Friday, December 16, 2016

Of Groupthink and Biscuits

It was yet another meeting in a 'star' hotel that prompted this post. The usual meetings punctuated by a tea break in the morning and a tea break in the evening with a lunch in between.

Leave the lunch and the meetings and the tea and the coffee and rooms aside.

What I have not been able to wrap my head around is why do hotels in this day and age of health consciousness offer 'cookies' that are just maida and sugar bombs? Why not offer healthier alternatives? Some carrot sticks and hummus? Or some wheat khakras? Or even just off the shelf crackers and biscuits that have no zero maida? There are quite a few healthier options available in the market, so what prevents them from trying out any of them? Peanuts?

Maybe, well, maybe, some customers insist that they will eat these maida biscuits, but surely, there are others who would perhaps, like a choice? But no. In the last 20 years, I have not seen a single hotel anywhere in the country buck this trend. Not the newer hotels named after colours, fruits, animals, vegetables. Not the older grand ones. Not the famous palatial ones. Not one single hotel has found it worth breaking this trend.Why?

Why is that so? Is it Groupthink? Or is it margins? Or is it because enough customers don't tell them that they hate these health hazards masquerading as cookies? Or because nobody really cares?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A story of 7 books

As part of preparing for an assignment, I decided to read a set of books across diverse businesses. The logic being, reading just one set of business or industry or country or timeframe gives a skewed perspective. But, if one has to get a larger perspective, it is better to look at it from an even larger perspective.

My initial idea was to pick a set of historical industries - the industries which were set up in India during independence. While I did read these books in the library, I found it difficult to get these books.

 I settled for a range of books across Indias traditional business community - Baniyas, Haldirams, Honda, Indias retail boom, Chinas ecom boom, Indias cooperative sector and a US company that made a name in sports. Many of them were start ups, while there were a couple which were far more established. Some stuck to their core competency, some had no core competency. Some found their core competence.

What was interesting that it all had common factors - quite obvious, one may think. But to think that across time, across culture, across countries, industry and business, there were such distinct common factors was an a-ha moment for me. I suppose we know this instinctively...

Maybe I will soon read a set of companies that failed and find answers exactly the opposite to this.

More on this soon...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bhujia Barons

Bhujia Barons is a book on the Haldirams story. Haldirams is among the foremost name in Indian friend snacks and has made a name for itself in the past few years. Prior to Haldirams, there were no major nationwide 'namkeen' brands in India - and it was mostly serviced by local small businesses.

Perhaps it is timing or their marketing astuteness they were ready when the Indian supermarket boom happened. It is not that they were the first snacks in the market, but they have created a category for themselves and are a leader of the snacks market in India. And their entry and success have prompted many a small and big player into the traditional snack market in India. They created a market which not many people realised existed - right under their noses.

What I liked about the story was, about the founder was just one of the snack makers in Bikaner - a place which, now, like then was a place for traditional namkeens. The story of many other namkeen makers would not have been very different. The market was an undifferentiated market - with every shop like every other shop - give or take a few.

It was the risk taking ability of one such person - their ability to start with a small differentiation - and then build on it over time - sustain the advantage - take risk - dont rest on laurels and so on.

The story is worth reading just to know how they got there - and it was not an easy journey for them - even without the family troubles they went through.

The book slacks at certain points and the narrative does flag with what I thought were unimportant points, but overall it still holds as a good story to be read.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ted Ed

Give the kids the internet and they will click on anything that is not connected to education. That in a nutshell is how kids are.

Games are good, but puzzle games? No. Math game? No. Something that remotely resembles education? No.

Ditto when it comes to videos. Mr Bean? Yes. Random junk cartoon? Yes.  Mindless advertisement? Yes.

You get the picture?

So when the little one was given a link to Ted Ed, I was not very optimistic. He had not liked Khan academy, so I was sure this will go the same route.

Somehow, Ted Ed caught his fascination. And for now, he has junked youtube and random games. Even if his interest dies down in the interim, it is good that he has this at the back of his mind and he will switch to it (as he often switches to his favourite people on youtube who have taught him, among other things, origami, lego and other experiments. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sale, sale, sale, sale, sale...everyday is a sale

I am sure, you, like me, are a member of a few ecommerce sites. Most of whom have all your personal data (but you don't know it yet). Be that as it may, for the present, they have your mail id and phone number.

And if you are still among the hapless people who use the same email for registering with the ecomm sites and your work/regular email - your mailbox will be under sever duress by now.

Ditto with SMS. Almost all of human communication has moved away from SMS - leaving the SMS to the bots.

And what do we get in these SMSs and mails?

Sale. Sale. Sale. Everyday there is a sale.

Either there is sale of specs (the last time I bought a specs it was when my doctor recommended a change for me, not when there is a sale).

Or there is a sale of donuts (yes, make statins miles free with them please, that may tempt me a few decades later).

Or there is a half price sale of lingerie. Or apparel. Or electronics. Either it is Diwali. Or a Zillion Zollar Zale. Or the last 3 days of some sale.

Net net, every day there is some sale or other. Each of them wants to use my impulse to buy with a promise of low price like there is no tomorrow. And we all know that there will be always be another sale, like the proverbial next bus.

While these notifications spam my inbox and I see them only when I delete them, the question I have on this is; Are these periodic sales the only way to boost sales? That too on every site? Is there no other way at all? I mean, specs to donuts to potted plants to jewellery?

PS: When you walk around in Bangalore - at many places you will see a shack put up with the board - Bombay sale, Furniture sale, Books-by-the-kilo sale and by and large people ignore them. Undeniably they have a market, but, if one is an e-com site and everyone is offering periodic sale - they will reach the point of these shacks. Sure given the size of the market, people will bite, but, my question is - is there no better way?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shoe Dog - Phil Knight

There is something about this book - a quality that I am unable to put a word to. When you read this book, the story of Nike - and unlike other much heard about stories in the tech world, this is a story that I had never heard - there is a lot of reality in it.

And thats what stands out - that it is real. Very very real. Real emotions. Candid. There is grit. There is struggle. There is tenacity. There are stories of breaking down. Going down. Not giving up. The one thing that endures is 'not giving up'. Ever.

The story is of someone - Phil Knight (and his band of co-founders and the core team) and how he and his team get to where to got to. And to a large extent about Phil holds it all together. And the journey with its ups and downs and how they continued to stay there despite numerous obstacles professional and personal. About how each of them sweated it out to make it.

As I read the book, I was unable to put it down. Shoes? Yes, a story of shoes - unputdownable. The narrative, the pace, the events - it kept pulling me back because I wanted to know what happened.

The construct of the book is also interesting with some Zen like quotes. I really can't say more - this book is worth a read for every aspiring entrepreneur out there.

Nikes story has it all. Ups. Downs. Many ups. Many downs. But at every down, they come up...and that I suppose is what makes heroes out of ordinary people. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Master Facilitator

Many years ago, Saru (as she is known) was my Master coach for all of one session. I can never forget how she handled her 'coachee'. And how meeting her left me thinking that I have miles (prefixed with thousands of) to go.

