The other day when I was participating in certain birthday celebrations, happiness, bordering on liberation, was strikingly evident on the faces of all the participants. Clearly, people were celebrating their arrival into the world that day several years ago, notwithstanding the stresses and strains as well as trials and tribulations they may have experienced thus far in their lives. Whether it was a momentary celebration before they would return to a life of dreary routine or exciting challenge, as the case may be individually, is also hard to predict. It is also interesting that no one recognized that each one of them has grown one year older, and hopefully thus each one has also grown one year wiser. Quite apart from what the anniversaries signify as a reminder of graceful aging, there is need to evolve a model of life in terms of time and talent.
It is an inexorable fact of life that time is a factor of perpetual loss. Human beings have limited life-spans that are influenced by genetics and lifestyles. Corporations, on the other hand, have the ability to have an indefinite life, threatened only by discontinuities in environment and exacerbation of competition. Time is, therefore, a finite commodity both for people and corporations, which keeps ticking remorselessly. As time flies by, it also fortunately bestows a few gains on the individuals and corporations essentially as the former are genetically wired to learn and the latter are humanly designed to learn. The balance of life is thus one of balance of perpetual loss of time and a perpetual gain of time. This blog post discusses some underlying concepts and provides a potentially relevant construct that could help individuals, entities and societies.
Perpetual loss of time
Managing time is a subject of many prescriptions. From handbooks to productivity courses, there exist multiple tips and methodologies to optimize the use of time. The author in his blog “Strategy Musings” wrote a post titled “Space, Time and Effort Management (STEM): A Paradigm for Resource and Performance Optimization”, (http://cbrao2008.blogspot.in/2011/11/space-time-and-effort-management-stem.html), that outlined an integrated and holistic paradigm. The key to following any tip, methodology or paradigm must be an awareness of the inexorable and unstoppable manner in which time ticks away. This recognition must be accompanied by a mature response that balances available time on a host of daily activities classified as essential (for example, quality sleep, preparation and exercise), value adding (for example, learning and working), desirable (for example, socialization) and individual (for example, personal hobbies). In contrast, being paranoid and miserly about time and adopting crash methodologies of conservation of time or frenetic pace of professional and personal life would be counterproductive.
The sense of loss tends to be set appropriately in a perspective of one’s goals in life. As we know, there are actors and musicians who accept movies, sports persons who sign on multiple tournaments and consultants who take on multiple assignments, all as if there would be no tomorrow. There are also actors, musicians, sports persons and consultants who are very selective in what they accept. While at one level that could reflect what each of them sees as their life’s monetization goals, more fundamentally the anxiety for monetization, or lack of it, reflects their perceptions on value of time. It is not for nothing that the adage of time is money has come about. That said, while loss of time makes no distinction between any individual, and is completely out of one’s control except to the extent of individual differences in utilization, individuals and corporations have a lot of leeway in ensuring that they access gains that offset the perpetual loss of time in an equally perpetual manner.
Perpetual gain of knowledge
With the loss of time, individuals and corporations can gain on knowledge. Wise people do not therefore rue over the unrelenting loss of time. Instead they see time as an investment that helps achieve gains in knowledge. However, there is an inadequate appreciation of what knowledge means and how knowledge can be continuously acquired. Many people hold that knowledge can be substituted or supplanted by experience, intuition and instinct. Such hypotheses are erroneous and are based on infirm foundations. Knowledge, holistically, is the understanding, information, skills and capabilities one gains through education or experience. Knowledge is continuously absorbed and stored in the brain and processed and expressed through the mind. Intuition, and to a large extent instinct too, is the inner knowledge that is bestowed on a person through a sharp definition of his or her sensory faculties and a differentiated ability to synthesize perceptions and knowledge.
Clearly, knowledge is the foundation of any gainful achievement in life. Even those who understand this hypothesis often have misconceptions as to how knowledge is acquired. The most common fallacy is that acquisition of knowledge plateaus after the collegiate education and early years of experience. This is based on an erroneous institutional philosophy of learning which does not leverage how human beings are (or can be) inherently wired to acquire knowledge. To be able to understand this, the five ways of acquiring knowledge need to be understood. These are: seeking-responding, awareness-understanding, learning-absorbing, experiencing-integrating, and observing-reinforcing. These five steps, unfortunately, are seen to be sequential or at best sporadically combined. This inadequate manner of acquiring knowledge limits the knowledge an individual can acquire relative to potential.
