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)

From teaching to enabling assimilation

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


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.


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? 


 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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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)

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.

From Ideas to Ideals – The Citizen-SBI Intervention

First published by the International School of Business (ISB) Hyderabad in the seminar proceedings of “Igniting the genius within”, October 2009.

First published by the International School of Business (ISB) Hyderabad in the seminar proceedings of “Igniting the genius within”, October 2009.



State Bank of India has undertaken a massive “human transformation exercise” – perhaps the largest of its kind – across its 200,000 employees.

The basis of this exercise is a recognition that individuals can and do operate from multiple states of mind such as a “victimized and powerless state of mind”, a “rule and process-driven state of mind” or a “positive and contributive state of mind”.

The goal of the intervention is to enable State Bankers as a community to live in and practice a positive, self-enabling, and other-enabling state of mind. This state of mind leads to enhanced personal and team effectiveness, ability to find solutions where others see problems, and creates the urge to be a better human being – both in the workplace and in one’s personal life.

This is where ideas alone cease to have the ‘power to change’. What is needed is the transmission of a new ideal of living that speaks to the heart and mind of an institutional collective.

How this is being done is the Citizen-SBI Story.


In September 2007, State Bank of India launched an envisioning exercise that spanned more than 1000 State Bankers across levels of hierarchy, across functional roles, and across various geographies in the country.

The purpose: identify the underlying value structure of State Bank of India, map out the deepest aspirations of its employees, and chart out a roadmap for renewal of its own two-century old identity as India’s largest bank and one of the largest employers in India’s public and private sectors.

Over the next 7 months, the picture that emerged from the study involving scores of envisioning workshops, one-one meetings, design sessions, and indepth interviews – was powerful: State Bank of India is both unique and universal, at the same time! Unique because of its size, scale, complexity as the largest financial institution in India; Universal because the values that  its 200,000 employees seek to live by represent a microcosm of Indian society in transition.

The story of SBI is about social values seeking to find equilibrium with modern commercial and business imperatives of a globalizing marketplace.

The story of SBI is also about deep-rooted mental models in conflict with the pressures of market share and customer responsiveness.

The story of SBI is, most important, about individuals seeking to find reconciliation between their own search for personal meaning with the deadening impact of organizational process.

The challenge before SBI and Illumine, the consultants who carried out the envisioning exercise, was: How to create/ discover a “living equilibrium space” where these dichotomies are fruitfully resolved?

The answer was not a set of concepts or ideas, nor was it a set of recommendations emerging from an external consultant group. The vision that emerged from the SBI collective was a target “state of living” that State Bankers sought. This “state of living” harmonizes meaning, purpose, and effectiveness, both at an institutional level and individual level.


What is a target “state of living”?

First and foremost a target “state of living” is largely non-verbal, and intuitive – a state is to be perceived and lived in, nor articulated and analyzed. Thus, the description of such a “state of living” comes from tacit (and often commonly held) knowledge of how role model individuals act and behave. (As an aside, an organization which powerfully role models individuals who seek only external effectiveness without inner fulfilment is likely to institutionalize disharmony in its people).

Second, the target “state of living” does not seek to condemn or praise individuals in their current “state of living” – it only provides a shared goal of “how to be and how to act”. To that extent, it is enabling, non-threatening, and capable of being inspiring more that being demanding in its impact.

Third, the target “state of living” inspires practice and experience – not words and analysis. Any conversation on values and ethics can lead to controversies and “theoretical vs. practical”, “should vs. could”, and “words vs. actions”. On the other hand, a conversation, if any, around “state of living” quickly leads to the question of how to practice and experience (anubhav) that “state of living”


This “state of living” we call an ideal. An ideal is a synthesis of a number of ideas as lived and practiced by individuals in a collective.

It is our experience that ideas and concepts prove to be deeply ineffective until and unless they are embodied in an ideal. When embodied in an ideal – the ideas take on a form and context that allows them to become “real” and “personally significant” to the individuals.

Why are ideals more effective than ideas in a change context?

  • Life requires us to reconcile and synthesize often conflicting ideas such as freedom and structure, boundaries and expansion, etc. An ideal allows us to find the equilibrium-spaces where these ideas are reconciled in practice.
  • Secondly, ideas can be endlessly explained, on the other hand, ideals demand commitment and choice. From the viewpoint of change, this commitment in central to success.
  • Third, ideals are necessarily centered around individuals – keeps the being and becoming of the individual as the basis for existence. Ideas on the other hand, can be centered around one of many dimensions at multiple levels of abstraction.
  • Fourth, and most important, ideas are assimilated through long periods of study and reflection; ideals can be assimilated faster by practice and imitation of role models.

Thus, ideals are far more effective as change enablers than mere ideas and their dissemination.


Ideals are of two kinds – personal and personal-impersonal.

