The Problem With Context

15 Sep

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill


“I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context”: Gordon B Hinckley

Growing Up, my marketing 101 lesson taught me “Customer is King”. The Father of India, and probably its best known global personality, Mahatma Gandhi, said – “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

However, It could be argued in today’s world that the all important C word is being replaced with another C word – Context. So, now, Context is king – mainly, because Context is what allows an organization to understand its (first C word) Customer better.

We as prospects, shoppers, switchers; movie goers, diners, Home owners, Business people, car drivers, facebook users, are today cumulatively generating Yottabytes (10^24) of data, which is going to increase very soon to Brontobytes (10^27)! Intelligent organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, and if not, then should be thinking of) investing in technology, infrastructure and analytic decision processes to use this data for higher revenue generation as well as cost optimization. Context, the accumulated historical data generated by people, places, and things, is almost a mandatory component of these analytic processes.

In simple, laymen terms – context makes up the circumstances in which an event or an idea is set, and that therefore is what makes something clearer to you —

- Does listening to a special song make you think of a special person or a special situation? That’s context! (As “The way you look tonight” was Julia Roberts’ and Dermot Mulroney’s “special song” in My Best Friend’s Wedding)

- Think of nursery rhymes – when you delve deep into them or take them out of context of being repeatable pieces of music for kids, they are fairly disturbing! (Jack broke his crown? Humpty couldn’t be put back again? Whoaaa!!!)

For the traditional marketing folks, context analytics is a bit similar to behavioural + psychographic segmentation in the good ole fashioned days, and not just demographic – so, you add parameters of date/ time/ purchase event/ mood/ place/ company/ actions/ attitudes/ usage etc., and layer them in – to create better profiles of people/ events/ data….

When you marry Context with Data, you trigger unique, new relationships between hitherto unrelated data points – this helps you derive trends and patterns – and generates new business opportunities. Context makes data become richer, more meaningful. Someone very famously once said “Context is worth 80 IQ points”

Conversely, without Context, business conclusions might be flawed. It’s the old analogy of “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad”

So, is data and context a marriage made in heaven?

I would say, it is certainly high on the “will not make the divorce courts within the next 6 months – ok, 2 years” side of the coin, but, like all relationships, it needs work! One of the thing that contextual analytics ends up doing, counter intuitively, is still not giving the whole picture (A bit like the blind men and elephant story – where, depending on CONTEXT, each blind man ascribed a different name to the elephant – thus describing a piece part of it, but no one realized it was an elephant)

blind men elephant relativity

So, what then is the secret sauce required to turn this marriage into one made in heaven?

a) Disruptive Discovery: An inherent flaw in most predictive analytics algorithms – whether based on big data or not, is that their results are incremental – because what you know/ what has happened/ inbuilt assumptions – i.e., CONTEXT are what predict the future, they will to a certain extent pre-determine the outcome of the prediction.

As a friend said, facebook always recommends Metallica to me when because like Iron Maiden – it doesn’t realize that I also like Jazz! Similarly, Amazon always shows me more Nora Roberts – as I bought some romance once, and leaves a huge opportunity gap because it doesn’t realize that I have bought say a Khaled Hosseini elsewhere!

Not sure how many of you read this hilarious piece that was circulating recently on how “liking” everything on facebook for 2 days turned the news feed into a strange animal! Much recommended for an empathetic laugh

A good case study in how pre ordained behaviors, or context, or for that matter assumptions, to a certain extent skew actual results can be read here (a pithy commentary on Windows 8’s failure)

b) Response Timeliness: This one again is a bit counter intuitive. Experts and proponents of context analytics would say – but PART of context is the real time nature of the tracking! One is continuously refreshing data with newer and newer inputs, that turns the context richer and richer that then gives better and better outputs — and on and on and on.

The tragedy, however, is that while most organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, or if not, then should be thinking of) collecting and processing data on a real time basis, the RESPONSE to a lot of this data is NOT real time – why? Mainly because it CANNOT be! They don’t have the capabilities – this is the classical bottleneck/ the Blackwell’s limiting factor/ the critical path in the Gantt chart!

As a parent, I realized very early on that the concept of “quality time” that was created to essentially rationalize lack of adequate time spent with kids by working parents was a lot of bs. It fell into shambles the minute my tearful 1 ½ year old asked me – “when I fell down and was bleeding so much, where were you”!!

As business people, we also know the value of being at the right place at the right time. This time criticality determines a lot of what we do – how we behave as consumers – what time we eat, when we exercise, when we buy… – but also how we plan say marketing promotions, or budget calendars, or for that matter the pitch to the HR guy for a raise!

As one of my fav musicians George Harrison said:
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

What this then means in the big data world is, that when a customer sends out data – you translate it into a signal/ information/ wisdom – and then you jolly well figure out a way to respond to it at the time that the signal is asking for a response! May be immediately, may be a few days later – but, figure it out! Use the context, to not only tell you parts of the elephant, but the whole mammoth! So, its not only to find out what you can sell to the customer and where – but when/ and how quickly to lend a sympathetic ear/ when to fix a broken washing machine or a crashed site!!

Unless you can gear up your response mechanism to be time dynamic and responsive, all that context married to your data – is going to —- to use the marriage analogy – not produce a baby!!!

c) The Human Touch – AI, the Internet of Things and all automation notwithstanding, atleast for now, we humans are just wired to need human intervention

a. This is because technology is still flawed – Watson notwithstanding, most humans actually instinctively and judgementally can scan a wide breadth of data and more or less give reasonably accurate judgements – after all, that is what experience and seniority lend to a man.

b.Man is a social animal after all – most of us want, nay need, human contact – a good case is customer service. Automated responses just don’t cut it for many – they want to talk to a real person, the more serious the issue, the higher the need for human contact (maybe shortly that “real person” will also be a drone, but that’s besides the point).

