Monday, November 01, 2004

The Story of the Knowledge Square

The Story of the Knowledge Square!Author: Nirmala P - Sept 2004
The Story Of The Knowledge Square!
It was one of those pleasant Bangalore mornings. It had rained heavily the previous night and the trees and roads looked like they’d been washed clean by Mother Nature. There was a cool breeze blowing, but it was one of those kinds that have the parental touch and make one feel good despite the chillness. It was 7 AM and the roads were thankfully empty and not full of the traffic that Bangalore is getting to be notoriously famous or rather infamous for, of late. The van in which Akshita was traveling was one of those with a radio and speakers and the driver had tuned into Radio City as usual. Akshita was one of those people who were always thinking about something or the other and especially so when the weather was ‘just right’ and there was soft and melodious music wafting in the air. She looked out of the window and watched the world leave for work along with her. Her mornings in the van were probably the most enlightening of all. This was the time when she introspected, when she conjured up her ideas, when she read books, enjoyed her music and admired nature even if it weren’t as amazing as that in her village.

Today, her mind worked like clockwork and fresh thoughts began to flow in. One thought led to another and she found herself recalling what she had read recently in one of the articles on success. What was success? Success for an individual was something that depended on her thoughts, words and actions. A person with high thoughts, words and actions would certainly reach the pinnacle sooner or later. But what was it that gave a person those thoughts, words and actions? What she was sure about was that thoughts have to be cultivated. Pessimistic thoughts have to be eradicated like weeds from the mind’s garden while positive and optimistic thoughts have to be planted and watered all the time. To plant and germinate such good thoughts, positive influences played an extremely critical role. One would have to read the ‘right’ articles, papers, magazines, books and interact with the ‘right’ people for that. She moved on from positive thinking for success to thoughts about her profession; it was immediately obvious that she would be successful only if she were to have the ‘positive’ knowledge alongside the optimistic thoughts. She was a person with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and did not have any difficulty in understanding that life was nothing but a continuous learning journey.

Learning! Learning was one of her favourite topics. She always wondered why many people said they did not have the time to learn, why many believed they were too busy to learn, why many thought they had learned whatever there was to be learned, why many ‘senior’ people were ashamed of learning itself or were ashamed to admit they were learning something, and why many had forgotten to learn! What a pity! She loved Stephen Covey’s and Abraham Lincoln’s one-liners on learning and swore by them. She vaguely recalled them to be - Are you so busy driving that you forget to fill gas?, and, If I were given eight hours to chop wood, I would spend six hours in sharpening the axe!. How true and thought-provoking!

Learning resulted in knowledge. Continuous learning is what keeps one’s knowledge up-to-date and helps one perform well on the job, innovate and accomplish difficult feats. Thinking about knowledge triggered Akshita into thinking about how she should be managing her knowledge in such a way that she could achieve success. In fact, the other day, there was a programme on Radio City wherein a famous IT industry leader had mentioned that an individual can do well in her organization if she were to take care of three aspects - continuous learning, attitude, and contribution to the organization’s Knowledge Management (KM) initiative. Akshita being a (reference to the common name of the employees of the given organization) was well aware of the concept of Knowledge Management. She had attended a KM orientation programme and had come to know about what KM stood for, its objectives, its benefits, and the Org. KM system. She had been able to relate to it so much! It was about something as simple as knowledge sharing, knowledge capture, learning, collective thinking, and collaboration. She continued to think about the other aspects that had struck her as important. She was so engrossed in thinking about it that she did not realize what was happening around her. She suddenly heard someone in the van exclaim loudly "I do know that! But there are some other things I don’t know!". For some reason, that statement sort of struck a chord in her and she found herself putting two and two together.