And a few days ago when I learnt that she was running a session, I did everything I could attend the session. It was touch and go. With all the Bangalore bandh and all that, I somehow managed to get a seat on the session quite at the last minute. And was it worth it!

She is, what I might call as a master facilitator. Gentle. Jovial. Stern. Knowledgeable. Even paced. Never hurried. No gimmicks - just sticking to the subject and taking people along. No comedy track. Very simple slides and material. Her knowledge did most of the talking.

Slowly pulling people into the centre. Gently nudging them to think. Teasing thoughts out of them. Pushing them to think a bit more. Disagreeing at times. Rarely definitive, but when she spoke in definitives, she made her point clearly. If you fall back and ask a question, she is there to answer. If you go awry thinking of unrelated stuff, she is there to rein you back in. And the slides are just the tip of the iceberg, the real knowledge is with the facilitator. And what you learn. As you reflect. Think. And get an insight.

And at the end of two days, one feels like a door has opened in our brain. Now that is some session!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


The economics of places where buses stop for night halts are usually very interesting. For a variety of reasons. Many a time the food quality is bad - like outrightly bad - but the bus staff get a good deal (usually free) so the bus stops there. They stop at random places sometimes - like a lime juice place or a tea place in the middle of the night. Or pick up boiled tapioca (this is a mind-blowing snack - try it sometime) sellers and then drop them off a kilometre or two away while getting their snacks in return. So, the bus passengers are dependent on the place and some often end up eating there.

It was one such place the bus halted a few days ago. And this place, apart from the usual food - sometimes a 'pan' shop, sometimes a juice counter or an ice-cream counter or a general store had a few more things.

One was a shop that sold pickles. One was a toy shop. One was pop corn counter. And one was a counter that sold 'Maths' books - a book that claimed to make Maths and English easy or something like that. I wondered what these stalls did here.

Through the halt of 30 mns, the toy stall had sold a few toys to both kids and to those presumably going to meet a kid or grandkid. The pickle and masala shop had sold a variety of pickles. The pop corn counter did brisk business. The book stall did not do any business while I was there, but I am sure there is a reason why it is there. (There was another stall on 'Science at home' which was shut at this unearthly hour, but I have seen that shop do brisk business at a few other halts).

So what is happening?

My theory is - nudge. That bit of nudge - at a place where presumably people have to step out of the bus - because the staff usually locks the bus to reduce the incidence of thefts etc. My observation was that the purchases were made mostly by people who did not have dinner there.

Once people go for food they are stuck inside and the restaurant gets their business. There are a few who either carry their own food (those rascals) or do not eat. They are also a captive audience and cannot wander away too far. These stalls are there to capture their business. And with the right kind of 'nudge' - just the presence of a shop and round figure costs which are not very high - people buy them.

The toy shop is aimed at kids (some who throw a tantrum or who need to pacified for a bus journey) or grandparents who want to buy a gift. The pickles are for someone who is looking for something 'out of the ordinary' or 'local'. The popcorn is to while time and the book is also some thing on similar lines. At an affordable price the book promises genius in not one but two subjects - so why not? The science store is a very interesting one and piques the curiosity of many.

It is also impulsive buyer behaviour - but the way this halt was organised - with the variety - clearly some thought had gone into it.

What has that got to do with learning?

One - nudge is very important when it comes to learning. The right kind of nudge. Apart from pushing learning reluctant throats - nudge is a smart idea. And it works very well when used the right way.

Two - timing. The nudge should also happen when I as a learner need it. Without that, it won't work.

As I stood there watching the customers and the shopkeepers, it was a fabulous lessons for me...And no, I did not buy anything - the science store at the previous halt had already made me buy something interesting!

Heritage Walk

I attended a heritage walk last week. (I have attended one before this - but that was in a different city and a different person and an underwhelming experience.)

This walk was in a shortish area - a triangular patch of land - and it is an area I thought I know very well. After all, every Mumbaikar knows the area around CST - Metro - Crawford market. Firstly the walk was named Beyond Bazaar Gate - which I had no idea why - until I learnt that the Bazaar Gate was one of the gates of the original Fort.

Heritage walks in places you have no clue about are well, a revelation - because you have no clue anyway. But a heritage walk in a city you know well are a challenge because there are some facts you already know - and thats a challenge for both the person who is attending and the person who conducts the walk.

I learnt that Bhendi Bazaar had nothing to do with Bhendi (Ladyfinger), but it was a corruption of Behind the Bazaar - which became localised as BhendiBazaar (this is particularly hilarious when you think of it). Every building had nuances I had no idea about. This street which I thought knew so much kept us enthralled for nearly 3 hours. For instance, Rudyard Kipling was born on that very street. The Harris on whom the Harris Shield is named had an office there. Both Gandhi and Jinnah started their careers in the Court of Small Causes  (locally known in such a funny way you won't believe it - but thats a secret to uncover when you attend this walk) in Mumbai under the same guru - Gopal Krishna Gokhale - and both call him their mentor.

Apart from this, buildings, stones, street names, memorials, markets - the Phule pagdi, inscriptions and motifs on the sides of buildings - all in all a treasure trove.

And that is the beauty of learning from an expert. You walk in thinking you know everything and as the expert uncovers nuance after nuance and you are left spellbound. What if every subject or topic you picked up could be as unravelling as a 'heritage walk'...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Zero to One

Zero to One by Peter Thiel is a nice read.

(Yes - if I sit down to write a book review - the book has to be worth it - and usually good - so most of my book reviews are about good books.You can stop here if that's the information you seek.)

Where this book scores is in contrarian thoughts and contrarian questions that make you think.

It starts with a four big lessons learned from the 90s dot-com crash that is, Make incremental advances, Stay lean and flexible, Improve on the competition and Focus on product, not sales. Just as you warm up to it, he says, the opposite rules are more correct - which are:

It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
A bad plan is better than no plan.
Competitive markets destroy profits.
Sales matters just as much as products.

And finally leaves with a simple definition of contrarianism - it is not to oppose the crowd (or follow a smaller or newer or older crowd) but to think for yourself.

"All happy companies are different" - this chapter starts with a question: What valuable company is nobody building? This question is harder than it looks - he says - and no I won't spoil it by revealing the next few lines.

In a further chapter - he says, disruption for the sake of disruption does not take a company anywhere. Rather than position oneself as a 'disruptor' of an existing business, why not focus on the act of creation itself?

And the book being a lot about startups - there are very good takeaways on founding partners, recruiting the right people, power law, AI, green tech and a few more compelling questions.

My personal takeaways - One - Differentiating between vertical/intensive progress and horizontal or extensive progress. Technology advancement is the former while globalisation is the latter. This is a very compelling and eyeopening argument.

And two - which the author says is his favourite interview question: "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"

And finally the third - which starts with a verse from LOTR

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began

Life is a long journey; the road marked out by the steps of previous travellers has no end in sight. But later on in the tale, another verse appears:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the moon or to the sun

The road does not have to be infinite after all. Take the hidden paths.[Excerpt]

Read more to find out!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Seven Questions

Peter Thiels book lists down 7 questions that every business must answer

1. The Engineering Question
Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?

2. The Timing Question
Is now the right time to start your particular business?

3. The Monopoly Question
Are you starting with a big share of a small market?

4. The People Question
Do you have the right team?

5. The Distribution Question
Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?

6. The Durability Question
Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?

7. The Secret Question
Have you identified a unique opportunity that others dont see?

It made me think and is still making me think...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Appreciating your team

While interacting with a set of people recently, the discussion veered onto 'appreciation' of their teams. It is incredible how many people carry the thought in their head that too much appreciation will result in underperformance of the team. And most of my spot surveys have shown that 'appreciation' is a very very limited commodity in organisations.

