Start-Up Dilemma 9: Board of Directors/ Advisors

23 Jun

board-mtg-cartoon Credit

A problem I have been seeing very often of late (more now when I meet many start-ups as mentor/ advisor, than when I ran my own) is – when should I appoint a Board? How many people? What should I offer them? Will they be interested? I thought time (after a big gap) to write another “start-up” series post, which answers the following questions:

a) What is the difference between Board of Governors/ Directors and Advisory Board; more importantly – when do I apooint one vs. the other
b) In general, at what stage of my start-up do I appoint one
c) Why/ what are the benefits of appointing one
d) What is a good number of people to have in the board
e) What do I have to offer them as compensation.
f) In return, what do I expect from them? How often do I contact them? Can I formalise this receivable?
g) How do the answers for the above change if my start-up is product vs. services vs. Non profit? Or if it is Indian vs. not? or if it is a Lifestyle business that I want to build to scale, vs. one I want to get valuation for, and exit sooner rather than later.

I have to confess, since I am by no means an expert, I ran a small survey amongst current and past entrepreneurs who have run various start-up organisations all over the world. It was a diverse group, though not necessarily statistically significant. I will include findings from that survey as we go along – disclaimer – use those findings as anecdotal only :)

Board of Directors vs. Advisors:

This is a great article defining the different types of boards and their roles. And this is another good read on the difference between Advisory board and Board of Directors, and how to utilize them!

Basically, when you start out, an advisory board makes more sense – and obviously, you could run your org for-ever without needing a formal Board of Directors/ Governors, until you seek and get investment.

Even with the advisory board, I see start-ups in the western world, who have now seen the whole culture closely, feel the need to acquire, and actually leverage advisory boards much sooner than those in India (where it’s typically a bunch of smart techies, who have a super idea, (or sometimes just think they have), and want to create the next google). Also, as a corollary, or atleast a parallel, start ups who have been conceived to make lots of money very fast, go “by the book” more often than those that are being set up as lifestyle businesses.

Right Reason

Reason for Appointing BOD

As my own little survey showed, in the beginning, many start-ups, specially if they are either small, or the Non profit type, choose friends and family in the Board of Directors – generally just to suit legalities in certain countries e.g., in India, a Pvt. Ltd. company needs 2 Directors.

But, ideally, Board members need to be recruited for more than just statutory requirements. As this article talking about the mistakes that companies make when recruiting BOD says, Board members can be great resources who provide support, knowledge, and access to unique professional networks.

vijayamritraj

And indeed, as my little survey showed, the right competence or skills, and the ability to get contacts – either to potential clients, or to potential recruits, is the other big reason for Boards of Directors to be appointed. The next reason is obviously just the name-value, or reputation of the person (My husband recently got offered a seat in a Board of Directors, where one of the other guys was Vijay Amritraj (and ofcourse, I told him – “say yes, say yes” so I can maybe hob nob with him at some dinner stuff :) ))

Slide4

Not surprisingly then, when one looked at the average and top-2-box analyses for reasons, the ability to get contacts, and give advice, top the charts.

No. of Members

No. of Members in BOD

My survey respondents seem to like the number 3, maybe because most of them are really small and new set ups. Per the article above, Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures thinks a board of five members is ideal. He recommends no more than 7 board members (two founders, one to three VCs, and one to two other industry professionals).

I would agree that get the founders (no more than 3 – 3 being the magic number as per my earlier post on optimal no. of co-founders), get one or two “real” advisors with complementary skills that you REALLY need, and get one well connected industry person/ celebrity – who should be your business development/ recruitment channel person. The rest is superfluous — which, effectively means, that your choice of VC/ investor should also depend on then who will they put on your board, and which of the above roles can you get the investor appointed Board member to play.

Compensation for Board of Directors

Obviously if friends and family, one wouldn’t offer anything to the board. But, the commonest remuneration seems to be Equity – I have heard amounts ranging from a low of 0.25% to an average of 2% and a high of 5% to be parted with for Boards. This good common sense article talks about the difference between an advisory board and the board of directors, and also has some good sound advice on compensation.

Benefits to BOD

My survey showed that just the position was what most start-ups offered their advisors/ Board members. This is probably also because at the stage they are in, in most cases their BOD members are friends and family.

Issues with Board of Directors

Issues with Boards of Directors

While, my survey seemed to indicate that the founders weren’t really facing any problems with their BOD members, I assume that’s because they weren’t being utilized effectively! In most cases, the problems arise due to not being able to get time and attention from your directors/ advisors. You may expect to be put in touch with channel partners, or a new recruit, and the Director doesn’t, or is unable to do so!

In my experience, the best way of making sure you do get the value you expect out of the Directors is to use them as individual people, rather than a full fledged board – i.e., seek a fixed slot one on one meeting with the folks (say half an hour every two months)- set that expectation upfront, send agenda in advance, and just be focussed on getting your questions answered!

This old article provides some good advice on care and feeding of Advisors.

Just for disclosure, the profile of my survey respondents is as below:

Profile

Incidentally, for my friends running Non profits, the answers to the same questions are not substantially different – as a look at this article shows

I think I should end with providing a link to an old but fantastic article – which will put a lot of answers in perspective, and contains a lot of wisdom, including in the comments after!

