Thursday, 22 January 2015

Is Facebook making us more lonely?

First day as visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, after a series of inspiring talks and equally inspiring and engaging students, I got the right framing question from Prof Jenna Burrell to write about the impact of social media on relationships. She shared an Atlantic piece 'is Facebook making us lonely' and Claude Fischer's rebuttal 'the loneliness scare', and asked us to draw from the evidence and arguments of these articles, and assess whether 'Facebook is making us lonely?'

Here is my take.... Facebook is only a tool and as such cannot make us lonely. I feel it is like saying that a knife can turn us into a serial killer.

This said, if you are a chronically lonely person, probably Facebook may keep you lonely. If however, you feel isolated, Facebook may help you reconnect with your loved ones. By the same token if you are a  narcissist, probably Facebook will contribute to make you a bit more of a narcissist. In other words, it definitely plays a role in accentuating our traits.

I am firm believer of Robin Dunbar’s theory. Dunbar says that there is a direct correlation between the size of our social group and the size of our brain and he sets that number to 150 - better known as Dunbar number.

Basically what he says is that we can only have a meaningful and trusted relationship with 150 people and these are people with whom we have a personal history.

What does this mean to our “friends”  on Facebook.... Well, no matter how many “friends”  we have, we can only have a meaningful interaction only with our trusted “friends”  which cannot be more than 150.  And these are people who we know, who we’ve met face-to-face and have some sort of history with. And in this case Facebook can enhance and contribute to making these relationships stronger, especially if there is a physical distance between us and our “friends”.

Facebook itself allows the user to segregate “friends and family”  into different categories, thus allowing us to maintain the meaningful relationship with the magic Dunbar number!

Fischer’s observation that “e-communication does not replace in person contact” is very true, however, once that personal contact is made, e-communication can definitely help maintain the relationship.

I guess what Facebook has done is to contribute to an increased voyeurism. This said, we must bear in mind that as a tool it is used differently by different people. 

For example, for a vast majority of people living in developing countries not only it is a way of keeping in touch with their loved ones who have migrated abroad, but also a source of information and one that provides them with a bird’s eye view to the world. Similarly, for the diaspora, it is a great source of information and content about their home country and a way to keep in touch with their local culture.

So to conclude, if we do not feel lonely, Facebook does not make us lonely and if we do feel lonely, Facebook can help maintain status quo, or can help us reconnect with one the 150 people in our social group, thus contribute to make us less lonely!


Yes, I am an optimist and a technology determinist!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Clearing the mental clutter

As a child, our parents continuously encouraged us to clean our room and put things in order. 

When we became adults, at regular intervals we get an urge to clear the physical clutter which we may have accumulated over time. This then may lead to some sort of massive or modest spring cleaning. Typically after these “ surges”  we feel good and gratified.... ready to accumulate more :)

Two weeks into my new adventure, I discovered mental clutter.

And to my biggest chagrin this is something  that I have never paid attention to, nor taken the necessary time to clear.

Mental clutter is the most deadly form of clutter.... To start with, its burden can literally break your back and because it has no physical manifestation and is invisible, one tends to ignore it or even worse not pay any attention to its various signs and symptoms.

As I embarked on my new adventure, in a whole new setting, with a whole new regime, I miraculously - and believe me this was not by design - am clearing my mental clutter which was sapping my energy and taking up so much of my brain bandwidth. And I can tell you it feels so good.

This healing process is helping me to focus on my needs and interests. It is helping me to understand what are the real priorities in life. I’ve come to cherish more than ever the love and affection of my loved ones, my friends and the very people who really care about me and the very people I care about most.


My new adventure may have seemed a bit out of character for someone like me. But I believe it probably will end up being one of the better things I’ve done for myself. I am looking forward to every minute of it, as for me it is a learning, healing and inspiring adventure.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Thank you for touching my life....

By now I know that when something  happens in my life, it is for a good reason. I've learnt that even if I do not understand why something is happening, I should not ask too many questions, as  sooner or later I may understand the "design" and intent of the event. And more importantly, I've learnt that the best and perhaps the only thing I can do is to learn so that I can grow.

These life changing events can come in different flavours. They can be a life changing incident, or a life changing encounter with a person.

Today, I wish to say thank two extraordinary people who over the course of the last twelve months were my travel mates on a journey of self-discovery and introspection.....

The first person  is a total stranger by the name of Luiga. Luiga came to my life when I most needed someone who could help me verbalize my feelings and state of mind. With  beautiful eyes and a disarming emotional intelligence and empathy she managed to dig  deep into my emotions and thoughts, she held me by hand, listened to the words that came out from my heart  without passing judgement and said a prayer for me.

