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Size Matters? How Does App-Only Fit In?

17 Jul

Appified

Last week, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with posts like these:

– As an inveterate online shopper, (can’t remember the last time I bought at a physical store/grocer/mall) I am appalled to read Flipkart will soon go mobile-only. I don’t care what their analytics team says. To browse/drool/look/re-look on a teeny 3*5 screen….yikes! How terrible the experience is likely to be!

And a sample of some comments:
– …did you order that from the cell phone? I did try ordering from the cell phone and gave up half way.

– …Agree totally. Refuse to shop on the mobile:)

– …Totally agree – no matter how good the mobile app is, I can’t imagine peering at stuff on my phone screen and trying to figure what to buy

– …Interesting . ..have they done their research right with the correct tg?

– …The experience is beat when I use all my senses to see, hear, touch, feel, taste and smell the physical product. Even with books, I love to browse through every chapter before buying. Perhaps you may call me old-fashioned and not abreast with the times.

Here’s another one:

First Myntra, now flipkart! I am not ‘appy

With its comments:
– …I think they are moving way too early. It will be a while before the phone replaces the desktop in terms of Internet surfing. Myntra already recorded drop in sales after they moved. Not sure how it will end up for Flipkart.

– …Agreed …while I use the phone for a bunch of apps, I still like the exp of sitting on my desktop / laptop to shop.

– …Ha,, ha They are making sure that users land up with nice neck, shoulder, hand pain… they should soon start another division for treating their loyal users!! why is it that human factors are not considered with technology advancement?

Then my husband, who was tracking a gift order I had placed on Amazon, told me – It’s been despatched. When I said – where from? Bangalore or Delhi? He said, just a minute – lemme check on my laptop 🙂

Not only normal people, but “experts” are debating this – HuffPost carried an article on why this move could be a potential disaster for Flipkart; while of course other folks are hailing this move as a harbinger of an app-only economy in the fastest growing app market in the world!

myntraflipkartapponly

This move should make folks like my friend Debjani, whose company zineone has bet completely on a mobile ready world, and who makes very cool app support software for enterprises, happy and vindicated.

But clearly, many many people (users) are not.

The big reason really seems to boil down to size! Tablets/ Phablets notwithstanding, it IS so much better to see a 14 or even 11 inch screen than a smaller one. The whole experience changes significantly! Scale, in all its manifestations, we all know the benefits of – economies; distribution synergies; skill specialization enablement; technology consolidation; etc etc…infact, even in the new digital/ e-comm & m-comm economy, we are seeing actions and transactions that reflect the desirability of scale and size – you see companies consolidating, take overs and buy outs – which will eventually I’m sure result in a shakedown.

Other Side of the Coin?: You know, it’s interesting, that I actually started writing this post (with the same first part of the headline) a few weeks ago – and at that time, it was going to be an “anti-size” post!

What prompted it was I guess the time of the year – it’s back to school time, and most people my age have kids leaving home to go to college for the first time – parents thus facing shrunk households. This always, but always, leaves my tummy churning, with a dreadful sinking feeling – I just vicariously go through the whole empty nest thing, and badly so (I still thankfully hv a few years before this hits me – one of the few advantages of a late marriage). And the thought came to me – looking at all these large 5000 sq ft houses, what are two old people (and in some cases, a dog) going to do, rattling away in these houses? Maybe they should de-size/ de-clutter/ scale down!

Achu

It also struck me, when after visiting a friend’s lovely spanking new, set in a 1 acre plot house, built in the beautiful traditional Kerala style, with a drool worthy Prof Higgins like library, my husband told me – hey, let’s buy a plot there. And it struck me, there’s really no end to this – bigger house, bigger car, bigger salary, bigger bank balance, (and bigger tummy to go with it!); and, actually, rather than buy a plot there – I did kind of anti-action – convinced my husband to sell off one of our (bigger) cars. So, we learn to survive with just the one (we’re managing fine btw, the Ubers and Olas have made life so much easier)

See, one gets faced with it actually even in business – after expanding the no. of items on offer, a retailer almost always goes through a phase of SKU rationalizing; large companies, after many M&As, get down to downsizing; many larger size packages of consumables start getting sold in smaller and smaller “trial packages” (sachets being of course the Indian success story to aid purchase in a low Per Capita Income society.) It is no secret that none of the Big Pharma actually now have a super cool pipeline, it’s the smaller boutique Biotech and Pharma companies that are doing all the meaningful research to bring potentially blockbuster drugs to market.

