Is it possible to Fall in Love with a Company?

Is it possible to fall in love with a company?

Not the kind where you are loyal to a company or brand or product line and refuse to buy anything else.But truly revere a company because of their values.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Indian Hotels company to meet a senior gentleman there. Unlike other companies, where either an assistant or the receptionist or some peon might walk you to a meeting room, this person came to the lobby to receive me.

I’m not particularly good with small talk, and almost always jump right to the point. However, I started this meeting differently. I told this person about a story a close friend’s son had shared recently. It went like this.

Many years ago, when my friend’s son was in school, the school bus would drop him off at Kemps Corner. They lived up Altamount Road, quite a steep walk up. Especially for this stocky boy with a big schoolbag, huffing his way up the road. And every once in a way, a Mercedes car would pull up, an old gentleman sitting in the back, would offer to drop him to his building. This boy would sit in front, next to the driver.

The old gentleman would ask some questions about how he liked school, etc. One evening, this boy decided to mention to his family at dinner, that he had been occasionally getting dropped home by a complete stranger. As he narrated the story and described the old gentleman, his granny smiled and said, “that man is J. R. D. Tata!”

For the uninitiated, Mr. J. R. D. Tata is arguably one of the greatest Indian businesspersons.

What’s more, when this boy grew up and shared this story on social media, it turned out that other people who lived in the area had similar stories of their own. It seemed that success didn’t create a divide between Mr. Tata and others, but rather, Mr. Tata chose to use his success to help those around in whichever way he could.

This gentleman at the Taj Group was thrilled to hear this story, but not completely surprised. I guess the values infused into the group are so strong, it’s not something they would struggle to believe.

Rewinding a bit to a little before this meeting of mine…. I reached the Indian Hotels office a little early. Restless as always, I was walking around, admiring the picturesque view of Bombay from the window beside the reception area. I then noticed pillar-like structures just behind where the receptionists stood. There were seven on one side, six on the other. And each one had a name and number etched in. I had a faint idea about what they were. But just to confirm, I walked up and asked the receptionist about them.

And indeed, they were in memory of their brave employees they lost during the 2008 terrorist attack. The last pillar on the right just had a name on it. ‘Lucy’, and no date. Turned out it was a pet of theirs, which was always outside the hotel.

The two stories were truly humbling. Even just a few more companies with the kind of humility, respect and values that the Tata Group of companies has, could truly transform the business ecosystem.

Perhaps it therefore comes as no surprise that the brave Taj employees did not try to escape during the attack. On the contrary, many of them displayed superhuman courage and presence of mind to do the unimaginable. The kitchen staff formed human shields as their guests tried to get out.

No amount of rules, threats, salary packages or incentives can get someone to do that. It is something much more. And has to come from within, but only when the ecosystem is right. It’s something very human. Something the world needs more of.

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

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

Staying Power

CrystalPlanet: Staying Power

In the years after starting my strategy consulting practice, during one meeting with one of my mentors, he asked me how work was.

I said it was good, but had a lot of ups and downs. He said he was really glad that I was sticking with it.

He told me that decades ago, as one of the fastest growing leaders in one of India’s biggest conglomerates, he had once written in an article where he had mentioned a human trait. A trait that he wished more people had.

It was, what he called ‘staying power’. According to him, it is the ability for someone to know that there will always be ups and downs, and that when striving for something huge, one must have the ability to hold on through the storms. He said the few people who have it, always reach their goals.

I was recently invited to attend the Maharashtra Startup Week, where I was fortunate to attend two sessions by Bala Girisaballa. In one, he perfectly articulated an entrepreneurs journey. He said, ‘the journey for most entrepreneurs often comprises of spending 90% of their time in the dark (business uncertainty), and then there being a flash and the 10% of good times (or less tormenting times), which then takes the entrepreneur to the next 90% dark phase.’

If you think about it, a good life (one committed to striving for tough goals) should be the same too. Between seemingly impossible 90% challenges. For which we need our staying power.

A Poem for Design the Future

Ava and Dr. Jimmy Patell, dear friends of mine, were extremely kind to gift me a poem that they wrote about my book on design thinking, Design the Future.

The poem itself is more priceless to me than the book. Really humbling.

Here it is.

