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.


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)

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?


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 – 


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.



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.


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)

Invoking and Sustaining Excellence (old)

1.0 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.

2.0 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.

3.0 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.

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

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

6.0 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.

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

8.0 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.

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

10.0 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.

11.0 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.

12.0 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.

13.0 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.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ –An Introduction

The need for Enabling Knowledge

With the advent of the internet and the increased use of information technologies, it has been found, that there is a dramatic increase in the quantity and variety of information that is available to professionals operating in various Communities of Practice.

Communities of Practice (henceforward referred to as CoP), comprise of any group of people who are engaged in a similar set of activities either consciously or unconsciously. CoPs can include professional communities like lawyers, doctors, etc., as also organizational communities such as a sales force, call-center executives, corporate finance professionals, etc.1

However, it is found that this increase in the quantity of information available, does not necessarily mean that the quality of decision-making and learning in the CoP improves correspondingly. This phenomenon is referred to as ‘Absorptive Capacity’. ‘Absorptive Capacity’ impacts the ability of members of a CoP to recognize the value of new external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends. Thus the premise of the notion of ‘Absorptive Capacity’ is that an organization (or CoP) needs prior related knowledge to assimilate and use new knowledge.2

What is Enabling Knowledge?

‘Enabling Knowledge’ refers to the prior related knowledge of a CoP that enables the members of the community to improve or enhance their absorption of new knowledge in relation to the changing circumstances. The criticality of ‘Enabling Knowledge’ cannot be over emphasized. Its relationship to existing forms of knowledge may be understood through the concept of the “Ladder of Business Intelligence”, in which the bottom rung is disparate data sources or facts; Data are organized facts; Information is organized data; Knowledge is organized information; and Understanding is organized knowledge; this Understanding leading to creative thinking in individuals.6 ‘Enabling Knowledge’ is at the level of “Understanding”, within this “Ladder of Business Intelligence”.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ derives from multiple sources within an organization.

A part of ‘Enabling Knowledge’ refers to the intermediary practices in a CoP, which previously depended wholly on human relationships and judgment, but has now become increasingly open to codification and mechanization9.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the current state of accepted truths, scientific knowledge, and assumptions, used by the community in order to understand and appreciate new theories and knowledge being encountered by the community, these being called the paradigms of the community5.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the high level business design of the organization or community, which refers to the way the members of the community work with each other and stipulates the outcomes that are owed by one another, and to the customer. It does not show ‘who reports to whom’ as organization charts do, nor does it codify the ‘flow of work’ as do process maps. The high level business design originates in the firm’s ‘reason for being’ and the stated purpose that the system exists to achieve.4

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the embedded knowledge also called ‘tacit knowledge’7

Need for a formal approach to Enabling Knowledge

The value of a formal approach is that practitioners can

(i) make explicit and organized, the ‘Enabling Knowledge’ of a Community of Practice, which at present is available in disparate locations and in disparate forms (tacit and explicit i.e. both in formal documents and as accepted but non-codified ways of thinking about and arriving at various outputs in the Community of Practice)

(ii) specify the ‘Enabling Knowledge’ of a Community of Practice, so that the Community of Practice is able to effectively use such knowledge for (a) development of new members of the Community of Practice (b) use the specification to track and assimilate new knowledge effectively (c) use such elements of the specification so as to improve the quality of information use and decision-making by various members of the Community of Practice.


1. Brown.J.S. and Duguid.P. (2000); The Social Life of Information; Harvard Business School Press (pages 141, 142-143; 125-127).

2. Cross.R. and Israelit.S. (2000, 2001); Strategic Learning in a Knowledge Economy; Butterworth Heinemann (pages 39-41).

3. Despres.C. and Chauvel.D. (2000, 2001); A Thematic Analysis of the Thinking in Knowledge Management – Knowledge Horizons; Butterworth Heinemann.

