Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Undocumented Irrelevance of the Written Word

Imagine – “Would we still be ‘writing’, had we invented a sound recording device before we developed the alphabet?”


I suppose the primary objective of the written word was, and still is, ‘to Record’. But then, isn’t it surprising that we still learn to read and write, when we can ‘record’ in many other, and much more efficient, ways?

We invented the written alphabet before the audio (and then a video) recording device. Had it not happened in this order, what we would have had today as language, would have been aural sounds & symbols as denotations. We would have been communicating and recording information by using sounds and symbols in place of writing letters and words.
We can argue, however, that characters or words are also symbols of a certain kind. No matter how correct this may sound, it actually is not. The fundamental difference between symbols and characters is that characters and words are a representation of meaning that may or may not resemble ‘that’ what it is representing. As Christine Kenneally writes in ‘The First Word’, a word is an arbitrary association between sound and meaning. There is nothing in the sound of a word that tells us what it means or what it does. So the word “Apple” does not look like an apple, does it?

May be it would be a good idea to try and step back in time and ask ourselves - out of all the, equally potent, senses that we as humans possess viz. the sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, & hearing, why did we consign the written word to the sense of sight?
The reason once again, perhaps, was that it was the best possible way of recording things for others to be able to see in the absence of the person who recorded it.

But this choice, to depend on verbal and visual mode of communication through written words, perhaps came at a huge price, a price that we as a species have paid in the past and are still paying, without actively realizing it.
The price is being paid in the shape of poorer development of our other senses for the purpose of capturing information, understanding information and acting upon it. What follows might not be the best example but I would still like to cite it in order to illustrate the point I am trying to make. I was amazed by how animals were warned much in advance of the disaster caused by Tsunami that struck many Asian countries a few years back. We as humans, with our ‘sophisticated’ early warning systems (based on written words and symbols!) were caught almost unaware, many of the other species were observed to be more prepared without any technology to back them.
Has our reliance on languages, especially the written word slowed down the development and evolution of our ability to sense things?
From the above example it does seem to have had a negative impact. It’s impact is such that many of the ‘lesser species’, as we hitherto believed them to be, are seemingly ahead of us in sensing & processing critical information about our environment.

Although I do not have empirical evidence but everyday observation tells us more about another weakness of the written word. Writing perhaps is among the most unnatural things that a child learns as he grows up. To me it seems that we are not biologically coded to write. Just observe how a child learns the spoken language effortlessly; however the maximum punishments that he gets are to do with memorizing & writing the written word. This is in sharp contrast to the seeming effortlessness with which he learns to speak, hear and understand the language.
The need for memorization through the written word slows down the process of learning. We easily forget that memorizing the things we learn, viz. spellings, dates, facts, formulas etc are not really critical. These are just facts and facts can be looked up. What really matters is how things stack up; or fit with each other - the stories, the frameworks etc. These frameworks become the operating system of our thinking, our point of view and basis of our judgment. Imagine how much better we would do for ourselves if we were not forced to memorize with written word as the guiding paradigm.
Even after having learnt to read and write, we spend a large proportion of advanced learning hours and years towards memorizing things. It is only when we leave the college and schools behind; when we start our lives at work that we really begin to unlearn that what we have remembered and start using the associative faculties of our brain viz. how things and concepts are interrelated, and thus what is the bigger picture.

The human brain has marvelous associative processing capabilities, however I believe that written languages, sub optimize its true potential. Could it be that we would have been a better thinking race had we developed a more natural approach to learning a language an approach that could have complimented our almost limitless ability to think?

To me, among others, one of the most important roles for language is communication. And in my understanding, communication is a subset of sensing. It is a way of being in touch with the world around us. However the very act of developing the written word seems to have discounted the importance of sensing.
In our desire to standardize and simplify things we have lost a lot of, those things that could not be written or read. This reality assumes ironical significance when we acknowledge that “large and perhaps the most critical part of all communication, is nonverbal.” Despite acknowledging the importance of ‘sensing’ that what is not being said or written, we are still stuck with the ‘written model of language’.

Having shared my understanding about the importance of sensing over listening and reading, I would now like to share with you a related observation, it is about everyday challenges that some of us experience but never really get to think about actively. Worst still, this challenge is often lost in the rough and tumble of our everyday work.
I am talking about the pace of our thinking. Doesn’t it occur to us sometimes that our speed of writing with a pen or pencil or using the keyboard is way behind the pace of our thoughts? Don’t we sometimes get frustrated when we lose thoughts and ideas just because we could not ‘document them’ when they occurred, only because we did not have the time to ‘put them down’ on a piece of paper, or a PC or our PDA.

Given these constraints of the written word, let us now look where we are in terms of progress that can potentially help us free human ability from the grips of the written model of language

1. Today we have both audio (and video) recording devices
2. However we still have large scads of ‘illiterate’ populations in different parts of the world
3. At the same time we also have people who are thinking fast enough to find the written word cumbersome and sometimes frustratingly redundant

Why then are we still unable to rid ourselves from the grip of the ‘written word’ paradigm?

1. The illiterate need to be literate first, before they can use technology, which of course, is predominantly language driven

2. Even those who are at the leading edge of technology adoption and are faced with impact of language as a pace retardant, still need to use the classical languages (English or any of the remaining 227 languages as options)

I see tremendous opportunity to enhance the role of technology as an enabler for people both at the bottom and the top end of the human development index.

On one end are number of technology-dark, illiterate communities across the globe. They can in fact reap the benefits of mobile personal technologies if they are given a chance to interface with these technologies, through a new standard of symbolic interface. This new standard would free personal mobile devices, among other, from the shackles of classical language(s) that hinder the ease of adoption.
This would help a large section of the third world to leapfrog into a technology integrated world that can enable, empower and consequently elevate the quality of their lives.

We need to ask ourselves what is easier and faster–
Waiting for the whole world to be literate before they can start using personal technologies that enable and empower and finally uplift quality of human life?
Develop a new standard that helps these people bypass the digital divide, and make the human race more progressive?

On the other end of the human development index we have another set of technology users who can have the pace of their thinking unshackled from the tardy classical languages that constitute the standard interface for most of the personal computing technologies.

Computers and human brains process much faster than the speed at which we write or use the keyboard. This high speed processing can be utilized best by shifting to a more efficient language interface that is suited for high speed cerebral and microprocessor functioning.

Today we can only think of an interface driven by aural prompts.
We have seen some of these software applications being bundled & marketed as ‘added features’ in the personal entertainment and communication devices. Most of this voice recognition software has not proved to be robust or cost effective enough to attract large-scale adoption. But speech is once again only incrementally better than the written text.

The ideal interface that can do justice to the high speed processing is neural prompting. Perhaps what can be called interface at the speed of thought.
With the technological developments happening in area of understanding how exactly our brain functions (deconstructing regions in brain that are responsible for specific tasks), we might not be very far from actually mapping out the key functional areas of the brain which in turn would help us interface with the digital devices around us and do that much more efficiently.

Though this may be way too far in the future but as I see it, speech and text is not the destiny of language. The languages of future could well be neuro-impulse traveling effortlessly to and from digital processors around us and the neuro-biological cerebral processing inside us.

I am not building this case to garner support & throw the written word out of the window. However I believe that this is an honest attempt to try and sensitize many of us about the inherent weaknesses of the written word and the imperative to develop something better.

Today the written word has become a convention that nobody questions. Little do we realize that in a future integrated with personal technologies, the cumbersome nature of classical languages would retard the growth of mankind from becoming a more efficient race.

The written word or ‘Classical Languages’ as I prefer to call them, are a model from the past. -a past when ‘documenting’ was the only way to record. But as we move into a technologically enabled future, we would need to develop new languages that deliver greater efficiency and versatility - a new standard of interface that can do better justice to users at the two ends of the development spectrum.

In future language might have a bigger role to play than just ‘to record’. In the future language might as well be helping us create ‘new records’ as we reach new frontiers of human development!

Are we ready, already?

Saurabh Sharma

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Of mobisapiens, impulse & HiFi of tomorrow

Future of all HiFi is Wire Free Connectivity (high speed and low - bloody low - cost).

