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Garima Sharma: Valuing Knowledge Equally

Garima Sharma leads NBS’s co-creation initiative. Co-creation brings managers and researchers together to develop resources based on their collective insights. Garima develops resources for people interested in such collaboration.

Contact Garima if you want to find out more about how researchers and managers can collaborate effectively. And see NBS’s existing materials on the topic, as well.

Garima is an assistant professor of strategy at the University of New Mexico. Previously, she was a postdoctoral associate at NBS, managing specific co-creation projects

Facilitating these projects, Garima sought to create “magic moments.” Managers and researchers often have different perspectives, she recalled. She wanted to “create energy so that researchers and managers can step into that space and forget about their differences and really develop innovative insights together.”

On one project, the magic happened when researcher Lori DiVito decided to “literally start from a blank slate.” Often in such projects, researchers take on the role of providing knowledge, while managers more passively receive information. Breaking those roles, Dr. DiVito displayed a blank slide to the managers participating in the project. Garima recalled: “She said, ‘Let’s build the way we define concepts together in real time.’” The result: managers provided valuable insights on definitions and on research design, something that researchers would traditionally handle.

In such interactions, Garima wants to see community of peers, so that “if someone is looking from outside, they couldn’t tell who is the researcher and who is the manager.”

Valuing All Knowledge

Garima’s appreciation for insights of managers and academics is rooted in her belief in equality. “All of us have different kinds of knowledge,” she said, “and it’s important to give them equal weight.”

She links her belief in equality to growing up in India, “in a society where there are gendered norms,” and to her long experience as a student, “where you are always receiving information, not participating.” Being in situations where not all knowledge is valued equally made her want to create change. “I want to create opportunities for everyone to have a voice.”

Listening to Arnav

Outside work, Garima’s appreciation for different kinds of wisdom extends to her five-year-old son, Arnav. “I think about how I can treat his knowledge as equivalent to mine,” she explained. She looks for ways to draw out his insights and show respect for them. “Even simple actions — for example, when I’m talking to him, sitting down and looking him in his eyes instead of hovering over him — can change the dynamic.”

The reward is learning from him. “His expertise is in questioning and staying curious — nothing comes with an instruction manual for him. He is always asking why things are the way they are. It’s an amazing way to know.” On a recent trip to India, she saw the country through his eyes — “it was a new India for me.”

Improving and Enjoying the Process

Garima’s father told her: “Focus on process, not outcomes. Just do your work every day and focus on the next action.” When she was a high school student, up late and stressed about competitive exams, he would turn the lights out. “If you have to get so worked up,” he said, “it’s not worth doing it.” He encouraged her to stay in the moment, and enjoy each incremental action.

Garima applies the same lens to her work today, and welcomes the process of improvement.

“I don’t want to live in a world that’s about errors,” she said. “I think the world is constantly improving… as [people] take action, reflect on what could’ve been done better, and try again.”

Academia “lives that model” of reflection and renewed effort, she said. For example, academic articles go through a process of peer review before being published. Peer review is “fundamentally based on the idea that a group of strangers will help develop your ideas.” Training of PhD students, similarly, shows a belief that individuals can achieve their goals with support: “You can do it, and we will help you get there.”

“What’s most exciting to me is to go back to the drawing board again and again and improve the current version [of the project], not thinking of the current version as mistake.”

Small Dinner Companions

NBS asks: Who would you invite to a dinner party? Garima said that “hanging with Arnav’s little friends is always so cool.” She loves their “carefree, contagious” conversation. “They always stay in the moment — whatever transpires right before takes over their conversation. Being able to listen in is just hilarious, and always reminds me to not dwell over my to-do list.”

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