It is about Plan B

Often we hear about back-up plan IF our original plan fails. Plan B is a good idea, it helps you to reduce deviation from expected results if Plan A fails. Yet, many of us fail to see how Plan B can be avoided. If the failure of original plan can be attributed to uncontrollable external factors (like political turmoil or forex shocks), then the existence of Plan B is justified. However, if Plan B is required because of our own expected faults (weak infrastructure or failure of mission-critical equipment or process), then we are very much prone to have a final luck with Plan B at the end. We have designed ourselves to have a Plan B because we know we ultimately need this. Isn’t this a non-competitive thinking in this age of competition? Aren’t we unnecessarily exposing ourselves to higher risks of non-performance by not working towards capitalizing on strengths and reducing weaknesses?

If this is the reason we need Plan B, then this should have been our Plan A!

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Where is the Idea Factory?

The world is hungry for ideas. Idea means opportunities, ideas can be crafted and converted into money. Ideas can build business empires, can transform businesses, societies, countries and the world at large. But where is the idea factory?

Is necessity still the mother of ideas? It could be so, perhaps with the difference that the “necessity” is highly subjective based on time, place and person concerned. Somebody might feel the need for an idea to solve a problem, look for ideas to better serve existing customers, or even redesign a business model that nobody ever thought of. Birth of an idea requires multiple seeds in the process. If Toyota were not forced to think about managing cash flows in its early years, lean manufacturing would probably had not seen the daylight. If Newton were not sitting below an apple tree, his ideas on the force of gravitation probably had never been ignited. It appears that the birth of ideas requires the following elements:

  • A problem situation that helps you recognize and cherish a problem in your mind
  • An incubation period of the problem so that the problem gradually becomes an important one to solve
  • A congenial environment that gives you time and space to think about ideas
  • Some internal and external elements that provide food and fuel for ideas. For example, combine your past experience and current creative thinking along with silly ideas that people around you are talking about. These ideas might make you laugh, however, would help you work better towards reaching a creative idea. Yes, silly ideas are valuable because all it takes is to know how to rearrange and convert it into a workable idea. A lump of clay is not an idea, but making a clay bird out of it is an idea.
  • Finally an igniting moment when you discover your magic idea. The magic moment can happen anytime, don’t force yourself to bring ideas out of your brain. It will show up naturally when your brain kicks that out at that magic moment.

It must be evident by now that nobody owns the full credit of an idea, provided the contribution made by the environment, other people and situation that lead to idea generation. Give everybody else the tacit gratitude for ideas that you share with the world. Everybody and everything else around you are important. At the end of the day, it is “your” idea, but everybody else has some credit in it.

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Will the “Professional” Version of Facebook Work?

Facebook is currently working on a version of services that will allow professionals to connect themselves like Linkedin or Xing. Yes, interesting. The new services might be named “Facebook at Work” (?). No matter what, this version of Facebook is going to create major changes at least in three fronts.

First, the long standing corporate restriction (although not in all countries) of using facebook at workplace might require review. Since many LinkedIn users already have Facebook accounts, there would be a sudden rise of professional facebook users since it requires little switching time. Being directed at professionals, corporate managers have little logic in restricting the use of this social media at workplace.

Second, because of its long-standing positioning as much of a “light-hearted” social media than those “professional-looking” LinkedIn and others, the professional users might tend to use this more informally than LinkedIn (someone please prove me wrong in the long-run, if otherwise). The use of LinkedIn is quite different in terms of contents shared and kind of comments people make about businesses. It is likely that the “facebook at work” would strike an emotional balance between the two and make business stories more interesting. This would ultimately invite more advertising dollars to facebook.

Third, recruiters would have deeper hands in knowing someone better in case “business emotions” are expressed in “facebook at work”, where such expressions are highly likely to occur. Consequently, it would require the sharing members to be more careful in expressing themselves since it would be no more an informal facebook, rather the professional version of this media.

Now it is a matter of time to see the reaction of LinkedIn. Should they stay the same and attract the serious professional crowd only, or redesign to match the future services of “facebook at work”?

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What is in a Product?

It is not about product ingredients, but something beyond ingredients that we buy a product for. In fact, a product equalizes a “solution to a customer’s problem”. Consumer buy combs to fix messy hair, students enroll in universities to reach their career dreams, we subscribe to banking services as they solve our need for certain financial transactions— all of these choices lead to some sort of problem solving. Inversely, it would be correct to say that identification of customers’ problem may lead to new product ideas. This is where the innovative minds are trained to see “problems” as “opportunities”. Marketing practitioners won’t complain that we have shortage of electricity, rather they would find an opportunity to sell chargeable lights. Marketers won’t whine that customers are not buying expensive cars, rather the opportunity of selling cheaper and smaller cars would be explored. Therefore, to think of your next innovation idea, look for a problem to solve in a unique way!

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When Brands Make Mistakes

The world of branding is not confined in a mathematical equation, thus wrong decisions can only be termed as “wrong” once results start coming in. Many assumptions are there in a branding program before a plan can be implemented. Thus situational variation can vehemently affect the outcome of a decision. An apparently sound decision can turn out to be a blunder in the long run. So what should brand managers do when they face such a situation that has long-run impact on the brands and their careers?

