Sunday, May 24, 2009

I don't know

My first job after passing out of B-School (difficult to believe, but true) was trying to sell high-carbon and alloy steel. I was based in Indore. One of our strong and a loyal customer located in Rajasthan did not favour us for a particular grade of steel in spite of repeated attempts to convince them. This was a very special grade of steel which tested our manufacturing and R&D capabilities to its limits. Getting an order from this customer would have been a big victory (and big monies).

I was asked to visit the customer and discuss the possibility of a small order (half-a-truck or roughly 4 tons) as test sample, for free. The interesting thing about this customer was that the company was founded by an Ex-Army Officer and so were the people in all the key posts - very pucca, ol’ chap and all that.

I met a key person in their R&D, a retired Brigadier. I had by that time learnt enough of metallurgy to have a decent conversation. Coupled with oven-fresh lessons from B-School, I was rearing to go. After introductions, I rattled off about all the things I knew. When I saw the customer listening attentively, I thought I had him eating out of my hand. I was on a high.

When I finished, the customer looked at me and said smilingly, “Young man, you have obviously read and studied a lot.....” (Pause)

I was beaming.

He continued“.......Now the time has come for you to actually learn.”

When he saw my stunned look he smiled and said, “Everything you said is by the book. But steel does not behave by the book even though it may be offered to us for free.”

He added, “Your starting point should be ‘I don’t know’. Don’t have any preconceived notion and do not be carried away by your knowledge. Spend time on our shopfloor - watch, listen and then draw your conclusions. You might want to share your conclusions with me before you leave. There is also a greater chance of success that way.”

I did just that. He agreed with my conclusions and wished me luck. He did not give us the order, though. He did give me a lesson that I cherish even today.

I am not sure whether the value of ‘I don’t know’ will be appreciated today. It would be seen as a sign of weakness. People seem to be in love with their own voice and when they have a captive (and pliable) audience, like an agency for example, the urge to expound only seems to increase. What they don’t realise is that in most cases they come across as jerks. Speaking of jerks, there is some sort of correlation between a booming economy like India and the corresponding increase in the number of jerks. I want to sound-off this new theory of mine with Freakonomics. There is something there and probably well worth an investigation :-)

However, the Brigadier was not wrong. Read this wonderful interview with Lee Clow wherein he urges creative people (it is applicable to everyone) to not try to prove how smart one is. Instead, talk less and listen more. No wonder he is a genius and a great leader - a trait common to lot of great people in various walks of life.

BTW, my wife just asked me how the two of us who have recently decided to embark on a self-employment route hope to make ends meet.

I looked at her and with a confidence borne out of experience said, “I don’t know.”

(Image courtesy: Mr.Kris)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Without freedom of choice there is no creativity"

So says Captain of James Tiberius Kirk of Starship Enterprise.

The new Star Trek film will be released soon in India.

I was hooked onto Star Trek the serial during my school days and thought that Dr.Spock was the coolest dude. Not only that, my classmates and I used to debate extensively every Monday (the episodes used to be shown on a Sunday) the gizmos, special effects and the predictable yet interesting plots. The best part was when we used to compare some of the characters and gadgets with popular Indian folklore like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Boy, those were the days.

Tim Dowling of The Guardian has written a wonderful piece that is almost like a thesis on the phenomena called Star Trek. In his words “The Trekker is the template on which all modern obsessives are based, and these days every gathering of like-minded enthusiasts, be they evangelical Christians, Top Gear fans, comic book collectors or Liberal Democrats, owes a debt to the organisational structure of the Star Trek convention.”

Not only does he cover cerebral stuff like the one above but also interesting stories around the making of this great franchise. For example, the creator Roddenberry’s brief for how the USS Enterprise should look was simple: no rockets or wings. Instead, he just told the art director: "Just make her look like she's got power."

In addition to the Guardian piece, you might want to read this interesting post about leadership lessons from Starship Enterprise. I must say that the makers of Star Trek have spared no effort in marketing the film and I hope it lives up to the hype.

As for me, all I want to do is hear the most famous line that is etched in my memory: “Beam me up, Scotty!”

(Image courtesy: Jason Whittaker)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Top Ten I Wish I Had Written This

This is my second instalment of ‘I wish I had written this. It was due in April (the chosen posts were written in March or thereabouts) but delayed for reasons best known to me. Does not matter though as great stuff is always timeless. I am also grateful to all of you who in response to my request have continued to direct me to more such awesome posts. Please keep it coming.

As always, ‘I like them and my gut says so’ is the only criteria for the selection of the posts mentioned below. They are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did.

Sean Howard liked and believed in Saul Kaplan’s ‘Passion Economy’ so much that he decided to write about it. He did not stop with that. He made eminent authors contribute and created an e-book that he shared with the rest of the world. That’s passion for you.

