Can We Do Better than CSR?

Can We Do Better than CSR?

In India, Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act (2013) relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR). For a few years now, it requires companies clocking over a certain turnover or profit, to spend 2% of (their three-year annual) net profit on CSR activities each financial year.

Allotting profits to CSR in general, and to the environment in particular however, seems more a post-mortem thing to do. Especially now that we humans have brought the world to the brink, with regard to the climate, animal and plant life.

Because that is how CSR seems to be designed. Conduct business in any manner you please. And at the end of the year, give 2% towards corporate social responsibility initiatives. And you are absolved of ecological sins committed inadvertently or otherwise, in the course of business. The 2% seems like a ‘no-questions asked’ opportunity for redemption, irrespective of the damage done.

What if, instead, companies could be made to be responsible from the time they start business? If every action, employee, step and process for an existing business was also committed to align with environmental needs?Not in a punitive way. But maybe a set of guidelines that businesses could introduce towards becoming more holistically responsible from the starting line. Perhaps the corporate ministry could help.

What if companies could be made to be responsible for every action, employee, step and process?

Patagonia, the American outdoor clothing company. Founded in 1973, it has been striving to align increasingly with environmental needs. It commits 1% of total sales to environmental groups, and a few years ago, donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental organizations. This company should provide for some inspiration. A close friend recently shared this interesting article about its founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his views on sustainability, and why it’s not too late to save the planet. Interesting read.

Build responsibility into the corporate or startup value system and into everyday actions of all employees of the company. That’s the only way we can collectively grow without triggering global catastrophes each year.

Monte Fitz Roy, a mountain in Patagonia

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.

Where Do We Go Now?

Where Do We Go Now?

Google’s AdSense program let’s publishers or website owners have relevant ads show up when users visit those sites. Google earns revenues (via their Google Ads – previously AdWords platform) from businesses wanting those ads showing up to relevant customer groups. In turn, they pass on some of that revenue (based on ever-changing conditions!) to the site owners for using their space for displaying ads.

Google’s all-encompassing know-how of users and their searches and interests makes all this possible and seemingly co-exist well.

A few years back, I had applied for Google AdSense for my blog. Thankfully for me, they had replied with the inability to take me into the program. According to them, my blog covered a diverse range of topics – something not suited to their business model that prefers everything in buckets. Highly specific, highly siloed topics or themes. If only humans were that basic and simple.

While probably a lot of people are aware of the underlying problem with this, it seemed to get highlighted after a recent meeting with an old friend.

This friend was telling me about how he and a friend were keen on creating a blog that shared information around good health. And so, they collaborated and got working on it. One had a tech background, and handled site development and Google services they hoped to integrate and earn from. My friend, good with content, had already researched and created several articles around the theme of their still-being-developed site.

Then, apparently this June, Google altered their AdSense program, leading popular healthcare related sites and services to see a near 50% drop in web traffic to their sites. The result. These two friends have at least temporarily shelved the project.

Imagine people with keen interest or even a passion for certain fields or topics. And their humble hope to share their knowledge with the world, and to learn from it. To connect with like-minded people in other parts of the world. To interact and grow. And perhaps be remunerated for their effort, even if moderately. These people have now often been basing their decision to continue in that field or not, based on Google’s whims.

As a kid, I once heard of how in China, the government has a say in the profession you pursued. And it was independent of your educational background. I thought it was highly illogical.

Yet here we are. Unconsciously doing the same thing in accordance with the wishes of ever-changing algorithms of a for-profit company.

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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.

My 9 Step Version of the Design Thinking Process

My 9 Step Version of the Design Thinking Process

This post about my 9-step version of the design thinking process has been long overdue. It is already explained in my book, ‘Design the Future’, but I also wanted to share it here for those interested.

The five-step Stanford design thinking process is arguably the most popular process out there. I have however, come across numerous different processes or versions. Ranging from the 15-step Darden process that I was taught, to oversimplifications and misleading three-step processes I have come across.

In my interactions with managers, business leaders and even students, I found that while many were familiar with the Stanford or some other design thinking process, they did not quite understand it well enough. For instance, ‘empathy’ came across to them as something that is ‘just done’. Similar to how many people assume hearing is the same as listening. And seeing empathy as a step in the process gave many the impression that like a switch, it had to be turned on and then off, as one moved to the next step.