1. As people move around geographies, and leave behind their emotional anchorage, they would want to reconnect, recreate, share the times gone by, with people who are closest
2. This is also linked to another universal truth – as people grow older they tend to have fewer and fewer friends. As a result, the reliance on emotional bonds formed at a younger age increases

This desire to stay private (fewer newer friends), stay connected (feeding older bonds formed earlier in life), clubbed with the new technologies, that virtually allow us to be in touch with anyone, any time, anywhere and all the time, makes a compelling theme for, what I call, nostalgia in real time.
(In its extreme form ‘nostalgia in real time’ is known to have broken marriages, for ‘her boyfriend was much more available, on ‘scraps’ and through ‘text’, to listen to her, than her husband!’)

While a large chunk of Web 2.0, through social networks, is exactly this – staying connected all the time. And also exploring new connections around old passions (from miniature cars to the city one belong to). Its real potential would be unleashed when it becomes the substitute for what we see today as the Short Text Messaging (SMS) mobile hand-held devices.
In other words, when a girl listening to James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” can scrap (or ping or poke) her friends about how they felt about the same song, back in the college dorm..
The key difference, among others, between the SMS days of today and on the move Scrap days of (not very distant) future would of course be
1. Unlimited Text and Picture and Audio and Video capabilities (in contrast to the Short & Text Messaging of today)
2. Cheaper (if not free) connectivity
3. Not needing to boot the computer to do it

HiFi in future, would have to be driven by WiFi (or WiMax should I say) because the real frontier for all devices and interface designed for the mobisapiens (mobile mankind) of tomorrow, would be seamless connectivity everywhere (space) and always (time).
In other words for a device and interface to win the ‘is intuitive’ vote it would need to be ‘impulse compliant’.
Devices and Interfaces that would successfully erase the gap between what is felt by one and is shared with many others, almost anywhere instantly, would be the HiFi of tomorrow. (I assume that this would happen without any ‘transmission loss’ that results from poor connectivity and prohibitive pricing).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Convergence?

For the past 2-3 years, and perhaps even today we have been hearing that convergence is going to land in a gadget, when everything ends up in the palm of your hand. So you will have a device that is -
a Radio
a TV
a Music Player
a Computer
a Telephone
a Planner
a Clock
a Still Camera
a Voice Recorder
a Video Recorder
a Gaming Console
Perhaps even an Insulin Tracker
And a lot more..

(I am not even talking about ‘petty cash features’ as the calculator, currency converter, etc).

But I do not see that device yet. At best I see some gadgets that click really good pictures and help you transfer them wirelessly, some phones that do e mail really well, some MP 3 players that dock with speakers smoothly, some voice recorders that are very small, some TVs that do a little internet, some computers that do gaming very well, some game consoles that store data very well, some video recorders that take still photographs (somehow) and some mobile phones that do music and radio very well etc.

In other words every product is at best succeeding in doing one or two things well. It is a separate question that the phone that does mail best, only about manages to still look like a phone. In addition to this, you usually end up carrying an additional phone for phone calls! (Let me not ask that embarrassing question to innovators that “What was the laptop doing in that shoulder bag when the mobile phone became the ‘e mail phone?’”).

Consider this; the number of appliances in my living room has only gone up in the last 3 years –
TV (2001)
Amplifier (2003)
Speakers (2003)
DVD Player (2003)
Gaming Console (2007)
[I am not counting my two Laptops {official (2007)/personal (2005)} for they do not always sit in my living room!]
There is a separate ‘domination by expansion’ happening in my study room – wires tangling with everything, everywhere – External Hard Drives, MP 3 Player jacks, Digital Camera cord & Mobile Phone cables. But I will not talk about that here.

Fundamentally Convergence of content‘there is much more than e mails coming into your PC’ – has not been matched by convergence of format (hardware) – ‘your PC can be your everything’!
And people who still do this (i.e. use a PC to do everything) do it as a compromise, still have a high definition home theatre parked in their heads. They still want to separate ‘their movies from their mail’, ‘their Doom 2 from their word documents’ and wrist watch from their mobile clock (this last one is provocative!)

Why is it that?

Difficult to say but it perhaps could be due to
1. Habit - entertainment is a separate bucket from enterprise?

2. Lack of cost effective products that can deliver the solution – My PC, even with the sub-woofer, still can’t match the home theatre experience, my mobile phone still does not capture the steady shot that I want. At best these are make-do solutions till I can buy the ‘real’ thing?

The only driver for the convergence so far, has been mobility. “I will use this as my camera and my music player and my movie pod because that’s the best I can get on the move.”
In other words when I enter my home, there is a lot of competition for an I Pod but outside – I pod rules. And if future is about increased mobility urban and suburban mobility then there is a great long-term potential for this business. However, if telecommuting becomes much bigger than commuting then things might change. This is one thing that I have had no fix on yet. Will we travel more in the future or travel less?
Because if one were to believe the technology theorists in late 90s then the airline business should have suffered a lot at the hands of video conferencing and the primary traveler today should mainly have been the leisure / holiday traveler, who travels for site seeing and not gets of the airplane to go to a hotel or meeting room and head back to the airport sometimes in less than 24 hours

To come back to my original thought strand – convergence I believe is happening around mobility and user profiles. We have different gadgets that are being loaded with additional features around the location of their use. So there is a role for mobile phone, there is a role of MP 3 player, there is a role for a digital camera and all of these features are loaded into a gadget while looking at the user profile. There are, and perhaps would always be, various kinds of users – those who move around much more and need to carry more features and those who do not and thus want only specific benefits/features. In other words all devices will have their logical role in different physical setting all the way from home to the subway station, to a coffee shop to office and back home.

Before I close I want to share the last ‘if’ on the above conclusion about ‘convergence happens around mobility and user profiles’. This conclusion is based on the assumption that that physical space will be relevant in the future.
(I personally do not believe it would be.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beautiful Presentation - Ugly Wires!

1. The Laptop maker makes laptops
2. The projector maker makes projection equipment
3. The mouse makers make mouse
4. The Speaker maker makes speakers
5. The power extension cord maker makes extension cords
6. And the ‘end-user’ makes the presentation..
But the presentation needs the laptop, it can’t do without a projector, some of the end users even need a mouse to manage their cursor better and finally all meeting rooms do not have embedded speakers – so the presentation also needs speakers to make the audio video experience more ‘livable’ for the audience.
In other words all the hardware above, plus the content on that PowerPoint file (well that is the format most of the time) comes together to make the presentation happen right.
But unfortunately none of the above seven, except the presenter, is thinking about the final presentation. So you have one wire going from the right of the laptop towards the centre of the table (to the projector) and another wire is going from behind the laptop towards the base of the chair that the presenter is sitting on (to the power socket) and another wire is going from the other side of the laptop to connect the two speakers. In other words just about as many wires that can make the whole ‘presentation apparatus’ look clumsy and static.
“Hey watch out! You just might step on the power cord or disconnect the projector and then starts the long road back that goes through Fn+ F7 etc etc..
How long do we think it would be before some hardware maker (or office furniture outfit) starts thinking about making this look better and work seamlessly? Even if we can’t rid the apparatus of all the wired – can we at least make them less visible or more manageable.

Can someone think about the presentation please?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Can we get some innovation in here please?

Chips are becoming smaller and faster
Memory is becoming lighter & mightier
Screens are becoming photo frames and interactive surfaces
Keyboards and other ‘peripherals’ are disappearing
Projectors are shrinking in size and improving in resolution
Speakers are becoming smaller and sexier
Music players are becoming portable and yet Hi Fi
Content connectivity is going wire free – at least over short distances

But one thing that is common to almost all of them and has not demonstrated any visible signs of development in the past, almost, 50 years is power.
The last ‘remarkable’ development in the sphere of power sources, in order to fuel the ever hungrier gadgets, was solar panels in calculators and watches alike and rechargeable batteries that rid us from the worry of replacement every time.
After these two breakthroughs (and Lithium Ion to an extent), I have not witnessed any development in this area. The batteries are still large sized, heavy, unwieldy and most importantly just about average in catering to the ever evolving needs of present day devices.
Portable Power Devices have not been able to keep pace with the evolution of Portable Devices. These power sources still account for the bulk of the weight of most of the personal gadgets.

Even among desktop devices, power continues to represent the clumsiest part of set up – bulky power adaptors, long wires, lose connections and problems pertaining to over charging etc.