Now appreciation does not mean random appreciation - it means appreciating something that has been done well - even if it is routine. It does not mean false appreciation. This led to the thought that well, the team does not do so many good things that it needs to be appreciated.

On the other hand, pointing out things to be done better  - seemed to echo rather well with everybody.

It is reasonably well proven that motivating, inspiring and getting people motivated to achieve a goal higher than themselves is a far more motivating factor than pointing out faults.

Now pointing out faults by itself is not a bad - and it can also be done in a much better manner - making it more solution focussed, getting people to do better and stretch themselves to more than they think they are capable of.

Somehow, when all this is added up, people still do not see appreciation as a tool for growth. By the end, people agreed that it can be done, but how much will be implemented, remains to be seen.

Developing thought!

Sindhu Effect

Certain events have an effect on the psyche of a country or a place or even a company. 17 million people watched PV Sindhu fight Carolina Marin for the Olympic Gold in badminton. Sindhu may have lost gold, but she won a billion hearts.

And all around us today - we see children play badminton - atleast in Bangalore everywhere. This is a moment to cherish - as children grow up they will be inspired by this moment. And I hope that India becomes a force to reckon with in badminton.

For our generation, India winning the Cricket World Cup in 1983 was a huge inspiration. I am sure, many of us have such moments to inspire ourselves.

Many companies have moments they cherish and replay and revisit as part of inspiring their teams. True, as a company one cannot have such moments every quarter to inspire the workforce - but what if they used one such great moment to pivot themselves into a different orbit. What if such a moment energised the workforce, generated learning opportunities? 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Waigaya and Sangen Shugi - Honda

Two big takeaways from Driving Honda were Waigaya and Sangen Shugi.

A few days ago, we were working on a strategy module for a company. As we leafed through old and new theories and books around the same - one comment which caught my eye was Henry Mintzbergs comment where he says "Strategy is like weeds, it has to grow all around your company"

A lot of times organisations dip into their pool of employees (and sometimes customers) and solicit ideas from them. This happens either at an offsite or a meeting or some quarterly review and the ideas pile up. Most companies today have an innovation program that encourages bottom up ideation.

Many of these ideas are future strategy - provided someone is listening.

Sometimes these ideas are not immediately implementable - but if one keeps looking, there might be valuable stuff in there. And if (post such programs) ideas die very often, the motivation of someone to keep doing it will also diminish.

Waigaya is what Honda calls as 'blah-blah-blah' - bottom up meetings where people meet, discuss and thrash out ideas, problems, resolution and so on. "

At Honda Motor, these unplanned, shapeless gatherings are ubiquitous an indispensable - and arguably the most inventive, characteristic and elemental principle of the Honda Way. It is the noise of heated discussion and the free flow of ideas; it represents a battleground of subjective and objective opinions, of chaotic communication, open disagreement, and inharmonious decision making.

Waigaya follows four rules:

Everybody is equal in waigaya - there are no bad ideas except those that are not aired

All ideas must be disputed and rejected until they are either proven valid or vanquished

When a person shares an idea he or she doesn't own it anymore - it belongs to Honda and the group can do with it what it will

At the end of waigaya, decisions and responsibilities are generated - a precise list of who is to do what next and by when.

This is a great example of a bottom up culture.  Waigaya is a great way to tap into ideas, thoughts in the here and now.

And very often this does not happen. And hence ideas, strategies which are there in the company end up never being used or exploited.

The second concept is one of Sangen Shugi. Having worked in multinationals and having been in the industry - very often, there is a strong chain of command which hates anything local. And this is often all pervasive. Sangen Shugi pre-empts that.

This principle states that

Knowledge emanates from local conditions; and
decisions are outgrowths of knowledge; hence
operating tactics and strategies from one region to the next should be determined chiefly by local preferences and characteristics, rather than a corporate template.

The concept of Sangen Shugi and Waigaya are great concepts to harness and use local knowledge and expertise and build bottom up strategies and tactics.  Worth keeping in mind when as an MNC there is a general tendency to push a one-size fits all locations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Where is India in this diversity?

I was talking to a friend who does a lot of work in the Diversity and Inclusivity space and she mentioned to me that a senior executive from a company (MNC) stated "All this diversity work we do here - where is India in it?"

This is something I have experienced throughout my working career and now even more so as I interact with companies of different backgrounds. Not one company that I have come across is 'Indian' or has anything Indian. Be it start up, tech firm or captive.

Yes, meeting rooms may be named after freedom fighters or Indian rivers or they may celebrate Indian festivals or wear traditional clothes a few times a year or they may have a sculpture in their lobby, but in general, we shy away from anything Indian. If at all there is any reference, it is fairly self deprecatory or apologetic.

And I love that question posed by the senior executive. And it is a very good question to ask yourself as you put together your shining new diversity program. Is that diversity and inclusivity, including India in it? Acknowledging the diversity? 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Driving Honda - further thoughts

While I am an avid reader of business-books, I had never heard of this book and it was quite by chance that I even picked it up. And am glad I did.  Driving Honda by Jeffrey Rothfeder is a fabulous read.
It starts off from the founder Soichiro Honda and his passion for everything mechanical and how he got Honda to where it is through all the ups and downs. From there it looks at the culture, the kind of people they employ, what is their approach to various aspects and beautiful nuggets of Honda that I had no idea about. The story of how the founder found an able partner to work with was inspirational as well.
The concept of waigaya - deserves an explanation by itself - is about how Honda is so much of a bottom up organization - this was one great piece which I loved. (more about this in a later post - as this is one of the things which has come up in many of the recent works which I have handled). The process ensures a lot of disagreement, debate and resolution and they have rules. The books has a lot of examples of how this has worked for Honda. And wherever a problem happens, waigaya is the first thing they resort to. And it ensures that every small idea that emanates from the floor is heard and taken forward as appropriate.
The other things - which are fairly common in Japanese companies - like Gen-ba, Gen-butsu and Gen-jitsu and 'Sangen Shugi' are also touched upon. And all of these are principles worth knowing by any company. 
There is a bit of a bonus on Charles Handy and the Sigmoid curve. The story of the design of the Ridgeline - was a lovely story.
It between it also takes examples of other companies - which to me - felt like a distraction.
What I understood about Honda is that it is a fairly contrarian company - and it does many things in a different way because it believes that this is the right way to do it regardless of the way the market looks at it. It remains one of the automakers where R&D exists as a separate function. It remains at lower automation levels than its rivals. And so on. 
As a company if you are doing everything like the competition - what is the point? That was a significant takeaway. And apart from that what makes this book a must read - whether you run a start up or a retail firm or a technology firm - is that there is much to learn from Hondas as a company which has thrived in many environments around the globe and continues to learn and perform in virtually every market it has been part of. And how does a company survive across generations - what better way to learn from a company that is doing it day in and day out.

