Peace, War, or Chekh-mate

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In his book Homo DeusYuval Noah Harari mentions Russia’s greatest short story writers Anton Chekhov having once said that a gun appearing in the first act of a play will inevitably be fired in the third.

Yuval says that since 1945, humans have learned to resist the urge to use weapons of war. Hopefully meaning we have become more mature as humans.

However, we could perhaps attribute it to collective wisdom that often stops an irrational leader from realizing their violent fantasies.

The same however, does not hold true for individuals owning firearms in the US. For a population of around 318.9 million, a tiny % of them own over half the guns!

I belong to the Bunt community, and in my mother tongue, Tulu, there is an old, relevant, and amusing saying. It translates to, “the out of work (or idle) carpenter chiseled the bottom of the baby lying nearby.” It is very similar to Abraham Maslow’s quote, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

When you own a weapon, the mere fact of possessing one, makes using it one of many possible outcomes in any tough situation. This, as opposed to those without weapons who would look to resolving a problem in a more mature, and civilized manner. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example.

In a minor fender-bender recently, while no one was hurt, one party decided to claim third party motor damages. Being clueless about the claims process, they quickly landed up in a dead-end. Further angered by this, they engaged a “criminal lawyer” to pursue it. The lawyer, also clueless about the process, did not refer the client to someone more relevant. Nor did he take efforts to find out and advise the client on the right process. Instead, he sent the other party a letter threatening ‘civil and criminal action’. True to Maslow’s views, he did the only thing he knew, despite its lack of relevance to the problem.

And yet, in the recently finished US presidential campaign, one of the selling points of a candidate was that the civilian rights to own firearms would not be infringed upon. And that candidate won!

On the upside, defense weapons are becoming more advanced. This is rapidly moving humans away from the core and gore of war, hopefully making it increasingly distant and impersonal. Combined with collective wisdom, this hopefully helps people take less impulsive decisions about it. Unlike in the past, where a ruler could simply order his battle commander to march troops to whichever country or state he fancied. Hopefully future country border tensions would be limited to: “your country broke 5 of our surveillance drones, we broke 5 of yours. We’re even. Now back-off and stay there!”

The domestic front for some countries seems a little more complicated. Especially in the absence of governmental intentions to do away with the access to firearms. It will just take more effort and educating, to prevent the dangers that owning of firearms presents. Let’s hope some technological advancements on that front too, helps eliminate the desire to own firearms soon.

And in the meantime, could psychologist Robert Plutchik’s good old wheel of emotions be of some help? Maybe to help us be more aware of the different degrees of our emotions? This, in turn, could help us be more civil, rational, and accomodating in our outlook and disposition. We just need to strive to have positive emotions that are closer to the center (unless you have a heart condition, then don’t overdo it). And restrict negative emotions to degrees closer to the outer perimeter. Can’t be too tough, can it?

Give it a shot (no pun intended). And hope you have a terrific 2017!

Plutchik‘s wheel of emotion – Source: link

Would love your thoughts on this.
Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest. 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 Up Side of Consulting

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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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Serves you Right

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”
– Peter Drucker

We recently bought a cordless telephone from Croma (for the uninitiated, Croma comes under the Tata umbrella). Took it back home and it was not working. Late next evening mom and I made another trip to the store to exchange it. We entered Croma around 8:30pm, I suppose the store is open till 9:30pm or so. The salesman at the telephones section directed us to the Customer Service Dept at the back of the store. There we were directed to a small office cabin and asked to wait.

Right outside it was what appeared to be a desk where customers were guided and assisted with easy EMI and payment options. It seemed to be bustling with activity, with 2-3 customers waiting their turn, while an enthusiastic employee briefed each customer with her available options, found work-around solutions for delivery criteria, payment modes, etc. And here we waited patiently.

A few minutes later, an employee came by and we briefed him about the faulty telephone. He informed us, matter-of-factly, that the Customer Service dept closes at 8pm, and that the representative has left for the day. He said he’d check with someone. We waited another 5-10 minutes. And all this while, the “easy-payments” desk was abuzz. I was bored and sleepy. Someone told us that we’d have to come back the next day, anytime before 8pm. Mom expressed her displeasure. That was when someone took us to a senior manager on floor who promptly approved an exchange. It was past 9.

How unforgiving the present day customer is, cannot be over-stated by any measure. Companies offering services must go the distance while delivering the same. In this case, by service I do not mean the consumer products that Croma sells, but what they offer in the name of “customer service” or “after-sales service”, call it what you may. And it isn’t about Croma. Or any other biggie for that matter.

So if you’re offering a service (read customer service), offer it completely. Or don’t offer it at all. That’s about what you choose to offer customers. It’s different if, with a stiff upper lip and folded arms, you flatly refuse prompt after-sales service during a sale. But if you do offer it, do everything necessary to make it the integral part of your bigger sales cycle.

Nobody gives a shit if you have a nice big air-conditioned waiting room with a big board that says “Customer Service” if it isn’t manned, or if you close it hours before the store closes. If you’re open to business, you have to be open to customer service as well.

Because you could find a hundred different ways to entice people to buy more, ease payments, etc. but if something doesn’t work, until it is fixed, it is not a product that doesn’t work, it’s “their” money that’s just sitting there and not doing anything for them.

Google, Search Better

Reading Time: 1 minute

Google, Search Better

You know how you sometimes Google something, but the results are random or irrelevant.

And you know how Google has the +1 recommendation option on search results.

Now, here’s a suggestion that should be considered for Google, shopping sites, and those offering search directly via Google. How about an option similar to the FB ‘Like’ button? Individuals who have entered a search, can click on results that they feel do not match the search query. That way, after a listing hits a predetermined number of ‘clicks’ on the ‘wrong result’ button, it would alert the IT/ admin folk, who could then verify and accordingly change tags, etc. to improve all future searches progressively. Alternatively, the Google algorithm could rework the search results based on user input. Even though their algorithm already factors it in some way.

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