Perhaps players engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of power devices or components can benchmark themselves against connectivity. Just watch how multiple platforms (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, WiMax etc.) are all aligned towards trying to ensure reach to the end user.
Could we expect WireFree gadget recharging that is robust and mobile? Could we create gadgets precharged for a sizable duration of time, from the time they leave the factory?
Can we visualize a gadget world sans power cords? Whence we do not need to ‘tie down’ all our personal gadgets, to a wire every time we reach our office or home.

Friday, November 02, 2007

This child learned algorithms before A for Apple

The kid in question is AI (Artificial Intelligence) - pet peeve of the ‘technology will surpass human thinking school.
I must confess that AI has taken long to evolve and no-believers still say that look at that clumsy Robot ‘it’ still cannot tell a Cat from a Dog but I would tend to agree with what Ray Kurzweil has to say about the evolution of AI. It is learning the bigger things first – detecting patterns in what we now popularly know as algorithms. This is a kind of evolution like the baby first learns to crawl, then walk, talk, then read write and finally do engineering or statistics and write codes patterns etc. AI is learning almost entirely the other way round. It is learning to map patterns in an ocean of numbers and then stepping towards reading and writing and perhaps the final frontier would be the Cat and Dog difference. We must acknowledge that AIs evolution is a function of its application. We do not need computers to tell a Dog from a Cat but we do want the child to know which is which right?

Why is only this, your chosen strategy?

Well, I do not know who thought of it first but recently I heard one of our senior colleagues say this. Come to think of it – it is a bloody good question; One of those that we seldom ask ourselves. The question is a great way of checking if we ‘think’ what we want to do is right or is it our ‘gut’ (‘or past experiences’) that is driving us to do it. In fact when you try and answer this question you begin to think not just why the chosen plan works but more importantly what could be the other plans or approaches to achieve the same objective.
This, I believe it is supremely democratic introspection – which sometimes gets undermined especially when we are very passionate about a particular way of approaching the problem.
It is a great way of checking what one is thinking. Also, I would suggest administering this question after having decided the chosen path or plan. Because by this time we have done a good deal of thinking convincing ourselves and people around about our proposed way of doing things

The idea is to check dispassionately what we are passionate about. If the approach is solid the plan will endure the test but more importantly it would open up a lot of streams of thinking that would preempt questions and comments from people who are not close to the making of the original plan – most of the times our end consumer/audience is in a similar situation. Thus while answering why this is the best strategy or our chosen strategy, we are also preempting some questions, concerns or contradictions which are often eclipsed by our passion for the chosen path!

Brand & the Power of Story

Sample this:
“This Polo by Ralph Lauren sweater is an expression of quality craftsmanship and integrity of design, from the selection of fabric to the execution of every detail. It has been crafted of pure cashmere interlock for lightweight comfort and breathability. This sweater has a generous fit to accommodate the natural shrinkage that will happen after the first few launderings allowing it to then retain its size and shape for continued comfort and freedom of movement. The subtle variations and nuances of shading that occur in this sweater are what give it its unique character and are not to be considered as imperfections. As with all pure cashmere this Polo will continue to soften and fade as it becomes better and more personal with age.”
(As mentioned on a Ralph Lauren sweater label.)
Great words! Nice story, very engaging and makes the product seem very special.

I have not bought a lot of Cashmere before so I do not know if the above things happen to it. But here is how an average Joe (who, at best, has bought woolens made with ‘pure lambs wool’) would interpret this。 “This sweater will shrink, it will fade (even upon being dry-cleaned) and it will have colour variations.”
Together, these three make for a bad product. At least back home (in India) if some mid priced brand’s label read like this – the product might not sell.
But look at the power of story telling and the brand that it comes from. It lends everything an entirely new, and almost opposite, meaning
1. Bad/lose fit is made to look like ‘room for shrinking’ in future
2. Fading looks as if the sweater were ‘mellowing/maturing’
3. Colour variations look like symbols of ‘uniqueness and personalization’ (smart sweater adapting its shade to match the personality of the person who is wearing it!)
4. Not fit for cold windy weather is made to look like ‘breathability’
5. Imperfections are made to look like ‘unique character’. Mistakes become beautiful mistakes.

Branding, I tell you, is poetry that sells!

Close the loop

I owe this and the last post to thoughts triggered by what Kees Van Der Heijden has written. Amazingly simple yet not practiced enough!
Almost every organization (and I will include families and societies in this) has three kinds of people at work – those who can perceive, those with the ability to think and finally those who can do it! If we can close the loop between these three and their conversations, communities, motivations and actions – we’d have what I call power ranger organization! I am sure how many of us have witnessed this but I see it often – we are individually outstanding and collectively average or at best good. While I have seen a lot of literature on leadership and how it is their primary role to make these three schools (perceive, think and do) come together and form Top Gun but it is difficult for me to understand how just leadership can make it happen all by itself? Especially given the fact that there are so few leaders in any organization and how much can they realistically reach out and try and close the loop. I do not have an answer yet. But keep watching this space!

Organizations are more rational than individuals as decision makers

Good and Bad.

Good because rationality brings longevity to the setup. We all want to live long (if not forever!) It is not very surprising that celebrity fades faster than the brands they endorse (well, most of the time).

Bad because when it comes to understanding and interfacing with consumers (especially in consumer products/services business) organizations are unable to shed their rational hangover (or take of the logic hat if you please).
They fail to step into customer’s shoes leave alone walking with them in those. Because the underlying assumption for everything that they think and do about their customer assumes that they are thinking rationally.

I call it the iron fist in velvet glove thing – be rational but behave emotional. I believe that people & processes in any organization can gain a lot by striking a balance between being logical and being themselves. Our desire to control everything is understandable – but we can’t imagine the payoff of letting things be, at least sometimes, because we have never done it.
Letting be, letting go, stepping back and even away from rational thinking or just asking oneself “what do I personally believe in?”, can actually throw up some really new directions.
From there on we ‘just’ need to walk in the direction (guts again!)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What was I thinking again?

What was I Looking For -WILF;
What was I Thinking - WIT
It is called..God! Its right there on my tongue but can't seem to recall it..!

A common everyday challenge with so much happening around and inside our minds.
Volatile short term memory is a new social reality and thence a need in making.
There just might be a huge market opening up for new capture & reminder devices..small portable gadgets (or features in existing gadgets) wherein you can quickly voice tag or text tag what just crossed your mind - from something as 'profound' as the unattended plumbing work at home or the future of broadcast. Ubiquitous computing might start as ubiquitous notepads (and whatever I have seen being offered by present day PDAs is not best suited for this purpose).

Ps: I had almost forgotten posting this thought..seriously

Surface to Air

Well, if you have not yet seen this please do have a look http://www.microsoft.com/surface/. Microsoft surface is a promising new interface. No mouse, no keyboard, no desktop no laptop – it is a table top and all it needs is fingers as stimulus.
Promising, not because it is touch sensitive (which a whole of things are today) but because it is multi-application. From sharing photos, to planning an itinerary to. It not just responds to hands but even devices that are kept on it. Add to this, it can also double up as a music interface. Great indeed!
It is interesting to make a note of some to the things that Surface is replacing.
1. It is of course replacing peripherals like mouse/keyboard and it gives 'monitor’or display’a whole new meaning

2. It is removing wires – transferring photographs/music from hand-held devices to stationery devices is still predominantly a wire story

3. In restaurants it is minimizing talking with the bearer. In fact the bearer might just morph into a order delivery person (now that they are not even asking for the bill!)

4. It is replacing paper – menu cards, product brochures

5. While it is stoking interaction between buddies, it is further reducing interaction with strangers – no more calling people to find a street or address (I believe GPS had already started this)

If you look at all the above changes that surface computing promises to bring (and these are restricted by the length of the video that we saw on the website – I am sure there could be many other applications that Microsoft might be mulling), a common theme that seems to emerge is the fading out of physical fixtures be it wires, talking to a bearer, picking up the phone or walking up to someone to ask for a street, looking at a product brochure, writing on a sheet of paper.
As I see this is the first step towards what is popularly known as ubiquitous computing.

First the interface becomes intuitive and begins to look like our natural physical space (table, chair etc)

Next it would wearable (not the table of course!), so would bend when you would and go wherever you went (and not the laptops/palmtops please – we still have to ‘pull them out’ and ‘turn them on’ – how clumsy is that!)

