Category: Improve

College Industry Projects

College students and college staff love industry projects. They give students an opportunity to get a feeler of what life after college will be like. Barring any major screw-ups, it is relatively free of the accountability pressures that full-time employees experience. And if there’s a stipend involved, what’s better than that, right?

Consider this…College ecosystems are increasingly focused on industry. And obviously so. But given a choice, every subject project would be an industry project. Top that with b-school obsessions with finishing school type skills to ace interviews. My own MBA program that I’m not too proud of, involved mostly visiting faculty who were really good at what they did, but for many of them, the concept of teaching was something like this… Early in the sem, they’d create ‘x’ number of groups out of our class. Then they’d take the syllabus, chop it up into ‘x’ topics. Each group would present a topic during each lecture. Convenient, right? A more relevant phrase that always comes to mind is, ‘the blind leading the blind.’

So for the heck of it, if we were to plot this trend of live projects forward, colleges themselves would become redundant. Since education exists online in far more affordable, consumable and convenient forms.

So is there something that can be taught at colleges that is tough to learn elsewhere?

I’d say values. Principles. Ethics. Interdependence. Servant leadership. Etc.

My concern with live projects early in a student’s college life is that their entire concept of industry work life gets influenced or shaped by their live projects. And if their value foundations aren’t strong enough, we get the kind of mess a lot of leading business schools (think ‘bar-word’) have created. The sole focus on sales and profit at any and all costs. The global environmental crises, deforestation, corporate glass ceilings, unequal pay, workplace harassment. This about one Harvard dropout Mark Zuckaberg’s moral compass with Facebook. Soak in the irony for a moment. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica conspired to rig elections around the world. And in 2017, Harvard University, based in “Cambridge” Massachusetts, awarded Zuckaberg an honarary Doctor of “Laws” degree.

I believe the first 1-2 semesters in any college should be more about building morals leadership with an industry perspective, rather than simply taking students and tossing them into the “big bad world”. Because it isn’t so much about learning skills. Those are easy to pick up on the job. But few teach you values in the industry. Do you want to leave your student’s future to that chance?

Behavioural Law

Classic economics started off factoring psychology and behavioural trends and shortcomings (biases) into economic understanding. However, through the ages, economic concepts and policies were built on the assumption that humans are rational beings. This was like putting a blanket over our susceptibility to biases and our irrational decision-making tendencies.

It took the path-breaking decades of work by 2002 Nobel Laureate (Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and a few others, to identify and document common human mistakes that spring from our heuristics and biases. This led to the importance of the field of behavioural economics which should ideally replace all economic skillsets.

Going by that logic, I did a cursory check on the LLB syllabus in India and that at Harvard Law School. I also came across research papers and articles around behavioural law at institutes like Yale, Harvard, Cambridge. However, a generic search for Indian LLB syllabus and the Harvard Law curriculum did not show up any subject dedicated to psychology, behaviour, or behavioural law. Stanford mentioned it. However Yale Law did have a fair bit of behaviour covered.

Harvard Law curriculum

While the Harvard program had some 55o study modules, and while they certainly might be including aspects of behavioural law, the subjects list did not include anything related to it or behaviour, despite the importance one might associate with it.

One would imagine that given all the business and personal collaborations and disputes that occur across the world, institutes should have at least by now made human behaviour, behavioural economics and psychology a key part of learning.

You might wonder what it might include? While I wouldn’t exactly know how, I do know that legal professionals are well trained in attack and defense, both in documentation and in fighting cases. And they are adept at understanding the opposition for defense or attack; and identifying potential risk scenarios well into the future. However, armed with behavioural knowledge, they might be able to influence collaborations and solve disputes amicably simply with a better understanding of behaviour and therefore a better choice of words and strategy perhaps. One that could benefit all related parties themselves fairly in the short term, but also steadily influence a more collaborative human race in the longer term.

Many of us have seen those videos of Providence, Rhode Island’s chief municipal judge, Francesco “Frank” Caprio, who metes out ‘human’ and ‘humane’ justice. Someone receiving a judgement from him, or someone simply being spectator to his judgement might have a very different view of humankind. One that is compassionate and optimistic. In a world itching to accuse and punish, imagine the mindset change an entire global legal fraternity might bring about, if they had the superior maturity of Judge Frank Caprio.

