Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Business Trends

Overall, what am I seeing as the trend in this year from where I see it?

The big thing which I see is the reduction of age. Let me explain. Earlier, why, even 10 years ago, an average manager was in his or her early 30s, the average director at about 40 and so on it went...

What I see now, is a far younger corporate India. People in their early 30s are handling entire businesses, people in their 20s are handling functions and people in their 40s are consultants (heh - that last one is a joke). And I also see average CEO age come down - mostly due to the startup rage I suppose, but then again why not.

The second trend which I see as more pronounced is that many of these new companies - the hires are top class. In terms of their skills, confidence and sheer technical (or business) ability - they are second to none.

What does this mean? It means a few things. If you are on the older side, you have to shape up to match these whizkids. If you are a consultant, you better add value. They have no time for nonsense.

What it means for established companies is that if they need to attract top talent and retain them, they have to do more. It also means that routine jobs are more and more 'unpreferred'. If the company still has such jobs, the people who do them will be the bottom-most pile - not motivated and not interested in anything except shooting the breeze and making money. This pile will disappear in due course.

I also see a large segment open and willing to take risks. Both in jobs and in business. And I see this in the unconventional choices that people are willing to make.

The IT services has lost its charm - it is running on borrowed time. And as they transition into ugly ducklings or beautiful swans, it will create both despair and opportunity.

And as the country matures, there are newer and newer problems to solve and I think that will give rise to newer, untapped, very diverse kinds of businesses and ideas...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Rounding off the year

It has been a great year of learning...

Learning from about 15 different companies...Different cultures..working styles...levels of leadership and maturity...business...challenges...people...

Putting myself into, no, out of my own comfort zone and working in very diverse environments - from students to startups to established global tech firms to large format workshops to introducing new concepts into the market...

What did I learn? The biggest learning for me has been the learning of how to design better. This is no small learning because I am used to a typical school of designing learning interactions - so to be able to throw what I have learnt out of the window (well, not really) and learn another way of looking into it, has been, both, difficult and interesting. Difficult because I really have to activate Type 2 thinking and interesting because once you go that path, I need to still have my divergent thinking hat ON.

Having worked with different people, firms as a consultant - so this is the outside in view - I learnt different approaches that companies use as part of their learning process. This part of the world has not changed much, but there is much happening here, that many companies dont seem to be in the know. I still see a lot of room for improvement here in terms of technology, methods and perhaps even nature of training - the how.

There are some great things happening in the market - does not mean that they are all good for you at this point, but having worked with a few of them, I can say that there are also breakthrough methods/approaches that are available in the market, but HR teams seem reluctant to take the risk. If anyone is willing to take risk, it is business. And this is where I wish HR teams took more risk to try out methods, seeking more engagement from those who are being trained, seek more commitment from business and put more skin in the game. Currently, ticks and boxes are being played is what I feel.

It has been a year of reading, assimilating, meeting new people, audiences, stepping out of comfort zones multiple times, realizing that change is constant, excitement, disappointment and then some...

Thank you all for this wonderful year...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Best books of the year

These are the best books I read this year - they may well have been published in 1900...but these are what I read and enjoyed...

A Stroke of Insight - worth reading if you want to understand a little more on how the brain functions

The Second machine age - has a very pertinent take on the age of machines - and it makes you think. I plan to read the sequel to this in the coming year.

The Leadership moment - 9 stories on leadership - not your usual leadership stories and that makes it a rivetting read

Alan Mullaly and the fight to save Americas Icon - has some good insights on corporate culture in the  fight to turnaround Ford

The Box - is a fabulous story of the Container - yes, something as simple as a container and it is such a great story to read

A man called Ove - a fictional bittersweet story about an old man from a different generation...

Call of the wild - an old classic about a dog, but a heartwarming read

Wonder - its a childrens book, but my, does it make you think!

Eragon - again a childrens book, loosely modelled on LOTR? I lost interest after the first one...

Divergent - sci fiction - starts on a strong premise - then I got bored of the book

Wonder why there are so many childrens books, it is because they get these books home and I get curious enough to read some of them...

Apart from this, Mindset - by Carol Dweck - this is a classic read.

Anywhere but home - the story of Anu Vaidyanathan - is a candid read on the world of long distance running by Indias first Ironman (yes, a woman)

Ingenius (Tina Seelig): the worst book I read this year

A general theory of love: This is a neuro biological explanation of the process of love - and I loved it for the explanation of the brain

Behave: A deeper explanation of why we behave, how we behave - not an easy read, but if you are interested, this is a book worth reading...