Thought from Driving Honda

I started reading Driving Honda by Jeffrey Rothfeder.  More about this book soon, but as someone who reads business books - it strikes me that Japanese companies have so much 'Japan' in their culture.

Read about any Japanese company and there is so much Japan in it. To a large extent it is because a lot of manufacturing principles that are taken as granted today originated there.

Having known and worked with a few companies - the French companies have a bit of France in them, German companies have a lot of Germany in them and American companies have a lot of America in them.

But when we read about Indian companies - there is very little India in them. Yes, we have our own 'partha' system. But we have done precious little to make it our own. When I read 'Rokda' (refer earlier post - there definitely was a touch of Indianness in them - but nothing that makes you think.) And this from a nation that has a rich history of philosophy of over a thousand years.

And what about our home grown IT services companies? Despite having practically created an industry - there is very little Indian about them apart from the nationality. In fact, having worked and interacted with a few of them - I can say with certainty that there is almost nothing 'Indian' in them - the way we see about the Japanese.

Indeed, even in companies that have been set up with collaboration from abroad - while they do doff their hat to India, the culture is largely imported.

Why is that so? 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gamified Presentation Skills

Creating a tool or a game or an aid for presentation skills has been on my mind for a long time now. As someone who has developed, designed and delivered many versions of presentation skills and slide making skills, this has been a question in my mind.

And I thought of something fairly obvious - a deck of cards (Yes, I am a huge fan of card and board games) to help people as they work on their presentation. But when I looked this up, there seemed to be a few products that serve this need.

And so it went. There did not seem to be any new value addition that I could bring.

And a few weeks ago, I attended a session where we had to evaluate a speaker and there was no feedback for the speaker.

The insight for me was that many a time giving feedback is 'difficult' I suppose. The issue with feedback is - that most often the only way to do it at the 'Point of Presentation' is with paper - And many a time, people just cursorily fill out the sheets with any random number.

If it is a digital survey - that is sent post presentation - the response rates are very low. If it is done immediately - beyond a single click - people do not really give it a thought.

Feedback can definitely be made more meaningful and actionable - and that is the road to getting better at presentation Skills - practice and feedback - and one more thing - that is - being yourself.

And thats when I got an idea. That instead of creating a toolkit for the 'preparation' of the presentation - where there is enough material around -I created a gamified toolkit for giving feedback for presentation skills.  And it is visual so it is simple for the audience to give feedback and equally simple for the presenter to take the feedback.

Can't wait to try it out for a real audience!

Throwback to presentation skills

This was a slide I had put up in a presentation skills a few years ago. Very often, some of our sessions try to boil the ocean. This particular presentation skills was one such. They were trying to make TED speakers out of the company - and obviously - without much success. And this whole big talk thing was intimidating the employees - who had probably never stood in front of any audience ever.

So, we looked at it and make it more usable to the people who attended them. We distilled the presentation skills presentation into "what would you generally do when you are called to present" and this is what we got!

And we then proceeded to 'simplify' the course. And the feedback we got was fabulous. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Cosmic Encounter

I remember reading in Seth Godins blog many years ago about how Cosmic Encounter is THE game to buy for the kids and not Snakes and Ladders.

He also made a similar pitch for the game in his book Linchpin (which remains a favourite of mine).

And at the first chance I got, I purchased the game and when we did try to play it - it was a huge disappointment - not for anything else - just that the kids were too small to play it.

So, we waited - for about 5 years- for the kids to grow up to understand the game and after having played everything in our game cupboard - this was the one thing that was left. Drawn to it, we have started playing the game. Yes, it is complicated. Yes, it has twists and turns. Yes, there are rules and counter rules and zaps and counter zaps.

But is it fun? Wow. The game has practically infinite possibilities - and this we say after having barely played the beginner version of it.What a game!

What do I think the kids learn from games like this? One - is that like in life there are immense twists and turns. Second, never to lose heart. Third, go with the flow. Four - there are allies and there are people to help at every stage and so and so forth...

Hubris and shifting tides

As someone who follows Business Strategy quite closely, I loved this article which states that Google is not safe from Yahoos fate.

And as preposterous as that might seem, the article tells us why. Do read it, if you are anywhere in the tech space or just working anywhere!

Having seen this from the inside in many firms - I can agree to it.

BPO jobs which were seen as invincible - are slowly being eaten by the bots. Software services - which was the main job giver to the educated Indians - is being rained on by the cloud. Start ups are disrupting every sphere one can think of.

And in every place - the top team thinks they are invincible, that their business model is here to stay and there is no real need to change.

Well, no, this is the internet age - and every industry is one disruption away from oblivion!

Now I need to find that disruption in order to make a mark with my own company :)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rokda - an interesting book

I read the book Rokda quite by chance and the title and the blurb intrigued me. Over the past few weeks, in my entrepreneur avatar, I have been reading up a lot. And while I have read a lot of international business stories, strategies - similar reading in the Indian market has not been easy to come by.

And here is where I found Rokda by Nikhil Inamdar interesting. The stories are good, inspiring - and made it a very easy and breezy read. I had no idea of the Emami story or the inspiring story of Bansal classes. Both of them were fairly inspiring read - to someone who has just started off on the entrepreneurial journey.

The writing while easy to follow, also lacked coherence a few times I felt and overall, I thought it could be scripted much better. Perhaps the author has tried to say a lot in limited space and perhaps many of these stories deserve a book of their own.

But, if you want a quick breezy read on some amazing Indian entrepreneurs - do give this book a read. I wish there were more books in this space!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Coming of the bots

If you have ever had an online chat - that starts off with an initial intro and then refers you to someone or makes you hold - you have interacted with a bot.

If you have pinged for train details (for examples) and got a response online - highly likely that it is a chatbot. And this world is growing - there are bots that run on Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp and Kik (which actually has a bot shop and is fairly ahead in this game. Check this out.). There are bots that can mimic talking to your idol. There is a bot that you can chat with your bank - for instance.  Ordering food - for instance can be easily botified.

But since then the world has gotten fairly more complicated - there are bots in more places than you can think. The earlier example of ANZ is just the tip of the iceberg. Banks are trying to move their transactions to bots. Indeed all of Indian Railways tickets currently manned by humans is an ideal candidate to be 'botted' up.

We can think of this as sufficiently far away at your own peril. After all, we grew up in an era when banks still have tellers - but the ATMs killed that off as a career (if at all) very soon.

The point being that if you are in any job that is sufficiently rule driven, it is better that you plan your own succession with a bot.

What does this mean for us? Well, many things I suppose.

Guess what - here is Grammar Guru.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The bots are here

This is slightly old news, but it is news all the same. As there is talk about robots and robots replacing  humans - this is happening - and happening at a far frenetic pace than you can imagine.

I learnt from a colleague that ANZ is at the forefront of RPA (Yes, Robot Process Automation) and found something on the internet (obviously).

Read this:

What does it mean? BPO - where processes were outsourced to India, Philippines will get hit sooner or later. They say it won't affect human jobs - but hey, it will.