After all, how else but due to a human would you see these 2 really delightful examples of ‘customer service” interactions – one by a Netflix representative, and this one by an amazon guy.

Make no mistakes, human beings could just as easily make bad mistakes – like seen in this!

But, by and large, if one could only afford it, human beings would be the best response mechanism.

All in all, its great to see the progress made due to big data and the Internet of Things etc, but the organization who can take the best of the context plus data marriage, and add the disruption, the time criticality and the human interface element would be the one on which I would put my money!

All Hail The New KPI Metric: SOS (Share of Screen)

9 Sep

som sov Credit

Back in the days of yore, we all ran after this big metric – its the one that decided supremacy in the market, was an indicator of your competitive strength, was the clue to your competitor’s revenue and profit – was all important in fact. This was Market Share. Battles were won and lost, careers made and shattered, increments and bonuses decided on the basis of the measly decimal points that audit reports showed one had garnered over previous quarters/ years. Oh btw, one ALWAYS debated audited MS figures – since your own calculations ALWAYS showed yours higher than your competitors’!

On the media front, which was more output related always (as opposed to outcome – some would argue it’s still that way), the ruling metric was Share of Voice (SOV) – this was how many GRPs you had gained as opposed to your competitors (in the PR world, the equivalent was impressions/ mentions). So, was a measure of reach/ frequency and negotiation skills.

On Screen Apps

On Screen Apps


But, in today’s mobile first / m-commerce world, these are arguably outdated figures to chase – what matters is what “Share of Screen” or SOS you have received – in other words,
– Was your app downloaded or not
– If yes, how often is it being used
– For what periods of time is it being used
– In comparison, if your competitor’s app being used more?
– Or, as in the case of retailers, is an aggregator/ pure e commerce app like amazon/ Flipkart being used instead of yours?

(Look at how Target’s Cartwheel app is helping the retailer recover a fair amount of ground it has lost of late)

Fitting actually, that Amazon called its live customer service on demand app button “Mayday” – after all, its guaranteeing Amazon higher SOS!

What’s special about Nine – for my “Just short of double digit Niner”

6 Sep

Happy Birthday

Any parent of 2 children knows that the younger one is always “catching up”. As my cousin said, he/ she has never known a 100% world – one where 100% of parents’ attention/ 100% of household resources – which include time, toys, food, books, whatever are focussed on him/ her…So, the younger ones grow like weeds – confident that because their parents have “been there/ done that”, they are far more chilled out, but also therefore less gullible, and less generous.

This implies naturally that they are far more fiercely competitive than the older ones will ever get – after all, they are ALWAYS competing for the lion’s share of the 100%!

So, BECAUSE I wrote a blog post for my older daughter on her 13th birthday (in my mind, it was a milestone – and also she had badgered me no end about writing something-ANYthing! for kids her age), I am now writing one for the younger daughter – it will probably also appeal to her more, since she is a trivia accumulator, AND, she finally has her own email account (her wish list birthday gift!) , so she can actually read this!

Here you go, Achchu:

Language/ Literature/ Fiction:

Some well known sayings/ phrases:

“A cat has nine lives” : The story about this goes like this – A very hungry cat entered a house one day and found a plate of nine fish that were going to be eaten for dinner by the nine starving children who lived there. The cat was feeling a little selfish that day and ate up all of the fish in nine quick bites. With no food on the table, the nine starving children died of hunger the very next day, along with the cat who died from eating WAY too much. When the cat went up to heaven and spoke with God, God was so angry with the cat that he threw him out of heaven and made him fall for nine days all the way back to earth. To this day, the cat still holds the nine lives of the starving children in his belly, which is why he must die nine different times before he will stay dead. Apparently, the highest recorded fall survived by a cat is 45 stories! That’s something, huh?

- “A stitch in time saves Nine” – A timely effort will prevent more work later. So, always remember to show Tulasi didi your torn clothes/ bags :)

- The expression “to the nines means” to the highest degree. Someone dressed “to the nines” is dressed up as much as they can be (See, this is what N means when she says you have to be dressed to the nines to go eat at Via Milano!”)

- “On cloud nine” means happy, euphoric or `high': The phrase came into use in the 1950s from a term used by the US Weather Bureau. For the meteorologists Cloud Nine is cumulo-nimbus cloud at a height of 10 km, which is high even by the standard of clouds. (By the way, Ben was born at a place called Cloud9 :) )

The “whole nine yards” has a few possible origins, but a common thought of it’s origin is that tailors use nine yards of material to make top quality suits.

Interesting language related trivia

(one of it is also related to dogs so should make you happy!):

- The word “K-9” pronounces the same as canine and is used in many U.S. police departments to denote the police dog unit. Despite not sounding like the translation of the word canine in other languages, many police and military units around the world use the same designation.

- “Redivider” with nine letters is the longest palindromic word in the English language. A palindromic word has the same sequence of letters backwards or forwards.

- Something on grammar – (so Anna ma’am won’t be tooo unhappy with you) – The language includes, grammatically, nine parts: Noun, Pronoun, Article, Verb, Adjective, Adverb, Preposition, Conjunction, and the Interjection

Now fiction:

vanished prince

- In your maybe all time favourite author’s (mine too) books, the 9th book in the Five Find Outer series was Vanished Prince, and in the Famous Five was Five Fall Into Adventure – enjoy :

- In your current favourite series, the interesting sounding platform in King’s Cross (that now actually exists btw – we have to go see it this summer), is, ofcourse …9¾!