And finally it would transcend physicality (the title of the post came from here)

Though it is (very) intuitive –surface computing still engages a physical object other than human body as its body. It sure has been made to look much less like a computer by camouflaging it in a table – something we are used to having around and being around it still is an ‘explicit interface’ you come to, do stuff and then walk away from but it is primarily a non wearable and distinctly identifiable physical computing device.
I believe Microsoft Surface is an amazingly intuitive interface and might be the early indication of movement towards intuitive computing.

The other thing that surface does very well is that it brings a lot of power to the average user, be it sharing music or pictures, planning the logistics of a day trip, it makes tech and logistics look like everyday simplicity which is great!

So a lot of good news. Also, it just could be a great new way of getting more people into the world of computing - expecially elders.
Surface could also have applications for less literate or illiterate prespective users of computing - we are doing away with a lot of text icons here - which is again a leap forward!

And by the way now that the keyboard is gone - can I also spill my coffee please!?

Monday, October 01, 2007

World of Warcraft, Google Earth & NASA World Wind

For anyone who likes gaming and has spent some time on Google Earth or NASA’s World Wind, it would not take very long to see the connection.
WoW (World of Warcraft) is the most popular in online multiplayer games (MMORPG). Google Earth is the most popular way of exploring the world ‘virtually’. If game developers start collaborating with Google Earth (i.e. if they are not on to it already) they could end up building near real and very engaging gaming experiences.

Such Mash-ups are already being used in different streams viz. real estate developers (www.housingmaps.com; www.zillow.com); Bloggers on www.palatial.com with free mash-up tools; even people wanting to know gas prices in real time (www.gasbuddy.com) are using it. Economist recently referred to Bloggers using Google earth mash-ups as a new kind of self-absorption - autogeobiography.

In a gaming mash-up the game developers could bring the storyline and Google could bring topography. Imagine being airdropped into a terrorist infested area in a city that you have visited, lived in. Imagine fighting forces or creating new landscapes in a geographic area that is as real as reality is. It could really make games that much more engaging.

It is true that a gaming is predominantly about escaping reality and thus fictitious locations and totally new topography works for games. But a landscape borrowed from Google Earth imagery can only add to the excitement of games as s/he gets to escape reality while being in the middle of it.
If this happens, I would not stop short of terming it as another step towards Digital world melting into the Physical world..

How much product?

Should we interrogate or think about our products or services more than what the end user thinks about them?
I know - it might be a rather strange question to ask (or is it?) because as marketing and advertising professionals a sizable part of our expertise is embedded in our ability to develop, manage and grow products and services that we market.

But the downside to analyzing the product, or the user and product interaction or consumption is that at some stage we go way to deep into it and might just (and mostly do) lose sight of an average user’s everyday engagement with that product.

When we analyze a lot we run the risk of walking away from consumer’s shoes and the whole thing becomes an exercise in hardcore logic. To top it all logic also ends up assuming that the consumer is thoroughly logical (like us ?!), which is not the case most of the times. The reason for any purchase could be as much emotional as it is logical. But most or the research (qualitative or quantitative) might not endorse this view.
Here is why.

1. Most the people (including us) do not want to be ‘seen as emotional/illogical’. Being emotional, especially in front of strangers (read researchers) is stupid.
Recall any research or consumer interaction that you’d have had in the recent past. When people are sharing very personal or emotional experiences they tend to carry a smile or a giggle. I believe that this is their way of acknowledging – “Oh I am so stupid to have said this or thought this or felt this way..”. The giggle is aimed at making us think that they know they are being frivolous or stupid – whereas the fact is that when they think about it themselves they might not be giggling, instead they might be very serious about it because their feeling are real to them..

2. Even when people want to share their real emotions in front of a nice stranger (read good researcher) their expression might not be precise (remember the Del Amitri song – “It’s hard to say you love someone and it’s hard to say you don’t..”).
Expressing real emotions or deep rooted feeling and sentiments is always an articulation challenge – it is not like ticking a box, it is not even as simple as saying a few words. Usually it is longwinded and meandering and it takes a person (read nice stranger) who can soak up that moment and meandering to understand it

I am beginning to feel that as marketers we need to understand the depths of the product /service possibilities but not do this at the cost of plain simple user thinking. Chances are that the more we think about the product the less we are thinking about the person we made it for. This is especially true for products that are everyday and simple. Where technology has limited edge to provide and most of the products end up being the same. With such products it pays a lot more to look at the user’s life in as much details as possible and find new and interesting ways of liking our product with their lives.

Why 'Don't be evil'?

I (unlike most of the Media) hate to critique. And especially, critique rising stars or stars that have already made it big like Google. And in fact what I am writing here is a reaction to a news report that was bordering criticism and apprehension about, who else but Google again!
It is not just media – looks like the whole world is worried because of Google even UGC is not particularly kind.

Anyway, coming back to the title of this post. I do not know why the company underscores its existence with a statement like ‘Don't be evil’ but I if I were to look that what the company has done in the part 3 years+ & the things that they are planning to do, I can almost see this statement having been written not for people outside the company but as a reminder for the company itself.

Perhaps, when Messer's Brin and Page cracked the algorithm and the opportunity that it presented, they knew they had struck big – really BIG and they knew that they could achieve a lot out of this breakthrough. That moment of breakthrough might have made them realize that with the opportunities and the possibilities that it offered they could very well end up ‘controlling’ a lot
Today we see this breakthrough in a way far beyond just a search engine with people keeping their photos, Blogs, videos, calendars, e-mail, news feeds, maps, contacts, social networks, documents, spreadsheets, presentations and even credit card information with Google.
In other words a significant part of their life is on Google. Also see (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj8ZadKgdC0)
Back when they cracked the algorithmic opportunity and foresaw its multiple avatars, they might have realized that they could end up having a lot of ‘power’. They knew that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). Thus perhaps as upright men they wanted to ensure that they do not fall on the wrong side of their new found ‘power status’ - hence ‘Don't be evil’.

Make the best of the power that you'll gain and make it work for the people of this planet.

Coming back to the initial part about Media and its preoccupation with criticism - there is no limit to critiquing Google. Somehow the Media, Markets, Experts and everyone else in between loves to make a dig at Google. Is this the “I love the struggler/underdog” mindset?

For example here is another case though totally unrelated but it illustrates similar Media sentiments. In the past media always reported how Jaguar and Ford were inefficient, almost branding them as losers in the automotive war. But now that Ford is finally trying to sell Jaguar (while acknowledging that premium car marketing is not their focus) – there is no mention of it being a good (or bad) move .. just reports about the business being on the block. Why?
Do media just like underdogs?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The buzz around busy-ness

How are you doing?
Too much work man..!

How are you?

How is life?
Do not ask..

How does the day look?
Just too busy..

How was the day..?

Where are you going?
Just running to wind something up

Have you seen this film?
Who has the time..!

Almost everybody is busy; everybody at any given point in time seems to be the most important person in his work area. The whole world (at least India and China) seems to be working very had, keeping super-busy ..or is it really?
Increasingly as I meet people talk to them and observe them doing their day to day work I get a feeling that more than being really busy people find if ‘fashionable’ ‘cool’ ‘appropriate’ to say that they are busy.
Only people who are not heading anywhere, ‘pop phrase for this group is ‘losers’, have all the time under the sun. In other words if you are busy you are successful and if you have time for yourself, may be you are drifting. This is true especially for the younger to middle management cadre. As one gets more experienced one begins to talk of work life balance etc. but at the bottom and in the middle of the pyramid – balance is not a virtue yet.
Humans are a strange set of people when we do not have as much work, we create a perception of work and when we really have a lot of it to do we talk to ‘work-life balance’!
Many young people even sit at work for long hours because the infrastructure is far superior at the place of work than home. From air-conditioning to broadband, gym/health club, coffee, TV/ Massage Chair, food and the works (Google is a pro at making office so much home that you visit home and live at work!).
Add to this, the heightened sense of busy-ness arguably has a High Hedonistic Impact on Purchase and Consumption behaviour. Since we are constantly telling ourselves and the world around us, how busy and occupied we are – we at some level are constantly gearing our self for rewards that are precluded by beliefs like ‘life starts after work’ or ‘I deserve to gift this to myself’ or ‘I have earned this indulgence’ let me do it for myself.
Self gifting is going to be a big market in these two otherwise high guilt societies.

