January 31, 2009

"The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist."

- Eric Hoffer

January 30, 2009

"Superior leaders get things done with very little motion. They impart instruction not through many words, but through a few deeds. They keep informed about everything but interfere hardly at all. They are catalysts, and though things would not get done as well if they were not there, when they succeed they take no credit. And, because they take no credit, credit never leaves them."

- Lao Tzu

January 29, 2009

"The chief executive who knows his strengths and weaknesses as a leader is likely to be far more effective than the one who remains blind to them. He also is on the road to humility -- that priceless attitude of openness to life that can help a manager absorb mistakes, failures, or personal shortcomings."

- John Adair

January 28, 2009

"The significance of a man is not in what he attains but in what he longs to attain."

- Kalil Gibran

January 27, 2009

"It is better to first get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where to drive."

- Jim Collins

January 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire seems to be the flavour of the week in India. 10 Oscar nominations, celebrity controversy, unending media attention and the film becomes a subject of a raging debate. Yes, we Indians are argumentative and that's something of a part of our DNA. So let the debate, opinions, arguments, counter-arguments, and emotion flow!

The film shows another face of India that the western world seldom sees. In west, India is portrayed as an emerging economic force. But that is one side of the reality. The other side is a dark reality that we, Indians, see everyday but somehow have become habituated to it and have lost sensitivity. We are blind to a world of poverty that unfolds itself at the center of economic prosperity in form of half naked, mutilated kids begging at traffic signals and railway stations. We are deaf and dumb to a parallel black economy, comparable to white economy in terms of magnitude, that has corruption, crime, politics, and poverty as its spine, limbs, brain, and heart respectively. These realities do not excite us but they do create eye popping excitement among the western world where India is mostly an "Incredible India". As a result, such cinema is exalted in the western world and trashed in India. It is not our fault as we see such things everyday in our real world.

But is it correct to keep our eyes closed forever? Shouldn't films like Slumdog Millionaire stir us to rise from our deep slumber to understand the darker side of India, its problems, and build public opinion to transform it and blend it with the brighter face of India?

Poverty is the fuel that runs many a ill of India. But that's the darker side of poverty. There is a brighter side too. Poverty breeds jugad, innovative resourcefulness. Also, children of poverty are not intellectually dumb. They are too sharp at brain but unfortunately most of that sharpness is consumed by evil things. What a criminal waste of talent!

Why can't we tap such huge sea of talent going down the drain to build a sea of entrepreneurs? Dharavi, said to be the biggest slum of Asia and place where Slumdog Millionaire is set up, is always buzzing with economic activities, some legal and many illegal. If looked from the eyes of a seasoned entrepreneurs, such large slums soaked in poverty may provide unlimited raw entrepreneurial talent that can be polished and trained to create sustainable and legal business enterprises collectively worth billions of dollars.

The point I am trying to make is simple. Let's not see our vices as permanent. Let's not lose sensitivity to the poverty we see around. Let's peek into the other world and try to find out hope and promise amid darkness. Let's not sit silent. Let's discuss, debate, and build public opinion with a solution orientation.

And that calls for 'Slumdog Ideas' that can make thousands of millionaires.

"The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves."

- Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald's

January 25, 2009

"You can't manage knowledge – nobody can. What you can do is to manage the environment in which knowledge can be created, discovered, captured, shared, distilled, validated, transferred, adopted, adapted and applied."

- Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell, Learning To Fly

January 24, 2009

Some Elephants Never Learn To Dance

Posted by Bizaholic | 9:27 PM | with 0 comments »

241 years old Britannica is trying to do a half hearted reinvention in what seems to be a forced action thanks to Wikipedia. Britannica has decided to use the wisdom of the crowd to edit, enhance, and contribute to the online version. So finally, it seems, the famed Britannica has given control. But wait. There is a trap. Whatever the crowd writes will have to be vetted by Britannica staff or freelance editors before changes appears live! In other words, Britannica still trusts the knowledge and wisdom of its editors and staff over the wisdom of the crowd.