4. Haeckel, Stephan H. Adaptive Enterprise Creating and Leading Sense-and-Respond Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

5. Kuhn.T.S.(1962, 1970); The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; The University of Chicago Press (pages 43-51)

6. Mckenna.R. (2002); Total Access; Harvard Business School Press (page 158)

7. Myers.P.S. (1996, 2001); Knowledge Management and Organizational Design; Butterworth; Heinemann.

8. Snowden.D. (2000, 2001); The Social Ecology of Knowledge Management – Knowledge Horizons; Butterworth Heinemann.

9. Wilhelm.W.J. and Downing.J.D. (2001); Information Markets – What Businesses Can Learn from Financial Innovation; Harvard Business School Press (preface page. ix)

10. Geus, Arie De. The Living Company, Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1999.

Education as the development of Human Fulfillment

1.0   The purpose of education is to enable human beings to be fulfilled themselves, and to invest in them the capacity to help others around them find fulfillment.

2.0   This can be accomplished only if we understand what the dimensions of the challenges are.

3.0   This challenge may be described in a four-stage Journey.

Stage 1: Fulfillment at the level of personal welfare

In this stage, man seeks to achieve his own personal welfare. The very seeking of “personal” welfare implies that he sees himself as a psycho-social creature primarily, with intellectual capacities in the service of acquisition of psycho-social benefits.

Further, he may at this stage view himself as within the broad control of a Creator/ Intelligent Universe and may seek to be in harmony with that larger Good while pursuing his personal welfare.

Stage 2: Fulfillment at the level of knowledge

In this stage man seeks to understand what lies beneath the evanescent behavior of life.  This “seeking to understand” becomes man’s search for greater and deeper perception of reality.  Through this perception, he hopes to find his true identity and relationship with the universe.

In this journey, he gradually recognizes that the existing order of things are “not quite what they appear”. First he sees that beneath “matter” lies a deeper order of “knowledge/ models that drive matter”. Beneath models that drive reality lies an even deeper order of spiritual ideas that give birth to these models and organize themselves in multiple ways to “manifest as reality”.

As this journey comes to a close, the true order of reality manifests itself wholly to the seeker.

Stage 3: Fulfillment at the stage of “living”

As the assimilation of knowledge becomes complete, man begins to discover for himself that the product of education is not knowledge but the “science of engagement” – engagement with life, engagement with matter, engagement with other human beings, and engagement with one’s own desires and values.

As the human being comes face to face with this “science of engagement”, he becomes as it were, capable of a state of continuous education or evolution. At this point of time, he or she is no longer “seeking” knowledge or attempting to “apply” knowledge. He or she is now capable of engaging through knowledge with himself, society, and other dimensions of an ever complex universe. In this state, there is no distinction between education and the human being.

Stage 4: Fulfillment at the level Enablement

As one lives in the ideal, one also seeks to enable others to live in the ideal. One lives by the maxim of “be and make”.

In this state one does not “calculate” knowledge in terms of a distinct quantity. One has transcended knowledge and now sees it as a “living quality” to be lived oneself and transmitted to those around by one’s action and character.

4.0   This transition of a human being from Levels 1 to 4 is the purpose of secular education.

A society which masters an education that accomplishes this transition on a “mass basis” will be a society that will also destroy the bondages of both poverty at one end, and incapacity to enjoy wealth effectively at the other.

Beyond Physical Infrastructure – The challenge of creating universal cognitive access [OLD]


This essay puts forward the thesis that the central challenge in the knowledge age is not universal physical access to information but universal cognitive access to knowledge.This essay puts forward the thesis that the central challenge in the knowledge age is not universal physical access to information but universal cognitive access to knowledge.

1.0  After 500 years of information distribution: the next challenge…
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.

2.0  For nearly 500 years now, there has been an increasing distribution of knowledge (in the form of information embodied in newspapers, books, magazines, and in the 20th century – films and television and, of course, the Internet and computer 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.

3.0  In the past decade, particularly since the rapid growth of the www, the quantum and range of information available to users has gone up dramatically – leading to a new situation unseen before in man’s relationship with information – 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 that information not at a societal level alone but also at an individual level.

4.0  This challenge – the challenge of assimilation can be called the last 12 inches problem.  The distance between the PC 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.

5.0  The limits of physical access to information…
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.  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.

6.0  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, some notable work being that 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.

7.0  Ensuring cognitive access: why it is critical to our future…
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 – 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.

8.0  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.

9.0  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 control 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.