Sunday, 10 June 2018

Purpose Of Business: Solve Problems

There have been many thought leaders, economists and management gurus who have shed light on the question, "what is the purpose of business?". Adam Smith, an 18th century philosopher, and Milton Friedman, a 20th century economist, suggested on the lines of profit maximisation. According to Peter Drucker, arguably the most revered management thinkers of 20th century, purpose of business is to create customers. More recently, Michael Porter (no introduction required) built a case that business should create shared value by connecting business' success to social progress.

Reading the various views on purpose of business (more than the ones mentioned above), as an employee and then as an entrepreneur, I have often wondered how such profound statements impact my business, and more importantly impact what I do. I had to simplify the answer to the question - "what is the purpose of business?" (and as an extension, what is the purpose of me working in any business?).

At the start of my career, I was responsible for selling newspapers through independent vendors and a field-sales team. It didn't take long for me to realise my job was smoothest when I could solve problems faced by these independent vendors and my sales team. The more unsolved problems between these two groups, the more difficult it was for me to perform my task (which was limited to increasing sales of my organisation's products).

As an entrepreneur, I had a similar realisation - and I would say in a more wholistic sense. Dealing with designers, photographers, web developers, manufacturers, agents and finally the customers - there were variety of problems to deal with. The more unsolved problems among this group, the less successful I was at solving my problem of growing and improving my business.

After years of professional experience and continuous reflection on my actions (and outcomes of my actions) - I have come to believe that purpose of business is simply to solve problems. And as an extension, role of any business executive is to solve problems.

Interestingly, this rather simplistic view towards purpose of business seems to fit with some of the views stated in first paragraph. If I as a business owner decide that the problem I want to solve is my own income, then I will work towards business' profit maximisation. I may quickly realise that more customers I have, the higher my profit - thus I may decide to solve the problem of getting (creating) more customers. However, if at a later stage of my business I realise social set-up has changed and that there is a new problem on the horizon - longevity of my business (continued support of customers, through changing values and needs), I may solve this new problem by creating shared value.

In their HBR article - Reinventing Your Business Model, authors Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann introduced the concept of "job to be done" under Customer Value Proposition (CVP). Essentially, asking business executives to define the customer problem that their product / service is trying to solve.

I think the aspect of problem solving should be extended beyond CVP, to the whole business spectrum.

Irrespective of line of business, each business is trying to solve problems. A school solves illiteracy issues, a hospital solves medical issues, a restaurant solves hunger issues (hunger for food / experience), a builder solves roof over the head issue, an author solves ignorance amongst readers, and a management consultant solves problems that other businesses find difficult to solve for themselves.

Keeping this in mind, it is important for new businesses to know exactly which problems are they going to try and solve. If there is no problem to solve to begin with - well, don't launch the business. If the current solution isn't solving the problem, change / innovate. Problem solving ability is a good measure to know relevance of a suggested business, especially for first time entrepreneurs.

Problem solving is a call to action - giving sense of value to each member of the organisation, irrespective of role, function, hierarchy. When problem to be solved is defined, performance measurement will be against the defined (and stated problems)...not against a subjective measure that may have been in use out of legacy. Problem solving attitude can help give appropriate direction to effort of action and effort of thought separately.

Needless to say - by focussing on problem solving, business executives will need to sharpen their skill of defining the problem. When the problems are correctly defined, solutions will not only lead to desired business results, but also possible innovations (in both, products & processes). However, when the problems are incorrectly defined then results will be far from desired and this scenario may become fatal for the business.

Monday, 28 May 2018

My 5Cs Model of Marketing

It is common in business, and in Marketing function, to have models, frameworks, abbreviations, jargon etc to work on a problem, describe a situation or simply keep the knowledge limited to practitioners (by making it difficult for others to comprehend jargon and / or abbreviations). It is also common to work with a digit and an alphabet - 4Ps & 7Ps of Marketing Mix, 5Cs of Marketing and then there is also the famous McKinsey 7S model.