So, in an effort to simplify the design thinking process so more people may use it, I created my own version of the design thinking process based on my understanding of design thinking and experiences practicing it. I took the Stanford model, and hopefully improved it.

You need to remember that any design thinking process is a broad guideline. It is not like a military obstacle course that one must complete in a defined sequence. You might find yourself looping through a few steps multiple times. Or in some cases, depending on what the information or insight presents, you might find yourself back at the beginning; starting again with renewed understanding of the challenge.

Sherlock Holmes, in the series ‘Elementary,’ once tells Watson, “The danger with rule books, Watson, is that they offer the illusion that leading a moral life is a simple undertaking, that the world exists in black and white. Welcome to the grays.”

At least when it comes to areas such as creativity and drawing inspiration, remember there can never be stringent rules or guidelines.

My 9-step version of the design thinking process:

Shrutin Shetty - The 9 Step Design Thinking Process
My 9 Step version of the Design Thinking Process

Of the nine steps in the process, the first three are more underlying criteria than steps. Criteria that are critical to improving the chances of success on a project. Those three criteria are Humility, Empathy, and Intention. While these might seem obvious to the point of sounding stupid, they are often the most ignored aspects to a design-led process. More on that as we understand each step better.

After that come the more common steps of most design thinking processes. They are: Define – Empathize with Intent – Redefine – Ideate – Prototype – Test

Let’s look at the nine steps more closely:

Humility – The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance. Its relevance springs from the simple signal versus noise perspective. Our objectives as design thinkers is to maximize our understanding of user experiences and needs. Of those we want to innovate for, or whose problems or challenges we want to solve. That is the signal that is of utmost importance to us for innovating for them. Our views, opinions, and biases are the noise.

The moment you can bring yourself down to the level of a beginner or a learner, you put yourself in the backseat, and that’s when the end user or final beneficiary of your innovation will come into the limelight of your focus. Remember to start with humility.

Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in a live user-setting and observing and/ or interacting with users to get a better sense of what a problem or future opportunity might mean to them, how they deal with it, and so on. In conjunction with humility, it offers a good environment to capture user information.

Unlike what some methods might state, empathy (and humility as well as the next step, intention) are not steps in themselves. They should not be traits that you turn on and off depending on which stage of the design thinking process you are. It is also why, along with the intent, I have placed them at the base of the six-step process, to signify how the three traits always need to be ‘ON.’

Without being in a constant state of empathy, no real innovation is possible. And that will be the difference between a real design thinker or team creating an exceptional change, and people simply practicing it as a flavour of the times.

Intention – An intention is the larger thought and nudge to action for a change, that brings you to employ the design thinking process. You might wonder what the difference is, between humility, empathy, and intent.

As a business leader, humility will always help you spot customer or employee or other stakeholder needs and concerns. Empathy will let you better understand those needs and concerns. To get to the root causes of it. You might still choose not to do anything about it, because you don’t have the intention to. Contrarily, if you have the intention, but lack humility and empathy, it would mean that your objective or goal is not the right one.

Equipped with humility and empathy, but in the absence of any intent, a business leader will always spot improvement areas in his or her business. All they need then is to choose their intention – i.e., determine the direction of their effort, and get working on it.

Define – Here, we put the problem statement or opportunity statement in words. It is a starting point of sorts, to the primary design thinking process. Before interacting with user groups, this is a step where we broadly express what we think the problem or opportunity area might be. It could be how a client has described a problem, or, if we are helping a friend or industry colleague, it could be their description of the issue.

One key thing to remember with defining a problem or opportunity is to make it sound positive, irrespective of how grave or pointless the situation might seem. A lot of companies are prone to defining/ framing what hurts first. Their definition ends up being a problem statement which sounds grim. The disadvantage of doing this is that when you invite people to think of ideas, even as part of a brainstorming exercise, a grim-sounding problem statement stifles the thinking, and will hugely limit the number and quality of views that you receive.

On the contrary, if you turn your problem statement into an opportunity statement, people ideating will be in a positive mindset, and be more attuned to think of creative ideas. Try to notice the difference of mindsets the following two statements evoke. Read them more than once if necessary:

A Problem Statement: “How can we drastically reduce our after-sales service related expenses?”

An Opportunity Statement: “How can we redefine our service arm to be more relevant to customer needs, while not proving expensive for us?”

As Abraham Maslow once said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Defining a challenge too negatively and very precisely might give you solutions that just create more problems of their own.

