Shared Context

My friend Nirmala has written a nice post about the way people with a shared context can solve problems by interacting with each other. The story that the post tells is self-explanatory, so maybe need not write anything to describe what i thought of the story.

What the story illustrates is something which a lot of people have written about. Something i have written about, as well, the idea of the intersection of knowledge from multiple sources, and the ways of using this intersection to create new knowledge, and from here, new ideas. What is important is that the more the context which is shared among people, the less is the probability that these people would come up with an idea which is new. Like the article says, if two people are speaking the same language, they are speaking the same things, so the way for new things to come up is not too easy, while if you bring together people from different backgrounds, with only a small level of intersection or overlap the probability of new ideas coming up is more.

This is primarily because these people have in their heads a context which is different from each other, and hence, they tend to see things different from each other, and this probably leads to a scenario where the ideas of one in the team could be interpreted differently by someone with a very different context, and this leads to the cross-pollination of ideas. What seems interesting in the story is the idea of encouraging diversity, because it is only through this diversity that the vitality of thought and ideas can be maintained. This is because this diversity itself is what leads to the flowing of the water so to say, making sure the water of thought and ideas doesnt stagnate in a small pool, but rather have a wide sweep of flow.

This is an idea not just for the world of knowledge in organizations, or KM or innovation for that matter, but probably for society as well. An interesting thing which is coming out of the book i am reading, The Discovery of India, is that one of the reasons India, as a civilization has survived the millenia is because of the frequent inflow of new ideas coming from very diverse civilizations, like the Greeks, Persians, Bactrians, Huns and so on, and the ability of the civilization to assimilate these ideas into the social fabric, leading to a constant renewal of strength through new ideas, new thought, new cultures, leading to a constant recreation of thought, ensuring it doesnt stagnate. This is important because stagnation leads to decay. While these civilizations did share some part of their context, there was a large part where their way of looking at the world was very different from each other, and this may have been one of the reasons which brought about the vitality which has enabled the civilization, the culture to survive, evolve, emerge stronger over the centuries.

In a Hurry

I was recently waiting at an airport. Doesnt matter which one. You can choose one that you fancy and substitute that for the nameless airport. Thats because the same scene could have been anywhere. Not much of a scene really. It went something like this.

There is a queue of people getting into the airport for a morning flight. Not everyone is wide awake. Rather difficult to be, at that hour. But thats digressing, i think. So there is a queue of people showing their tickets and IDs to the CISF folks at the gate. Normal, you would think. Quite so. This is when two gentlemen came rushing to the gate. They were apparently late for their flight so they were in a rush. Understandable. One of them was Indian, the other was a foreigner, nationality i would have no way of knowing. This is where it became queer. The foreigner gentleman tried to barge through CISF (i am discounting the queue given they were in a visible hurry) without showing their IDs. Whats queerer still is that the Indian gentleman also tried to do the same with the explanation that they would miss their flight. The insistence of the CISF  man seemed to displease them a bit, but he put his foot down, and wouldnt let them through without seeing their IDs. Thats the story. Now for what i thought.

Anywhere in the world, the Indian gentleman wouldnt have done this, and in his home-country, the foreigner gentleman would also not have done this. In the interest of security, or good citizenship, they would say. The same gentlemen in another country would have kept their IDs handy so it wouldnt take them the 10 or 15 seconds that it takes to show the ID to the CISF folks. Why is it that security or good citizenship plays second fiddle to convenience? I dont know the views of the Indian gentleman on having to show IDs when entering airports but if its in the interest of safety, then we should follow it. Why do we assume that these are negotiable, and more so when in India? If as citizens that is the way we feel, can we blame anyone for security threats, for maybe the biggest security threat is we ourselves?

The Aged …

I am these days trying to do something which i thought would be far simpler than it turns out to be … I am looking for health insurance for my parents. Simple? Not at all. Well nigh close to impossible. None of the insurance companies who are willing you sell you the moon are willing to even touch anyone above 60 with a bargepole.

Now, i have a question … at an age above 60 is where people require insurance the most, isnt it? And thats when insurance is not available. In other words, arent we saying, somehow, that insurance is there for you only as long as you dont need it. When you need it, dear customer, sorry … we dont believe in customer relationships.

Three such situations come in mind … First, health insurance for senior citizens. Second, the recent exclusion of natural calamities from the list of things covered in auto insurance (prompted by the money the insurance companies hads to pay, post the Mumbai deluge). Third, terrorism. In short, auto insurance doesnt cover floods (acts of God), nor does it cover terrorism (act of man). Why do we have insurance, someone please remind me?

Coming back to the point about insurance for the aged … Medical costs are rising (not to add that doctors are becoming more unscrupulous). Our parents lived most of their lives in a situation where medical costs were low, and insurance was not required. Now that they have aged, they suddenly find medical costs have sky-rocketed, and insurance companies refuse to cover them. Isnt it time that we, as a society, and as a nation, do something for the elderly in the country? Or, are we to let them just with away?

