ESSENTIALism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Sounds blasphemous in this day and age. The art of separating the trivial many from the vital few. A few years ago, I came across this fascinating book and after a gentle outreach and gracious response from Greg McKeown, the author, had me falling for the content Book, Line and Sinker.
Turn the caption statement around: Working is Not Productivity. The message once(and even now) was loud and clear. Relentless self-optimisation was a way to cope, but is it really? Humans are NOT search engines !
There has been always something obscene about the cult of the hustle, the treadmill of alienated insecurity that tells you that the moment you stop running for even an instant, you will be flung flat on your face.
Productivity is not a synonym for health or safety or sanity. I will go onto add that frantic productivity is actually a fear response. It’s a fear response for 21st-century humans in general and millennial humans in particular.
Productivity, or the lack of it, has become the individual metric of choice for coping with the international econo-pathological clusterfuck of the Corona Crisis. Talk about self optimisation: how do we do that and meet deadlines amidst settling our fighting kids, demanding colleagues and handling our screaming inner critics in the name of introspection? You are fortunate to have a roof over your head and you are also expected to use ‘ this time ‘ to write blogs, launch your podcast and personal kept in the back burner projects and life-hack our way to some cargo-cult pastiche of normality, and if not, are we somehow letting the side down?
Arbeit Macht Frei. Meaning work sets you free. These words first appeared in an 1873 German novel. And later got adopted by Nazis as a slogan. The mantra of work as freedom or a magical route to happiness has proved incredibly resilient. But,as the corona virus crisis is exposing all over again: for billions of people work is none of these things.The reality is that for billions of people around the world , work is a tightrope walk oscillating between indignity and survival. Happiness as the byproduct of the work you do will come across a masterful con job for many.The task on hand now and onerous at that, is to push for a new narrative for work based not on happiness but humanity.
Questions have an in built audacity to be more interesting than answers. And in the febrile weeks that have followed the advent of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the one question that went unabashedly viral was: how do we stay productive when the entire world is going to hell? The virus has upset the human micro biome in an epochal act of strategic surprise.
A whole generation leaned on the fragile learning that relentless work was the way to cope with a rolling crisis with the mood of imminent collapse and economic insecurity that was the piped elevator music of the youth- the relentless tug of war between trying to save yourself and trying to save the world, between desperate aspiration and actual hope.
There could be multiple reasons that we are panicking about work: about to be furloughed or sidelined; or already lost a job. And you are playing catch up(sounds familiar?). Or if you have managed to retain one, you are apprehensive about the long term. And if everything is hunky dory, you are battling at the coat tails of ‘ survivor’s guilt ‘.
We now have a packed schedule: washing up, cooking, cleaning, being a sounding board, lending a helping hand, community work, countless video conference calls with people you have ever and never met and at the end of it hiding in bed hoping that history can’t hear you breathing.
People are working harder than ever but a lot of the work does not fall under the traditional sense of the term ‘ productive ‘. They just don’t count on the ledger of human worth because the economy refuses to value them in its reckoning of what does, because most of it has been done in private, by women, for ages, for free. Making breakfast, making the beds, making sure your friends and family aren’t losing their absolute minds is work that matters more than ever and will continue to matter in the coming decades as crisis follows crisis. It is not “productive,” in the way that most of us have learned to understand what that word means, but it is work, and it is really really worthwhile.
WFH(Work From Home) has seamlessly and unapologetically moved onto W(Work). Geography has become history!
For all those who flaunt their workaholic badges of honour and condescendingly accept the various neurotic flavours that comes with it, let’s come to terms with the fact that we have been conditioned to think that work in the laissez faire zeitgeist is about hyper vigilance. It’s about what happens to people when they are trapped in abusive circumstances and cannot escape. Psychologist Judith Herman observed that “the ultimate effect of [psychological domination] is to convince the victim that the perpetrator is omnipotent, that resistance is futile, and that her life depends upon winning his indulgence through absolute compliance.” We haven’t been able to shrug of the mega legacy of the Industrial Age: Compliance. Phew!
The idea that hustling can save you from calamity is an article of faith, not fact—and the Covid-19 pandemic is starting to shake the collective faith in individual striving. The doctrine of “workism” places the blame for global catastrophe squarely on the individual: If you can’t get a job because jobs aren’t there, you must be lazy, or not hustling hard enough. That’s the story that young and young-ish people tell themselves, even as they have spent the whole of their brief, broke working lives paying for the mistakes of the old, rich, and stupid. They internalised the collective failures of the ruling class as personal failings that could be fixed by working smarter, or harder, or both—because that, at least, meant that they might be able to fix them themselves. Unfair!