Recently, I was asked what excites me about Marketing (& communications) industry. This question made me realise there wasn't just one thing that I could single out, or say specifically, that stood out - however, I also did realise that there were a few that I could list down. In order to speak the Marketing language, I answered the question with my own 5Cs model (of what excites me about Marketing):

1C: Consumer-centric - neither constant nor static, consumers are at the centre of everything that this industry manages. It is exciting, for me, to understand, work with and manage ever-changing consumers (in terms of needs / wants / behaviour / demographics).

2C: Critical - plays a critical role in business that of being a sensory function – as it sees, hears, feels what consumers need / want, communicates what a product / brand offers, and at times innovates a new solution to an existing consumer problem. Not only that, Marketing is critical as through this, businesses manage to keep their fingers on pulse of competition and changing environment.

3C: Creative - not only in the form of art / design or smart copy, but also in thought process and approach towards problem solving – this industry demands creativity. Level of creativity (art / copy) and frequency of creative solutions provides a distinct competitive advantage to businesses.

4C: Collaborative - this is a team-sport, where different members of the team bring different (yet equally desired) abilities. As a people-person, collaboration is where my strength lies. In business, as in life, collaboration can solve most issues, but is most difficult to achieve.

5C: Challenging - all the above Cs ensure there is never a dull moment, and managers need to be proactive, in-sync with changing environment (consumers / competition). Every moment, every day could potentially bring me face to face with a new challenge – and that excites me the most.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Work Hard...and smart!

There is an increasing popularity for "work smarter, not harder" mantra. In last week itself, I have seen few people discussing this on LinkedIn (which is what prompted this post) - with a common thread of discussion: not only smart work can replace hard work, but also that this is the need of the hour.
There could have been a time (or a generation) when the common belief was to work hard - that's it! However, that belief has changed, drastically at that. Hard work on its own might not be enough - there is a strong need for smart work as well. My objection is with the promotion of idea that smart work can replace hard work (as the cartoon's message suggests).
Without hard work, without relentless practice, can any sportsperson become a pro - let alone become a champion? Another mantra comes to mind: practice makes perfect. I will concede that hard work alone may not lead to success, but it is still not replaceable by smart work.
In business terms, a fresher needs to put in the hard work to learn the ropes. Hard work ensures the fresher experiences and understands many aspects of the task, which then can lead her to plan out a smarter way of completing the task. If she is taught the "smart way" of doing things from the beginning, essentially she is not learning the process (the why of it), rather learning short-cuts. The short-cuts that are due to someone else's hard work, leading to short-term efficiency.
For an experienced executive, she becomes a fresher every time she takes on a new role - a promotion, change of company, change of location, change of industry (or a combination of these). The smart work that helped her in her previous role may / may not be enough to deliver desired results in her new role...she needs to fall back on hard work, even if for a little while.
In my experience, life is rarely either black (hard work) or white (smart work). Life is usually a shade of grey. At times more of black is required, and at some other times more of white is required - but as a rule no one should believe one is superior to the other. Each has its own importance, need and appropriate time to use.
My mantra: work hard...and smart!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Small Achievements Are Important

When was the last time you took time to congratulate yourself? When was the last time you actually felt as an achiever? When was the last time you celebrated an achievement?

If you are anything like me, then it must have been sometime since your last celebration of any of your question then: why is it so?

For long I have worked keeping a goal in mind. A goal that is achievable, but neither an easy one to achieve nor a quick one to achieve. For all the time that I am working towards my goal, when I am in the process, I am focussed on what I am supposed to do and unforgiving on self for digressing (which I do quite often).

Usually the process of completing a task is tough - whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Because I don't enjoy the process much, there is hardly a great sense of achievement on successful completion of the task because worry of the next task engulfs me. I am trying to work on changing this attitude towards how I approach life (work tasks / personal tasks).

My new mantra is two-fold: I need to break the overall task in smaller targets, and value other aspects of life at the same time. 

