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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B-schools, MBA grads & Their Priorities

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Many b-schools in India are tilting less toward business, management, and ethics; more toward finishing skills. With a strong (and often desperate) focus on placements, they go an extra mile to add superficiality to students. From a scary importance on cracking interviews, having a cocky attitude, and the ability to fib-on-the-fly.

Unknowingly, they’re doing the students a great disservice. Students who enroll with little or no work experience are about as clueless as many of us were back in the day. But the overconfidence is only creates more problems for them.

It’d help to keep things a little more real, more on-the-ground. What institutes often churn out, are individuals who can talk their way through interviews, before they run out of steam. Some might blame that as regular millennial disposition, but I refuse to buy that. I’ve met exceptional millennials. People I’ve learnt a lot from, enjoyed having meaningful discussions with, and who are really pushing themselves to the maximum.

But the problem with many b-schools, is the pressure to fill batches by leveraging past stellar placements. And that goal drives their actions and priorities. Students on the other hand, are strongly influenced by these actions. If you have negligible prior work experience, the institute is your biggest windows into corporate life and its workings. Institutes’ concern ends the moment a student has cracked a job interview. So that’s where their efforts are channeled toward.

I received an email yesterday from an MBA with less than a year of total experience. It attempted a ‘shock-and-awe’ structure. Starting with something wrong about some aspect of your business/website, etc., before seeking a suitable role, which wasn’t even related to the ‘issue’ pointed out. And I’ve interacted with a fair share of them, when conducting workshops or giving talks, with MBA interns, and friends.

It takes some years of working the ropes to even attempt to sound cocky on emails or in person. And it has to be backed by solid stuff. This email turned out to have been by the candidate themselves, and not influenced by their b-school. But there are a lot of placement coordinators and college staff, filling impressionable minds with little tricks that work in the corporate world. Institutes need to be responsible for moulding their management students to be more receptive, and a little grounded. Not attempting to pull off such gigs with strangers on email with the expectation of landing a job, or even an interview.

If you want your business critically reviewed/reassessed, and love your business enough to be open to suggestions, I’ll be here.

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Primum Non Nocere

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hippocratic-oath

Image: source

It is believed that either Hippocrates, considered as the father of medicine, or one of his pupils wrote what is popularly known as the Hippocratic Oath, a solemn oath known to be taken by people in the medical profession, doctors in particular at least.

The medical profession was long considered the noblest, with doctors often compared to gods and angels. Yet, looking closely at the profession today, its foundation of ‘do no harm’ has been eaten into by some of its greedy members. And they continue to thrive in the wake of the damage they do.

A year or two ago, I heard the story of a person in Mumbai who was suffering from a knee problem. He consulted a well-known surgeon, who, very emphatically stated that the condition was serious, recommending urgent surgery. The surgeon asked if he should book the operation theatre at a hospital he is associated with, for a few days later. The patient panicked, but gathering his nerves, said that being a religious man, and would like refer to his religious calendar at home for a good day for surgery. The doctor, unfazed, lifted the receiver on the telephone at his desk, and muttered something in to it. Next moment, almost magically, his secretary appeared, a few religious calendars in hand for the patient to refer to.

While the pressurizing to fix a surgery date continued, the patient barely managed to say that he’d like to go discuss this big decision with his wife first, before literally running out the clinic. Undaunted, a few evenings later, the person gets another call from the doctor’s secretary, to know a date for the surgery. This time, the person was past a few pegs of liquid courage at his club. He unleashed hell on of the secretary, saying he wouldn’t go there even if he really needed surgery. Turned out he didn’t need surgery after all.

Then there was a patient who consulted 2-3 specialists, all of whom strongly recommended surgery. Finally, he consulted a very senior specialist who is not part of the increasing filth in the profession. The doctor clearly stated that no surgery was required, and instead prescribed a few simple exercises. These are just a few of probably tens of thousands of such stories that have been surfacing over the world in recent years.