Incidentally, even downsizing is not easy. Read this interesting POV on retail store resizing problems.

Dino Extinction

It is said that Dinosaurs went extinct because their bodies scaled up disproportionately as compared to their brains; (and it is said that human beings will become extinct because our brains will become too big as compared to our bodies!)

So maybe it is a circle of life thing. One is small, then wants to become bigger, so expands. When one is too big, one has to reverse direction and cut down. Anti Size! ….One is single, then gets married, then has kids, then the kids fly the nest and you hunker down…anti size! 😦 ….Company gets many quarters of growth, starts becoming bigger, acquires diverse competencies, then…realizes is becoming inefficient, so, downsizes…anti size!

So, which is it to be? Big or Small? Website or App Only? Scale or Anti Size? Laptop or Phablet?

While you ponder this, I think that the defining “default” answer on “size matters” can be found in the Friends episode below. Enjoy 🙂

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What’s Common Between A Broken Down Road and Greece! (Or, The Art of Patchwork)

6 Jul

root cause

I’m deeply disturbed (and have been for a while).

This picture shows a scenario I pass daily on my way to and from home – I live in one of the so called posh residential areas with million dollar homes placed at the end of a sparkling new SEZ area – with many MNCs occupying the glass steel and chrome structures. This commercial complex has made the road to home much more cluttered, and in fact dangerous of late, with serious bottlenecks at peak times of traffic. At the entrance to one of the complexes, there are atleast 10 security men placed – to direct the office cab traffic vis a vis the road traffic better.

However, the road has some disrupted tiles – which have been disrupted for over two months now. And, guess what, the builder/ the municipality, or even the posh MNCs, instead of trying to get that piece of road repaired, have cordoned off that bit, and everyone drives around….thus further bottlenecking that piece of cluttered road.

Classic case of treating symptom but not root!!

We are very often guilty of this – in personal as well as professional lives. Not only that, one sees examples in macro economics and corporate scenarios!

Infact, the reason I wrote this piece today is that I was reminded of my dad – who had a temporary lack of vision a few years ago – he couldn’t see with one eye for some 3 – 4 hours suddenly. We took him to an eye specialist, who looked at the eye, and said it would be OK soon. My dad did recover vision by the end of the day. But a few months later, we discovered that he had developed a condition called CRVO – basically an irreversible blood clot in the ocular veins, which made him lose vision in that eye permanently. If only the doctor at the first instance had told us to get a heart check, or a BP check when we went to him, this cd maybe have ben avoided (as one of the reasons for CRVO is spikes in BP)!

Greek Debt Crisis Credit

Look at Greece. It’s currently in deep trouble. And simplistically, basically, despite many years of trouble, the Greeks did not improve public finance their core financial fundamentals – they tried to work with IMF and the World Bank on short term measures. Unfortunately, that’s not how an economy revives! Hence, Greece faces bankruptcy, and global stock markets are bearish!

Interestingly, India currently is doing kind of the same thing – the finance ministry is saying that RBI should reduce interest rates in order to increase growth. This is patchwork again! A very different scenario, in contrast, was India in the 1990s, when, faced by a severe BOP crisis, we created created structural fiduciary reforms (trade and industrial policy; and exchange rate and interest rate liberalization), thus enabling a big growth spurt due to creation almost of a new industry – the Outsourcing/ IT and ITES one!

Make-in-india Credit

Look at even the famous Make In India Campaign – it’s a very positive moniker, and a superior PR exercise (and to give our Prime Minister credit, he has been doing a great job of communicating it globally). But again, unless we change ground realities — the root of the problem rather than just the symptom, it’s going to remain just that – a PR exercise! So, think improving ease of doing business in India – we are talking fundamental changes in G2B and G2C processes – easy registrations, simpler statutory processes…the works!

