Great Work=Better Clients!


It is highly unlikely that creators are in the quest to deliver mediocre work. That, in spite of being at the wrong end of clients who are lazy, selfish and think the short-term. Or the boss who does not care enough to up the ante. We have often heard the refrain ” I am doing this boring, banal, insipid, uninspiring, mediocre work because that’s what the client wants “.


The above is the harsh reality. Unfortunately so. Response to such situations can throw two sets of possibilities:-


  • Persuade the client to let you do great work. I know it is easier said than done, but it is worth the effort I promise. Who knows, wiser counsel may prevail
  • Or better, go find better clients who are prepared to sing from the same hymn sheet as you


The onus is on you- if you, the creator, conduct yourself and act in a manner which demonstrates that you deserve better clients, sooner than later you begin to get better clients. Then the linear sequence does not offer any room for compromise. You deliver great work because you damn well talk the talk and walk the walk.


What we have to be grateful for is the fact that there are better clients. They are a minority but they exist. Who have the grace and the vision, the gall and the gumption, the guts and the grit to waltz with you. You owe it to them. We thank them.



Because our exits too deserve an appropriate entry!


Our culture seems to applaud the spirit, gumption and promise of beginnings. We admire the entry, when people launch themselves into something new, plan and execute a new project, take on important work, get married, embark on an adventure( if you see a connect between marriage and adventure and the natural sequence in which it got written here, good for you!). These are likely to be moments of hope, optimism, possibilities, expectations as we compose the next chapter for ourselves. We give kudos to someone who is entrepreneurial, who paves a path for herself, who has a plan for what’s next and can plot the strategy to move from here to there. Almost as if to say they have all been co-authors of ” What got you here won’t get you there “. Actually, a book written by Dr Marshall Goldsmith (Author), Mark Reiter (Author).


By contrast, our exits are often ignored or invisible. They seem to represent the negative spaces of our life narratives. There is little appreciation or applause when we decide( or when it is decided for us) that it is time to move on. We often slink away in the night, hoping that no one will notice, that the darkness will make the departure disappear. If the entry recalls a straight and erect posture, a person who is strong and determined, then we imagine a person stooped, weakened, and despairing as she makes her exit.


This cultural regard or stereotyping of exit is troublesome in a society where leave-taking are the norms, where for example, multiple marriages end in divorce forcing tortured exits, publicly exposed and privately endured, where millions of immigrants leave their domicile(exiting the place where their lives and families have been rooted) to find their ‘pot of gold’ in completely unchartered waters, rupturing their cultural traditions and practices, where demographics predict that our young adults will not have ten jobs but ten careers- and it will be crucial that they learn not just the art of beginning anew but also the grit and grace of good exits, where in these tough economic times, the agony of exits seem to be the dominant narrative, where the depleted job market forces young graduates to move back under their parents’ roofs, postponing the exits that were long planned and producing a developmental condition that psychologists have begin to describe-pejoratively-as a ” failure to launch “. And the last nail in the coffin(forgive the pun here) is the inevitable exit of death that begs for more clear-eyed and respectful attention, more beautiful rituals and cultural honoring.


Visual reminders of exits surround us each day of our lives, guiding our moves, anticipating our turns, flashing directions to us. Be it the parking lot or the flight attendant demonstrating or the fake voice on our GPS- the exits glowing white letters on green metal- mark distance, time, effort, belonging( exit 39 on Sh Zayed Road in Dubai brings back fond memories for me as I dropped my daughter off to her school every morning). Whether it is a theatre director following the playwrights cue telling actors when to exit(left or right of stage) or accepting the fate of the lousy hand a poker player was dealt when he “folds”, leaving the table and exiting on his own terms, the reminders are omnipresent.


