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!