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Category: Ideation (Page 2 of 2)

How Well is Tata Motors Connecting Aspirations?

Earlier this year, Tata Motors announced a new brand identity. ‘Connecting Aspirations’. Sounds good, but how well is the company truly connecting aspirations?

For many years now, I have wondered why Tata Motors isn’t among the top 2 selling passenger cars in India. Despite being, what I believe, is a company and group that represents an image of the ideal Indian citizen. Grounded in values, and always striving for the seemingly unachievable; but never at the cost of people, country or values. I have also been concerned about Tata Motors’ preparedness for the future of passenger transportation.

So, a few months ago, I thought of doing a little research into why the brand in general, and its Indian lineup in particular (excluding the JLR lineup) might be coming short, in the face of competition from Maruti and Hyundai. And then in September, I took my views and recommendations and requested one of the former stalwarts of the Tata Group to share the same with their CEO, Mr. Butschek. Subsequently I sent a copy to Mr. Ratan Tata. Didn’t hear back from anyone at Tata Motors. Below are the key points I highlighted on the file I sent them.

On the upside, I found they had a good range of vehicles to cater to a wide economic strata.

On the flipside, I highlighted 3 broad areas of concern, going deeper on some, and making some recommendations for the future. The 3 concern areas were:

  • Design/ Styling
  • The Nano
  • The Indian buyer/ brand perception

Going a little into the details…

The Design/ Styling:

Apart from a general carry-over of styling from their earliest models onto many, if not most of their recent range, in particular, I found something wrong about the Tigor, a car they have a lot of hopes riding on. Even though the company website puts the car in a category/ sub-category of its own called StyleBacks, the design isn’t intuitive. And the company hasn’t taken much efforts in educating the masses either. So most people put it in the compact sedan segment by default. And that’s exactly what I did too. Which brings me to my first recommendation to them.

The above cars (from top to bottom): Tata Tigor, Maruti Swift Dzire, Ford Aspire, VW Ameo, Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent

If you consider the heights and widths of the above popular cars in the compact sedan segment, here’s how they compare.

Numbers in millimeters

My view was that customers who buy sedans are looking for luxury and status, among other aspirations in their car. And one of the key, unexpressed expectations, is a wide and low sedan. The Tigor, however, is exactly the opposite of that. It’s taller than most of its peers, and is narrower too. Could that be a reason it hasn’t become as popular as the company might have wanted it to?

The only other car that probably compares, at least from a thought-process of ‘why’ point of view, is probably the BMW X6, that was first launched sometime in 2008-09. This crossover however, made more logical sense at least, compared to the Tigor. Firstly, it was a merging of the capabilities of an SUV, and the styling of a coupe. While the Tigor tries to do something similar, the concept falls flat when it is done in a category that expects something completely opposite. The X6, compared to peers in its segment (more SUV), is a giant, longer and wider than most SUVs. Which fits in well with what a prospective SUV customer might intuitively want.

Next concern, the Nano:

I have always held that the Nano was, and is a brilliant concept. [also here] Sometimes, the customer is too ignorant to deserve a great product. In India, the Nano is a shining example of that. However, Tata is also been a little vague and limited in marketing it correctly. What I perhaps would have done differently, is dramatically narrowed the target segment, and focused my marketing effort on them. Perhaps college students, or individuals in their first job. This segment is looking for ways to express their individuality. The Nano perhaps could have been that canvas. It would have taken an elaborate but easy-to-use and affordable customization program, but perhaps been worth it.

Finally, the Indian buyer’s perception of the Tata brand:

Well over a decade ago, the Tata lineup was branded by many, as a tourist vehicle brand, despite there being at least one company with a higher share in tourist vehicles. The peculiar Indian customer wants premium and affordable! Even leaps of refinement by the company have been met with disproportionately lower sentiment (and money!) from prospects. Many people continue to paint its new models with the same old brush.

My suggestion was for them to create a new sub-brand, or a new subsidiary, without the Tata name in it. Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, among others pulled it off well. And now, Maruti is trying something similar with the premium Nexa brand.

Tata has futuristic and beautiful cars like the Pixel and Mega Pixel in the lineup. And electric cars in the near future. They should consider introducing it under another brand, to avoid the brand-perception hangover.

Anyway, back to my final suggestions to them. Firstly, instead of being an average, and horribly late entry into mainstream racing, why not be somewhat early in electric racing?

