Instinctive Responses in a 2 Second World Need a Sense of Reality.

Hopefully empathy will not become just a term in management literature or a corporate asset that needs to be measured/quantified.
An organisation needs a sense of being real. In these times, we simply cannot allow ourselves to be carried away by our past successes or think what worked upto now will also work later.
The organisation needs to have real interactions between people. What will work and what needs to be done is an iterative process. You need people to talk, to understand each other’s point of view, to take decisions, to accept failure and learn and equally not get carried away by success. Learn and iterate at all times.
If you look for inspiration in team sport, superstars may win you a match here or there but long term success is all about combining skills and experience and to align together in joy and sorrow.
Is this empathy? or is it just being human and real?
Success can be misinterpreted. One can believe that the method that helped reach a goal once will also provide similar results the next time. We seek to drive that as a best practice or create rules. Somewhere in this need to scale success we lose the ability to listen and collaborate.
While digital tools have created opportunities to connect with other colleagues, processes, culture and hierarchy changes have not kept pace. Mr Vivek Ranadive, CEO Tibco, talks about the 2 second advantage and success. While technology can likely deliver on the 2 second advantage it is the cultural aspect of these changes that need to be understood by leaders in the company.
There is an old saying, you can train a person for knowledge and skill but attitude is what one brings to the table each work day. The atmosphere that is conducive to the being real mantra of a leader must be created by starting with hiring the right people.
I think it is important to always be in conversation with the team. Does being in conversation constitute internal branding? Perhaps it does. Internal branding is not about a bunch of posters one puts on the walls or monthly campaigns on email. I think it is about a team feeling they are a one unit.
A team that feels no fear. A team that is willing to experiment.
Internal branding then is not just what you say on posters but a lot of it is articulated in your actions.
If someone draws a line in the sand or in the marketplace, the immediate response of the organisation should be to not try and erase another’s line but to align effort and services that help create a bigger market/opportunity.. i.e. another line. This needs to be an instinct with everyone contributing together to make it happen.
Instinctive responses in a 2 second world need a sense of reality.

The Socialism of Mobile Phone Companies

Back in the Delhi of the 1980s, our lives were synced to the DMS milk delivery vans. Everyday at a certain time, people would rush out of their homes to buy milk. The lines were rarely orderly and without some angst. There was always this fear that the milk would run out and they would not get the required amount for people at home.
If one failed to get it, then one needed to return the next day. This applied to yoghurt in summer and many other products.
Business analysts will tell you this was the by-product of the socialist model. Things changed globally and socialism is not considered a positive model anymore. Shortages, queues, rationing, bad service are now supposed to be things of the past.
I now point your attention to some new mobile phone companies. They are growing fast and they have obviously got quite a bit of success. Not commenting on their success but the striking similarities to socialist times. Not surprisingly some of these companies origin from countries that have had a socialist past.
A potential customer

  • Register’s interest
  • Participates in a lottery that provides an opportunity to pay and own the product
  • Waits for the next lottery round announcements
  • Has limited places/sites where the product can be purchased
  • Has to have someone recommend them for the right to buy
  • Will notice that the product has been resold by the ‘winners’ at a premium

Not unlike those times, where one had to always say good things about the leadership, the modern twist includes saying nice things on social channels for the permission to register interest for the product.
Would a customer then wonder about service or the lack of it. Well one has to wait and find out.
If you stand back a bit, it seems we are celebrating people who have created by making a virtue out of scarcity (artificial or logistical). You have a situation where about 300,000 people register interest and only about 10,000 or thereabouts are likely to get a product. Those who will get this product will get it when the company gets ready to ship, not when they want it. A large number of people will be turned away from each lottery.
Isn’t there a negative customer experience for these customers? Maybe there are business reasons why this model has been adopted but It does seem disrespectful to customers as well. One might argue the customer is welcome to buy another company’s product and most likely they will.
But is this model sustainable for the long duration? It does not take long for the tide to turn. The customer experience of the socialist era companies was largely based on sufferance because they could make people wait. Can these new companies afford to do that?