Software engineers suffer this all the time – legacy software, bugs on bugs, patches on patches — the management question becomes – when do I trash this, and start fresh code? How long do I keep fixing it? Obviously, the economics of the situation are complex, but sometimes, its just better to re-start from scratch!

My wanting-to-be-cordon-bleu-chef daughter the other day learnt a hard lesson! She baked a cake – it got burnt! She did a superior rescue job actually with fancy icing, but, the damn cake was , truly burnt! Since she didn’t fix the root cause (in this case the only way to have done it was throw away the burnt cake and start afresh!), she suffered!

Patchwork

I must admit, I’ve used patchwork myself – I think the important skill is to determine, when, and to what extent, is treating symptom OK, and when you have to dig and find out what’s wrong!

In our start up, when we were trying to get the ISO certification, and the audits turned up “issues”, the common term was “CAPA” (corrective and preventive action) – a really good concept, as you undertook root cause analysis for any deviation from compliance, and then figured out a short term fix, or corrective action; and a real diagnostic long term fix – or the preventive action. That’s the approach we need!

So, to circle back to what’s disturbing me deeply — maybe I need to get up a citizen’s (or children’s) action group, and just lay some tiles on that patch of cordoned off road one saturday, a bit like the great work The Ugly Indian is doing!

And, Greece, maybe you deserve what happened to you – I tried to visit you some 5 years ago. I would have spent many dollars with you – I had arranged my leave, tickets, stay, baby sitting for my kids, and….you didn’t give me a visa! Poetic Justice?? After all, Hell hath no fury…

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

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……

How opposites attract, or, what makes a successful partnership

12 Jan

Two interesting things happened to/ around me this year-end: a) My husband turned 50 (we had a lovely celebration with family and friends). b) I completed two years of retired life.

Got me thinking even more about something that has been occupying my mind lately – which is, what makes good partnerships work.

A few facts:
1. My husband and I are the quintessential Venus and Mars couple.
– He wakes up early, I sleep late.
– He likes to always have the last word in an argument, even is it is pointless; I abandon an argument after a point – either because I believe everyone is entitled to one’s opinion, and it’s better to agree to disagree; or, because while I dont agree, I think this is a never ending exercise and keep my smug self satisfied feeling inside me…
– I like to sing, he is stone deaf; and therefore ….
– He likes the lyrics in songs, I like the drumming, the guitaring and the melody
– He is an amazing cook, my kids eat food cooked by me under duress
– He drinks whisky, I adore beer; he doesn’t touch sweets, I could make a meal out of them
– He reads financial thrillers and political satires, my favourite stuff is trashy romance; he likes blood and gore in movies, I am a hard core romcom addict
– He loves to network physically, I pride myself on maintaining steady email with …some people….some of the time…okay, steady-ish……..
– He is the financial wizkid and therefore manages all household finances – yes, even files my taxes; I plan all household schedules etc, ….we cd go on and on.
(This ofcourse may just be called efficient division of labour…but still…the fact is…chalk and cheese)

2. In a partnership of four in our startup, we had
– One alpha female, the driver of the enterprise, the one who always had the highest ambitions, who was most ruthless at delegation, the best seller, the face to the market
– Then there was the manager par excellence, the process person, the task oriented champion chaser-up who excelled at any job thrown at her at the right time and with precision perfection, the creative personna;
– There was the maverick trouble shooter brain of the enterprise, Mr. Client Man, always bending over backwards to please the client – and actually anyone who browbeat him,
– And then there was me – maybe exact fourth quadrant locus to all 3 above.
(Read here for an earlier view on the magic of co-founders for a start-up.
(this ofcourse may just be called efficient core competency matching, but still…the fact is…chalk and cheese)

So, what emerges? The sheer contrast of the elements of the partnership.

And that is what today’s blog is about!

One look all around you, and you see contrast everywhere!

