Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chicken: To be or not to be; Same question different answers.

Chicken: To be or not to be; Same question different answers.
Birla and Ambani dwell on L'Affaire Chicken!

The proverbial question "Why did the chicken cross the road ?" seems to be on top of mind for the head honchos of two of the leading business houses in India. Each one of them is also on most global lists of the rich and the powerful.

Kumar Mangalam Birla (Aditya Birla Group)  has decided to let the chicken cross the road and jump into the frying pan at cafeterias in his global establishments as he recounted in a commentary published in the McKinsey Quarterly (Butter Chicken at Birla)

On the other hand Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries) has decided to let the chickens roost as he backed out from a decision to launch chicken based products (Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Retail chickens out, stays vegetarian)

Looks like each one of them had their "Chicken Soup for the Soul" moment and came up with different conclusions.

Both, however I hope will stick to what another tycoon had said about the bird:

Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.
                         - Henry Ford

Monday, September 16, 2013

Leadership- Projecting Warmth....the socio-cultural perspective

The July/Aug 2013 Harvard Business Review lead article "Connect, Then Lead" focuses on the role of "warmth" in leadership.

They then talk about various ways of "projecting" warmth including body language cues.

My feedback to the authors on this Interesting article was " What I found missing was a juxtaposition with the socio-cultural context. In some cultures a firm handshake is a sign of confidence while in others it may be perceived as rudeness. Similarly maintaining eye contact may be a sign of straightforwardness and honesty in some cultures while it may be a sign of disrespect in others.

The over-generalization of body language cues as indicators of warmth vs. confidence can lead to disastrous consequences unless they are overlaid with the socio-cultural context. Also, these over-generalizations can help perpetuate stereotypes which can result in sub-optimal decision-making (e.g. people prefering tall people over short for elected positions in the US because of the perceived projection of strength and confidence)."

An abridged version of my observations alongwith the authors' response has been  published in the October 2013 print issue of the Harvard Business Review. 

HBR October 2013 Page 20

Monday, May 13, 2013

“Anekāntavāda” and Innovation

Is it a phone? A camera? A GPS device? A movie player? A book reader? A gaming device?  When thinking of smartphones the answer could be one of these, a combination thereof or all of them. It depends on the perspective of the user. The phone is the same with all the attributes it has but what it is perceived as depends on the user and the attributes which are significant for them or they are aware of.

This essentially is 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.

This has a bearing on all aspects of innovation where the breakthrough innovator or platform disruptor needs to exhibit the ability of  visualizing or grasping  all aspects and manifestations of a process or technology (the “elephant”) while all existing players have been caught up with the spears, snakes et al. This may well be the philosophical premise behind the – customers often don’t know what they want- quote attributed to Steve Jobs.

Also could be a precursor or corollary to what we are familiar of today as thinking out-of- the-box.

How can an Innovator develop the ability to see beyond what others are seeing? How can this approach be built into the innovation process as  a systemic and systematic component?

A potential solution lies in an integrated use of Anekāntavāda which encourages stepping back and seeing the big picture with two other related concepts from the same philosophical stream - syādvāda—the theory of conditioned predication and nayavāda—the theory of partial standpoints.

The theory of conditioned predication would require the innovation process to answer a series of seven questions which as an example  I am applying to the smartphone innovation I started the piece with:

  1. in some ways, it is  a phone, How? Why ?
  2. in some ways, it is not a phone, How? Why?
  3. in some ways, it is, and it is not phone, How? Why?
  4. in some ways, it is a phone, and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  5. in some ways, it is not a phone , and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  6. in some ways, it is a phone , it is not a phone, and it is indescribable, How? Why?
  7. in some ways, it is indescribable. How? Why?
Each of these seven propositions will help the innovator examine the complex and multifaceted nature of the innovation from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode enabling him/her to  see facets which can otherwise stay hidden.

The “indescribable” questions will help the innovator see beyond the current timeframe-  It may be indescribable now but what can it be described in the future. Could it be described as a payment transaction processing device, Voila, Square is born. Can it be described differently for different points of time – say night vs. day ? Voila, we get the flashlight feature for the phone.

If it is not a phone and is on my body can it measure my heartbeat or perhaps detect my mood or maybe detect how I react when I am served my coffee at a temperature I am not used to by a store which I frequent? What is it? What is it not? If yes, why? If not, why not?
Is it a guitar, No. Why not?......mmmmm sure it can be one, let’s build an app for it.

The theory of partial standpoints or viewpoints would then help to arrive at a certain inference from a point of view. A smartphone  has infinite aspects to it, but when we describe it in practice, we speak of only relevant aspects and ignore irrelevant ones. This does not mean it does not have other attributes, qualities, modes and other aspects; they are just irrelevant from a particular perspective. For example , when we talk of a "white iPhone" we are simply considering the color and make of the phone. However, the statement does not imply that the phone  does not have other attributes like volume, screen size, camera quality etc. This particular viewpoint – “white”  is  a partial viewpoint. Splitting up the attributes like this can enable the innovator to see the total picture part by part, functionality by functionality. This will help resolve design conflicts arising out of a confusion of standpoints since it clearly establishes where the standpoint is arising from.