Mosque Takes In Child, Mother …

OK … this one is going to be a mixed bag. Though, i would like to see this as a far more positive thing than anything else. There are news reports … about a child, and his mother, who have been abandoned by his father. The reason? The child has a hole in his heart, and this requires surgery. What is the beautiful part about this story is the fact that this brings out an important tale … that all hope is not lost. A mosque in the city of Lucknow has adopted the child and his mother. And the elders are making sure the little child has a chance to live. They have collected money from among the members of the congregation for the child’s surgery, which is to happen in the month of October. Hindustan Times writes that after they broke the story, they have received a lot of requests to help the little one.

Contrast this to a prominent social activist venting anger at the police in Gujarat for a strange incident … during the post-Godhra riots, a police constable found a little child, and took him in, and handed him over to a couple to take care of. The issue is that the child is Muslim, and the foster-parents Hindu. And, the child, today (according to reports in newspapers) doesnt want to go to his biological parents. The activist believes that the constable acted irresponsibly. One wonders … whether love should be considered supreme to professed religion? That too the way we are using religion towards a myriad number of ends?

Now, the question … why do i think this story is bitter-sweet? Simply because, when i searched the websites of some of the leading newspapers for this story, i just couldnt find it. This is the strangest part … a story which brings out some of the best elements in humanity is so well hidden in the inner pages of a newspaper that its so difficult to find … one wonders … do we really care?

A Wednesday …

A Wednesday … This is a movie which is quite a different take on terrorism … this is not only a different way of telling the story of terrorism, this is also one of the few films which also look at the issue of terrorism, and our reaction to terrorism, as a society, from a refreshingly comman-man kind of attitude.

No, i am not going to spill the beans … rather you went and watched the movie … i watched the movie … on a Sunday … which was a day after the serial blasts in Delhi (at Karol Bagh, Connaught Place, and Greater Kailash). And, the blasts being fresh in the mind, the impact of the movie is altogether different. What was chillingly true … the way they have narrated the reaction of people to bomb blasts … we go through the news channels, see what each of the channles is saying, make a few phone calls, to make sure our friends and relatives are ok, and then, heave a sigh of relief and move on … and this pattern gets repeated every time there is a blast.

There is another pattern … someone had informed someone else about the blasts before they actually happened, the blame-game begins (it doesnt matter who blames whome, in short, over a period of time, we have seen everyone blame everyone and their uncle (read Pakistan) for these blasts), compensation is announced, and we move on.

Do we really care, as a nation, and as a society?

Wonderful Verse …

I came across this wonderful verse … written by the celebrated poet … Bulle Shah … these lines seem to bring out the essence of humanity … something which we need to understand, and once we do that, remember … after all, we have all been through a lot … and there are lessons we should have learnt, but dont seem to have … the chapters are fearsome, to say the least!

These lines bring out the essence of humanity, the way we can live life …

Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar,
Ved Quranan parh parh thakkay,
Sajde kardeyaan ghis gaye matthe,
Na Rabb Teerath, na Rabb Makkay,
Jis paayaa tis noor anwar,
Ishq di navin-o-navin bahaar!

or …

Fresh and new is the breeze of love,
People have grown tired of reading the Veds and the Quran,
Foreheads have gotten worn-out by rubbing them on the ground in Prayer,
God is there neither in the Hindu Pilgrimege, nor at Mecca,
One who had found love, his light is the most powerful!

A powerful message … one we cannot, and indeed, for the sake of our future, and that of our children, we must not ignore!

Blogging … Not All Fair

There is an article in the Hindustan Times today … this article describes the not so savoury aspects of human nature when brought to light on the blogosphere. This article brings out some of the important aspect of the web 2.0 environment which have been overlooked in the initial euphoria of something new.

First of all, this is an axiom … web 2.0 is participatory. In all senses of the term. It gives a say to everyone. Which is a nice thing. But, that would be an utopian world. In the real world, there are people who use a tool, and there are people who abuse the tool. This is true of anything in this world … there was, for example, a dialogue from the movie Maachis (this was a movie around the them of terrorism in the Punjab!) … it went something like …

Ye maachis, diya bhi jalati hai, aur chita bhi!

Or …

This matchbox lights the candle, as well as the funeral pyre!

This aspect of the usage of the tool is something which a lot of us seem to have missed out on. I usually look at web 2.0 primarily in the organizational context, and this is the issue which is raised by a lot of people whenever i am talking to them about blogs, and wikis … what if someone wilfully writes something which is not nice, or inaccurate? Simply put, in the organization, there is no such thing as anonymous contribution. Not only is this something which helps to surface who is doing what, it also is an important ingredient in the organizational context, of adoption, because one of the reasons for adoption is reputation.

Coming back to the article, this is something which happens in the real world too, though to a much lesser extent, mainly because of the lack of anonymity, as the author of the article puts it. Kudos to the ladies who would, all sorts of feedback notwithstanding, continue to put their viewpoints across. I do tend to agree with Melody Laila when she says …

When you start a blog, you start with the premise that it will be open to all …

Keeping this in mind, would it not be a nice idea to ensure some kind of control on the kinds of things which can go on with your blog? This is the balancing line one must draw between reputation, and the cost for it. Overall, though, i would give complete credit to Neha Tara Mehta for raising an issue which otherwise doesnt get debated too much …

The encouraging part? Neha cites the Blogging India: A Windows Live Report, 2006 which says that nearly 45% of the netizens believe that blogging content is as trustworthy as the traditional media. Goes to show that bloggers must be getting something right!