Why, as a netizen, should I bother to go to Britannica's site and try to enhance the content with my knowledge? I have no reason. First I have to register with my real name and real address, then I have to spend time editing something, and still not be sure whether it will appear on the site because it has to be vetted by Britannica employed editors. Why bother going to Britannica when I can better spend my time and energy at Wikipedia in a much user friendly and hassle free manner? That too when Wikipedia is the most recognizable name in online encyclopedia arena with availability in 250 languages attracting 700 million visitors a year and having 2.7 million articles just in English edition. Let Britannica go to hell.

The problem with Britannica and other such old world giants is that they fail to learn dancing at the cusp of first tectonic shift in market dynamics, and then when forced to learn dance to survive, they learn it the wrong way. They fail to learn, time and again, that in a new world with a new order, old things never work. It was Britannica which had the head start in online encyclopedia arena when it launched Britannica.com in 1994. Wikipedia came only in 2001. Yet it was Wikipedia that had its mind and heart psyched to the essence of the Internet i.e. democratization of information. Britannica always thought about autocratic control of information. Results are for everyone to see.

History is witness that giants are prone to such self destruction perpetuated by their unwillingness to anticipate, be agile, and shun arrogance and the sense of invincibility. It happened to Dinosaurs. It happened to IBM. It may happen to Microsoft too! When disruption happens, giants are the most vulnerable creatures as old habits die hard and it is too much of a pain stepping out of the comfort zone to face the reality head-on.

Britannica's new initiative, in all likelihood, will not bear desired fruits unless it completely reinvents itself and aligns itself to the inner psyche of the consumers in particular and web 2.0 world order in general. No giant can do it without learning to dance with the right steps.

"No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings."

- Peter Drucker

January 23, 2009

"Leaders who make it a practice to draw out the thoughts and ideas of their subordinates and who are receptive even to bad news will be properly informed. Communicate downward to subordinates with at least the same care and attention as you communicate upward to superiors."

- L. B. Belker

January 22, 2009

Every business has to be "demand led" to prosper in the long run. Streamlining systems and processes of sales management is the ideal point to start cultivating a culture of "demand led" rather than "push driven".

There are still many companies in India that are primarily "push driven" and focus much of their energy on pumping stocks among trade partners (dealers and stockists) and keeping inventory at a higher level than necessary. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to do business as any sustainable model of business has to built on "choice" rather than "force".

Transformation of a business into "demand led" could start with following initiatives at basic sales management level:
  1. Greater engagement of stockist in the sales process - Stockists have to be trained and equipped with necessary know-how and made accountable for the sales of the geographical area assigned to them. For a given geographical market, stockists are permanent in nature vis-a-vis sales personnel who may move from one assignment to another from time to time. Systematic development and engagement of a stockist would help in establishing a fairly permanent face in the market irrespective of the movement of the sales personnel in charge of the area.
  2. Demand led ordering process - Any order has to be as per demand received from the market and within the policies and systems of the business rather than to meet primary sales target. Focus should be on demand creation rather than order punching. If demand comes, orders are bound to follow.
  3. Company sales personnel as guide - Role of company sales personnel must be redefined to make more involved in mentoring the stockist and guiding him to generate more and more sales. The essence of the role should be to become a bridge between the company and the stockist whereby the sales personnel acts as a mentor to the stockist and a custodian of company policies and systems.
At the heart of any business success is the ability to create sustained demand for its products and services without any coercion or force. For this to happen, it is essential that both marketing and sales process are driven by a "demand led" culture.

"Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision."

- Peter Drucker

January 21, 2009

"A cardinal principle of Total Quality escapes too many managers: you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships."

- Stephen Covey

January 20, 2009

"Dreams make you click, juice you, turn you on, excite the living daylights out of you. You cannot wait to get out of bed to continue pursuing your dream. The kind of dream I'm talking about gives meaning to your life. It is the ultimate motivator."
- Jim Collins

January 19, 2009

Today, I visited L K Advani's website. Although I learnt about its existence the day it was born, somehow I was not feeling inclined to go and check it out then. But today I did. And I was not impressed by L K Advani or his digital agenda. He and his advisers may be incubating an Obama like political campaign in their mind, but to tell the truth, I am sure, it is just not going to work.