I do not know if increased ‘perceptual busy-ness’ always translates into better ‘business’ but this behaviour/attitude is definitely helping grow the market for some of the products/services viz. eating/ drinking or hanging out, fashion, personal products to name a few ..
For now being busy looks like being successful and marketers are not complaining!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rocket Race and the future of Spectator Sports

Rocket Race and the future of Spectator Sports

RRL or Rocket Racing League is the brainchild of Peter H Diamandis -the man who spent USD 10 million to a team financed by Paul Allen. (BusinessWeek Sept 24, 2007). Rocket Race takes high speed rocket planes into space as they race. Each plane might make about 5 short pit stops in the course of the 90 minute race. As Diamandis puts it “While NASA blast offs were once in a lifetime experience for some people, I want to give them those experiences a dozen of times in an afternoon.
This cutting edge experience sits at the cusp of two industries - Tourism & Entertainment.

Here’s how they see it happening:

1. Fans at airfields would experience the thunderous roars of rockets blasting-off + giant JumboTrons to watch this all on.
2. TV networks being pursued to telecast this event – with choppers, blimps and images from racing planes
3. Real time internet feeds of GPS satellite will allow people to race virtual planes on the same racing course + the same view as the pilots get up there..

Very radical but what caught my fancy is the third point. What this augurs for the future of spectator sports. How much of spectators would be just spectators watching when they could be (and finally would be) there doing it themselves. I see a merging of Travel, Tourism, Sports, and Entertainment into a new Luxury offering (which sooner or later will not be such a preserve as it seems now).
It is not just about watching Sachin hit that six but the option of being there under the flood lights in Eden Gardens and hitting that ball from a Pakistani pacer in the 48th over. Virtual will be more and real with GPS and tactile technology working overtime to bring the experience to a joystick that will soon feel like a cricket bat. Just imagine the rush!
Are you sweating, face that ball now!

wiki life

RapLeaf, Spock and Wink.com are thee examples of how online content is close to near complete democratization. Profile that you create here, pictures you put here can all be modified/ ‘corrected’ by visitors. Anyone can add photos or a short description to any profile. Then Spock members vote on what remains there and what goes away.
Basically people who know you or ‘think’ they know you can say anything about you and write it too. You are not what you think you are or want people to think you are instead you are what people around you think of you. It is almost as if gossip, raves, rants are no more behind the back.. It’s all out there and the last thing you want to do is lie. (A lot of Web 2.0 anyways is all about getting real, just like real life isn’t it..) As RapLeaf puts it - It is more profitable to be ethical.

Other than this ‘profound awakening’ about not lying on the net there is something for brands and marketers here. I believe it is a great feedback opportunity – just put your brand or ideas here (and if you are known or stand for something, people will come with their candid raves and rants..) but prepared for everything that follows. Just like a matured man or woman your brand must also learn to accept the truth no matter how tough it might be.
To me this is a great tool to see where we stand and where we fall as people, as marketers, as friends.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

You can even doubt God

Long-term or short term, radical or conventional, leadership stance or guerrilla stance, new business or existing plan, price or distribution the alternatives are limitless.
The strategy could be any or many but what is critical is deciding to walk that line and walking it bloody good.
Believe me, with enough logic you can challenge any idea or any approach (I do not know Physics and Mathematics much) but outside that almost everything can be challenged. It is well known that even the most basic principles in applied sciences were also challenged before they finally got published and accepted by the majority.
But I am not talking about Science here. I would like to limit my view to strategy. Every strategy can be challenged and yet almost any strategy could work for you if you ‘really go after it’.
More I work more I learn that strategy is just as good at the conviction and drive of those who are deciding to adopt it and execute it.
Gray mater is nothing without Grit & Gut!

No matter what we think or believe in it will remain a non-entity till we have the courage to go after it and turn it into reality. It is almost like a war cry. In the battlefield we stop thinking beyond a point. After this point we just kill, that is the only language we know (watch 300 for more on this!.

We can doubt everything. I am sure most of the readers would have blamed and doubted even God at some point in time (if not as early as yesterday or a few moments before they started reading this post or may be they would just after they have finished reading this – “how can people write such things in Blog post – looks like God has gone on vacation!”).

There is no end to thinking, no end to opinions, and no end to perspectives. But at the end it is the end that is critical and to be bloody good at the end of it one must focus on the execution.
I believe that even if half of the energy that is deployed in thinking (and doubting) were invested in making execution happen it would make a whole lot of difference to the outcome.

Someone has rightly said - real religion is the life we lead (not the thoughts we harbour!)

Real strategy is implementation not just visualization and star gazing!

Blue sky is for flying as much it is for thinking!

If not the CEO then what?

This thought is as direct as the title. We all know that as we rise in an organization or our career in general we are all inevitably heading towards the narrowing of the funnel. This is the funnel that defines who goes ahead and who stays. Who becomes number one (read CEO or the Chairman) and who becomes the second in command.

If one does not want to be the CEO/Chairman of the organization because one feels
1.S/he does not have the skills
2.Does not want the pressure of the job
3.Would prefer to be a specialist than a manager of people and other resources
4.Likes to work in smaller teams or individually etc

The reason could be any but it is important to know what is that one wants to be (if not the business leader). This is not just relevant from career progression perspective but also relevant from the point of view of ego and sentiments, if one chooses to work in the same company where his peers or subordinates rise to the leadership role.

Simply put sooner rather that later, you’ll have a man of your age (worst still younger to you) who’ll be the CEO / Chairman. Working in such a situation could be a big challenge.

But if one has clearly identified what is that one is aiming for, then nothing is a surprise and the power structure does not pinch as much.
Having decided what one wants to do other than leading the business helps in focusing towards developing and owning a specialty that is immutable in the organization/industry.
Having achieved that relevant specialty within a company or industry makes even the CEO look at the person for solutions. The person is respected by those in power for the unique things that he brings to the table.
CEO or Chairman definitely is one of the most powerful jobs going in any company but there are enough opportunities to build power in one’s expertise by honing it to the level of immutable advantage.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Research your Imagination & add some Imagination to Research

This works like gang busters! Just look at most of the successful fiction that has ever sold or is still in the market. It is a combination of personal experiences or solid research spiced up with a good deal of imagination. What you get at the end of it is fiction that everyone likes to read.

It is not too boring for it is not just life reported as it. It is a combination of life lived and imagined. It is not completely unfounded or imaginary for it is always based on some real instances or serious research.

That’s exactly how qualitative research can work best - information blended with inspiration and intuition. What you’d get at the end of this is actionable understanding of people, insights, that are not general knowledge, knowledge that is not rote and business that is not boring.

The link that we’ve been missing thus far is set of researches that can do this - professionals who can blend business thought with everyday empathy and human intuition.
Believe me the day we can do it – every act of marketing would be fresh and every new consumer learning would be a breakthrough!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

be inspired

Focus groups, colleague rants, song lyrics on my mp3 player, workshops, meetings, empty can of diet coke in the trash, all doors opening outside, or the pack of tissues in your top drawer – no matter what you are doing, where you are, who is staring at you and no matter what you are feeling - just be inspired, always. It is this spark that keeps the creator inside all of us fired up!
Sometimes I feel that the world around me has so much to offer, show, share, tell that I do not have hands, eyes or grasp to soak it all up..
The last 60 days of being in Beijing have been quite patterned. Other than the fact that I am in a new place – nothing is new. Wake up; dress up, hail a cab, ‘ni hao’ to the cabbie, xie xie to the security guard at office for opening the door, elevator to 9th floor, good morning to colleagues, work, work, workshops, researches, meetings, presentations, work more...raving the hits and ranting the misses everyday, shut down, wrap up, swipe the access card head home, swipe into home again, freshen up, eat (and miss Indian food), restart, connect with parents and all other mails that could not be read and written at work…but with all this serious monotony around why do I still feel inspired? How do I still have fresh insights and ideas waiting to be deployed?
I am sure all this is not because of the mental disequilibrium caused by the strange smell that stays with you hours after you have stepped away from the fresh food section of all hypermarkets in this city!
I believe it is more to do with what is cooking between my ears than what is happening around me though I would never discount the importance of the latter.
The world around me is just the firewood but sadly or otherwise the firewood does not always come with a spark.