Irrestible: easily my most thinking book of the year - because it opens the window into the dangerous new world of behavioural addiction - the internet

Homo Sapiens - a little late to the party, but easily my best read of the year...

And as for the coming year, the reading list is already lined up...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ken and the art of writing...

It is a pleasure to see a business try out a new model. Few weeks ago I had written about how new media is still playing by old rules.

It is here that The Ken is breaking new ground. It is a purely subscription model - and it prides you on getting you hard to get, well researched information. And that means real work - more than writing marketing puff pieces or opinion pieces written in a cab ride.

And it is not a ton of content - it is limited content - I think its about 5 articles a week, but each of them makes you think.

This is a true digital adaption - a new form of journalism that is not ad dependent (as traditional media is), but depends on discerning users.

So, yes, a fan of them - almost every article has been hitting the right notes for my kind of interest, but goes on to show that even in a crowded space, there is space for differentiation. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Prototyping

I had to give a lecture on Prototyping. This is a difficult task because prototyping is all about doing. But one hour was all we had and a lecture to be delivered. So, here is what I spoke about...

Define prototyping beyond the conventional definition
Staying away from cliched stories of prototyping
Examples of prototyping - offbeat examples
Takeaway - we are all creators, makers and tinkerers
Examples of not having to prototype
Wicked problems versus well defined problems
The perfect being the enemy of the good
Propensity to not ship (and how companies are working to overcome it)
Shortening lifecycles of companies and products
Real life examples
Methods like Lean start up, Design Thinking
How to prototype (methods)
And finally, a thought on leading our lives as a prototype!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Experience and Intuition

A few weeks ago I had to go to a doctor for a small orthopaedic condition.

I went to the doctor. A junior doctor heard me out, examined me - made me do a series of movements with my arm, asked me to take a <machine test>. Armed with the report, I went to the main doctor who in turn read the report (all normal) and the diagnosis for 30 seconds and sent me packing with some medication and said I might have to come back for some physiotherapy. For a week, nothing happened - the pain came back after the course and no discernible improvement for another week after that and then I decided to to take a second opinion.

The second doctor heard me out. He glanced through the report. And made me do a series of movements with the arm. He also gave me a couple of tests to do to check for secondary indicators. And thats it. He had identified my condition- gave it a name. He put me on a physiotherapy regimen for 6 weeks. He said there was no need for any further machine tests of any nature - unless I show no improvement in the next few weeks of physiotherapy.

What was the difference? If you notice, the sequence was pretty much the same. Not very different.

The second doctor was as experienced as the first doctor. Both these highly experienced doctors work in big reputed insitutions - so this story is not about the big Goliath being trounced by the small David.

The difference:

One was short term versus long term. The second doctor gave a name for the condition, a name for the physiotherapy regimen and no medication for the immediate pain (it was not a lot in the first place). He also gave me a set of tests to do to identify if this was a leading indicator for something and said if these show up as abnormal - you are into something serious. The first doctor game me an anti-inflamatory course and said you may have me to do some physio as an afterthought - which did not sound very convincing to him - and also to me.

The second doctor created a sense of urgency in me - and got me going instead of treating it as a short term condition - he got me going for the long term.

Also, in the second case, the basic diagnosis was done by the senior doctor - and it took him no more than 5 minutes. But armed with deeper experience he was able to cut to the chase better. And that is intuition - your ability to get to a deeper diagnosis/solution with the same set of data. The junior doctor needed a machine to let him know what was wrong - and the machine could not find out what was wrong - the second doctor told me that this condition cannot be diagnosed by that machine unless it is really bad.

This was the crucial difference in my view. The ability to intuit with the data comes with experience, not lack of it.

We often confuse intuition as a bolt from the blue in which someone wakes up and solves a nuclear physics problem. What we forget is that this intuition comes from deep knowledge and experience and still being able to listen to what the diagnosis is saying - especially when it is not black and white, but grey. Just having the machines, the certifications and the experience is not enough...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Adapting to digital

This is something that has always intrigued me. Newspaper websites, digital properties - almost always look the same - worldwide. TV sites and digital properties - ditto. Why?

The earlier method of printing news was limited by the newsprint and the ads. Now with space no longer an issue (atleast on websites) how is it that it is still organized by print needs? What can a newspaper website potentially look like in future? Today it looks somewhat like a newspaper that is mounted on a website.