The former has a further two fold benefit: 1) the pressure of climbing a mountain gets broken down in layers of effort, giving me a moment to catch my breadth and check / recalculate the way forward, and 2) since each smaller target is a task in itself, I can start enjoying its completion and self-congratulate for the same. This method allows me to enjoy the process a little more - and keeps me motivated.

The latter is more important for me to follow. Problem is that I forget everything else that is important in my life, while I am working towards a huge task. Not only do I ignore the people I love, but also forget to take care of my mental / physical health. By accepting that there are always going to be more than one important aspect in my life, I can start valuing each aspect as it deserves. Also, this allows me to spread my sense of achievement and overall happiness across a wider base. Even if I don't meet desired success on one aspect, I can find happiness via success in another.

For example: I am taking sometime out today to announce to everyone - that I have completed 10 years of blogging. In this time, I have written 200 posts (this is my 201st post). When I started my blog, I had no idea how will it go - whether I will have anything to write, whether I will continue to enjoy writing...but here I am, ten years later - still writing, still enjoying writing. This is definitely a WIN in my books. I will pat myself on the back - take a personal moment to reflect on this achievement - and most importantly, allow myself to enjoy this personal success!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Agricultural Revolution: History's Biggest Fraud?

“Fraud (noun): a person or thing that is not what it claims or pretends to be" - Cambridge Online Dictionary.

As per Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), yes Agricultural Revolution (AR) is history's biggest fraud (from his book, Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind). I am not quite in agreement with his views. In following few paragraphs I will quote some of his views (taken directly from his book, Sapiens), and either I will put forth my reasons of disagreement, or I will raise questions that I feel have been left unanswered, rendering author's views to be incomplete / inaccurate.

Pg87: "History's Biggest Fraud"

For me - this start in itself was off-putting. Who has given YNH the authority to suggest (although he does more than simply suggest, he claims it) AR was a fraud? For fraud to happen, there should be 2 parties involved - I can either be the fraudster, or the victim of a fraud - but I cannot defraud myself. As per YNH, Homo sapiens (HS) are one specie (singular unit, which has become victim of AR fraud) - then who came to Earth to introduce agriculture to HS and sold a fraudulent concept to HS? If HS were themselves responsible for agriculture, then why is it a fraud?

If YNH wants to claim that this is a generational fraud - that the generation that started AR was the fraudulent one and all following generations are victims - then does he truly believe his personal life (if still possible) would have been better had it not been for AR?

Pg89: "Scholars once proclaimed that the AR was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. >> That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time. Foragers knew the secrets of nature long before the AR, since their survival depended on intimate knowledge of the animals and plants they gathered."

So many problems with these few lines...such deep-rooted narcissism from YNH: all previous scholars knew horse-shit, and I know it all!

Also - YNH claims foragers' "intimate knowledge", on which their "survival depended", to be intelligent enough for any addition to that intelligence not only to be unnecessary, but also not worthy enough to be labelled intelligence at all.

Pg90: "AR left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers". 

Pg91: "How did wheat convince HS to exchange a rather good life for a more miserable existence?"

Really? He knows this how? How many farmers of that era and foragers did he interview to understand what caused their lives to be difficult and what satisfied them? What is his source to the claim that foragers themselves didn't want to move away from hunting and gathering all their life, and that they didn't want to settle down at one place?

Pg94: “Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the HS genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the AR was a trap.”

The once considered “intelligent” lot, the foragers (Pg89), are now considered insane on Pg94. The intelligent foragers were insane enough to accept a concept that led to lowering of their standard of living. But, who decides the standard of living? Who decides what was good / bad / satisfactory – for something that happened 10,000 years ago????

Pg97: “Why did people make such a fateful miscalculation? >> People were unable to fathom the full consequences of their decisions."

Pg112: “Foragers discounted the future because they lived from hand to mouth and could only preserve food or accumulate possessions with difficulty. Of course they clearly engaged in some advance planning. >> The AR made the future far more important that it had ever been before."

