Great people. a real debate then bureacratic insanity and insects

October 31, 2009

Overall October has been a bad month for the blog. I normally achieve a daily contribution, but I will only just scrape weekly this month. A lot of projects (a recession is good for new solutions), the release of v3.0 of SenseMaker™, getting daughter to University for the first time and the normal burden of travel all contributed at various times to this failure. The absence of any sort of holiday this year hasn’t helped together with general guilt about the email backlog and the book. Either way, tomorrow is the first of November and time to turn over a new leaf and get back into the swing of things

I am writing this from the departure lounge of Chennai Airport (Madras in the days of the Raj) after a highly stimulating four days at KM India. A really good debate on day one, followed by a keynote and then our first accreditation course in India. The only downside to the week has been the various encounters with the absurdity of Indian Bureaucracy which reached the heights of absurdity tonight. More of that later, for the moment, to the conference.

In some ways it was like going back several years, and I don’t mean that negatively. The KM community in India appears to be thriving and we had a lot of senior Directors from Industry taking an active part. These days KM conferences tend to be mainly government with low level representation from senior executives, reflecting the position of KM in the strategic pecking order.

I landed at 0200 in the morning Tuesday and managed to snatch a few hours sleep before meeting up with David Gurteen for breakfast and then attended the opening ceremony. That was with the passionate Minister for Technology in Tamil Nadu, a former health profession with a fierce commitment to using technology to improve the welfare of her people. I should really have conferenced blogged the various presentations that followed but I was suffering from lack of sleep and heat.

In the afternoon I proposed the motion “Process inhibits Innovation” in a formal debate which went well. I admit I felt like Daniel in the Lions Den proposing that to a room full of engineers, and the speech from the floor seemed to confirm that. However I found an edge (confusing adaption with processes) for the summing up and the motion was carried by a two thirds majority. Now this was a good debate. For a start I had a mature opponent (a very senior executive) who was very happy to enter into the spirit of things. The motion was neither true not false, but it allowed both of us to take extreme positions without having to put our personal status at stake. The contribution from the floor was outstanding and could have gone on for hours, and it didn’t need any special facilitation techniques. We followed the formal rules of debating and it all worked well. I’ve taken part in a few of these over the years, and had one (KM Australia this year) aborted due to changing motions and changing rules. This was the best, in part because it was formalised (something that makes things less personal, you know you are performing in a role). I enjoyed it, the audience enjoyed it and my opponent wants to do some work with us later this year. early next so it all worked out well.

The keynote was on social computing and KM, and I focused on getting across a lot of the basics of the paradigm shift which has been triggered by complexity theory, pervasive technology and the recession. I didn’t need to explain complexity, as I was focusing on technology here. The podcast and slices are available, and even if you have heard some of the core material the lively question and answer session at the end is worth listening too. I think I am at my best with an intelligent audience asking stimulating questions, and the flow of ideas was good. Thereafter to a two day accreditation programme with 41 rather than the planned 30! I took a more KM focus than normal, but admit I enjoyed running the course. Its the first and probably only one I will do this year (Steve and Michael have taken over the main body of events.) I made a lot of new friends, several academic contacts (I may take up a part time position out here to add to my other posts), and importantly had some new ideas, something that often happens which you teach familiar material to a new and lively audience.

So it was all good until I headed out for the airport. Getting a visa was hard enough some months ago. It involved a ridiculous fee, and a whole week without my passport in Singapore as well as too much time in queues for myself and Dawn. Either way that all worked and armed with Visa and two near identical health forms I got into the country. Getting out however was another matter.

I checked out of the hotel at 1830 and the taxi left me at the airport just before 2000. I was then refused entry to the airport as I did not have a print out of my ticket. No amount of argument would move the guard on the door, so I trekked off to AIrport Managers Office. They sent me to the Post Office who had an internet terminal but would only take cash (I discovered this after I had queued for the one terminal for 45 minutes). So down the road to the money changer and a waste of a ten pound note to get a pound in rupee. A half hour queue in the money changer then another queue for the internet terminal. Using the money changer involved more forms, more signatures and about 15 minutes of process time. At least that worked but I had to pay for time and printing. I handed over a 50 rupee note for a 40 rupee fee, then the fun started. Firstly I had to fill in a large ledger with my name and passport number to say that I had received 10 rupees in change. Then another ledge was brought out and I repeated the same data entry for my 40 rupee payment. Then a receipt was handwritten and signed and I was allowed to go. It was now approaching ten and I was looking forward to getting to the lounge, internet access and a G&T.

It was not to be. OK I was allowed into the airport, but then another guard refused to let me go through security until three hours before the flight. So I ended up sat on a chair for three hours in the observation gallery (the only place with seats). An interesting social phenomena here, whole families where there waiting for their loved ones plane to take off even at midnight, even though all they could see was the outside of an airplane, and they were invisible to even someone with a window seat.

My forehead was already a mass of lumps from mosquito bites during the conference, but the chair was shall we say “occupied” by various types of insect. I only discovered this after a host of new bites prompted me to lift up the seat cushion which was a mistake, sometimes you don’t need to know. I ended up propped against a wall with only the iPod for company for two and a half long hours. When I was finally allowed in, there were more forms, my bags had to be tagged, but at least the lounge has G&T (but no internet). I’m still trying to find a chemist mind you, as I need something to stop the itching, and I didn’t get that solid chunk of time to clear the backlog of work, so there will be little rest tomorrow.

Wonderful country, great people but the bureaucracy must stifle progress

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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