Is there a case to revisit the Case Study Method? 

Is there a case to revisit the Case Study Method? 
 

Back in the 1920s, Harvard Business School(HBS) professors decided to develop and experiment with innovative and unique business instruction methods. As the first school in the world to design a signature, distinctive program in business, later to be called the MBA, there was a need for a teaching method that would benefit this novel approach.

Central to the case method is the idea that students are not provided the “answer” or resolution to the problem at hand. Instead, just like a board member, CEO, or manager, the student is forced to analyze a situation and find solutions without full knowledge of all methods and facts. Without excluding more traditional aspects, such as interaction with professors and textbooks, the case method provides the student with the opportunity to think and act like managers.

HBS professors selected and took a few pages to summarize recent events, momentous challenges, strategic planning, and important decisions undertaken by major companies and organizations. The idea was, and remains to this day, that through direct contact with a real-world case, students will think independently about those facts, discuss and compare their perspectives and findings with their peers, and eventually discover a new concept on their own.

So far, so good.

In lecture courses, claimed a Harvard professor, students ” are waiting for you to give the ‘answer ‘ “. There is a built-in bias against action. What we say with the case method is : ” Look, I know you don’t have enough information, but given the information you do have, what are you going to do? “.

Consider a typical scenario. James is the CEO of MegaCorp Inc. What should the company do now? The professor and almost 90 of James’ classmates anxiously await his response to the totally ‘ cold call ‘- designed to ensure that students have prepared the case. James did give it a long thought. After all, he was told that the case study method is intended to ” challenge conventional thinking “. He has also been reminded that good managers are decisive, good MBA students must take a stand. So James swallows hard and answers the question.

” How can I answer the question? “- James begins. ” I barely heard about MegaCorp Inc before yesterday. Yet today, you want me to pronounce on its strategy. As is typical at Harvard, James was working on two other case studies the previous night, so he barely had a couple of hours to prepare on the MegaCorp Inc case. He had never knowingly used any of the MegaCorp products. Until the previous day he did not even know that the rat poison that he used on his basement was made by the same MegaCorp Inc. He had never visited any of its factories nor has been anywhere close to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘, where MegaCorp is headquartered. He has never spoken to any of the company’s customers(except of course himself). James says ” My previous experience(the little there was) took place in a furniture company. MegaCorp is a high-tech company and I am a very low tech guy. All I have to go by are these few pages. This is a superficial exercise. I refuse to answer your question “.

What happens to James? At the business school, I will let you hazard(?) a guess. But from there James moves back to the furniture business, where he immerses himself in the products, the process, the people. And with his courage to be decisive and with an appetite to challenge conventional thinking, James rises to the position of the CEO. There with hardly any ‘ industry analysts ‘ at all, James and his colleagues learn their way to a strategy that transforms the furniture business.

Meanwhile, John, who is sitting next to James in class jumps in. He too has never been to ‘ You Never Know Where, Newfoundland ‘. But that doesn’t stop him.He makes a clever point or two and gets that coveted Harvard MBA. This gets him into a ‘ prestigious consulting firm ‘, where as in those case study classes, he leaps from one situation to another, each time making a clever point or two, concerning issues he recently knew nothing about, always leaving the firm before implementation (action) begins.

As this kind of experience rolls in, John doesn’t take far too long in becoming the CEO of a major appliance company.(He never consulted for one but it does remind him of that MegaCorp case study). There, after downsizing( it’s fashionable you see) a few thousand unsuspecting Human Resources, he formulates a glitzy high-tech strategy, which is implemented, so to speak, through a dramatic program of acquisitions. What happens to that?? Guess again!

Readers (of the book ‘ What they Really Teach You At Harvard Business School ‘by Philip Delves Broughton) are probably asking , ‘ Read the case and do that analysis in two to four hours?’ Harvard’s answer is YES. Students need to prepare two to three cases each day..so (they) must work toward getting their analysis done fast as well done well.

Some years back, HBS ran an ad in The Economist for it’s executive education programs. It had a dapper, uber smart looking executive-woman saying, ” We studied four companies a day. This isn’t theory. This is experience.”

Sorry. This is nonsense.