The last suggestion was suggesting a possible alliance with Tesla Motors. Both companies after all, are similar in being grounded in values and having a pro-customer mindset. Interestingly, late last week, there was news of Mahindra and Uber partnering towards having a sizable number of electric vehicles on Uber’s fleet in India. That’s what being proactive is about.

Just a week before that, I recently met someone at a Design Thinking workshop I was conducting. She said she used to work at Tata Motors before. Excited, I mentioned having sent some suggestions their way. While she seemed to share the admiration I had for the company, she laughed and said that when it came to new ideas, they ‘were a wall’. For the company’s sake, I hope they’ve evolved since.

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What the Customer Wants

What the Customer Wants

There has been the occasional debate between two schools of thought:

You need to ask the customer what he/she wants; and,

The customer doesn’t know what he/she wants until we show them (remember ol Steve Jobs?)

A bulk of the views I’ve come across so far lie on the side of ‘ask the customer’. However, it isn’t often that you find companies that build sound offerings and experiences that delight customers. And when questioned, a lot of them agree that no one really asked the customer. The huge divide between logical sounding answers on innovation, and contradicting real-life actions.

In fact, it all depends on how much improvement you want.

If you only need an incremental edge over competitors, your company’s efforts too will be similar – marginal targets, marginal budgets, marginal efforts. This might include a superficial but fancy-sounding customer survey, or just a few managers in the meeting room thinking of ways to tweak the existing product. In all, uninspiring intent, uninspiring effort, uninspiring results.

However, if what your business needs is a leap in growth, you need radically new offerings. That’s where customer inputs come in. From personal experience, I’ve come to realize that customers themselves often may not know or be able to hint at what might be a final solution going forward. But your interactions with your customers will be the only thing that will spark of that genius idea for an innovative new solution. Nothing else can trigger that. No research reports or internal ‘brainstorming’ can. But it is the customer who will help you get there. And the whole journey isn’t like a surgical missile strike or a silver bullet or an instant mix; but more like clay pottery.

You start with a meaningless mass of possibilities, spin them around, try things, make corrections, keep spinning, more tries, more corrections, till finally you have something wonderful shaping out. Something previously unthought of. Something incredible.

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Design Thinking: What a Patient Wants

Design Thinking: What a Patient Wants

Design Thinking is a relatively new concept in many countries including India. It is, however, already some decades old now. And having been practicing it for a few years now, I often get asked what it is about. And for examples of its applications.

For starters, design thinking is a mindset. One that uses empathy and a set of tools to innovate and pursue complex opportunities or solve complex problems. It aims at better understanding the needs of the end-user, or identifying the root cause of a problem, before beginning to innovate. And that always requires empathy, without which, we often settle for one of the first few logical seeming solutions that come to mind.

Like many management and quality initiatives of yester-years, design thinking too is currently receiving its share of a superficial hype. With time however, I believe the hype will pass; leaving people with a better understanding and more sincere appreciation for the power of design thinking.

Ordinarily, in a traditional problem-solving process, more constraints would almost lead to a dead-end or teams giving up. Such complex projects are where design thinking works best.

“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” –Charles Eames

About a year ago, I had undertaken a design thinking exercise for the paediatric oncology department of one of Asia’s leading cancer hospitals. Sharing an overview of the same here, in case some of you are wondering what design thinking is all about. For me, design thinking is simply a humble means to achieve a goal.

Client: Paediatric Oncology Ward of one of Asia’s leading cancer hospitals

Objective: Improving the overall paediatric patient experience

Introduction:

I was at the hospital with two of my associates, to meet the expert medical oncologist regarding a project the associates and I were collaborating on. During interactions, the doctor expressed that patient feedback regarding the treatment has been positive. He and his colleagues, however, were always keen on knowing how they could further improve the patient experience. And given that the hospital offered free/heavily subsidized treatment to the poor, this was a humbling gesture. I offered to work on it.

The task involved interacting with patient families, doctors, administrative and support staff. It was necessary to get a good understanding of each stakeholder group and interactions between groups, in this bustling ecosystem.

Field Work:

Over the next 2 months, I spent several hours a day or entire days, speaking with paediatric patient families. I broad-based the sample to include new admissions, patients currently undergoing treatment, and those there for checkups 1-3 years after successful treatments. The wonderful administrative staff helped identify patients in different segments, as well as introduce me to some of them, to make for a more comfortable interaction.

Doctors had already provided considerable information from their perspective. I then spoke with administrative and support staff across the hospital. From admissions, to inquiry and even 3rd party social service representatives.