Is it not possible that foragers were actually the most intelligent ones that humans ever have been…and knew exactly what they were doing with AR, i.e. ensuring survival of HS for thousands of years to come. Probably foragers understood that as long as they continue to be just one of the animals on Earth, their survival was always going to be questioned by any already existing specie or a new one (as their coming on scene meant extinction of few other species).

Pg90: “The AR was history's biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa."

I still cannot understand why is AR considered to be "History's Biggest Fraud". Unless YNH believes Devil defrauded the "intelligent" foragers into becoming slaves of their own activities by introducing agriculture via handful of plants. 

Is it YNH's stance that nature fucked HS - then why is he crying about it? Nature fucked so many species by introducing HS. At least with AR, HS specie has managed to survive and become more "intelligent" by learning to use the brain gifted to us.

It is the use of this brain that led to the very tools YNH used to research his chosen subject, and write a book on his research. Is it YNH's stance that all this intelligence not count to more than the intelligence that he attributes to survival instincts of foragers? Or is it his stance that all this that we have today (2018 A.D.) would still have been possible with AR?

It is easy and utterly useless to put value judgment about past decisions and actions, without understanding what were the circumstances during which these decisions and actions were taken. YNH has neither shed any light on what were the circumstances faced by foragers, nor shown evidence of multiple options that may / may not have been available to foragers for securing long terms survival. It is possible that AR was the best of bad scenarios waiting to happen for foragers – which only means, foragers accepted their fate as becoming domesticated. In this case - no, AR is not a fraud, leave alone history's biggest.

If a layperson, like me, can have so many questions on YNH's views - I do believe those who are more familiar with this subject will find more loopholes with this story. For me anyone claiming such things, when there are unanswered questions and obvious limitation on understanding why things happened back then (as they did), for personal gain is not doing anyone any favours.

Anyone who has believed YNH's words that AR was indeed history's biggest fraud, has been misled and taken for a ride. Does that make YNH a fraud? that is another unanswered question!


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

My Confusion with Religion

"I am not an atheist, thus I must be religious." This is the best way I can describe my position on the subject of religion, and what it means to me. In my late-teens (nearly two decades ago), I started using the term "spiritual" to better describe my position. "I am more spiritual than religious" was my go-to view on the subject. Obviously, I had no clue what these concepts meant...honestly, I still don't understand much about either concept.

Due to my upbringing, and my own life experiences and sensibilities, I do believe in a higher-power, which is superior to human comprehension and out of reach for human exploration.

Various groups (of people) have been formed basis a commonly-accepted view of this power, giving it a name and some sort of form - thus giving birth to concept of religion. As a simpleton on the subject - I take the liberty of being ignorant about details in general. I think of religion as a human creation - no divine power would want human animal to segregate its society, when no other animal group does the same.

Whatever be the need in past for humans to form religions - today, role of religion has to be re-examined and redefined. It is not my intent to question religion - any one religion, or even religion as concept. I, too, am a religious person - believing in my own way. It is my intent to question how human society is using religion.

At an individual level - religion does wonders. Religion provides a moral compass, a set of guidelines to live by, at times a few laws as well - all of this giving the individual a sense of purpose of life. More importantly, religion provides the individual a sense of belonging, a sense of being rooted & centred around something greater than self. Individuals can invest more time and effort in understanding their religion better, improving their own life in the process (as they, alone, see fit). So far - religion is a greatly positive power.

At a group level - religion becomes confusing to me. Where there is a group of people, there is a need for checks & balances, for order, for hierarchy, for laws, for guidelines of moral values...and more!

Since it is humans in the group that we call religion, and each group is managed by other humans - I cannot help, but think these humans are prone to human frailties. Hunger for power being one such human frailty that I feel is one of the greatest negatives of religion at a group level. The thought that one religion is superior to others, or that one religion got it right while others got it wrong, or that the more people one religion has (as followers - not believers) the stronger that religion becomes - is all human need for power, not divine need.

