Dr. John Virapen on the Greed of Pharmaceutical Companies

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Dr. John Virapen on the Greed of Pharmaceutical Companies

Sometimes when you think about one particular country or another, and admire it for a great government, a transparent press, a robust healthcare ecosystem, and so on. Or when you believe the doctor when he tells you your child has an attention-deficit disorder, as he or she prescribes medication for it. Or when the little discomfort you went to the doctor with, suddenly transformed into something lethal-sounding. And urgently needing surgery. Let’s not always be so trusting and naive.

Here’s a talk by ex-Director of pharmaceutical major Eli Lilly. The global company ranks 132nd on the Fortune 500 list, with a 2017 topline of USD 22.87 billion. Late ex-director of the company, Dr. John Virapen, worked over 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, climbing from a sales executive to becoming director. And as he climbed the corporate ladder, he realized, and even participated in the dirt his company was involved in. Bribing governments and media houses, the pharma industry is in a dirty loop to make people sick and then treat them.

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The pros and “Cons” of Storytelling

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The pros and “Cons” of Storytelling!

Storytelling. Steve Jobs wasn’t the first to talk about, or practice it. Nor was he the first one to focus on the customer and build differentiation. Function and form. And he wasn’t the first to capture customer personalities, traits and passions in their marketing and communication, instead of just reading a dull list of product features. but he is probably the most famous or identified storyteller ever.

Storytelling predates writing. Its earliest forms were expressed orally, accompanied by expressions and gestures.

The world has come a long way since Jobs’ famous 1997 address and introduction to the ‘Think Different’ campaign. We increasingly appreciate being told stories. By companies and their advertisers, by friends and colleagues, and gurus – be it religious or management. We prefer stories to reading out technical specifications and product features, or trying to grasp complex situations or concepts.

And not surprisingly so. We are emotional beings after all, not logic machines. We give priority to emotions over even compelling factual information and the most compelling of logic. Unfortunately for us, not all those stories we believe, spring from a clean motive.

Companies, politicians and a lot of people in-between have become professionals at storytelling. And when the motive is not backed by good intentions, all it takes, is finding out the audience’s buttons. Accordingly, out comes a relevant, sometimes conveniently modified story that has the resultant effect.

A lot of companies are spending progressively higher on marketing and image and positioning of products. Lesser and lesser on the product itself, let alone the customer experience. Same goes for services. And politicians.

Hype, buzzwords and deception. Many businesses have become like the average Bollywood movie. No plot, cast includes famous or artificially created superstars, but a ton of money kept for promotion. Create enough hype, cash out with a good profit in 1 week, and move onto the next shoddy project. The same words that once formed a bridge between great products and services to customers by way of storytelling, have now been degraded to spinning yarn to maximize revenues while the going’s still good.

To show you the power of words, here’s a “story” from the early years of my consulting practice days. Each project I choose to work on is holy to me. And apart from sometimes being ruthless with my views, I am equally critical about evaluating my own work. However, on occasion, for the fun of it, I’d send out feedback questionnaires at the end of assignments to clients. Requesting feedback on their view of the quality of the work done.

Now for the fun of it, if I wanted scores in a particular range, say between 4-5, I would word the question accordingly. Similarly, if I wanted ratings for a particular question in the range of 2-3, all that was needed was framing the question differently. It would nudge someone in a particular way. What it showed, was that simple words can influence what should ideally be the unbiased feedback of a client.

A tiny part of my mission through my consulting practice, is to try to prevent clients from falling into such traps by either wrongly reading their customer perceptions, or by unintentionally or otherwise adding their biases to their customer feedback. Or even to their assessment of their own performance. Even though I used to send such questionnaires for the heck of it, I could see how client feedback would be influenced by the words. Now since I do not disclose client names as policy, or come out with any client satisfaction statistics reports, there is no way I could leverage such feedback even if I was the kind that would. But there are many companies that can and do.

Let’s say the unbiased review of a product is average. However, with the right words, ratings can be pushed above average. This would reflect back on feedback statistics, in turn generating more trust and revenues. The cycle goes on.

