Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is Your Business Ready For The Self-Driving Car ?

In my comments published in the Harvard Business Review last year I had opined that failure to recognize platform disrupters (like the self-driving car) can be very detrimental to corporate health and existence.
However, most such Disruptions can be prevented from having a Big Bang effect by smart companies by:

- early identification of emerging trends

- what-if /SWOT analysis to identify impact on existing business

- identify opportunities to leverage the emerging trend

- get "co-opted" into the evolution process

- ride the evolutionary wave and reap the benefits.

Companies which do not do so will feel the impact of what was actually an evolutionary process as if it was a "Big Bang". Guys who see an oncoming "self-driving car' and prepare for it can run alongside it a bit and then board it ; guys who are oblivious will be "hit by a self-driving car". (with due apologies to the proverbial "bus")
So has your company started to think about self-driving cars and their likely impact on your business?
Google's motivation to be in this business may be to make more time available to individuals for web browsing (you gotta do something when you are not driving!); but a little bit of crystal ball gazing can see lots of potential downstream disruptive effects on other businesses:
- Drive thru's and Drive Thru Foods (KFC, Burger King et al): Service could be from either side of the car. Food packaging and portions, even the kinds of food available can change since the individual can focus on eating not driving and eating.
- Pepsi, Coke, Media et al: How can we get a share of the time made free from driving available to us. Can we make the "non-driver" drink more of our soda? eat more of our munchies? watch our t.v. show?
- Corporate: Can we productively engage people in our office work while they are non-driving to work? What tools/gizmos can support that?
- Electronics, Accessories: What do we get into the design pipeline to be available as ready to market products when the "self-drivong car" hits us.
Moral of the Story: The Self-Driving Car is coming. Its not as far as you think. And no, it is not likely that you will not be impacted. Better start preparing for it. The early birds will get all the worms. Others will be history.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ultimate Marketing Machine: Ruled by the Head or the Heart?

Caveat Emptor: I am a Big Data/BI/Analytics guy with a Marketing background.
I shudder a bit though when I hear the hype equating Big Data/Analytics Driven Marketing to the Marketer's Magic Wand. A Magic Wand which will bundle up hitherto unidentified customers and deliver them at your doorsteps in neatly labeled packets.
As Marketing increasingly focuses on its "head" (using Big Data and Analytics), there is a danger that it will lose touch with its "heart". The pendulum can swing too far in one direction!
While finding the Right Customer at the Right Time is very important and Big Data/Analytics can help with that, even more important is making the Right Emotional Connection with the Right Customer at the Right Time. So creating the Right Message, Brand Identity et al will continue to be key attributes of Marketing even in 2020 and beyond.
A brand which tugs at my purse-strings will surely get my attention but one which tugs at my heart-strings will be a steady partner.
Successful Marketing Leaders create the right mix and balance of head and heart in their teams. That has been the secret sauce of successful Marketers in the past and will continue to be in the future...2020 and Beyond!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Contextual Intelligence: A conversation with Prof. Tarun Khanna, Harvard Business School

I recently had an interesting online conversation with Prof. Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and director of Harvard University's South Asia Institute. This was with reference to his September 2014 Harvard Business Review article : Contextual Intelligence

The author has opined about how intelligence - including market and business related can be contextual (he spoke about it being influenced by the country of operation) and how new technologies developed elsewhere (beyond the "context") are slow to diffuse. I had a slightly differing view and we had a great dialogue.
    • Avatar
      Interesting article. I found the title "Contextual Intelligence" to be somewhat of an oxymoron. Isn't all intelligence contextual? If not, then it is not intelligence but stupidity.
      The author has limited the context to countries in a global context but in real life the concept is infinitely extensible even from a business/marketing perspective - regions within countries, cities within regions, localities within cities and so on. One size/shape does not fit all. Most successful corporations/businesses have allowed variations in their "uniform" strategies to support/leverage these contextual nuances.
      I am surprised by the assertion : "Robust research shows that countries take decades, on average, to adopt new technologies invented elsewhere." I would think the underlying research even if robust is likely to be outdated. Cellphones are just the tip of the iceberg as far as disruptive technologies which have exhibited explosive growth and acceptance much beyond the shores where they were invented. That seems to be the norm rather than the exception for most modern technologies. I was surprised to see a newspaper image from India showing a cop readying a drone to go airborne to monitor a riot when similar use of that technology is still being debated in the US. I also hear about drones being used to photograph weddings and cultural events in India. Just an example of how the absence of rules or legislation in some cases helps the proliferation of a new technology rather than hinder it.
      I would like the author to revisit some of his assertions in light of emerging trends from within the last decade (given the fast pace of change even a decade could be too long a horizon) rather than basing it on research from an earlier time-frame.
        • Avatar
          hi Deepak
          thanks for this. on the first point, i couldn't agree more; country is merely a (n imperfect) proxy for context. finer-grained geographic subdivisions, social communities, differing industry contexts, might all be relevant proxies for context in the sense of this article.
          On the speed of diffusion, the assertion is a large sample, statistical one, spanning multiple decades and multiple countries and multiple technologies (for example, as analyzed rigorously by the econometrician Diego Comin at Dartmouth in recent years). No one disputes that cellphones diffuse fast, as do other easy-to-spot technologies, but there are numerous others (again, over past decades) whose diffusion has been super-slow.
          ultimately though its an empirical point. you might be proven right that diffusion has sped up (when someone analyzes it rigorously) and will continue to do so. never say never, i say to myself! :)
            • Avatar
              Thanks Tarun! Appreciate the feedback.
              Contextual Intelligence reminds me of the premise of the ancient Indian Jain doctrine of “Anekāntavāda” – doctrine of non-absolutism or non-one sidedness or non-exclusivity . A classical elaboration of the doctrine has been the parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant where each man depending on where they touched the elephant described it as a spear (tusk), snake (trunk), wall (side), fan (ear), rope (tail) and tree (leg), with none of them able to visualize the animal itself.
              Similarly depending on the context ("country") the same elephant ("cement industry") may have many different manifestations - highly efficient/inefficient , consolidated/ fragmented etc. Maybe a stretch of the logic but that's what I was reminded of.

