Support response-capability in the student (human capacity goal)

Each of these dimensions is explained in the subsequent sections.

VI

Assimilation Dimension 1: Mental Access to the subject

Firstly, it is important to recognize that ‘mental access’ is different from ‘physical access’. A glaring example of having only physical access to knowledge, is when a student repeats something verbatim from memory but is unable to explain that subject in his/her own words.

Mental Access means providing a means for the student to “make sense” of the subject matter – in the context of his/ her own knowledge and experience.

One method of creating mental access is by providing a newcomer with a map. A well known example is the map of the London Underground railway. Visitors to London make sense of London by using this map, instead of using a geographical map.

Here are some examples of how a teacher can create mental access to a subject

VII

Assimilation Dimension 2: Invoking Aspirations

Mental access is not enough, because the student has to aspire to learn. If a student doesn’t seek to learn, there is nothing a teacher can do. So, the next step of the journey is that the student’s aspiration must get awakened.

This requires a shift from ‘ambition’ to ‘aspiration’. The surest signal of ambition is the urge to acquire things. If a student wants to merely acquire knowledge then he/she will never feel like learning, and will instead find faster, shorter ways of getting quick results.

How is aspiration invoked? A student, in order to aspire for more understanding, more capacity, more assimilation of knowledge, must see the value and purpose of knowledge in the context of his/ her deeper identities.

Students have different identities with respect to knowledge.

  • A student with a functional identity says “I am performing the role of a student. My function is to pass an exam, so let me learn what is relevant for the exam.”
  • A student with an experiential identity says “I am a traveler. I want to experience knowledge. Therefore I shall read widely and learn from a wide range of sources and subjects.”
  • A student with a solutional identity says “I have this problem, how do I solve it? Let me search and learn whatever is necessary to be able to design a solution.”
  • A student with a seeker identity says “I seek because I find that knowledge is inherently or intrinsically beautiful. I feel transformed by it.”
  • If the student somehow acquires a “victim identity”, he says “I am a victim to the system, a victim of my teachers, and my parents’ requirements.” For such a student, engaging creatively and freely with knowledge becomes very difficult.

In the light of the above, an effective teacher enables students to identify and adopt appropriate identities that encourage assimilation of knowledge.

VIII

Assimilation Dimension 3: Enabling Insight

The third step in the Assimilation Model is enabling insight.

Insight takes place when the student develops an “inner recognition” of the ideas being presented by the teacher.

This “inner recognition” is an act of discovery by the student.

The role of the teacher at this stage (after providing mental access, and invoking the aspiration of the student) is to provide triggers for this act of discovery.

Students achieve this inner recognition through a variety of mental capacities.

They include reasoning (the use of data), perception (the use of “frames of references”), narratives (the use of stories), and principles (the use of scenarios).

The teacher encourages the development and utilization of these mental capacities in the student, thereby enabling discovery and recognition of inner knowledge / insight in a more predictable and systematic manner.

IX

Assimilation Dimension 4: Creating response capability

The fourth step in the Assimilation Model “creating response capability”.

Once “inner knowing” is created within the student, the teacher now awakens this knowledge so that it manifests as dynamic human capacity.

This manifestation of dynamic human capacity takes place when the student faces appropriate (not too hard, not too trivial) challenges – both within the knowledge domain and the real-world domain.

How is a challenge different from problems set in every examination? The difference lies in the outcomes we seek.

A teacher who sets “problems” wants “answers” or “set solutions” to the problem.

A teacher who provides “challenges” seeks that the student “responds creatively” – without the necessity of being right or wrong.

This creative response comes only when the student goes beyond the boundaries of memory (reaction) and enters the realm of possibilities and potentialities.

At this stage, the “knowledge” is being assimilated into transformed human potential.

X

The final stage: Conscious Practice

By this stage, the teacher has steadily enabled the student in the journey of assimilation.

  • First, the student gained mental access and thereby made the subject “mentally proximate”.
  • Second, the student’s aspiration was invoked as a consequence of alignment between the subject-matter and his/ her own self-esteem.
  • Third, the student was enabled to discover insights and thereby develop “inner knowing”.
  • Fourth, the student was encouraged to leap beyond memory and previous knowledge and enter the space of “evolution in and through knowledge”.

Now, the teacher and the student are together, in cognitive terms.

The goal of both the teacher and the student is now to continue to grow and evolve in all aspects of knowledge related to the subject at hand.

This continued assimilation and consequent evolution will take place when both teacher and student undertake “conscious practice” of the subject – practice which is combined with awareness of potential improvement and growth.

This last stage is usually the realm of truly committed teachers and truly committed students.

For the rest, even one or more of the steps in the assimilation journey means a great advancement over the current reality, which we seek to progress beyond.

 

(Paper originally published in the September 2010 issue of Prabuddha Bharata (or Awakened India), the official journal of the Ramakrishna Order)

Human fulfillment – critical constructs

Can ‘fulfillment’ be converted from a fuzzy & vague idea into a set of precise constructs & tools, using which people can make specific & measurable changes in themselves?

I

Human Fulfilment is a complex subject when seen from a point of view of a world teeming with aspirations, desires, conflicts, and challenges of living.

II

However, when seen from the point of view of an individual’s own interior, then fulfilment suddenly becomes a more comprehensible subject.

III

Let us begin by defining the word fulfilment. Fulfilment means realization or actualization of one’s goal or purpose.

To be fulfilled means that all of ones’ goals or purposes – diverse as they may be – are realized wholly – and one is in a position to enjoy wholly the fruits of this multifaceted realization of one’s purposes.

IV

This raises the next question: what constitutes goals or purposes worth realizing. In other words, if one’s purpose involved harming others and if such a purpose was realized, would one be fulfilled?

The answer to this question is – yes, one would feel partly fulfilled but there would be many other goals and purposes that would remain unfulfilled leading to a state of partial fulfillment – one that almost all human beings experience.

V

Would it not be true that this would be the fate of all human beings?

Every one of us has numerous goals – personal, interpersonal, social – on numerous dimensions of life – material, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. All human beings are trying to meet or realize many of these goals simultaneously or at least concurrently in different aspects of our life. Hence, every one of us would face a situation where one or a few of our goals are realized while other goals remain unrealized – leading to partial fulfillment.

VI

This raises a further set of questions

  1. Is there a way to organize or classify goals in some hierarchy such that realizing a few master goals would automatically lead to realizing subsidiary goals?
  2. Is there a strategy to efficiently and effectively realize these goals so that we can be more fulfilled in our lives?
  3. Is there a way to obtain fulfilment by not following the strategy of realizing goals? i.e., can human beings be seen as something different from goal-realizing entities and is this a wise-strategy?

VII

In short, the challenge of fulfillment in one’s life is a challenge that can be organized into four problems

  1. The problem of identity – who are we? Are we goal-realizing entities or something else?
  2. The problem of engagement – how do we optimally live our lives so that we are fulfilled?
  3. The problem of purpose – is there a way to hierarchize and organize our goals so that we can focus on a few essentials in our quest for fulfilment?
  4. The problem of meaning – How do we measure our progress towards fulfilment so that our day to day actions may be judged to be meaningful or otherwise in the context of a total fulfilment?

VIII

Fulfillment can then be seen in terms of a language comprising a set of four critical constructs:

  1. Meaning
  2. Purpose
  3. Identity
  4. Engagement

This is the first step toward exploring the interior landscape of humans.

 

(Originally written in 2014)

Personality as Strength

How can we take a vague notion like strength and specify it into concrete definable things to help people develop themselves in a concrete way (e.g. as able to do’s)?

Tree of life

1.0A human being’s ‘life journey’ is a ‘living tree’. This ‘living tree’ has deep roots within oneself: as strong the roots, so strong the tree. Such a living vibrant tree produces fruits in abundance. This ideal of life as having deep roots within oneself and bearing abundant fruits for self and others outside, is reflected in the metaphor “Tree of Life”.