What if news was organized in terms of current events, recent events and on events where a long form investigation is being done? Why not start with a map and people zoom into the location where they want news about? Why not a world map with users being to click at a country level to begin with? Why not share data and news separately (as in share long form data alongwith news as well). Why not allow users to scroll through a timeline? Or search about incidents - like terrorist incidents. Currently all these functionalities are quite primitive.

Why does TV still stick to the form of programming (half hour slots). Why cant it move to say, long form debates with proof? Not the form of crappy TV debates which we get to see - but long form debates where people get unlimited time to come up with arguments, rebut and tear them apart? Much short debates are pointless shouting matches. Why not run long form debates. Space is not a problem, time is not a problem. All it needs are good editors - and they can monetise the short content of their programs and the rest can be on the web.

Just two examples, but there are many others who are able to see this transition and work accordingly. The media industry is built around ads - and therefore are reluctant to try something else. Perhaps someone will come up with a different model. Websites like Inshorts come to min. Or the brilliant Brain Pickings. Both very different from traditional media - but my question is when will traditional media change their model?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Department of useless information

The way information is consumed has changed. When we were young, we sat in front of the TV and absorbed all it blared. Or read books.

Since I was more of the latter, I had a storehouse of information - which I labelled - Department of Useless Information. This information was not useless - it did enable me to win quizzes and suchlike till I met bigger hoarders of information who I could not defeat.

Today, the way information is consumed is over the internet and the Department of useless information gatherers have never had it so good. Except for the arrival of non-googleable quizzes.

That means that the internet is a great place to build curiosity - almost like the library of yore - provided of course one uses it for the right things.

So, the kid potters around on youtube - mostly on science sites like ASAP science and Ted-ed and suchlike.

Soon comes with a question after a round of retail therapy by the parent.
Are you happy with the purchase?
Well, ya, kind of.
It wont last very long. Research that happiness of a purchase doesnt last for more than 12.5 seconds.

And another day

Did you know cats can increase the happiness of a person by about 30%?

Yet another day

How many books do you read in a year?
Maybe 25 to 30?
Oh so you are average.
Yes, apparently people on an average read about 25-30 books a year.

What will this do to the future of content? Will movies become shorter - given that short form content is in vogue? Today the feature film running length is about 120 odd minutes give or take a few. Will it become shorter?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Apple, Amazon, Homepod and Alexa

I read this article today. And while the entire article is worth a read, read this snippet in the picture below.

This is the Apple. The same company that set the pace (by and large) for the digital revolution that we now take for granted.

Is this Apples xerox moment? Possibly not. But in this it was definitely blindsided by the IOT piece in this manner. And in the light of many people commenting that Apple is not the same post Steve Jobs - this is interesting.

For one, nobody is immune from change and transformation. Not Apple. Not even Amazon.

This is an interesting example for those who still quote Apple in their management stories :)

The second machine age

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson is a very thought provoking book. 

Written a few years ago with an acclaimed sequel out - it was a bit dated, but not for me. Much of what they said was thought provoking I felt. 

In this age of technology and AI - there is something we perhaps dont realise. 

In the book he mentions a concept called the second half the chessboard (referring to this story) which in turns relates the human understanding of the exponential function (and then I read about Al Bartlett and his lecture)

The second part which clicked was the fact that in general, technology does cause job losses - and it has happened from the chariot drivers times and will happen when self driving cars arrive. It has happened from the bulls in the time of tractors and will happen again in the age of mechanical agriculture. 

Yes, some people will be able to retrain and get another 'job' but the rates are employment are dropping with workforces being replaced by robots. 

Third, will there be jobs which will be untouched by technology tsunami? Well, there will be many such jobs, but the jobs scene wont be the same - exactly as it has never been the same for every advancing technology!

The book leaves one with the possibility of imagining how human-technology as a combination can be far unbeatable than just humans or just technology. 

And of course the pace of change...

On human behaviour

Something struck me as I was working with someone recently. And the person pointed out that the feedback he got is the same thing that we had discussed a few years ago. This despite the fact that the circumstances had changed, the nature of work was different, the culture was different, the role was better, the future was better - indeed every possible dimension of the situation was diametrically opposite to what it was when he first decided to work on the behaviour.

And today, few years later, all other things had changed, but the same behaviour was pointed out.

Coming close on the heels of the story of industrial transformation - this story of human behaviour struck me as a great example - of how difficult it is to make changes to ones own behaviour and how it is a studied process that takes quite a lot of determined conscious effort.

And as I thought about it I realized that I have encountered this many times in my career both for myself and hearing other talk/recount their own experiences.