If I understand correctly, the digital agenda of L K Advani and the political party to which he belongs is to attract the Internet savvy youth of India along with other netizens. But however hard I try, I don't seem to find a reason why youth of India and netizens would vote for L K Advani. L K Advani, as a person or as a political leader, seems to be at the extreme other end of the aspirations of youth and netizens of India.

Coming back to the digital campaign, the biggest problem is that it is a case of bad product being advertised to the wrong audience. Everyone knows that nothing kills a bad product faster than great advertising. Why a predominantly young India would like to be led by a 82 years old politician, who is better known as a hardliner rather than an inclusive and progressive leader? The value system and aspirations of the present and future India doesn't seem to match with L K Advani's. And if his campaign managers are trying to blindly copy Obama's campaign to bring the young India into its fold, there is a high probability that it will backfire. Social media and digital platforms help one rapidly spread one's message if one is true and authentic but they are harshly unforgiving to those who try to imitate and fail the test of authenticity of character and agenda.

The truth, as hard as it may sound, is simple - L K Advani is someone who cannot fire the imagination of Indians, particularly young Indians either by age or by heart, who are on a cusp of witnessing extraordinary change. Today, a well orchestrated marketing blitz can propel someone like Rahul Gandhi (young at age) or A P J Abdul Kalam (young at heart) to the center stage of Indian political arena where they can make Indians dream together. But I doubt if the same effect can be achieved by L K Advani or Arjun Singh. Today, a leader can fire the imagination of people, the way Obama did, only if he is in psyche with what people have in their heart and mind.

For America, it was the power of hope, courtesy Barack Obama. For Indians, it is going to be the power of aspirations and dreams. Any leader who has a character and a personality to carry off the aspirations and dreams of a billion people on his shoulder would emerge as a political hero in India in the present time. Who is going to be that hero? L K Advani would definitely not be that hero.

"A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well."

- Jeff Bezos

January 18, 2009

Every company wants a confident sales force. But there is a caveat. A confident sales force can be both a boon and a bane. It all depends on how the sales force is being managed. Since the line between confidence and arrogance is very thin, handling a confident sales force requires tact and a deep understanding of human psyche lest the confidence becomes hubris.

A confident sales force is generally aggressive. But at the same time, chances are high that they become complacent, particularly where they dominate the market. Complacency may not show its ugly face in good times. But in bad times as well as during changing market dynamics, this can cost a company dearly.

When confidence is a result of dominating market over a long period of time and without strong competitive pressure, it needs to be watched carefully. Any change in market dynamics, macro economic environment, or competitive pressures can result in a situation where the confidence turns into hubris and fails to understand the reality of the moment. In other words, excessive confidence in such situations results in sales force continuing to live in a world that no longer exists. As a result, despite having all the skills, expertise, and experience they fail to react to react to the changing reality and by the time they realize their arrogance, it is often too late.

This is a leadership challenge to channel the confidence of the sales force in right direction and prevent the phenomenon of confidence turning into complacency and hubris. This requires that the leader keep its sales force always on toe. This means that the leader should admire the confidence and good work of the team, but at the same time he should throw some tough challenges and assignments that keep the confidence grounded in reality and act as a wall that prevents wandering into the zone of arrogance.

Another thing a leader must do is to force the sales team to do frequent reality checks. This means overcoming the resistance of the team to probe deeper into the changing realities from different angles. Continuous hammering of reality into the minds will force a change in mindset and will ensure readiness to evaluate the changing realities in an objective and confident manner.

It is a leader's job to turn his confident sales force into an asset rather than a liability in face of changing reality.

"If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just."

- Anita Roddick

January 17, 2009

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

- Bill Gates

January 16, 2009

In recent times, two advertising campaigns - Jaago Re (Tata Tea) and What an idea! (Idea Cellular) - have caught the attention of marketers. These two campaigns are not only examples of innovative marketing but also of integrating social relevance into brand values.