Here is what I am beginning to understand - no matter where one is no matter what one is doing, the single most important thing is to be always inspired, be bullish, be natural, connect with the air you are breathing, listen intently – even if you do not understand the language – soak up everything that comes your way and keep thinking (questioning) and feeling all of it that you see, hear, touch, smell, taste, do, imagine and everything else, believe me sparks will fly. It is simply amazing there is so much one can learn all the time even or especially when one is not actively trying to learn something.
Also, the best things we know and feel are never documented – my favourite one on this that the real wisdom is the operating system of our behaviour and most of the time it is not documented. I suppose it is the subconscious or perhaps something that we never bother to think about. But this is it – this is the most critical link between our understanding of self and the world around us. It is not fixed but that should not stop us from capturing it. If we try and keep documenting it every time we get an opportunity – we might end up discovering a gold mine in our own backyard. Needles to say this is not the only goldmine known to mankind but none the less it seems the most accessible one.
Here’s perhaps one way of doing it – just replay your daily movie. I mean just play the whole day in front of your eyes and you'll see sparks flying.
There's something more on this that can be said here but I guess this has already become too big for a bite, so perhaps more on this in the days to some i.e. if it stays as exciting as it is now.
I sincerely hope I have been able to express myself accurately and wish that you can also experience what I am experiencing– because it is truly amazing and very-very satisfying!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Structure Vs Texture

Meeting, workshops, research..lot of thinking and no writing makes me a restless man..

Here\'s something I\'ve been thinking about for past few days. Looking at planners and planning. Following are some observations and opinions on the way planners/planning work(s)..

Most of the planners that I have seen so far broadly fall in one of the following two categories:

1.The Structure Group:
The first and the larger group comprise the ‘method people’. This set is very logical, sometimes insanely driven by the process flow; they go by the different thinking and planning templates that they have been exposed to.
One usually hears them starting every project with phrases like
“let’s define the problem first”
“what research data do we have?”
“what is happening in the category?”
“are their any case studies available?” etc.

Closer examination of this approach reveals a distinct mindset - a kind of objective and dispassionate mindset. This planner type looks at most of the marketing and communication situations from a stranger’s standpoint. They always distance their personal experiences and instincts from the problem or task at hand. They believe that almost every problem can be approached best, scientifically. They are like the old wise men – who are dispassionate and thoroughly objective – sometimes detached from everyone and everything around. This is perhaps the classic adult behaviour.

Well this kind of adults are not the only ones who become planners there’s another group here’s what I’ve observed about them..

2.The Texture Gang:
This gang is smaller but is growing. Many of these planners have come from diverse backgrounds – beyond marketing management or advertising. They are more instinctive, intuitive and sometimes plain ‘biased’ towards a certain way of thinking.
Here’s what you hear them saying as they embark on a communication or branding task –
“what do you think about it personally ?,
“I feel that..”
“I have seen that..”
“you know, we need to make this candy a lot less sweeter than this.”
“come let’s brainstorm some ideas on this first..”

This mindset is almost opposite of what we saw with the structure guys. As an approach this is more personal and opinion driven.
The second group almost behaves like an opinionated young child in its approach to things. These people bring their strong likes and dislikes to the table and do not hesitate in questioning almost every existing paradigm.
Having said that it does not mean that this group is not thinking about the problem, it is just that this second kind of people believe that there is meaning in what they already know and that they should tap into the diverse personal experience as a starting point. And in many ways they value this more than any research – existing or potential.
Some of these planners are matured and look at a problem objectively. They take diverse opinions onboard as they move along their ‘intuitive path to problem solving’. But at the end of it all, this group is predominantly more ‘intuition’ oriented than ‘process’ oriented.

While two very distinct approached exist none of the two approaches is better or worse than the other – both of them are extremes in their own way. Also, as my ex-boss used to say – there does not exist any one formula; always ‘horses for races’. Thus needless to say, that it would not be precise to assume that a fixed pattern can be followed in addressing any marketing or communication problem.

This brings me to the relevance of the many marketing and branding templates that have been ‘set in stone’. I wonder if they were developed to:
1.Ensure that ‘personalities’ or ‘people’ do not take over the ‘process’?
2.Make everyone talk the same language?
3.Assumes that people working on different problems in different parts of the world can be made to think alike?
4.Assumes that the ‘doer’ is less important than ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘the way it needs to be done’

After all in a world of discontinuous change how long can we afford to be linear and predictable in our problem solution methodologies?
In times when human potential is almost redefining its boundaries every new day, how can we afford to chain the flight of intuition and ingenuity to prehistoric processes?

I believe its time we questioned many of our set ways of thinking and processes that we developed in times that had little semblance to the world we are living in today.

Here’s how it works best for me, I try to have the problem definition as the background to some totally disruptive questions, ideas, insights or observations. One of my friends and ex-colleague put it very well “define the problem in as many ways as possible and define the problem as ‘creatively’ as you can.” As we get the initial momentum to work we could add body to our thoughts our arguments and hypotheses by establishing cross-linkages with past research or category experiences or even commission new research. Many of the planning and management tools could come in very handy when we try and steer such a process.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hey ma, what’s for dinner?

Have you ever asked Lay’s that?
Do other leading food brands want to be that?

Food and tastes are local, regional or culture specific.
But look at it - most of the food businesses are global.
We have learnt how cereals, grains, spices and condiments are adopted first by communities residing in areas where these are grown. It is true that some of the foods have traveled far and wide riding on good marketing and exotic taste viz. Burgers from Mc Donald’s, the Indian Curry Apple Pie etc.

Also, these seemingly global foods travel with a lot of tweaking. They are modified by the marketer (Mc Donald’s burgers in India) or by the marketer & the consumer both (Maggie noodles introduced Masala in order to suit the Indian taste buds and many Indians prepare their Maggie in many more ways - adding egg to it, putting cheese into it, turning it into vegetable Maggie, preparing it dry or making it more wet to get the curry feel in it etc.)
But it is important to note that most of these foods have not become staple diet in the new countries and cultures that they have entered. This is because many of these seemingly global foods are actually a great way to break the monotony of the regular local food that they have everyday. But in no way have these foreign foods become the norm.
Essentially a lot of what our taste buds are exposed to, is a result of nature (our place of origin) more than nurture (our exposure and experiences).
‘After all the ‘excursions’ we all finally come home to our own food!’

Despite all the population migration - regional, national & cultural culinary preferences still rule the globe. And this diversity of tastes is bound to be like this in the foreseeable future, at least as long as we do not see a new breed of global citizens dominating the globe.

‘Packaged food’ especially non-snack food is almost an oxymoron because food is synonymous with freshness, flavour and personal touch. This personal touch resides in the recipe, the feelings & all the emotions that go into making the preparation.

So how can we bring more of Mom into packaged and turn it ‘less packaged’ and ‘more food’?
In other words how can we bring the kitchen closer to the shopping aisle!

I guess there are two dynamic benchmarks to aim for
1) Your Mom
2) Chefs & Retail food services companies - both large transnational corporations and small local food outfits – restaurants etc.

The point that I am going to make might mean an entirely new way of looking at the logistics of food processing and food packaging. That notwithstanding, if it is done the right way it could have its own fruits in shape of better margins and greater volumes alike.

The opportunity lies in offering a new paradigm in packaged food marketing.
I call it the shopping aisle to kitchen shelf shift or the brand portfolio to menu card shift.
If packaged food marketers start looking at their product portfolios more like appetizing kitchen aroma being packed into hermetically sealed packs or start looking at their product lines like menu cards, where everything is modifiable and nothing is set in stone - it could open an entirely new world of opportunities.

Imagine walking to a shopping aisle and asking, “What’s there for dinner?”
Or if everything in a portfolio could be modified, new variants could be launched every year or every six months. Old ones could be phased out as fast as a stale dish leaves a customer table.
Packaged food marketers could gain a lot from this new way of approaching their business and customer their audience’s taste buds and ‘culinary emotions’.

Also, we need to try a lot many things, new recipes, new SKUs, new flavours etc. It is almost like making the transition from ready aim fire to fire-fire-fire! And while we do this we must know that many of these new experiments are bound to fail but that is the price we’d pay to get closer to what really makes our audience say “ Wow, I like that!”.

