Effects of culture on work practices

I’ve noticed behaviour like this in organizations over the last several years, especially in India (or with those from India working elsewhere)…

Some people don’t respond to a Microsoft Outlook meeting request, especially if there is a conflict or even if they just don’t plan to attend the meeting — Fear of looking bad, or still worse, they don’t want the person who sent the request to feel bad that they aren’t attending his/her meeting!!

(Am sure there are several more examples…will keep adding to this)

How is ‘Design Thinking’ different?

“How is design thinking different from process re-engineering or business consulting?”
BusinessWeek’s Bruce Nussbaum responds in this video (damn thing refused to embed in WordPress!).

I think this answer does help in understanding the differences for the-already-informed, those who at least have bare minimum understanding or awareness about ‘design thinking’ (or similar topics), but it is unlikely to address questions of those who are completely new to it.

In my work, as I talk to several clients in the Indian industry, I see a huge need for simplifying and demystifying these terminologies and communicating them in a much simpler, yet emphatic manner.

These are some of the typical questions I’ve been asked quite often:

  • “So, you do market research?”
  • “My sales team (especially in FMCG companies) are already out there in the field and are meeting customers on a day-to-day basis and observing them. How is this different from that?”
  • “What do you guys finally give us (deliverables)?”
  • “How can you study just 10-20 people and make conclusions about users across the entire country?”
  • “Can you make this process more objective?”
  • “Users don’t know what they want. There’s no point asking them.” (This one is a classic)!

Having said that, (thankfully) there are those clients who’re much more aware, open and even very excited about “alternative” ways of approaching the same old business problems. In fact, when I tell them I don’t do focus groups, some of them actually look relieved! 😉

The Onward Journey

Here’s one blog post that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life…

Let’s get to the bottomline first. The bottomline is that — Onward Research + Innovation is now closing operations! Yup, I am winding up the business!!

I have found an opportunity to do the same kind of work on a larger platform. Professionally, this is an opportunity for me to up the level of the game that I initiated at Onward, and to learn a lot more about how to run a business (and probably a million other things). And at a personal level, (obviously) this made sense for me from a financial stability point of view as well.

So, what’s this new opportunity?
I am moving to Mindscape, the strategic consumer insights division of Technopak. Technopak, as you maybe aware, is a management consulting company started up by Arvind Singhal in 1991. Mindscape was formed couple of years ago (approximately) and has been doing a lot of interesting work in the area of consumer insights & innovation.

I saw huge synergies in thinking & vision, in their approach to consumer insights & innovation consulting by adopting non-traditional ways – using ethnography, design research, observational studies, participatory design, etc. Given my background and passion (for this kind of work) and their approach, it didn’t take too long before I felt the right kind of chemistry with the Mindscape & Technopak management team.

So, what will I be doing at Mindscape?
My official title will be ‘Associate Vice President’ and my charter is to lead one of Mindscape’s new offerings, “Innovation & Design Insights”. While the actual work on the ground will not be very different from what we were doing at Onward, but being part of a larger outfit like Mindscape will allow us to take on larger assignments, work with better access to resources, and of course bring lots of other obvious advantages of working in a larger establishment.

What happens to my team?
My team (of 2 wonderful, hardworking & highly committed professionals) – Samrat Nawle and Ranjit Singh are moving with me and will be part of my team at Mindscape. They tell me they are quite happy & excited about this big change as well (though Ranjit did take a little longer to initially digest the news considering all this happened just 2 months after he joined Onward & started his non-academic career!!)! 😉

Where are we going to be based out of?
Bangalore, as always. The Mindscape office in in the heart of Bangalore city, 11th floor in UB City on Vittal Mallya Road (yes, overlooking Vijay Mallya’s plush mansion next door)!

How was the journey for me? Did I learn & grow in the process?
Oh YES, BIG TIME! The journey was a roller coaster ride (that’s the best analogy I can think of right now). Like an entrepreneur once told me, “The Highs are High, the Lows are Low”. 🙂 It has been THE most challenging, confronting, exciting, crazy, weird, intense 2 years of my life.

Needless to say, a decision like this isn’t made overnight (heck, it took around 4 months with several sleepless nights!) and isn’t an easy decision for an entrepreneur! I consulted and took feedback from my Advisors/Mentors and several other entrepreneur-friends. And at the end of all that, what matters is that I feel good about this choice. I feel complete about what I have accomplished AND even what I did not accomplish, as an entrepreneur in these last 2 years. 🙂

So, what did I learn in the process?
I actually feel overwhelmed when I think about all those million little and big things I’ve learned in this time. Will definitely write up a separate blog post to do justice to those million things. Stay tuned.

Ok, now that I’m done with answering all these questions…

I have several dozen folks who I need to thank (yes, acceptance speech coming up). Again, stay tuned for a separate detailed post on that one. And finally, this blog will continue. The Fly On The Wall lives on, though probably on a different domain name (need to figure that one).

Thanks for reading, sharing and being (directly/indrectly a part of) the most exciting 2 years of my life. Cheers…

What do we get paid for?

Santosh Desai asks an interesting question —

On what basis do we get paid for the work we do? What determines the monetary worth that our toils merit?