The more we use religion as an exclusive club, with rigid and strict set of rules (many of which are archaic), the more segregated society becomes. This exclusivity has already resulted in power-hungry people to create factions for themselves, becoming leader to followers (of a human and not of divine).

In my view - a new born is made to understand religious values much before the child has any understanding of law of the land. This can be through the diet provided (or not provided), through the cultural aspects (mannerisms / actions), and even through language(s) taught to the child. Religion, therefore, is quite a strong concept. This only means there is an enhanced need for people to understand religion - as a concept on the whole, and not just understand more about their own religion. 

With the sensitivities today, and a low threshold of being offended - I believe religion as a group function is failing the individuals. It may be time for individuals to wake up to this reality, and realise how they want to work within (and without) religion. To seek meaning and to question (not disregard) status-quo may be better for our times, than being blind believers. 

Do human leaders of religions allow seeking and questioning by individuals - if not, then why: my confusion with religion!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Importance of Narrative We Tell Ourselves

Most of us are story tellers - good or not-so-good, having a conversation, making up reasons to satisfy children's curiosity, embellishing experiences (or achievements), or at times fabricating incidents that may never have happened. We share stories about our life with other people all the time - this post is for the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories shared with others are usually about past events, things that have already happened. The stories we tell ourselves are about future scenarios - all the various possibilities that can unfold and pan out. Future is inevitable - it will happen...something will happen. We can at times predict what's going to happen and at some other times are completely taken by surprise.

Our mind is capable to building multiple possible outcomes for almost every decision we take. Not only is our mind is capable of thinking of the good (desirable) outcomes, but also our mind is capable of thinking of the bad (undesirable) outcomes.

If it was just this, listing out various possible outcomes (good and bad), things would have been simpler. However, our mind is also inclined to attach itself with some possible outcomes by working out an equation of probability and desirability. For those who are pessimistic, their mind starts telling them a narrative that's more bad than good...and vice-a-versa for those who are optimistic. 

This is where we often fail to see an opportunity to take control of our own thoughts, we simply believe we are who we are - thus an optimist will continue being an optimist, and a pessimist will also continue being a pessimist. The opportunity is to start working with our mind, bringing our thoughts more in our control, and becoming more balanced in our approach towards future.

Fact of the matter is simple, none of us know the future. We can never be sure of how exactly future events will unfold, how exactly will results of our decisions of today pan out tomorrow, and how exactly will we feel about the outcome at that moment. But what we can definitely do today is to find a balanced view of our future - highly positive outlook could lead to feeling of failure if the positives don't come our way...and a highly negative outlook could make our present miserable even before the future events have a chance to do the same.

Just as we are convinced telling stories to others helps make our case, or helps others accept a reality better - we need to learn to believe in the power of narrative we tell ourselves. The more balanced we can get in the narrative, the more centred we will become. The more centred we become, the more capable will we be in accepting whatever future brings for us.

It is acceptable that this line of thought is seemingly for pessimists, so that they can find it in them to feel better about their future and in the process not make their present miserable. However, the idea presented here is two-fold: a) take control of the narrative we tell ourselves, which brings our thoughts under our control, and b) to use this control to build a balanced view of the future.

It is not that difficult to train, and control, our own mind. If we can, at times, convince others to see a scenario as we want them to - we sure can learn to convince ourselves!

Friday, 15 December 2017

How Do I?

How do I begin this poem?
How do I explain this in words?
How do I describe my love, my darling?
How do I tell the story of bees and birds?

How do express what I feel?
How do I ensure I tell it all?
How do I say your smile is my high?
How do I say your tears are my fall?

How do I promise uninterrupted happiness?
How do I convince you that I share your pain?
How do I manage all, or any of it?
How do I get you back in my arms again?

How do I sleep at night?
How do I wake up every morning next to you?
How do I remove the miles that separate us today?
How do I fly across the seven seas to be with you?

How do I change our situation?
How do I tell you, how I miss your touch?
How do I make things better?
How do I make this poem convey so much?

How do I?