2.0A strong and vibrant tree is one which has deep roots. The depth and range of its roots gives it the capacity to withstand physical shocks (wind / storm), ups and downs (periods of drought where water availability goes down), and even the load it can bear.

Similarly, a human life which is similarly rooted in “strength”. The deeper one’s own strength (inner strength, mental strength, and even physical strength) the greater is one’s capacity to bear shock and greater one’s capacity to draw strength and nourishment from within, in good times and bad.

3.0 The fruits of the tree are based on how well nourished is the tree and how stable it is. The more well nourished the tree, the more are its fruits.

Similarly, when a human being finds all nourishment from his her intrinsic “strengths” or “capacities”, then such a human being is able to lead a life that bears great fruits for self, family, and society.

Success: The Fruits of Life

1.0 What is a successful life?

A successful life may be defined as a “fruitful” life. When one’s efforts, struggles, and experiences lead to an abundance of fruits – for self, for family, and for society – then such a life journey may be termed as fruitful or successful.

2.0 What do these fruits constitute?

Fruits when examined deeper are of three kinds:

  1. At the outermost level, in terms of economic prosperity, material goods, access to facilities like education, etc.
  2. At the second level, in term of happiness and trust in inter-human relationships with ‘social’ and ‘personal’ values like friendship, loyalty, trust, mutual respect, etc. being manifested.
  3. At the third level in terms on one’s own sense of fulfillment, learning, sense of growth, challenge, etc.

3.0 Put another way,

a) Fruits are not only financial or material in nature. A fruitful life may be said to be one that yields happiness and fulfillment not only for oneself, but also in the context of the inter-human relationships in which we are engaged (both at home and at work), as also in the context of the larger society we live in.

b) When we work hard, contribute in economic production and wealth – then the wealth so created for self and society may be termed as fruits.

c) When we are creative, develop new solutions, create or invent new things which lead to the welfare of people around us – may be by saving their time, improving their efficiencies, enhancing their leisure, – then that too may be termed as fruits of our work.

d) When we serve people in distress, perhaps be of physical help during a crisis for the community (like floods or riots) or during a crisis for an individual (maybe a medical one) then too our life maybe said to be producing fruits.

e) When we study, develop new knowledge, add to the sum of learning in society, then that too may be termed as fruits.

4.0 Fruits then in this personal sense, mean all the signals of a productive and happy person, team, family, or community manifest.

Personality as Strength

1.0 “Personality as Strength” is the basis or foundation from which all fruits are derived.

2.0 This view of “personality as strength” is based on the capacity-potential of a human being.

3.0  “Capacity-potential” means a possibility in the human being that has begun to manifest or can be seen to be readily manifest with a little effort and direction in the right quarters.

4.0 Capacity-potential is defined as 

5.0 Personality is defined as the sum-total of “capacities-potential” seen in the individual.

6.0 How is “capacity-potential” different from “capabilities”?

  • Capabilities imply known strengths, weaknesses, qualities and talents in the individuals. Capacity-potential implies “possibilities” or “potential to manifest” in an individual.
  • The former takes a static view of the individual, assuming the individual to have been born with a set of qualities and “capacities”.
  • The latter takes a dynamic view of the individual, assuming the individual to be constantly becoming/growing.
  • Capabilities are measured in terms of comparative assessments (e.g. can sing well… implying, in relation to, others who cannot sing as well).
    Capacity-potential is measured in terms of possible end states (e.g: is capable of being a radio-singer… implying his or her capability to meet a set of relatively absolute standards).

7.0 This “capacity-potential” we call “possibilities” inherent in the individual.

The Three circles of strength

1.0 Strength is the capacity to manifest the possibilities inherent in oneself. More strength means more manifestation of possibilities. Less strength means less manifestation.

2.0 Physical possibilities imply what a person can do or achieve or realize on a “physical plane”. Climbing mountains, working long hours, resisting disease effectively, all come under this category.

3.0 Intellectual possibilities imply what a person can realize on the “plane of thought or ideas”.

Inventing new things, discriminating between alternates, composing music, writing poems, developing new business ideas, singing classical music, all come under intellectual possibilities.

4.0 Character possibilities imply what a person can realize on the “plane of human character/ man’s truth-seeking urge”.

Speaking the truth, being loyal, acting with integrity, resisting temptation, displaying diligence and discipline, regulating ones daily life, all these come under character possibilities.

5.0 The three circles of strength or the 3-Balam Model, represents a positive attempt to help a person explore these planes of possibilities and recognize for himself or herself – potential strengths and areas of improvement.

6.0 Why is this model so important? Because it offers us two important ways forward: One, it allows us to isolate and highlight one’s own strengths and focus on them clearly; and two, it helps us recognize what “combination” of possibilities are necessary in a person to accomplish a specific life goal.  It allows us to ‘recognize’ and ‘leverage’ individuals’ uniqueness better.

The conscious development of personality

1.0 Personality when seen as talent or looks or specific competencies, is extremely limiting to the individual. It makes us feel that much of what we are and do, is “god given”, and that we have little or no freedom to become newer and more effective human beings. This view results in “personality development programs” focusing on what appears to be the only degrees of freedom open to an individual – which are speaking better, dressing better, and behaving in a more ‘polished’ way.

2.0 In reality, such measures, while useful if the person is already endowed with much of all that is needed in a situation, end up way-laying us in our journey of growth and evolution.

3.0 An alternative view is to see personality as the “possibilities inherent in the individual”.

4.0 Such a view makes the individual wider, more flexible, and far more capable of change and growth. Furthermore, it prevents us from ‘slotting’ individuals into narrow characteristics and ensures that we take a positive, “expansion” view of the human being.

5.0 This view opens us to the notion of “conscious development of personality” – which means: “Can each individual become aware of his or her possibilities and consciously grow and manifest some of the possibilities inherent in himself or herself”.

Aspiring to an Ideal

1.0 Man has infinite possibilities. When he chooses to harness these infinite possibilities to realize a life of deep fulfillment, then he comes to recognize three fundamental truths:

One, that possibilities are infinite but the time and space needed to manifest the possibilities in a single life are limited.

Two, that these possibilities, when seen as sub-serving or enhancing the person’s own desire for fulfillment, become positive, specific and directed.

Three, the person’s own desire for fulfillment is best realized when the individual shapes his or her life consciously around a noble or high ideal. Without an ideal, all development is haphazard and not self-reinforcing.

2.0 For example, the cluster of possibilities inherent in the making of a great scientist are different from the cluster of possibilities inherent in the creation of a large business, or even the creation of a great book may be very different.

3.0 While all three may have common points, a person who “flits” from one set of possibilities to another, may develop a number of them, but may, in the final analysis, be lacking in human fulfillment.

4.0 In this context, it is essential that every individual freely chooses and learns to dedicate his/her life toward a comprehensive and integrated ideal that harmonizes all these types of possibilities leading to deep fulfillment for self and those we live and work with.

 

(Originally written in 2006)

From why to why-not – building a new future by changing our stance

What stops us from accepting change and new ways of doing and thinking? What creates so much resistance to anything new? One simple answer to this question may lie in our stance of life. This Little Book proposes a shift from ‘Why’ to ‘Why Not’ in our stance to life.

Collective Aspiration

What is collective aspiration and why is it such a fundamental driver in change?

1.0One of the most talked about and least understood dimensions of business and institutional thinking is the dimension of “collective aspiration”.

2.0The current language of business for example, is limited to terms such as strategy, mission, vision, values, etc. While these terms are valuable, at their core lies a widespread recognition that words and reality mean two totally different things in the corporate world.

3.0This ‘gap’ between words and action is attributed to the impracticality of these ideas (or concepts) or is attributed to the lack of sincerity on the part of those implementing these ideas in following through.

