» Archive for May, 2007

Knowledge, Wisdom, and the Rabbi

Friday, May 25th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

«The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.»
-Kahlil Gibran

This space is often occupied by discussions of how to “manage” knowledge, define knowledge, distribute knowledge, and classify knowledge.  In many ways, these discussions look at knowledge in the abstract, as if knowledge existed without people.

Wisdom is not one particular characteristic but accumulated knowledge and learning combined with common sense and insight.

One can accumulate much knowledge and learning without achieving wisdom.  In fact many do.  But to study in the company of a wise man is something very few get to experience.

Rabbi Mark Cohen was one such  wise man.  When we first met, I was seven and he was my teacher.  He was stern, demanding, perhaps (to a seven year) a bit scary.  He spoke with a strong, foreign accent (he was born in Egypt) and seemed very very old.  I don’t think I appreciated his wisdom then; I only knew that he gave me too much homework and tested me mercilessly on my studies.

But my connection with Rabbi Cohen didn’t end with my wonder years.  He was my teacher for the two years prior to my Bar Mitzvah and taught me to read Torah and Haftarah.  Around that time, I began to see past the Rabbi Cohen who gave assignments and corrected me without pity.  He was exceptionally well informed in world affairs.  He spoke eight languages.  But that wasn’t what made him wise.

Rabbi Cohen, much to my surprise, was very well liked by my parents.  This was an unlikely pairing.  My parents were and are not religious, my father least of all.  Yet they hit it off with this short, super observant rabbi who didn’t try to foist his own personal ways on others.  He taught by example and we all learned.

Rabbi Cohen was my moral compass.  He, more so than anyone I can think of, knew right from wrong.  My parents, when we faced a situation of one kind or another, would say “what would Rabbi Cohen say?”  His Hebrew name was Mordechai and he, just like Mordechai in the Bible, was a hero and a righteous man.

Rabbi Cohen didn’t tell us much about his personal life.  I wish I had pushed him more.  He was born in Egypt in 1907.  When Nasser came to power in 1956, he, as many other Jews, was rounded up and put into a camp.  One day Rabbi Cohen was singled out for a severe beating by the camp commandant but he was saved by a guard.  Who was this person?  Just an illiterate Arab boy whom Rabbi Cohen had tutored in Arabic years before.

He was eventually exiled to Italy.  His wife, Giselle, who knew not of his whereabouts, was also exiled and they ended up on the same ship.  Soon after they found themselves in New York, where Rabbi Cohen answered an advertisement in the Jewish Press for a Hebrew School teacher.  He saw his primary role to teach Torah, not just the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses), but the entire body of Jewish religious literature, law and teaching, to the next generation.  But it wasn’t just one or two generations.  He taught classes until he reached the age of 90.  And by doing so, thousands were exposed to his wisdom.

Rabbi Cohen died last week.  He was 100 years old.  His funeral was held in the sanctuary where he led prayers and taught students for almost half a century.  It was filled with students, their parents, and their grandparents, to all of whom he had taught something.

His passing leaves a void.  Or perhaps not, as his legacy and teachings do not end with his passing.  One of the many rabbis who eulogized Rabbi Cohen commented on how Rabbi Cohen had prepared his son for his Bar Mitzvah and how Rabbi Cohen, at some point at every Bar Mitzvah, would look up at the Bar Mitzvah boy or Bat Mitzvah girl and say “don’t break the chain.”  That rabbi now passes the same message on to boys and girls in his temple.

Rabbi Cohen taught us how peace and study trump everything else.  It is a lesson I often reflect on.  Now if only the rest of the world would listen.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Memo From Frank Leistner, Chief Knowledge Officer, SAS

Friday, May 18th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

[Editor's note: Two weeks ago in this space we ran Jonathan Spira's letter to the Wall Street Journal criticizing a story, the Curse of Success which, in Spira's opinion, left readers with the wrong impression about the outcome of knowledge management projects.  We received many comments in response but one, written by Frank Leistner, SAS' CKO, stood out and is published here with his permission. -BA]

Dear Jonathan,

Thanks for your very good commentary on the curse of success article.