Reinventing the Employee Experience

Future of the workplace is an interesting topic and if searched on the net one finds rich material. This note is neither prescriptive nor predictive. It is merely a compilation of intents, and perhaps, related action that will help navigate emerging trends in an effective manner.
Intent one : Being Humane
Not just putting either customers or employees first, but just simply being human. It may be about promises made and then kept. Why does the modern corporation with its swanky offices all over the world seem so soulless? Why are the words so fulsome and yet the intent so empty or often reeks of betrayal.Those that can stand it, stay on and hope things will improve but many leave. The people who leave are employees and partners. They take away rich experience and capability.There is hope that future workplaces can be relied upon to keep their promises and be humane.
Intent two : Learn and Guide
The workplace is not a physical space that is called an office. It is merely a comfortable place that enables one to complete what one promised to do. It could well be a cafeteria or a couch at home or the desk in office. One could be interacting face to face or in a digital conversation stream, there is opportunity to learn and guide. And both are needed. How does the modern corporation enable this? More importantly how does one grasp this opportunity to learn, guide and connect with our peers?
Some thoughts that can be evaluated in the context of emerging workplaces
Think Employee
1. There is a shortage of experienced professionals. The ability of the company to retain experienced professionals seems diminished in the face of choices.
2. Well trained experienced women who were once a part of the workforce need to be integrated back. Innovative solutions need to be considered so that work and life can be integrated better.
3. On the other hand, new members need to be integrated better. Not just processes and manuals but an acculturation process followed by the right kind of learning systems.
4. If you look around various workspaces today, they all seem very similar. A colour difference denotes a different company. Do they really foster creativity or initiative?
5. In a business world, where response time is becoming critical, there is a need to focus on effective and relevant communication delivered when needed. 
Think Partners
1. Workplaces need to integrate with experts and professionals who are not directly employed with a company. Let’s call them partners. Some make the mistake of treating them as vendors.
2. Integrating partners into the ecosystem of a workplace is going to be crucial. The question is how and how quickly? Integration with partners must result in a seamless workflow and a compelling set of skills to tap emerging opportunities.
Think Technology
1. Tablets, wearables and more replace laptops to provide the information and learning required.
2. Real time insights or as Mr Vivek Ranadive highlights the importance of the 2 second advantage.
3. Solutions that implement conversations and information access for a workplace that is increasingly mobile, not in the same location or time zone and one that connects skills networks within the organisation and outside.
The answers to these and other intents and questions will outline changes in the workplace. Workplaces need to encourage initiative fearlessly.

The Frontier of Human-Technology Experiences for an Organisation

The customer is at the heart of an organisation’s decision making. Any attempt at building human-machine intelligence system / capability needs to always put the customer first.
It is the context in which the customer engages with products and services that one seeks to build something unique. So thats the background and perhaps a truism.
One needs to consider the following
A – Clarity
B – Capability
C – Creativity
Intent – any activity such as this will certainly need to scale. An initiative like this needs clarity of intent. One may have a fuzzy starting goal and that’s fine. The intent should be kept in mind as more data or expertise emerges. What is it that we are really building?
Commitment – Fuzzy projects are also not for the faint hearted. A commitment to see it through with appropriate guidance and resources. More so in the difficult stages. It is key to long term viability.
Processes that measure and chart ongoing improvements will certainly test the capability of the wisest leader. How does clarity of intent guide the ongoing enhancements of the mission- from a fuzzy test bed to world class infrastructure?
Infrastructure – An organisation cannot start such an initiative with half baked starting data or infrastructure. The leader must understand the absolute minimum required for the organisation to start this initiative. It is not just the hardware, it’s algorithms, processing capability and much more.
The team will be multi functional, multi disciplinary with an interesting mix of data scientists, domain experts, product specialists, futurists, philosophers, psychologists and much more. It brings the cultural challenge of different personalities, skill sets working towards an initial fuzzy goal to something more specific later. Timing is everything! Knowing about need and finding the right talent at the time it is needed will be absolutely critical.
Responsiveness is an inherent aspect of this initiative. This is apparent however, fuzzy projects vs specific projects with defined short term outcomes will test the leaders decision making. A longer term horizon is needed. How does the leader define longer term?
So an insight has been developed, what does the organisation do with it to make experiences more relevant to customers?
Over time new skills and industry contexts will become a necessity.
How does this impact the project?
What will bring these people on board?
What will create new product categories or completely rework the guiding principles of an organisations decision making / experience?

Experimenting with Sensors – The Organisational Perspective

Sensor networks certainly open up many new innovative opportunities for a company. While there is potential, the organisation will need to address many factors while seeking to tap an opportunity with sensors at its core.
1. People – An assessment of the opportunity will start with the assessment of skill set that needs to be on board. Experienced professionals, relevant knowledge will perhaps be the starting point of any sensor based project assessment.
2. Be open to connect its data – The company will need to think about the data within. There is no place for a silo. So it may require strong leadership push to do away with the silo. That addresses the internal but equally the company needs to be open to opening up it’s data to external opportunities. One may say culture but it perhaps also means that the company needs to look at the opportunity that an API based infrastructure might provide.
3. Be focused on open standards – This is an obvious because it helps unlock potential by reducing friction. It is also perhaps tough to do but a journey definitely needs to be started. Sensor based infrastructure and apps are locked within their own application contexts and usage. This needs to change now. A leader needs to keep this in mind while working towards the open standards dictum. It may mean negotiating skill, understanding time frame as technology improves that allows for open standards to be available.
4. Customers and Privacy – Any organisation exists because of it’s customers, whether direct or indirect ones. Privacy concerns of customers should not be an after thought. Instead applications and infrastructure need to plan for and address privacy concerns from the first step.
5. Imagination and Experimentation – This area is untapped and the leader needs to encourage experimentation. It is possibly the best chance to create some great infrastructure and applications.
6. Power and Connectivity challenges – At the core of such wireless based infrastructure is the power and connectivity concerns of the project. Sourcing of power, stable connectivity may be a challenge in some areas but those are perhaps also provide long term opportunity. What’s needed is a pragmatic approach to these issues with appropriate technology and business intervention.