Initial Observations & Findings:

Based on information gleaned, and using Design Thinking and other tools*, here were some findings:

  • Patients/ patient families:
    • 90% of patients came from outside the city, 80% from outside the state
    • Nearly all patient families spoke one or more of 6-8 different languages
    • Wait-times to meet a doctor, were significant – between 2 – 6 hours or more
    • A slight delay in patient arrival could mean making another trip the following day
    • At least 2 family members accompanied each patient. It meant putting their normal lives on hold. It meant treatments that lasted between a few months to over a year or more
  • Staff:
    • Was well-intentioned, but mildly stressed and curt in responses to patient families
    • The staff dealt with hundreds of patients and family members on a regular basis
    • Some staff, on average, answered a request for direction to a particular building/room once every 2-4 minutes. Same was the case with some others about when their turn to meet a doctor would come, etc.
    • Some staff members were aware of their curt disposition. However, they admitted that in the region a bulk of the patients came from, they were accustomed to speaking in a curt manner. I too realized the same based on my observations and interactions with some of them. It was an amusing dilemma, the innate intention to be more polite, but an audience that might complicate your work if you yielded. A solution I proposed, aimed at solving that problem from the staff point of view
  • Hospital:
    • The funding enabled treatment to be completely or partially subsidized for the poor
    • Doctors had requested that solutions be cost-effective, if they were to be considered for implementing

Initial Verdict from Patients/ Patient families:

The overall feedback regarding the existing patient experience at the hospital was stellar. This included quality of process, staff, doctors, etc. However, I soon realized that this view was biased. Biased by gratitude for a hospital that covers all or a large part of their medical expenses.

I was back to the beginning. How do you improve patient experience when their treatment is paid for?

Back to trying to identify the opportunity:

I split the problem areas into three:

  • Patient Process:
    • Long wait times for paediatric patients to see a doctor
  • Hospital Process:
    • Duplicate room number problem
    • Multiple inquiries to staff for directions to a room/ward
    • Increased stress levels of staff
  • Customer Experience:
    • How can an already good patient experience be made better?
    • Without burdening the hospital resources?

Again, using Design Thinking tools, I came up with initially unidentified problem areas. I also stumbled upon a promising solution for improving the patient experience.

Cutting to the chase:

My recommendations were as follows:

  • Patient Process:
    • Split patients into morning and afternoon batches to make for easier sequencing and much shorter waits
  • Hospital Process:
    • Unique naming and numbering of rooms/wards (using words that cut across at least the 6-8 languages)
    • Colour coding of important rooms across buildings, with colour-coded stripes on the wall, to help patients ‘follow the coloured line’ (ideally with the colour names being identifiable across languages)
    • Colour coding would significantly bring down the number of times staff got asked for directions. (Patient families would be able to direct others. Colour/line/name-for-room would help overcome language barriers). It would reduce staff stress levels and making them more productive and happy
  • And most importantly, Customer Experience:
    • Proposed Tie-ups with companies (nearby to start with) for low-to-medium skill jobs that were individual-independent. One that anyone could turn up to do it. That would ensure work continuity while not limiting patient treatment schedules
    • Thought behind it: What was clear, was a free/almost-free treatment, and capable and polite doctors and staff. What design thinking helped me identify, is how family members put their lives on hold as their child underwent treatment. Earning some money while they were in the city, would help them buy small joys. It would help reduce the horrors of the disease and side-effects of the treatment on their child. That’s the only thing doctors and staff could not give
    • This would not burden hospital finances
    • I also proposed an alternate strategy option: where patients would pay a very nominal fee for services (from their salaries/stipends). This could bring new-found respect for the institution. The institution could also perhaps extend treatment to a few more patients with the same funds

Please note that coloured stripes and naming of rooms isn’t part of design thinking. What is, is identifying underlying issues such as staff stress and its causative factors. So is identifying possible areas to delight a customer in an otherwise perfect seeming environment.

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to ‘make the invisible visible.’ –Hillman Curtis

Key learnings from this assignment:

  • Customers might not always articulate what they want
  • Be aware of tendencies where the ecosystem might bias a customer’s viewpoint
  • Often, solving or even addressing one problem area could have benefits across multiple areas

Anyone can learn and practice design thinking. It does, however, need a lot of Empathy and Involvement from you. It also requires an unwavering commitment towards customers, employees  and innovation. And it is especially for those who are comfortable grappling with lots of ambiguity, and can stay true to the larger objective.

Got questions on design thinking, or how it might help your company innovate and grow? Comment below, or get in touch with me via LinkedIn or Twitter (links below).