Like the rapid decimation of 'project managers' in IT - the bots will soon take over the BPO landscape (among other things). What other functions could be affected? Accounts payable, Mortgage administration and hold your breath - HR support. That is interesting is it not?

Now think which other job roles are essentially 'rule based' or 'gatekeeper based' or 'permission based' ? Almost all of them are under the scanner...

What does it mean?

Reskill yourself soon...The bots are coming!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Uberization: Superspecialists?

In a world of cannons, what is the need for a sniper? Plenty.

Cannons are common. Snipers are not.
Cannons can hit a lot of places inaccurately, Snipers get you one target - spectacularly right.

This is mostly a game analogy - I have zero military experience to comment on the reality. The example was more to derive a point that - to take advantage of the uberization of work, there might be merit for companies (big and small) to try out super specialists.

For example, instead of going to an organization that will support you - but actually has the lowest common denominator preparing a rather stupid questionnaire - leading to fairly blah business results - why not engage the super specialist who will engage herself and diagnose your ailment correctly - or if she is  a real super specialist - will actually refer you to another super specialist.

When I was in my corporate avatar - this happened to us - more than once. We had engaged a company for a consulting engagement - but the outcome of the whole process was quite lame. The questions framed were lame - the administration was equally poor - and eventually the outcome was clearly nowhere close to the stratospheric levels we had aimed for. And this - not because the company lacked the expertise- they did not - but it was delegated to the lowest common denominator with very less input from the person who truly had that expertise.

This is worth thinking about. Engage an organization because they promise scale or engage a super specialist (the sniper) for that one hit? Do you know who those super specialists are? 

Clash Royale: Are we playing an algorithm?

So, the Clash Royale addiction continues. The levels keep going up (and sometimes down). We have resisted the temptation to buy virtual goods (though we have spent a teeny weeny bit). But the doubt we have is: Are we playing an algorithm?

Every card has its strength and every card has an antidote. Each card and level is perfectly graded. A level 8 barbarian will be defeated by a level 9 barbarian. If you have minion horde, arrows are all  you need to pin it down. And so on.

To me it feels like Clash Royale is a giant big data analytics platform where the platform matches you  and your battle decks and there is clearly some set pattern to it - in terms of winning and losing - irrespective of the quality of the cards. The quality of the tactics is the only differentiator - but I suspect that may not account for so much - once the matching is done in a particular way - rather than a pure random match.

So, we now 'predict' a winning streak or a losing streak or type of chest - for example, rare chests seem to have a periodicity associated with it.

And all that has kind of made us feel that much ennui. As a learning experience, when you know you pit your wits versus when you know it is kind of a  platform you are playing against....

Now think about that when you build your own learning experience...

Update: Fazed by the probability of being manipulated by a giant algorithm, we uninstalled the game. Adios Clash Royale!

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Design Thinking Framework

I was lucky to be part of Design Thinking teams in my last two organisations. Design Thinking as popularised by the Stanford D school is an open source methodology and I have seen it being used in a few organisations to good effect.

What is wonderful about this methodology is what you can do with it. It is fast, it is fun and it is productive. It is simple, yet - you can go through it many a time and still discover new things. There is fun in designing around it - and seeing the possibilities unfold in so many ways.

It is early days yet, but we have seen how this approach has a lot of we discovered in a recent workshop that we conducted to go after some fairly commonplace 'problems'. But at the end of it, as I have seen in every other workshop before this, the 'insight' is always different. There is always something new that comes up when one uses this framework.

As I constructed it, I realised that Interviewing with Empathy is not easy, nor is Ideation and that made us think on how we can strengthen the process while not losing the core...

Early days yet, but still, we are working on what we can do with this process and the journey is indeed exciting...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

An Entrepreneurial Journey begins

Taking the plunge
Being unsure
Choosing a name.
Getting the company registered
Getting a million copies of every document.
Then Scanning.
Being unsure
Then self attesting.
Getting this done and that done.
The website is not yet done.
Work and deadlines
Self doubt
Proofreading everything
Being courier boy
Working from home cursing Bangalores erratic electricity
Working from cafes
Working at odd hours
Working more than ever before
Goosebumps before the first deliverable
And the second
Endless discussion with a virtual team of collaborators
New ideas
More new ideas
No time
Where is my next work going to come from
Reaching out to people
Kindness of strangers
The logo is still not done
Accounts - who will get that done.
And such it goes...

Outthinc Consulting is born...

Saturday, June 4, 2016


A library gives me goosebumps. I dont know why that is so, but every time I visit a library, I am transfixed at the possibilities.

One of my earliest photos has me with a book on my lap (and I distinctly remember the smell of the book). I cannot recall when I first visited a library - but I was hooked. It was a ramshackle set of shelves and some books falling off, but that was enough. The shelf in my native village that had old books with their pages falling off was enough. The municipal library that was hardy a library was good enough.

And then as I went to college - those libraries were just so amazing. One of them was housed in an art deco old building and had archaic rules to issue books, but that made it all the more fun. The next was in a new building but had a good collection of books. One of the companies where I worked for a project had a voluminous library where I spent most of my Saturdays. One of the companies where I worked had spent a lot of money to make a huge library and I for sure made good use of it. Indeed a few weeks ago, I visited the NID library in Ahmedabad and it was a heart stopping moment for me.

Now that I think of it, actually I have made good use of libraries everywhere where there was one.

Cut to the present. I enrolled myself as a member into a large library and it was like a walk down memory lane. Which memory lane I do not know. But the walk through tree lined roads, cobble stoned paths and finally into a cavernous library is just so magical. It is deja vu, it is magic, it is promise, it is is everything...

The effort of searching books. The magic of finding it on a shelf. The fun of leafing through pages. The discovery of a sentence that is magical...

Yes, I love libraries...

Degrees of Creativity and Innovation

We were discussing the other day - what makes some people go after a moonshot? Why is it that while many people have ideas, far fewer have great game changing ideas, and even fewer step out to venture on that path and still fewer make it a success.

We spoke about maybe it is depth as opposed to breadth - but then when fairly young people are going after problems that much greyer people have not envisioned - that does not quite hold water.

Is it because what we are wired to see or what we have taught ourselves to wire and see? Is it because we are afraid of failing? Is it because we are all comfortable in our safe cocoons and we are leaping from the bed inside it instead of trying a greater leap outside?

There must be something in it. Is it the perspective they bring to the table because of having seen some other industry. Is it peer group? It is risk taking ability? Is it a fearlessness of failure? Is it the willingness to put effort? Is it persistence? Is it an ability to never give up?

How is it that some people are able to envision while some cant? Why is that some of us are content going after small ideas while others cannot rest until they have cracked the big one? Why is it that some are content going after small problems, while others go after the big ones? And what makes some people able to go after unstated problems - and that is usually where the magic lies.

And this is not about technology at all. There are so many places where things have been re-imagined in very very impactful and meaningful ways.

What flips that switch? How to flip that switch?

Questions, questions... 

Uberization of work continued

So, what does uberization of work mean?

As a person if you cannot afford a car (or do not want to take your car out mostly) you hire a car for that drive. Well, it is not radically different from hiring a taxi or an auto, but in the connected world, Uberization is the buzzword. It is like timesharing. With an app and algorithms running in the background.

