Monday, February 21, 2011

New Graduate Program in Information and Knowledge Strategy

Let's take a short break from the Kenya stories.

Allow me to report on a new development in the KM/knowledge services field.

Colleagues and friends know that corporate knowledge strategy and strengthening the connection between knowledge strategy and the organization's business strategy are high on my list of important topics. So I'm delighted to share the news that Columbia University has announced a new graduate degree in this area, the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy.

Our company - SMR - has been involved in this work, and Columbia's School of Continuing Education has just published its announcement about the program. And on a personal basis, I'm particularly honored to have been invited to teach two courses in the program, Principles of Management and Leadership in the Knowledge Domain and Entrepreneurial Knowledge Services.

The program is important for a number of reasons. For one thing, this is the first time this subject has been addressed at the graduate academic level. There are many programs in KM, both graduate and in some cases at the undergraduate level (I've identified more than 40 KM programs, including quite a few in other countries). There are also many well-structured i-school programs. For people who are interested in formal education having to do with the knowledge strategy/management connection, though, I don't know of any other graduate program. So the new Columbia University program offers a very special - and unique - opportunity.

At the same time, Columbia's new M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy clearly demonstrates an innovative, forward-looking frame of reference for the university. This kind of initiative, recognizing the role that information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning play in organizations, is unusual in knowledge-related disciplines, and it is good to see this program being offered. As enterprise leaders seek to identify and implement the best opportunities for knowledge development and knowledge sharing for their employees (what we in the business like to call "KD/KS"), they are learning that they must do so not only for current organizational effectiveness but for future success. Columbia's program is a major step forward and is going to be extremely valuable for helping managers understand how to deal with corporate knowledge and managing knowledge services in the future.

The full description for the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy makes it clear that this is a subject whose time has come:

"The most critical challenge facing organizations today is managing the analysis, evaluation, and dissemination of data, information, and knowledge for strategic decision making. Columbia University's new Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy program trains students to develop the leadership skills needed to address this challenge.

"The program teaches students to plan, design, and evaluate initiatives in knowledge and information across a wide spectrum of global environments, including corporations, government, educational, and nonprofit institutions. Students also develop a critical insight into the legal, social, and cultural factors that influence an organization's ability to leverage information, and learn to analyze, manage, and solve problems that impact process, human resources, and technology."

Columbia's new M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy is a sixteen month integrated program taught in a hybrid in-class and online format, framed by three short residencies on the Columbia University campus in New York City. Particularly attractive for mid-career individuals looking for new challenges, the program is ideal for people who want to expand or extend their current workplace role, and for current (or future) entrepreneurs who recognize the opportunities to create new venture in the knowledge domain.

I'm looking forward to this. Being part of Columbia's new M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program promises to be very exciting indeed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Our Private Kenya (4): Spectacular and Seldom-Visited Countryside

While there are probably any number of "private" places to visit in Kenya, relatively unknown parts of the country, our various safaris throughout the country enabled us to enjoy several of these, and we'll always be grateful we had the opportunity. Being some distance from Nairobi or the other major cities (Nakuru, Kisumu, and Mombasa), and not necessarily in close connection to the more popular safari parks, these places are pretty much ignored by tourists.

That was OK with us as we drove about Kenya. Not that we didn't want to share. We just liked the idea that we could explore places where not many visitors have gone and, on some occasions, to see sights that are usually seen only by the local people, or other Kenyans on their own journeys. Almost every Kenyan not native to Nairobi or one of the other urban centers often speaks about visiting his or her "rural home," and even if that person has lived away from the village for some time - or even, in some cases, for some generations - that rural home continues to exert a strong pull and many people like to return there whenever they can.

Such was the case with us. Our good friend Nerisa Jepkorir Kamar, written about often in these posts, has during my time working in Kenya invited me on many occasions to come "up country" (that's the phrase Kenyans use when they refer to going out of Nairobi, regardless of the direction), but it never seemed to work out. On this safari, it happened. As our group left the Kakamega Forest National Reserve, in the Kisumu area and - as it turned out - not far from Chepkorio, Nerisa's village, the ranger at the park gate asked about our travels. When we told him we were going back to Nairobi, he asked about the general direction we were planning to follow and suggested we try an alternate route which, by coincidence, delighted us as it would take us near Nerisa's family home.

So off we went in that direction, and we had a lovely visit with Nerisa's family, some of whom were visiting for the Christmas holidays. As we had not been expected, our little safari groupo insisted that we should not stay long, but we were nevertheless treated to very generous hospitality, and we had a very pleasant visit (as can be seen in the above photo, with us posing just as we took our leave).

The amazing part of our "private" Kenya adventure took place when we left Chepkorio, and we were totally unsuspecting. Nerisa, apparently in a mischievous mood, did not tell us about what we would see as we began our long drive back to Nairobi and it turned out to be spectacular indeed (in fact, had she attempted to describe it to us, we wouldn't have been able to grasp the beauty of what we were about to see). The views almost unbelievably beautiful and, coming as it did in this part of our journey, the experience seemed almost a perfect finale to our time in Kenya.