I feel blessed, fortunate and privileged to have  learnt the art of  selflessness and giving from this wonderful person. Thank you Luiga.

The second person is my coach who taught to see opportunity in vulnerability and showed me how to transform fragility to strength. She helped me understand that all events of life are a gift. She made sure I remained engaged and motivated; helped me explore the uncharted waters of  mindfulness; taught me the importance of pausing and setting aside time to reflect, breath and showed me how to ask powerful questions; and reminded me of the power and potential of being curious.

I will eternally be grateful to her for helping me get back my life in my hands. I hope she is proud of me for putting to practice the power of pause - something that I am really looking forward to as I enter the final countdown to a new chapter in my life .....

I'll be for ever indebted to both of you. I hope I can give back some of the wonderful things I learnt from you both and to make a difference in someone's life, the way you made a difference in my life.

THANK YOU for touching my heart, for lighting the extinct flame in me, for shining light and holding my hand as I found my way through a bumpy and dark trail. I am very lucky to have had both of you as guides, coaches and mentors. As Marcel Proust said, you are the gardeners who made my soul blossom. THANK YOU.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Be the leader who opens the door to knowledge #kmers #km

Peter Drucker many years ago said, "If knowledge is not challenged to grow, it disappears fast". He also cautioned that "Knowledge is infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had."

So, what does it take to make sure we do not perish our most valuable resource: our knowledge?

After seeing many different incarnations of knowledge management initiatives and activities, I have reached the conclusion that we do not need more than the umpteenth website or a publication to keep knowledge alive... What we need is leadership.

We need leaders who create:
  • the right environment to increase the flow of information and learning both inside and outside organizations
  • a safe space for people to share their successes and failures
  • a collaborative environment  based on trust that fosters organic learning and sharing
And we need leaders who move their people beyond sharing what's already known and allow them to dig deep so that they can unearth the many hidden gems.

If you want your KM initiative to succeed, show leadership.... Resist the temptation of putting in place a stand-alone KM activity. Be bold one to put in place a KM initiative that supports the mission and vision of your business.  Get your head around the fact that reinventing the wheel is not only an expensive proposition, it simply not an option at all.

Before embarking on a KM journey, ask yourself: "Do I know what knowledge I have and do I know what I need". Once you've answered this fundamental question, consider the following:
  • are you acting on the knowledge that you have
  • are you using the knowledge that you have to create something new
  • are you sharing and documenting what is working and what is not working
  • are you motivating people and allowing them to share their successes and failures
  • are you creating a sense of purpose for people to share their knowledge
Remember learning and sharing is rewarding and needs to be considered as an act of love. 

For knowledge to grow, as a leader you need to keep at bay internal rivalries, you need to make sure people do not feel threatened by sharing and help them understand that sharing knowledge is a pathway to growth. 

So as a leader of your KM activities and agenda, have a vision and lead your people to translate the vision into reality.  Show your leadership by removing all barriers, create a space safe to learn, share, generate new knowledge and influence. Nurture those who share and learn willingly.

And yes, be inspired by Rumi..... "The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore"..... so ignore the naysayers and continue to pursue your vision of being a leader.

And remember as Rumi said "Ignorance is God's prison. Knowing is God's palace. " So lead and be the one who opens the doors to God's palace.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The battle of giants.... Taxonomy vs folksonomy

Martial Raysse - Painting exhibited at
Raysse exhibition in Paris
The other day I came across Patrick Lambe's (Patrick is one of my knowledge management mentors) book entitled "Organizing Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness".

Patrick wrote this book about seven years ago. Reflecting on the changes over the last seven years, and more specifically the fact that folksonomy has somewhat invaded and overshadowed taxonomy's territory, I am wondering how relevant taxonomy may be today....

Of course, it goes without saying that taxonomy is the foundation for folksonomy.

To use an analogy, while today there are fewer and fewer artists producing Piero della Francesca type masterpieces and perhaps we see more Martial Raysse type works of art; yet both pieces of art stir emotions, are admirable, appealing to our various senses.

Portrait of Duke and Duchess of Urbino
By Piero della Francesca
Art critiques go out of their way to analyze both the old and the new. And art students cannot finish their degree without learning all there is to learn about art history.

In a way, this may holds true with folksonomy. Do we need to have some understanding of taxonomy to create good and meaningful hashtags, tags or labels?


No doubt that the 21st century knowledge worker, needs to have some understanding of good classification practices - and I guess you can call it taxonomy.

Similarly, Martial Raysse most probably studied Piero della Francesca's work extensively before he did his masterpiece.