I confess that these frequent changes would surely take some (if not all) of the factor costs up, leading to perhaps more expensive packaged food but if the result is a product, I beg your pardon, ‘a dish’ that tastes better, then the customer would be more than happy to pay for it as well.

Kitchen shelf & Menu card mindset are not just white elephants – imagine the efficiencies that we could unlock by ceasing to spend disproportionately huge sums of money on dead and languishing brands and variants which just need to be preserved because they are a part of a sacrosanct portfolio.

Have you ever counted the number of taste buds on this planet or imagined what it would be like to have mom’s decide how to make packaged food for their kids!

The opportunity is to unlock the potential in the multiplicity of tastes, moods and culinary emotions and the way unsung experts like Mom’s and Popular Chefs in restaurants cater to them.
Food business is more about the range of tastes we know than range of food brands we have.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Television is holding the décor hostage

Thanks to Jammy’s post where he mentioned how one day he discovered that most of his furniture was curiously facing the Television, I got thinking. How as the décor in home before Television made its entry? Well, it was all but aligned in the same direction.
Most of the homes in the world have a décor layout that is made to comply with the positioning of the Television in the room. In other words all critical décor elements need to look towards the Television.
One would assume it is but logical that all the people sitting in a room should look at the TV to see what is on it.
Logical and simple isn’t it? Exactly, that’s my point.
‘Why do we need to look at the Television, why on earth can’t the Television look at us instead?’ That is exactly how it should be.
No matter which way a person is looking in a room or even outside it, he should be able to look at the television effortlessly. In other words a TV ideally should be wearable not just beautiful, slim, flat, black, hanging on the wall or sitting in a cabinet or any such thing.
Television designs are all based on a mindset that it will be placed somewhere in the room, whereas ideally we should be able to tune in and tune off the Television without having to sit or look in a particular direction.
Real technology ironically is invisible and that is how it frees us. This is simplicity at its best.

Home décor should be an example of form and function in perfect harmony and Television must abide by the decor not the other way round.

Television and should not makes us sit in a chair like the barber makes us sit in the saloon chair during the haircut and decides which way we are to turn our head no matter how much we want to look in the other direction. Ouch my neck!


A filmmaker can be a great planner;
A real planner can be a great filmmaker;
If a planner can think films (commercial feature films please) then he can think people even better!

Pardon my limited knowledge of the art of film making but whatever limited I know makes me believe that if a planner can think like a filmmaker, or if not that much then at least he can get in the mind of a filmmaker upon watching his creation, he can really do some great people oriented work for brands and marketers.
The act of getting into the mind of a filmmaker helps in understanding ‘the creation of meaning’. How we create happy environment, how we create sensitive moments, how we make romantic intimacies happen etc.
The symbols of intimacy, joy, revelry etc say a lot about the culture and the way meaning is created in that culture. Filmmakers do it all the time and good filmmakers do it really well.
Any planner who can understand (and perhaps even recreate) the ‘creation of meaning’ in a way people relate to it happily is poised to be a people person.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cameraman, now reporting!

Deutche Telekom has unveiled the ultimate web reporter in the recently held CeBT Tech Fair in Germany. Web Reporter Lisa Molitor had a camera mounted on the left of her headset and there is a screen that covers her right eye. The screen displays that which the camera is capturing in real time. Lisa can also transfer the images and video she is capturing immediately using the wireless LAN to the company’s website.

Cut to field news reporters of today. The sign offs are usually “this is XYZ with Cameraman PQR at 123 for MNO news”. This is because news reporting (journalism) is a skill stream seen separate from camera work. But with innovations like the one Lisa Molitor was displaying, all this is bound to change.
The future camera person and the news reporter/correspondent are going to be one. News reporting would not be complete without equal dexterity in handling wearable or embedded technology like the one we just saw. It is about time reporters went tech and camera person became more content savvy.

In many way skills without scalability for technology augmentation would be incomplete skills. Technology would be enhancing every skills & trait. Individuals who acknowledge this impact of technology’s delivery enhancing potential would gain the most.
Some other skills that are most likely to be influenced by the advent of embedded and wearable technology would be Teaching/Training (virtual and real time), Medicine (virtual consulting, E-medication) and many more if not all the other occupations/professions.

Coming back to the example we started with, it is interesting to visualize the impact of these developments on the criteria of selecting future news journalists.
Would it be better looks or speed with better understanding and application of technologies?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Indian kaarigars - Western baazigars

Remember what did you do when your ‘out of warranty’ expensive car or motorbike or even a broken chapppal malfunctioned?
Chances are that your neighbour or a very good friend would have suggested you this ‘great mechanic/cobbler’ in the neighbourhood or somewhere in the old city.

Getting there would have been a problem because there would not be any telephone number to call him at (or even if there is no one would actually know) or road signs to guide you. To top it all when you reach there, you start doubting the depth of your neighbour’s knowledge because what is being called a garage is barely that and looks more like a UN army camp in Afganistan ‘leveled’ by Taliban Militia. When you talk to aslam bhai you realize that he is barely literate but he knows car components better than any service advisor in many of the big brand service dealerships.

It is a ramshackled place with half dented and poorly painted prehistoric fourwheelers, grease all over the place, hungry street dogs looking for the next bit of bread in the garbage bin close by & of course the small tin-shed housing the great mechanic – ‘Aslam bhai’.
For the cobbler it gets even worst. He is hardly having any space to work, few in the neighbourhood know him (he is Munna mochee) (cobbler) who comes to his place on the pavement, that he calls his ‘shop’, every morning around 10 and does his thing of repairing everything from Fashion Street/Janpath merchandise to Nike & Adidas cross trainers.. he insists that he can make good shoes but no one asks him to do that for them. Every morning starts the repairing of countless sandals and refurbishing of many gentlemanly leather shoes and all this continues till the suns begins to fade away into another day. No one notices when munna packs his black torn bag and leaves for somewhere he calls home.

But this post is not about Aslam bhai or Munna mochee. This post is more about many of us Indians. It is about our self-belittling trait of missing the bigger picture, worrying more about today and yesterday and not bothering to think ahead into the future.
·It is about our coping & copying mindset that is far away from a desire to create.
·It is about us wanting to discuss, debate and then discard almost everything that comes to us instead of dwelling on it and designing the new.
·It is about critiquing things rather than creating the new.
·It is about not being collaborative & being hyper-selfish despite being a collective society
·It is about not attempting to take the lead and being content being a follower.
·It is about remaining the unheard of kaarigars (artisan) never even realizing the potential of the baazigar (wizard) within.

We can’t blame ourselves for all of this, at least not all of us. People like Aslam bhai and Munna had survival challenges to ward-off before they could even think of selling their auto techniques to qualified engineers in big automotive corporates or even market their footwear designs and skills to the best in accessory design.
But all of us are not as unfortunate or pressed as both of them. We still are much more fortunate to be having the luxury of dwelling on our growth and not lamenting the penury of survival.
Things are beginning to change, thanks mainly to a western pedagogy and booming economy that is bringing the best from the west and the rest of the world to our shores. We are interfacing with many more and very different sets of people and cultures. As we interface with them we learn the best that they have to offer and use these learnings as the Lego blocks to shape our new world.
Finally we are beginning to think outwards - Exploring, Experiencing, Exchanging and Expanding. We are beginning to think how good we have always been but never realized it for we never bothered to peep outside our pond or perhaps could never afford to think about the world outside the pond.

While the world comes visiting we have never had a better opportunity to go places!

Business vision @ website and the reception wall?

A few days back I was interacting with a group of management students. I was trying to provoke them by asking why is that the very concept of vision, mission, business philosophy etc. is articulated only after the business reaches a certain size?

What made the discussion interesting was the fact that most of the great businesses of today (Indian or MNC) started either as great innovations or was simply great execution/implementation of a solid business idea.
Also, most successful businesses are started by super-ambitious individuals, who are not just passionate creators but have an unorthodox personal goal and desire in life which when blended with keen business sense and conviction makes their success look like an entire industrial revolution. These individuals went about realizing their dreams, desires and ambitions, riding on their strengths & skills in business. But as a business grows, it ceases to be individual ambition in action. It grows beyond the individual and begins to look more like a network; a network of people, places, processes, principles, goals, dreams, desires and a lot more. With so many nodes and interconnections in this network, the business is now no more than individual ambition in motion.
Thus there is needed a charter; a war cry; a goal that each and every person who is a part of this network can look at and instantly know ‘Where our network wants to be?’ ‘What is that we are trying to do?’ ‘And why are we doing it?
Interestingly employees who have personal goals, dreams and ambitions beyond or different from the states organization goals, vision etc go independent many a times starting their own dream ventures!