Exits as we can see are ubiquitous, marking the physical landscapes we inhabit, embedded in our language and metaphors, embroidered into the historical narrative of nations, braided into the sequence and arc of our individual development, shaped by the contemporary scene of our economic crises and global mobility and laced into the intergenerational tensions and discourses in our families and communities. Perhaps it is the very ordinariness, familiarity and ubiquity of our experiences of exit that make them invisible to us. And perhaps it is our overvaluing of the launch, the promise of entry, and the hopefulness of beginning, that render our exits ignoble by contrast.


” Every exit is an entry somewhere else “- Tom Stoppard


So, what is your exit strategy?


Au revoir !

Looks could kill..but, looks could be a skill!


As contrary to conventional wisdom and logic as it may seem, physical flaws, it turns out, create an instant appeal to others. We are duped into believing that the pretty, the pristine, the perfect get all the perks, all the glory and and all the breaks. When in reality it is not exactly that at all.


There is a reason why we lean towards the average. Research done by University of Texas scientists hypothesized that individuals with features close to the mean of the population are viewed as less likely to carry genetic mutations and, therefore, we unconsciously see them as being ‘ normal ‘ for our species. Whereas beauty is seen as a deviation from the norm and a genetic defect.


Average as beauty is timeless, universal and appealing. Sorry to disappoint all those with killer looks!


According to Dr Stephen Marquardt, a reconstructive surgeon in Southern California, the ‘ perfect ‘ face isn’t a creation of Hollywood or advertising agencies but is actually based on a simple mathematical formula  known as the Golden Ratio. Beauty, it turns out, is not in the eye of the beholder but in a mathematical calculation.


If we were to segue back to the US Presidential elections in 2000 and 2004: Al Gore and John Kerry(both presidential candidates) came across as too-handsome con men against the average-looking George Bush. His comical-looking big ears were a conspicuous flaw often magnified in caricatures. Americans not only felt that Bush would do the right thing, but they also felt a Darwinian-like need to rally behind and protect him- the unattractive(by classical standards) underdog- against the more aristocratic, handsome and intelligent Gore and Kerry.


People who are exceptionally pretty or handsome often think they are entitled to everything and have probably always had people giving them a break, so they just expect it. It is not a big deal for them not to return a favour or renege on a debt. Unattractive people probably have a harder time getting things in life, getting people to do things for them. So, when someone finally gives them a break, they’re more likely to appreciate it and feel a stronger need to prove they are worthy of the kindness.


Carrying on from where we left off on Al Gore, with his largely expanded girth; he is now human in both his appearance and his presentation style. We seem to like Al Gore much better now that he’s not quite so perfect. Gail Sheehy in a New York Times editorial titled ” Flawless, But Never Quite Loved “, said perfection was Al Gore’s Achilles Heel: he lacks glaring flaws, no dark past, no drunken parent or dubious paternity, no private demons, no cheating at Harvard, no bad-boy brother or left-wing wife…how is the poor man to compete in the Politics of Personal Biography!


The quizzical universal appeal of the ‘ ugly ‘ can be best attributed to ET: The Extra Terrestrial( A Steven Spielberg runaway hit) where the wrinkle-faced, hairless, bug-eyed alien waddled into the hearts and minds of millions. The fictional alien with an appearance that Spielberg called ” something that only a mother would love ” was seemingly everywhere in pop culture- from commercials and public service announcements to books and songs.


At a time when when stoic journalists with pretty faces and perfectly sculpted ‘helmet hair’ graced news and talk shows, an over-weight, coif-challenged, African-American woman aka Oprah Winfrey with extra weight, non-conformist hair  and folksy style helped her propel to one of the media icons not just in America but around the world.


There is a field of anthropology called ‘ human universals ‘: things that people across cultures find universally appealing or comforting. According to researchers, a preference for physical flaws is one of those human universals. If Oprah were to be thin and runway-model gorgeous when her show first debuted, viewers would not have had an instant and deep connection to her.