Matchbox Design

Matchbox design

As a kid, I used to be quite fascinated by matchboxes. From the uncertainty of being shouted at by some elder, to how many tries it took to light it. And the best, how long could you hold a lit match without burning your fingers.

Pic source: link

Back then, the SHIP matchbox was commonplace. Though I don’t remember them having the jokes at the back of each pack. This standard pack had 50 matchsticks in it. A common problem with any matchbox is running low on striking surface towards the end. It takes more attempts to successfully strike a match.

Then, HomeLites came out with a significantly bigger matchbox. These had 300 matchsticks in it. These seemed to have a bigger problem with the striking surface. Maybe it was the longer striking surface strips on each side that led one to make longer strikes. As a result, you’d have a lot of matches left, but striking a match would become increasingly difficult. You’d spot some unused section towards the edges and try striking it there.

Pic source: link

Anyway, recently I noticed a tiny design change with their matchboxes. And I think it might just solve the striking surface problem.

What they simply did, was replace the two long striking surfaces on either side of the matchbox, with a tiny dividing strip. So instead of two long striking strips, you now have a total of four smaller strips.

If you are overly disciplined, you might restrict yourself to one striking surface at a time. Then use the next one. The rest of us will randomly strike a match against any one of the four surfaces. Point being, with the shorter striking surface, we will unconsciously limit our strike action to that stretch. Am quite sure these new boxes won’t have that old problem.

Just an example of how a simple change to the matchbox design solves a problem that might have left many puzzled. A tiny break in the striking surface alters user behaviour in the right direction. And without necessitating any complex redesigning of the matchbox itself.

If you want to know more about exactly how matches work, read on…

[source of the excerpt below: link]:

The heads of safety matches are composed of a single part. They contain antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, inert fillers, and animal glue. They may also include a water-soluble dye. Antimony trisulfide cannot be ignited by the heat of friction, even in the presence of an oxidizing agent like potassium chlorate, and it requires another source of ignition to start the combustion. That source of ignition comes from the striking surface, which is deposited on the side of the matchbox or on the back cover of the matchbook.

The striking surface contains red phosphorus, powdered glass, and an adhesive such as gum arabic or urea formaldehyde. When a safety match is rubbed against the striking surface, the friction generates enough heat to convert a trace of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus. This immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate in the match head to produce enough heat to ignite the antimony trisulfide and start the combustion.

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott: image

Heard of Jane Elliott?
 
She’s an American schoolteacher and an anti-racism activist. She is especially famous for her truly visionary “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” exercise that she conducted in her classroom, 50 years ago.
 
Get a quick overview of her Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise here. I first came across this a few months ago and thought it was exceptional.
 
Now, Jane recently spoke about world maps, racism, and a bit about her childhood. The stuff about maps really shakes, or at least shook my foundation about maps. Like me, you might just ask yourself what in the world is actually true, if something as fundamental as a map could be distorted that much.
 
Check out the interview here.
 
What an inspiration, this woman is!

Vertical Stapler

Vertical Stapler

Image: source

Over the years, I’ve found myself wanting to staple certain paper prototypes in a particular way. The standard stapler would not allow it though.

One early need I found for a better stapler was during my venture capital days. In an effort to reduce paper wastage, whenever a draft review report needed to be printed, I’d use the book format print option available on the office printer. The printout then just needed to be folded down the centre. You then needed to open the stapler arm, put it along the fold, and press. The ends of the staple pin popping out on the other side would then need to be folded in. Having a vertical stapler (if there is such a thing) would have been so much more convenient.
Why? Because it would allow you to slide the stapler along the fold, and staple. The current design would not allow you to reach the centre fold to staple without opening the lower arm.

What’s even tougher, is when you need to staple the ends of a paper cone. A few different prototypes have had paper cones as part of it. The stapler just wouldn’t reach anywhere near the tip of the cone. Here, a vertical stapler would be very useful.