After the quarantine, after we count the lives lost or ruined, recession is coming. A big one. For many, especially millennials, it’s the second devastating economic calamity in their short working lives( the first being the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9), and they are still carrying the trauma of the first. This time, though, they know it’s not their fault. This time it’s abundantly clear that they don’t deserve it. And this is exactly the sort of crisis that gives people ideas about overturning the social order.
The cult of productivity doesn’t have an answer for this crisis. Self-optimising will not save us this time, although saying so feels surprisingly blasphemous. There is nothing counterrevolutionary about keeping busy. But right now, we have a finite opportunity to rethink how we value ourselves, to re-examine our metric for measuring the worth of human lives.
Time for ESSENTIALism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
125 years is a long amount of time. The AIDA model was developed by the American businessman, E. St. Elmo Lewis, in 1898. The original purpose was to optimise sales calls, specifically the interaction between seller and buyer concerning the product.
Just to expand on the acronym(and the obvious):
- A = attract
- I = interest
- D = desire
- A = action
– More than half of consumers (55 percent) have intended to conduct a business transaction or make a purchase, but decided not to because of a poor service experience- American Express
-89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service- RightNow Customer Experience Satisfaction Report
-50 percent of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them. – RightNow Customer Experience Satisfaction Report
A contrarian view as I hang up:
The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time: David Bowie
By now even the playlist had a premonition of my fate at dinner and offered something utterly therapeutic. In the form of ” Tujse Naraaz Nahin Zindagi Hairan Hoon Main ” from Masoom. If innocence in its purest virgin form could drum up a reservoir of guilt, nothing could have explained better. A stark reminder that our collective memory always tends towards amnesia and erasure especially of periods scarred by shame. The human propensity for appearing rather than being. How one of your biggest assets ie a smile can appear as a burden of liability. मुस्कुराऊं कभी तो लगता है जैसे होंठो पे क़र्ज़ रखा है. Whoa!
The future happens slowly..and then all of a sudden. In his fabulous 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway famously wrote that bankruptcy happens in two ways: “gradually and then suddenly”.
Some years back Andy Grove( ex-CEO, Intel) had introduced the concept of strategic inflection points in his seminal book Only the Paranoid Survive where he explained that a strategic inflection point is ” a time in the life of a business when it’s fundamentals are about to change “.
A change in the business environment that dramatically shifts some elements of your activities, throwing certain taken-for-granted assumptions into question is an inflection point. Someone, somewhere, sees the implications, but all too often they are not heard. That someone might be you!
Whether you are a powerful CEO or someone far lower down in the pecking order, not seeing the unfolding inflection points(or blind spots ) are dangerous.
What is the case we are making here? Too many managers develop strategy while focusing on problems in the present and that is especially true in the times of a crisis(like the Covid 19 pandemic that we are presently pulverised by). Lets call it ‘ missing the wood for the trees ‘. What I am trying to argue here is that leaders instead should imagine the future and work backward so that they build their organisations and brands for the new(emerging) reality.
Even during a crisis, developing a ” future-back ” mindset can spur innovation and growth.
So, in order to build strategy, start with the future.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of brands and organisations that have used the ” future-back ” approach to stunning effect.
Back in the late 90’s and the turn of the millennium, Intel was ruling the roost. With a market share well over 70%, the brand was well and truly in the driver’s seat(apart from being inside millions of computers) with the Pentium Processor going from strength to strength. At the height of that market dominance, Andy Grove took a visionary punt and launched a brand to compete against its very own Pentium– that was the Celeron range of Processors. What he did was to see the future being dominated by cheaper, faster processors( Moore’s Law ) and he did not want Intel to lose out on the potential opportunity that lay ahead of them. That saying Andy Grove was visionary would be an understatement and how prescient the observation in his book ” When spring comes, snow melts first at the periphery, because that is where it is most exposed “, bears testimony. Intel Inside. Meets Intelligence and Insight!
Take another example of the ” future-back ” approach that Reed Hastings, Founder/CEO of Netflix adopted to reach where it is today. At the height of their DVD rental business success, they ventured into streaming(encouraging both cannibalisation and migration of their existing subscriber base) anticipating that the medium to long term future of in home entertainment will hinge on that. Not just that, look at their understanding of the competitive landscape- it went well beyond the typical television broadcast networks and cable TV of the day. They distilled the big picture into getting their prospect’s time and attention. Broadened the eco system significantly. Rather made it a category by itself. So, in effect, the competition included time their viewer/s spent going to movie houses, eating out, entertaining friends and family, travel and holidays etc etc. By wearing a different lens and examining a hitherto unseen/untried approach, helped them immensely in becoming the brand they are today.