Hope this was useful. Right in tell me your experiences!

exec board

What Superwoman Lilly Singh taught me about Life, and Management

28 May

Lilly Singh

5,747,586 – that’s how many subscribers Lily Singh a.k.a Superwoman has! I was at her last show in India a couple days ago, and my ear drums are still ringing with the constant screaming of some 800 kids – mainly girls, who showed me what stereotypical celebrity concert hysteria is!

I had a very interesting and illuminating time actually – there was a pre concert “meet and greet”, where I saw teenagers crying and hyperventilating at the thought of meeting their idol, and then there were folks who came upto my kids and said – hey, we are making a vlog – come join. The kids then sang some snippets of things that seemed to afford them great entertainment. (For those interested, that vlog is called chicken tikka brothers) On the ride back, I asked the kids in the car – what was the difference between a vlog and a youtube channel; and they ALL – including my 9 year old, told me – the blog is just about her life, following her, what she does everyday etc; while the youtube channel is the funny videos she makes that made her famous. In the YT channel, she stages it – puts lights, has a table, has a good camera etc. So I asked them why then wd she have both? Why not only one? And the young one told me – Ma, not all subscribers are fans . So, NOT everyone is interested in following her life! Early lessons to learn on social media, huh!

Then also followed this very interesting discussion on “who’s the youtuber you follow most?” Names like PewDiePie (who has some — hold your breath — THIRTY SEVEN MILLION subscribers!!! What does he do? put up videos of himself gaming, apparently!), Tyler Oakley, 6.9 mil, who started the channel primarily on LGBT issues, but has since broadened – and was even on the Ellen Show, Zoella, 8.2 mil, who makes videos on beauty tips, Miranda Sings, 4 mil, who is the SAME apparently, only an off-kilter avatar, as Colleen Ballinger running PsychoSoprano – 2.4 mil subscribers! Then there are travel guys like JacksGap, 4 mil, music guys like KurtHugo Schneider, 4 mil, and Collins Key, 400K, on magic.

Then the little one had her own favourites to contribute – Bethany Mota, 8.7 mil, who basically puts DIY tips type stuff, Rosanna Pansino, 3.9 mil, who makes cooking videos, Merrelltwins, 292K who write on I don’t know what, Jacy and Kacy, 231k, who run craft and cooking tips, and “challenges” – “challenges” are the BIG thing – bad food challenge, rainbow loom challenge, make up challenge etc. etc.

But, for me, the whole experience brought forth some very interesting lessons/ parallels:

a) Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown:
It’s a pity, but popularity comes with its own onus of responsibility! I googled Lilly Singh post the show, and she pops up FIRST as motivational speaker! And truly, part of the show was about happiness (her “happy place” is Unicorn island, which is the name of her tour), and how kids should believe in themselves; and how she picked herself up post severe depression, and how life is hard, but you most probably will get to see your dreams fulfilled if you work really really hard – but that being said, the hardest piece of work she ever did was to pick her up from depression and learn to be happy.

superwoman

I was like – woooaaaah – THIS is the funny Lilly Singh? But, then my daughter told me – “ma, she gets millions of letters fromm people who were very depressed and they tell her that watching her videos made them get out of depression, and cancer patients who tell her listening to her make them feel so much better etc…“.

But I was like – omg, poor kid! Here she was, just trying to have a good time, and then she is saddled with this whole 6 mil people, and she cannot say trashy stuff, and she cannot let them down…blah blah blah.

Folks in any kind of leadership position in any role will empathise – the minute you have fans/ followers/ subordinates/ children – you jolly well watch each and every thing you do/ say/ eat etc…as a senior leader in the org that took over my startup once told me, I really want you and your co founders to join me leadership – it’s really lonely at the top!

On this note, I just read this article on Kangana Ranaut declining an ad endorsement deal for INR 2 crores coz she didnt want to propogate the idea of fair skin! Way to go, and that’s a true example of responsibility beding executed well

b) Brand Reputation – and its sphere of influence:
So, as opposed to the screaming hyperventilating, sometimes crying teenagers, I was viewing the show on its own merit – I watch a lot of shows, and don’t watch a lot of youtube. So, to me, each of her famous lines were NOT famous, and her clever references, just words! What that meant was that i wasn’t in it for the celebrity/ fan-dom thingie at all, but just to watch a stand up comic-ish person.
Now, don’ get me wrong, I like her videos – I think she is funny, has a knack for hitting the right spot, and is very good at mimicry. But, as a stand alone performance her SHOW was , I wd say, just average! Then what price the screaming hysterical kids? Even post show, every child I spoke to, luuurrrved her/ thought she was rilly rilly funny etc..
I figured it was because she has built up a super image and fan base – so she cd get by, by just “referring to” her popular stuff on her videos – whether it is her collaborator Humble the poet and their songs, e.g., IVIVI, her parent characters, Paramjeet Singh (who says don’t wear Mini skirts and don’t talk to boys, and eat “jogurt”; and Manjeet Singh (who gives tips for spicyness and “seskiness”) , her superwoman gestures….whatever. After all, when the audience is in a mood to be overwhelmed, they WILL be.

It’s like the parallel with brands – they spend megabucks on advertising to build a brand – so that, sometimes when the actual product is not so great, the brand carries it through (for a while Google Glass maybe could be placed in this category. Oh btw, did you know that Google Glass may be coming back?). Or, in services examples, say Accenture builds up this formidable rep, and post that wins many deals on rep alone (nyaaahhh, doesn’t happen – but deal making does becaome easier)

The catch here is ofcourse that real brand value has to be delivered sooner rather than later. In this case, I’m sure it will be. But, does make you think about brand building, reputation and extensions (talking about “joghurt”, remember cosmopolitan yogurt?)
cosmopolitan-yogurt

c) RFC:
You’ve got to hand it to these youtubers – they really know the mantra for global appeal – and now even I’ve figured it out! You have to be either funny, (Superwoman is very very funny on her videos), “cool” – now this is a relatively more difficult to describe word, or well, not to decsribe coz we all know what cool is to us; but to enact/ BE! But I am guessing cool becomes cool more by outcome than by the input/ action – so it’s how your peers and idols behave when faced with this aspiring cool thing that determines if a thing is cool. But I also see, that most often, success comes with REAL stuff – stuff that’s straight from the heart, stuff that resonates with the audience and is not faked. To give kids their due, today’s kids are very very quick at detecting “fake” – and they react therefore positively to stuff that’s NOT. Lilly spoke about true life experiences, and touched upon stuff that ALL in the audience, whether 9 yr old like my young one, 14 like my older one, or close to 50 like their mom – could nod at!
(An interesting side piece of analysis seems to be that most of the youtubers I mentioned above are 26 – is that the sweet spot age for success?)
This I think is a great lesson for management folks, and also advertisers – actually, why stop there – parents, teachers, husbands, wives, you name it! It’s best to be atleast 2 out of the RFC trio to create success – but obviously, the R is the most important – it lets you reach people, and, as I have said before, it really is about the people!

dashavatar-lord-vishnu-indian-mythology

d) The Art of the Split Personality
In our time, what you saw was what you got – maybe we had a school face and a home face, but that was it! Now, one has (and maybe should have), a school group 1 face, a teacher face, a school group 2 face, a home face, a facebook face, a snapchat face, a whatsap one, a linkedin face, a vine, a youtube, a …a….a! (Btw, as you may remember from my earlier post, each face SHOULD behave differently atleast in the social media channels!
Lilly Singh, has what the kids called, her “parent” personalities – each of them is her obviously, each of them now has independent twitter, and what she called “instantgram” handles. Each of them (or, well, she dressed up as each of them), promoted and asked for subscription to, each of these handles. Each of them exists in a parallel universe!
Now, dont get me wrong, split or even multiple personalities are as old as time. From Vishnu’s dash-avatar or 10 incarnations; to Jekyll and Hyde; to Batman/ Bruce Wayne or Superman/ Clark Kent or Spiderman/ Peter Parker, we are familiar with all of them. But never have all personalities existed simultaneously – which brings me to the question – how do these kids deal with these? Is it a generational cohort thing? or just a byproduct of technology? And more worrying to me as a parent, what then is constant? (And, to refer to an earlier thread, how do they which is REAL?)
This btw, spins traditional marketing completely on its head, doesn’t it? STP – who do you target if the target is multiple? do you disambiguate this multiple personalities, or address each separately? If former, or even if latter, which ones?

e) New styles of Marketing:
i) Marketing is getting more aggressive – witness multiple avatar handles marketed at same time; promo tours; the whole digital landscape
ii) Its more crowd sourced – The entity being marketed doesn’t necessarily have to do it themselves – there are apps/ twitter handles/ vlogs ….AND people taking selfies/ pictures all the time to post
iii) Younger and younger kids now understand it

So the question seems to be – are kids getting stuff too early? is success/ gratification/ the trappings of the material world coming too early? Isn’t it better if kids remained kids?

Also, in the whole hurry to take pictures and post them, aren’t the kids missing out on the beauty of what the naked eye sees and remembers? Out of the 800 show attendees, atleast 90% had the video/ photo stuff on ALL the time (intact, Lilly even said – guys, you watch my videos on the net all the time- now that I’m here, watch me LIVE)

All in all, it was a super evening – the kids met an idol and were part of a hysterical mob and I learnt many things about kids and kids in mobs and youtubing and vlogs.
I think, all else notwithstanding, Superwoman is quite amazing, and, as I told her during the meet and greet – the world needs more like her!

Lilly Singh Superwoman

On Prevarication, JIT, and Acorns & Oaks

22 May

oak and acorn

So, it’s true – the acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak. I just read this article on early risers vs late night owls, roughly 10 mins after my daughter finally got up this morning/ afternoon – at 12.10 (that’s p.m.)! And, despite my frustration at the time she was getting up, was forced to face my own habits – I have done various all-nighters throughout my life, but ask me to wake up at even 7 a.m…..and I’m like someone asked me to run a marathon! So, not surprised lo sleeps at 4 and wakes up at 12.

I also see this same genetic influence in her regarding another bad habit – that of “putting off things till tomorrow that should ideally be done today”. In other words, prevarication! The fact that I didn’t write a blog for well over 3 months, was basically prevarication – so is this now-almost-extinct book project I launched upon a year ago! This unfortunately is a lifelong habit.

When I think about it, prevarication is a fantastic way of letting nature prioritize tasks for you – basically, you keep putting things off till they either assume monumental do-or-die proportions, thus forcing you to put your head down and work to finish that task; or they just fade away – which basically means that they weren’t all that important to begin with. Read this article to see how procrastinating does help you become more focussed and productive!

But the other aspect of it is that I work best under a deadline – the buzz that a concentrated effort with a looming deadline brings, is unparalleled – I know advertising agencies work best that way – maybe desperation brings out the creative juices in a way that having a lot of time doesn’t. Or maybe, it’s just that some folks are wired a certian way, and they only work best under pressure.

All my life – whether it was exams , where I wouldn’t study throughout the year, but basically not sleep the entire week/ fortnight of exams; or, whether it was a client deadline on work that would get done JUST-in-time…I’ve practiced this last minute way of work. Not easy on parents/ teachers/ fellow workers – but, hey, it works!

The Japs made JIT such a big management phenomenon, and supply chains all over the world, for example at Wal-Mart, specialised in optimal inventories and thus enormous cost reductions, due to JIT!

procastinator

The best slant on what I would ruthlessly call the big P word, but HBR calls the theory of optimum delay is this link. It talks about how it’s almost always better to wait a bit – whether it is Jimmy Connors’ tennis shot, or a decision made after some delay (infact, in true HBR style, it even has a shorthand for it – OODA – observe, orient, decide, act)

The interesting point that emerges therefore I guess is about the value of time. We always heard Time is Money, and the hare vs. tortoise story about wasting time resulting in a certain win being converted into an ignominious loss! But the author argues here, that the time spent “observing, orienting and deciding; actually ends up being useful time in the end.

Coming back to procrastination however, the kind I am talking about is the one where you are not necessarily achieving much out of the delay – but instead spending time on arbit rubbish, convincing yourself you are WORKing – it’s like when my daughter sits in front of her comp at her desk, with her books open; but then watches Bethany Mota or Superwoman or Into the Woods – in her mind, she is working! Or, when I continuously scroll between facebook, whatsap and email – convincing myself I am reading/ enlarging my mind —- all of this is chronic procrastination!

So, the question is: Is procrastination good or bad, (or, if bad, how do you avoid it)

I really like this article where procrastination is related to willpower, or the limited amount of it. “If you’re thinking about procrastinating, it’s already too late” it says. Sounds familiar? :)

IMO, habitual procrastinators are just so – they can at best become a bit better – I think what is important is whether they get results despite procrastinating, i.e. whether their procrastination achieves success, or ends up in failure. I suspect this in turn relates to — how much horse power the procrastinator has — as an example, I repeatedly did things last minute, because I saw time after time, that I COULD do things last minute – whether it was cramming for the year’s portions the day before the exam, or a client deadline to be sent off.

It also relates to, WHAT kind of work is being delayed – as I said before, some work actually is better for the delay. Read this article on how prevarication is better for productivity

Things To Do List

Most experts give advice on how to battle procrastination. Most procrastinators are experts at listening to, then ignoring this advice. I did like some of the stuff in this article which talks about whisker goals as opposed to stretch goals, and how to not let a task list overwhelm you; and this nice logout tip for productivity.

For folks who are annoyingly on time all the time, obviously sometimes it is better if procrastinators around them learn how to manage this addiction! Here is some more reading on this topic (clearly written by someone who is NOT a procrastinator, and thus has NO idea what he is talking about!)

tech adoption lifecycle

We all know the adoption life cycle – in many cases, early adopters, while being the first to get to experiment with new stuff and getting the pleasure of it; also the associated status; as well as creating a new market, also sometimes become guinea piggish – so, in case the new tech doesnt do well, they suffer reversals. On the other hand, procrastinators (only, the tech life cycle doesn’t use the P word – it calls them the “mature” consumers), get to enjoy the combined experience of all the early adopters – and benefit from iterations in technology, also very often cheaper prices as, due to scale, prices of the new tech stuff drops.

Even in the newer versions of the hare and tortoise stories, the procrastinator hare becomes smarter, and not only runs faster and steadier, but also changes the rules of the game to enjoy better/ more suited to him – wins.

So, ofcourse, being a die hard procrastinator, I will look for the pluses – but I have to confess, when I wear my mom hat, I’m not so happy seeing this in my lo!

Having said that, facebook fed me another early vs late night article which was reasonably complimentary to “night owl chronotypes”), so, maybe, procrastinator oak notwithstanding, my acorn has some hope in life yet!

nothing

Whose Sale Is It Anyway; or; come onnn – Differentiate!

4 May

Sale Sale
Seen on front pages of a newspaper, and its supplement yesterday. Made me think about what competition does to one. A few thoughts:

a) Media is amazing! No conflict of interest obviously right? Front pages of 2 sections of the SAME paper with 2 direct competitors BOTH sponsoring full page ads?

Oh btw, the next day got these – AGAIN!
Sale 1

b) No noticeable difference between the 2 (or even 4) – infact, till you look really deeply, you miss the store where the discounts are being held! (unless you are my girl Friday Tulasi, or my sister in law Niharika, both of whose bigtime source of entertainment is to check deals). So HOW are these stores expecting ROI? Footfalls, I may still assume they will get – if it’s general shopping season, and since these are regular grocery/ super marts, they will have a steady clientele anyway, but ROI for these ads (as in, increase in revenues/ attention/ whatever the objective was? ) – hmm not so sure

c) While topical/ day related catalogu-ish advertising was always something our “organized” retailers did, the flavour of these has gotten a bit different (more desperate) since the mega online guys-with-their-VC-money-funded-advertising has got! (Remember the unprecedented-and-then-much-maligned flipkart’s billion sale thingie?)….
flipkart big billion

….with the tried-hard-to-be-funny “ambush” campaigns by its competitors?
snapdeal-toi Biyani-ad

Just goes to show the impact of e-comm on even traditional/ middle class India! (well, maybe not. It’s really urban India that is getting affected by this)

This thing about “differentiation” also sparks a parenting thought (as all things do with me). My teenage daughter is kind of caught between a devil and a hard place almost, at times I think. Like most kids at that age, her prime desire – when interacting specially with parents, is to blend with the crowd – not do anything that gets her attention (so, mom yelling HAPPY NEW YEAR on the streets on christmas eve is a no-no….OK, that I grant to her :); but even if we need to get something clarified from say a store salesman, goes through severe angst at this whole “calling attention to herself” thing).
On the other hand, she actively looks for things to make her different – so, dip-dyed hair, her theatre classes – which is fairly unique in her circles, a desire to play the ukelele (of all things!), she is constantly looking to do things which may then get her “cooler” attention from her peers.

I think this is fairly similar to what any of us goes through too – a desire at the same time – to “belong” and yet to “stand out” — I think it’s basically the choice of where you want to belong vs. stand out that hones your essence!

On a randomly different (though related since we are talking of differentiation) thought, I came across some nice doppleganger pictures of celebrities (with even funnier descriptions)- enjoy!

AND one of Anne-Amal
anne amal

Coming back to the whole point of differentiation as competitive strategy, I think Amazon has done a super job recently – their “Aur Dikhao” ad, while on a seemingly over used plank, is just sheer brilliance in creative execution! Here it is:

And, talking of sales, their May sale ad, with many people dancing hilariously, is truly different too (couldn’t find it to post sadly! )

So, its desirable, even possible, one just has to work harder!

The Sudden Rise of Social Conscience; OR; How incentives work

30 Mar

Incentive

– Yesterday, a neighbour came to me and asked – do you remember the name of the lady who was running a “clean up your neighborhood” drive? My daughter has to do some community service for her higher studies so we are actively looking for causes.

– Our community is involved in a lot of good causes in the surroundings – schools, pet shelters, adult vocational training, health, hygiene and life skills for the under privileged, scholarships for bright students — many many such causes. It has even given birth to a trust, which was created to manage the funds generated due to an annual run/ walkathon. A lot of middle and high school kids help out in many ways – some by tutoring the domestic helpers’ kids; some by teaching govt. school kids to dance and sing and thus prepare them for various functions like Independence day etc…The organisers, ALWAYS,at the end give away certificates of participation, and one mentioned to me that they may not have had so many kids participating if it wasn’t for the community service “credits” they notch up

band

– My daughter, who is part of a band, recently performed at a fund raiser – this was organised by a 10th std. girl – at a 5-star hotel. She did it because her “education counselling services” mentor advised her to organise a fund raiser to support some charity in the “health” arena. It was really well done – nice location, great performances by middle and high school kids, and the beneficiary kids, a DJ playing dance beats later. (But, as the founder of the beneficiary organisation observed, the “rich” kids, (including mine), didn’t really even talk to the kids of the beneficiary NGO!

– March marks the end of the financial year in India – most companies are scrambling to meet quotas – revenue/ profitability/ spend budgeted. Many companies are therefore desperately looking for projects to fund – specially with respect to the 2% of their profits on CSR that the new companies act has mandated.

In general, atleast in urban India nowadays, there is a much higher emphasis on CSR and community service, than there used to be when we were growing up. This rise of “share of voice” and mind towards Social causes, I suspect has been primarily led by powerful mandates – in the case of children seeking admissions in university, by the universities mandating comm-service credits; in the case of corporates abroad e.g. in the US, by higher weightage in deals etc to companies showing comm-service, and now in India , by the much talked about but little understood by now famous Companies Act of 2013.

Essentially, what it means, that a lot of things in life boil down to incentives – pets are trained using incentives, babies are raised using incentives, organisational goals are realised using incentives, and now, Social good is done using incentives!

In today’s world, where there is a great degree of buzz about Customer Centricity, and how the customer should really be at the centre of business (obvious no brainer, one wd say, but in actual fact it doesnt happen!), the reason why this generally agreed upon tenet is not really implemented is because there aren’t enough organisational incentives to change the whole culture around! We all know how Jeff Bezos keeps an empty seat representing the customer at his board meetings – and gives incentives for customer centricity. Just like Google and 3M made such names for themselves for innovation, basically because they have incentive structures designed accordingly!

We need incentives for every little thing – my games of tetris and farm heroes progress at the rapid pace that they do, basically because of incentives – dont need to be material, or public…just higher levels achieved is by itself an incentive! In this context, do read my previous post on goal setting and gamification which is basically incentives in a different form

Another previous post on carrot vs. stick, and the power of positive incentives vs. penalty is also an interesting thought.

Incentive design itself, however, is a complex phenomenon. In some cases, a NEGATIVE incentive works – (parents of teenagers will agree) – so, I only have to say “I dislike something”, for my daughter to LOVE it!

Having said all of this, to me, its great that incentives for social cause do exist, because without it, we wouldn’t see our born-with-silver-spoons-in-their-mouth children be as sensitive to environment around them and people who dont have the priveleges that they have.

Similarly, nearly $1.5 billion wouldn’t flow into the NGO world, if Sachin Pilot hadn’t created the clause. Interestingly, it wasn’t so much the money – as the uptick in visibility and consciousness that it promoted, that was the great impact!

Long live incentives for social cause!

Build a Toilet Project

GO.S.H., HA.G.S, or (yeah sorry…) S.HA.G?

16 Mar
Parenting Lack of Understanding

Parenting Lack of Understanding

Having a 14 year old is probably the most humbling/ nightmarish experience ever! You may be the superwife, super daughter, even supermom till now, the highest achiever by all standards – professionally, personally, whatever – but “mom-of-14-year-old” strips you of all accolades!

You become meanest mom, most hated person, evil heartless monster, insensitive and non understanding, torture chamber, slave driver, etc etc etc person ever – actually, I have to admit – this is not only in the 14 year old’s imagination, but in fact! SOMETHING happens at 13-14 when both you and your thus far sweet child transmogrify into separate evil avatars!

I think most folks facing this issue do the usual self help book/ counseller visit/ friend shoulder rant and rave – but, apart from all of this, I have done deep analysis, and I think at the heart lies the problem of GO.S.H, HA.G.S, or..erm..excuse the french…S.HA.G….

GOSH

Essentially, what do most parents want for their children? Apart from Good health, which is the overarching, most important thing; I think it is the following:

– That they are GOOD – they don’t lie/ cheat/ cause harm to others or themselves/ no criminal tendencies etc, and that they are sensitive to others’ misfortune and try to help others

– That they are SUCCESSFUL – They do well/ exploit their potential – (doesn’t matter in what field – Howard Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligences has only formalised what most parents knew) and are able to earn decent money to keep themselves in similar (or better) circumstances than they have been brought up

– Most importantly, that they are HAPPY – feel fulfilled/ loved/ in a good place/ not sad/ depressed/ don’t feel their “life” sucks etc etc…..

Now, in my opinion, parents wants their kids to have ALL three of these – even a 2/3 is not good enough (i.e., a thief may be successful and happy, but is NOT good — and so on)

It is precisely these 3 things – their relative juxtaposition/ the priority, and even the existence – that causes the teenage parent angst!

leaving home

So, i wd think most of us raise our kids to try and be good – this is what you teach them from when they are – (to get all Shakespearean about it) – mewling and puking in their mum’s hands. To teach them “don’t tell lies, help the elderly cross a road, not to bully”….

This really is a foundational thing.

The next thing is – and this quest begins at various stages – depending on the parent/ the child/ the school/ the country….we try and steer our kids towards “success” – the choice of school, of other skill “classes”, their popularity amongst peers, their habits….

This is I think where the biggest man-trap happens – coz, very often, your definition of success ain’t their’s (and understandably so). For you, their “success” often goes beyond the here and now – and is also aimed towards the future (bade hokar kya karogey??). In addition, it is coloured by YOUR experience of the growing up years, and YOUR vision of how their future will be – they obviously don’t know this at all.

Ofcourse, above all, we want our kids to be happy – but in our view, the happiness comes partly from being good and being successful (or, to be more exact, doesn’t come – at least in the future – unless they are good and they are successful).

Refer to Fig 1 of my handwritten diagram above.

The problem is because for the kids, success IS being happy…So, kids, if they view this GOSH/ SHAG/ HAGS thing at all – view it as Fig 2 – where they are NOT dependent on each other but 3 mutually exclusive axes!

In addition, they have to deal with the problem of, in order of priority, shd one chase GOSH/ HAGS/ SHAG/ GOHS/ HASG or SGHA……confusing right? even for us? Those poor 14 year olds get completely messed up heads :(

And THAT is the root of all the stress and distress.

YoureNotAlone

The only silver lining is a recent whatsap forward to me (the fates must have sensed my utter depression, coz I got it no less than FIVE times yesterday!):

Taken from a handout by Corrie Lynne Player:

“I just realized that while children are dogs—loyal and affectionate—teenagers are cats.

It’s so easy to be a dog owner. You feed it, train it, boss it around. It puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting. It bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.
Then, around age 13, your adoring puppy turns into a big old cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.

Instead of dogging your footsteps, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry…then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn up its nose at whatever you’re serving, swishing its tail and giving you an aggrieved look until you break out the tuna again.

When you reach out to ruffle its head in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare as if it is trying to remember where it has seen you before.

You, not realizing your dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong with it. It seems so antisocial, so distant, sort of depressed. It won’t go on family outings. Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch, stay and sit on command, you assume you did something wrong. Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.

Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now has the opposite result. Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter. The more you go toward it, wringing your hands, the more it moves away.

Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you must learn to behave like a cat owner. Put a dish of food near the door and let it come to you. But remember that a cat needs your help and affection too. Sit still and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it.

One day your grown up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say,
“You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.” Then, you’ll realize your cat is a dog again.”

cat and dog

Essentially saying – “This too shall pass”. Amen to that! Waiting eagerly for that day……

Not Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page & Brin, But Nora Roberts! (Or, the state of the Internet Of Things)

21 Jan

JDRobbIoT

I lead a very “must not do” lifestyle – I am retired from active corporate life; I snack on unhealthy junk almost everyday; I drink gallons of fattening beer every weekend; I don’t sleep all that much; and, most importantly, I read almost NO elevating/ informative/ educative stuff – all I read is some news on the web on technology, and LOTS of trashy fiction – specifically, romance and who-dun-it novels.

My current favorite author is Nora Roberts, maybe because she combines the above two genres really well! In reading avidly her futuristic cop thriller series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Robbs, I begin to see a strange similarity between her world of the 2050s and 60s; and what is going on in the Internet of Things/ Connected Device world.

Quick summary: the Internet of Things is essentially nothing but a world in which all devices are connected, and many of them are wearable on the human body, to enable use of the data generated in one place in order to predict actions in another! This means a world of tiny embedded “sensors” all over – on highways, in thermostat boxes, glasses, bras, beds, wind mills….you name it….that then allow seamless living!

Look at how some parallels exist between Robb’s world and the current endeavour of most of the technology world, with leaders being Zuckerberg, Bezos, Benioff, Musk and many many many other smaller/ niche players:

Virtual RealityCredit

1. Virtual Reality:
Arguably, one of the stars at this month’s CES was the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype with Spatial Audio feature. It seems to have excited people, specially VR enthusiasts all around, with the advancements it shows over previous versions. A look at some applications – driving simulations and Gaming excites even boring ole’ non-gamer me!

But hey, in the JD Robb world, VR and Holo videos are very much par for the course! Not only can you program VR headsets in the gym to give you the real experience of whichever setting you want, HoloRooms are like Star Trek Holo Decks and owned by the wealthy, and can be programmed for interactive vacations at the beach, street scenes for training in fighting techniques, or rescue missions, or jogging along a path, or dining in a mountain chalet, etc. HoloGlasses provide 3-D life-like scenarios, similar to the HoloRooms, but worn on the head. And, to me, the extreme use was very very evil! In the book I last read, “Fantasy in Death”, a gamer whizkid actually injected reality into virtual reality – and as a by product killed a couple people!

“Roarke took another sip of coffee – “Let me understand you. You are suggesting that a holographic image, which is essentially light and shadow, attempted murder and committed it…Neuro and nano-tech have advanced, and the images produced in holo programs act and react, according to that program. They appear 3D, appear to have substance. The player’s senses are involved and engaged……found a way to enhance wave front, increase the power stream of the light….to create a kind of current that is an electronic replication of the substance….that could, cut, slash, sever….or could replicate an impact where the currents could inflict the same damage as they have been programmed to inflict”


2. Customized Talking Billboards:

Talking billboards are now old hat. Even a lot of the motion/ temperature triggered ones. But, essentially in that they use sensors to activate a series of actions that could be customised depending on you/ your location/ your preferences, they are very I0T!

Then, ofcourse, google glass is (was) the ultimate in customized billboards in a way – plus much much more. Despite its lukewarm performance in this round, Google is sure to get it back with a bigger bang …soon!

And, in a J D Robb parallel, Eve Dallas, the main protagonist, is forever catching customised billboards looking down at her on her drives/ airlifts through crowded noisy New York streets:

When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens…over the street at thirty fourth….she..whirled…jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green…her oldest friend…

3. Robotics/ Artificial Intelligence:

From Super Mario’s latest AI induced self aware tricks, to Facebook’s intense use of AI, the world of AI is definitely here. (After all, what was Siri, but an early version of AI). In fact, this is becoming a controversial area, with recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk coming out in strong opposition of the potential evil fallouts of AI!

amazon drones Credit

Then there are drones, which have been used for military purposes (e.g. in Israel and Afghanistan) for a while, and infact are now being advanced, e.g. with mind controlling technologies. Amazon also created news a couple of years ago with their pilot of deliveries using drones (Amazon Prime Air).

In J.D. Robbs’ world, there are “Droids with human characteristics that can be programmed to cook, clean, man office desks, physically fight and wrestle, watch over children and the elderly, teach, bartend, waiters and waitresses and even be programmed for sex. There are also droid animals – dogs, cats and birds.”

“The droids were well represented as well- mechanical looking household and yard droids, cheap mini droids, and a number of the human replicas lined up like suspects….”This model’s top of the line. She’s designed to exactly replicate the character physically, and she has top-flight programming capabilities””

“They were droids..you couldn’t even smell them…she swung back, slamming her knees into the droid behind her…catching him by the ankles as he deployed the weapon….he didn’t buckle as a man would, but teetered back, arms pinwheeling for balance.”

Then there are AutoVehicles that can fly and zip around, but also be driven like normal cars and buses.

“Three cars ahead of her, two rapid cabs shot into vertical lift at the same time…airlifts hovered above, shooting out their streams of light…..”

nest-labs-google Credit

4. Home Automation

With Apple’s Smart Home project, Google’s Nest and the earlier versions of the IoT which almost always had a pre programmed refrigerator ordering eggs when you ran out, Home Automation was one of the earliest applications of the IoT. And, lets face it, its also the sexiest/ most widely adoptable one; hence catching consumer eye balls far more than windmills, gas meters and smart highways! (Marc Benioff had addresses the Dreamforce 2013 attendees with a case on his Philips toothbrush!) It is also the app where a lot of work is being done without suffering reverses (like the glass). Companies like Philips, Logitech, Nokia and many more are working flat out to address and dominate their respective inches of the home automation turf. This article is a nice look at the news on home automation.

At the centre of everything – most things consumer IoT atleast, is the ubiquitous smartphone – that device that most other devices link to, that very soon 1 in every 4 earthling will possess, that works as your personal friend, philosopher guide, but also has millions of app developers working day and night on, that you use to talk/ email/ measure sleep patterns/ order cabs/ check restaurants/ listen to music and watch movies…in short, everything…And now, the smart watch

Motorola-Moto-360-Smartwatch-5

Cut to Robbs. She has the AutoChefs that can deliver home-cooked meals and coffee.

“He walked to a large Autochef “What is it then – Pizza or Burger”….Took a large bubbling Pizza out…headed to the AutoChef, programmed coffee….He’d already programmed their meal in the recesed Autochef – I thought we’d have ham and eggs today”

The Drying Tube that senses your temperature requirements and then dries you up.
“…Like the warm, clean scented swirl of air in the drying tube…”

The biometric scanning device, that tells you where anybody in the house is (Roarke has programmed all answers to Eve such that it always starts with “Darling Eve!”, a fact that really irritates the heroine!

“Where is Roarke”?.. Welcome home, darling Eve!..As usual the recorded voice using that particular endearment had slivers of embarrassment pricking up her spine”

Links that are a modernized video cell phone that can hold and transfer data besides making calls – both audio and video; Memo Cubes that are modern, electronic Post-Its, without the sticky paper, Wrist Units that combine most functions!

“Nice wrist unit…“Serviceable.” Eve turned her wrist to admire the simple band, the flat, silver-toned face….“It‟s got a couple of nice features,” she added as she fiddled with it. “It‟s nice,” Peabody said again, then drew her beeping communicator out of her pocket. “Give me a sec, I . . . hey, it‟s you.” Mouth dropping, Peabody jerked her head up. “It‟s got a micro-com in it? That‟s pretty mag. Usually they‟re all fuzzy, but this is really clean.” “Nano-com. You know how the vehicle he rigged up for me looks ordinary?” “Ordinary leaning toward ugly,” Peabody corrected. “But nobody gives it a second look or knows that it‟s loaded, so . . . same deal?” Automatically Peabody dug out her ‟link when it signaled, then paused. “Is that you? It‟s got full communication capability? In a wrist unit that size?” “Not only that, it‟s got navigation, full data capabilities. Total data and communications—he programmed it with all my stuff. If I had to, I could access my files on it. Waterproof, shatterproof, voice-command capabilities. Gives me the ambient temp. Plus it tells time.”

IoT Security
5. Security:

This is clearly the foremost concern in the IoT! The WEF has gotten a report together recently advising caution! Top executives similarly feel that the biggest risk of the IoT is security!

But, this article shows that despite security concerns, IoT is definitely growing.

J.D. Robb has her own version of the security issues – all data devices are controlled by the federal mother computer – the CompuGuard. This is very big brother-ish, and supposedly can track everything going on in any computing device. (Ofcourse, Mr. Know-it-all, ex criminal, richest man in the world Roarke can get past the Compuguard – and often does, thus, often aiding Ms. Dallas in her investigations, much to her irritation!)

“Compuguard monitored all e-transmissions and programming on planet and off….I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”

J.D. Robb has a few other interesting gadgets strewn about her books – Skids are high-tech sneakers that can float above ground and there are skateboards that hover a few inches above ground instead of on wheels; Glide carts are moving food carts on the street; Credits, which are tokens used instead of coins…

At the end, a lot of it is illusory and advanced stuff – both in the IoT world, and the JDRobb one. As an example, the much touted wearables have abysmal penetration and even worse usage figures for consumer devices (at an average, all wearables get discarded after 6 months). This article is interesting too.

Having said that, there is no doubt that some if all all of this, is coming, and coming sooner than later! Most pundits say the world should focus on “real” applications with substantial impact – healthcare/ infrastructure/ utilities, rather than consumer products – but, if consumers didn’t show an interest, a lot of the glitter and shine wouldn’t be there!

In my opinion, the question is no longer – “will it come” but ‘when will it come”….Maybe, some of the companies in the arena should consider hiring Ms. Roberts as strategic advisor.

In the meanwhile, interested in reading some of the JDRobb books? Here’s where you can download some free – enjoy!

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