Nature abounds with contrast –
– Everyone with atleast 2 children will tell you they are 180 degrees different always! One is the athlete, the other is the dreamer; one the carnivore, the other the vegetarian; one the sledge hammer the other the sensitive introvert (ofcourse in this matter opposites do NOT always attract)…for that matter what is the generation gap between parent and child but a study in contrasts?

symbiosis Credit
– Symbiosis is the phenomenon of persistent biological interactions (most often mutualism) between different species, that is seen in clownfish with anemones, lichens with tress and many other organisms

magnetism1 Credit
– It is common knowledge that opposite poles in a magnet attract, and like repel. This fact actually gives rise to many natural and anthropogenic phenomena – including, as an example, digital music that revolutionized consumption! of music

– Good story telling always means a good side and a bad side – if there is a Ram, there is a Ravan; a Harry has a Voldemort; Dorothy has Elfaba, Mufasa has Scar….and on and on….This article from Huff Post about storytelling using opposites is a good read on this

– And ofcourse, every good (or at least worthwhile) partnership has elements of “venus and mars”. Whether it is sparky temperamental brilliance vs. plodding dilligence (Sherlock and Watson/ Poirot and Hastings); or master strategist vs. executor (Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya); or a typical good cop- bad cop routine followed everywhere and all the time in the world when negotiating/ interviewing/ dealing!

This feature becomes especially important when one is running something together – that partnership – one of co-founders at a start-up I sometimes feel is better/ worse/ deeper/ stronger whatever – than most marriages or sibling-hood!
This Article on some successful entrepreneurs and why their partnerships work makes for a good read on this…

The video below shows the different types of partners one chooses and why:

Dr. Helen Fisher talks about 4 personality types in men, and how figuring out which type you are informs the partner best suited for you. She talked about four brain systems that are linked to personality (not intelligence, but temperament):

1. Estrogen (pro-social/empathetic), “The Negotiator” – sees big picture, great verbal skills, imaginative and great people skills. These men often choose Testosterone types to be attracted to.

2. Testosterone (analytical/tough minded) “The Director” – analytical, logical, direct, decisive, tough-minded, good at math, computers, mechanics. These men go for their opposite — such as the high-estrogen type who is more big picture.

3. Serotonin (cautious/social norm compliant) “The Builders” – orderly, respect authority, traditional, conventional, conscientious, cautious and social. These men go for women like themselves who are also traditional.

4. Dopamine (curious/energetic) “The Explorers” – risk-taking, novelty seeking, optimistic, restless, spontaneously generous, creative, quite liberal and flexible. These men gravitate to women who are just like them, they want women who are also Explorers.

So the questions that arise are:
– Is it true? If “opposites attract”, then how do “birds of a feather flock together?”
– Does it need complete opposites to make a relationship work?
– What does it take to build success when partners are alike? Is it more work? Less?
– In case therefore one is in a partnership with “similar” people, does one of them have to change? Should the ego centric dominate the other?
– Why is it that there is only one “alpha male” in a pride of lions amongst many mates, and why don’t those mates kill each other?

Of course, as with any theory, there are many ‘counter theories” to this one too, and ofcourse anecdotally you and me could enumerate many instances to disprove the one above. One such article on opposites not really attracting is worth reading. And this article apparently gives advice about similarity being good for longevity in marriage.

I guess the answer really lies in – where do similarities lie, and where the differences. In basics/ broad moral/ ethical/ philosophical/ business values, it is probably good to have general agreement – and then if operational/ executional values and styles differs, it actually works better. (At least saves one from getting bored – so, differences makes for interest, but similarity for the glue in the relationship)

Having said that, I would think one has to WORK at every relationship – establish dos and don’ts, strengths and weaknesses, and embrace the difference while being secure in the similarities.

Which really means, if I were to shift the lens around on Manoj and me,

– (He wakes up early, I sleep late) – He can get the kids to school while I can help them revise for their exams
– (He likes to always have the last word in an argument…..) – While there aren’t continuous arguments in our house, atleast there are no fights!
– (I like to sing, he is stone deaf) – I get an audience when I do sing
– (He likes the lyrics in songs, i like the melody) – We both like music
– (He is an amazing cook….) – We are all foodies, and Thank Gawwwd, we get fed gourmet food often!
– (He drinks whisky, I adore beer) – We both like our drinks!
– (He reads financial thrillers and political satires…) – We both like books and movies, just different genres
– (He loves to network physically, ……..) – We are both ‘people” people!
– (He is the financial wizkid) …Our household runs smoothly, with no interference from non core folks 🙂

What say? I think I’ll end by showing you this lovely story of opposites staying together