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.

Goby the Fish

I recently came across an article about an initiative to create awareness about marine pollution.

Some folks living close to a beach (can’t seem to find the beach’s location), created a giant, transparent fish. Made of mesh and barbed wire, it had a signboard which read, ‘Goby loves plastic, please feed him.’

It made for a fun game for visitors, who helped fill it with trash lying around. But it probably also created a hard-hitting visual for everyone who saw it. A giant, transparent fish filled with plastic would leave a lasting impression in anyone compared to reading articles about marine pollution.

What’s concerning however, is that we humans are getting smarter by the generation. And yet it takes increasingly creative ways for us to register the consequences of the mistakes we keep repeating.

Source of the article: link

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If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

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Built In Your Image

CrystalPlanet : Built In Your Image

When we barely understand fellow humans, do you think AI will?

We encourage people to be objective, and not to be emotionally imbalanced. We even look down on the rare outburst by family or friends. Right?

And there’s a reason for it. Nobody likes someone who is always cranky. However, I wonder if even the rare outbursts or breakdowns by people we know, are really that bad.

For instance, people from smaller towns sometimes tend to be more attuned to their emotional side (by emotional, I don’t mean emotionally imbalanced, but rather, let’s say, ‘more human’ or warm, and also perhaps more easily offended) compared to those living in metros who, given the fast-paced life, often tend to be more disconnected and aloof to most things. Only, I don’t know if the metro way is the absolute right way, or the small town way, wrong.

Attending a lecture by Prof. Yuval Noah Harari seemed to at least slightly reinforce the thought, unless I missed some point.

Prof. Harari spoke of how organisations are and will continue to enhance human capability. And that while that would grow existing or new abilities in us, how it might shrink our emotional side, which in turn could be more detrimental than good. That seemed to explain the fast-paced pursuit in larger cities and our resulting disposition.

So have we, over the decades, even without biotechnology to enhance us, been gradually pushing ourselves to be more analytical at the risk of being cold and indifferent, while simultaneously punishing by isolating those who tend to be more emotional and arguably in turn, ‘more human’?

So while outbursts like road rage are never good, I am sure there are sufficient and more people out there, students, employees and others who are silently fighting their own battles, and each time they resist an outburst or an expression of their thoughts, and instead bottle it up, they perhaps end up doing more damage to themselves than good.

That is one part of the problem.

The other, more concerning part, given the above dilemma of whether we should allow people the occasional outburst without making it look like a forbidden crime, or not; is the fact that we know so little about human behaviour!

Yet we somehow seem to be alright with artificial intelligence being allowed to learn from us. With the possibility that someday there might be AI systems guiding nations about defensive or offensive actions. About how people are or might be, about how situations might pan out, and allowing man to indulge in his affinity for preemptive action.

It might also cause unstoppable actions on the part of AI. Unless we somehow feel optimistic that AI might in fact, help humans understand ourselves and each other better someday.

Because otherwise, it’ll just be like that phrase that went around during the early days of the computer… Garbage in..garbage out.

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If innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, you might enjoy reading my book, ‘Design the Future‘.
Ebook available on Amazon and Kobo, and paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam.
If you do buy the book, would appreciate a review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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Skill or Skin

A racist, I assume, has a more chronic condition of xenophobia, which is dislike of, or prejudice against people from other countries.Because a racist will dislike or prejudice against even fellow citizens of another race.
Despite knowing this, the laws in some developed countries still use terms such as Black and White. Makes one wonder if they’re attempting to fix the problem, or merely formalize it.

And one might even justify the presence of words like Black and White saying a lot of people might be more aware of them, as opposed to things like African American or, all of whatever ‘white’ represents. But that’s where change needs to come. When a government decides not to use words that might continue a trend that too many people over centuries have fought to get rid of.

Even the darkest of Africans won’t be ‘black’, and even the fairest of white earthlings won’t be ‘white’, so if we can’t get rid of such tags just yet, maybe just make them more accurate…Black could be replaced by brown, ….and white by eggshell colour, or if you appreciate irony, ‘Navajo white’?
Equal or fair representation, I’ll admit, might need to be part of practice, so as not to have companies completely avoid potential candidates of a particular race from being a part of them.

But if we humans are developed enough to attempt to psychologically brainwash people of a certain race to force them into mainstream religion in Chinese camps in Xinjiang, are we also the people who in developed countries are incapable of devising ways to change the mindsets of hiring managers towards screening candidates based on skill rather than skin?

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If innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, you might enjoy reading my book, ‘Design the Future‘.
Ebook available on Amazon and Kobo, and paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon, Flipkart & Infibeam.
If you do buy the book, would appreciate a review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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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 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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Upbringing

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.

Dr. John Virapen on the Greed of Pharmaceutical Companies

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 Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Delayed Gratification and more

Image: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the Ghostbusters movie, 1984

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Delayed Gratification and more

In June this year, Jessica Calarco wrote a very interesting article around the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment from the 1960s, which were a number of studies conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel. Mischel was studying correlation between children who displayed delayed gratification and how their subsequent lives turned out to be as they grew up. The studies found that some children could hold off the instant satisfaction in exchange of a delayed but larger gain. Tracking them over several years, it also stated that such children had better life outcomes later in life. These outcomes were gauged using several parameters. Some of these were educational accomplishments, SAT scores, body mass index, among others.

Some subsequent studies tried to disprove this correlation. One of them, mentioned in the article, is a more recent one. Researchers Tyler Watts (NYU) and Greg Duncan and Hoanan Quan (both of UC Irvine) conducted it. Little was found to support the original correlation. The study comprised of a larger sample size (900 as opposed to 600 in the first of the Stanford experiments). One finding was that socio-economic factors also played a role in whether a kid could wait it out or not.

They found kids from affluent families were more inclined and able to wait for the extra marshmallow. Kids from poor families were inclined to take the first marshmallow. They were more inclined to grab something at hand, rather than wait for the uncertain.

A couple of thoughts around this new experiment:

  • Firstly, the phrase ‘did no better’ is debatable. Several groups over time have written off the marshmallow experiment. I think it still has potential. We just need to figure out what data to capture. Doesn’t mean the experiment has no merit
  • I believe the marshmallow experiment, or delayed gratification in particular, is about willpower. And that need not always translate to financial success. People capable of delayed gratification might be more attuned to pursue more challenging pursuits as opposed to easy money
  • Based on examples around us, I suppose both scenarios are possible (rich kids giving in quickly, poor kids waiting it out, and vice versa). However, I think the sharpest growth in achieving potential is more dramatic in poor kids (who perhaps can delay gratification). Consider the small example of America’s leading entrepreneurs who came from immigrant families with humble beginnings

A kid with more grit might be more inclined to choose more worthy and challenging life goals, as opposed to chasing mindless pursuits. Therefore, they might not all be runaway financial successes, but as individuals, there would certainly be that x-factor in them. This factor might be missing in those who might have chosen instant gratification instead.

Kids from an economically poor background surely have far more challenges to achieve something. The few that do, have far more hunger and grit than many affluent kids growing up.

Therefore, while I still think the Marshmallow test is relevant, perhaps proportioning the delay time by economic wellness might give a more clear picture and handle on predicting future outcomes, as opposed to having the same 15 minute incentive for kids across economic strata.

Image: source

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The pros and “Cons” of Storytelling

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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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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