Knowledge Management In Ramayan

Curated & re-contexted from the original article of 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, “Demon king, 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, sex, astronomy, metaphysics and spirituality.

Both these stories draw attention to the value of knowledge.

Every day, an organization churns out vast amounts of knowledge. When people leave organizations, they take their knowledge with them – knowledge which they acquired because they are part of the organization. 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 recognized. 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.

Drawing parallels to Mahabharat, Sahadeva was the youngest Pandava, was an expert in many predictive sciences such as astrology, palmistry and face reading. He foreknew every fortune and misfortune of this epic, but he never used his knowledge to forewarn anyone because he was cursed. If he ever gave any information voluntarily, his head would scatter to pieces. So he remained silent throughout the epic.

Most employees in an organisation are Sahadevas. They either 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 or there is no system where they can make it available for others.

Leaders play a critical role in Knowledge Management, as Ram and Krishna did in the great epics. The simplest method is talking to people, while they are on the job and creating a repository of their body of knowledge. But today’s dynamic world has disparate information sources and so it isn’t easy to capture knowledge, leave alone its retrieval. Tacit and fluid knowledge are the most resourceful and most difficult to capture. But formal and informal documented knowledge residing in spreadsheets, presentations & emails are much easier to capture. While this sounds very logical, most organisations struggle with this. The effort involved is huge and the rewards are neither immediate nor tangible. But today’s technological development in Knowledge Management make available tools like wikis, meta-data tagging, seamless searching, integration with mobile devices, online journaling, etc. which facilitate the capture and retrieval.

For example, a brand manager joining a reputed FMCG company, once discovered that they did not have the brand deck (plans, tools, research, messages) of the past five years of a key product. What the organisation did have is the financial numbers – but not a clear history of marketing messages it had put out before the consumer. Previous brand managers had handed over all documents to someone and it was kept somewhere. But no one knew who that someone was and what that somewhere was. In the absence of a simple archiving system, the new brand manager had to collate all brand related background information from scratch so that he could define the future brand positioning. Being vintage information, he couldn’t fully retrieve the information, both in quality and quantity.

If your organization is working on Knowledge Management Initiative, start humble and focus on capture of documented knowledge and then slowly move to tacit knowledge.

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