There was a book released in 1990 called ‘ Inside the Harvard Business School ‘ by David Ewing, for long, an insider. The first line of the book makes a sweeping statement ” The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world “.The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who had made it to the very top, the school’s superstars as of 1990. If you took a look at the post 1990 records of all 19, to see how they fared, there was only one word to describe it- BADLY. 10 of them clearly seem to have failed(meaning their company went bankrupt), they were forced out of the CEO chair or a major merger backfired, or the like. Performance of another four appeared to be very questionable. The other five seem to have done fine.

To conclude, most MBA students enter the prestigious HBS or similarly profiled hallowed Ivy Leagues smart, determined, aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce clearly on situations they know little about , while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem- no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the ‘ old boys ‘ network that can boost them to the top. Then what??

Begs the question!! Case Study or Case Unsteady?

Ready. (Case) Study. Go!!

ENDS

 

 

 

Cheap Signaling, Power Dynamics..

Cheap Signaling, Power Dynamics..
Courtesy: The dictionary meaning may seem a bit out of place in this context but here it is nonetheless: ” the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behaviour towards others “.
 
For all the education and training providers in the market, there is a great opportunity. Offering specialised courses in Professional Courtesy 101. Get ready to laugh your way to the bank. The market is dying for something so fundamental.
 
A bit of a back narrative if you permit me. 
 
Let me circle back to an era(read Pre Covid) where travel was a breeze. When geography was truly history. Early in the year, I had set up a meeting in another country with the Founder/CEO of a leading premium real estate experience entity. He had inherited the business from his self made father who had built a mega infrastructure building corporation over the years. The meeting was to showcase a strategic roadmap for his organisation and share creative communication templates that are in sync with the strategy. Our team put in the emotional labour, ran the hard yards and created something truly magnificent. After all, we were meeting the scion, a decision maker, a business leader and as is our wont, we were prepared to deliver the best. The meeting was fixed almost a month ahead and I had planned my booking and travel accordingly. On the appointed day, yours truly set out, full of belief, confidence and exuberance to meet the revered appointee. The drive was a good hour and twenty minutes away and factoring in traffic bottlenecks, the lead time to reach destination was a good two hours. I must confess that other than optimism, hope and high enrolment, I had no premonition of what was to come. Reaching well ahead of the appointed time, imagine my plight when I was told by his hapless secretary that he will not be in office today as some other meeting had come up and he would not have the time to meet me. I reconciled to the situation as quickly as I could(after all I had flown in from a different country to meet) and offered the secretary that I wouldn’t mind the meeting being rescheduled. That is when I realised she was helpless too. Prompting me to take things into my own hands. During the rest of the day, I tried reaching my ‘ appointee ‘ on 9 different occasions on his phone, sent messages separately  by Email and Whats App, but to no avail.
 
It’s been ten months since that date and I am still to hear from him. Forget an apology or regret, absolutely NOTHING. Now you know why I suggest the huge potential of Professional Courtesy 101.
 
The next messperience is closer home. Well within our geography. But this meeting made the very concept of courtesy, history. The client in question here is an uber premium automobile brand. So, not unreasonably, we had high expectations. Well before the appointed hour, me and two of my senior leadership team members of ISD Global arrived with our usual appendage: professionalism, confidence and complete preparedness. Projection screens were set, rest of the AV equipment along with our team members were raring to go as well. The buzz in the room was palpable. That was the end of it though. The three executives on the other side of the table were completely oblivious to the fact that there was a meeting by appointment, there was a presentation being made and there was an agenda that was mutually set prior to the meeting. They were all focused on their laptop and mobile screens with so much intensity that they couldn’t care less there were other people in the room seeking their attention and presenting something that they had asked us to. In such a situation, there was no way that the rubber could hit the road. That was my neutral observation.
 
They did not even know we left the room and the meeting. They ghost walked into the meeting and ghost walked out I guess. Now you know why I suggest the huge potential of Professional Courtesy 101.
Pardon me for going on and on, but here is another one, I promise, this is the last. This meeting is with the Director of a leading Furniture brand. Here again, history repeats itself. In the sense, that this gentleman has inherited the business empire from his father who had built it from scratch. The meeting also included a very professional and enthusiastic marketing head, a recent appointment at the brand. Her energy and commitment was total to give credit where it’s due. That set the hopes high. At the appointed hour, the meeting begins. It was scheduled to be a one hour meeting and the first thing we hear from the Director is that ‘ I have only 20 minutes ‘. Being agile and aware, our team was on the ball to recalibrate and pivot to the new time starved reality. We instantly realised there was a north south divide. Or a church and state relationship. If the projection screen where the presentation was happening was in the north, our 20 minute hand me downer was looking exactly the other way to the south buried deep into his mobile phone. Probably at last count, he had looked at his mobile about 40 times during the course of that ‘ 20 minutes ‘. I can promise you, at the end of it, he certainly was NOT the ‘ Apple of our eye ‘!
 