Patient fear, trust, vulnerability and urgency are what corrupt doctors and surgeons are using to feast on patient money. And there is no rock-bottom for these soulless doctors.

Another friend recently visited Ojas Eye Hospital for a routine eye check up. She never got to meet the doctor her appointment was scheduled with. However, the person, presumably a technician who conducted some routine checks and pressure tests on her eyes, told her the readings were off normal. He asked her if there was a condition of blindness in her family. She has good vision, and when she repeatedly confirmed no such problem in the family, the person, told her that her optic nerves seem permanently damaged, and that she would go blind soon. He also went on to say that no money could prevent it. He then asked her to come the next day for some more tests.

Luckily, the next day she got another opinion which quashed this horrific diagnosis. But for each such person, imagine how many others have, and are undergoing unnecessary tests and expensive surgeries, only to feed the greed and whim of a doctor. A doctor in whom they place all their trust, with an unwavering confidence that the doctor would do everything with their best interest in mind.

hippocratic-oath

Image: Hippocrates oath as translated by Prof. Michael North

The original Hippocratic oath ended with:

“Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I transgress it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.”

However, since 1964, a version by Louis Lasagna is apparently used in many medical schools. The last line of this version ends with:

“If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

Astronomical medical school fees, corruption in admissions, as well as greed are some obvious reasons for the current rot in the medical profession.

However, isn’t it interesting that the last line of the original Hippocratic oath spoke of a strong consequence in case one breaks this oath; while the same has since been diluted to sound more like a choice or an option in the later version? Could that be a reason that so many doctors now take the more unscrupulous route?

A father-son duo were my family doctors till their unfortunate passing a few years ago. The senior doctor, in his day, was one of the most respected physicians in Mumbai. He had once jokingly, yet very matter-of-factly, told my father that unfortunately, most poor people beyond Mahim/ Bandra do not have their appendix. What he meant, was that even the slightest of stomach aches among the poor, was an opportunity by killer doctors to perform an unnecessary appendectomy for the little money that the poor could afford, or needed to borrow for the operation.

Such practices will only end when the law becomes strict enough to state that if a doctor carries out unnecessary surgeries or organ removals, one organ of the surgeon will be taken and donated to someone on the organ wait-list. That should help take some pressure off the list too.

The title, ‘primum non nocere’ translates to ‘first, do no harm’, one of the promises within the Hippocratic oath.

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The Up Side of Consulting

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The Up Side of Consulting

Here’s a post I had drafted for submitting as a resource to MosaicHub, in response to their call to members for ‘the Top 5 things businesses need to know about your area of expertise’.

Here are five top thoughts that we at the A-Team, believe would be beneficial for businesses who engage consultants, for those wanting to start a consulting business, as well as for people seeking a career in consulting. They are based to a large extent on the A-Team’s experience and focus. It will however, provide a certain insight into consulting in general.

To begin with, here’s a thought: The purpose of consulting, is not consulting, but the client.

1.  Never does a one-size fit all – industries, products or services and even markets may be identical. However, our solutions take into consideration even the less conspicuous factors. Factors like promoter aspirations or management vision for a business. Thus, no two solutions to seemingly identical business problems are exactly the same. Never let consultants sell you solutions that you feel aren’t in the best interest of your company

2.  No silver bullets here – you’ve heard of ‘easy come, easy go?’ We at the A-Team strongly believe that is exactly how quick-fix solutions are. We might be able to quickly patch up urgent problems with a tactical outlook. However, our strategies essentially apply for mid-to-long term growth of the company, which is akin to laying a strong foundation before a huge building comes up. Only strong foundations make for lasting results. If consultants promise you magic potions, you’ll know something’s amiss

3.  Who wants ridiculously expensive ‘paperweight’ reports? – We have heard numerous stories of larger companies spending fortunes on consulting assignments. And at the end of what seems like eternity, they’re often left with an attractive, painstakingly prepared report. One that no one at the company knows what to do with. The A-Team, since inception, decided to stay away from merely fancy reports and focus on simple, effective and implementable strategies.