The knowledge loop
The primal way of generating and spreading knowledge is through seeking and responding. It is commonly assumed that this phase is best seen to be limited to the first baby months of a person. It is not so in reality. Even as one grows older, knowledge gets developed through the seek-respond mechanism. A more evolved level of knowledge development is through the awareness-understanding bridge. This is, again, akin to toddlers and children becoming aware of several matters of life, and understanding them through positive and negative outcomes. This, by no means, is only a child’s way of knowledge gaining. Even mature persons, need to gain awareness and understanding of new situations as they develop. Becoming aware of the new circumstances and developing an understanding helps build foundations of new knowledge even for knowledgeable persons.
Learning-absorbing is the more commonly appreciated method of knowledge acquisition, leading to formal degrees and certifications. Enormous emphasis is placed on this phase of knowledge acquisition as the degrees make a difference to the career entry. Society and organizations provide the ecosystems for people to experience and integrate. The same educational course taught in two countries would, even in these days of globalization, would be interpreted, absorbed and acted upon in two different ways in the two nations. More specifically, in an organizational context, knowledge acquired through learning is upgraded, adapted or honed through experience. And, each organization can develop a unique competence in this regard. Each of the above four steps of knowledge acquisition involve external inputs. The fifth step of knowledge acquisition, observing-reinforcing, is perhaps the only step of knowledge acquisition that is wholly individual driven. This requires a person to be keenly observant and have the willingness to draw the appropriate lessons from observations.
Knowledge, every moment-every way
Faced with perpetual loss of time, competent individuals must strive to enhance knowledge every moment and in every way. The five step knowledge loop discussed above provides a seamless methodology of continuous knowledge development, applicable for individuals as well as entities. The primal way of seeking-responding becomes relevant whenever an individual faces an uncertain ecosystem. Rather than be overawed, the individual must seek attention and demand response. The natural way of awareness-understanding requires a calm and analytical state of mind that absorbs verbal and non-verbal cues and understands the supporting notions. The formal manner of learning-absorbing is often seen as an activity for a formal degree. True knowledge acquisition occurs when the knowledge seeker and knowledge giver focus on “know-why” behind each nugget of knowledge. This approach prepares one to apply or customize the acquired knowledge to multiple industry situations.
Experiencing-integrating is another aspect of continuous formal learning. While all societies and entities provide scope for experiential learning, certain organizations and societies provide for their members immersive experiences that stick to their minds with deep insights. Organizations which have formal systems of mentoring in organizations and societies which are blessed with model disseminators of knowledge (for example, media) provide beneficial knowledge arising out of day to day developments. Ultimately, it is for individuals and corporations to recognize the importance of observation and reinforcement. The observant individual reinforces knowledge from every activity he or she observes; whether the activity is performed by a superior, peer or subordinate, whether the activity pertains to his or her domain or someone else’s or if the activity is a corporate business activity or civil society activity. As an old saying goes, nothing is trivial in terms of the knowledge such seeming triviality can impart.
Knowledge corporations, societies
Observant corporations, in a similar manner, do not stay still in knowledge; they endeavor to be knowledge corporations. They seek attention and receive knowledge. They provide opportunities for individuals to reflect and develop understanding of people and processes. They emphasize induction of personnel with excellent knowledge credentials and also nurture a pioneering atmosphere of learning in an organization. They institutionalize a culture of generating knowledge through every activity of an organization. Most importantly, they sustain the spirit of inquisitiveness and curiosity in individuals. As an extension of such knowledge-driven mindset, corporations themselves continuously seek attention and responses in the wake of uncertainty, enhance awareness and understanding of emerging environment, learn to develop new products and processes, integrate experiences for greater knowledge and observe other corporations to reinforce their own competitive positions.
Knowledge societies existed from times immemorial. Tides of history swept away some knowledge societies, battered some, reconstructed some and created some others. All through the torments of history, it is amazing how knowledge survived and grew in the overall. Societies which have been both diligent and fortunate to preserve and develop knowledge have prospered or are on their way to prosperity. India needs to consider how the nation can recapture its ancient glory of being a knowledge society; a society which gave the world’s richest religion with multiple scriptures and epics that set forth principles of living relevant even today, a society which computed, without the aid of any computing devices, all the planetary movements that are accurate to the second even in the current days of atomic clock , a society that gave natural healing through Ayurveda and yoga which stay relevant in the face of strides in synthetic medicine, and a society which built cradles of knowledge such as Nalanda and Nagarjuna Sagar centuries ago. As India reinvents itself towards economic supremacy, it is not a race against time but it is the pace of knowledge creation that would determine India’s success.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 21, 2013