Knowledge! There are some things we know, and some things we don’t know! She quickly pulled out her notepad and pencil from her bag and drew a square and split it into two equal parts and wrote "know" and "don’t know" in them. She sat staring at the diagram for a while and let her mind jog. The jogging seemed to be toning her grey cells. She discovered some more things. The ‘know’ portion could be split into what we know that we know and what we do not know that we know! She could do the same thing with the other portion as well. The ‘don’t know’ portion could be divided into what we know that we do not know and what we do not know that we do not know! She turned to a new page and drew a square like box and cut it into 4 parts and quickly labeled them. What did all this mean? She chewed her pencil thoughtfully. The pencil was as tasty as soft wood could be expected to be, but did this diagram make any sense?

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Yes, it did! She knew what she knew. That box was simple to understand. She was also awareor, in other words, knew of some things that she did not know. One more of the squares hadbeen understood. She was quiet for a moment or two and slightly perplexed by the ‘don’t knowknow’ quadrant. Can it so happen that a person does not know what she knows? How can that be? She looked outside the window as if she expected some one to suddenly pop up fromnowhere and tell her what that quadrant was all about! Was she mistaken? How can a personnot know what she knows? But then, the human brain is so complex and ‘full’ of unlimitedpotential, if you like, she found her mind telling her! Why, she herself was not aware that she could write poems and could play the piano. She wrote her first poem when there was a competition in school and she went to learn to play the piano and that was when her music teacher had told her she seemed to have what it takes to play the piano! She had not known that she had it in her till her music teacher told her. While she smiled to herself, she suddenly recalled one other thing that she had encountered. Why, come to think of it, what she just thought of was a perfect example for how one does not know what one knows sometimes! A few months ago, she had come across an ad for WorldSpace, a satellite radio service, on Radio City. It had the anchor call out the names of famous musicians and the latter answering her in a school roll-call like style. The anchor would finally call out Beethoven’s name and there would be no response. The first time Akshita had listened to the advertisement she had wondered why Beethoven did not respond to the roll-call like the other musicians. She had given up the thought without any success. The same thing happened for the second time as well. On the third occasion, she had been at home with her younger brother and he had immediately turned and asked her why Beethoven didn’t respond to the roll-call. To her surprise, she found herself telling her brother why or rather why not! "Hey, Beethoven was a deaf and dumb genius! That’s the reason why he doesn’t respond!". Her brother had turned back after making playful faces at her unable to digest the fact he couldn’t catch her without an answer. But she herself had stopped doing what she had been doing when her brother had interrupted her. "I knew the answer all along! I am glad this guy asked me why Beethoven didn’t respond. It had begun to get on my nerves!". She had thanked him silently! Yes! That was a perfect example of a situation when she had known something, but did not know she knew it and it was the situation (she had to keep her image of being the sis with answers to everything!) that had got it out of her! So, yes, one more box understood. The last one was left out. ‘Don’t know-don’t know’! Hmmm. There are definitely so many things whose existence itself is not known! So, those are things we even don’t know that we don’t know! Whew! The picture made sense to her now.