First of all, accept the fact that many renowned brands made mistakes in the past. It is not the sole world of small and inexperienced brands alone. For example, Tata Nano has not seen wide acceptance in the Indian market yet, despite its low-cost promise to price mistakessensitive customers. Ratan Tata once said that he did not believe in taking right decisions, he made decisions first, then he made it right! One may always argue that this has not been a pro-active approach to branding. However, let us accept the ground reality that this has been the case in many instances. Once Tata Nano was found with poor acceptance in the Indian market, he went for making this mistake right in two ways. First, he initiated market research to find out what went wrong. Later, he went for strengthening the distribution system, offered free driving lessons for new drivers, and addressed the social prestige issue in the make-over advertisement. Lately, Tana Nano has been in intense discussion on finalizing its overseas production facility.

It appears that mistakes can be corrected and competitiveness be enhanced through the lessons learned from past decisions. It is not a one-way approach that one brand fails and then takes a u-turn to completely reverse the decision. For other brands, they may also keep watching other brands’ mistakes and learn the lesson in the process. However, the real world is full of repetitive mistakes. It seems that not being able to learn the lesson has been a far greater problem than making an apparently bad decision.

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Sourcing Ideas from “Crowd”

A simple workable “idea” could be worth a million when it comes to branding. Professionals know this better once they dip their feet in this domain of marketing. Traditionally, the new product development team along with the brand management team has been responsible for this brainstorming task. Later, the concept of co-creation with creative users becomes a standard practice across many companies. The concept of co-creation entails inviting creative users to offer their ideas, usually through open competitions, so that workable ideas can be sorted out and applied to instill innovation in products.

Fortunately, the advent of social media has added another dimension to this co-creative spree from consumers. Consumers’ candid responses can easily be sorted out even without arranging competitions. All you have to do is to “listen” to social media, by actively paying attention to what probable ideas consumers are talking about on their walls. You can find almost every imaginable consumer’ forum in social media, starting from chainsaw repair to “do-it-yourself” type hair grooming for pets! People talk about their joys, sorrows and complaints evolving around brands. For example, just search “chainsaw repair” in facebook and you will find groups with a good number of members already talking about it. Find out if they are talking about your brand yet. Many companies fiat_mioare already using this powerful source of creative ideas from customers, as we may call it “open innovation from crowd”. A survey showed that over 50% of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted this approach in their innovation strategy. Consumers’ ideas have been adopted in a wide range of products, starting from soccer shoes by Adidas to Fiat’s “Mio”. The well-known innovative company 3M figured that their total sales of products innovated from “open innovation” concept was eight times higher than that of the conventionally innovated product through in-house teams.

The reason behind success stories of open innovation projects is obvious– it is about designing products in a way that would conform to the need of customers. The innovation process might just have changed for better.

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iPhone’s Next Breakthrough!

It seems that Steve Jobs probably left a capable successor to maintain its legacy of innovative products. There is a strong “rumor” that the future iPhone screens would be made of rock-hard yet clear Sapphire. This hard-to-break screens would be highly resistant to scratches, yet crispy clear to give an extra value to customers. This transition from glass screen to Sapphire screen could become a novelty craze among future smartphone customers.

broken-smartThe first iPhone was launched in 2007, with glass screens instead of originally planned plastic screens. The change was hastily done at the direction of Steve Jobs himself who was utterly unhappy of the scratches on plastic prototype that he had been using before the launch. It resulted in a glossy and clear glass screen that stayed like that for a long time unlike plastic screens. However, glass screens had a disadvantage of being prone to breakage. It was reported that its latest variants 5S and 5C are even more breakable than its predecessors. Undoubtedly, this yielded a great business to the repair industry! One study found that, during the five-year period from 2007 to 2012, broken iPhone screens cost US$ 5.9 billion to consumers in the USA alone.

It appears that the solution has been found lately. Sapphire has traditional military uses in armored vehicles as “glass windows” to protect from being shattered during artillery vibration. The material has long been used as dial screens for premium watches like Rolex and Patek Philippe. However, using this material as a screen is a completely new idea in the smartphone industry. To the contrary, industry experts cautioned that cost could be a limiting factor, unless consumers ignore the increase in cost due to novelty and value. It is speculated that since Apple has already invested over US$500 million in a tech company to produce synthetic Sapphire (first time in smartphone industry), it would probably be able to streamline its manufacturing process to make cost-efficient Sapphire screens.

In order to give an idea of how strong Sapphire could be, one could look at the Mohs scale for comparison. Mohs scale is a measurement to indicate “hardness” of materials. While a pencil lead (Graphite) has a Mohs rating of 1.5, the hardest material (Diamond) stands at 10. The Mohs rating of Sapphire is 9, just before the Diamond. Even the hardened steel has a lower Mohs rating than Sapphire.

I guess the next Youtube craze would be the kind of show where people would be hammering on iPhones or drive their cars over the phones to show that they are hard to break!