Storytelling and anecdotes serve the purpose of almost instantly explaining even more complex concepts or situations. However, recipients of these stories often tend to take the story and the correlation at face-value. And they possibly even cement their impressions and views about a situation. What they should do instead, is use a combination of listening and sufficient questioning. Only then should they form their own views on the matter.

What happens when you only listen to a story without thinking much about it? The story always comes from a fellow human. And humans are a complex being full of custom biases. What’s worse, you never know when someone’s running an agenda of their own. Which means their selection of stories will depict only one side of a story. And stories tweaked enough to evoke the right emotions for the naive mind to believe easily.

As a result, country leaders can convince their people to go to war against a country for no logical reason. Hey, the story sounded compelling enough. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but it happens eventually. And people who have who have lived for generations with neighbours of a different faith suddenly suspicious of them. They begin to believe people they have never met. They believe biased stories, and marginalize generations worth of trust as a result.

From a business point of view, storytelling is an integral part of a successful business. But not without an even greater underlying foundation of offerings. Storytelling is only a bridge, not a destination. Companies should not be working on becoming increasingly manipulative towards their customers. They should be working on becoming increasingly transparent to them.

Below is a great talk by Mohammed Qahtani about the power of words.

Many of us can Think Different. Why not try to Be Different Too?

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Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

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Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

I recently conducted an interactive session on Design Thinking at a leading investment bank. It might be easy to assume that applications of design thinking at an investment bank are limited. It is quite the opposite though. And the applicable scope of design thinking just seems to grow bigger with each passing day. The team was also kind enough to present me with a thoughtful gift at the end of the session. A Gucci tie.

Now, once you’re in the design thinking fold, you are always processing and assessing products and services. As you might have noticed, the tip of the tie is a little crumpled. If I was the manufacturer of ties that retailed at anything between $60-240 or more, I would have been concerned about the experience a customer goes through of opening the packaging and seeing the product as well.

The tie came in a tall box which was in a slightly taller paper bag, fastened with an embossed ribbon. When you hold the bag upright however, the tie drops inside thanks to that often-neglected phenomena called gravity. This causes creases at the tip of the tie. Now while many might tell you it is ok to iron a tie, it is not something I’d recommended you did often. And certainly not something you would want to do with a brand new tie.

While there might be several ways to package it in a way that leaves an impression with the customer, it isn’t something I’ll spend time thinking of right now. The easy way for Gucci to solve this problem, would be by merely placing a card paper insert which is fixed to the sides of the box. It would hold the tie in place at the top, like a clothes hanger. That way, the tip of the tie would never touch the bottom of the box when held upright.

Little things go a long way in improving how customers interact with your product. And how they remember it.

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Airline Seats and Behaviour

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Airline Seats and Behaviour

Do you think those extremely uncomfortable airline seats have anything to do with our behaviour when we are flying?

Remember the last flight you took. Unless you were traveling business or first class, you can’t forget the tiny seats. And the armrests, that always seem to have gotten closer from the last time you flew. To the point your brain is rapidly calculating if this justifies engaging the claustrophobia-induced panic mode. But ever wondered why the backrests almost seem to cave in, making you hunch over?

If you considered it from an airline business point of view, all of it together would make sense. The tiny seats crammed together, with curved backrests. Maximizing the limited space inside the aircraft to fit the most number of seats. While pushing the average, overfed human into the most constricted position he or she could get into.

But there might be another reason for the curved backrests. It is possible, that they alter your behviour just sufficiently, for the duration of the flight. How?

Someone of average height sitting in the seat, has their back hunched slightly, shoulders rolled in, and head bent slightly forward. While this causes a certain level of irritation and discomfort, it also makes one feel a little less powerful, or less in control. Which means you look up from an almost servile position, at the airline staff that caters to you.

The advantage of this for the airline. Less chances of boisterous passengers being their usual self. Less tendencies of people becoming confrontative with the crew or fellow passengers, and a reduced tendency to interact with anyone apart from those seated beside you, which means lesser chatter and noise in the aircraft.