The company Vision, mission, charter etc. helps because even if each member of the node cannot reach out to the founder leader as often, the carter can help him stay aligned and inspired.

Something similar to the war cry that a military general used to give to make his troops go after. Even if every soldier could not meet the General personally, the war cry was infectious enough to set his pulse racing.

Vision and Mission statements are the modern day counterparts of those war cries.
Business vision, philosophy, charter, mission etc are like the velvet glove for the iron fist of profit orientation. While it seems that the glove is a good talking point in forums, sales meets, and for some business journalists who might not be as much interested in the figure against depreciation in a company’s balance sheet, it none the less helps in making more handshakes happen and keep the network alive and aligned.

The challenge is to keep the vision fired up not just stuck as an icon on the home page of the company website or a nicely framed artifact at the reception desk!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Speaking our minds

Just try recording a day-full of your conversations. The most commonly used set of words and phrases that we tend to use, have a story to tell..
Here is a quick sample..

·“24x7”(twentyfourseven), “ASAP”, “non-stop”: Expressing a sense of urgency

·“Rgds”(regards), “tks”(thanks), name initials like “S”, “J”, “P” etc as mail sign offs: Signifying early acknowledge of the slow demise of pleasantries

·“Rocking”, “kick-ass”, “buzz-off”, “Jet”: Symbolizing action orientation

·“Full-on, “Max”, “Awesome”: Signaling comfort with extremes

·“Guys”, “Dude” (for both boys and girls): Fading gender differences

·“Sucks”, “Fuck”, “Screw”, “Sexy”: Explicit & yet inclusive in mainstream

·“Cheers”, “That’s fun”: Symbolizing Revelry

·“Wicked” for something that’s good: Symbolizing the celebration of the dark side

·“Chill”, “Chill-pill”, “Cool”: Showing Relaxed, laid back attitude

·“Bandwidth”, “Airtime”, “Charge”, “Charger”, “Mobile”, “Hang”, “SMS”: Democratization of technology

·“Challenge (in place of problem): A dramatic shift in mindset. A change in approach to the way we look at obstacles

· “Whatever”, “Cool”: Multitasking words. These words acquire different meanings in different situations
If we now look at the themes emerging it has a lot to say about the times we are living in

1.Sense of urgency
There is a sense of urgency in everything we do want to do achieve

2.Demise of pleasantries
Time left is good enough just to be practical. Longwinded signatures and opening remarks belong to the last generation (that did not have e mail)

3.Action orientation
We are more result and action oriented than we ever were in the past

We sway between extremes – the all or nothing mind frame (the demise of compromises and middle grounds)

5.Fading gender differences
Girls becoming boys (attitude), boys becoming girls (appearance)

6.Explicit - mainstream
Much more comfortable with sexuality (though we still have a long way to go)

Enjoyment culture is the new second religion. Everything is a party. Work, home, weekend, drive, wedding, festival or anything else

8.Celebration of the dark side
Increased comfort with negative emotions (though again early days)

9.Laid back attitude
Desire to cool off, switch off, get away, distress

10.Democratization of technology
Everyone has a mobile phone and many of us have Internet and Personal computers

11.Shift in mindset
Not getting intimidated by problems or bottlenecks – taking them as a challenge and not a sign to give up. A very western approach to adversity

12. Multi-tasking words
Same word can have multiple meanings in different context. “Cool” could mean "nice” or “good” and at the same time it could mean “Ok” in another context. “Whatever” could mean, “fill in the blanks” or “etcetera” in one context and could be used to express “anger” or “disdain” in another.

It’s strange, sometimes words get in the way of that which just needs to be sensed and still sometimes words give out everything about that which would never be said..

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Visual vs. Visible identity

“This logo option symbolizes peace, prosperity and passion. The three green dots at the back symbolize harmony with different elements of environment. The design retains brands youthful exuberance and progressive attitude..”

“This colour and typeface symbolizes warmth and care. It has traditional roots and yet progressive in its orientation”

I am sure many of us have been part of or witnessed such discussions about brands and their visual identity. No doubt there is an entire stream of professionals who have their careers dedicated towards the ever-growing scope of brands & visual identity.
It is equally interesting to note that most of this art and science behind branding and visual identity is western in its origin.
This western emphasis on visual identity (stories behind mnemonics, colours etc) assumes

1.The audience/consumer is matured enough to understand these
2.There is high degree of involvement & interaction between the logo, brand colours packaging on one side and the user or shopper on the other
3.The purchase context is impersonal/self-help in other words a lot depends on what is written on the pack or the symbols and colours shown on the signage
4.Also, it assumes that the shopper is individualistic (the way western societies tend to be) and individualism manifests itself in the purchase habits viz. personal decisions and relatively limited resorting to referrals

Cut to the reality of Indian masses

1.Majority of consumers are not educated or informed
2.Role of branding is more to do with awareness and identification (be able to see it and identify it rather than cherish it or engage in the story of the colour)
3.Role of demonstration (dikhao), narration (sunao) and, music (bajao) is far greater than plain reliance on ‘signaging’
4.Personal interaction with the product (packaging, symbols, colours, signages etc) are important but subordinated by the extent of interaction with the retailer

The message here seems to be that in a market like India (esp. mass market) and at least in the foreseeable future notwithstanding the ongoing retail boom (see for yourself how even large format self-help stores have much more human interaction through the support staff, than what west would ever imagine) most of the mass brand logos would need visual identities that help the consumer in identifying the brand and not as much in making the customer feel in a certain way.
Also, design briefs for logos that are usually based on a western philosophy of ‘telling a story in your symbol’ might not be the driving mandate for logo or brand mnemonic designs for Indian market. Majority of shoppers in India are at a more basic level of ‘identifying’ the brand or name with the color or symbol or the shape.
This does not mean that one market is highbrow while the other is not; it just means that both markets are at different stages of development.
Thus brand mnemonics; logos; colours etc (and at least for mass brands) need to be more information oriented than story or perception oriented

In India we have enough retailers and one to one interactions that are warm, caring & human, let us not make brand colours, mnemonics, typeface etc. duplicate the effort. They can better deploy their energies by standing out and being visible than being visually rich with layers to their meaning.
New Indian mass thus need not sweat too much on the colour of the there dots at the back of the branding unit.. nobody is seeing or understanding it anyway.

Friday, May 18, 2007

script and sensibilities

Warning! This is totally speculative.

This is not a complete thought. In fact it is more of a question.
There could be a correlation between the way we write and the way we think. I am not referring to our handwriting but the script we write in.
For example is there a correlation between the Roman Script and the collective mental programming of all the cultures that use the Roman script for their language viz. Germans, English, Russians?

Could the layout or the shape of letters of the alphabet in different languages have something to do with the way people in these cultures think?
I do not know if there is any empirical evidence to suggest this but if you just observe scripts of different languages you see some connections (and these are broad generalizations and just about as robust as speculation is, so please do not infer that I am concluding anything about any of the cultures that I am drawing inferences about, here) also, needless to mention that exceptions are everywhere.
Having said that, here are some points of speculation

1.Linear logical thinking – Roman Script – straight lines (boxed and organized letters) viz. English, Germans, Most of the other European countries & Russia

2.Linear Logical Thinking – Dravidian Script – rounded symmetry or letters. Kannadadigas, Tamilians, Malayalis, Telugu (South Indian Languages)

3.Logical thinking with creative streaks here and there – Devnagri Script – all alphabets have a horizontal line on top – that’s the linear or logical part. Matras (solid horizontal lines on top) etc act as the deviations from the logic – they symbolize the creative side (Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Marathi etc.)

4.Process orientation/Performance orientation – Chinese/Korean/Japanese languages and communities – I do not know much about these or perhaps this observation does not hold good for these cultures or communities

Thoughts, points, counterpoints are welcome, as I has said earlier, this is not a complete thought..