I fully agree with you.  Having been involved in KM projects for almost 10 years myself, I think you hit it spot on.  It is easy to pick a couple of cases to make any point, but the more successful projects are often more embedded into the organization, i.e. they might not be labeled KM anymore, in fact the real successful ones are not projects at all, they are just processes, “it’s how things are done around here”…

I actually think that if they fail, it is precisely because they are seen as projects (with a beginning and an end), and the ongoing change, marketing, embedding, and investment drops off after the launch and the frustration that not everybody just magically follows and goes with it forever… it is the ongoing drivership that enables longer-lasting success…

Within Business Intelligence company SAS, the largest privately held independent SW company in the world, I have been leading KM projects for the last 10 years and most of them are still going strong after all this time.

Regards, and thanks for the great newsletter,

Frank Leistner

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Reinventing the Office? Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the 2007 Microsoft Office System…

Friday, May 11th, 2007 by David Goldes

…But Were Afraid to Ask

We’re pleased to announce a new report, Microsoft’s 2007 Office System: Should My Organization Upgrade?, the first in-depth look at the new 2007 Microsoft Office system, which consists of new and redesigned applications and servers for word processing, spreadsheets, instant messaging, e-mail, mobile work, meetings, content management, online conferencing, and collaborative workspaces.

With the 2007 Microsoft Office system, Microsoft is releasing dozens of new and redesigned applications and servers.  This is a very comprehensive and well thought-out platform but we don’t recommend rushing into an upgrade today.  Depending on the organization, the minuses may outweigh the pluses.

The 2007 Microsoft Office system is so different that it should be considered a new product in many respects, not merely an upgrade, especially given extensive training requirements for the new user interface.  The report evaluates all 2007 Office system products and servers, including the Microsoft Office 2007 suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, among others), Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft Office OneNote 2003, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft Office Groove 2007, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, and Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007.

A few issues managers should consider include:
- Not all components have to be deployed but most organizations will probably need to deploy more than just one or two.
- How do these tools enhance organization-wide productivity?
- What productivity gains will you see?
- What are the various Office 2007 editions, and which components are included in each?
- What do you need to know about XML since documents are now XML based?

This report is available to Basex:TechWatch readers at the special introductory price of $495 at http://www.basex.com/btw2007office.  A free executive summary is also available.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Basex to Wall Street Journal: Successful KM Projects Are Not Cursed

Friday, May 4th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

On April 28, the Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with the MIT Sloan Management Review, ran an article on knowledge management projects entitled The Curse of Success.  It was written by Alton Chua, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.  My letter to the editor follows.

Dear Editor,

Alton Chua’s look at knowledge management projects (April 28 Wall Street Journal) will leave readers with the impression that such projects always have problems and need to be approached with caution.  Only the latter part is true, but this is the case with any company’s contemplated change in behavior.

Successful KM projects aren’t necessarily always cursed.  Managers do however need to employ common sense in the planning and implementation phases.  Just like a non-KM system that’s appropriate for a particular group or division might not work well in other parts of a company, the same principle holds true for KM systems.  Managers who assume that a successful KM system can easily be replicated from one department to another are overlooking basic tenets of planning, i.e. the need to perform a needs analysis and listen carefully to the stakeholders in the project.  Managers who bypass this step are usually responsible for the failure of a system implementation; the tools and the concept may be innocent bystanders.

Further, there are many software tools out there that are knowledge-economy ready, but that doesn’t make a company and its workers prepared.  The tried and true industrial age way we do things won’t work in the new settings.

In fact, it is critical that managers recognize that behavior patterns, i.e. how people play together in the new corporate sandbox, need to be monitored and modified.   Chua’s second case study illustrates the need for this – the knowledge workers at this company stopped using common sense.

Members of a community of practice assumed an inner circle-like stance?  This happens every day.  Based on Chua’s report, it sounds as if no one familiar with online community behavior spent any time managing this group.  Progress does not occur in a vacuum; communities require as much “management” as any division within a company.

My take is much simpler: the companies Chua writes about seem to have overlooked the need to nurture changes in behavior that are necessary as we move from the industrial age into the knowledge economy.

Perhaps the only “curse” is the KM label.  Many managers have a leftover bad taste from very early (and rudimentary) KM systems, which were doomed to fail.  It’s time we recognize the progress that has been made, while at the same time we must recognize the need not to throw the baby out with the KM bath water.


/s/ Jonathan B. Spira

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.