Empathize with intent – This is the fun phase, where you spend time observing actual users in their natural surroundings. See how they consume a product or service. How they interact. And you must do this in the subtlest way possible, even when you are interviewing or interacting with them. Especially if the process is delicate or embarrassing for the end-user, or if the user is introverted or are in some way intimidated by you and your team’s presence.

One important thing to remember in this phase is to be subjective with the empathy, but objective with what they share with you. If you have a subjective mindset when trying to find learnings, you might tend to get lost in a problem. And depending on the type of assignment, it might leave you either in disbelief, or maybe even depressed or an emotional wreck, depending on the kind of problem you are working to solve, as users expose you to severe difficulties or bitter experiences.

Instead, empathize with users as they walk you through their journey, experiences, feelings, and thoughts. But look at it from behind a glass wall when taking notes or drawing inspiration or conclusions from it. That way, your focus is not diverted by problems but instead stays focused on noting down those problems and possible thoughts, reasons, etc., that might spring to mind. The focus will help you then work towards getting rid of the problem, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it.

Redefine – After gathering user insights, we revisit our original definition with what we have learned. After enough information has been collected in the earlier stage, the team debriefs. The information is shared amongst team members without contaminating it with their inferences. That way, each member gets a clear sense of how things presently are.

Often, when tasked with solving a problem for someone, even when we have little or no information to go with, we are eager to get started with identifying potential solutions right-away. You might have seen this tendency in yourself and others (I tend to, from time to time), where someone mentions a problem, and without stopping to understand more, you start rattling possible causes or solutions.

That happens when we go with our definition of someone else’s problem. Which is why, after an initial definition, once we get a better understanding of it from actual people facing the problem (in the ’empathize with intent’ stage), we redefine the challenge more accurately, based on what we have learnt.

Ideate – This is the stage where designers would take the information they have gathered and use it as inputs that they put through a choice of design thinking tools. Tools including the brainstorming or versions of it, to contra-logic, worst-idea, brain-writing, trigger questions, changing perspectives, etc., and then use anchors, forced combinations and connections to come up with numerous ideas. The more ideas, the better, and the crazier the ideas; even better!

Prototype – Prototyping an innovative solution is akin to shaping a solution using two pairs of hands – your design team’s, and your users’. In the previous stage, you would have identified some potential ideas and possible directions regarding a solution. This is where you need end users to help you figure out what works for them, and what does not.

The objective of this stage is to be able to move rapidly towards a final solution, with minimum investment (as far as possible) on experiments towards refining potential solutions. The moment each prototype becomes too expensive and complicated, there is a tendency to either convince yourself and your team that it is a great solution (because of the effort that went into it. It is a cognitive bias called the IKEA effect).

Another possibility is that if you encounter a roadblock at this stage, your team or the top management might get easily demotivated and consider it a colossal failure, solely because your team spent a fortune building a prototype that user groups did not like or approve of.

Instead, make the most basic and low-cost but effective prototypes possible. Use anything from sheets of paper for story-boarding, to card paper or cardboard, Styrofoam and other craft supplies to work toward a final solution. Your objective with each prototype, is to test no more than one factor or variable you need clarity on. Test too many criteria, and the learning becomes unclear.

At workshops I conduct, I sometimes take my old letterheads for participants to use for discussions, sketching, or to make things out of.

It is only when everyone finds using anything lying around them as potential material for prototypes, is when prototyping will become far more prevalent. The same goes for ideating. If the materials you use are too fancy, you or your team might use it as an excuse to delay prototyping, or even ideating.

Which is also why, while a lot of design thinking workshops use post-its and put up pictures of it, few participants continue to use post-its to implement some of the tools they learnt. Because buying post-its is expensive and sometimes inconvenient. If you can’t make do with stuff already at your desk or around, the action gets delayed till you buy those supplies. Take this from someone who uses toothpaste or soap to write on the bathroom wall so that a potential idea does not disappear with the flowing water.

Test – Once you’ve completed the prototyping phase, you move on to testing. The significant difference between the two is that while prototyping was far greyer and also, the prototypes were far less expensive but required a slight stretch of the imagination by the user, the testing phase is that much more advanced, as it is that very close to the final product or service.

And unlike checking one feature at a time in the prototyping phase, here you are testing the product or service in its entirety, towards ironing out any features or poor service extensions that exist, by letting your users directly interact with the solution.

