The Point of disapPOINTment

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The Point of disapPOINTment

With our high hopes, we do face the occasional disappointment. Not getting that promotion you worked so hard for. Having to postpone a holiday because of some reason, or difficulty in scheduling a meeting because someone’s too busy. How do you deal with such disappointments?

Here’s something I have learnt that seems like a great idea.

If you don’t get that promotion you really put everything to get, try to recognize the people working for you who have been doing the same thing for you. And whose progress might have been unrecognized or not rewarded by you.

Had to delay a long overdue vacation? Find someone on your team who is long overdue for a break. And let them have it.

Finding it difficult to meet someone you really want to? Give in to meeting requests from others that you would otherwise perhaps have ignored.

And so on. Get the drift? You’d be more at peace. And that seems to be the point of disappointment. It is perhaps an external factor that brings your attention to something you might have otherwise left unnoticed.

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My book on design thinking titled ‘Design the Future‘ is out. If innovation, design thinking, problem-solving, human behaviour or ideation are areas of interest, am sure you will enjoy this book.
You can get your paperback copy via Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam and some other popular online bookstores.
Would be great if you could leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read the book.

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Upbringing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Upbringing

Here’s a thought regarding upbringing. Views welcome; and especially so if you have kids and your parents either stay with you, or you visit each other often.

You know how curious for information kids are. And parents often ask them to say or sing something they have learnt, in front of family or in the presence of guests? As a parent, try to think of the reason why you do this.

“What is your intent behind requesting your kid to say or sing something in front of the family and/or guests?”

Is it more for amusement (and possibly family bonding) or to show-off your child’ progress, or something else?

And in case it is for ‘something else’, what is that something?

Similarly, ask your parents the same questions. Especially if your parents aren’t all that literate (or if you have grandparents, ask them as well).

What’s the thought/ point behind this?

Back in the day, grandparents or parents didn’t always have access to the best of education. In such instances, they would often request their kid to say something they had learnt. Especially in the presence of visiting family or friends. Is it possible that was less for amusement, and more as a matter of pride or accomplishment?

Nowadays parents have obviously received a good education (in most cases). They usually know know more than their kid does (be it something as basic as English, etc.). In such cases, is requesting your kid to say something in the presence of others more for amusement, and less out of pride or humility that the elders might have felt?

How does this matter?

Is it possible that in the past, those kids would sense the the humility and pride, and in present times, would sense the amusement? And would the reactions of kids be different given what they sense? And does that influence their actions? For instance, would that feeling of humility or pride they saw in their elders push them to strive harder? And in more recent times, do kids see themselves as being entertainment for elders, and therefore sometimes tend to strive to please or entertain instead?

While earlier generations were overly concerned about “what society will think” regarding different aspects of their professional and personal lives, are the current and younger generations very different? Aren’t the younger generations also overly dependent on social acknowledgement, attention and approval, even though it might be for contexts different from those of earlier generations?

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My book on design thinking titled ‘Design the Future‘ is out. If innovation, design thinking, problem-solving, human behaviour or ideation are areas of interest, am sure you will enjoy this book.
You can order your paperback copy via Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam.
Would be great if you could leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read the book.

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Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

The Reaction Buffer

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Reaction Buffer

When you have a layer between the incident or the surrounding and your own thoughts and emotions, that is the space where you can evaluate your reaction to the external.

You can evaluate, you can learn from your reactions, and choose a different way to react to the next instance of a similar situation. That’s where you learn.

I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to create that layer. I just know it can be done.

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My book on design thinking titled ‘Design the Future‘ is out. If innovation, design thinking, problem-solving, human behaviour or ideation are areas of interest, am sure you will enjoy this book.
You can get your paperback copy via Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam & some other popular online bookstores.
Would be great if you could leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read the book.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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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Don’t be Kupamanduka

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Don’t be Kupamanduka

When someone just joins your organisation, get their first impression of their experience within a few days of joining. Then, after you run them through the standard tour and the paces, and get another view within a month or two. See if there is a significant drop in the ‘illusion’. And if so, why. Learn the difference between what an outsider sees, and what the outsider sees, when he or she gets inside.

It’s one thing to think your company is great. Quite another thing to ask someone who has left one to join your company. Great learning in the newcomer’s view of your company.

‘Kupamanduka’ is Sanskrit for ‘frog in the well’.

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Are You Certain? Or do You Think?

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Are you certain? Or do you think?

We live in times that are almost entirely about confidence. The underlying stuff is often of little importance. A bold claim has great impact. The ability to pause to consider two equally strong but opposing possibilities, not as much.

Maybe that is also why many of our management schools are ok with accepting students with little or no work experience. And then, they even invest in image consultants and sessions on how to speak at interviews. Their greater goal of course, is a close to 100% placement rate.