Now translate that to a work scenario. If you are a small company and yet want the scale and experience of an experienced person, you go for hiring a consultant for a specific time frame. Nothing new there, companies have been doing it for years. Using consultants as Force multipliers is fairly common.

What is different is that many smaller companies are willing to experiment these days and as are large companies who want to do things with the nimbleness of start ups. On the other hand, start ups who do not have scale will be happy to get a consultant with specific expertise. Companies who want advisors or practitioners without having to hire them are happy to do so.

There are large companies which internalise all their functions - and it is a great idea to do so - it is like using Uber as much as you would user your car. Well, your car is way cheaper if your usage is high.

If you are a large company, there is merit in internalising functions - and I am a great believer of that (as my earlier blog posts affirm).  So,  if you are a large company, and you are just hiring employees who will program manage consultants then you might want to think about the cost benefit analysis.

But if you are a small/medium company using consultants to leverage your scale is a great idea. If you want to experiment on something without necessarily adding to headcount, it is a great idea. If you want to try out a skunk works project with someone who is not bound by the rules/culture of your firm, go for it.

Just a word of caution - go for practitioners - as George Lazlo cautions in his book Work Rules - not academicians. Go for consultants who have been there done that and who can truly help you scale...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Accelerating Learning

We sent the young one out to a summer camp. A six day wilderness camp. It was his first away from home experience. The camp seemed to be well organized. With activities, work, time for reflection and so on. He was also alone - had no friends - so he had to make new friends.

After those six days, he said, home is so easy after the camp. Asked him what that means. He said, there things will difficult - but here at home, everything is there. Comfort. The parental brain thought - wow, that is some learning.

Then he spoke about doing things on his own - which as any child would, he is not won't to do at home.

About making friends - what makes the human connect.

About caring for others.

I was amazed at the learning, the humility, the steps he had grown in those few days.

This will be one of his stand out learning experiences for some time I suppose!

Some processes like these do accelerate learning. There are situations also which do that. At times this happens in organized training as well and it is worth reflecting upon...

Uberization of work

I read this with a lot of interest. It picks on the buzzword that has been floating for some time - around what is known as the 'Uberization of work'.

Here it says,

The future certainly looks bright in our eyes. In coming decades, vertical labor marketplaces will open up important resources for consumers, and hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities for the growing freelance community. It’s the global flywheel at the heart of our new labor economy.
I am not entirely sure of the implications of this, but for sure, this is an increasing trend. If you really want to do something you are passionate about, it is a great idea to go out and do it. And it already exists in many skillsets. 

Now the interesting part is that within a company - rather most companies this trend is hugely opposed. There are silos of roles, rules, departments, kingdoms, geographies and egos among other things that prevent this from happening. 

Developing thought as I wrap my head around this...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Clash Royale continues

Meanwhile we are getting bigger and smaller on Clash Royale. There are good days when we win a ton of trophies. There are bad days when we get thrashed. We spend time discussing various battle strategies (and this is where I love how games make children think).

There is a cheapo strategy - that seemed to work well, until we lost a few times. And then tweaked it.
Then there is a attack from both sides strategy.
Then there is a 'Prince' strategy.
Then there is a 'Defense' strategy - worked beautifully once and then never thereafter.
Then there is an 'All out offense' strategy - ditto.
Then just for kicks, we tried out an aerial route only strategy - this one was an out and out disaster.

Now the best part of it is that - there is very little that is useless in the battle deck. And that makes us all think (adult brain, child brain alike) about how we are going to do it.

There is discussions on options, choices, priorities, limited gold or gems (both always seem to be in short supply and the VC is not funding the 60 rupees yet). There are learnings. There are moments of triumph. There are Eureka moments. There are moments when the younger one wins three battles on a trot and the dad loses and vice versa.  The younger one has learnt the virtues of donating cards (we get gold and points), part of being a clan (though it is a clan which doesn't interact - thankfully) and has asked her friends to join the clan as well...

And recently one kid was explaining to another how a vaccination is similar to a Clash Royale game.

Given the richness of all this - how can one ever argue that games don't add value to people?
Every word said here in this TED video rings true:

Writing and Speaking

A few years ago, I was at a panel discussion. And I realized that I was able to articulate my points way better than I perhaps did a few years ago. The difference? At first, I patted myself on the back and gave myself extra brownie points for the growth of my intelligence, articulation and felt smug about it.

But when I analyzed it further, I realized that the process of writing it out had made the process easier.

And the cause for it was my blog. This blog.

I realized this unconsciously, but it just struck me how writing enables the speaking process.

The fact that I had written about various kinds of learning experiences over the few years made a difference. When we write, we are channelizing our thoughts (which are unorganized, in a cloud) into a more tangible means. This is a far more stickier process than thinking about it or reading about it (atleast for me). And as you write more, more of thoughts are taken out of the waiting queue and newer thoughts (hopefully better evolved and shaped) take their place.

Most of us face times when you are called upon to say a few words about the industry or learning in general and a mike is thrust in your face. It can be unnerving.

But since I had written about it (and written about it after some thought process), it made that process way more easier, because a distilled set of thoughts were available with me to talk about it. And it made the process far more easier...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Design Thinking

If I were not a trainer, I would have been a designer.

Hey, but I am also a training designer.

So, when the countries premier design institute announced a Design Thinking workshop, I decided to give it a go. Also, having done a little bit of work on 'Design Thinking' approaches in my work, I thought it was worth exploring further...

Design Thinking, Creativity, Insights...

And it was an interesting session. With immersive experiences on gathering user insights and so on...

Hope to do a longer post on it someday!

Clash Royale

We have been fans for Clash for Clans for a while now. Clash of clans was and continues to remain an interesting game. But the truth was that many found it quite complex and too involved. And perhaps Supercell recognized that. And came up with Clash Royale.

Having played both CoC and CR, I can say that the thought of Clash Royale has been incredible. This is not an easy path.

There are quite a few who have tried. But following up on one success, retaining some elements of it and still making a playable game that is as engaging and does not cannibalize the earlier version (among other things) is not easy. But they have done it.

From the earlier format of CoC, they have come up with a simpler format. This is easier to play. No elaborate building. No waiting for troops to get experience, but it is not instant. And with all this there is still an interesting element of gameplay strategy.

Indeed, the gameplay strategy is so unique that I don't think I have seen anything like this (yes, personal incredulity is a logical fallacy), but well, I am impressed.

So, here we are, father and daughter, playing in Clash Royale. Bring it on!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Does one still need to go to school?

As I thought about my previous post, it set me thinking. On the one hand, there are a lot of regulations on who can open a school, who can run it - what you need and so on and so forth. And on the other hand, there is technology and there are people.

Why does one need to transport children in uniform across thousands of (cumulative) kilometres, when they can learn very well where they are? Yes, maybe in the industrial age, it had to be done, but why now?

India already has a National Institute of Open Schooling. And a Virtual Open School. Why aren't enough parents taking more advantage of it? Why are we still sending children to school (I still am, even as I write this)? Is it because that schools are also a place where children go daily - thus allowing parents to work?