But when you think about it, the existing stapler design would not work for a vertical stapler. In the regular ones, the two ends of the pin make contact with a surface at the same time, enabling a symmetrical clip being formed.

With a vertical one, using the existing design, one end would make contact first, and this would most likely deform the pin before it is punched in.

Then I came across this interesting D-I-Y article for a vertical stapler.

Source: https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-vertical-stapler/

One alternative would be where the mould section of the lower arm of the vertical stapler is tilted upwards a bit to enable uniform contact of the two ends of the pin. However, that too would not help with accessing tough-to-reach areas and staple them. Perhaps if the finger grip moulds at the end were gotten rid off and the arms of the stapler ended slightly more pointed, it would allow a better reach.

Seen anything even remotely similar to what I described? Or can you think of any alternate solutions for stapling tough-to-reach areas on sheets of paper?

Do you own, manage or work at a company, and are faced with business challenges or the need for innovation for growth? Get in touch! More here.

Also, check out my book: Design the Future – talks about innovation, customer insights & design thinking.
Ebook: Amazon. Paperbacks: Amazon & other online bookstores.

The ENGESA Mercedes truck

I recently saw this video of a ENGESA Mercedes truck. Something obviously very fascinating about it. So I thought I’d attempt to recreate it in some way, using Lego. This is a quick, crude first attempt. I clearly don’t have enough relevant pieces.

 

Below was an improved variant to the earlier one. The last model was built simply to see the beauty of the multi-axle movement. But the last version hadd traction/ground clearance issues, as the wheels would hit the undercarriage at certain tilts. So I went a step further and replicated the rear multi-axle on the front too. And, the cab roof sloped up (for better aerodynamics).

And, a final variant of my idea of an ENGESA Mercedes truck, before I was done with this concept. This one has a double swivel multi-axle and a horizontal swivel link after the cab, to allow it to turn better.

Own, manage or work at a company that is grappling with business challenges, or needs more innovation for growth? Get in touch! More here.

And check out my book (‘Design the Future’) on innovation, customer insights and design thinking. Ebook: Amazon, Paperbacks: at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Creating and Understanding Customer Feedback

A waffles order packaging (doesn’t it look like a Viking head?)

Creating and Understanding Customer Feedback

If you’ve ever ordered waffles online, most likely they’ll come in one of two kinds of packaging. One is clean like in the pic above. The other is where all of them in thin paper holders will be stuffed into a box. Quite messy.

Anyway, say you ordered a few dishes for dinner via a food ordering app from a local restaurant. packaging by the restaurant is horrible. The food has leaked into the outer bag, and slightly onto other food containers below.

However, the food itself is delicious.

Now consider you ordered from another restaurant on another night. Exceptional, airtight and impressive looking packaging.

However, the food tastes somewhere between horrible and just-average.

Now, if both restaurants, or even the food ordering service used a simple rating mechanism, chances are, both restaurants will be oblivious to what customers love and hate about them.

The first restaurant might see a bad rating and think their food sucks. The packaging quality never crossing their mind.

The other restaurant might feel proud with a high rating, assuming it was for their food, while customers struggle to consume it. Or they might think the bad rating was because of some delivery error or delay.

If you are going to take the trouble to capture user feedback, take a little more trouble to capture more detailed feedback. Because vague feedback can sometimes be more dangerous than no feedback.

Without boring the customer, try and split up your service feedback into its components. In the case of the home order, it could be the food quality, packaging quality and service delivery. For a product, it could be the effectiveness of the product (in doing the job), ease of understanding and use (instructions, design simplicity, etc.), and effectiveness of customer service (if it comes to that).

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Can We Do Better than CSR?

Can We Do Better than CSR?

In India, Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act (2013) relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR). For a few years now, it requires companies clocking over a certain turnover or profit, to spend 2% of (their three-year annual) net profit on CSR activities each financial year.

Allotting profits to CSR in general, and to the environment in particular however, seems more a post-mortem thing to do. Especially now that we humans have brought the world to the brink, with regard to the climate, animal and plant life.