No conversation about a ” future-back ” model and a vision preceding strategy would be complete without talking about Steve Jobs and Apple. Back in the day, the way they disrupted music consumption and music distribution through iTunes and iPod is now part of folklore. They did not wait for either the market or the customer to tell them what is needed. They took moonshots( it’s in the culture), created highly desirable products that the customer never knew they wanted or would need and generated unprecedented gravitas, and the rest they say is history. Apple as a brand and Steve Jobs as a leader was always seeing around corners, anticipating trends and operated at the intersection of a new future and non articulated consumer need and desire.
Let me add here. ‘ Customer knows best ‘ is a whole load of balderdash. If organisations were to depend on customers to know what is needed, there would not have been any Post It Notes(3M), Fax Machines(Xerox) and many of today’s incredibly successful brands like Amazon, Tesla, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, Zomato etc. The onus and responsibility of drawing the future and working backward from there is fully on you, your brand, your organisation. So, don’t run away from it. Take it head on.
While we debate the vision vis a vis strategy and the “ future-back ” model to a ” present-forward ” one, do be aware that a vision is like an ‘ impressionist painting ‘ and NOT a ‘ photograph ‘. A photograph captures what there is already, there is NO speculation, hedging, punting and imagining the non existent. A vision on the other hand is similar to an impressionist painting in the sense that it is visualising what could/should be, what will/can be or what may/may not be. It is taking a shot at the future and setting the road to travel back from there.
To be blunt, getting through this tricky process of envisioning the future begins with confusion, experimentation and a touch of chaos followed by a single minded determination to make progress against an overarching goal. And an approach that futurist Paul Saffo recommends as creating as many forecasts as possible, fail as quickly as possible and vitally ” to hold strong opinions weakly “.
Another valuable perspective on this chaotic period of thinking is offered by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. Anything that has more upside than downside from random events(or certain shocks) is anti fragile.
Rita McGrath, Columbia Business School professor and business consultant recommends a ‘ discovery driven approach ‘ to anticipating the future and you can dive deeper into her thinking and recommendations in BrandKnew on these links https://www.brandknewmag.com/thinking-innovation-driving-growth/ and https://www.brandknewmag.com/discovery-driven-digital-transformation/ .
It was the 4th of February, 2014. Satya Nadella was announced as the new CEO of Microsoft, the third chief executive in the company’s history, following Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Recognising that most of Microsoft’s woes at the time were a function of an approach that was ” present forward “, the first thing he did was to tell everyone in the organisation ” We are going to be moving away from a know it all organisation to a learn it all one “. Looking back on how well Microsoft is doing now compared to 2014, bears testimony to the potential for organisations in adopting a ” future-back ” model.
Brands that didn’t heed the ” future-back ” model and met their fate inspite of being market leaders once upon a time include the likes of Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia, Toys ‘R’ Us.
There are other industries very ripe for the picking to drive home further the point of vision preceding strategy. The pharmaceutical sector for instance. Based on empirical evidence, learnings from past epidemics like SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu, emerging lifestyle patterns and the accompanying chronic diseases that it helps manifest(diabetes for one), a pharma company can seize opportunities and address customer pain points that will occur in the future. An example that is worth looking at is the pharma giant Roche. Which saw huge potential in the ” future-back ” approach. That helped revive it’s struggling diabetes unit. The company ingeniously paired the mySugr app (which it had acquired in 2017) with Roche’s Accu-Chek Guide glucose meter, thereby allowing diabetics to have a different, gamified experience to managing their condition. By logging in their blood glucose levels, completing tasks and challenges, users can “tame their diabetes monster”. It’s a totally different approach(at least for the pharma sector) which forecasts that “the way forward will mean selling a total experience, not just a product.”
Rather than look at Fall of 2020 or Spring of 2021, Universities/Colleges will be best served to go further down the road and see how do we cope, prepare and anticipate learning and training needs in the near distant future and move backward from there. With the current Covid-19 crisis having caught a lot of educational institutions severely under prepared and like a deer in the headlights with no werewithal (and mindset) for virtual/online delivery, the time is now, to graduate, to look into the future.
So, ‘ where do you go from here ‘? Or, rather, I should be asking ‘ where are you coming back from ‘ ?
PS: For leaders and organisations wanting to undertake ‘A back to the future voyage ‘, the video on this link https://www.groupisd.com/phewturecast/ can be a starting point.
If you are one of the marketers who embraces convention, no one will point a finger at you if you were to follow the norm that has been practiced for years. Build/produce/manufacture, brand, market, sell. Justified linear thinking.With strong empirical evidence( I mean brand and business success) to boot.