4.0Is it not possible that this gap between words and action is born not due to poor quality of thought nor is it born due to lack of sincerity, but is born of a misreading of a critical driver of human action – which is aspiration?

5.0Aspiration represents the joy-seeking, affirming, dimensions of an individual. It demonstrates human hope, man’s desire for growth and change, and man’s engine for self transformation.

6.0Aspiration is therefore an individual’s best friend – providing him/ her with a tomorrow, generating possibilities, defining new energy-sources for himself/ herself, and creating the ineffable “positive buzz” that is infectious and inclusive.

7.0Collective aspiration is the collective manifestation of individual aspirations. It is very difficult to say whether individuals together created the aspiration or whether the aspiration self-selected the individuals who are working together.

8.0Whatever or wherever be the origin, collective aspiration is a real entity – it determines the capacity to bridge the gap between ideas and action – not just in terms of distance between the two – but, more important, the choices of ideas and actions that will be bridged.

9.0In other words, collective aspiration represents the “reality” of fulfillment for a collective. There is ‘real pain’ only if aspirations – and ideas embodying those aspirations are not met in terms of action and results. The rest is simply irrelevant at a fundamental level.

 

(Originally written in March 2005)

The collective act of individualized seeing

How do you scale vision in an organizational collective? For example, how do you keep the torch of customer-service burning bright in every employee’s mind?

This very short essay of  7 insights was born of a struggle with the question of “vision enablement”– i.e. how to keep the vision of customer satisfaction burning bright in every employees mind.  This “essay” defines “vision sharing” as the “collective act of individualized seeing” which implies that vision cannot be “given” it must be “owned”.

I

Why should everyone perceive value creation? 

So that each one feels valuable.

But in order that each feels valuable, one must not only define global “value” but also local/ located creation of value.  i.e. each one must feel, we have created great value and I have contributed genuinely to this act of creation.

This is human fulfillment at work.

II

So how to define global value creation?

We have tried out two distinct approaches:

One, we asked whether value resides in what the customer ‘received’ i.e. I am as valuable as what my customer perceived. This is limited as an approach.

Two, we also asked whether value resides in the ‘act of creation’ – the how? Primarily because human fulfillment is itself a two part journey, one creating value as a group (what the customer received) two, contributing as an individual (act of creation).

III

So the question becomes:

How to combine ‘customer value’ creation with ‘individual contribution to value’ into a integrated definition of value. i.e. value is neither ‘outside’ in the customer’s world, nor ‘inside’ in my mind, it is in the integrated ‘whole’ that transcends both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.

This integrated ‘whole perception of value’, we call enablement – both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and more…

IV

How to ‘uncover’ or ‘unearth’ this value?

If it is located in the totality of ‘engagement’ (both act of creation and customer value delivered) then it cannot be mechanistically or logically isolated.  It is not a product of reasoning.  It is a ‘collective act of individualized seeing’.

V

This is what leaders do

They enable “collective yet individualized seeing of an emerging whole”.

VI

This is what every person  must do in the world to unfold.  Each one a leader. Each one a follower.

VII

It is this ‘collective act of individualized seeing’ that results in

  1. purposive behavior in system,
  2. the ‘owning-up’ of responsibility by each individual to a common purpose, and
  3. the ‘agreement’ – tacit – among all that each will do what it takes to make it happen.

 

(Originally written in October 2004)

Precision Knowledge Interventions

How can large-scale shifts in thinking be architected? One of the ways is by specifying the shift in the “knowledge-state” of the collective.

The purpose of Precision Knowledge Interventions

1.0 Precision Knowledge Interventions represent a model for engaging with change in a rigorous, scalable, and measurable manner.

2.0 The basic premise of the Precision Knowledge Intervention approach is that change must be clearly specified if we expect to succeed.

3.0 The word ‘specified’ is distinct and different from the word ‘envisioned’.

4.0 It is now well known that change must be envisioned with, and through, the collective undergoing change. It is also known that when individuals participate in and co-create the vision to be realized, then they are more likely to broadly support the initiative.

5.0 It is also well known that envisioning change and securing broad based buy-in into that change does not guarantee that the change will be sustained, and that people will indeed walk their talk.

6.0 This is where the word specification comes in. It is our experience, that there is an important stage in the change journey which is often ignored by practitioners. This is the stage when a “collective vision” is transmuted into “individualized seeing, within the context of the collective vision.”

This specification now becomes the basis of all enabling actions by the change leadership.

7.0 Put differently, it is assumed that people know how to translate vision into action. Nothing can be further from the truth. Most people are able to comprehend vision, but very few people are able to assimilate vision into their own lives.

8.0 To elaborate, every senior manager in a change-workshop may not only agree with, but also emotionally articulate the value and benefits of a proposed initiative. Yet, the Monday thereafter, when all the facilitators have gone back to their respective workplaces, the same senior manager faces the daunting task of changing the way he or she lives so that the new world is realized.

From Envisioning to realization

9.0 So what does the journey from an envisioned future to a realized future entail?

(i) The journey, first and foremost, involves a state change:

 

(ii) This state change requires a quantum leap in the collective. This quantum leap cannot be limited to the individual and extends to the collective which seeks to create a shared future.

(iii) Further, the quantum leap in the collective requires that a set of diverse Knowledge Enablers need to be put into place simultaneously for change to be realized.

These two aspects of the change journey are explored in subsequent sections.

Mapping the quantum leap – Identifying key milestones on the journey

10.0 What is the nature of this journey from envisioned state to a realized state? The first insight is that there is not one but multiple change journeys taking place concurrently.

These change journeys take place at multiple levels:

(i) the journey of changing identity of key stakeholders as they encounter new roles, new purpose, new capacities and new contribution spaces.

(ii) the journey of external accomplishments as key design, operating, and business milestones are met.

(iii) the journey of transforming relationships, as key hierarchical, cultural, value, and power relationships are irrevocably reordered due to change.

(iv) the journey of increasing meaning and purpose, as the envisioned reality becomes progressively “real” or actualized in people’s lives.

11.0 It is hard to map these journeys and even harder to locate individuals at any one point in time on these journeys.

12.0 It is therefore a futile exercise to control or monitor this change journey effectively – except to celebrate some key milestones and to take action when some things “appear” to be badly going wrong.

13.0 How then to bring rigor to the mapping and modeling of this journey?

14.0 It is here that we introduce the notion of a “knowledge failure”.

We take the view that change is owned by the person making the journey, and the role of the change-leader is to provide critical enablements as the journey progresses.

A “knowledge failure” represents the absence of a critical enablement at the right time, to the right person, and in the right manner, in terms of re-specification.

15.0 This enables us to define the tasks of a Precision Knowledge InterventionTM. It has two functions; it

(i) scans for and diagnoses precisely ‘knowledge failures’ as these occur during the change journey, particularly at the level of the collective.

(ii) offers precision solutions that deal with these knowledge failures, on a sense-respond basis.

Defining the four knowledge enablers

16.0 The four key knowledge enablers used in the Precision Knowledge InterventionTM approach are explored below:

17.0 If individuals in the system

– are not able to create their own individual visions,

– do not have the wherewithal to work upon the relevant enabling competencies,

– remain unsure of what contributions they are going to/ are expected to make,

– and don’t have institutional mechanisms to support their own integrity to vision,

then they are more likely than not, to fail in the change journey.

18.0 Individualized Seeing

Individualized Seeing implies that the envisioned reality must be seen not just in collective terms, but also in terms of each individual stakeholder in the system.

This translation from collective vision to individualized seeing is not a mere translation of the vision in terms of scale, but a wholesale re-specification of the vision from the language of institutional purpose to the language of personal meaning.

The power of individualized “seeing” is explicitated in the following diagram:

The Big Foot: Many individualized “seeings” in the context of one collective vision.

19.0 Enabling Capabilities

Almost always, change means a shift in relevant capacities – and reinterpretation (and re-specification) of what competence and professional practice means.