In a cluttered world, a brand has to rise above clutter. Integration of social relevance into brand values is one of the differentiators that can help a brand stand out positively from the rest. Association with a visible and important social cause gives brands an air of respect and familiarity. This in turn not only brings a brand closer to the heart of consumers but also encourages the consumers to do her bit to address a social problem. An astutely run campaign that aims to integrate social relevance to the brand values helps the brand to emerge as a catalyst for social change and stand for something much larger than its self.

Jaago Re campaign focused on enlightening the masses about the importance of participating in the political process of the country. They set an audacious goal to ensure that one billion voters speak up for their rights. They partnered with social outfits to activate the message on the ground. The integrated marketing campaign ensured that Tata Tea didn't just mean a tea but a reminder to become physically as well as mentally awake and do our bit to bring about social change.

Similarly, "What an Idea!" campaign took up the task of sensitizing the masses to some of the burning issues of our times like universal education and political corruption. It was an original and innovative thinking to connect brand values with social relevance resulting in an instant connect with the consumers.

As brand differentiators, with potential to raise a brand above clutter, turn elusive, I expect more brands to embrace the social bandwagon in near future. Like all brand differentiating ideas, integration of brand values with social relevance too would be done to death once everybody starts thinking social! But that would take some time and till then a few early birds can expect to create a larger than life identity for their brands.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose the ventures before us."

- William Shakespeare

January 15, 2009

"Entrepreneurs average 3.8 failures before final success. What sets the successful ones apart is their amazing persistence ."

- Lisa M. Amos

January 14, 2009

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

- Mark Twain

January 13, 2009

"Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory."

- Mahatama Gandhi

January 12, 2009

"All organizations do change when put under sufficient pressure. This pressure must be either external to the organization or the result of very strong leadership."

- Bruce Henderson

January 11, 2009

Some books seriously challenge the conventional wisdom and put forth a new way of looking at things. Outliners by Malcolm Gladwell is one such book and it challenges the conventional understanding of what makes a person extraordinarily successful.

Till now, everyone told us that to succeed and reach the riches you need to work hard with conviction and persistence. This was the established principle of success that was fed to us by our parents and teachers. Outliners challenges this principle and successfully argues that success is cocktail brewed with a number of ingredients, many of which are beyond our control and influence. And hard work is just one ingredient!

By using case studies of Canadian hockey league super stars and super achievers like Bill Gates, Beetles, Mozart, and Bill Joy (founder of Internet), Outliers shows that extraordinary success depends on factors as wide and uncontrollable as the community and circumstances you were born into, cultural legacies, the time period when you were born, availability of opportunities, and luck. These factors are apart from hard work, conviction, and talent.

As you delve into the arguments, you are forced to think and relate with your own life and the lives of people you know, both successful and not so successful. Then the shock comes as you start looking beyond the obvious to understand the multitude of factors that shaped up their lives.

On its journey to understand success, Outliners takes us from the paddy fields of China, to the hockey fields of Canada, to the legal world of New York, to the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, to the Korean plane crashes and in the process throws open a vibrant perspective to look at success.

Outliners is a page turner that shocks with its findings, enlightens with its revelations, and entertains with its trivia.

"The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them."

- John C Maxwell: The 17th Irrefutable Laws of Teamwork

January 10, 2009

"Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm."

- Peter Drucker

January 9, 2009

"The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on."

- Walter Lippmann

January 8, 2009

Real Test of Leadership

Posted by Bizaholic | 10:43 PM | with 0 comments »

Leadership has many facets. Yet one aspect of leadership is much more important than anything else. That aspect is "the number of leaders a leader creates."

A leader who fails to create more leaders among his people is a failure, irrespective of all other virtues and accomplishments, as far as the fundamental reason for the existence of leadership is concerned. A leader exists to lead people through a shared vision to achieve committed objectives by continuously identifying, nurturing, coaching, and testing the leadership potential of his followers. In the process, the leader creates scores of high performance leaders capable of delivering results in testing and challenging environments.

In Indian context, K V Kamath, the outgoing CEO of ICICI Bank, exemplifies this better than anybody else. Think ICICI group and apart from K V Kamath a slew of names hits your mind - Chanda Kochhar, Nachiket Mor, V Vaidyanathan, Madhavi Puri Buch, Shikha Sharma, Renuka Ramnath, Sonjoy Chatterjee and others. Apart from these visible faces, there are leaders at every level of the ICICI Group because it appears that the job of a leader at ICICI group companies is not just to deliver results but to deliver results by developing leaders everywhere and empowering them.