In another life, The Ad Contrarian (Bob Hoffman) must have been the kid who pointed out that the Emperor was in the buff. When you read the above post (and all his posts, for that matter) you will know why. He does not spare anyone and I must admit that I am addicted to his blog.

Nearly ten years ago the founder of Legend Computers in China (now Lenovo) said in an interview that the key to a successful organisation is its culture and how quickly employees are able to become part of it. I believe in this. Adrian Ho states in his inimitable style that culture will be the only differentiator that an organisation has vis-a-vis the collective world.

Jeff Jarvis asks the fundamental question that should be in the minds (and lips) of journalists. He says originality is the key and goes onto to explain what he means. The lack of it is also the reason why media is struggling these days.

Tim Brown starts off by stating that his interpretation of economics might seem naive and yet goes onto write a simple and lucid piece on economy that I understood - at last!

Idris Mootee defines the criteria for bull-shit professions and sets out to give a list of ten bullshit professions. He manages only eight of them. The jury is open for the remaining two. One of the practitioners of bullshit is mighty offended and says so in his comments. It is great fun.

The Ad Contrarian pointed out to an almost similar idea of Top 10 Bullshit professions in his blog, posted over five months ago. Whatever be the list, I am happy to say that my industry is strongly represented :)

It was written in 20 minutes. It is a simple set of 13 statements that is truly awesome. Sample this - “Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.” Just read it every time you start a work or think you are done!

At last, an appropriate title. This is a wonderful and humorous post that questions lot of our beliefs, especially our prejudice towards Microsoft vis-a-vis Apple. The comments that follow make for an equally great read.

As a person trying to make some changes in my life and career, I know how difficult it is. Imagine an organisation that wants to get into the social media bandwagon - it requires a total behavioural change. Neil Perkin rightly states that it is an art to make people embrace change and goes onto explain why.

Understanding how your products and services affect your customers and the broader society is paramount to avoiding huge problems. The problem that Mats Lederhausen is referring to is the current economic crisis.

(Image courtesy: Found Drama)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's a wannabe's world!

Ever wondered why the world is the way it is

Let me start with something we all know

The Account person is a wannabe CEO

The Creative Director is a wannabe Filmmaker

The Planner is a wannabe Meta Physicist

The Agency is a wannabe Global Conglomerate

You know where this is headed, don’t you?

The Marketing Manager is a wannabe Star (Creative Director?)

The CEO is a wannabe Steve Jobs

The Local Councilor is a wannabe Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is a wannabe Emperor

And so on

I have also been told

That Bill Bernbach wanted to do great work

That Leo Burnett wanted to build the finest agency

That Bill Gates wanted to bring a computer to every home

That Steve Jobs wanted to give the world Apple

That Prime Minister Lee wanted to make Singapore what it is today

There are many who ‘want to’

Within an organization and on their own

However, there are a lot more of wannabes

Much, much more

And strength is in numbers

No wonder the world is the way it is



I want, wannabe...


(Image courtesy: EasyJayNZ)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

World's best job?

“Imagine moving to the heart of Sonoma County, where every day you’ll come home to more than 450 wineries along the beautiful northern coast of California. Picture living rent free, learning the intricacies of making the perfect wine, and capturing and sharing the entire experience for your network of Twitter followers. Now imagine getting paid $10,000 a month to do it. Listening?”

Hear more from Jennifer Van Grove who has all the details.

If this is not a viral or a PR stunt or a marketing ploy, it is truly a dream job. Now who can say that social media does not work?

BTW, I wonder what the tweets from the ‘Lucky One’ will be like.

(Image courtesy: BlakJakDavy)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The rise of the optimist

Media, economists and self-proclaimed experts seem to thrive on the volatile nature of the world economy by prophezising only a downhill trajectory. Pessimism seems to loom large across societies and conflicting statements plus actions from people in power (Government and Corporations) only seem to make it worse.

However, Newton’s third law has to kick-in sometime. It is time for pessimism to face an equal measure of optimism, if not more.

I came across this wonderful web compendium called ‘The Optimist Conspectus’, courtesy via Gavin (Servant of Chaos) The Optimist Conspectus was started by Ian Fitzpatrick with ‘no lofty world changing goal’ - I loved this honesty. It is ‘a compendium of contemporary optimism, one perspective at a time’. People from round the world have given their perspective on what they are optimistic about. They are gems. Sample this wonderful piece by Nishad Ramachandran.

“Coming from a nation that has more young people than old, more illiterates than literates, more needy than greedy you just got to believe that tomorrow will be better and that hope will ultimately triumph over gloom. Nishad is an advertising creative and father of two children aged 9 and 8.”

My perspective has been published. Why don’t you share your perspective too?

BTW, what is the height of optimism?

Hoping that the new government to assume power few weeks from now in the ‘world’s largest democracy’ will actually work for the welfare of the people!

(Image courtesy: john curley)