What I also realized that often we let circumstances blindside us (circumstances are good, behaviour pattern has vanished - circumstances are bad, behaviour pattern is back) when it comes to really getting to the core of human behaviour.

Yes, change is not easy in general, changing ones own behaviour all the more so. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Breaking out of the matrix 1

The matrix is all around you.

From consumerism to groupthink...it is all around you.

At work, it is there at the watercooler. In life, it is on Facebook and other social media. It is there in meetings. It is there in convention and ideas. It is there everywhere. It is the matrix.

Take consumerism for example...

They all say, be yourself. See the ads for any product. They are all the same - from insurance to

Do this, do that. Buy me to be happy.

Try this to be happy - while telling you that happiness is not in the buying - it is in the experience - and slyly selling you experiences on the side.

In Home Sapiens, the author terms this as romantic consumerism - and it is funny that those who espouse exactly this are often at the pinnacle of it as well...There is romance in consumption (of goods, experience, products, services).

There is a strong 'matrix' at work as well - from the organization culture to accepted behaviors and so on...In a good sense it is the culture, in a not-so-good sense it is the matrix of groupthink...

What then, is breaking out of the matrix? I don't know for now :)

A man called Ove

And a fiction book sneaks into my book review section...

Recommended by a friend, this book is a bittersweet read set in Sweden. And written in an endearing manner. Especially the earlier chapters - that move along at a languid pace without hurrying you up - and the clock that goes back and forth. Takes a few chapters to get used to...but by then you are rooting for the protagonist with whatever he is upto.

The story is beautiful - Ove in some parts is like the older generation. That generation for whom, the work alone is what mattered...he has a routine that he follows every single day come rain or sun...he will fight over rules with people...like a stubborn pig...he likes to do things, not talk...

The 4 main characters are well formed. I liked the writing style - the dry, wry humour - it is a style that I wish I could write.

The simplicity of the protagonist Ove  appealed to me - usually the protagonist is the one who does everything - in this case, it is he who is the subdued person, who belives in a certain simplicity to life - and the writing brings to life that life of simplicity - which perhaps we all have seen upto a generation ago...

The emotion - the layers of it - are subtle - without being in your face...and the author evokes it brilliantly - to combine humour and sadness is an art in itself...

I did not like much of the supporting cast - they seemed force fitted and even stereotypical.

And yes, it is an atypical story...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The pace of change

Many years ago, when I was a newbie in my corporate life, our team was managing an xl sheet. And I was looking at the xl sheet when my boss told me, well, that is basically used an electronic ledger. It is not a real xls. Indeed, another of our colleagues had this adage, “it is not an xls until it has atleast 1 pivot table”.

It took us a few weeks of cleaning the records to harness some part of the analysis powers of xl and then we figured out what we could do with it.

As I read The second machine age, in that it says, how when Steam engines were the prime source of power in factories, the factories were often driven by a huge steam engine and all machines were connected to it via different shafts to derive power from the engine. This meant that the orientation of a factory was largely vertical due to mechanical reasons of machines having to be closer to the steam engine (above and below). When factories switched to electric power, the layouts continued for a while (almost 30 years) until people began to change it to a more horizontal layout because electrical power had no such constraints.

And therefore, the authors argue that productivity gains from new innovations often have long time gaps.

When we think of digital transformation of industries or companies – often this is the case. Transformations do not give results immediately – at some later point, it kicks in and one has to be patient enough to live through it.

I strongly suspect that this is the case of newly learnt skills by humans as well, but for now that is just a thought…

Friday, November 10, 2017

Whats a carriage?

The digital native in my family was reading an Agatha Christie book.

"Whats a carriage? Does it mean a horse drawn carriage?"
"Perhaps yes, that’s what it should mean in Agatha Christie times, though it is possible it is also a motor carriage." I was about to continue the story of how carriage became car and so on, before which he said
"But how does this carriage have so many parts – second class carriage, smoking carriage and all that?"
"Oh, then it should be a train"
Yes, it is a train, I read a little further

So many words that have a specific meaning for us have no meaning for digital natives. It is the same for every generation – many words lose meanings and many words acquire meanings.

In my generation, a lot of our mother tongue words have gone – we no longer use them – which is sad – separate story for some other time.

As this digital native generation comes into the workplace, they will not relate to many words and terms at work that are basically a continuation of the previous non-digital generation. Today we have not thought of it and we continue these terms as hand me downs when they have no real meaning or when the meaning has changed.