The real test of leadership, it seems, is in creation of many more leaders. While evaluating a leader's legacy, the most important question to ask is - "how many leader have you created?"

"Uncertainty is not a result of ignorance or the partiality of human knowledge, but is a characteristic of the world itself."

- M. Taylor, The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture

January 7, 2009

"Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else."

- Tom Peters

January 6, 2009

"The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious."

- Theodore Levitt

January 5, 2009

Tough times bring with them hardships, challenges, as well as opportunities. This is one of the universal truths as evident from numerous outstanding achievements accomplished through opportunities presented in form of tough times.

Tough times are also testing times that help separate men from boys. When things are brighter and everything looks destined for greater glory, almost everyone seems to be remarkable in whatever he is doing. But when things are really tough, the real skills come to the fore to separate authentic from artificial, gems from stones, and leaders from followers.

Current economic crisis, like all other crisis, presents an opportunity to not only challenge our thinking beyond the crisis but also to find out the gems from among the employees. This is the time to find leaders at every rug of the organization who could lead the organization into future.

Here are a few things to look out for in your people in the current crisis –
  1. People who deliver in the present and yet do not lose the sight of the future.
  2. People who show light and hope to colleagues when all it appears is darkness.
  3. People who are willing to happily take on increased responsibilities so that the organization can see through the crisis.
  4. People who look outside the box to find innovative solutions for difficult situations.
  5. People who talk about reality and act based on the reality of a situation.
  6. People who are emotionally level headed.
  7. People who can build excellent teams despite limitations on resources.
  8. People who demonstrate "can do" attitude and lead their men from the front.
These are the men. Economic crisis presents an opportunity to find them and groom them for future. The opportunity must not be missed.

"Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking."

- Anita Roddick

January 4, 2009

"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."

- Henry Ford

January 3, 2009

Empowerment is the Magic Wand

Posted by Bizaholic | 9:14 PM | , with 0 comments »

In the world of management, everything comes to naught without empowerment. A company can have the right people and right processes and still not succeed if the people are not empowered to decide and act.

Results are a direct outcome of action. Empowerment is the fountain-head of all action. A company where empowerment is a way of life always buzzes with action and delivers results.

A great company is never run by a motley group of individuals. It is run by each and every employee of the company. Empowering each individual to make choice, decide, and act within clearly defined boundaries of responsibility and accountability is the vital ingredient that makes some companies outstanding.

With empowerment, opportunities are identified and tapped as soon as they are spotted. Similarly, an empowered company solves most of its problems as soon as they erupt and before they become a full blown disasters.

Great ideas also flourish in an empowered company as empowerment facilitates innovation, enterprise, and risk-taking.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that empowerment is 'elixir of life' for a company.

"When written in Chinese the word "crisis" is composed of two characters - one represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

- John F. Kennedy

January 2, 2009

"The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

- Bill Gates

January 1, 2009

It is fashionable to predict trends. So I, too, am tempted to predict. At the same time I must acknowledge that getting the predictions on mark is probably too difficult.

Nevertheless I am daring to predict and here goes the "Marketing Trends of 2009" in Indian context.
  1. Brand activation will rule the roost.
  2. Co-branding will be actively seen in myriad forms across various mediums.
  3. Digital marketing will see a surge and will become integral part of marketing campaigns.
  4. Brands will facilitate creation of consumer communities to increase active engagement of consumers with brands to shape brand values and action.
  5. Marketing will increasingly focus on the aspirations of its targeted consumers and try to create a brand connect between consumer aspirations and brand values.
  6. Marketing and marketers will face greater scrutiny from consumers as well as society.
  7. Authenticity will make a grand return both in brand proposition as well as brand communication.
  8. Mobile phones would emerge as a key marketing vehicle.
  9. Brands will be seen increasingly aligning with social causes.
  10. Youth quotient in brands will matter more than ever.

"The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed."

- Henry Ford