Can’t say I quite agree with the answer —

We get paid not for what we do, but for where we are. Salaries are all about location; the closer one is to money, the more of it one makes. Like the arms dealer who makes a few hundred million dollars for putting the right people in touch with each other, the key is proximity to money. Schoolteachers and college professors sit very far from money, so no matter how much their personal ability or how much value they add to our lives, they earn what they do. The market is impatient with distance; it discounts one’s worth, the further one gets from it.

but it’s an interesting read nevertheless…

Voice SMS – wrong audience?

The Airtel Voice SMS ad (below) is now being regularly aired on most Indian TV channels.

I found it surprising that Airtel seems to be targeting this service at the middle or the top layers of the socio-economic pyramid. Given the general perception that those in the ‘Base of the Pyramid‘ are more likely to need and use voice-based features on mobile phones, I’d have thought Airtel would go after the BoP audience (probably in addition to other segments). It’d be interesting to test this service with BoP users and see whether they’d take to it.

On another note…

Is this also an attempt at changing the typical Indian phone usage behaviour — the innate unwillingness to use voice mail on phones (I’ve heard various theories on this one, will save that for a different post)? It’s still early days, but I still don’t see any sign of a dramatic change in that behaviour!

Also, I realized there is a basic usability issue with the way one has to record the voice message. To send a voice message, one has to dial * and then the number.  Which means, I can’t use the “Contacts” on my phone to send a voice message!! And given how dependent we are now on our Contacts, this is so unusable!

New additions to our Advisory team

As mentioned in my previous post, here are more updates on some of the key developments over the last several months…

Two highly accomplished and very interesting people have joined our Advisory team. I’m really honoured & privileged to have them provide us their mentoring and support. Here’s a brief introduction to Soumya and Reuben…

  • Soumya Banerjee: A veteran in the areas of internet, new media and financial services, Soumya Banerjee is a pioneer in successfully establishing, and scaling a global distributed multi disciplinary consulting services model. As the former Managing Director of Sapient in India, Soumya was instrumental in its establishment and growth to over 4000 people and creating a portfolio which delivered high end consulting and interactive services.  Recognized in multiple forums for creating award winning workplaces, Soumya takes a special interest in mentorship and growth and helping companies and people achieve their true potential. With his professional and life experiences in India, Europe and the Americas, Soumya takes a personal interest in the nuances of global cultures and is also an avid photographer and traveler. He has a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Houston.
    • Reuben Abraham is a professor and director of the Emerging Markets Solutions Initiative in India at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He serves on the global board of directors of the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF), a fund which aims to catalyze growth in emerging markets. Under the aegis of SEDF, he has set up a unique $17 million India-focused SME early stage fund with Google and Omidyar Network as co-investors. He serves as an independent director on the board of Indiaco Ventures, a leading listed Indian financial services company, and serves on the advisory board of two start-ups. He was also a TED Global Fellow for 2007 and and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.

      Reuben completed his M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. During his time in New York, he was an Associate Fellow in Global Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Public Policy Consortium Fellow and a Sloan Telecommunications Fellow. He served as a consultant at the World Bank and conducted research at three Columbia University research labs. Before Columbia, he was involved in co-founding two start-up ventures, both in India.

      Resurrection and some (badly overdue) updates

      Well, what can I say…the last 4 months have been a blur!

      Apart from completing one full year since we officially started Onward (we still haven’t celebrated that yet!), we’ve been neck deep in projects, deadlines, fieldwork, analysis, business development…you name it. Of course, all good problems to have, for a young organization (or, so they say!)! 🙂

      Here are some of the significant developments…

      Firstly, 2 recent additions to the Onward team…

      1. Samrat Nawle (Senior Researcher)
        Samrat joined us in early June this year. With a degree in Industrial Design from National Institute of Design, Samrat has over 7 years’ experience in User Research, Contextual Studies & Innovation, and Product Design (specifically automobile design). Prior to joining Onward, he worked with Human Factors International (Contextual Innovation team) and Reva Automobiles. Aside from his really weird (?!) sense of humour, Samrat brings with him an undying sense of commitment and passion for user centered innovation, and has already started making a huge difference to the work we’ve been doing.
      2. Ranjit Singh:(Research Associate)
        Our most recent team member (joined barely 2 weeks ago), Ranjit has a B.Tech degree in ICT (interesting, eh?) from Dirubhai Ambani Institute of Information & Communication Technology (DA-IICT), Ahmedabad. He’s been working on academic projects for the last year in a variety of areas including – Information visualization of a Tribal healthcare initiative, developing a model for understanding indigenous innovation systems in India (Worked as Research Assistant on case studies of grass-root innovation in India encompassing the notion of coping, Jugaad – the bricoleur’s approach – and the middleman as a fixer) — and also worked as a freelance journalist for DNA, Ahmedabad (extensive statistical research on trend stories, feature stories on the city of Ahmedabad, technology reporting). Unsurprisingly (for those who know him), he chose to stay away from the typical “software engineering” jobs, to pursue his passion for Innovation, Information Design and User Research.

      More updates coming soon (really)!