The important insight is that, in addition to new capacities being added, realizing change also means deep reinterpretation and reorientation of the core practices of the business itself.

In other words, deep, sustainable, change requires wholesale redesign of the very notion of expertise or competence within the business and reorienting individuals accordingly.

20.0 Personal Visibility

It stands to reason that any change in the business vision and concomitant change in one’s personal vision in the future, would threaten our carefully laid out plans for negotiating current organizational maps and relationship structures.

This aspect being closest to each individual in terms of what will happen tomorrow, it is obviously the most stressful and disabling dimension of change.

But for real change to succeed and sustain, every individual in the organization needs to find new spaces of contribution, value creation, and role-signaling in the envisioned future. This involves a fundamental re-specification of personal roles and visibility in the system.

21.0 Engagement Protocols

Engagement Protocols refer to the way people will work with each other in the future to be realized.

These protocols represent shifts in the organization’s operating culture – where do decisions get taken? how are the distances between functional silos to be negotiated? how do key people, product, developmental, and business lifecycles stay protected in a new environment?

It is easy to ask an organization to shift to teaming, responsiveness, collaboration, and empathy, or behave in this manner during the course of a change project. It is an altogether different thing to ensure that people walk this talk on a sustainable basis.

Engagement Protocols imply that a set of ideas such as teaming, responsiveness, collaboration, and trust need to be translated into “mechanisms” which will allow such behavior to flourish and be rewarded in course of time.

These mechanisms protect and enhance the quality of “group outputs” such as business decisions inter-functional relationships, protecting product and business life-cycles etc.

22.0 We have found that the absence of even one of these four Knowledge Enablers could result in an inability within the collective to complete the realization journey from envisioning to realization.

Designing successful Precision Knowledge Interventions

23.0 Designing successful Precision Knowledge Interventions implies

(i) being able to map out where critical enablement may be needed so that potential knowledge failures are anticipated to the extent feasible.

(ii) having an array of precision-transformation interventions and tools that are already tested, and proved, which can be deployed rapidly, and the real-time design capacity to develop new tools for new classes of knowledge failures

(iii) having a sense-respond engagement with the collective, so that potential knowledge failures are identified early, and potential solutions rolled out.

(iv) most important, rescripting change journeys as narratives of adventure and heroism, with the critical enablements being crucial “tools” and “weapons” in the journey to realization.

Diffusing Precision  Knowledge Interventions: Some Criteria

24.0 Clearly the design of Precision Knowledge Interventions is complex:

(i) every one of these knowledge enablers must be “owned” by every individual in terms of day to day realities of the change journey. This means that traditional communication models that may actually hamper change, will have to be replaced by new models involving co-creation and co-emergence of knowledge in communities.

(ii) the Precision Knowledge Intervention encountered by one member of the collective, may be very different from another member of the collective. This implies that Precision Knowledge Interventions represent an array of change enablers that are delivered on a mass customization basis through a large scale business system.

(iii) a Precision Knowledge Intervention must be capable of being deeply contexted into the business, social, and technical practices of the change collective. This requires institutional arrangements to be created within the organization that will allow such deeply contexted Precision Knowledge Interventions to be developed and diffused.

The Value of Precision Knowledge Interventions

25.0 Precision Knowledge Interventions is a new social technology that enables businesses to significantly enhance the possibility of success in a change journey. They are effective because

(i) they enable individuals to dive deeper beyond vision, into the actual specifics of change,

(ii) they support individuals by “being available” rather than “driving change”,

(iii) they ensure that energy is released by a deep reframing of the socio-technical consciousness of individuals in workplaces.

Applying Precision Knowledge Interventions to solve integration challenges

26.0 Can Precision Knowledge Interventions be used to resolve significant integration challenges in large business and social systems?

27.0 The answer is affirmative, when the four key classes of knowledge failures are mapped and the need for the four knowledge enablers established.

(i) Individualized Seeing: The shared vision of a collective need not acknowledge individual aspirations of specific groups. This leads to a “hidden drag” on change as specific groups do not put their full weight behind a change journey.

The act of specifying individualized seeing in the context of collective change forces these differences into the open.

(ii) Enabling Capabilities: When diverse groups integrate (for example from different divisions, different countries, or different educational backgrounds), the critical concern is ensuring that diverse groups benchmark against consistent expectations of quality, execution, behavior, and operational tactics.

This class of knowledge failures needs intervening enablers in terms of appropriate capacities – not to achieve consistency of competence, but to ensure consistency of outcomes across groups.

(iii) Engagement Protocols: The value of engagement protocols in integration is self evident. Indeed, modes of interaction, unless formally mapped and reviewed, can make the daily task of working together stressful and disabling during the integration process.

(iv) Personal Visibility: Finding new contribution and role signaling spaces is one of the most difficult aspects of integration, especially in business settings where work practices often evolve in unique historical patterns.

Thus all four types of knowledge failures reveal themselves in the integration process.

28.0 Precision Knowledge Interventions has been fundamentally designed for enabling individuals in large collectives to realize the journey from vision to realization. However, the same approach could also be used to resolve related change challenges such as integration of diverse groups within a large collective.

 

(Paper originally presented at the Third SOL Global Forum on ‘Bridging the Gulf: Learning across Organizations, Sectors, and Cultures’ organized by the Society of Organizational Learning at Muscat, Oman in April 2008)

Invoking and Sustaining Excellence

How do you invoke excellence in people? One of the ways is through role modeling excellence.

I

In almost every community we have worked with or visited, there has been one common problem, one theme, that has run through all developmental efforts.  The problem of excellence.  A company seeks to introduce Quality Programs, people ask why.  A leader wants her team to learn more and adapt to new technologies, people silently resist it.  A government seeks to lay out an exciting vision of global leadership, people (in their minds!) wonder if it is possible.

II

In other words, people are finding it difficult to relate abstract ‘good ideas’ like excellence, quality, faith, growth, achievement with the day-to-day personal and professional concerns that constitute their lives.

III

On deeper thought, it can be seen that the same issues underlie the problems faced by three distinct groups of people (i) those who are seeking to build superior institutions, (ii) those who are seeking to compete better, or (iii) those who are simply trying to question and challenge the status quo in their individual areas of endeavour.

IV

What is the bridge between excellence and one’s own life? It appears that the bridge cannot be “external motivation” but is “internal motivation”.

V

Put another way, one becomes excellent because one chooses to be excellent. When one chooses to be excellent, the result is an interest in all things associated with excellence.

VI

When do individuals choose excellence in their lives? When they see the relationship between quality of output and significance of life, when they recognize the meaning of performance, and when they come to recognize that learning and growing is an end in itself.

VII

What then is the “trigger” that enables individuals to embark as this cycle of growth and excellence?

VIII

The trigger appears to be an encounter with quality: when individuals come face to face with people or situations or events where the value of great performance, of raw professional competence, of true meaningful effort, becomes obvious to them.  This encounter could be with role models or aspirational figures, with people who are known to have excelled, or even with powerful books or films.  The important thing is the encounter.

But the encounter is not enough.

IX

What is also needed is reflection, (the availability of conceptual models and frameworks of learning that allow these encounters to be truly assimilated)

X

Equally important is the necessity of practice. The opportunity to test and refine ones own understanding withinn the warp and weft of real world action. Put another way, there must be at least one or more “zone of excellence” in one’s life where one is willing to make the choices and sacrifices needed to encounter and realize excellence.

XI

Finally, what is also needed is a group of people who are willing to provide the moorings for the emotional and self-esteem related changes that such a journey involves – the enabling environment.

XII

Putting these four elements together – the encounters, the tools and models for reflection, the opportunities for translating these ideas into action, and the enabling environment of role-models – constitutes the ingredients of excellence in human systems.