How else could they justify the fees they charge? Not like they are conducting any path-breaking research. Or boast of a substantial corpus with which they encourage homegrown startups. And yet, products of these institutions are just overflowing with confidence. Even when they are very wrong, or filled with weak assumptions. Nothing wrong with being wrong. A lot is wrong with having a shut mind.

And these are just students. Our industries are filled with individuals who consider themselves virtually infallible. The venture capital sector for instance, has an almost fixed success metric. 30-40% of investments usually fail. Another 30-40% of them only return the original investment or small profits. And only about 10-20% of them do exceptionally well. So, despite such high failure rates, it is uncommon to hear a venture capitalist ever speak of their failures. Even with the objective of educating the masses or aspiring entrepreneurs. Which is why, when an Alok Mittal speaks of a failed investment, it is almost an exception to the norm.

A tweet by Kunal Shah seemed to capture the trend of the times we live in. He said, ‘People don’t follow those who seem to be right or wrong. People follow those who seem to be sure what they are talking about.’

Amusingly, another tweet on the Nobel Prize account about Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist and biologist, gave some hope. Darwin is renowned for his untiring work on evolution and natural selection.

When Darwin started taking notes in his “B” notebook, above his first evolutionary tree he wrote, “I think”. In an age where doubt, deliberation or questioning one’s own views are considered to be weaknesses, it was refreshing to see this. It serves as a reminder of what British philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell said. That ‘the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.’

Darwin’s notes …. image source: link

Somebody once said, ‘arrogance and ignorance are a deadly combination.’ When caught between confidence filled with doubt, and just doubt, err on the side of doubt. It’ll prove beneficial in the long term.

So, are you always certain? Or do you often think?

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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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Venture Capital Elevator Pitches

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Venture Capital Elevator Pitches

I left my job at a venture capital (VC) firm in 2010. After freelancing for a bit I then worked with a high-technology company in the robotics space. I then started my own strategy consulting practice, which over the years has matured into an interesting blend of design thinking, management strategy and human behaviour. Three fields I am keenly interested in, and which I use to help companies. I help them understand their customers and customer needs better. I also help companies tackle complex problems or pursue opportunities and grow.

VC funding, business plans and elevator pitches however, are areas a lot of clients associate me with. My initial list of consulting services didn’t even factor business plans or elevator pitches. However, along the way, by heavy demand, it became a prominent service. I continue to get a lot of inquiries for elevator pitches. There probably will never be a shortage of companies aspiring to get their entrepreneurial dreams equity funded.

However, I have observed one common aspect across a lot of clients and prospective clients. It is in their view of what an elevator pitch is. Or should be. Given the overly enthusiastic, almost orgasmic effect that venture capitalists have on a lot of business folk and new entrepreneurs, they tend to assume that that’s what an elevator pitch is about too. That the brief time the pitch gets in front of the investor, with or without the entrepreneur actually being present, should blow their mind. And to achieve this, they start thinking like advertisers. They think loud. Or blingy. Or just outright abstract.

They assume the pitch needs to be all glitsy and filled with high quality images, video, and graphs! That’s it! And on occasion, it has been tough convincing them otherwise. Reasoning with them that having been an investor, I might probably have a better sense of what might bring out the core essence of a venture. And what might be outright distracting, or worse, confusing. But it doesn’t work often. They are so enamoured by a faceless and nameless investor who probably frequents their dreams, to reason.

Sometime last year, someone made Uber’s first elevator pitch public. For those working on their elevator pitches to seek investment, and if you haven’t seen this already, UberCab – Dec 2008. How many captivating images do you see? They seem to me like just random pictures pulled off a Google search. A few phones, a few cars. No plot, no sub-plot, no theme, nothing. Just a vision and a compelling business proposition and a plan on how to make it happen! Nothing else matters.

I have been quite blunt with clients when it comes to delivering a no-nonsense pitch. However, I have had my pitches go to design folk, artists, and even sent to experts in digital and web design to give them a ‘makeover’. And I’ve had others turn my pitches upside down to present what they believe is a better way to ‘pitch’. Only to then come back and use one previously made by me.

The reason being, at the end of the day, even if some people don’t agree, venture capitalists are humans too. They have similar attention spans. They aren’t fools not to spot a great opportunity, even if it is scribbled clearly on a restaurant napkin. And they certainly aren’t fools to accept a mediocre vision or action plan just because it was in a ‘beautified pitch’.

This is the third of a series I’ve written regarding entrepreneurs and VCs. In case you missed the first two, they’re here: 1. What’s Your Profession and 2. The Entrepreneur in a Venture Capital World

Hope you found these useful.

My attempt at sketching a puzzled investor.

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