We ensure that all our strategies are broken into logical, step-by-step tasks that are easy to understand and implement by the respective persons or teams at our clients’ company. Our retainer-based engagement model allows for our close association with businesses during implementation of our solutions. Do remember to ask your consulting firm ‘how easily implementable will your solution be?’ at the initial negotiation stage itself

4.  Grey haired scholars are a lot, but not everything – The bigger consulting firms normally look at recruiting fresh graduates or postgraduates and train them on the job. And respected consultants advising large businesses are people who’ve spent decades seeing cyclical patterns of those industries. With Small & Medium Businesses, the problems aren’t similar. Cyclical industry cycles apart, SMBs deal with smaller but way more critical problems than MNCs do.

And unlike MNCs, where efforts and effects can take long to show, it’s do-or-die several times a month for younger businesses. Young businesses might need more nimble and creative types of solutions, requiring a younger breed of people. Planning the vision and long term journey of the company, on the other hand, would benefit greatly by having some seasoned advisors to build stronger foundations on which growth can be built

5.  Stop at nothing – this one’s for aspiring consultants, nothing should stop you from becoming a consultant, if you have all of these – a logical and analytical mindset, and a transparent, ethical and unquestionable intention to do all you possibly can to add value in one or more areas at your client’s company. I had cleared most rounds at consulting firms I interviewed at. But never made it through their final interview round.

General feedback was that while my analytical skills were really good, my oral communication was not as concise and crisp as your average consultant [go figure!] The learning for you is, if you can solve problems logically and analytically, and have the noblest of intentions for your clients, nothing in the world should stop you from realizing your consulting dream. And this comes from someone who, 19 months down, has a few grey hairs of his own, to ‘show’ his distance run.

If you are interested in reading on, this is a little background story about A-Team Business Consulting.

A-Team Business Consulting is a Management Consulting service committed to working with enterprising young businesses globally. We operate in areas of Medium-to-Long term Growth & customer delight strategy. The aim is to be the Growth Catalyst of Choice for our clients.

Back in 2012, prior to starting A-Team Business Consulting, I sought the advice of some very senior and experienced persons from industry on my intention of working with deserving small & medium businesses [SMBs] in areas of growth and customer-focused strategies. While I saw a huge unaddressed demand, I wanted their perspective too. The overwhelming advice I received included a considerable amount of optimism, acknowledging a huge need for growth consulting for SMBs.

The advice, however, had a heavier share of forewarning. For reasons ranging from the fact that it is an extremely difficult space to establish a sustainable business model; or that younger companies are reluctant to pay high consulting fees, and that consulting was best left to the grey-haired stalwarts of industry [indicating those with over 20 years of experience, and who had ‘seen and lived through all kinds of industry cycles’].

I still felt strongly about my intention to help SMBs. So, taking their suggestions and warnings, I dived right in.

I’ll admit, it has been the roughest 19 months ever. And unfortunately most of the business is still operated single-handedly by me. But I have built a highly capable six-member external consultant team. And with over 16 assignments to our credit, things only looks optimistic. More importantly, a smooth-functioning and scalable model, and more importantly, an established brand in consulting, now looks achievable.

And has it been worthwhile? When an extremely driven entrepreneur is delighted enough with your work to offer you to come aboard as co-founder. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me going. Or when you complete a a small assignment for the company of a visionary 40-year old industry veteran. And he sits beside you and expresses interest in having the A-Team partner with them for the long term. Reasons like this are sufficient for us to endure and grow, to help more deserving businesses grow.

If you believe you are building a great company, do get in touch with us. We would love to be of assistance, in areas of Growth Strategy, Customer Delight Strategy, and Ideation. Now, we’ve graduated, and operate on the cusp of design thinking, strategy and human behaviour. We help companies understand their customers and customer needs, and then innovate and grow.

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Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.