The first rule to keep in mind in the testing phase too is that your product or service is not final or finalized yet! There would still be some assumptions that your team would need to test. For instance, it is one thing to prototype with sketches or storyboards or even pretend mobile interfaces. Quite another to have end users interact with your store layout or theme park or mobile application.

Which is why we have the testing phase, where your team would help build almost-final solutions to test them in the hands of a closed group of stakeholders. It is great to have a select list of people who will evaluate your creation. That increases the focus and feedback capturing. And what you will be testing, are any assumptions that were earlier not tested, or that sprung up along the way with the increase in clarity.

It isn’t possible to overstate the amount of valuable, even critical insights that can be gained in the testing phase.

Testing is followed by eventually launching the product, service or change – once all assumptions and user hesitations have been factored in.

After you’ve gained more realistic insights from real users who interacted with your prototypes and brought you very close to a final solution that you by way of prototypes and then running exercises with them in the testing phase, you are finally onto an almost ready and well-refined answer.

Ideally, even after launch, the journey should be looked at like it is the making of a TV series. You’ve launched season 1 or 2, and it is doing well. But you need to check-in now and then as to how viewers are reacting and engaging with it. The bigger question in your mind always is, is there enough traction to demand a season 3, and if yes, would there be any significant changes needed (replacing actors, etc.) or is the show no longer relevant to its audiences. In which case, you then need to figure out what next. That way you are not going in blind with season 3, to later find out it lost its audience midway through the previous season itself.

One should remember that there is no perfect product, service, experience or solution to user needs or problems. And there are no runaway results promised by design thinking, the way some firms guarantee the ability to create viral videos. But yes, you always have a far greater chance of arriving at a product or service that people want or need by using design thinking, than by merely guessing or troubleshooting your way through.

Choosing Business Opportunity to Avoid Change

Choosing Business Opportunity to Avoid Change

As an individual, if you have a habit your core doesn’t fully approve of, you’d find a disconnect that you might, either align with, or from time to time try to fix.

It could be diet, fitness or even ethic related.

And often, between control or restricting something for your own benefit (like a diet restricts the irresistible food), and something you could buy to compensate ( like a pill), most people would be inclined to buy (and take) the pill as opposed to the challenge of resisting tempting, unhealthy food.

It’s amusingly similar with governments and businesses.
Choosing business opportunity to avoid change.

Consider school shootings for instance.
The obvious solution is the curb the sale of guns to the masses. But that’s bad for business and apparently against civilian rights (of all the ancient rights to desperately hold on to). So instead, while gun sales continue, you get interestingly innovative products being created to combat the inability to restrict gun sales.

Like unbreachable door barriers for schools. Now they’re toying with installing microphones in school. To monitor conversations, and use machine learning algorithms to preempt a shooting based on tone and words used. Imagine the pointlessness of that.

From what I’ve read about school shootings and behaviour, it is more like an excuse to become more intrusive. Not so much to actually solve the problem.

We reflect human weakness in our inability to directly tackle a problem. And also when we allow it to thrive while we build business models around the growing problem.

And this business opportunity to avoid change comes in different sizes:

Leave you with Pearl Jam’s Jeremy (about Jeremy Delle), which, albeit a suicide, involved a gun in a school.

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.

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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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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Lose Your Illusion

Lose Your Illusion

Sometime last year, I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s girlfriend who is a psychologist. Between drawing inferences from my handwriting to discussing human behaviour in general. She also mentioned the acute dearth of mental health personnel in the country (India) at the moment.

I did some reading around that. The most recent global statistic on number of psychiatrists and nurses in the mental health sector was by WHO. The study dates back to 2014. According to it, 30.4% of the world’s countries had less than 1 professional per 100,000 population. There’s also no data available on another 35.5% of the countries.

And while Monaco had a commendable 40.98 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, in India, that number was a shameful 0.30. That means, there’s one psychiatrist for every 300,000 of the population. Or a total of between 3500 and 5000 psychiatrists in the country.

Then there are psychologists (they council, and focus on treating mental and emotional suffering but cannot prescribe medications; unlike psychiatrists, who mainly focus on treatment with medication) As per Sindhu BS, a Mental Health Therapist on Quora, the Indian Psychology Association, of which she is a member, has less than 10,000 members in 2018. Another source mentioned some 14000-15000 psychologists in India. India is already on the higher end of the spectrum as of 2016 when it came to suicides. At 18.5 per 100,000 population.

And here’s why this will be even more concerning going forward. The world is seeing a steadily growing impact of automation on jobs across sectors. India has been shielding employment in every way possible. Resisting industrial automation to maintaining average quality of work worked well for a section of average skilled, low-cost labour.  But how long can it continue to do so before it starts feeling the negative global impact of it? Additionally, India is on its path to soon being the largest population in the world. It is also on the verge of being the youngest population in the world.

Young Indians are pouring into different sectors which will have a steadily shrinking job base. This could lead to a spike in the depression and suicide numbers. But is the country and its government anticipating and doing anything to build a safety net for that?

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Are You Certain? Or do You Think?

Are you certain? Or do you think?

We live in times that are almost entirely about confidence. The underlying stuff is often of little importance. A bold claim has great impact. The ability to pause to consider two equally strong but opposing possibilities, not as much.

Maybe that is also why many of our management schools are ok with accepting students with little or no work experience. And then, they even invest in image consultants and sessions on how to speak at interviews. Their greater goal of course, is a close to 100% placement rate.

How else could they justify the fees they charge? Not like they are conducting any path-breaking research. Or boast of a substantial corpus with which they encourage homegrown startups. And yet, products of these institutions are just overflowing with confidence. Even when they are very wrong, or filled with weak assumptions. Nothing wrong with being wrong. A lot is wrong with having a shut mind.

And these are just students. Our industries are filled with individuals who consider themselves virtually infallible. The venture capital sector for instance, has an almost fixed success metric. 30-40% of investments usually fail. Another 30-40% of them only return the original investment or small profits. And only about 10-20% of them do exceptionally well. So, despite such high failure rates, it is uncommon to hear a venture capitalist ever speak of their failures. Even with the objective of educating the masses or aspiring entrepreneurs. Which is why, when an Alok Mittal speaks of a failed investment, it is almost an exception to the norm.

A tweet by Kunal Shah seemed to capture the trend of the times we live in. He said, ‘People don’t follow those who seem to be right or wrong. People follow those who seem to be sure what they are talking about.’

Amusingly, another tweet on the Nobel Prize account about Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist and biologist, gave some hope. Darwin is renowned for his untiring work on evolution and natural selection.

When Darwin started taking notes in his “B” notebook, above his first evolutionary tree he wrote, “I think”. In an age where doubt, deliberation or questioning one’s own views are considered to be weaknesses, it was refreshing to see this. It serves as a reminder of what British philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell said. That ‘the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.’

Darwin’s notes …. image source: link

Somebody once said, ‘arrogance and ignorance are a deadly combination.’ When caught between confidence filled with doubt, and just doubt, err on the side of doubt. It’ll prove beneficial in the long term.

So, are you always certain? Or do you often think?

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Do Some of the Pillars of Democracy need a Shake-Up?

Democracy has rested on four pillars. The legislature, executive, the judiciary, and arguably the most important, the press. All the pillars need improvement, some far more than others. The world press, for instance, has really become dirty. When in reality, it should be a transparent communication channel between the citizen, the country, and the world.

In an increasingly connected globe, traditional media surprisingly continues to wield disproportionately high power. And it has been responsible for numerous crimes, the world over. From keeping entire populations in the dark, to convincing them about who the good guys and bad guys are. By encouraging unsolicited violence on other countries. Press has made large sections of otherwise peace-loving populations completely convinced of the need for war. Not always because any country was under attack. But because politicians and industry stood to benefit from tricking citizens and getting them onboard. And with business people and politicians ever interested in wielding influence over large media houses, it makes one wonder how we are allowing ourselves to be subjected to lies.

The Indian press too, continues to scale new depths by doctoring news or hiding it altogether, to favor various political parties.

Anyway, interestingly, the Congress, among the bigger corrupt parties, recently figured a simple way to fix the distorted media problem. After taking a lot of bashing by two leading TV news channels for some time, the party recently banned the channels from their press conferences. How much is a TV news channel worth if it doesn’t have access to a certain section of national news? Not as much as it had before, right?

Mahendra Palsule highlighted in a good post, about the fifth pillar in a democracy, the (silent) citizen.

Think about it. Let’s assume these two channels got a reality-check after this banning. Imagine then what we the people can, and must do, to get the press functioning the way it is meant to, not the underhand way it is paid to. The day the masses stop consuming lies served to us by these media, we will have withdrawn the right we gave them, and which they continue to abuse.

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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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