When Mickey Mouse first debuted back in 1928, his face and limbs were in proportion to the rest of his body( a symmetrical appearance is considered unappealing to the mass consciousness). But along 1947, just as the famous rodent’s personality was evolving to become more adult and well-mannered- his appearances became more juvenile. Artists at Walt Disney, enlarged his head, exaggerated his ears and also lengthened his pants from above the knee to down to his shoes. Mickey’s evolution has made him more infant like in his appearance and, therefore, more vulnerable. What is vulnerable is lovable.


Beauty is only skin deep but ugly goes all the way down to the bone“.


When we are having a collective crisis of confidence, we always resort to the comforting allure of the less-than-perfect– whether it is in the form of a leader, a teddy bear, Mickey Mouse or an Oprah.


Our distrust for perfection or things that come too easily continues to permeate our manufacturing systems too. We have the sophisticated technology to produce products with zero defects but our primal, anthropoligical and biological conditioning prevent us from buying into them. Perfection, after all, is the domain of those who oppress.


According to Carleton Coon, a Harvard educated physical anthropologist said ” problem-solving by trial and error ” is one quality all cultures have in common. Because humans historically have had to make several tries to get something right, it ‘ feels right ‘ when there are initial failures.


So, conspicuous imperfections anyone?



A bottomless pit called ‘ deep discounting ‘!


If you are anywhere on a high traffic density road in any modern city today, you would be subject to billboards and digital advertising signages screaming 25 to 70% off( or its equivalent underpricing bribe), irrespective of the time of the year, regardless of category that the brand is struggling, surviving, thriving or flourishing in.


In my opinion, this is a sure fire way to establish that the highly competent and skilled branding and marketing professionals behind such campaigns are downright lazy. Pardon my saying so. Low price is the last refuge of leadership that doesn’t have the guts to make a great product and tell a true story to the right people.


Not all customers are made equal. Some customers want to pay more than others, and some customers want to get more—of something—than others. That is an established default. The questions(here are a few) to ask might be:


” Are you selling to the wrong people? ”


” Is your marketing message incorrect? ”


” Your costs of acquiring a new customer are more than that customer is worth? ” 


” Your supply chain may be undeveloped? ”


” What are you outsourcing? Is the time and money you spend on every step rewarded by the customer you serve? ”


” Is there a mismatch between your story and the worldview of those you seek to serve? ”


” Are you overspending or underspending on marketing? ” – (often, it’s the under spenders that are in real trouble!)

” Because you are already in Red Ocean territory and your product or service is not remarkable ”


” Are you misrepresenting or over representing when you are communicating ? ”


” Is your advertising or brand communication instantly forgettable? ”


” Is it because your product doesn’t earn traction with your customers, they wouldn’t miss you if you were gone–and the substitutes are easy ? “.


” Even though you’re trying hard, you’re being selfish, focusing on your needs instead of having empathy for those you seek to serve. The shoe is not on the other foot “?


” Is it the people you seek to serve don’t trust you? ”


” Are you focusing on the wrong channels to tell your story? Just because social media is fun, it does not mean it works! ”


” Are your people motivated or trained to be efficient?Because people do what they want, and they respond to training and respect and opportunity!”


” Are you being reactive, doing what the market tells you instead of bending the market in the direction you want it to go? ”


A lot of what is claimed to be marketing is exactly what it is NOT. Often times, when faced with problems like these, we wield the megaphone and start shouting and hyping, cutting promotional corners instead of doing the hard, deep, meaningful work of understanding what we make, how we make it, and who do we make it for. But the relief is that once you understand what is broken( in the long list of questions above), you can fix it.


As it is said, ” Don’t find customers for your product or services. Find products and services for your customers “. More on this at

By the way, they are called ‘ ideas ‘, not ‘ hideas ‘..


It is said that ideas are aplenty but ideas without action are regrets.


Don’t be bothered about the fact that your ideas will be used or stolen. If you are part of a creative and branding agency like ours ie ISD Global, you will face this all the time. Even if you are not, that remains a distinct possibility.


Many blunders in business are through inability or an unwillingness to adopt new ideas. We have seen many a success turn to failure also, because the thought which should be trained on big things is cluttered up with the burdensome detail of little things.