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Accountants and Marketers: About Professional Chemistry

Accountants and marketers are often at odds in a professional set-up, leading to power struggle and satirically demeaning each other’s competitive capacity in their respective fields. This has been a global phenomenon as may be evident from a number of rated research publications in top HR journals all over the world. Well, I would not dive deep into the theoretical aspect of this issue, rather hover around what practically has been exhibited in our daily lives and how these professionals may cope with this psychological competition.

Under an increasingly complex business scenario, it is inevitable to attain specialized skills to thrive in an increasingly demanding business environment. This sort of specialized training demands that everybody be trained to handle the requirements of their jobs. With every field-specific training and education, there comes a set of attitude and thinking pattern that individuals adopt, as if each of the trainees were born with those traits in their DNA. This “professional DNA” is an inevitable outcome of continuous learning and training that comes with the specialized education, whose objective, at least initially, is helpful to get the trainees accustomed to the future job requirement. Should we train soldiers to become a soft-hearted poet in the battle field? Of course not! Should we train Financial Auditors to have a skeptic mind about a suspected transaction and ask for proofs? Of course yes! Every profession demands a certain pattern of professional traits that the person concerned ultimately adopts as a part of the “self”.

However, the problem arises when two individuals with two different sets of skills interact in an interdependent way that appears to be conflicting to each other’s views. Interestingly, if looked upon from the merits of arguments, both the accountants and marketers seem to be right! Accountants need hard facts, figures and proofs in black & white; whereas marketers can see figures in the ambitious “dream” that sometimes become hard to support with black & white arguments. Marketers often justify spending money in promotional campaigns that is difficult to justify in terms of monetary outcomes. What is justified in the eyes of marketers may not necessarily seem justified in the eyes of accountants. Here you go! While marketers start accusing accountants of their “alleged” lack of training in seeing the “non-monetary” outcomes, accountants start thinking of those “advertising brats” asking for money to throw in the air. So where is the solution?

I think the solution lies in increasing interpersonal trust through communication. Departmental leaders have an important role to take the initiative. While we definitely need skilled accountants, we also need professional marketers. Nothing comes in a ready-box in real life, one has to accept these two sets of professionals as they come in with their built-in package of traits. Rather than blaming each other’s views, leaders should take the initiative to empathize and appreciate each other so that the incompatibility between the packages can be minimized. Any other suggestion?

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Why Marketers Must Be Careful in Translation

What is a wrong translation? The translation that fails to convey its meaning or confer a different meaning than what is intended. Notably, wrong grammar may not necessarily be “wrong translation” per se. “You Cannot Cooking Here” contains wrong grammar, but the meaning is clear. Well, wrong grammar cannot be supported. What is important here is the idea conveyed, particularly when translated from another language, may change the meaning and convey weird, sometimes funny, often meaningless, and sometimes offending message to its readers.

While numerous examples are in text books and case studies, here are some examples of warning labels, funny translation and weird signboards. No offense or pun intended, just some plain examples.Click on funny-display_for-blog.ppsx for a quick ppt show.

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Will the New Ball Change the Game in 2014 FIFA World Cup?

The ball to be played in 2014 FIFA World Cup is a special one. For the first time in its history, a non-conventional ball will be used in the game. Adidas, the maker of the ball, branded it as “Brazuca”, informally meaning anything “Brazillian”. What is so special about it?

Before we talk further, a little technical note is necessary. In total, a conventional ball is made of 32 pieces (called “panels”). These panels are sewn together to give a round shape, inside which a latex bladder is inserted that is inflated to give the ball the bouncing property. Out of these 32 pieces, 20 pieces are of Hexagonal shape (ষড়ভূজ) and 12 pieces are of pentagonal shape (পঞ্চভূজ). These pieces can easily be counted by looking at the outer surface of a ball. There are other types of balls containing 14 pieces or sometimes 8 pieces in total (in that case, each piece of the new ball has to be larger than those of a 32-piece ball to give the same shape as its previous version).

Theoretically, the higher the number of pieces, the more playable (controllable by the player) the ball will be, but the speed will be lower because the ball will face more air resistance. This is a classic trade-off whether to increase the controllability of the ball or increase its flight speed. Controllability also includes whether the ball either behaves in a predictable way or shows the tendency to move away from the target as the kicking player actually intended. Players usually get used to the later variant by practicing with the new ball.

adi_brazucaHowever, Adidas, the long-time supplier of World Cup balls, is making it with only 6 pieces of outer surface for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Theoretically, holding other things constant, it means that the ball is supposed to fly faster than previous world cup balls. How about players’ controllability? It is believed that Adidas must have done extensive research to ensure controllability, despite the fact that it is making the ball with less number of panels than earlier variants. Intrigued by its physical properties, a Japanese researcher already tested the ball in a wind-tunnel (a laboratory set-up) where he found that the ball performed excellent in terms of its aerodynamic properties (kicking direction was well maintained in its flight-path). This ball also has the ability to follow a higher curved path if properly kicked on an indirect angle.

Now, with a speedy ball and a good control including the ability to create a curved flight-path, it is up to the players how they will capitalize on this new ball. I hope the World Cup 2014 will be more enjoyable.

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