  1. By personal we mean a specific individual- who embodies within himself or herself a cluster of ideas. For example, the concepts of satyagraha and self reliance were embodied in Mahatma Gandhi. In the Indian tradition, concepts of devotion and infinite courage are embedded in the ideal called Hanuman or Mahavira; the concepts of discipleship and personal competence are embodied in the ideal of Arjuna, and so on.
    In India, personal ideals have always been extremely powerful. However, they suffer from a phenomenon we call “idolization of an ideal”. In the process of idolization – a role model slowly ceases to inspire others to act. And instead becomes a solitary object of worship. The distance between the ideal and day to day life becomes a gulf that can be crossed only by blind devotion rather than conscious practice. Idolization, especially in the modern organizational context is dangerous because the gap between precept and practice goes on widening instead of narrowing.
  2. There is a second kind of ideal – the personal-impersonal ideal. This kind of ideal is not frozen or captured wholly in narratives, visual forms, and arguments. Instead, the ideal is kept open as a “state of living” that is practiced and interpreted in many different ways, thereby leading to great diversity in interpretation and multiple role-models using different strategies for realization of that ideal.
    Examples of such a personal-impersonal ideal include the “Brahminical Ideal” in ancient India, the “Samurai Ideal” in Japan, “the heroic ideal” in “scientific endeavors” manifest in lives like Pierre and Marie Curie, the “Bodhisattva Ideal” in the Buddhist tradition, etc.
    Each of these ideals was flexible and evolved for extended periods of time. It is true that some of them have become redundant in the past couple of centuries – but that merely points to the need for constant reinterpretation, constant reassessment, and most important, constant active practice by a diversity of role models within the collective – at any point in time.


State Bank of India needs such a powerful personal-impersonal ideal that meets the aspirations of not just its 200,000 employees but also, in some parts, the aspirations of 140 million customers across the country.

At this scale, the ideal that will inspire and engage individuals has to be one which has deep philosophical and spiritual foundations on one hand, and which allows for tremendous interpretability at the level of personal roles and shared collective identities.

The philosophical and spiritual foundation was discovered in the writings and talks given by Revered Swami Ranganathananda, who was the President and spiritual head of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, worldwide from 1998-2005.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Swami Ranganathananda had given a series of talks on “enlightened citizenship”. He spoke of enlightened citizenship as a “state of living” where our inner being flows into our functional roles thereby transforming the quality and motivations of work – and leading us beyond narrow self interest and transactional success to a larger enlightened self interest and deeper fulfilment in life.

Enlightened Citizenship speaks of an intermediate state between man’s relationship (often empty) with external rewards alone and a final relationship (rich, but inaccessible to most) with the Divine. In between these two stages, lies a stage of comprehensive fulfilment – inner fulfilment and outer fulfilment – which is the target “state of living” for most individuals, particularly in the Indian context.


Keeping this philosophical and spiritual framework as the basis, the Citizen SBI Ideal has been formulated as follows:

This ideal is embodied in a “state of living” we call the Citizen State of Mind. This is the impersonal view of the ideal.

The personal view of the Citizen SBI Ideal is an individual – joyful, free, and capable of responding effectively to life’s challenges.

In the SBI context, this is embodied in the symbol:


In May 2009, State Bank of India with the help of Illumine – the designers of this change journey, embarked on a 24 month journey that will help State Bankers practice and realize this Citizen state of mind – both at an individual level, and at a collective level.

This journey is organized into four critical interventions. The interventions are architected towards enabling the shift from ‘employee to citizen’ at a personal and institutional level – simultaneously.

Intervention One: The Citizenship Orientation Program:focused on invoking the citizenship ideal within each individual and enabling each one to develop the strategy to climb the ladder towards citizenship in the warp and weft of his/her day-to-day work. This intervention puts in place the seed crystal for human transformation in the bank.

Intervention Two: The Customer Fulfilment Program – focused on changing the way the customer-facing units engage with customers, in order to deliver fulfilment to them. This will be achieved by building ‘solutioning’ capabilities and transforming branch managers into ‘change leaders’.

Intervention Three: The Market Engagement Programfocused on investing into ‘connecting with customers’ in the spirit of ‘contribution and enlightened self interest’.  This will be done by creating a ‘comprehensive market engagement approach’ for building deep-rooted relationships with local communities and sharing successful models with other regions.

Intervention Four: The Senior Management Citizenship Vision Programfocused on envisioning an enabling environment so that the change brought about by the previous three interventions can be sustained and strengthened in the system over time.

Together these interventions represent perhaps one of the largest and deepest ever human transformation initiatives carried out in a commercial organization.

Further Readings

Swami Ranganathananda. 1993. Eternal Values for changing society (4th Vol.). Mumbai: Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan.
Srinivas. V. 2004. Measuring success in terms of organizational purpose. Unpublished. Available on request.

Srinivas. V. 2004. Sustainable excellence: A model. Unpublished. Available on request.

Srinivas. V. 2004. Transformational Programs.

Srinivas. V. 2005. Collective aspiration.

Srinivas. V. 2006. Building one’s life in the ideal of fulfillment.

Srinivas. V.2009. Enlightened citizenship. Mumbai: Citizenship Series Publications; Illumine Knowledge Resources Pvt. Ltd.