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.

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 Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Delayed Gratification and more

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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

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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

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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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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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Rate Wisely

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Rate Wisely

Imagine the simple process of rating a book you’ve just read.

Let’s say it is a non-fiction. Perhaps a business or even a self-help kind of book.

The normal tendency would be that if it has even an average amount of useful stuff, you’d give it a good rating. Especially if it contained one or more things you weren’t previously aware of. Let’s say you give it a 4 or a 5 out of 5.

Now let’s say not only did it not add any value, it was illogical or nonsensical. Or, to add to that, it wasn’t spellchecked or formatted well. You’d probably give it a 1.

Now for it to be a 2 or 3, it might have been stating the obvious.

Now, as you learn more and more about something, your knowledge about the topic increases dramatically. Which means, when you pick up a book on the topic, there’s a good chance you already know what’s in it. Which means you would either drop the book, or continue reading in the hope there’s something new to learn. Put differently, it would take real veterans to perhaps write about a topic so as to receive a 4 or 5 from you.

So if you do read the book, and you are the critical kind, you might be inclined to rate it average or poorly. And as you might read more books in that field, your general ratings might trend from 5 towards 1.

However, that would be the wrong way to assess a book. Especially if is factual or logical. And has been spellchecked and formatted reasonably well. It might actually be of great help, especially to amateurs in the field.

But imagine if the first few readers are highly intellectual people like yourself. You would all give the book a poor rating. And those amateurs who might have originally benefited from the book, might avoid it thinking. Almost as if assuming it would be a waste of their time.

So, rate wisely.

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The Illusion of Ratings and Feedback

Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Illusion of Ratings and Feedback
Life in present times has become an increasingly rapid process of experiences and feedback. Businesses are always asking us to rate the services or experiences they offer. And often, they feel inclined to “reward” us for it. While no one’s complaining about the free stuff or great discounts, are we losing perspective of what’s genuinely good? Because, while the feedback is certainly far more in quantity, it can’t be as clean in quality.
Why, you ask?
For starters, the moment you bribe (yes, a strong but apt word) someone for a feedback or to leave a rating or review, you’re automatically influencing the purity of the feedback, rating or review. Same goes for a 10% discount for simply “checking into” a restaurant.
Everything from a review to get the free ‘dry fruit pickle’ or a discount on the food bill, establishments are literally paying to distort their own reality of their business.
A few years ago, a friend of mine started a business, and reached out to friends on Facebook to like their business page. I was well past the years when I’d actually ask people to convince me (or at the least, fill the ‘About’ section on the page), before asking people to simply like the page. So, while I liked the page and got on with my work, some months later, seeing the 800+ likes, I asked how business was. There was none. Even though am quite sure a lot of common friends might have had a need for the products being offered. What happened, was that the Facebook page (in herd mentality), gave them a level of instant gratification, while distracting them from the core. Is, or how can I make my offerings increasingly relevant?
Recently, an entrepreneur found me online and requested a meeting to help their business turn profitable and grow faster. They had exceptional social media following and activity, which of course I didn’t take at face value. But what came next from the entrepreneur was even more disappointing. That while a lot of the followers were fake, when visiting any business page, seeing a good following gives him a sense of trust and confidence too. That justified it.
Let’s forget fake following and likes for a moment. Besides, I’ve already written a fair bit about them years ago. But consider just the fact of a business incentivizing a feedback or review that should ideally be happening without influence. Each time we do that, we willingly distort our sense of the pulse of our business.
Last month, I had dinner at one of the Taj restaurants with relatives. While the starters and main course were exceptional, the service was aloof, and one dessert was a disaster. On another occasion, when at a relatives place, I ordered butter chicken from the Butter Chicken Factory, a nearby joint. The butter chicken was terrible! I wrote reviews about the Taj dinner and the butter chicken place on Zomato (neither ratings were too terrible). Both establishments responded. The Taj staff thanked me, saying they would incorporate the inputs. And that they looked forward to having me there again soon. The city head of the Butter Chicken Factory called to understand what in my opinion, they had gotten wrong about the taste. As I was busy, he called at a time I said I’d be free, and tried to understand. He had inputs of his own to reason out, like the very different taste of the dish in northern India and other places, and how theirs  was influenced more by a certain part of the country. It was a good dialogue, with me recommending they try out the dish at another old joint which I knew, was good. This felt like a far, far more human and involved business, as opposed to a template perhaps pasted by the Taj folk.
Now imagine, if the Taj people had offered me a 10% discount on my next visit. But the service remained unchanged and the same dessert was still on the menu, and still a dess-aster! Perhaps my reaction would have been milder, as I would have been indebted to the 10% discount. And the restaurant wouldn’t have learnt anything from the feedback.
And these are instances that are still the more evident, at least to most of us. There are so many where one aspect of the business could cause us to completely write off another aspect of it. Or an offer could skew our perception of what we’ve just experienced, be it food, an experience, an electronic product, anything.
A startup might justify the need to influence reviews to obtain a minimum critical mass to even survive. But in doing so, do businesses ignore real feedback and let performance slack? Thanks to early illusionary success, do they risk missing the growth bus?

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Pigs Rule

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Pigs Rule

I recently found myself around a humorous discussion around politics at a relatives’ home.
A grand aunt asked another relative if they planned on getting into politics. The relative laughingly retorted that for one to be in politics, they must be prepared to hit and to be hit. As an example, he cited a recent incident involving some politician.

My grand aunt, matter-of-factly replied that those are some of the things one needs to be prepared for, if one is convinced and focused on an important goal. She added something about the need to keep a certain type of people close. They were those who would attack, protect and defend. She quoted what sounded like ancient but obvious wisdom in my mother tongue. It translated to something like, ‘that is why one needs to rear stray dogs.’

I recently read the classic ‘Animal Farm’, written by India-born English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, Eric Arthur Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell.

Rear dogs. Interestingly in the book, that’s exactly what the pigs did to achieve and stay in power. To muscle their way to the top. To eliminate any competition. And to enforce their way on the people.

The philosophy of the ruling pigs in ‘Animal Farm’. Image source: link

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