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Zen and the art of Knowledge Management

1 December 2010
lotus flower

The following short piece, in its personal tone, is slightly different than what you've probably read in our magazine so far.

My name is Tali and I am a senior Knowledge Management consultant and have been working at ROM for the last three and a half years. During these full and interesting years I have learned the fascinating methodology of Knowledge Management became acquainted with the world that underlies this doctrine and have managed many Knowledge Management projects for large organizations.

In recent years, I have also delved into a process of both studying and practicing the way of Zen Buddhism, a path that offers one to explore and discover their own consciousness, feelings and thoughts and reach balance and tranquility through meditative sitting.

I used the word "also" since I really did view these two aspects of my life as parallel; how could Knowledge Management and Zen Buddhism meet? I can invest in both worlds and progress in their respective paths but they don't seem to have anything in common. Only recently have I realized that they actually have a lot in common and that the joy I derive from both fields is rooted in the same internal essence.

 The inner search engine

Only one who searches, can understand the person who has yet to find. No one tries to reveal their self if they don't sense their self is concealed from them- if they haven't experienced those days they find themselves surprisingly managed by thoughts, fears or a sudden wave of emotions of an unknown source. This discontentment and emotional overflow leads people to begin searching.

This is true not only on an individual/spiritual level but on an organizational level as well; if everything is clear and accessible even in turbulent times (organizational crises) since the knowledge, data and information are retrievable and processed in a manner that clearly and sharply serves the organizational decision making- there is no need to begin searching. Organizations usually turn to us when they experience discontentment, when knowledge created on one side of the organization doesn't find its way to the other side of the organization; when chasing after knowledge and information becomes a matter of routine; when the wheel is repeatedly reinvented and there is no synchronization, synergy and especially no harmony.

The search for a clear and quiet place that enables us to use the organizational intellect or the individual power of thought, is the same mechanism that aspires to make decisions from a knowing, clear and serene place.

The way to grow

It is no coincidence that meditative thought involves crossing one's legs and a straight back. The wide, grounded and  stable base provided by the crossed legs allow the back and head to grow upwards. This resembles one of the Buddhistic tradition's most initial and sacred symbols, symbolizing the spiritual path every person must walk on throughout their life; it is composed of one's large and wide left foot that is the base for the ladder that leads one upwards.

This means that without grounding, without a large and wide basis, without roots the tree cannot grow towards the sky.

Like the individual path, so does the organizational learning and growing process require a base. We have often been requested by organization to arrive and manage learning, innovation or lesson learning meetings yet these meetings became a platform for people to meet each other, exchange knowledge on projects in the organization and exchange basic information to which they did not have access previously.

We tend to describe the process thus: "from knowledge holding, to knowledge sharing, to knowledge management". In other words, the organizational knowledge exists in people' brains, in documents, on computers, in islands in the organizations. Our initial goal is to build bridges and tunnels and make sure that the knowledge is flowing throughout the organization and that it is being shared between the different units and ranks and that the knowledge base is wide and shared.

Every individual's creative essence, which evolves and grows, can be revealed and made accessible to said individuals only after they attain balance- not the emotion nor the brain vibrant and in control; not anger, or sadness and not even the great emotional experiences. Only through balance and serenity can a direction be suddenly found, and creativity/prosperity realized. This is also true regarding Knowledge Management: only when the knowledge is transferred from the organization's endowed parts to its weaker areas and have created a uniform level of knowledge, only through this serenity can the existing, available and accessible lead to learning, growth and evolution. Only this base can lead to new ideas, learning that leads organizational and personal development and to the development of new and innovative knowledge.

The big hive

Thousands of years this was all clear to us all; it's stated in every religion and ancient tradition: we are all one. The universe is one. The page on which I am writing encompasses the sun that warmed the trees, the water that nourished them ,the woodsman and his family, the paper company workers, the pen manufacturers and me, the person writing on this paper.

 This idea faded over the years. We've become individualists, private secluded beings. However, the processes this last century has seen have brought us back to our unified self: globalization, the world wide web and the blurred borders between organizations are all bringing back the feeling that we are all living in one big hive. We are all one entity in many ways.

This is the direction knowledge management and sharing in organizations if heading towards. The knowledge is perceived as an organizational asset that isn't appropriated by a specific person or group of people, rather accumulated and converted into an 'organizational intellect' which is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Transferring the knowledge and sharing between the different parts of the organization create this hive-like structure that functions in harmony. This image makes it easier to understand how a 'jam' in the knowledge flow can affect the entire organization and interfere with its functioning.

On ROI and Nirvana

One thing that always stood out in these two paths I've chosen to walk on, Knowledge Management and spirituality, is the need to invest over time, nurture over time and be ever so patient.

In Knowledge Management, like meditative sitting, it is very hard to prove a ROI in such short time. It is a process in which your consciousness changes gradually and something becomes quieter, more creative and ultimately happier. This is also true for Knowledge Management: an organizational change, a change of sharing culture, beyond the "knowledge is power" approach to an approach that views sharing and Knowledge Management prominently.

We must practice, work and believe.

What about Nirvana?

 We will reach enlightenment when we do not regress , when we don't need to ask or be asked "why are we even doing this?".

The day the serene, meditative and connected outlook will be the perspective through which I view my entire life.

The day Knowledge Management will be so embedded in the work processes, so present and supportive of every area of organizational life, adding value to all aspects.

On that day we won't need to push or even want; it will simply be there.


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