Middle Path in Knowledge Management

by Abhijeet Dutta Ray. AdoiMagazaine.com, July 7, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand -- As I began to write this piece on July 7th, I realized that either through sheer coincidence or some unfathomable force of destiny, I could not have picked a better day to write about the subject I wished to reflect upon.

July 7th is the fifteenth day of the waxing moon of the eighth lunar month, commemorating Budha’s first sermon to his five disciples in the Deer Park in the Indian city of Varanasi and the founding of the Buddhist ‘Sangha’ or community of ordained Buddhist monks. 

It is a national holiday in Thailand, the country where I am based.

As per the official Thai Buddhist calendar we are now in the year 2552 – five hundred and forty three years ahead of the Georgian calendar.
Known as the ‘Asala Puja Day’ or as it is known locally ‘Asarna Bucha Day’ - a Theravada Buddhist festival, it also marks the first day of ‘Vassa’ – the traditional retreat during the rainy season, also known as the Buddhist Lent, lasting for three lunar months, during which the Buddhist monks remain mostly confined within temples, dedicated to intensive meditation. 

During this period, many members of the general populace reinvigorate their spiritual side by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meals, alcohol and smoking. The observation of Vasa is said to have originated with Buddha himself, when he ordered his disciples to observe the three month retreat.

The sermon Buddha gave to his five disciples led to their enlightenment and were ordained by Buddha as the first ever Buddhist monks. The contents of that sermon, which included the ‘four noble truths’ and the ‘noble eightfold paths’ which included the ideas of eschewing all forms of extreme lifestyles and following the ‘middle path’ - provided the basis of the establishment of Buddhism as a most significant religious and philosophical movement. It is believed that the sermon ended with the Buddha revealing that he had truly attained ‘nirvana’ and had hence successfully broken the karmic cycle of re-birth and re-incarnation, which mere mortals are condemned to due to their extreme nature of lives that they lead.

It’s time to reveal why I believe it is either sheer coincidence or a force of destiny that I wrote this piece on this day. The subject that I wanted to touch upon is ‘Knowledge Management’ in the business environment of today. Not an expert by any stretch, I had nevertheless decided to institutionalize knowledge management in our company a few years back. The rationale being fairly simple – we are in the business of marketing communications – the business of idea generation and dissemination. Knowledge of how the world works and fresh new insights into what and why people do what they do is the life blood of our business and therefore knowledge management is but a vital part of how we manage to survive. 

If I had to describe the nature of knowledge that we stumble upon, encounter or seek out every day of our working lives – I would call it dynamic, and that would still be a very tame description. Thanks to the advent of what is now known as social media, what we email, text, upload, post or tweet today, nudging each other towards new ‘knowledge’ is nothing short of an avalanche of information.  Most of it plain trivia, and occasionally it is insightful.  The greatest challenge is to separate the ones that seem more like the latter from the one that is definitely the former. Simultaneously, within the ever-expanding new body of fresh insights,  one continually needs to find patterns that make sense -  which leads to a handful of new wonderful ideas that that be potentially life-changing.

And what has all of this got to do with the ‘Middle Path’?

Well, what I am discovering fast is that regardless of how one encounters, captures and analyses new information and trying to make sense of  it – one needs to find a ‘Middle Path’ – avoiding reacting to ‘spikes in the data’ or so-called fads and instead looking for real shifts which can gather force and become trends. That does not necessarily mean not studing what mavericks and outliers are saying, as at times what they ‘sooth-say’ is what makes for the next wave.  But the real challenge is not to endlessly wait to hear that someone has finally cracked for example the holy grail of uses of social media in modern marketing, as the very nature of dynamic information interplay is that new theories of how the world works are born one moment, simply to die in the next – with fresh new challenge from a new school of thought.

At the risk of sounding too philosophical,  I wish to round off this piece with the thought that during these times of information deluge – necessary condition for a knowledge economy to survive, a knowledge manager too needs a period of ‘Buddist Lent’ when he or she can retreat from the madness of noise and clutter and really think about some higher purpose of one’s life that does not depend on adding to the information overload. 

This might seem a bit strange at this point of time, with most people looking for panacea out of a variety of related phenomena such as ‘getting out of a doldrum’, ‘fighting the crisis’, ‘down-sizing to survive’, ‘doing more with less’ – you know the routine. Well, perhaps we need some time out, when we quit reacting to the environment and the information around us…and reflect on the real purpose of knowledge and how best to go at it again, when one re-surfaces. We may not find our ‘nirvana’ but we might be able to achieve a good info de-tox!

I hear you ask – ‘is that realistic’? Well, I suppose that all other things in life, it’s how ‘real’ you wish to make your contributions towards work and society. One can either be entirely driven by research and data and micro-manage ones next move, reacting to short-term shifts in the environment. 

Or one can step back or turn away from it all at times, and reflect more on the macro forces at work – the ones that are resulting in new avatars of leadership, new lifestyles, new religions, new politics, that are in turn shaping society and economics. You might say, following the ‘middle path’ in Knowledge Management finds most relevance when one has experienced the suffocation of drowning in the info deluge.

Abhijeet Dutta Ray is the Chief Strategy Officer, at Lowe Worldwide, Thailand Hub.