Design the Future, what does it portend
What does it say, what message does it send
Does it help Managers in their work place
Or a simple layman in his home space

How can the processes that evolve
A family’s day to day problems solve
Or is it just solely business tools
Being espoused in some management schools

Well to clear the mystery of it all
Shrutin Shetty has taken a call
And made things clear by writing a book
That may well become the subject’s handbook

Friends, it may help giving the book a read
It may assist you in your hour of need
Solve the problem before others do
And get credit that is due to you.

– Ava and Jimmy


If you haven’t picked up my book yet, you can use the code JIMAVA here for a 25% off on the paperback. Paperbacks are also available across leading online bookstores worldwide, and ebooks on Amazon and Kobo.
If you do buy the book, would appreciate a review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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The Point of disapPOINTment

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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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 Stand-off called Life

The Stand-off called Life

Random musings.

Life, in some ways, is like a standoff with a wild animal.

You are puzzled, scared and unsure of its next move. So is the animal.

If you panic or succumb to your fears, it will pounce, attack, and possibly consume you. And fast.

On the other hand, if you can keep your sh!t together and stay calm, you might either cause it to run away, or kill it. Or better still, you might tame it.

Video contains violence. Viewer discretion advised.

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A Pad Idea!

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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Number Fifty-Four…The Bike with a Bamboo Core

Number Fifty-Four…

…The bike with a bamboo core!

What does it take for innovation to be possible? Simply, just the intention. You need to want it badly enough to make it possible.

I happened to see this online a long time ago. I am still in awe of it though. People in Ghana find themselves in unfavourable temperatures, with long distances to go, but with limited connectivity. But rather than endure, with some external help, they designed bicycles built with a bamboo frame. They could easily source the other parts, which were standard to regular bikes. This innovation however, helped build a bike at a fraction of the cost of the ones normally available.

And I’ve found that regular bikes these days, corrode easily, and require considerable maintenance. These bamboo bikes however, seem to be easier to maintain. They can also be built for different sizes and for different applications (carrier, etc.). A green, economical idea that addresses so many needs. In times of compulsive and impulsive purchases all over the world, this is just the kind of impressive and refreshing innovation the world needs.

Don’t miss the video at the end.

A standard bike: source

A bike with a carrier and a carrier support frame: source

Image: source

 

You can read more about it here: link

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What Inspires Your Startup?

Along their entrepreneurial journey, some entrepreneurs constantly think of better and simpler ways to describe their business. This is an evolutionary process, as their business model undergoes refinement. So, when they meet new people or investors, they can often quickly describe what their startup exactly does.

Then of course, there are others, who build their business identical to another already-successful startup. Or, their business model is similar to a successful startup in another domain.

While taking inspiration from innovative businesses is one thing, it is dangerous if you only look that far. It is amusing and unimaginative to hear things like, ‘my startup is an Uber in the ABC industry’. Or, ‘ours is an Airbnb’d Samsung.’ Wait what!

Or the fact that Ola has invested/committed a little fortune towards the acquisition of food delivery service Foodpanda’s India business from DeliveryHero to be able to compete with UberEats. While Uber would have understood (hopefully) a customer need, and worked to build it into their business model and possibly the very soul of what they do, seems like Ola simply reacted and followed suit. Something that could prove disastrous in the long term, considering all the financial burden Ola already bears.

But there is a deeper concern. While your business or the revenue model takes inspiration off of another business, it can lead to a short-sighted strategy approach. Because your focus remains that startup or company you take inspiration from. You might not have much of an idea about where that company is getting is inspiration from, and therefore innovating toward.

For instance, am sure a lot of startups must have taken inspiration of some sort or the other, from Netflix, a visionary entertainment company. But who would have guessed, till when its co-founder and CEO, Reed Hastings announced that Netflix doesn’t exactly compete with the likes of Amazon, but rather with with their customers in general, and specifically with their customer’s sleep. How cool was that!

Which means Netflix has far greater clarity on present and future strategy, compared to companies who are simply modeling their growth strategy based on what they see or read about Netflix.

It completely transforms how you see the customer and therefore, how you evolve and grow. Better than being reactive with something like, “Prime’s launching a show around XYZ, what can we do ASAP!”

What inspires your startup?

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Our Right to Privacy

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

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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