There is nothing new with the precepts outlined here. They have been around for a few thousands of years and have generally just been viewed as philosophical doctrines. But as shown above they can very well still be leveraged to create breakthrough innovation in an organized, systematic way. Scholars have said “because anekāntavāda is designed to avoid one-sided errors, reconcile contradictory viewpoints, and accept the multiplicity and relativity of truth, the Jain philosophy is in a unique position to support dialogue and negotiations” which can very well be the cornerstone for a successful Innovation Process Framework.

Reference: Wikipedia: Anekantavada

Friday, April 19, 2013

“Big Bang” vs. Evolutionary – Same Disruptions, Different Viewpoint.

Check out the May 2013 print edition of the Harvard Business Review. Some of my thoughts are carried in the "Interaction" section on Pg 21.

A more detailed version of what my thoughts on the issue are:

“Big Bang” vs. Evolutionary – Same Disruptions, Different Viewpoint.

Apropos of Big-Bang Disruption (March 2013) by Larry Downes and Paul F. Nunes (Harvard Business Review, March 2013), while I agree with the general premise of the potential cataclysmic effects of Disruptions, I disagree with the authors’ premise that “You can't see big-bang disruption coming (until it's too late).You can't stop it. You can't overcome it."

The authors have highlighted several Big Bang Disruptions in the article, however almost all leverage a single platform : the Smartphone. The disruptors in my opinion are not the parking app or GPS app or payment app but the open, adaptive, secure platform called Smartphone (what I will call a “Platform Disruptor”) which has made all the other disruptors possible.

This may have a bearing on how established players react to and prepare for disruptions. They need to be on the lookout for such "Platform Disruptors" and run some What-if scenarios even if their own product/service does not appear to be directly impacted by the disruptor. e.g. say medical device manufacturers with such an analysis can figure out potential disruptions that may arise in their area due to potential remote medicine, monitoring body functions, medical database storage etc. capabilities of smartphones.

Will they be figure out all the possible disruptions, perhaps not but they would definitely be in a better shape than if they do not do the exercise at all.

Also, the Platform Disruptions are generally evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Smartphones, Big Data, Automobiles etc. none appeared in a Big Bang. Some of the downstream disruptors which these “Platform Disruptors” spawned may appear to emerge in a Big Bang. The pace of these Platform Disruption evolution is slow enough to be monitored by and reacted to by established players. But unfortunately by focusing on the downstream disruptors and failing to recognize these Platform Disruptors, companies are missing the woods for the trees.

And organizations do react knowingly or unknowingly to these Evolutionary Platform Disruptions. Case in point is how, many universities have reacted to the evolution of online distance education by making more of their own content available on the same platform. This way they have got co-opted into the evolution process and would not have to react to it ala Big Bang disruptors the articles' authors indicated.

So this one will be one disruption which will not be a Big Bang Disruption for them.

I would hypothesize that most 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 bus and prepare for it can run alongside it a bit and then board it ; guys who are oblivious will be "hit by a bus".

So that’s why I view most disruptions as evolutionary rather than Big Bang and recommend that organizations prepare for them that way. For each of the companies that have been highlighted as being affected by the Big Bang disruption there will be countless others who would have thrived from the same disruption.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Power of the Magic Words: Please, Sorry and Thank the Corporate World!

As I read "The Two Most Important Words" by Robert A. Eckert, ex-Chairman &CEO of Mattel Inc in the April 2013 issue of The Harvard Business Review, I could not but help break out in verse (well if you can call limericks as verse) adding a couple of my own words to the mix of wonder words that are essential for success:

Thank You!......Please and Sorry!

Thank you to the employees and all other stakeholders
should be an easy trait everyone engenders
but surprisingly its often forgotten
in the mad rush for getting things "done" 
when in fact it can work wonders.

How about adding "please" and "sorry" to the mix
gifts from grandma's bag of tricks
modern day management can sound complicated
when in fact the reality has been distorted
After all the foundation is in basic human values and ethics.

Monday, April 8, 2013

No shortcuts to getting to the College of your dreams!

Suzy Lee Weiss very rightly mentioned "sour grapes" in the beginning line of her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece "To (All) the colleges that rejected me". (WSJ, March 29, 2013)

Other than that I was able to make no sense of the article albeit getting a whiff of the smug sense of entitlement which seems to pervade many of our youth - I am lazy, I am not smart, I do not have any goals for my life, I do not care for what rest of the world is doing; yet I deserve a place in the college of "my dreams". Just because "I am being me"

My advice to Suzy- either set her dreams appropriately or else do what rest of the world does, dream big but work hard to achieve those dreams.

Or perhaps, Suzy will have the last laugh as this piece as a college essay might yet open the doors of the college she is interested in, for her. And the irony that many who consider her rant justified will totally balk if the same logic were to be applied for sports related admissions at colleges - I like the game, don't play it well, so what, get me on the team!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Increasing the "meaning quotient" of work - Who tells who? Boss or Employee

McKinsey Quarterly in this article expounds that through a few simple techniques, executives can boost workplace “Meaning Quotient” and inspire employees to perform at their peak. I believe that the reverse also holds true - many a time it is the CXO who has lost the "meaning" and needs to be guided or prodded to figure out the true meaning of his/her corporate existence.

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