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So what? What was she going to do with it? How would this picture help her? Was it just some crazy thing that her mind had cooked up for her that morning? Her intuition did not let her stop there. She had the strong feeling that there was more to it that met the eye. All she had to do was to continue thinking and things would fall in place. That was when she heard the van come to a screeching stop at a signal and came out of her reverie. She looked up and saw the red traffic signal. Stop! She continued to stare at it as if admonishing it for bringing her out of her thoughts. After a few moments, not surprisingly, the light changed to green. Green, Akshita observed to herself, meant go ahead! Green was in a way a metaphor for the positive things in life. Green meant that one could get started and go forward. As the van started moving, she looked down at her diagram and once again, that morning, felt a brainwave coming. Which quadrant in her diagram represented knowledge that she could make use of to get started and go forward in her career? The ‘know-know’ quadrant of course! It was what she knew that she knew that she could use immediately and also claim to have if someone were to ask her whatshe knew! That is what would help her more than any other because it would give her theconfidence that comes with awareness, familiarity and ability to use. On an impulse, she fished out the green highlighter from her bag and coloured the ‘know-know’ box. She found her eyes darting to the ‘don’t know-don’t know’ box. This was the unknown area! Black! Now that she was ready to colour everything in her way, the pencil turned out to be handy for this one. She then turned her attention to the other two boxes. How do you both work, she asked? She got the answer in a moment. We can’t make use of something we don’t know unless we push it into our ‘know-know’ box! So, it would be necessary for us to get into situations that help us realize what we don’t know! Then, we would have to put in an effort to know about it. The ‘don’t know-know’ box might come to our rescue when the situation calls for it, but its real use also lies in being aware of it proactively. It’s only the awareness of what we know that would let us proclaim to be a knower and get us the corresponding assignment/job. So, once again, we’ll have to get ourselves into situations that will bring out our inherent knowledge and abilities. One thing was crystal clear to Akshita now. An individual can make the most out of the green ‘know-know’ quadrant for success. The black ‘don’t know-don’t know’ quadrant seemed to be a bit of a mystery. But the other 2 boxes were now clear and they would be useful only if transformed into the ‘know-know’ type! Every individual would benefit immensely if she were to consciously strive to transform all knowledge into the ‘know-know’ type! She used her blue ink pen to colour the 2 left out quadrants and then drew two arrows leading from them into the green box. This was to depict every individual’s goal and benefits; the ‘what’s in it for me’ or WIFM factor leading to the ‘know-know’ portion! The diagram looks neat and more importantly, with every passing moment, I get the feeling that I am getting somewhere, thought Akshita! She attempted to summarize what she had discovered till then - It is clear that every individual’s knowledge and potential for knowledge can be split into 4 different combinations of known & unknown areas. Among these, every individual would be able to make maximum use of the ‘known-known’ area as compared to the other three. The more the area of this green box, the better for the individual! She couldn’t go on referring to the box that she had drawn as a ‘box’. She had to name it. She decided to call it "The Knowledge Square" on an impulse. So, each person could draw the Knowledge Square for herself and assess the ‘areas’ of the existing knowledge and the potential knowledge.

Her next question was an obvious one. What were the things that would help each individualmaximize the area of the ‘know-know’ quadrant in her Knowledge Square? What were the efforts and activities that would help a person convert the ‘know-don’t know’ and ‘don’t know-know’ to ‘know-know’? She retraced her mental journey to this point from the beginning and recalled that she had started off with learning and Knowledge Management. There had to be tasks and activities as associated with what Knowledge Management advocated for maximizing the ‘knowknow’ quadrant. What were they? She looked at the ‘know-don’t know’ area and came to an easy conclusion. Practices like focused interaction, networking, collaboration, and brainstorming would undoubtedly bring to light the components of the ‘know-don’t know’ area! These were the practices that would help her realize what she did not know. She made a note of that on the paper in a call-out box pointing to that portion of the Knowledge Square. Now, what? Not one to let grass grow under her feet, she turned her attention to the ‘don’t know-know’ area. How does one realize one’s potential (but unknown) knowledge? She went back to chewing the pencil and looked outside the window again hoping for some clues and triggers. Nothing outside gave her ideas. She decided to look within. She turned around and noticed the person sitting in the next seat reading a book. The person who had been talking loudly was still at it - answering some one’s questions. For Akshita, to her joy, the gamble paid off! She grinned to herself. One needs to look both outside and within for answers.

Potential knowledge is deep-rooted. It continues to lie there unless there is an effort to bring it out. Apart from introspection, there are two other habits/practices that help bring out one’s innermost (tacit) thoughts. One was documentation & writing as in an article/book. Another would be to simply be open to questions and try to answer them. A fundamental question being posed to a senior expert might some time help her realize things that she hadn’t discovered before. Knowledge sharing would bring in fresh perspectives, feedbacks and questions. It would be a worthwhile process of knowledge-discovery. She made a note of this as well in a call-out box pointing to the concerned area.