XIII

Most important, these four elements – the presence of encounters, the opportunities and models for reflection, the availability of “zone of excellence” and the presence of an enabling psycho-social environment – are seen to be mutually reinforcing if we seek sustainable interest in human excellence from ourselves and our people.

Career Counseling to Career Design

How can we go beyond giving-in to circumstances and following others blindly? How can we find freedom to choose what we want to become?

Career Counseling: What it really implies

Career counseling is often seen to be about helping students join the right universities, selecting the right careers, or undergoing some aptitude/ personality tests.

In reality, career counseling is about freedom. Freedom to choose the right pathway for growth. Freedom to fulfill one’s dreams.  Freedom to be oneself.

This freedom is not easily obtained. To attain this freedom a student has to go far beyond aptitude tests and lists of colleges and universities.

To attain this freedom, a jobseeker has to learn to think for himself or herself. The jobseeker must develop approaches to ‘scan’ the environment, translate day to day ‘events’ and ‘news’ into ‘career trends’ and, perhaps, most important of all, learn to understand the real relationship between oneself and society, which is that of contribution and its resultant self-esteem.

These are very complex, even profound, ideas and comprise a new set of capabilities we call career management capabilities.

The temptation is to pooh-pooh them and say that these ideas are good in theory but not particularly useful in practice. We may be missing something very big here.

What happens if a jobseeker does not attain the cluster of ‘career management capabilities’ described above?

Nothing! Nothing happens to the jobseekers career graph. He or she flounders in one of the ‘conventional’ careers – today, conventional means software & call-centers, yesterday conventional meant sales, accounts, and administration. Within this narrow, almost self defeating world, the jobseeker tries to imitate his or her friends, taking refuge in the crowd.

It is in this context, that every jobseeker must consider the idea of ‘Career Design’.

 

Career Design: Some basics

Career Design attempts to answer the question: How to develop one’s life in such a way that one is fully satisfied with one’s life?

“Career Design” is therefore, a set of systematic methods for developing one’s life choices and paths in such a way as to be fully satisfied and fulfilled at every stage of one’s life.

Is Career Design the same as obtaining a high paying job?  Yes, if the high paying job is important to you because of ‘what you can do’ and not simply ‘what you get’.

Is Career Design the same as ‘networking’, ‘building the right contacts’, ‘making the right moves’? No, because these are useful as ‘toppings’, but the main course is still about what you can do for the world!

Is Career Design the same as ferreting out the ‘right’ jobs, sending out smart resumes, and throwing attitude at hapless interviewers. Yes, if these are seen as steps to accomplishing your objective of a fulfilling career. No, if these are seen as the way out of one’s own mental confusions.

Now that we have a sense of what Career Design is not, let is try to answer the question, ‘What is Career Design and what can it do for my life?’

Career Design is about two fundamental axes of our career: our Aspirations and our Capabilities.

A career focused on Aspirations alone – what I will get, where I will reach, etc. – is an empty career. It is such a career that must depend upon networking, ‘contacts’, presentation skills only, etc. It leads to a certain uni-dimensional evaluation of the world in terms of external measures such as money, status, position, etc.

A career focused on Capabilities alone – what I can do, what talents I have, what ‘I’ am interested in, etc. – is also an empty career. In such a career, there is often an inordinate and self righteous importance given to our own, sometimes very passing, likes and dislikes in terms of what we do. It also leads to a basic impracticality in action because it is so ‘I’ centered.

A truly rewarding career is one in which the apparent dichotomy between Aspirations and Capabilities are resolved into a new framework. Where we are constantly mapping the two in the context of every opportunity.

Sometimes our aspirations will be more than our ‘total capability set’ – thereby forcing us to develop ourselves and our talent.  Sometimes our capabilities will be more than our aspirations – leading us to add more depth into our treatment of the task in front of us and further, demonstrating to our peers and colleagues that we are capable of taking on far more responsibility.

This dynamic between aspirations and capabilities is the essence of ‘Career Design’ and is the basic underpinning for building a career that is fulfilling in ‘external’ terms of money, power, status, etc. and in ‘internal’ terms of exploiting one’s own capabilities, enabling one’s talents to flower, and pursuing a passion meaningfully.

Career Design then involves the dynamic interplay between our own aspirations and capabilities, wherein we are neither slave to our own whims and delusions of extraordinary talents nor are we slave to the world and its simplistic, and often de-humanizing, metrics of success.

Career Design is about being free. Being free to choose one’s pathways and being free to develop at one’s own pace in life.

The Technology of Career Design

Career Design is very obviously more than mere information collection and/ or taking up the first opportunity that looks good to us.  It is also obviously more than waiting endlessly for people to discover the ‘real me’ so that my talent is recognized and rewarded in the world.

Career Design is about the careful interplay of aspirations and capabilities achieved by a set of thinking tools/ tools for self-analysis, introspection, and opportunity selection.

To elaborate: How are one’s own capabilities and aspirations to be unearthed?

This is often easier said than done.  By the time a person has reached the workplace environment, he or she has already undergone numerous life experiences, hundreds of hours of ‘education and training’, and scores of situations wherein he or she has been called upon to make choices and stretch his/ her own capabilities.

To reduce all this vast experience and human learning into a simplistic degree or qualification is a travesty of the human being who has undergone the life this far. (And, to be sure, the more sensitive employers too are very uncomfortable about judging people and their potential for success by their qualifications and degrees alone). Therefore, some means are to be found which will help us map out our own capabilities meaningfully and comprehensively.

At the same time, our own aspirations are themselves complex and difficult to clarify. Sometimes we like a profession (a good example is advertising) more for the external glamour than for our real ability to contribute in that field of work. Sometime we choose the profession, (again, let’s continue with the advertising example) because we are creative, like to be off the beaten track, but do not know how to translate our creativity and passion into a career path that is also rewarding – thereby ending up choosing the obvious examples rather than exploring deeper for true areas of contribution and impact.

Here again, there is a need for a new set of approaches that will unearth and articulate our passions in terms of the world.

This complex interplay of aspirations, and capabilities must further be viewed in the context of what jobs are actually available on the ground.

To most people, the biggest challenge is simply finding an employer willing to pay one money for one’s services. This challenge becomes all the more frightening when one classifies oneself not as unique human being with one’s own dreams and talents, but as a four letter or five letter degree like B.Com. and B.Tech. Because, then, in one stroke one has reduced oneself from a striving human being, to a numb statistic in the employer’s world. This implies that we must find new ways of defining oneself in terms of the world and its use-space for us.

To sum up, Career Design is all about designing a smart solution to your life situation. Not running away from this situation. Not merely struggling and fighting given circumstances with all of one’s might. But intelligently and sensitively weaving one’s way out of this tangle into a new highway of hope.

 

Creating universal cognitive access – The last 12 inches problem

It is a widely known fact that more information does not lead to better understanding and more ‘informed’ action. We now face the new challenge of making sense of all the knowledge available to us at the press of a button.

I

The central challenge facing most knowledge-based institutional systems – education, health, knowledge-driven industries, communications, etc., is the paradigm shift in man’s relationship to knowledge and its use.

For nearly 500 years now, there has been an increasing distribution of knowledge: first in the form of information embodied in newspapers, books, magazines; second, films & television, and finally, internet & mobile-based communications. This 500 year march has been marked by an increasingly intense drive to reduce communication costs, increase reach and lower the cost to user of entertainment and information.

In the past 20 years, with the rapid growth of the internet, the quantum and range of information available to users has gone up dramatically – leading to a new situation unseen in man’s relationship with information before – too much ‘access’ to knowledge.

It is at this juncture, that man faces a new challenge, which he has not encountered meaningfully in his history. The challenge of making sense of it all: the challenge of meaningful utilization of knowledge for productive use – the challenge of assimilating information not at a societal level alone, but also at an individual level.

II

This challenge – the challenge of assimilation – can be called ‘the last 12 inches problem’: the distance between the personal computer screen and the user’s head.