- In your sister’s favourite series, The LOTR, there are nine Rings of power given to men, and consequently, nine ringwraiths. Additionally, The Fellowship of the Ring consists of nine companions, representing the free races and also as a positive mirror of the nine ringwraiths

- In possibly your next favourite series, Percy Jackson, you will see that – It takes nine days (for an anvil) to fall from heaven to earth, and nine more to fall from earth to Tartarus—a place of torment in the underworld (and where Percy was stuck with Annabeth for a while in the last book)

- But in the one that will probably come after, (the Hunger Games series), District 9 is the least spoken about district. The only hint given that District 9’s industry was grain is that it is said that District 9 has lots of factories. In the 75th Hunger Games, District 9 was one of the two districts to have both tributes killed on the first day.

Enough of English. Now some other languages

- In French the word neuf means both nine and new. (This you should know by now, given Anais ma’am’s hard work with you!)

- In German, the words for nine and new are neun and neu, and in Spanish, nueve and nuevo. As you count and reach nine, you know you are about to make a new start. (So, yes, make a new start on being nice to your sister :) )

Some mythology/ religion:

- Nine (九 pinyin jiǔ) is considered a good number in Chinese culture because it sounds the same as the word “longlasting” (久 pinyin jiǔ)

- Interestingly however, the Japanese consider nine to be unlucky because in Japanese the word for nine sounds similar to the word for “pain” or “distress” (苦, kyū)

- Nine is strongly associated with the Chinese dragon, a symbol of magic and power. There are nine forms of the dragon, it is described in terms of nine attributes, and it has nine children. It has 117 scales – 81 yang (masculine, heavenly) and 36 yin (feminine, earthly). All three numbers are multiples of 9 (9×13=117, 9×9=81, 9×4=36) as well as having the same digital root of 9.

- The nine Muses in Greek mythology are Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (erotic poetry), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (song), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy). (This you should remember from your school play, huh?)

- The number 9 is revered in Hinduism and considered a complete, perfected and divine number because it represents the end of a cycle in the decimal system, which originated from the Indian subcontinent as early as 3000 BC.

- In Buddhism, Gautama Buddha , was believed to have nine virtues, which he was (1) Accomplished, (2) Perfectly Enlightened, (3) Endowed with knowledge and Conduct or Practice, (4) Well-gone or Well-spoken, (5) the Knower of worlds, (6) the Guide Unsurpassed of men to be tamed, (7) the Teacher of gods and men, (8) Enlightened, and (9) Blessed. Important Buddhist rituals usually involve nine monks.

- Ramadan, the month of fasting and prayer, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar

- In Egyptian mythology, there are nine major gods and goddesses. The ancient Egyptians believed that a person had to earn the right to enter the afterlife. Before an individual could pass into the next realm, nine great gods known collectively as the enneagon had to judge his worthiness.

- Nailed on the cross, Jesus Christ expires at the ninth hour. Jesus appears nine times to his disciples and apostles after his resurrection. The nine spiritual gifts of God enumerated by saint Paul: wisdom, knowledge, faith, gift of healing, to operate miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, to speak in different kinds of tongues and the gift to interpret them. Saint Paul enumerates also nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Basically all these are good things you should do)

- Even in Nepali (yayyy Tulasi didi!) There are nine “Dharmas”, books constituting the Nepal Bible.

I tried to keep it towards the end, given your current (non) love for it ☺, but one couldn’t avoid it for ever!

So, Math (and, actually, as you know already, nineis almost a magical number!):

- A polygon with nine sides is called a nonagon or enneagon. A group of nine of anything is called an ennead.

- If you multiply nine by any natural number, and repeatedly add the digits of the answer until it is just one digit, you will end up with nine:
• 2 × 9 = 18 (1 + 8 = 9)
• 3 × 9 = 27 (2 + 7 = 9)
• 9 × 9 = 81 (8 + 1 = 9)
• 121 × 9 = 1089 (1 + 0 + 8 + 9 = 18; 1 + 8 = 9)
• 234 × 9 = 2106 (2 + 1 + 0 + 6 = 9)
• 578329 × 9 = 5204961 (5 + 2 + 0 + 4 + 9 + 6 + 1 = 27; 2 + 7 = 9)
• 482729235601 × 9 = 4344563120409 (4 + 3 + 4 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 0 + 4 + 0 + 9 = 45; 4 + 5 = 9)

- There are other interesting patterns involving multiples of nine:
• 12345679 x 9 = 111111111
• 12345679 x 18 = 222222222
• 12345679 x 81 = 999999999

- The sum of the digits of the number added to 9 is always equal to the sum of the digits of the result. Take any four digit number and try the trick. Ex: 9 + 17 = 26. 1 + 7 = 8 & 2 + 6 = 8

- 9 is the maximum number of cubes that are needed to sum to any positive integer.

- It is easy to work out whether a number is exactly divisible by 9. This is the same as asking whether a number is in the “9 times table”. All you have to do is add up its digits. If the answer is more than one digit long, you add up the digits again, and go on doing this, until you are left with a single digit. If this single digit is 9 then the original number was divisible by 9.
For example, is 781236 divisible by 9? Adding up its digits 7 + 8 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 6 = 27, and adding again 2 + 7 = 9. And because the answer is 9, the original number must be divisible by 9.

- Any random number (e.g 35967930) when arranged with its integers in a descending order (i.e. 99765330) and subtracted from it the reverse number with rearranged integers in an ascending order ( i.e 03356799) the resulting subtraction (i.e. 96408531) individual integers when added (i.e 36) leads to a multiple of number 9


2 Digit Numbers: 10-01 = 9 (9X1); 21-12 = 9; 32-23 = 9; 43-34 = 9; 54-45 = 9; 65-56 = 9; 76-67 = 9; 87-78 = 9; 98-89 = 9;

3 Digit Numbers: 210-012 = 198 (1+9+8 = 18 = 9X2; 321-123 = 198; 432-234 = 198; 543-345 = 198; 654-456 = 198; 765-567 = 198; 876-678 = 198; 987-789 = 198;

4 Digit Numbers: 3210-0123 = 3087 (3+0+8+7 = 18 = 9X2); 4321-1234 = 3087; 5432-2345 = 3087; 6543-3456 = 3087; 7654-4567 = 3087; 8765-5678 = 3087; 9876-6789 = 3087;

5 digit Numbers: 43210-01234 = 41976 (4+1+9+7+6 = 27 = 9X3); 54321-12345 = 41976; 65432-23456 = 41976; 76543-34567 = 41976; 87654-45678 = 41976; 98765-56789 = 41976;

and so on

- On a numeric keypad or calculator, the numbers from left to right and top to bottom are…

789 – row 1, 456 – row 2, 123 – row 3

If you add up the totals of each row you get… row1 is 7 + 8 + 9 =24, row2 is 4 + 5 + 6 =15, row3 is 1 + 2 + 3 =6 The difference between each sum is 9. (24 – 15 = 9 or 15 – 6 = 9)

- There are 360 degrees in a circle. 3 + 6 + 0 = 9.

Some random facts (some of them are – yes, ANOTHER (non) favourite subject, THEME!)

- Only about one ninth of the mass of an iceberg is visible above the water. Nearly all its bulk remains hidden beneath the surface. (that’s what sunk the Titanic – you DO know that song, right?)

- Before 2006 (when Pluto was officially designated as a non-planet), there were nine planets in the solar system.

- A human pregnancy normally lasts nine months – i.e., you were inside my tummy for nine months – AND you were a really restless baby! (ofcourse!)

- The 9 of diamonds – the playing card – is sometimes called the Curse of Scotland.

- Nine judges sit on the India as well as the United States Supreme Court.

- Nine Eleven is the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center, New York, USA (Odai was less than a year old then, and nana was having a big heart operation!)

- Nine months is the average number of months per school year that most primary and secondary students are required to attend. Basically, achchu, you guys get to party all the time!

- A standard work day of 9 to 5 begins at 9 a.m. (duh! But for ma and babba, it started earlier and ended MUCH later, huh?)

- In astrology, the ninth sign of the Zodiac is Sagittarius, identified by the Greeks as a centaur. Centaurs are magical creatures known for their skills as archers, philosophers, and predictors of the future.

OK, this should make you happy again! Music:

- In classical music the curse of the ninth refers to the superstition that a composer who writes a ninth symphony will die soon. Beethoven, who left his Tenth Symphony unfinished, is regarded by the superstition as the first victim of the curse.

- The Beatles released a song called “Revolution 9“; its principle vocal feature is a voice repeating, “Number nine…number nine…number nine…” . John Lennon, the primary composer of “Revolution 9″, (yeah, he’s the dude who composed and sang “Imagine”) also released a solo recording entitled “#9 Dream”. The Beatles also released a song called “One After 909″. Lennon is known to have felt a connection with the number 9. Both he and his son, Sean were born on October 9th. Also, John died on the 9th (UK Time).

OK, I can see you getting tired now, so, to end it all, here is a game for two players which uses nine coins.

Arrange the coins in a circle. The players take turns and can remove either one coin or two coins which are next to each other. The winner is the player who picks up the last coin.

Go play it with R, N, S — and, have a rollicking year!

Ok, I’m convinced – technology alone can’t do customer service!

5 Sep
Vimbar Promo

Vimbar Promo

I am a big proponent of technology. By education, then a large-ish part of work, and ofcourse just by being a modern urban consumer, I interact with and appreciate it all the time. Having said that, there are times when I wish that it were possible to find that optimal mix of “human” vs “technology” in our day to day dealings.

In an earlier post, I had actually argued that one needs better technology to enable better customer service. This one is almost a contradiction.

I don’t do rant posts generally. This one may look like a rant – and it’s not really (not high enough stakes I guess), it’s just disappointment that even a company I really like and admire, with a winner promo, gets the “last mile” fulfilment wrong! :( (See another earlier post on Customer Service and man vs. machine, which has another example of last mile not working)

Background: A popular dishwash brand recently ran a promo – recognising that dishwashing in India is generally done by domestic helpers, who all now have prepaid mobile phones (India has anywhere from 3/4 of a billion to 900 million mobile subscriptions – roughly 70 – 75% of total pop, and 95% of these are pre-paid). The promo essentially offered 10/- mobile recharge – with varying degrees of certainty, depending on pack sizes. So, the 10/- bar had 1 in 3 probability of winning, and the larger ones had everyone winning.

I picked this up, and the delight on both my helpers’ faces when I explained the scheme to them was to be seen to be believed! They got very excited and ripped open one of the 12 packs I had bought after understanding from me how the scheme worked. They turned the wrapper inside out/ left and right/ asked me to do the same….no unique code anywhere! Ripped open a couple more packs – same result. Big disappointment! So, I got the consumer care mail id from the pack, and wrote in my problem. First time ever, actually! The mail trail post that is self explanatory!

Happy Consumers

Happy Consumers

August 29, 2014 9:02:58 AM:
I bought the 10/- vim bar which showed the 10/- recharge scheme. Bought 12 – thinking would give it to my domestic help.
She got HUGELY excited – so its a cool scheme :) But, we couldn’t find the code – the pack said, Find code inside and then call the number. But, scratching the pack doesnt reveal a number – there is no number embossed on the bar itself (which is what I had expected), and there isnt anything printed on the inside of the pack – neither was there any slip or something with the number.
Would you please let me know where the number is supposed to be? I guess I can go to a retailer to find out – but since I shop most often at a supermarket, not sure the sales guys will know abt it…
THanks much

August 29, 2014 9:16:17
ME: (In response to very prompt email that came from care center)
Given below
On Aug 29, 2014, at 9:03 AM, wrote:
Dear Consumer,
Thank you for contacting the Levercare team. Your query is important to us and will be dealt with one of our team member within the next 48 hours. Kindly note your reference number 4001957190 as an acknowledgement of your email and quote this for all further communications.
If your query is related to one of our product, we request you to provide us with the below details such that we can help resolve the query better.

1) Name with Surname : Sangita Joshi
2) Contact Details (mobile / land line) : xxxyyyy
3) Complete Address : mmmnnn
4) Product Details (name, variant & size) : Vim Bar – 10/-
5) Batch Code of the Product (number stamped on the back / base of the product) : xxxyyyy
6) With a full description of your query: I bought the 10/- vim bar which showed the 10/- recharge scheme.
Bought 6 – thinking would give it to my domestic help……

September 1, 2014 3:17:01 PM
ME again, in response to email in string below!
Doesn’t look like you have read the actual query :(
On Aug 30, 2014, at 5:08 PM, wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for contacting Consumer Care cell of Hindustan Unilever Limited.
Kindly provide me the following details to log your complain:
Your Mobile Number :
Missed Call number dialled :
Date & Time of Entry :
Mobile Number Portability :
Service Provider :

September 3, 2014 4:46:29 PM
Dear Sangita,
Thank you for contacting Consumer Care cell of Hindustan Unilever Limited.
To help us investigate this matter further, we need this information from you. Could you please email us back with the following information?
Your Mobile Number :
Missed Call number dialled :
Date & Time of Entry :
Mobile Number Portability :
Service Provider :

ME: No action! What do you expect! It looked like getting into an endless loop, and I don’t really have the desire or the time to keep following up.

Lesson learnt: Automation will only achieve so much – you need at some point in time to escalate to the next level, which I assume is actual – human – people! (To be fair to the guys, maybe their business logic does escalate – but after another round of complaints – I don’t know/ am not willing to find out!)

The underlying business issue here is that of correct segmentation/ tiering of the customer – which then allows the organisation to respond to the customers per importance/ urgency. It’s the criticality vs. doability matrix. So, at first level, assign the cheaper technology options, but build in intelligence (context) and then response mechansims such that you are able to identify the increased attention (or not) that you need to provide the customer. In absence of this, you have disappointment/ disillusionment, maybe disinterest in future purchases! (I will for sure never pick up the 12 bars I did together – and my helpers may even switch brands the next time they go grocery shopping for me!)

I think great recent examples of human aided (what else, roll eyes…) customer service were as seen by Amazon and Netflix ! Truly commendable!

My ex business partner Debjani Deb has recently built this really cool product that does exactly the above – but for in mobile app support! Her company ZineOne essentially tiers app users by context and criticality, and helps organisations therefore offer appropriate levels of customer service to their customers. (Think how frustrating it is in the mobile app world, when you are looking to undertake a real time transaction, say book movie tickets HERE and NOW, and have the app crash on you! If you are stuck in a traffic jam just outside the movie hall, you NEED to purchase that ticket RIGHT THEN! A customer service response even 3 hours later will not help you, AND will lose revenue for the movie company! ZineOne’s product helps the booking app detect that your situation is critical and needs escalation – thus improving overall customer experience! Love it!)

Coming back to my slower/ less time critical Packaged Goods industry, my helper did find the unique code in another bar, called the number, (see, I really liked that the company had thought enough about their target audience to say “give missed call, and you will get a call back!”) got the return call, answered the survey, AND found out that she was the unlucky 66%. This end of the fulfillment was really nicely done – she loved the importance of receiving the call, of punching out numbers for the survey and the ease of the whole exercise.

So, the “marketing/ sales promotion” guys had done their job well – the customer care people just didn’t get their act together quickly enough!

Another common organisational anomaly!

As for me, I ended up buying some recharges for my 2 girls just to get them over their disappointment – so, no big deal :)

Limiting Factors, Outliers, Managing Perception; and… Parenting!

18 Aug

Outliers Autographed

Outliers Definition

Parenting is, arguably, world’s toughest job!

The next probably is working out/ losing weight

And ofcourse, after that is managing a large work force :)

The correlation is not apparent – but, will be soon enough.

This thought actually got sparked off this morning as I was in my Aerobics class. I realised that over the one year I’ve been attending these classes, my trainer (and good friend) has considerably upped the level of the exercise regimen. This is actually sensible, since the bulk of her class is regulars – and obviously with continuous exercise, general fitness levels have increased – hence higher challenge levels required..In fact most students are now actively into running.

But, what I also realised is that N aims her class at the “stars” in the class – those as-fit-as-her, and as-Nazi-ish-about-fitness-as-she-is, people. Again, understandable, since those stars are a) able to follow the regimen best, b) show the effects best, but most importantly, c) challenge her to work harder at the training.

However, a corollary of N “speaking” to the best is that I get the feeling (probably unwarranted) that she doesn’t then focus so much on the “lesser beings” – people like me. I also ofcourse always rationalise it by telling myself that anyway I am “cheating” – i.e., doing many of the routines at less than 100% compliance – and, at least, looking at the stars keeps the benchmark always within sight. Having said that, I still sometimes feel that when I DO manage to get to the 100% level, it would be great if I would get those treasured words of praise fm the trainer – “well done”. But, my image of being the lesser being probably colors then the trainer’s view of me, and then she doesn’t look at me as often as she does at the stars, and so misses the occasional stellar performances I do manage and so I don’t do as well maybe next time…and so…and so…

(When she DOES utter the “good job, S!” magic words, I am tempted to work harder/ cheat lesser/ push myself more)

Interestingly, this is a direct contrast to what I do when I teach English to a 4th/5th grade class at a Kannada medium government school. Generally, most of my attention goes towards the “row 1″ students – those that find it difficult to grasp most lessons, knowing that if they “get” most of the lesson, the rest certainly will!

Now, how does this fit in with parenting?

As with most parents, I have 2 kids who are diametrically apart in temperament, behavior, likes, dislikes, strengths and improvement areas. One is a dreamer, the other is a doer. One is a morning person, the other has to be dragged out of bed after loooong nights reading. One likes chinese food, the other doesn’t touch noodles — and so on.

But strangely enough, one lesson I found myself repeating for both in recent times is that of – self image, and perception management related to it.

Started with younger child – she is a fiend if you ever had one. Loud, brash, the world-is-my-friend, don’t-care-about-anything, finds-humour-in-everything kind of fiend. Bright actually, but “does” terribly at school – I have been called to school at least 6 times in the past 2 years for would-be-grave one-on-one lectures by her teachers (“would be” because I refuse to be cowed down by these strictures on the child). Each teacher tells me – “knows everything, if only she would be neater in her work, submit her work on time, not get distracted and want to go for frequent toilet breaks etc etc…) Now, by the way, P WORKS at this image – she thinks its cool to be brash/ funny/ don’t care-ish.

However, this post is not about what to do with children like this (though that is a real problem for sure), but the problem that occurs as a result – ofcourse, a few teachers “get” the underlying personality of the child, I am thankful to say – however, many of them believe the image is reality – and treat her accordingly! So, if there is a disruption in the class, most fingers point at P. More importantly, once branded with the image of “casual worker”, when she does turn it better work, its sometimes not noticed – and on the few occasions that she is serious about some stuff in school, there is a chance she gets overlooked.

P and I have had frequent serious chats about “how to manage” your image or perception (in so many words!). These serious chats are peppered with examples of her two “best friends” – one of whom is truly a “good child” and is widely recognised for that, and the other is more like P, but has managed to retain an image of a “good child” (in their lexicon ofcourse, to be branded “good” is probably almost abuse! :) )

Older child faced this too – she used to be keen on Indian classical dance when younger. As she entered her teens, interests changed – and she is now passionate about dramatics. But, her lingering image of “dancer” leads school to pick her for dance related events and not theatre. Being older, and after some counseling, she did manage to assert her interests – and is now a happy camper. But the point is, this “change of image” took some doing!

Now think about organisations – doesn’t this happen there too? How often have you had complaints at appraisal time from folks saying – “my manager doesn’t think I am good enough – and so has not given me x or y job”. It’s probably true, because in the natural order of things, the manager WILL pre select those he or she thinks are the best bets for any given job – thats what managers do – they “optimize” or “manage” resources. The question, however is, how much of that “image” is reality and how much just perception not directly related to reality?

A related point here is then – as the trainer/ teacher/ manager/ leader, do you address the “stars” or the “dogs”, or do you stay somewhat in the middle – my favourite – the golden mean!

Nature certainly selects the “fittest” – if Darwin is to be believed! (the fittest evolve into next generations while the others gradually die down) So, my trainer and P’s teachers seem to have precedent! Incidentally, I find this Theory of evolution video immensely funny! :

But, actually, on the other hand, nature ALSO looks at the lowest common multiple – think about Limiting factors in Photosynthesis ( the rate of photosynthesis is limited by the least amount of necessary resource available – see video for a slightly long winded reminder):

And ofcourse, in most organisations we work neither at the highest nor the lowest but at the average. This is what the bell curve does for you – it force-fits everyone in the organisation into a mean +/- standard deviation curve – and treats exceptionally the outliers. The problem with that? Think about the statistician who drowned while crossing a river that was on average 6 inches deep! (A nice explanation of averages – and what outliers do to them can be found if you click on the link)

In a diametrically opposite view, Malcolm Gladwell made famous his theory of outliers – where he correlated success to the amount of time spent working at that skill, and some factors not quite under control of the protagonists.

The question arising from of all of this dilatory musing is really this:

If you are a leader/ parent/ trainer: Do you focus on the outliers, or the average in terms of managerial/ parental/ teacher attention. And, if the former, should it be the “LCM” (those who need extra input); or the “HCF” (in other words, the stars).

If you are the led/ managed/ taught: How do I get a sense of whether I am LCM, average of HCF – BEFORE painful yearly evaluation sessions/ how do I manage the perception of my being LCM if I am not/ how do I match my self perception to that of the outside world?

Any answers? Suggestions?


The problem of Least Common Multiple came forth funnily in the movie Father of the Bride. Enjoy!

And I Need To Know This Why??? Analysis Paralysis, or a bit of fun?

5 Mar


I’m an analyst/ researcher at heart – therefore my respect for and interest in statistics is almost par for the course. (I like to remember what George Bernard Shaw once said “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.”)

I also ofcourse completely subscribe to Homer Simpson’s view that “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that.” :) ; or, “There are liars, damn liars and statistics”

Having said that, some of the analysis I see nowadays is just…well…plain…bizarre. Some recent examples of analyses that i came across in the past few days, and, IMHO, helps very few people (this is a bit like the bear of little brain) are listed below. Even though many of the se are pointless, you have to admit most do arouse curiosity, and are fun!:

ellen selfie

a) On the Great Selfie Revolution – Ofcourse, the stats on this have probably been turned on their head post last night’s “most retweeted ever” selfie by Ellen Degeneres. But, someone did an analysis of what how selfies differ by countries and what they portray about the selfie takers (what are they called? selfers?). Click for Selfie Trends .

b) A similar one, on Love – as seen by Facebook. Excerpt from this analysis – For example, two people who are about to enter a relationship interact more and more on Facebook in the weeks leading up to making their coupled status official – up until 12 days before the start of the relationship, when they share an average of 1.67 posts per day. And this helps us….how?

c) A map of the world showing the places in blue where there are no Mcdonalds! Wonder where 3 year olds have (cheap-ish) birthday parties?
Mcdonald's country

d) It is not only surveys that show bizarre analysis – a look at some “weird facts” will convince you that some people have all the time in the world!
di) On average, there are 333 squares of toilet paper on a roll.

dii) The short-term memory capacity for most people is between five and nine items or digits. This is one reason that phone numbers were kept to seven digits for so long.

diii) The hundred billionth crayon made by Crayola was Periwinkle Blue.

div) In Saudi Arabia, a woman reportedly may divorce her husband if he does not keep her supplied with coffee.

dv) 1 out of 350,000 Americans get electrocuted in their life.

e) Ok, this one should interest a lot of folks – just wondering at the “usability” of this piece of research (beyond performance anxiety of course!) So, on Fast Sex !

f) And, perhaps, fittingly, as a sequel (but atleast this I can see being used by the Spirits companies) : Places with Highest vodka consumption.

g) Since we touched upon love, can families be far behind? This is a list of Kickstarter Funding stats. (And, just in case you were wondering, it is topical because Kickstarter just announced that they have reached a billion dollars in funding). An excerpt says : there have been 13 backers named dad, five named grandpa, 17 named grandma and 18 named Mom. “Clearly, moms are the best,” the post adds. Wish my kids would read this – atleast they would know that while moms are evil, they fund your harebrained (or not) schemes more than anyone else!

h) More factoids:
hi) 27% of female lottery winners hid their winning ticket in their bras.

hii) 96% of people put the peanut butter on first when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

hiii) A study revealed that men that were born with a low birth weight were less likely to get married.

hiv) Your statistical chance of being murdered is one in twenty thousand.

hv) Two out of three people sleep on their sides, and they’re about equally divided as to WHICH side. Of the remainder, slightly more sleep on their stomachs than sleep

i) More maps: To show the insularity of the erstwhile British Raj, a map showing in red places in the world that drive on the Right Side of the Road

LHS drive Credit

j) And, another to show the insularity of Americans :), one that shows in red the places that don’t use the metric system

metric Credit

k) An analysis that shows the most popular baby names in every state in the U.S. Again, don’t know why people would want to know (unless it was to figure out which name to avoid), but wish someone would do a similar analysis in India – just for fun!

l) I get a kick out of this – even though it’s very random! This map shows the world if all countries with shorelines were to sink, and only the landlocked ones to remain.

landlocked Credit

m) For writers/ wannabe authors, who are NOT early birds hoping to get early worms, here’s a beautifully non conclusive piece of analysis on sleep patterns vs. creative outputs. As the result vaguely states, “The most important caveat of all, of course, is that there are countless factors that shape a writer’s creative output, of which sleep is only one — so this isn’t meant to indicate any direction of causation, only to highlight some interesting correlations: for instance, the fact that (with the exception of outliers who are both highly prolific and award-winning, such as like Bradbury and King) late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds”.

n) More weird facts
ni) “Ancient Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows to mourn the deaths of their cats” OK, we love our pets!

nii) “The bubbles in Guinness Beer sink to the bottom rather than float to the top like all other beers. No one knows why” Next time you get your pint, do NOT drown it in one big gulp – please watch the movement of the bubbles!

A related one (just in case you are not into beer, but bubblies) : If you put a raisin in a glass of champagne, it will keep floating to the top and sinking to the bottom.

niii) Jupiter’s core is in fact made of a non-metal, but due to the immense pressure inside Jupiter the core has become a metal. This metal is hydrogen.

niv) A fullgrown bear can run as fast as a horse.

nv) A hamlet is a village without a church and a town is not a city until it has a cathedral.

o) A map showing the world’s most photographed places. Start your bucket list NOW!

photographed Credit

p) More random facts:
pi) A lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away.

pii) The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days of yore when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.

piii) A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why.

piv) The ashes of the average cremated person weigh nine pounds.

pv) The fingerprints of koala bears are virtually indistinguishable from those of humans, so much so that they could be confused at a crime scene.

q) A map showing where the highest number of sky scrapers are found
skyscrapers Credit

A few not so happy pieces of analyses and, you will not, sadly, that India plays a large part here):

r) Now this is atleast worth tracking, though the data quality seems poor. The good part – there is a rise in people reporting, the sad part – the actual number of incidences are not known :(

s) On Underweight kids :(

t) And, maybe, related, a map of the world showing population distribution – More People Live inside the circle than outside it!population circle Credit

u) More bizarre facts:
ui) Ralph Lauren’s original name was Ralph Lifshitz.

uii) Isaac Asimov is the only author to have a book in every Dewey-decimal category.

uiii) Approximately sixty circus performers have been shot from cannons. At last report, thirty-one of these have been killed.

uiv) The Boeing 767 aircraft is a collection of 3.1 million parts from 800 different suppliers around the world: fuselage parts from Japan, center wing section from Southern California, flaps from Italy.

uv) In the kingdom of Bhutan, all citizens officially become a year older on New Year’s Day.

By the way, even the Economist does these does these strange analyses – they do it well of course

You may have noticed, none of the above is about sports – but, when I googled “useless stats analysis” – most are about sports, including this website that says as its header: Written by sports fans with minds analytical enough to try wacky stuff but not analytical enough to make money doing it.

v) Facts on supernatural stuff:
vi) Paranormal experts say people reach the peak of their ability to see ghosts when they’re 7 years old.

vii) Someone on Earth reports seeing a UFO every three minutes. In the U.S., reported sightings are most likely to occur in July, at 9 p.m. or 3 a.m.

viii) Someone within 200 miles of your town claims to have had direct contact with a monster, ghost or other unexplainable being.

And some others…
viv) In 1950, only 7% of Americans dyed their hair, now 75% do.

vv) You blink 10,000,000 times every year.

vvi)46% of violence on T.V. occurs in cartoons.

vvii) Only about 5% of people dream in color.

vviii) If a girl owns one barbie, she most likely owns seven.

vix) Your left hand does an average of 56% of your typing.

vx) It takes an average person seven minutes to fall asleep on an average night.

( Credit. If you want more, click here, and here)

And finally, a) something that just came up – it’s interesting stuff…Note, Mumbai tops list of 10 least expensive cities!

and b) a piece of analysis that the cricket crazed Indians are looking at over and over again since yesterday! :(


Come on, Own Up, it IS your Monkey after all!

20 Feb


Classic situation at home: regular domestic help off sick, temp one hired. Big clash with housekeeper – about who should be doing what. I ask housekeeper/ nanny – why a certain thing didn’t happen – she said “Lakshmi didn’t do it”. Lakshmi ofcourse said – “I thought Tulasi amma would do it”

This one atleast I get, it is maybe my fault for not delineating responsibility squarely and clearly; and definitely Tulasi’s for not doing the same (she’s been with me long enough to know what her role is – individual as well as supervisory)

What I don’t get, and I see very often now, is this:
When we were growing up, school was where we “learnt” everything – The 3 Rs ofcourse (and later STEM), but also running, basketball, cricket, singing, dance, theatre, art, debating, etc etc. School tenure was shorter (8 to 1 pm I think), we came back by 2 pm, ate a hearty lunch, slept, played till the street lights came on, did H.W., ate again and slept. Nostalgia inducing though this itinerary probably is, the point is not about the simplicity of that era; it is about what school was responsible for. I did NO tuitions, NO extra dance class, NO drama class, NO tennis/ badminton class etc. Everyone did/ tried all activities, some showed natural inclination towards one rather than the other – and then were in general trained harder on those activities than the others were.

Cut to now. There is higher exposure to the kids in terms of avenues of “co curricular” activities (by the way, in our times, it was called “extra curricular” – the shift in terminology is symbolic, but only in talk, not walk!) and attendant competitive events where they get to test themselves, benchmark against others and (presumably) get egged on to perform better…But, the discovery of talent, as well as training/ honing – is ALL done at home! So, most kids start some form of classes after school from when they turn 3-4: craft/ art/ tennis/ keyboard/ guitar/ tennis/ basketball/ swimming/ theatre/ dance/ rock climbing/ fencing/ skating. And most also rotate all these around – so, a) kids do a different activity everyday, their calendar post school therefore being chock full; and b) they get “bored” of these activities sooner or later, and so hop skip and jump to another..then another…then another and so on.

Implied here is the obsessive nature of parents today, and maybe inability/ unwillingness to give their kids free time and/ or keep them entertained (me being a big culprit too) but again, that is NOT the point being made here.

The point is, if the kids are “learning”/ “honing” everything at home, what role does the school play? Admittedly, “education” nowadays has changed form – while in our time, it was “what you know”; it now is “can you find out/ solve” (thanks to the internet, and, google :) ). Having said that, should schools not be the place where they are TAUGHT tennis, swimming, singing, dancing, drawing etc etc — rather than just the place to “aggregate” existing talents and then display them in competitive events – thereby earning laurels for the school?

So, with reference to an old/ classic HBR article, whose monkey is it? The school’s, right? Then why oh why is it being transferred to the parents?

Ofcourse we see this in the corporate scenario – I wrote an article a long time ago, on this, describing scenarios where the monkey keeps leaping onto diverse peoples’ backs.

Links to leadership styles in a way – Are you a “doer leader”, a “delegator leader”, a “shirker leader” (then actually you’re not a leader :) ), the “team work leader”, the “wannabe leader” or the “pretend leader” :)..sounds familiar?

I do this all the time to my husband – my taxes get paid by him, the garage door when stuck gets opened by him, exotic chicken and lamb dishes when guests are coming for dinner get cooked by him. (Wait, that’s division of labour, not monkey passing!)

We are seeing a great example in Indian Politics currently – blame game, responsibility shirking, mud slinging, disruptiveness. And, in the context of monkeys, and politics, a cartoon I love – enjoy!



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