Lose Your Illusion

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Lose Your Illusion

Sometime last year, I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s girlfriend who is a psychologist. Between drawing inferences from my handwriting to discussing human behaviour in general. She also mentioned the acute dearth of mental health personnel in the country (India) at the moment.

I did some reading around that. The most recent global statistic on number of psychiatrists and nurses in the mental health sector was by WHO. The study dates back to 2014. According to it, 30.4% of the world’s countries had less than 1 professional per 100,000 population. There’s also no data available on another 35.5% of the countries.

And while Monaco had a commendable 40.98 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, in India, that number was a shameful 0.30. That means, there’s one psychiatrist for every 300,000 of the population. Or a total of between 3500 and 5000 psychiatrists in the country.

Then there are psychologists (they council, and focus on treating mental and emotional suffering but cannot prescribe medications; unlike psychiatrists, who mainly focus on treatment with medication) As per Sindhu BS, a Mental Health Therapist on Quora, the Indian Psychology Association, of which she is a member, has less than 10,000 members in 2018. Another source mentioned some 14000-15000 psychologists in India. India is already on the higher end of the spectrum as of 2016 when it came to suicides. At 18.5 per 100,000 population.

And here’s why this will be even more concerning going forward. The world is seeing a steadily growing impact of automation on jobs across sectors. India has been shielding employment in every way possible. Resisting industrial automation to maintaining average quality of work worked well for a section of average skilled, low-cost labour.  But how long can it continue to do so before it starts feeling the negative global impact of it? Additionally, India is on its path to soon being the largest population in the world. It is also on the verge of being the youngest population in the world.

Young Indians are pouring into different sectors which will have a steadily shrinking job base. This could lead to a spike in the depression and suicide numbers. But is the country and its government anticipating and doing anything to build a safety net for that?

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A Pad Idea!

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A Pad Idea!
Once upon a time, there was is a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham from Coimbatore in India, who could not bear to see the discomfort and embarrassment that his wife had to go through, just to buy/ wear a sanitary pad / napkin. Risking even his very marriage, Arunachalam’s empathy and resolve lead him to research everything from material to pricing of sanitary pads. And after a long, unrelenting journey, he makes sanitary napkins that become the preferred and highly affordable alternative to what many rural and even urban women were used to for the longest time; cloth. This inspiring story of an Indian hero was recently depicted by way of a Bollywood movie, Padman.
Now consider some Hollywood movies inspired by real-life heroes. Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts), Joy (Jennifer Lawrence starrer), Sully (featuring Tom Hanks), Argo (Ben Affleck playing the cool, brave Antonio J. Mendez of the CIA), etc., etc. Noticed anything in common?
The protagonist always bears the real name of the character it was inspired by. The way I see it, that helps real heroes get the recognition they deserve in their home countries, if not the world. And it helps the masses connect better with the name and great actions of that hero or changemaker. Of course, there are other movies loosely based on some real-world people. In which case, I agree that moviemakers would be wary of incurring the wrath of linked families. And therefore use fictional names. But why the same even with movies completely inspired by one, known person.
Bollywood has been notorious for decades, for being “inspired” by original content from the world over, and repackaging it for our audiences. To add to the plagiarism, is the unimaginative rehashed Bollywood classic songs that regularly make their way back to newer Bollywood movies. The least this multi-billion dollar industry that avoids imagination and innovation like the plague could do, is let real heroes have a share in the limelight. By using the person’s real name in the movie it is inspired by.
They did with Padman. And with Airlift. With Guru, among other movies.

Why do they do it? Are box office proceeds all they care about? Or is it some lawsuit they’re trying to avoid? Or do they want credit for the empathy, innovation and perseverance of another?

‘Arunachalam Muruganantham’ is a tough enough name even for Indians to remember, without it being portrayed by Akshay Kumar but bearing a completely different name. Giving a fictional name takes away the powerful connect it could create among the masses. And this movie could have been the perfect effort to make the real man a household name. To inspire many more such changemakers because of the direct connect to the real person it creates.

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Actions With and Without a Face

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Actions With and Without a Face

Even today, you can see people of some races cringe or gasp at the sight of the swastika, the symbol of Hitler’s party. Even though the swastika has much older roots. And Hitler himself, continues to be collectively and strongly hated today, over 72 years after his death. And rightly so. He and his people were the cause of unspeakable oppression and death. Collectively, around 42 million deaths (soldiers and civilians), and even more as per some historical estimates. What probably makes it most glaring, is the short span of 12 years across which this happened. And as the leader of the Nazis, Hitler remains the face of all the death and destruction by his people.