This is the ‘cognitive distance’ between information and understanding which needs to be crossed after crossing the ‘geographical distance’ between creator of knowledge and user of knowledge.

III

This is a new problem.

Man has never faced the problem of use – whether food, clothing, shelter or even primary education. Availability has implied use of these resources.

For example, if food is made available, then it follows that people have the ‘capacity to consume’ it. If clothing is made available, it is taken for granted that people will be able to ‘use’ them.

In fact, these are all physical access goods, wherein, the problem of ‘capacity to use’ is never brought up as an issue in distribution.

At a superficial level, information is perceived as no different from these physical access goods. If there is more information distributed more widely, then it apparently follows that it will be used effectively by receivers of that information.

But study after study, notable among them being the work of Paul Strassman (a leading analyst of the cost-effectiveness of IT Systems) and Richard Saul Wurman (who coined the term Information Anxiety and defined it as the black hole between data and knowledge) have shown this is not necessarily true. More information does not lead to better understanding and more ‘informed’ action.

For example, in the context of communicating information to customers Strassman emphasizes that, “The guiding principle of the approach to designing information work should not be inward-looking but customer-oriented”.*

Wurman asserts that information anxiety is produced by the “over-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It happens when information does not tell us what we want or need to know”.**

IV

Physical access to information, like access to roads, is a necessary ‘physical’ infrastructure that must be laid as a foundation for man’s progress.

But the real challenge before mankind will be in creating universal access to understanding – ‘cognitive access’ – i.e., enabling the common man to fruitfully and meaningfully use information in a manner that will result in tangible improvements in the way he works and the way he lives.

Creating cognitive access is not an easy terrain to cross.

Assimilating information depends upon the users’ ability to understand, the context for the information, and the link between the new information and the existing knowledge base already in the head.

Creating cognitive access is clearly an ‘individual-centric’, ‘difficult to measure’, ‘complex’ concept. It is related to creating the optimal conditions for users to understand and assimilate knowledge easily.

Correspondingly, creating ‘universal’ cognitive access, i.e. creating optimal conditions for the easy and effective use of available knowledge by all those who receive it is the key challenge intrinsic to the goal of creating universal access to knowledge.

V

If we are to be content with allowing each individual to gain cognitive access based only on his or her individual capability, then we are opening the doorway to a problem that has already ravaged this country once, and has the capacity to destroy it again: the ‘understanding divide’ – which creates a ‘knowledge-rich’ ruling class that controls access to the very source of all progress!

Only this time it will not be physical access to information, but access to the benefits of that information.

As more and more information is made available as a result of fiber-optic highways and the widespread availability of communication infrastructure, we will see the contours of the ‘understanding divide’ become clearer.

Those who understand will benefit immensely from the investments we are making in information and its availability. Those who don’t will be left further behind than they were before!

 

(Originally written in 2004)


References:

* Paul A. Straussman [1985], “The Transformation of work in the Electronic Age” [pg.27, 170, 184], Free Press.

** Richard Saul Wurman [1989], “Information Anxiety”, Doubleday [1st edition].

Knowledge society – from ‘access’ to ‘assimilation’

How has society’s relationship with knowledge evolved and transformed over time? What is the nature of the new emerging relationship in the 21st century?

I

The term “knowledge society” is an amorphous idea, meaning many things.

  1. A society where information and ideas are available in quantities and ease of access never seen before in the history of mankind.
  2. A society where the ‘mode of production’ is based on knowledge i.e., mankind’s modes of production have evolved from agricultural to manufacturing/ industry and now to knowledge.
  3. A society where Man’s relationship with knowledge is undergoing a change – from viewing knowledge as a resource for learning about the world, to viewing knowledge as an instrument for engaging with the world differently and finally as an end in itself.

In this paper, we focus on the third dimension of the knowledge society – Man’s evolving or transforming relationship with knowledge – as the foundation for the knowledge society we will see emerging in the 21st Century.

 

 The knowledge society has, thus far, been characterized by six key trends.

  1. The growth in communication technologies such as internet, mobile, and satellite television. These technologies have enabled information to be transmitted cheaply and effectively to all parts of the planet.
  2. The growth in ‘enabling tools and models’ that allow individuals to exploit these possibilities in several ways. These take on the form of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, search mechanisms like Google – a space of continuous rapid innovation especially in the first decade of the 21st Century.
  3. The consequent explosion in knowledge co-creation in society, i.e., millions of users are creating content (comprising their own ideas, thoughts, and opinions), with instant distribution capacity – through their membership of social networking sites, blogs, and putting up their own content for the world to see. This knowledge co-creation is allowing the emergence of multiple new thought streams – lending legitimacy and a new global peer community, to political, social, and personal concerns of all kinds.
  4. The development of knowledge-based workplaces which has meant
    (i) availability and use of better information for improved decision making
    (ii) the need for almost everybody to become a knowledge worker of one kind or the other, (iii) the development of efficiency tools for management of enterprises, (iv) the development of knowledge enabled services such as customer support helplines both within and outside the organization.
  5. The transformation of value in traditional devices, by introducing automation, communication and ‘intelligence’ into these devices. This has resulted in enhanced responsiveness, connectivity and ‘value to user’ of these devices.
  6. The emergence of IT-enabled educational models such as (i) the availability of world-class content from top universities, (ii) the availability of content at low cost due to the use of digital formats, (iii) the possibility of new rich educational content, etc.

All these point to three fundamental shifts for society:

1. The knowledge-ization of work reveals itself at three levels:

2. The growth in ‘knowledge participation’ in society reveals itself as:

3. The evolution in educational models in society is revealing itself at three levels:

The Journey of the Knowledge Society thus far – 

II

What we have described thus far is the “access revolution” – access to information and knowledge that gradually transforms: how people work, take decisions, and interact with each other, and so on. These shifts are themselves breathtaking in their scope and impact.

But there is a second, deeper, and more profound aspect of the knowledge revolution that is slowly unfolding in the world. This aspect refers not to the availability and use of information and ideas, but instead refers to how people are assimilating these ideas and thereby transforming their vision of life, their notions of purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and contribution.

These two areas of evolution of the knowledge society will be better understood when we consider the following model, which Swami Ranganathananda proposed about 40 years back:

In the light of this model, we can classify knowledge into types – functional knowledge and being-level knowledge.

Knowledge when connected to the function dimension of the personality is perceived and interpreted in the context of an external or objective reality. It takes on the form of data, information, and analysis, and may be called functional knowledge.

Knowledge when connected with the being dimension of the personality takes on the form of individual vision, meaning, purpose, fulfillment. It can be called being-level knowledge.

These two types of knowledge – function-level knowledge and being-level knowledge have, in previous centuries, been distinct and unconnected. The West has been relentlessly focused on the access, comprehension, and use of functional knowledge, while the East has been largely focused on the inner transformation and development of being-level knowledge.

This is about to change.

 

III

As the knowledge society unfolds, we are beginning to see a new vision of knowledge – built around a harmonious integration between functional knowledge and being-level knowledge.

This harmonious integration is a product of assimilation of ideas. Indeed, Swami Vivekananda set the frame for this synthesis when he said that:

Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making, assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library. If education is identical with information, the libraries are the greatest sages in the world, and encyclopedias are the Rishis.

It is this vision that has silently begun to unfold in society.

The first manifestation of this vision is a growing recognition that access to knowledge must be accompanied by three critical and concomitant changes:

(i)  A shift in the way individuals think and learn

(ii) An appreciation of the purposes and goals to which this knowledge is applied

(iii) A shift in the Man’s engagement with work

A shift in the way people think and learn

For long it has been assumed that the only way to deal with information and knowledge is by collecting, collating, analyzing and deriving insights from knowledge. This has led to an empirical/ experimental view of knowledge deriving from the days of Francis Bacon and other Enlightenment Thinkers.