I'm not an art critique, so I will limit my observations to the KM world..... I believe today's knowledge worker  is perhaps a bit luckier than his/her ancestors, as  thanks to folksonomy - which is a less rigid,  more dynamic and user-friendly - we do not need to adhere to "forced rules" and can create our classification as and when needed.

This means that while some of the classifications (hashtags, tags or labels) will end up staying with us for a long period of time, others, once they have served their purpose will die of natural death.

More importantly, folksonomy does not require us to retrofit our classification system.... What ever was - continues to be - and what ever is to be, will benefit from the new classification.

Another advantage of folksonomy is the fact that we do not  need to use or memorize a huge tome of terms,  become experts or rely on experts to classify content.

When hashtags - which are our new way of classifying content - go viral, we all become experts as we find it pretty intuitive to use the right hashtag, label or tag  for  the right content.

I may have oversimplified it tremendously, but I cannot help asking myself whether we still need taxonomy in its original incarnation to help us share content, or if folksonomy and what ever will come next is doing an equally good if not a better job?

I  love to hear Patrick's and your view on this.




Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Regaining our lost wisdom: Art of wisely breaking the rules #leadership

When in need of inspiration, I often resort to watching a TedTalk, as this helps me to reinvigorate my soul and mind.

Last week in one of my moments of seeking for inspiration, I came across the passionate talk "Our loss of wisdom" by Barry Schwartz.

In his talk, Schwartz, shows us how we've lost our wisdom together with our sense of virtue, kindness, care and empathy.

The following day after watching Schwartz's TEDTalk, I witnessed what Schwartz referred to as "loss of wisdom, virtue, kindness, care and empathy", and Voltaire's words about common sense came to life:

Common sense is not so common

As I was living through my "loss of wisdom" experience, Schwartz's words kept ringing in my head:

  • "It takes lots of experience to learn to take care for people." 
  • "You do not need to be brilliant to be wise, but without wisdom, brilliance is not enough"
  • "Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking" 
Schwartz is damn right: "The truth is that neither rules nor incentives are enough to do the job. Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom."

In his talk, Schwartz quotes Aristotle: "Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill." and says:
A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. 
A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. 
A wise person is like a jazz musician -- using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand.
A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. 
And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. 
Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you're serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.
Thank you Mr Schwartz for showing us that we're only a step away to avoid commit the sin of losing our wisdom. So let's hope that we all regain our wisdom, become more virtuous, caring and empathetic.

And thank you for a passionate and thought-provoking talk!




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Selfie: narcissism or solitude?

Wikipedia describes selfie as:
A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr. They are often casual, and are typically taken either with a camera held at arm's length or in a mirror.
Once a novelty, selfies have now become our bread and butter....

Be it you are President Obama at Madiba's funeral, be it the oscar star studded selfie, be it a biker on a Roman bridge, be it an F1 fan going to a race, be it a 9 year old playing with mum's or dad's phone or iPad and experimenting a selfie.

Even NASA could not resist the charm  and glamour of a selfie and decided to launch a campaign asking folks to take a selfie. Guess what 36,000 people (where they narcissists or terribly lonely folks) responded to their call, resulting a stunning mosaic of our planet to celebrate Earth Day.

I guess if you are anywhere between 5 and 50ish, chances are, you may have done a selfie. Not sure anyone will admit that their selfie is a sign of narcissism, and I am equally sure no one will admit that it is a sign of solitude..... Maybe it is somewhere in between.

What struck me the other day, as I was crossing one of the beautiful bridges in the eternal city, were two ladies, one a bike, and other one obviously travelling on her own, both of them fully engaged in a selfie. I had the urge to ask them whether they wanted me to take their picture. But their posture and look of pleasure on their face taking a selfie made me reconsider my offer.

Before the advent of selfies, we would have stopped someone, conversed and asked them to take our picture. Today, on the other hand, conversation seems to be luxury and the quest for self-sufficiency and immediacy seems to annihilate everything else.

I committed the same sin on Sunday.... We were getting ready to leave for the Monaco F1 race and I had the urge of posting my excitement on social media. While my family was getting ready,  I resorted to selfie......

After committing the sin, I thought to myself, would it have made a difference if I had posted the picture 15 minutes later? And of course the answer is NO, not at ALL. So why did I resort to a selfie......

And the honest answer, is I do not know, maybe because I had never done one before..... Maybe because I was super excited and wanted to share my excitement with my friends in real time. But then so what? Did they really care? Did they see it the moment I posted it?

What ever the motivation of a selfie, I wonder how it will at the end of the day transform our identities and culture. Now that we've seen the selfie version of our planet, of the Pope, President Obama, Hollywood stars and you and I, what next?

Go social... share this....