          Wednesday, July 9, 2014

          5 Leadership Lessons from the Brazilian Meltdown

          Germany 7: Brazil 1 (FIFA World Cup Semi Final 1)

          1.The Game Is Not Over Till It Is Over: Play till the End.

          While the Germans even after building an unassailable lead of 7-0 were playing as if the game was to last another 90 minutes; the Brazilians had essentially given up after the first few goals were scored against them.
          Turnarounds are possible in any game.......and in business and life.
          For a successful leader the zeal to recover from losses, regroup and fight till the end with an indomitable spirit needs to exist at all times.

          2. All for One, One for All: No First Among Equals.

          Over-hyping the contributions of some players like Neymar and Thiago Silva made the team mentally over-dependent on them resulting in a situation where the team was psychologically undermined when these players were not available to play in the final game.
          A successful leader needs to acknowledge and recognize key contributors but not at the cost of undermining the efficiency and efficacy of the entire team. No one is indispensable and the game need to go on even if some key players are missing should be the mantra.

          3. Manage Expectations.

          The Brazilian Coach had done nothing to temper the unrealistic expectations that had been created for the home team. The weight of the nation’s expectations was like an albatross around the team-member’s necks. Contrast this with the approach taken by the US coach who had right at the outset of the tournament stated that there was no chance of his team winning (much to the chagrin of US sports-media pundits). However, as a result every win of the US team was a bonus for the fans.
          A successful leader needs to manage the expectations of the stakeholders, ground them in reality and also shield the team from the unreasonableness.

          4. Be Flexible, Creative and Responsive: You are only as good as your Plan B.

          The Brazilian team failed to respond flexibly and creatively to the German onslaught. They seemed to be caught in a warped game-plan and were not able to modify it once they saw it unraveling.
          Successful leaders war-game different scenarios and the options to switch between them. Even if the real life scenario may turn out to be different, the practiced ability to switch between scenarios will come in handy. Very rarely will a one trick pony come out on top.

          5. Stay Calm, Stay Focused and Execute.

          Unfortunately the game played out to the stereotypical “Emotional Brazilian” vs. “Methodical German”.
          I am not sure wearing ones emotions on one’s sleeves is the best approach for high stress scenarios. One may ascribe the display of emotions to socio-cultural reasons but there is something to be said about staying focused and keeping the emotions bottled up till after the game when they can be all let out.
          Successful leaders have the ability to channelize their teams emotions – anger, sadness, joy towards achieving the goal at hand rather than wasting that energy on unproductive displays.

          Tuesday, July 8, 2014

          Cars, Car Dealers and Service

          First published as a web-essay in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

          One thing even a child would know about, even before they learn about U.S. presidents, is the names of the owners of car dealerships in the area. Their presence is ubiquitous on billboards, television advertisements, radio jingles, newspaper inserts. Name a media outlet and you'll find them there — the loud guy, the father-daughter duo, the family of color, the animal lover, etc., etc.
          Their very presence is supposed to be an indication of their willingness to stand behind the product and their store, per se. A reassurance to the customer that they are not dealing with a faceless impersonal behemoth which a large auto company can be; but with the owners' smiling charm.
          Is this for real? Or is this veneer of personal touch just there to lull us into a false sense of complacence? My car was in a dealership recently and I was appalled by the poor service. I thought I would reach out to the "friendly" owners whose names grace the dealership and whose faces smile at me from countless hoardings. A request for the email address or phone number of the owner was greeted by a surprised silence. The person on the phone reacted as if she had just come across an extraterrestrial. Well, the least I had expected was that a ghost email or phone would have been set up for the owners, so that requests such as this could be passed along to them or their minions for addressing. Looks like customer service, like beauty, is just skin deep.
          For my next car I will look for the owner who is willing to place his direct email or phone number where his/her mugshot is. You may not answer in person but at least I will have the reassurance that you care enough to be reachable (if only through your staff).
          If not, you're just a pretty face which has no bearing on where I buy my car or get it serviced. And I'll be another one joining the clamor to allow new cars to be sold on the Internet like almost everything else. A distant behemoth is as good as a near but unreachable owner.

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