Improved Care for Senior Citizens – The Sensor Experience

People with long term medical problems face decreased mobility and need assistance for this. This is more in the case of senior citizens. Simple tasks like walking around the house, going to the dining table or the washroom become very difficult.
They need support which may or may not be available. More than the support there is also a need to actually provide assistance to the family members who may be in other areas of the home/location. To provide them with alerts if an episode has taken place.
A system that monitors mobility of senior citizens would be sensor and notification based. The intent for it would be to cover the following four objectives.
a. Alert family in case there is an episode, something that is not normal e.g. the person has fallen. The alert would allow for a rapid response to assist the person. The response and alert mechanism combined with the sensors would be configurable to particular types of situations and responses.
b. Pre-emptive tracking of changes in mobility and alertness. This could prevent any untoward incident. This could also include tracking changes in blood glucose, oxygen and hydration levels. Further, the sensors could be used to guide/remind the patient to complete certain steps at predetermined time periods.
c. The service provides a complete picture of activity, alertness and links changes to changes in medication and it’s related efficacy. This would help the doctor who attends to this person.
d. An integrated platform that includes in-location and outside location tracking with the help of related products and services. Some examples of this could be footwear with certain kind of sensors, linkages to ingestible sensors solutions for people Parkinson’s condition and more.
The above is a broad contour of a solution one could evaluate and perhaps some of the elements already exist. It has significant potential to deliver benefits to patients and their families at home.

Optimism, Entrepreneurship and Wind of Change!

What is “Entrepreneurship”? It is not about finding funds from venture capitalists in an easy market. It is not about making money with the help of policy interventions by government. It is about creating opportunities where seemingly none exists, it is about taking risks with a big heart, it is often about proving naysayers wrong. Entrepreneurship is about starting a journey on a bumpy road because on smooth roads anyone can move ahead.
In sport, you can win on your home ground but the real test of your ability is when you win in an away encounter, where your competitor has fans rooting for them, ground conditions are in their favour, and when you long to be home. To be considered a great, you must win in conditions that are tough and alien and where you have no home advantage.
In the India of the 1980s and the 1990s, people took flights to places in the USA, Germany, erstwhile USSR and more, and created new opportunities. Tax-free income provided incentives to start an export business. The markets, though, had to be created and retained. There was no policy leverage beyond this. Your competitors were people from your own country as well as global competitors. You had to deliver the best,consistently. Some won and some were not so fortunate. It was the era, where exports and exporters were celebrated for creating opportunities and markets. The result was large Indian players in apparel, IT-e-nabled services and much more.
Here was the catch. You could only spend foreign currency that you had earned from your business. In a sense, one lived within one’s means. Some might say it was limiting and maybe it was, but it is a useful thing to remember.
Especially now.
Now, several foreign brands and companies have a significant presence in India. Leisure travel and higher education options in other countries have opened up for Indian citizens. Online shopping sites, Indian and otherwise,now let Indian customers buy clothes, books and several other products from anywhere in the world. Global cuisine is being explored in metropolitan cities. In many cases, local companies have opted to import products as a response to emerging opportunities in the Indian market.
All this means one thing — that we are spending a lot more foreign currency.  
The question is — are we living within our means?
Conversation around the world and in India, for the better part of the decade, has focused on the India opportunity i.e. access to and size of the Indian market.
In this noise, perhaps the need for a next generation of entrepreneurs, that was focused on creating new markets away from home, was not felt. Or not felt enough. There is much talk about slow pace of policy change etc, but true entrepreneurs create markets themselves. One can’t simply depend on the policy leverage of the home base to connect with customers elsewhere.
We take pride in our food habits and how we ensured that global food chains had a more localised product in line with our preferences. But have we created market for our food elsewhere? (Haldiram’s is the only exception I can think of, but do contribute in the comments for more stories.) One could give many more examples from other sectors.
The conversation these days focuses on our currency. Some of us notice the more expensive smartphone, others complain as they holiday in New York or London.
This note is not about monetary policy and there is no claim to expertise in that domain. Nor is this note about import substitution.
The harsh reality is we can’t merely be net consumers; we need to become net creators.
This note is about real entrepreneurs in emerging India, who have the guts to create markets elsewhere. People who are willing to develop products and services, that the consumers of other countries would love to have.
If we have allowed ourselves the benefit of global products and services, then surely we have a responsibility to compete in world markets. If a market for 2 minute noodles can be created in India what is stopping us from creating markets for our food at a global scale? If we sign up for cloud computing from global companies, what is stopping us from creating mobile products and services that the world cares about?
If we focus on creating for the world, then we would not need to worry as much about our consumption of foreign brands and the state of our currency.
All this is an opportunity for the Indian Entrepreneur. It needs ambition and vision on the part of the Indian Entrepreneur to make the most of this opportunity. This is the Wind of Change!
This post is also available on Medium

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