Going back again in time, the British atrocities in their colonies is another story altogether. In India alone, their rule lasted around 184 years. And this time too, was witness to unspeakable oppression and the death. Approximately 40-54 million Indians. Dead! Due to starvation. Due to manual labour; and worse, through artificially created famines. When we compare the British kill report card with that of Hitler’s, it happened over a comparatively much longer 184 years. But there is no single face of the oppression. Which is also perhaps why it lasted so long. And was so much more deep-rooted.

In present times, the world citizens should always be on the look out for the second kind of mass-murderers. Eaters of countries. Because the world is a dynamic flow of information, even if a lot of it is manipulated by whorish media, the world citizen is still aware, and will not tolerate a single face of oppression for too long.

However, the second kind of oppression won’t have a single face, or perhaps have one that appeases a section of the masses, speaks directly to their concerns and hopes; while the arms of the organization carry out deep-rooted decay.

Many of us have heard of the myth around the frog and hot water experiments. While frogs aren’t so tolerant to heat, history bears testimony of human ignorance to oppression without a face.

British colonies were a live example of it. Albeit not the most subtle example, given the difference in race/ colour, etc. But imagine the harm a domestic movement with ulterior motives can do. Let’s ensure we guard against history repeating itself in other forms, but using similar tactics.

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A Session on Innovation, Design Thinking & The Future of Work

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A Session on Innovation, Design Thinking & The Future of Work

Earlier this week, I was invited to conduct a session around ‘Innovation, Design Thinking and the Future of Work’ at the Indian School of Management & Entrepreneurship, for a batch of about 170 grad students from Vaze College. The most enjoyable session I’ve had so far.

 

An ideation exercise I conducted, had the students thinking of ideas to replace the irreplaceable smartphone. And what innovative ideas they were!! Absolutely impressive! I barely heard 6-7 ideas for fear of running out of time. If only there was enough time to hear all the ideas.

 

 

The session started with about 4-5 students believing themselves to be creative and innovative. By the end of the session, over 80% of them believed they were innovative and creative. It was a truly humbling experience. With these brilliant folk entering professional life soon, the future looks promising!

 

 

While I’d really like to list out some of the ideas that the students came up with during the session, I’ll resist the temptation. In the hope that at least some of them would pursue their idea and make a world-transforming business out of it in the near future.

 

 

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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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Do Some of the Pillars of Democracy need a Shake-Up?

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Democracy has rested on four pillars. The legislature, executive, the judiciary, and arguably the most important, the press. All the pillars need improvement, some far more than others. The world press, for instance, has really become dirty. When in reality, it should be a transparent communication channel between the citizen, the country, and the world.

In an increasingly connected globe, traditional media surprisingly continues to wield disproportionately high power. And it has been responsible for numerous crimes, the world over. From keeping entire populations in the dark, to convincing them about who the good guys and bad guys are. By encouraging unsolicited violence on other countries. Press has made large sections of otherwise peace-loving populations completely convinced of the need for war. Not always because any country was under attack. But because politicians and industry stood to benefit from tricking citizens and getting them onboard. And with business people and politicians ever interested in wielding influence over large media houses, it makes one wonder how we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to lies.

The Indian press too, continues to scale new depths by doctoring news or hiding it altogether, to favor various political parties.

Anyway, interestingly, the Congress, among the bigger corrupt parties, recently figured a simple way to fix the distorted media problem. After taking a lot of bashing by two leading TV news channels for some time, the party recently banned the channels from their press conferences. How much is a TV news channel worth if it doesn’t have access to a certain section of national news? Not as much as it had before, right?

Mahendra Palsule highlighted in a good post, about the fifth pillar in a democracy, the (silent) citizen.

Think about it. Let’s assume these two channels got a reality-check after this banning. Imagine then what we the people can, and must do, to get the press functioning the way it is meant to, not the underhand way it is paid to. The day the masses stop consuming lies served to us by these media, we will have withdrawn the right we gave them, and which they continue to abuse.

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SUV Drivers – Look Out

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India has seen an almost meteoric rise in the number of SUVs and compact-SUVs in the last few years. Perhaps the size fits in well with our gradually growing economy, disposable incomes, and egos. Among things that haven’t grown, is our sense of driving and responsible presence on the road.

India’s roads are getting more dangerous. And the higher seated position makes it tougher for SUV drivers to see, especially around the vehicle. Add to this the narrow, blocked or poorly-lit (and therefore unsafe) footpaths/ sidewalks, and you have more and more pedestrians choosing to walk on roads instead.