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The Knowledge Square was ready! She knew its importance and significance. She knew whatexactly she had to do to benefit out of what she had just discovered. What next? A practical mind would want to take the next step and find the enablers. Akshita started the search for the enablers. Not only was she aware of the concepts of KM, but also aware of the KM portal that had been deployed across the organization – . She had been introduced to it during the KM orientation programme and she had come to know about the various applications that the portal hosted. The session had happened 4 months ago and she had explored the system immediately after the session and had appreciated its use. Though, she thought, guiltily, she hadn’t sustained that enthusiasm and hadn’t made frequent use of the portal, she had gone back to it occasionally. That was sufficient enough for her to remember the applications vividly. They would certainly be enablers for the Knowledge Square! After all, they were about knowledge capture, sharing, learning and collaboration! "Let me figure out if I can map them to my Knowledge Square", she murmured softly but excitedly.

She listed down the applications and a brief description of each of them next to the KnowledgeSquare:1. (The document repository)2. (The expert locator and problem-solution database)3. (The virtual community/discussion forum application)4. (The task-oriented virtual workspace)5. (The software components repository)6. (The database with information about closed projects)

She numbered them and started poring over them Vis-à-Vis the Knowledge Square. Whichapplication would go where? In other words, which application would be the enabler for which quadrant being converted into a component of the ‘know-know’ area? Going by what she had already observed and deduced, the applications that would enable one to realize what one did not know, through interaction, learning from the past, networking, collaboration, and brainstorming, would be 3, 4 and 6. She wrote them down in the ‘know-don’t know’ quadrant immediately and scratched out the three names in her list. She looked at the other three applications in her list – 1, 2 and 5. It wasimmediately apparent to her that 1 and 2 were applications that would help hertap into her mind and bring out her best were she to look at them from the contributor’sperspective. 1 would help her write and share her thoughts, ideas, learnings andexperiences in the form of articles, papers, templates, checklists, best practices, tips and presentations. 2, on the other hand, would help her learn more by applying thought onproblems and challenges that others encountered. Explicit questions from others in theorganization would help her become conscious of the knowledge that was ingrained & embedded in her. She wrote down 1 and 2 in the ‘don’t know-know’ quadrant and took a look at how the Knowledge Square had evolved.

It was amazing! She couldn’t believe that something as simple as an effort to acquire andmanage knowledge for success could be attributed to and stem from what she had justdiscovered. The moral of the story was that Knowledge Management was a paradoxical conceptthat advocated knowledge sharing, collective thinking & collaboration for the benefit of the higher entity, while at the same time contributing to individual accomplishment and success to an equal extent. It was no less comprehendible that it led to individual learning and knowledge clarity. The Knowledge Square was witness to this.

She breathed deeply with the satisfaction of having completed something and looked up to find that the van had almost reached office. The timing couldn’t have been better if she had programmed it! The discovery of the Knowledge Square gave her happiness and excitement. But she would be happier when she shared this with everyone who would be interested! Of course, she had to put this up on KM portal and discuss it with her vertical’s knowledge manager as well! As the van stopped near the office gates, she put the paper and pencil back into her bag carefully and got up, unable to control her excitement. This was a day to reckon! She sprinted across the huge campus to her office and smiled at the ducks in the pond on her way. They looked so elegant and calm. Once in her office, she switched on her PC and started typing in whatever she had discovered. It had to go into the KM portal before evening.

Bibliography:The author would like to thank the Japanese KM Thought-Leader, Nonaka, for the latter's Knowledge Sharing Model which is what proved to be inspiration for this idea.

Copyrights Notice:© Copyright 2004. Nirmala. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. Specifications subject to change without notice. All other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners. Specifications subject to change without notice.

5 comments:

P.S said...

Hi Nirmala,

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Will highly appreciate it.

GodSpeed.

bhaskaryya said...

who's this akshita? akshita sharma?

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