Why cant this be extended to simplify the process of licensing schools? (I think some part of licensing is free atleast in Karnataka - for some types of schools). So why cant it be simplified further? To make smaller schools, even in cities. And make the whole debate about RTE (A flawed law in itself) nonexistent? (The RTE ironically, in the name of making education more available, actually puts more restrictions - which has resulted in more small schools closing down)

In the olden days - and this is not going as far as the 'Gurukul' system - as late as the 1960s, children used to go to neighborhood 'teachers' who used to teach. Just a home where children used to go, learn and come back. No uniform, no big building, no big buses transporting them

One of the fascinating aspects of writing/blogging - is that once you put an idea out, it does not go away from your head, it comes back. Sometimes, you cringe that you got that idea - at other times the idea comes as a better packaged, more thought through or with more perspectives. This idea is one of them - written about here.

And this is still an evolving thought - need to read up more on this...

The long tail of languages

India is a unique country. With 122 odd major languages and 1599 other languages. And yet, the languages available in schools is dependent on many factors - like demand, availability of teachers and so on.

So, on the one hand, there are a range of options of choose from, on the other hand it is not uniform.

Here is where the power of the internet can be used. If for every language, the government made courses available online with tests and practice lessons - anybody can learn any language at home. Without having to depend on the quality of teachers, number of students and suchlike.

All they need is a standard question paper that gets delivered (and this can be automated from a huge question bank) to do the tests.

Wonder if something like this is already available?

The truth is also that schools with non English mediums of instructions are closing down in urban areas - slowly but surely. And English is the language of opportunities, the other languages deserve to be learnt - and here is where the HRD Ministry can step in and provide those opportunities.

Epilogue: I cannot read and write in my mother tongue - and that is not a great state of affairs. Considering a rich literature that is available in Tamil (and this applies to all other Indian languages) - but I cannot read it unless it is translated. This is true for many others - perhaps this is an initiative worth considering? A National Languages Mission?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The learning challenge in (some) organizations

I read this piece with some amusement. That Infosys is de-layering itself. The interesting part for me in that article was this:

As India's largest software firms have added tens of thousands of employees over the past decade, many layers of middle management have in the process also been under-utilised since they are not billable employees anymore as they are not directly involved in day-to-day software coding. 

"We've seen that people who are not getting billed, they also tend to get a ittle bit away from technology and so on. The best way to address that is o make them more active in project execution - that's  .. 

In a way this is the hands-on crisis in the Indian IT industry. Few years on, people lose their ability to work hands on - and that usually translates into lesser billing for the company. Unless of course, they have taken their abilities and become consultants - which can then be billed by the company. 

The fact is that unless you keep at it, once you become a manager, there is a very high chance that skills get rusted. And that is the learning challenge in some organizations. Regardless of which team you lead, how do you ensure that your skills  are upto date with the current realities? Why technology, in everything the world is moving ahead. 

I have heard similar stories in teaching, biotech and even other industries. Managers often tend to lose touch with the emerging trends in a field.

As  long as you are hands on - and in tune with the latest, as long as your are learning something new (almost every day), you are learning. Otherwise, you are rusting!

What can the organization do? Hire people who are hands on. Promote individual contributors. Have fewer and fewer administrator and 'people' managers. Celebrate knowledge. Celebrate sharing of knowledge...etc etc etc

Teaching creativity

Does creativity need to be taught?
And if so, what are we teaching?
How does one teach creativity?

My own belief is that creativity does not need to be taught. Neither can it be taught. Because it is not like physics or music that it can be taught in the manner of a process.

But creativity is all about opening minds - and if that is the definition, one can take people/students through the process of openings one minds so that one is more open to ideas, receptive and so on.

The second part is that creativity is often an attitude. A person who is creative is just as creative in life as well. Creativity requires one to be open minded, open to new learnings, experiences and therefore, it is but natural that it will flow into ones lives as well. (Note: Logical, but does not always work - so that is a caveat.)

So, what can we teach? We can teach people possibility. We can teach people to observe. We can teach people to pause. We can teach people to question. We can teach people to unlearn. We can teach people to experiment. We can teach people to play. But they know all that already - so the teaching process can gently take them in that direction and then let them figure out the rest...

But the best thing we could do perhaps is to allow people to be aware of each of those above processes...etc. etc. etc.

How can one do it? So if it were a workshop, it would have to include a bunch of things (yes, thats in my head for now). That enable people to explore all of the above. But that alone won't be enough.

It is important after that for us to be able to give them something to take back that they can continue to work it after the 'event' is over.

Evolving thoughts!

On creativity and art

A lot of times when we discuss about inculcating creativity into peoples lives, one of the most obvious ways people come up with is 'art'.

So, in general, a typical session on 'creativity' is about painting (mostly), theatre (sometimes) or some other art (rarely).

There are two issues with this approach. One is that someone who is a theatre artist or a painter or a follower of some art  - also knows this craft very well - that means that she pursues this art over many years and masters it. This does not imply that they are 'creative' though this is the cliched approach to creativity.

Second, just because a nuclear scientist paints one (or ten) picture (s), will not lead her to discover a new atomic particle.

So, if someone attends a session on creativity - and paints a bit and dances a bit, it will do zilch to their creative life at work or otherwise. Sure, it will open their minds - but like in any learning experience, unless it is followed up with, made meaningful or given a connection/tool to work with - it remains just that - an event.

A lot of times we see people do creative things - be it in their gardens or kitchen or even tinkering with something - at work or otherwise or anywhere.

The question here is...what do you do at work from a cultural standpoint to allow for that?  Do you encourage that or is your employee only expected to paint in the creativity workshop and then return to a place where such tinkering, experimentation is strictly discouraged?

And while reading about it, I found an excellent resource on creative thinking here...

A fusion band

Recently, I got a chance to see a fusion band - Kalarava. These guys mixed Carnatic music with non-traditional instruments - and interpreted the music in a more eclectic fashion. The songs were fast paced, the instruments non-traditional - yet with a traditional undercurrent - and the kept the audience wanting for more at the end of it.

And just a few weeks before that I got a chance to see a Carnatic maestro perform. The concert was fairly traditional - but the maestro gave a virtuoso performance.

Now which of these is creative? The fusion band is a young set of people - trying out various combinations. The maestro is also fairly young - but at the same time - pushing the limits of his art by virtue of talent and experimentation.

Obviously both are creative - in their own ways. There is no good creativity and bad creativity (there is, but not in this context).

So what is the creative element here? One is where the fusion band pushes the envelope by bringing in different instruments and sounds into traditional music. The other is pushing the envelope by sheer magic of talent.

And yet, both of them obey the basic fundamentals of Carnatic music - obviously - creativity is important but the output of the exercise has to also be liked by the audience - whether connoisseurs or cannot pass off noise as music!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Innovations in the learning space

It is impressive to see some innovations in the learning space. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to see many different companies founded along these tenets.

There are companies looking at assessments in a different way.

There are companies revolutionizing anytime live training.

There are companies looking at using videos to accelerate learning.

Of course, simulations and gamification companies are been around for a few years now.

And these are just some of the companies I have encountered.