The opposite of this posture, would be what social psychologist Amy Cuddy would call the ‘power posing’. It is a posture that she claims, induces positive hormonal and behavioural changes in the person. The hypothesis has been discredited since. With scholars claiming to have failed to recreate its effects in follow-up studies. However, I’m with her on the soundness of the theory. While a pose or posture might not consistently bring about a desired effect in others, it still has considerable effect on the individual themselves. Confidence, overconfidence, anger, aggression, composure, and possibly even openness (or not) to others views. I believe these factors get altered, depending on the posture or pose.

And therefore, perhaps either by design or unintentionally, airline seats seem to be the way they are. Perhaps not intended for discomfort, but maybe towards a greater outcome –  a plane full of composed and manageable fliers.

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The Non-Financial Side of Business

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The Non-Financial Side of Business
A call with an industry colleague last week set in motion, thoughts on how we measure individual or business success.
As a kid growing up in India in the 80’s, studies used to be quite a tricky part of life. Studying history, for instance. We had a ton of dates to remember, and it somehow never made sense. The pointlessness of remembering precise dates of events ranging from a few decades to a few centuries gone by. Instead of, perhaps evaluating people gone by, on the basis of their actions, or the sum of their actions. Perhaps we would have learnt more about values. About actions and consequences. But they would not have it any other way. Events and dates of their occurrence was clearly more important to them.
Then came interesting subjects like physics, and a few deeper questions around it. [Link]
Subsequently, there was the ’Must. Read. Newspapers’ phase. Not just that, I guess people also expected you to remember current events. For someone who is not a keen quiz player, I felt it was pointless beyond just having a fair sense of what was happening. Somewhere I believed storing irrelevant information wouldn’t really matter someday.
Then, thankfully, the internet came to our rescue.
In my adult life, all around, businesses seem obsessed with numbers. Financials. Be it sales and profitability, or costs, or more complicated ones. Cost of acquiring a customer. Shopping cart abandonment. Customer churn rate. Average profit per visitor or Product conversion rate. Among others.
The world became, and continues to be increasingly obsessed with numbers and ratios. And that’s all most businesses focus on. The employee or customer can be at the receiving end of the bare minimum that a tight-margin allowance to appease a ratio will allow. But not more.
The day machines take over a business function, efficiency will jump up dramatically, as will profitability.
But where would that leave us? Put differently, have we always been missing a bigger point?
What will matter when machines take over (finally!), is what customers really want. Because then we won’t be obsessing over the numbers. Hopefully not at least.
And hopefully then, we’ll start to see that it is not a numbers game. That business is about relevance. If it’s useful or good, they will buy. If a process is well designed as per them, they will use it.
Numbers, as I’ve always held, are an incidental, intermittent aftereffect of a non-numerical, ongoing end-user pleasing process.
I’m not saying that top and bottom lines and all those in-between are irrelevant. Sure they help as indicators. But they perhaps help more when we are doing the more important job. Of ensuring the main objective of our business is met. Once you focus on the non-financial aspects that really run your business, you’ll see how the financials catch up. Automatically!

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Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

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Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

A close friend recently shared this article titled ‘Why Design Thinking will fail’, written in 2013 by Jeffrey Tjendra. Jeffrey is a designer entrepreneur and strategist. Among some of us friends, there was were points of disagreement on the article. Jeffrey does seem to have a good understanding of design thinking. This post, however, is an effort towards taking a closer look at each point mentioned there. And to see if it makes sense or not. All of this, with my limited but growing knowledge of design thinking.

Before I begin, here’s a quote by Mara Wilson. While her quote describes storytelling, I believe it offers a more far reaching explanation. With products and services too, for instance. She said, “The more specific you get, the more universal it is. (It’s a special alchemy of storytelling).” – Mara Wilson

Back to the article, here goes:

  1. Misperception of Meaning – I’ll agree, it can be misleading to some. I use either ‘human-centered’ or ‘user-centered’ design thinking in an attempt to bring a little more clarity, especially when interacting with people I believe might misinterpret the meaning.
  2. Loss of Meaning – Can’t do much about that. A lot of effective methodologies often see phases of hype and a lot of randomness being packaged and sold in its name. But as the dust settles, only the real stuff and an increased respect remains.
  3. Misunderstanding and Not Accepting Creative Elements – True. However, any company or more specifically, a management that has ever worked on any form of creativity or innovation, knows how boring, full of trials and iterations, full of mess and uncertainty it can be. Look at your kid’s school projects for instance. If it isn’t too simple, it is bound to take a lot of ‘random’, before it starts to make sense. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, will surely not use design thinking. And that’s alright.
  4. Lack of Business Elements – Coming from a management and finance background, with experience in strategy and marketing, I tend to build those critical business aspects to a design thinking project. And that is especially why the design thinking team needs to have a wide-enough assortment of skillsets. Using only UI/UX people or ethnographers or psychologists is not going to do the trick.
  5. Language and Perspective Barriers – There have been worse instances of communication gaps. For instance, if you have heard the almost unbelievable and heroic story of the Gimli Glider. An obvious technical specification got so conveniently ignored, that it put at risk, 69 occupants aboard a Boeing 767. Read the fascinating story! So, it just boils down to the intention and seriousness of the parties involved. Nothing is foolproof or idiot-proof. But a lot of change and innovation can be brought about with the right intentions. And no amount of left-brain learning and practice can fix unpredictable situations either. Because a lot of left-brain thinkers often learn a process from end to end. Any deviation could potentially leave them baffled. Creative thinking, on the other hand, helps one focus on the fundamentals. On understanding the building blocks more and more. And then, irrespective of situations or deviations to them, there is often more clarity as the building blocks can be used to better understand complexity. And it’s often easier to communicate fundamental building blocks across language barriers, as opposed to communicating complexity to begin with.
  6. Missing Future – Even design thinking veterans like IDEO have made mistakes, overestimating future demand of tech products. A strong problem or opportunity statement (which is open to being updated when you learn more about the end-user) helps reduce the risk. As does an unbiased and strong mechanism to interact with, and observe and understand needs, behaviours and desires of end-users, and capture that information towards building a solution.
  7. Wrong Implementation of Process – Which is why a lot of products and ingredients come with ‘Instructions to Use’. If an ingredient needs to be mixed and cooked, simply sprinkling it will not help.
  8. Poor Direction Scoping – This is where an intention and objective to start with, matters. There are billions of people, billions of problems and billions more opportunities. Which one or ones do you want to target. That’s what you pursue. Ignore everything else.
  9. Co-creation at the End of Process – all I’ll say is, phone sex doesn’t help create babies.
  10. Misconception of Approach to Creativity – This is true. Some people would tend to follow the design thinking process like it is a treasure map, when in fact, it is navigating your way through hostile jungle. Your senses need to be on alert all the time. Any input can change a lot of initial assumptions. That lions don’t climb trees. Or that chimps tend to rely on third party to help resolve disputes.
  11. Wishful Thinking for Culture of Innovation – Completely agree here. Which is why, a startup whose founders have the right values and give importance to innovation, can build it better into their culture, as opposed to trying to inject it into a global behemoth that has a century of history.
  12. The End Process is not the End – true – design teams, just like any other specialty teams, need to walk the talk. Leaving projects with solution advice that is abstract to clients, won’t serve anyone’s purpose. A lot of large consulting firms were infamous for doing this back in the day. Leaving clients many million dollars poorer, and with a big “report” that the client was clueless what to do with.
  13. Risk of Stagnancy – As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Thoughts?

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What’s Your Profession? Did You Bring More Soldiers?

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What’s Your Profession? Did You Bring More Soldiers?

In 1970s, according to the TV series Mindhunter at least, the FBI was filled with accountants & lawyers instead of more relevant experts in areas that mattered. That is, in place of behavioral analysts.

That seems to have been the case with the Indian Venture Capital industry too for some time now. They’ve strangely been recruiting a concerningly high number of Finance and CA folk. Instead of hiring more right-brained folk who can understand customer needs, likes, dislikes, and the customer experience. Those who can appreciate an entrepreneur’s vision and passion, and perhaps the grueling journey she or he has been through to get there.

Numbers don’t build businesses. They’re the result of it.

If the venture capital sector doesn’t have enough people who can understand a customer’s journey, an entrepreneur drive and vision, among other non-numerical things, just processing numbers will only make so much of a superficial impact. And bring so much of a multiple-x return on investment.