History is littered with instances where a market leader couldn’t see the potential in a rivaling idea. Showing up and shipping out our ideas is the least we can do. For a stunning and shocking understanding of the game changing ideas that were let go by big leaders, take a look at this blog


As there are misanthropists or haters of men, so also are there misologists, or haters of ideasPlato


Turning up the volume on creativity as a corporate asset!


The business world has launched a new quest. The ancient pursuits- for capital, for raw materials, for process technology- remain eternal. But now business seeks a new advantage- delicate and dangerous, and absolutely vital- the creativity advantage as a conduit to sustainable, cumulative, competitive advantage.


Way back in 1995, IBM acquired Lotus for US $ 3.5 Billion. Surely it was not just to get its software. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen did not estimate DreamWorks worth at US$ 2.7 Billion based on traditional capital assets- it had none. These companies bank their bottom line on fresh talent and new ideas-on the creative potential of their employees.


To survive and triumph in today’s marketplace, all organizations be it airlines, accounting firms, shoe makers, retail chains, software developers- must make creativity their number one priority.


Creativity has both a vocabulary and a grammar. It is both an art and a discipline. The jazz jam session is a brilliant metaphor for understanding creativity. You understand how a group of musicians can use their ideas to create new possibilities by challenging each other’s imagination while creating collective impact and individual brilliance. At once unpredictable and harmonious. Stimulating creativity is a process that can be observed, analysed, understood, replicated, taught and managed. Contrary to popular perception. Furthermore, managers must control without controlling and direct without directing and you will see that it is not as senseless as it sounds. Managers can’t demand creativity  any more than they can order growth from a flower.


Like jazz, creativity has its vocabulary and conventions. As in jazz too, its paradoxes create tensions. It demands free expressiveness and disciplined self-control, solitude in a crowded room, acceptance and defiance, serendipity and direction.


All this is risky. Unavoidably so. When the alto sax player starts a solo, he doesn’t know where he is going, let alone how far and for how long. His inner voice- to which the music, the other musicians, the setting and ambience and even the listeners contribute- directs him. That’s the nature of improvisation and companies that aren’t willing to take its risks are not long for this fluid, protean, constantly challenging world. Companies that shun creative risks may be undercut by competitors not only with better products and services, but also with better processes and ways of perceiving new opportunities. Escaping the stagnation of the status quo, of the risk free life, is part of the exhilaration of jamming-in music and in business.


In jazz-and in business- the improvisational style derives its power from the way it juxtaposes certain vital human tensions or paradoxes. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order:


  • The established( tradition, powers that be, status quo) in tension with the new
  • The need for form in tension with the drive for openness
  • Critical norms and standards in tension with the need to experiment
  •  The security of the familiar in tension with the lure of the unknown
  • Responsiveness(responsibility) to the group in tension with individual expressiveness
  • Discipline in tension with freedom
  • Power in tension with desire
  • Established theory in tension with persistent experimentation
  • Expertise in tension with freshness, naivete


The choice is stark. Create or fail.



Hiding and seeking don’t go hand in hand!


It is very common during a floor test in parliament or senate that some members abstain either by design or inertia. Abstain because you are not certain about the next step or the future. Staying away or hiding from taking action, casting a vote, or showing up to dispense your responsibility is never a solution if the intent is progress, resolution or making things better.


The better way is to show up. Even when things are unclear or uncertain. Even when you are not well informed. Engage with the situation or problem. Find a point of view that you hitherto did not have.


Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides. One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself. You can keep as quiet as you like, but one of these days somebody is going to find you “.

The ability to stand naked in our own truth is an incredibly salve and is the boldest statement you can make about your integrity and authenticity, both of which are at a high premium in the current social media calibrated culture that we find ourselves in.


So, show up and ship out. Be out there. Hiding isn’t a great place to be especially if you are seeking the true and best version of yourself.