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Continuing with our Faculty Series, here's Noni Chawla on 'Living in a Networked World'.

 


(Mr. Chawla completed his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta in 1970. After 33 years in the corporate sector, he set up his own consulting practice – OMNICONSULT Management Advisory. Noni Chawla’s experience in industry includes Tourism & Hospitality, Healthcare, International Business (exports), Executive Search and Consulting. His functional experience ranges from Marketing, his core competence, to New Project Development, Management Consulting, Business Strategy, and Human Resource Management.

Mr. Chawla is a visiting faculty member at various Business Schools in India and regularly publishes articles in business and general press.)

 

From the beginning of time information has been vital to man’s survival, safety and prosperity. Even in the days when we were hunters and gatherers, it was necessary to know where prey was plenty and where sufficient food was available to sustain the tribe, and where danger lurked. Networking was necessary even then, only it was severely limited by physical limits. Babur owed much of his success in conquering Hindustan to successful networking which enabled him to advance through the best routes and strike the right alliances. Even the American War of Independence was won, at least partly, because of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride” – an example of networking.

 

Over the millennia, the importance of networking has remained, but the depth, width and purpose of networking has changed drastically. Networking is now a part of the daily life of almost all individuals living in modern society. Networking has now “flattened” the world, if I can use Friedman’s term. Networking had democratized the world, in a way.

 

The advent of the worldwide web and e-mail was the “killer” application that opened up the world to anybody who had access to a computer directly or indirectly. For most of us today, life without e-mail and access to the web is unimaginable. But more that just keeping in touch with people, the ability to “network” has provided people with opportunities and access that would have been considered a fantasy barely half a generation ago.

 

Not long ago even to get a job it was an advantage to have privileged access to people. Today, privileged access is not really important except to politicians, wheeler-dealers and crooks. Everybody else can get access to the people who matter if you have the right idea. Silicon Valley is an excellent example of a world where anybody with a good, viable idea can get a hearing and an opportunity to try out his idea without any “sifarish”.

 

From a limited world that was defined by how far you could travel or see or communicate either physically or through wires, we have now reached a stage where the world is both limitless and also accessible to all. Our lives are now lived on networks, whether they are business networks, or social networks (Facebook, Orkut, etc), or networks of people who share an interest - photographers, car buffs, you name it and you have a group for it.

 

However, with unlimited access to information, people and knowledge, is the human race any wiser? I don’t know. I would tend to think not if you just look around the world and see what is happening. Is the world a happier place? I don’t know. Can we harness networking technology for the greater benefit of mankind? That is the challenge for future generations.

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