Look at the Indian funded startup space for instance. It even makes one wonder if many of our entrepreneurs possess the vision and passion. Perhaps how Flipkart is try to go after numbers, while Amazon is increasingly trying to improve the customer experience. Or how and why Uber might have logically entered the food delivery space? And more importantly, why did Ola (I hope I’m wrong!) seem to acquire Foodpanda in a knee-jerk reaction to Uber? Or how, while in India we still get mobile phones and media content literally on the same day as any developed country. When it comes to business inclination to improve the customer experience though, we get by with the bare minimum. Why?

Why can’t investors identify truly driven entrepreneurs and be able to align with the entrepreneur’s vision to create an impact? Does pushing an entrepreneur into super minority stake keep them sufficiently invested in the big plan? And is it possible for the overpaid founder of a funded startup with multiple investments of his or her own in other startups, early in his or her own startup journey, to create what people call a unicorn?

Focus! Focus! You need the right people, adequately motivated, to do one job! And to do it right!

Reminds me of a scene from the movie 300. When Daxos and his army meets Leonidas and his brave 300. Have a look!

Maybe there’s a difference between saying ‘customer service’ and doing what is necessary to delight?

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The Illusion of Ratings and Feedback

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The Illusion of Ratings and Feedback
Life in present times has become an increasingly rapid process of experiences and feedback. Businesses are always asking us to rate the services or experiences they offer. And often, they feel inclined to “reward” us for it. While no one’s complaining about the free stuff or great discounts, are we losing perspective of what’s genuinely good? Because, while the feedback is certainly far more in quantity, it can’t be as clean in quality.
Why, you ask?
For starters, the moment you bribe (yes, a strong but apt word) someone for a feedback or to leave a rating or review, you’re automatically influencing the purity of the feedback, rating or review. Same goes for a 10% discount for simply “checking into” a restaurant.
Everything from a review to get the free ‘dry fruit pickle’ or a discount on the food bill, establishments are literally paying to distort their own reality of their business.
A few years ago, a friend of mine started a business, and reached out to friends on Facebook to like their business page. I was well past the years when I’d actually ask people to convince me (or at the least, fill the ‘About’ section on the page), before asking people to simply like the page. So, while I liked the page and got on with my work, some months later, seeing the 800+ likes, I asked how business was. There was none. Even though am quite sure a lot of common friends might have had a need for the products being offered. What happened, was that the Facebook page (in herd mentality), gave them a level of instant gratification, while distracting them from the core. Is, or how can I make my offerings increasingly relevant?
Recently, an entrepreneur found me online and requested a meeting to help their business turn profitable and grow faster. They had exceptional social media following and activity, which of course I didn’t take at face value. But what came next from the entrepreneur was even more disappointing. That while a lot of the followers were fake, when visiting any business page, seeing a good following gives him a sense of trust and confidence too. That justified it.
Let’s forget fake following and likes for a moment. Besides, I’ve already written a fair bit about them years ago. But consider just the fact of a business incentivizing a feedback or review that should ideally be happening without influence. Each time we do that, we willingly distort our sense of the pulse of our business.
Last month, I had dinner at one of the Taj restaurants with relatives. While the starters and main course were exceptional, the service was aloof, and one dessert was a disaster. On another occasion, when at a relatives place, I ordered butter chicken from the Butter Chicken Factory, a nearby joint. The butter chicken was terrible! I wrote reviews about the Taj dinner and the butter chicken place on Zomato (neither ratings were too terrible). Both establishments responded. The Taj staff thanked me, saying they would incorporate the inputs. And that they looked forward to having me there again soon. The city head of the Butter Chicken Factory called to understand what in my opinion, they had gotten wrong about the taste. As I was busy, he called at a time I said I’d be free, and tried to understand. He had inputs of his own to reason out, like the very different taste of the dish in northern India and other places, and how theirs  was influenced more by a certain part of the country. It was a good dialogue, with me recommending they try out the dish at another old joint which I knew, was good. This felt like a far, far more human and involved business, as opposed to a template perhaps pasted by the Taj folk.
Now imagine, if the Taj people had offered me a 10% discount on my next visit. But the service remained unchanged and the same dessert was still on the menu, and still a dess-aster! Perhaps my reaction would have been milder, as I would have been indebted to the 10% discount. And the restaurant wouldn’t have learnt anything from the feedback.
And these are instances that are still the more evident, at least to most of us. There are so many where one aspect of the business could cause us to completely write off another aspect of it. Or an offer could skew our perception of what we’ve just experienced, be it food, an experience, an electronic product, anything.
A startup might justify the need to influence reviews to obtain a minimum critical mass to even survive. But in doing so, do businesses ignore real feedback and let performance slack? Thanks to early illusionary success, do they risk missing the growth bus?