Organizations and individuals have now begun to recognize that unlimited access to knowledge does not necessarily help them think better, or find solutions to the challenges they face, or even more important, find meaning or purpose in whatever they do.

Thus, in the past few years, altogether new ways of thinking and working with knowledge have begun to emerge. These methods, currently classified as design thinking, solution thinking, etc., do not begin with functional knowledge (i.e., data & information), but instead with being-level knowledge – i.e., what purpose do I seek to accomplish in my life or what contribution I seek to make. The function-level knowledge that helps me organize, synthesize, and “construct” answers or approaches that serve my being-level requirements follow.

This shift in primacy from function-level knowledge to being-level knowledge is resulting in altogether new ways of dealing with available knowledge in the world.

A shift in “quality” of the purposes to which knowledge is applied

As individuals and organizations begin to take empirical and “function-level” knowledge for granted, and shift their focus to “being-level” knowledge, a second related shift has begun to take place.

Individuals and organizations have begun questioning the quality of purposes they seek. For example, Is the purpose of a corporation merely to maximize profits for shareholders or is it also to make a positive impact on the society and communities in which it operates? At an individual level, the question could be – What is the true purpose of my career – is it to achieve a high position in a corporation or is it to make a significant contribution to the world in and through my career?

This self-questioning and self-review of “quality of purpose” has led to ideas and movements such as conscious capitalism, higher ambition, shared value, good business, etc. all of which are leading to the development of citizen corporations or enlightened citizens who are concerned about expanding themselves beyond narrow self-interest to enlightened self-interest.

A shift in the way we do work

The search or seeking of a higher purpose for work has led also to a simultaneous need for a means to realize this desire.

Knowledge work is unique in this regard. Most forms of physical and industrial work, seek in society to create a division between the worker and the object of work. Knowledge work is unique in that it demands engagement from the knowledge worker. Put differently, a knowledge worker, in order to write a report or develop a solution to a problem must necessarily become engaged and involved in the work – and cannot (like auto factory workers) be largely disconnected or alienated from the work at hand. This “engagement” between the knowledge workers and knowledge work has a second deeper dimension – i.e. it is reflexive in nature. The quality and type of knowledge work impacts the thought process, emotions, and “state” of the knowledge worker and vice versa.

Furthermore the deeper the knowledge work, the more it develops the faculty of concentration (which Swami Vivekananda held as central to all forms of learning) and more it awakens the individual’s reflexive capacities.

Thus, knowledge work – well done – can deeply integrate learning & doing at the functional level and at the same time, can create the conditions for deeper orders of engagement both with oneself and the work at hand.

Redefining knowledge in society

These three aspects set the stage for a fourth, and perhaps more fundamental change that is in its embryonic stages in society – the shift in the meaning of knowledge itself in society.

A few decades ago, knowledge or knowing was associated with memory and knowledge of facts.

As facts and information have become commoditized in society, knowledge or knowing become more associated with the faculty of handling knowledge effectively (collecting, collating, organizing, analyzing, critical assessment, etc.)

But in recent years, it is being recognized that the functional capacity to handle knowledge does not in any way help us answer the being-level questions of purpose, meaning, fulfillment, etc. that are reshaping the way people think.

Thus, quality of the individual’s being seems to have a direct relationship to the quality of purpose of that individual, and his/ her willingness to leverage knowledge in the service of that purpose. In that, knowledge or knowing is slowly being recognized as related to “being and becoming” of an individual and not mastery of facts or even the knowledge processing faculty of the individuals.

All these ideas were, of course, well-known in the Eastern spiritual traditions , but are now entering the mainstream through the assimilation of knowledge and the development of the knowledge society.

Conclusion

These four trends together may be seen as the deeper “spiral of assimilation” that has begun to unfold in society – a spiral that will grow in strength and intensity, leading to a knowledge society that not only works with knowledge outside, but also with knowledge within.

This is the future direction in which knowledge society is likely to unfold.

 

(Originally written for the book ‘Swami Vivekananda’s Vision of Future Society’ under the title ‘Knowledge society – directions for the future’, published by the Institute of Culture, Kolkata, February 2014)

Knowledge for enablement – the birth of a practice

How can the information explosion lead to improved human capacities? How can people be enabled to respond to increasing change with the knowledge now available? How can we secure the evolution of human systems in the age of knowledge?

PREAMBLE

1.0Over the past 500 years the availability and quantity of knowledge produced in human society has increased dramatically.  This prompted Carlos Fuentes, the Nobel Prize winning South American author to comment that “the greatest challenge facing modern civilization is the structuring of available knowledge”

2.0The rate of change of creation of knowledge has also increased dramatically. Wharton professor Bruce Merrifield reports that 90% of the world’s codified information has been produced since 1960. This is staggering.

3.0Simultaneously, the scientific and technical possibilities that allow this knowledge to be commercially exploited have gone up exponentially – though very clearly lagging the growth in availability and the increase in the rate of change in creation of knowledge.

4.0This “Transformation of Possibilities” for Knowledge can be perceived in two distinct areas:

–     One, the growth of computing has meant the application of knowledge in different areas ranging from an ordinary schoolchild’s project work, (which due to the Internet has become a sophisticated knowledge seeking activity), to the ratio of information-workers to workers in the services, industrial, and agricultural sectors (from less than 15% of total work force to more than 60% of total workforce).

–     Two, the growth of communications technology has meant that the use of ‘ transient knowledge’ in society has increased dramatically – in terms of e-mails which are stored on machines, SMS messages which are sent, stored, and/or deleted on mobile phones, data “crunched” in corporations being stored either in data form or as analytical reports. This use of transient knowledge has meant new possibilities for the sharing of thoughts, the cultivation of relationships, the management of work, etc. which were hitherto carried out in the form of oral/personal interactions and communications.

5.0This, in short, describes a world exploding in the quantities of knowledge being produced, being codified, being shared, and also being used. A world in which “knowledge” in its infinite variants and forms has extended the notion of human communication and human possibilities.

6.0The contours of this new world, has taken the best part of 50 years in the making, from the advent of solid state computers for commercial use in 1960 to the present day when the terms “computer programming”, “knowledge management”, and “information overload” appear as part of the intellectual toolkit of a young engineer or technologist; and words like “computer”, “cyber café”, and “SMS” are part of the use-vocabulary of most urban and semi-urban youth with access to education.

7.0The central question, after this half century of growth is “Have these new words and vocabularies really meant a change in the way we work and the way we live?”

The answers are not easy to find. At the obvious level of human access and use of communications and knowledge there are no doubts about the answer.

The questions become more specific when we ask:

  • “Has this evolution meant an increase in human learning?”
  • “Has this growth in knowledge meant a transformation in practice?”
  • “Has this growth meant a fundamental shift in society’s evolutionary dynamic that involves learning to doing and to learning again?

It is while answering these questions that the contours of the new challenges facing us become clear.

Has access to knowledge meant an increase in human learning?

8.0Mankind’s ability to create rich symbolic representations of the world has increased, but this improved ability to “map out process flows” and interactions” for the purpose of programming has not filtered back into the way we write and think in our schools and colleges.

9.0Mankind’s ability to “configure commands” on computers has not meant a corresponding increase in his capacity to “configure new solutions” to the challenges faced in society. The responses to challenges faced by leaders have continued to remain embedded in the habits and imperatives from across the ages.

10.0Mankind’s ability to represent knowledge through “interfaces” and “taxonomies” has not yielded a new logic for communicating to people in ways that enable them to understand freshly and act in ways they would not have imagined before.

11.0In other words, the advancements in “thinking technologies” such as abstractions of concepts, configurations of solutions, and “representations of knowledge”, which have yielded vast new machines and networks, have remained the promise of a few people.

12.0The western world, with its enormous production and marketing capabilities, has mass produced knowledge, but has not mass produced the “thinking methods” that made such progress possible.

13.0Thinking, and therefore the quality of our cultural, emotional, and day to day problem-solving thought remains encrusted in a previous age, without reference to the quantity of new raw material available at its command.

14.0Consequently, society’s capacity to assimilate new ideas, manipulate them for his own benefit, and progress – not as a knowledge worker, but as a human being, remains where it was before the “information technology revolution”.

Has this growth in knowledge meant a transformation in practice?

15.0A study by Paul Strassman showed that the speed of simple arithmetic has improved by 65% using a programmable calculator. Similarly the average time needed to deliver a budget proposal in the offices studied by Strassman was found to come down by 36% (from an average of 34 days to an average of 22 days). This improvement primarily was due to the efficiency improvements in drafting on a computer, typing, editing and distribution of the reports and drafts.

16.0However, there were no tangible improvements found in the study, in the effectiveness of knowledge work done. The quality of “presentation” had improved but the quality of thought applied were found by the experts to be the same, or perhaps worse (due to the new emphasis on speed and the complacency deriving from better “look and feel” of the reports).

17.0This “crisis of effectiveness” is shrouded by the fact that the cost of computing and access to data has been falling dramatically over these years.  It is now widely recognized that the real cost of doing is the cost of people and not the cost of computing infrastructure.

18.0Nowhere is this “crisis of effectiveness” more apparent as in mankind’s ability to do the “right things” instead of “more things”.  Information and its availability has only meant that we work and rework more data. (A KPMG survey found that an average Fortune 1000 company spends an average of $12,500 per annum per employee on reworking information already worked on by others. An IDC study estimates losses in Fortune 500 companies due to information rework to be more than $31.5 billion a year).

19.0The “crisis of effectiveness” is most felt by those who are the new “professionals of knowledge” – software engineers, content creators, database producers, credit analysts, sales people selling on the basis of superior access to knowledge and so on. These professionals are proficient in the use of new knowledge tools but often ineffective in their capacity to use these tools, most tellingly in the context of their own work.

20.0In short, proficient use of the tools of knowledge and unlimited access to knowledge itself does not automatically lead to an improvement in the effectiveness of work done by individuals or in the quality of their contribution to the worlds they live in.

Has this growth meant a fundamental shift in society’s evolutionary dynamic?

21.0The central challenge of the knowledge age appears, however, to go far beyond the lack of democratization of new methods of thought and the poor effectiveness of knowledge-based work, in spite of, or because of the efficiencies in knowledge access.

22.0This challenge may be described as follows: how to put into place the ‘link’ the ‘transformation function’, between learning and doing, and between doing and learning. i.e. our ability to assimilate knowledge such that we work better; and our ability to work such that we evolve and grow as human beings. We appear to have all the ingredients of a great meal but seem to have lost the recipe book for cooking and eating the meal.

23.0This dynamic between learning and doing is not something we want simply because there is knowledge and we could use it better.  It is something we need, because if men and institutions do not adapt in the present age, they face the prospect of severe economic and personal costs.

24.0The very forces – computing, communication, codification of knowledge, etc. which created the vast funds of raw material for human thinking and doing, have also created an environment which demands much more from human beings (complex variety in the availability of goods, new demands on the capabilities needed to act effectively, the complex environment in terms of changing boundaries of markets, customers, production lines, boundaries of firm etc.)

25.0In simple terms, we have the inputs for new thought and action; we also has the environment which demands such thought and action, but we don’t yet know how to think differently and act differently so that the cycle of change is completed.  He is in short, facing the enablement challenge.

The Challenge of Enablement

26.0The challenge of enablement through knowledge – how to use available knowledge in order to respond effectively to the challenges facing man, is not a trivial challenge.

  1. The forms of knowledge available to man are new and many. We have gone beyond the comfortable world of books and newspapers to numerous forms of online and offline communications including chat-rooms, discussion boards, “blogs” and other forms of websites.
  2. The challenges man faces have also multiplied over the past century – not just food, health, housing, transport – but also new challenges to communities from the environment, challenges to organization from globalization & competitive market places, etc.
  3. The complexity of scientific and technological thought has meant that the domains of practice where challenges such as these were to have been met effectively have also begun to undergo, one after another, crises of identity.  A single domain like physics or even mechanical engineering or biology cannot take the entire responsibility for the solution to problems whether in a narrow technical sphere or in a larger knowledge sphere.
  4. Most important, the individuals who ultimately have to engage with these challenges will need to have the sense of ownership for the collective, the sense of responsibility to their communities, and the “capacity to respond” not just at an intellectual level but also at the level of “living responses” to the challenges they face.

In short, the challenge of the knowledge age is not a problem of too much information or too many challenges, it is a human problem.  How can people be enabled such that they can respond successfully to the new age?

 

(Originally written in 2003)

Industry-academia interaction (old)

First published by IIT-Dhanbad as seminar proceedings in their college magazine, 2017

First published by IIT-Dhanbad as seminar proceedings in their college magazine, 2017

 

The benefits of industry-academia interaction are well-known. The challenge we face is how to make it happen – consistently, sustainably, and effectively.

The first is to acknowledge that industry and academia live in two different contexts.

The context of individuals working in industry is the day to day operational and tactical challenges they face while conducting their business. In the longer run, they face evolving markets, new technologies, demands from shareholders, and changes in government policies.

On the other hand, the context of an individual living in academia is the demands of teaching, creating new “knowledge products” like research papers and textbooks, managing within the institutional rhythm of exams, projects, submissions, etc.

In the Indian context, a further, important challenge is how to push students to dive deep and go beyond the superficial “exam quality” thinking that dominates many institutions.

There are many solutions already being used, which include consulting by academics, real-world projects by students, various conferences and forums where both academia & industry people attend, inviting industry experts to academic institutions, and, of course, sponsored projects.

But the main challenge we face in all these different approaches is that they are often person-dependent or limited to specific collaborations without sustained and mutually productive engagements on either side.

Successful industry-academia interactions appear to follow a “ladder of engagement”. As the quality of engagement increases, the collaboration between industry & academia becomes more rich, more fruitful, and more sustainable.

The first step of this ladder of engagement is mutual exposure to the socio-technical challenges faced on both sides. This means an effort at articulating not just the technical but the socio-technical challenges faced both in the industrial world and the academic world. This includes exposure to implementation issues, issues of adoption, people issues, and of course issues in the state of practice/ methods, and technologies available, etc. The greater the exposure, the sharper the contribution and mutual help that can be given by academia and industry to each other.

At the next level is the need for an appreciation of possibilities. Successful partnerships account for both academics and industry managers to jointly explore new types of solution possibilities, possibilities for reducing costs and increasing value creation, new ways to achieve adoption and skill building, etc. To generate these possibilities, exposure to challenges (the previous step in the ladder) is a prerequisite.

As a clearer vision of possibilities emerges, it becomes necessary to shift focus to “protocols of engagement”. How do both industry and academia work together in a way where they respect each other’s time constraints (industry is always chasing yesterday’s targets while academia has to respect the academic rhythm and competing priorities of students), and also respect the space that academics need without being pushed, and the multiple demands on energy & time that managers need to constantly cope with.

Furthermore, there is need to respect the shared vision that drives the collaborations. The need to create value for all stakeholders if the collaboration is to be successful. A lack of respect for value creation for all stakeholders and too much focus on the “letter” of the contract can negatively impact the possibility of long-term collaborations.

As a partnership matures – both sides climb to the next and highest stage of engagement where they work together on shared outcomes. This is the stage where trust and mutual respect has reached a level where breakthrough ideas, a healthy dynamic of reflection and practice, and the harnessing of the creative capabilities and experiences of multiple participants – students, faculty, managers, technical experts, etc. – can lead to co-evolution of knowledge and true partnership between industry and academia.

The key to creating sustainable and effective partnership is not chasing more projects or more funds, but is instead nurturing a steady climb on the ladder of engagement by both industry and academic participants.