With so many years of conventional wisdom( that also is the wisdom of the crowds that drive collective bias) in the ring, it would have been a really uphill task for any brand to alter(let alone disrupt) the narrative. But there is something about audacity and moonshots that make them perfect partners in rhyme.
I devote this blog post predominantly to understand marketing from a new lens- the one that brand Tesla is scripting so brilliantly. Directed by Elon Musk(Iron Man). Allow me to go back a few years.
It’s the 4th of April, 2016. The Tesla Model 3 is being launched in the US. It sports a price tag of US$ 35,000 and bookings can be made with a U$1,000 down payment. Then history unfolds. A whopping 276,000 cars were booked(read pre-sold) on the day, probably a first ever in automotive marketing . And Tesla gathered US$ 276 Million in upfront cash. And here’s where the story gets interesting. There was not even a model car ready. All the sales happened courtesy a few photographs of the Model 3. That’s it. There’s more. There was not even a single car that had gone into production. The first promised schedule for delivery of the Model 3 was late 2017, that was a good 18+ months away. Tesla had disrupted automotive marketing on it’s head and how.
Let’s try to understand more of the phenomena that is brand Tesla.
- Tesla’s $0 marketing budget is incredibly awesome marketing
- Tesla Motors has no advertising, no ad agency, no CMO, no dealer network. And that’s no problem. – AdvertisingAge
- If you drop by the Tesla forums, you’ll see a community of passionate fans discussing how to market Tesla better. There are over 55,000 people subscribed to the /r/teslamotors subreddit. The brand has clearly struck a chord with its fans.
- Tesla fans are crazy advocates. They attach deep emotional significance to the car. They’re not just paying for a mode of transportation, they’re paying for a slice of the future.
- Prior to the Model 3 launch, Tesla had introduced the P100D Ludicrous– a luxury model priced over US$ 80,000(base level) with upgraded versions well over US$ 100,000. The marketing masterstroke was in the message conveyed. ” While the PD100 Ludicrous is an expensive vehicle, we want to emphasise that every sale helps pay for the smaller and more affordable Model 3 which is under development. Without customers willing to buy the expensive Model S and X, we would be unable to fund the smaller, more affordable Model 3 “. This is brand positioning at it’s masterful best, making a luxury purchase almost into a charitable act.
- Every element of the Model S – from the recharging technology to the drag coefficient of the car – is presented as the pinnacle of research and engineering.
- By eschewing marketing completely, Elon Musk is actually communicating that Tesla is focused on ground breaking technology.
- Tesla the brand transcended from being just another automotive player in the business to encompass economics, politics, world power to have global energy NOT driven by oil. In the process, creating the marketplace, the eco system where they are the game. As also the game changer.
“ BMW has a marketing department called engineering.” – Seth Godin
These things obviously don’t bother Musk too much. If one were to give him an advertising budget, he is sure to divert that into production. And the final result: an even more incredible car. And inspite of NO Advertising, he gets the world talking about his brand, especially the people who matter.
How does Tesla manage to do all of this free of cost which other brands would spend millions to buy?
First, build something that matters to people. Then, tell a story that resonates with people. Just like iPhones/iPod and Steve Jobs, electric cars are a great story. The greatest stories are aspirational, representing the triumph of passion, conviction, persistence and diligence.
” I know a lot of very wealthy people. Most of them made their money in technology. I don’t think Bentley or Rolls-Royce is anywhere near the top of very many of these people’s idea of an impressive car. A Tesla is more like it “. – Jimmy Wales, on Quora
This sort of advertising is earned, not bought.
You earn this sort of attention by making something truly newsworthy. Or saying something newsworthy.
” The public tends to be, as they should, interested in things that are precedent and superlatives.” – Elon Musk
Musk is all over YouTube. The media is chasing him nine to the dozen. Why? Because he is always working on cool, fascinating, path breaking projects.
Musk is a CEO who understands the power of showmanship(tonnes of interviews, cameo roles in films and media appearances.
Just Google ‘ Elon Musk says ‘and you will get the most quotable of quotes that media loves to lap up and carry forward.
The Hyperloop is something that Musk is NOT planning to make but delivers great PR for him as a tech visionary.
At most times,Tesla has more orders than they can build – that in itself is great marketing.
Tesla has demonstrated that brands and organisations can move on from a Build/produce/manufacture, brand, market, sell model to that of a brand, market, sell, build one. Welcome to the next normal.