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Design Thinking – Shelters for the Homeless

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Design Thinking – Shelters for the Homeless [3.5 minute read]

Here’s the next post, towards sharing stories and incidents around design thinking in daily lives, towards a better collective understanding. My earlier post was about taps at home, and why house helps might be wasting water. If you missed that, here’s the link.

Now, in developing India, as the nouveau riche buy vacation home after home after home, we are still home to an astronomical 18 lakh homeless (as of 2011)!

Now this post is not on wasteful spending, or on “prudent, realty investments” either. Actually on second thoughts, prudent realty related investments might be right at the centre of this one.

I had read about this story over 2 years ago, and was so fascinated with the design thinking connect, I’d shared it on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook’s random annual reminders, this one popped back up recently. It showcases a classic design thinking flaw, of thinking for the user, instead of simply observing and asking them.

New Delhi faces some really bitter winters. I’ve spent some time there on work over different winters, and on some of those nights, the cold was mind-numbing. So one can only try to imagine how tough it would be for Delhi’s homeless people. Right? Think again!

Some years ago, the state government in New Delhi, with good intentions for its homeless, built 218 shelters with a capacity exceeding 17,000 people! Impressive, right?

Now you probably imagine that as winters approach, these places must be getting mobbed with homeless folk rushing in to keep warm? Especially considering there are about 125,000 homeless people in Delhi.

To the contrary, even on the coldest of nights, apparently these places were sparsely occupied. As per government estimates back then, at its highest occupancy, there were only 8500 people at the shelters.

The homeless somehow preferred enduring the cold in the open, to these warm shelters. According to the statistics, for every person who huddled up in one of these shelters, about 15 remained in the open. The government even had cops spotting and taking any homeless to the shelters. But the homeless were like mischievous children, waiting for an opportunity to sneak out of this situation they didn’t like.

Does that even make sense? Who, in their right mind, would prefer to freeze outdoors, as opposed to being warm in?

Unless a bigger picture was missed out. About them and the lives they lived.

It turned out, the homeless were afraid of contracting fleas from other homeless folk packed into these shelters. Which in turn would make even their waking hours miserable. The shelters also didn’t have any storage areas for people to keep their few but priceless belongings safely. And the few belongings they probably had on them, were always at risk of being stolen at such places.

In total, a somewhat hostile place for them to stay in, even in the most unrelenting of winters.

In their empathetic and genuine concern for these people, the government somehow assumed many things about their lives, or conveniently skipped them out in light of the greater good they were doing for them. They forgot to actually involve the very people who would be using those facilities. To know what they could be like. To know if they’d missed out on some aspect. They too are, humans after all. Or if even that didn’t matter (as seldom does for our elected rot from across the country), at least to justify their investment in the project.

Some observation. Some asking. And then more of both, could’ve truly taken India a step closer to being a concerned and inclusive society.

You can read about it here: link

Would love your thoughts on it.

And if you’d like my to look at some complex business problem you’ve been grappling with, drop me a mail at shrutin[at]ateamstrategy[dot]in Hopefully, I’d be able to give you a fresh perspective in an effort to help you solve it.

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Design Thinking – Water Taps at Home

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Design Thinking – Water Taps at Home [7 minute read]

I’ve had the habit of applying aspects of Design Thinking to my work and personal life for some time now. In fact, off late it is literally a ‘permanently on’ app running in my head. I use it to review products or services, or to wonder why some startup is loved and others aren’t so much.

Now Design Thinking has been getting thrown around a lot in recent times. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences in applying different aspects of this simple, yet seemingly elusive concept.

So I’ll occasionally share a few (hopefully short) posts about applying Design Thinking to random, everyday life.

Here’s the first one.

Now this scenario is probably limited to countries like India, where we have the luxury of house help. They range from your full-time servants living in adjoining quarters, to pay per task (washing dishes, cooking, sweeping, etc.). People, mostly women in the profession, have really innovated and kept pace with increasing needs and disposable incomes of nuclear families. That and people’s seemingly decreasing free time to finish household chores themselves.

For quite some time now, one thing about many of them has really bothered me. The part-time maid at home leaves the tap on full while washing utensils (no dishwasher here). And that tap remains on full blast even when she keeps washed utensils in the drip basket. Or when she is arranging dishes in the basket to make place for more. The huge wastage of water didn’t seem to bother her. And if we brought it to her notice, she would only be careful for a day. What’s most puzzling, the area the maid lives in, is known to face slight water shortages from time to time.

So, over the last few months, I randomly asked relatives and friends if this was an isolated case, or a common problem they faced too. There was a resounding ‘yes’ from all quarters about the excessive water wastage. And when asked what they felt the reason might be, the answers were almost identical too. That the maids just didn’t care or that as long as water was sufficiently available at the house they worked at, wastage didn’t matter.

In the past, when the maid was casually questioned why, you didn’t really get any answer. So without wanting to risk pissing off this temperamental lot, I wondered if it was possible to just think of broad areas of possible reasons for this (just an example of moving beyond the seemingly obvious reasons for any problem).

One reason, as mentioned by some of the informal group I questioned, could be the abundance of water in the homes they work at. The sufficient supply allows them to mentally relax the otherwise alert behaviour in them to conserve water (and many other resources in their lives). And this trait isn’t just found in them. Believe me, most of us, if not all, all guilty of such indulgences at others’ expense. From those who charge mobile phones and laptops only at work, to those of us who have (over the years, I’ve consciously managed to get rid of the habit) left the air-conditioning at hotels on (sometimes by sticking paper or cards into the key-slots), so as to return to a wonderfully cool room from a scorching outdoors. Even if we were out for a large part of the day.

One more probable cause could be the speed of the water. Having to do dull work across multiple homes from early in the morning, a jet of water helps clean utensils much faster than having to manually scrub them off under a slower flow.

Another probable cause for the water wastage came from a random memory from probably my high school days. I was at granny’s place, and had just finished a glass of juice, and was at the kitchen sink to rinse the glass. For some reason, I held the glass in one hand, and tried turning on the tap with the same hand. In the process, the glass caught the stem of the tap, and broke. That, and I somehow tend to accidentally break things (including, but not limited to breaking toothbrushes while brushing, or plastic spoons while eating ice-cream). 😐

Indian families can be cruel when it comes to dealing with breakages at the hands of their house helps. Now, most taps aren’t designed to allow sufficient free area to manipulate dishes while washing. ‘Manipulate’, I used to use that term a lot when working in the industrial robotics space). So it is possible that taps are left on fast to allow for washing a safe distance from the tap stem?

So let’s assume another constraint here. Let’s say you can’t interact with them towards understanding why they waste water. After all, they are a highly temperamental. So if they get angry and quit, a lot of households tend to come to a standstill.

Unlike in normal problem-solving, design thinking works wonders with many constraints too. So don’t get too disappointed with this crazy constraint.

So, instead of assuming they just like wasting water, is it possible that an ergonomically designed tap could help prevent breakages? And therefore, fix this precautionary ‘bad habit’ of theirs? Or that a better designed valve could help use less water without reducing the speed of the jet? Or both?

Any solution would involve nozzles that save water, like the one popularized by Altered: Nozzle, which fits onto existing taps, and claims to save up to 98% water! A tap stem design change would be the other aspect of it.

The possible causes of the problem, and possible solutions thereof, are many. And I didn’t even use much of the design thinking process to get to this stage. Imagine the possibilities on the home or business front with just some effort.

Would love your thoughts on it. Any other possible causes or reasons?

And if you’d like my to look at some complex business problem you’ve been grappling with, drop me a mail at shrutin[at]ateamstrategy[dot]in and I’ll hopefully be able to give you a fresh perspective in an effort to help you solve it.

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