“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.” –M.C. Escher

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* tools including (but not limited to) observation, interviewing techniques, design briefs, contra-logic, changing perspectives, forced connections, etc.

Dr. David Lagrew – Saving Mothers with Empathy & Innovation

More women in labour and new mothers die in the US than in any other high-income country. And the CDC Foundation estimates that 60% of these deaths are preventable! 60%!! In one of the most developed countries in the world.

And since 1990, only 13 countries in the world have seen a rise in maternal death rates. The US is one of them. Along with North Korea and Zimbabwe. And shockingly, since 2007, the US National Center for Health Statistics has even been publishing an official maternal mortality rate. Personally, I’m at a loss for words for this kind of indifference.

However, like in most other grim sounding situations, there is a small group of changemakers, who do what it takes to make things better in their area of work.

Recently, I read an article (link below) about Dr. David Lagrew and Stanford’s California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative. (CMQCC). This is an organization committed to ending preventable morbidity, mortality and racial disparities. The doctor and CMQCC have a single, worthy cause. A case of Empathy and innovation working at their best, to dramatically increase the number of lives saved.

Dr. David Lagrew    image: source

Below is the highly recommended article on how, a noble pursuit, is achieving the seemingly impossible. We all have matters that concern or consume our thoughts. What we must realize, is that it doesn’t matter how many other people are indifferent or don’t care enough to do something about it. The real question is, do we?

Article Link: California decided it was tired of women bleeding to death in childbirth

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A Lego Stealth Fighter/ Drone

Just built a Lego stealth fighter/ drone.

It does need a little imagination to smoothen the edges, etc., bear with me on that…

But that said, have a look and let me know what you think.

Image above: Side-view. Completely collapsed for hangar/storage

 Image above: Wings fully extended (it folds at two points, one, the grey section mid-wing, and the other, at the edge of the body)

Image above : Top view. The Forward Swept Wing (FSW) & delta canard design, similar to the Sukhoi-47

Notice 4 jet engines (2 running), and stealth cover on the sides, to minimize heat signature in-flight

Image above: The wings also swivel at a point just off the main body. This dramatically improves Angle-of-Attack (AOA).

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Stop Glorifying terror

The world governments need to stop glorifying terror outfits. For starters, irrespective of what those terror groups might call themselves, what if victim countries gave them shameful and cowardly names. That way, the citizens wouldn’t fear them the way they currently do. Wayward or lost youngsters would probably be averse to joining such groups if their names were funny or shameful, rather than rebellious-sounding.

isis in CAPS. Why? And they called themselves a ‘state’, and we agreed? It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? What if they called themselves a country next? Should we mindlessly agree?

Imagine if world bodies and governments called them ‘i-piss’ instead. Wouldn’t their terror motives lose a little momentum and hatred each time they heard themselves being referred to that way on news programs? Worth considering?

Hisbull, Hercow. Nothing justifies the killing of innocents. And that applies to governments too.

Do Laptops Need to be a Pain in the Neck?

 

Image: source

Irrespective of where we place a laptop when we use them, they’re usually well aligned with our arms and hands. This helps make typing relatively effortless. However, have you noticed how the screen is almost never aligned with our head and neck? Depending on the time you spend on the laptop, this causes a sustained strain on the neck, eyes an back.

We already have flexible and “yoga” laptops with touchscreens available today. So what if laptops had height adjustable screens too? With the technology already available, making this small design improvement should not be a challenge.

What is needed, is a laptop with an adjustable screen height and tilt (by letting it rotate across its horizontal axis). This could help enable an effortless working position for the user, irrespective of where the laptop is placed.

An area of concern to address:

  • As the screen is raised, the centre of gravity is considerably raised, which might cause frequent toppling over. Perhaps 1-2 small, retractable legs (like those on tripod stand) would help prevent any tipping over. Slight raising of the rear base of the laptop too might help.

Just a crude depiction of what it might look like. A single, central stem might make sense for smaller/ lighter screens.

An Ideation Session at SIMSR

An Ideation Session at SIMSR

The crack team at K. J. Somaiya Institute of Management Studies & Research (SIMSR) that made it happen…

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The 80+ exceptional minds that came up with some surprisingly amazing ideas…

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A point about how aggregators must ensure sufficient value-add to become profitable faster, and continue to stay relevant to customers…

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If they can come up with great ideas on a Sunday morning, imagine what they are capable of during the average week…

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Some future entrepreneurs of India…

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The multiple, potential ideas that participants generated within under 25 minutes despite some crazy constraints…IMG_0029 - Copy

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