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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knowledge Stream ' - Lessons on Virtues of Patience, perseverance & learning – FROM RAMAYANA AND MAHABARATHA

Dear (s)

One of the modern concept is   ‘Exit interview’  - conducted by an employer of a departing employee.  It is generally conducted by HR expecting the employee to be candid and not burn the bridge.  The idea is to collate useful information on working conditions and making corrections, if required.   Many good companies see people as assets and not costs and it would immensely help any organisation to capture the knowledge of their employees.  Any organisation which has structured way of organising its practices in a structured way is bound to succeed.  Exit interview could be a tool to capture knowledge from those parting and the benefits could be :
キ          vital knowledge is not lost to the organisation when people leave
キ          the learning curve of new people joining the organisation is shortened
キ          they can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively
キ          they can result in the leaver having a more positive view of the organization

Here is a thought-provoking article received from a friend of mine who has successfully related the concept of learning to the greatest of the Epics – Ramayana & Mahabaratha.  I liked it and you too might relish this.

Regards – S.  Sampathkumar
13th April 2010.

(Article courtesy a friend  Mr Thiagarajan, Indian Bank )

In Both The Great Epics of India , Ramayan and Mahabharata, war ends not with celebration of victory but with transmission of knowledge. In the Ramayan, Ravan lies mortally wounded on the battlefield and the monkeys are celebrating their victory, when Ram turns to his brother, Lakshman, and says, “While Ravan was a brute, he was also a great scholar. Go to him quickly and request him to share whatever knowledge he can.”

The obedient Lakshman rushes to Ravan’s side and whispers in his ears, “Demonking, all your life you have taken not given. Now the noble Ram gives you an opportunity to mend your ways. Share your vast wisdom. Do not let it die with you. For that you will be surely be blessed.”

Ravan responds by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman goes back to Ram and says: “He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything.” Ram looks at his brother and asks him softly, “Where did you stand while asking him for knowledge?” “Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly.” Ram smiles, places his bow on the ground and walks to where Ravan lies. Lakshman watches in astonishment as his brother kneels at Ravan’s feet.  With palms joined, with extreme humility, Ram says, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now, you are no more my enemy. I see you now as you are known across the world, as the wise son of Rishi Vishrava. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.”

To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravan opens his eyes and raises his arms to salute Ram, “If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things are actually good for you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you.” With these words, Ravan dies.

There’s similar knowledge transmission after the Mahabharat war is over and the Kauravas are all dead. As the victorious Pandavas are about to assume control of Hastinapur, Krishna advises them to talk to Bhisma, their grand uncle, who lies mortally wounded on the battlefield. As a result of a blessing, death would elude him for some time. “Make him talk until his last breath. Ask him questions. He has a lot to tell,” says Krishna .
Sure enough, when prompted, the dying Bhisma spends hours discussing various topics: history, geography, politics, economics, management, war, ethics, morality,  astronomy, metaphysics and spirituality. Bhisma’s discourse is captured in the Shanti Parva (discussions of peace) and Anushasan Parva (discussions on discipline) that makes up a quarter of the Mahabharata. After listening to their grandsire, the Pandavas have a better understanding of the world, and this makes them better kings.

Ram asked ravan for his wisdom before his death. The pandavas listened to a lengthy discourse from bhisma as he lay dying on the battlefield. This in the context of organisations, is knowledge management.   Both these stories draw attention to the value of knowledge.In triumph, it is easy to claim the material possessions of the defeated, but it is not easy to claim their knowledge. Knowledge does not outlive death.

Every day, an organization churns out vast amounts of knowledge. Every day, people leave organisations, taking their knowledge with them – knowledge which they acquired because they are part of the organisation. They take with them knowledge of clients, markets, business processes, tricks of the trade. These may not be confidential information or patented information, but it is information that gives a competitive edge.

Long has this knowledge drain been recognised. Over the past decade, a whole new business process known as knowledge management has evolved that seeks to harness, store, transmit this knowledge. Every CEO agrees that it is a valuable business process, that investment in it is critical. Policies have been made, people have been hired and systems have been deployed. Unfortunately, for all the initial enthusiasm, implementation has been lacking. Unlike retrieving cash, retrieving knowledge from employees, both current and future, is not easy. Often because they are like Sahadeva.

Sahadeva was the youngest Pandava and, in the South Indian Mahabharata, he is described as an expert in many predictive sciences such as astrology, palmistry and face reading. But he is cursed: if he ever gave any information voluntarily, his head will split into a thousand pieces. That is why he is silent throughout the epic. He knows every fortune and misfortune that his family will go through, but he can never use his knowledge to forewarn anyone. When Yudhishtira finally learns of his brother’s prowess he is furious. “Why did you not tell me all that you knew?” All he gets in response is Sahadeva’s silence. Most employees in an organisation are Sahadevas.

Sahadevas are of two types: either they are unwilling to share their knowledge or they don’t have the means to do so. The former category knows that knowledge is power and will not give it away under any circumstances. The latter category is willing to share knowledge but either no one asks them for it or there is no system where they can make it available for others.

Knowledge Management is leadership driven. Only a Ram, not a Laskhman can do it. He must first believe in it. He must respect the fact that everyone in his organisation, even those who he does not particularly like, are repositories of great wisdom – not only knowledge of things that work but also knowledge of things that do not work. He must make conscious efforts to capture as much of it as possible.

The simplest method is talking to people, while they are on the job and especially when they are leaving the organisation. An exit interviews must never be a ritual. Neither must it be an exercise to just get the venom out nor an exercise to expose the underbelly that has prompted the resignation. It must be a concerted effort to gather what was the knowledge acquired between joining and leaving the organisation. This sounds very logical though  most organisations do not do this.

Every organisation has a very powerful Finance Department that works round the clock to keep an eye on money flowing in and out of the organisation. Internal and external auditors, controllers and accountants keep a hawk’s eye on every bill and purchase order. But not even a fraction of that energy is used by companies to manage their knowledge.This indicates that most organisations do not believe that Lakshmi follows Saraswati: they do not believe that existence of knowledge systems improve efficiency and effectiveness and can provide raw materials to provoke new ideas or prevent old mistakes. Unless a leader believes that Saraswati is critical, he will end up with an organisation of Sahadevas.

Take a step back. Check if you are creatively shunning this rather tedious matter of knowledge management. If you are, then remember the wise words of Ravan: it must be actually good for you.

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