Because that is how CSR seems to be designed. Conduct business in any manner you please. And at the end of the year, give 2% towards corporate social responsibility initiatives. And you are absolved of ecological sins committed inadvertently or otherwise, in the course of business. The 2% seems like a ‘no-questions asked’ opportunity for redemption, irrespective of the damage done.

What if, instead, companies could be made to be responsible from the time they start business? If every action, employee, step and process for an existing business was also committed to align with environmental needs?Not in a punitive way. But maybe a set of guidelines that businesses could introduce towards becoming more holistically responsible from the starting line. Perhaps the corporate ministry could help.

What if companies could be made to be responsible for every action, employee, step and process?

Patagonia, the American outdoor clothing company. Founded in 1973, it has been striving to align increasingly with environmental needs. It commits 1% of total sales to environmental groups, and a few years ago, donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental organizations. This company should provide for some inspiration. A close friend recently shared this interesting article about its founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his views on sustainability, and why it’s not too late to save the planet. Interesting read.

Build responsibility into the corporate or startup value system and into everyday actions of all employees of the company. That’s the only way we can collectively grow without triggering global catastrophes each year.

Monte Fitz Roy, a mountain in Patagonia

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Airbags and the Height of Drivers

Random picture of an old Honda car

Airbags and the Height of Drivers

About a month ago, Honda introduced a new concept airbag for their vehicles. The challenge for them, was protecting drivers from angular collisions. In such cases, the driver’s head seemed to slide off the airbag and cause injury.

The inspiration for them…Baseball mitts (or gloves).

The result. A frontal airbag system that deploys three sub-airbags that secure the head similar to how a baseball is caught.

After you check out the video below, is another challenge I was wondering about.

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about.

When an airbag deploys, there is a rapid inflating of the airbag [more on how that works, here], and a more gradual but simultaneous deflation by way of tiny holes in the airbag. This is to reduce the damage done by the face hitting the inflating airbag.

But even then, airbags can result in everything from a burning sensation and abrasion on the face, to facial burns, chest, cranium and shoulder injuries. Among those most affected, are children and short adults.

Shorter people are closer to the steering wheel, and therefore the airbag.

Which brings me to a question. Since short adults driving are closer to the steering wheel, from where the main airbag deploys, is it possible to vary the inflating pressure based on how front or back the driver’s seat is?

Let me know your thoughts.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Will Uber Disrupt Itself?

Will Uber Disrupt Itself?

Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DNnnJ0BXkAAiJhv.jpg

Most of you must have seen this image (or a version of it) in the last few years. I remember a lot of people sharing it or referring to it with almost a sense of pride and relief. It was almost as if the world had found a way to get the rewards without the work. I also remember using it about 2 years ago during my design thinking workshops. My objective was more about slowing down any wild imagination among participants, about creating business models without firm, underlying foundations.

Oddly, this would be the only section or slide that would find a small amount of resistance and counter-views. Apart from the losses Uber was amassing, there wasn’t much else to disprove it. Its valuation certainly fuzzied plain reasoning for many business folk.

And while the jury’s still out on the success or failure of Uber, I’ve been trying to see if there are any indicators in their drivers’ views.

On a recent Uber ride, the driver was telling me about their reducing margins. How Uber initially started with a very lucrative 15% (share of revenues Uber retained, leaving the rest for the driver partner). And how, with time, that share has increased to 20, 25, and now 28%. I also inquired about why I was often getting surge prices in the afternoons.

The driver explained that they prefer the mornings and evenings because of surge pricing. And since their revenue sharing is lower now, a lot of them go home to rest in the afternoons. A few afternoons ago, the app showed nearly half a dozen cars around me. Yet it took an hour of trying to get a confirmed booking. And the few drivers who cancelled, suspiciously called to ask where I was going, before cancelling. And recently, a few drivers have also asked how much I was being charged for the ride. Something never discussed before.

In an earlier post, I shared a story of another company before Uber, that perhaps did not have a good pulse on its different stakeholders. And how it eventually disappeared from this space in the face of Uber. By these recent signs, seems that if Uber doesn’t disrupt itself, someone soon enough might.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

%d bloggers like this: