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Preserving Knowledge over centuries -- Insights on Knowledge Management from cultural practices, for corporate benefit


Sometime back an acquaintance shared an interesting incident. He was the General Manager at a large industrial unit and was given the responsibility of heading a committee that was building a temple in the factory premises. Being an engineer and a manager, he was intrigued to find out how the traditional builders would go about the project. On the appointed day, the Stapathi (the traditional temple architect) arrived at the project site with his assistants. After an evaluation, he started uttering a set of instructions which was in Sanskrit to his assistants. The assistants who seemed to understand the code just nodded their head. There was hardly any notes of blueprints taken. In a few months, the temple came up with every mason exchanging standard sets of instructions to others in codes that was hardly understood by the engineers sponsoring the project. All they could decipher was these were some kind of 'Sutras' that was passed on from generation to another.

As a learning designer, this got me thinking. I researched a little on Wikipedia. At the first level, I found a Sutra is an aphorism or a rule or a formula. And also found that the sutra had the following attributes as defined in one of the scriptures - "Of minimal syllabary, unambiguous, pithy, comprehensive, continuous, and without flaw: who knows the sūtra knows it to be thus." This became even more interesting as I am aware that a vast body of experts across the world had been trying to do this for the learning world through standards like SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). As I researched deeper, I found that vast bodies of knowledge across astronomy, medicine, mathematics, metallurgy, engineering, arts etc. have been preserved this way, some running into thousands of sutras. And each of sutras is connected to the next in some logical sequence.

This method of preserving knowledge in small capsules has saved precious knowledge in the absence of a formal schooling system/written repositories for thousands of years. I found the design of the sutras very intelligent. Corporates would benefit a lot to investigate more on such structures that has stood the test of time. I am imagining that if we define a structure to store processes, methods and steps in a concise, discrete and complete manner (just like sutras) - we would have created the DNA for a knowledge object. This could then be used to store vast bodies of knowledge inside the organization. Would be glad to hear from others on further interesting aspects or insights regarding this. I am already experimenting with it in some of the programs that I am trying to create.


Interesting article. I am interested in knowing more about it. It would be great if you could share more of your insights on this subject.

I like the connection you've made between Sutra's and knowledge management in corporates Ravi.
Wouldn't the nature of information/knowledge be a critical factor in deterning whether it can be capsuled into smaller bits for re-use? I would be very interested to get your insights.

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