The drive was pretty breath-taking, and when we stopped we found ourselves looking out over the Kerio Valley, between the Tugen Hills and the Elgeyo escarpment. We were up about 3,000 feet, looking out over the Kerio Valley which itself lies within the Great Rift Valley (so I guess it's sort of a "valley in the valley," as one of our group put it!). Off in the distance, we could see the Kerio River, flowing northward, ending up eventually in Lake Turkana. This photo will give you an idea of what we saw, and hopefully the photographs in the Kerio Valley, Kenya album will add to the pleasure. What a joy it would be to bring some of my other American and European friends to see this place! Really special!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Our Private Kenya (3): Lord Macmillan and the Flame Trees of Thika

Our next "private" adventure took us to the home of Lord William Northrop Macmillan, an adventurer and American citizen who was so successful in Kenya that he was knighted, in spite of being American. Born in Scotland and brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, Macmillan was one of three or four settlers (like Lord Delamere and Lord Egerton) who were influential in bringing agricultural science to Kenya, establishing agriculture as one of the country's major economies (if not the major economy).

I had wanted to visit the house ever since I first visited the near-by Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park. I had heard about the Macmillan home, and somehow (don't ask how) got the idea that it would be something like Egerton Castle, full of romantic stories and fascinating colonial lore.

That was not the be the case. It is a spacious, grand edifice from the period (Lord Macmillan's dates are 1872-1925), but it had obviously fallen into a great state of disrepair. So when we arrived, after an adventurous journey from the Thika area, trying to locate the place and seeing all sorts of interesting scenery along the way, we discovered that the house and lands now belonged to the Kenya government and would eventually be a tourist site and house museum. Unfortunately, the work is progressing very slowly, and the gate and the wall barred out entry.

Once again, thanks to the splendid skills of supreme negotiator Charles, the supervisor for the project was brought to the gate and we were able to go in, with the supervisor himself guiding us for our visit.

And what a tour it was! Lord Macmillan had arrived about 1901 or so, planning to spend his time in big-game hunting (and enjoying it to such an extent that ten years later U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt came to join him in some of his expeditions). He also, as I've noted, got very involved in the agricultural pursuits then being put forward but his success was - to put it mildly from some of what I've been told - extremely limited. In fact, Lord Macmillan is remembered as something of a dreamer and one who engaged in any number of unsuccessful initiatives but he is nevertheless remembered fondly in the area.

And the man himself. Apparently Lord Macmillan was a man of considerable girth (one commentator told us he weighed over 400 pounds!), and you hear about that often when Lord Macmillan's name comes up, with the story even following him into the grave. It's told that when he died, having expressed the desire to be buried at the summit of Ol Donyo Sabuk, the tractor pulling the coffin up the mountain couldn't make it. So Lord Macmillan is buried - along with his wife and one of the servants - about half-way up the mountain (see my earlier post about Ol Donyo Sabuk, with more photos, including the gravesite).

As for the house, of course it is still undergoing serious re-construction (go here to see the photos of our visit) but even in this state, it was worth the journey, especially being able to experience the curious lack of sophistication in finding ourselves in a not-tourist-ready situation. The supervisor who showed us about was full of interesting stories, and while we were at the place, we discovered that the home had been the location of a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II (as were apparently other sites in Kenya - see below). There is a memorial plaque honoring the Italian nobleman who was in charge of the camp (I couldn't quite figure out whether he was one of the prisoners or an Italian nobleman working for the Allies), and we were told about (but didn't attempt to enter) tunnels lead from the house to the outbuildings, to permit safe escape for the officers if necessary.

The house is beautifully situated, and as the re-construction and planning operations progress, we are told that not only will the fields facing the house be converted into a grand parking lot for all the visitors, there will be a cable car going back and forth to the summit of Ol Donyo Sabuk, so that the treacherous drive (which Charles and Nerisa and I can attest to, from our visit up the mountain) can be avoided.

It will be fun to return when all the plans have materialized (but I'm afraid I'm put in mind of Lord Macmillan's own dreams and schemes - I just hope this time it all works).

Skepticism aside, the entire adventure at Lord Macmillan's home was great fun, complemented with gorgeous viewings of the famous flame trees (a la The Flame Trees of Thika, the popular book by Elspeth Huxley and later film). They truly are exceptional, and while we had seen them in many different places in the Thika area, their arrangement at the Macmillan House site was special, as I've tried to show in the photographs.

And one more thought, totally unrelated (except in connection with Italian prisoners-of-war kept in Kenya during World War II): Over in another part of Kenya, on the mountain road between Nairobi and Nakuru, there is a little jewel of a chapel. I passed it frequently while I lived in Kenya, and finally stopped recently to go inside, and there are a couple of photographs attached to this story of the prisoners at Lord Macmillan's place. There's no other connection, I think, but this is a good place to show the little chapel. Very sweet, seating only 12 people, and apparently a nice place for a little spiritual refreshment as travellers go up or come down the mountain road overlooking the Great Rift Valley.