But what is even more impressive is the way that 'anytime' training has taken off. People and companies no longer expect to be trained tethered to a room or a desktop. It has to be whenever the person has time and wherever the person is, regardless of whether one is at office or not.

And of course, learning is everywhere. I learn more from my twitter feed than perhaps any other place at a given time...

Evolving thought...

Learning Something

Learning something, especially that is kinesthetic, can be a very tricky exercise. One has to be prepared to go through my 'failure' cycles to get it right. Passing through the four stages of competence is a learning experience in itself.

This was repeated when I recently tried my hand at surfing. Much of my time of the 90 minutes course was spent lugging the board the wave, being pushed around the water - over and under, drinking copious amounts of sea water and finally bobbing up to see which direction I was facing and to have yet another wave hit me.

The good news was that everybody goes through this cycle. Nobody learnt to surf in 90 minutes - it takes time as one passes through the stages of competence.

And as I saw someone much higher up on the learning curve - I smiled. Each attempt the surfer made to stand up, she fell into the water again. That was inspiring and humbling at the same time - that I do have a long way to go before I become anything of an avid surfer.

This experience mirrors my skiing experience where I spent most of the time tumbling in the snow and picking myself up.

But learning is fun!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A railway museum in Mysore

There is no greater learning experience than by doing. As a lifelong fan of railways, we landed up in the National Railway Museum Mysore. I had been there before - it is a quaint, small museum located near the Mysore railway station.

From the time we visited last, the museum has grown a little more.

Now, the thing about museums is that, usually there is an exhibit, then a border (a rope or railing) that keeps a safe distance between you and the exhibit. So, at some point, it is all about seeing something and reading a bit about it or seeing a video - for all of which one needs to physically be there. So, it does become boring pretty soon.

(Case in point - the HAL museum in Bangalore - over the years, there is lesser and lesser things to touch and feel.)

Thankfully, the railways are made of sterner stuff. With a billion passengers trampling up and down their infrastructure, they know how to handle people. I mean, the railways are virtually indestructible.

So, the exhibits are all in which one can climb into, touch, feel and pretty much experience the railways. From the ticket counter which is on a caboose - to the small platform to the various coaches, engines and bogies, it is a quaint beautiful place.

And there is some old signalling equipment in place as well.

I have never been to the railway museum in Delhi (and it is high on the list of places to visit) and while there is a ton of things one can do with a railway museum - this museum in Mysore is a good beginning and whoever is managing it is doing a nice job of it.

All in all, a great learning experience...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Go anti-jugaad

Noticed these two ads recently - both on a similar theme. The theme of jugaad:

 And the second:


The theme of these ads (and some recurrent ideas - makes you think if it is by the same agency) - is anti-jugaad. Represents a fairly different strain of thought than I have seen in the last many years. The sentiment over the past many years has been largely pro jugaad - where as these ads are anti-jugaad.

And that is what the popular sentiment is these days - that while jugaad is good upto a certain extent, the jugaad mentality allows us from seeking long term solutions and instead we end up relying on band-aid solutions.

I have seen this clash in organizations. As Indians work more and more with 'anti-jugaad' countries, it is perhaps Indias own evolution into a culture that seeks long term solutions as opposed to quick fixes.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Increasing Awareness

Many years ago, when I was in school - an elderly gentleman told me, "I am amazed at the level of thought that you have. You are blessed to have a high level of awareness. I wish I had this when I was your age"

I did not understand the meaning of this at that time - but I think I am able to see what that gentleman meant now.

I am amazed at the level of awareness that people have today. Not all people. But I think as generations progress, with the vast levels of information available to people - there is a chance - a great chance to be aware - far more aware than perhaps any previous generation.

I wish I had that level of awareness, reading, access to information at that age. Sometimes, I feel my education years could have been better spent with more learning...I also cringe at the low level of awareness I had at that age...(regardless of what the gentleman felt).

People who are say, about 20 years today have a far greater level of awareness than people in their 40s today. And those who are in school now - will surpass that generation with an even greater level of awareness.

There are people on twitter - very young - who completely fascinate me with their level of knowledge, awareness, cogent communication, argumentation and logical skills. The number of books they have read - that they have access to - has no parallel with any generation before this.

This is not to say that everybody is there - they are not. There is a still a huge chunk of people stuck in old paradigms - but the opportunity that this generation has immense.

It boggles me to think what sort of cognitive awareness we will be staring it two generations from now.

Skills for the future

Now, if the future is uncertain (as it always is) - where does that leave us? Our children? What does that mean for us - as we think of developing the right skills for children?

Here is my thought.

As much as the future changes and in whichever direction, some basic things wont change.

The fact is that nothing can be achieved by Effort. Discipline. Building these skills are very important. To know that effort has its rewards - not in a material sense - but in the joy of learning and becoming 'good' at something for the sake of it.

It is good to try out many things - but being a jack of all trades is not good enough. One needs to master at atleast 1 or 2 things.

That means conceptual clarity - clarity which comes with years of education, trial and error - is important.

Having had the above conceptual clarity - how much can you step out of it and view the world that you know well and break those rules - that is innovation.

Whatever else you have or do not have - in any field - I think the above skills are the basis for almost everything.

Notice that I have not brought in human and life skills and all that - that is a longer thought process for some other day. 

Thoughts on the future

At a recent discussion between friends - we wondered how the world is changing and how we cannot, ever, predict which way the future will go. (That was quite obvious, was it not).

Will the future belong to technology - as much as the temptation is to say yes, it will - a friend gave a different perspective - of how a coffee costs as much as a well engineered electrical plug and wondered if, as technology automates everything - what will humans contribute in the future? And if technical skill - valued as it is - becomes more and more commoditised what does that mean?

Will the future belong to the arts? Or to science? Or a mix of everything?

Is the future one modeled on consumption the only way to go?

Or is there a more, self sufficient manner of living - like in the ancient times. Where each craftsman worked on her craft, provided for a community and made a living. Where there was no rush to grow, where greed did not fuel the next step, where an increment was not expected next year - and at any rate - that was not the reason to live. And by the way, until the arrival of 'growth' focussed economic systems - this is how humans lived for millenia - without focussing on the bank balances, without focussing on accumulation, but lived for need, satisfaction and not greed.

Perhaps 50 years down the line, our generation (and the previous few) will be laughed at, on the way we lived our lives. 

Beyond the first page

At a recent school science exhibition - kids had done a great job with the models. There were models of rockets, telescopes, water harvesting systems, forests and so on. Like with any exhibition the children (and the parents) had put in a  lot of effort.

What struck me here, though, apart from the fact that people had put in effort was in some explanations. Many of the charts, explanations - were saying the same thing. Indeed, many of them were from the same source - 'Google' - and specifically - 'Google First page' and 'Wikipedia'.

So, for all the hard work, much of the information sources were common. Not that there is anything wrong in it  - after all it is the most common source of information today.

But as one progresses, one needs to go beyond the 'first page' in anything.

In a world where everyone has access to the same internet - information is democratic - everybody gets the same. Clicking something on google is not 'research'.  It is just the first step. How to go beyond that? Because the internet which was 'different' years ago - is today the commonest resource for everyone.

How does one go beyond the first page?
How does one teach children to go beyond the first page - metaphorically?