This is why it becomes even more important for pedestrians walking with small children, to keep them on your side that is away from the traffic. This also means moving them from one side to the other on dividers, when crossing bi-directional traffic. Or carrying them when crossing roads. It is tough enough for drivers of hatchbacks and sedans, thanks to the lack of lane discipline and distracted pedestrians. But it will be more dangerous if pedestrians bank on just the cautiousness of SUV drivers, given their limited proximity view from their high seats. And slightly more so with women drivers.

Sources said the observations will be given to the civic authorities to help them improve roads.

Source: link

The image above shows how you should never cross the road when accompanying children. You should be between the children and oncoming traffic.

Here’s an older post highlighting the risk [link here]

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How Well is Tata Motors Connecting Aspirations?

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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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Our Right to Privacy

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Our Right to Privacy

Image source

Towards the last week of August this year, here in India there was a landmark Supreme Court verdict that a lot of you must have heard/read about. It had something to do with the citizens of India, and our right to privacy. After the initial petitions that were filed long ago, a panel of eminent judges finally ruled that privacy is in fact, a fundamental right.

In an age where information sharing is growing at an astronomical pace, an attempt to safeguard privacy almost sounds ironical. And though our smartphones and apps make it difficult for a lot of us to even fathom if and how much we need privacy, we must be grateful to this bench of judges for thinking on our behalf and ruling in favour of the citizens.

Of course, the ruling wasn’t a no-questions-asked-right, but it does safeguard the core.

Chances are most of us would never get to reading the 547-page report ever. However, I do urge you to read just the verdict given by each of the judges. The choice of words and sentences are almost melodious. The depth of the analysis, and the absolute fairness and clarity of thought, is simply admirable. And it is something we should appreciate; it is your privacy and mine that they were safeguarding after all.

Here’s the link to the article: SC Verdict on Right to Privacy – What Each Judge Had to Say

And in case you’d want to go through the report too, here’s the link: Right To Privacy

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The Earning of Trust

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The Earning of Trust.

I recently subscribed to NewsLaundry. It is a very young but self-proclaimed “media critique, news and current affairs portal”. It claims to operate on the obvious but often forgotten premise that news should be for the masses. And not for advertisers, or to distort reality for the masses.

Current times are seeing increasingly low times for the media and the news. Between fake and distorted news, influencing an action in the masses has been reduced to an equation. And those who can just manage to see beyond the superficial intentions, can see a much greater rot.

Having worked extensively in the small & medium business and startup space for over a decade, it got me thinking of the growth of a startup, which in many ways, is directly comparable to the growth of an individual. Words and deeds, and the way people treat others, etc., all add or subtract from their reputation.

In the business world, I have seen some truly promising startups struggle. And in some cases, the only holding them back, the limited reputation due to their recency in the game. On the other end of the spectrum are large companies. Already having established reputation, benefits they enjoy are often disproportionately higher than their incremental capabilities and passion. All thanks to reputation. To summarize that, the life of a business starts with abilities and energy that often far exceeds the reputation it commands; till, over time, it gets to a stage where it has the reputation it needs, but then must ideally invest into ability and energy to maintain it. Something often forgotten.

In an ideal scenario, it should have been the veterans of media setting examples for every starry eyed journalist passing out of college, on what media truly stands for in a domestic and a global setting. In reality, however, many of them have reduced themselves to being corporate or political (or both) mouthpieces. Essentially having sold their souls to ‘influence the masses for power and profits’ kind of devils.

Which paves the way for the startups to step in and do what the stalwarts should have. Clean up the mess. Many years ago, when I started my design strategy consulting practice, I had written a few lines about the importance of these startups and young companies. Sharing the same here:

“Time and change are formidable resistances for even large, global companies. Imagine then, their effect on Start-ups and Small & Medium Businesses.

The world however, needs more enterprising young companies, to lead global innovation, to keep larger businesses on their toes, and to maintain a good pace in innovation and technological advances for the benefit of mankind. In fact, most often, it is these young, innovative companies that are also closest in touch with present and future needs of consumers, understanding and responding rapidly to global and local problems with innovative and logical solutions.”

By the looks of it, seems like the young will also have to be the ethical torchbearers of the industry. The journey will be challenging and mostly uphill. And the possible reward? Future generations of truly free and ethical minds seems like a worthy enough goal to make this seemingly impossible pursuit meaningful. Wishing NewsLaundry the best on its journey to keep news unadulterated!

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