As William Gibson would say, “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”- which will be nothing like what we have experienced before, we’re all going to be completely re-evaluating so many aspects of our lives: education, medicine, work, social responsibility, inner calling, the list goes on. And under the aegis of the Covid 19, all of this is happening remotely right now. And the question for a lot of companies and brands is going to be: Now that this shift has happened, am I still relevant? Does what I do still make sense? Am I serving an essential function, especially in a time when everyone is being careful about their finances?
Answering in the affirmative will separate the men from the boys. Wanted. More Musketeers!
It’s a little past 6 am on the clock and a sense of anxiety has already made it’s unwanted presence felt(liquidity crisis in the form of acid reflux anyone?). Being an early bird and having realised(of late and it’s just a random realisation before you audaciously attribute that to any wisdom or maturity on my part) that my most productive hours are from the wee hours( if others thought similarly, we could call it the ‘ we hours ‘) of the morning till about noon, and every minute that I delay in getting out of the house to earn my daily dread gives me FOMO attacks(my version only and nothing to do with status anxiety). But, then, those were the days. Sorry if it sounds pre-historic.
Some days, I admit, the last thing you want to do is go to work—but since it doesn’t look like those bills will start paying themselves anytime soon, you put on your best #adulting face and head out for your daily hustle.
Over the past few weeks, just like the teeming millions around the world, being locked in(and logged in) is the (cruel) but absolute necessity. There is no mother, there is no invention. Just stay home, period. Having finished counting the tiles in the house( 2924 at last count unless some of them have been broken courtesy my better half’s multiple in house walkathons) and other highly cerebral flings that WFH has brought upon us, I was recently enlightened to realise the number of absolutely useless channels that our TV subscription(traditional) package gave us. Numbers do give us a false sense of bravado and now I know why. At least it gives the remote something handy to do. Like going up and down, aimlessly! What if we could do that with squats, seriously? Our ham would begin to string a new tune. Ok, will exercise caution now.
Work @ work was fun(and I was perfectly @ home with it or so I think)- collaborating with my colleagues(@ISD Global) and clients on changing the world, being not just the game changer but the game, we are next level normal, we will make heaven wait, how dare… and what have you while studiously ignoring their condescending disapprovals. I don’t blame them. After all even relentless monotony can’t go beyond a limit and with the keep safe distance norms in place and borders being sealed, I have to wait for things to get back to ‘ old normal ‘ for some ideas to pass(with or without Octroi). I only hope it happens ASAP unless the new definition(in the new normal) of ASAP is As Slow As Possible.
In the interim, I realise that my cell phone is acting up because when I keep pressing the Home button and look up, I realise I am still at work. Surely, some cells have been damaged. From hereon must check the sell by date. That probably calls for a visit to Shihab Mobiles(my Best Buy consultant). Alas, the contagion(no not Corona) is spreading. As now the keyboard has got into the act as well- I keep punching the Escape key only to note that I am still at work. I have seen the Great Escape but I saw something even bigger- the writing on the wall: Why is Monday so far from Friday and Friday so close to Monday? I see it better now !!
Those were the days. You always had something to look forward to. Driving back. Just like so many of us. Of coming home. And I bet, there’s nothing half so pleasant, as coming home again.
Sorry , go to go. In search of a new quest. A video on ” How to fold a perfectly folded T Shirt ” yet again! Sorry, if I wore my heart on my sleeve. But remember, we are all looking at the world with a new lens.
CAVEAT: Number of tiles indicated above will be more than 2924. I did not reckon with the other bathroom. Sorry, it slipped.. my mind. Updated stats in next piece. We can call it ‘ Stat(u)s Update ‘.
scarcity. Getting people’s attention is what we’re trying to do, and I
think that meaning, something that people can relate to on a very
visceral level, is what drives a lot of the decisions we make when we’re
talking about things. Hyper competition has forced brands to not only
assure customers a good product or service but make it very relatable
and more meaningful than any other good product.
and people are more reflective and mindful of their lives. There is a
constant search for deeper layers of meaning once you have all the
things you need and most of the things you don’t need but desire. The
ad industry of the last decade was mean, cynical and celebrated
bitterness. Those were the days when brands wanted to be Sexy,
Swaggering or Sweeping. That showed up in most of the work that was
put up. Don’t blame them as it seemed to work for all concerned. But,
then after a while, people got sick of it and when a voice and tone which
conveyed exactly the opposite stuck in, the positive reaction was
word ‘ emotional ‘ is now become the most over used word in client
agency briefs. If you are used to agencies creating a trend which should
ideally be the case(rather than following one), its time to take stock. We
just might be at a tipping point on this one. But, till such time, it sinks in,
it’s cry, cry, cry till you succeed for brands and agencies.