I am always wonder struck as to where all this stems from- is it a serious inferiority complex? Is it insecurity? Is it clanning? Is it power dynamics aided by cheap signaling? You bet the jury is out on this! But what I am certain about is the tremendous potential of Professional Courtesy 101.
Providers anyone? There is a big market out there waiting to be served!
 
 
ENDS
 
 
 

Present Forward or Future Back: Strategy or Vision?

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.

ENDS

https:www.groupisd.com/story

https:www.brandknewmag.com

https:www.weeklileaks.com

https:www.brandknew.groupisd.com

 

 

The changing idea of marketing as a concept!

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 GoogleElon 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!

ENDS

https://www.groupisd.com/story

https://www.brandknewmag.com

https://www.weeklileaks.com

https://www.brandknew.groupisd.com

Quad(rant) biking through life!

Quad(rant) biking through life!
Quadrant: here is the mathematical definition in American English: one of  four rectangular areas that coordinate plane( = area with vertical and horizontal measures) is divided into. 

​We have often heard about terms like ​’ Be Limitless ‘ and ‘ Endless Possibilities ‘. These are bandied about in self help books, motivational speeches and even some business negotiations..” Considering the synergies that exist between our two organisations, there are endless possibilities that we can collaborate on “, is not very uncommon CEO speak. Well, (enough) said!

The reality on the ground is very different though. There is not much weightage accorded to the magic and energy of ‘ possibility ‘. And even less so in the case of what empowers possibility ie ‘ enrollment ‘. Often times we all are barking up the wrong tree. Consider that we look at this situation like if it were to be a quadrant with four concourses.

Concourse 1: High Possibility; High Enrollment: This is where most of our tribe is headed. Showing up, enrolling and putting in the hard yards, the emotional labour in the hope that at the end of it, they would realise what was envisaged as possible when they began. It’s indeed a very overcrowded space, fuelled in large doses by what we call the ‘ herd mentality ‘ and the supposed ‘ wisdom of the crowds ‘. Needless to say, the competition in this concourse is the highest.

Concourse 2: Low Possibility; High Enrollment: How to get into the Brazilian national football team ? Or any of the top NBA teams. Or getting admission into the IVY League Universities like Harvard, MIT etc. The odds are heavily stacked against the participants but the level of intensity and desire to get on board is at its highest which reflects in the insane number of enrollments for that special pie in the sky. In such cases, the existing eco system also keeps triggering and stimulating the hope and promise and thereby the corresponding spike in enrollment to get on board.

Concourse 3: Low Possibility; Low Enrollment: Yes there are such tribes..wanting to be lava surfers and ride the lava spitting out from the Mauna Loa (one of the world’s biggest volcanos) but there is neither a structure nor system in place to bring this to fruition. Little wonder such things see the lowest in terms of both possibility and enrollment.

Concourse 4: High Possibility; Low Enrollment: Strangely, this is the most under tapped area of the quadrant inspite of this being the area with the highest potential. It could be areas like being a social worker or a nurse or a music therapist. There is always a Minimum Viable Audience(MVA) and our enrollment can see that audience being connected to, engaged with, influenced and impacted.

What can we distill from this? Which is the Blue Ocean that is calling out to us? How much enrollment are we planning to put in to swim to where we want to be? Are we prepared to guts it out? Yes, the possibilities are out there. Enrollments are open. Apply now!

ENDS

https://www.groupisd.com/story

https://www.​brandknewmag.com

https://www.​weeklileaks.com

Look OUT: Avoiding the ‘legacy trap’ in inspiration

The 19th century French physiologist Claude Bernard said that “It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning” . So true, isn’t it. Being comfortable in our existing biases and prejudices.

It’s the swanky decked to the hilt conference room of a major healthcare brand. Huddled are some really bright minds including the hospital  CEO, medical experts, Architects, Project Consultants etc. The matter on the table is the design of the ICCU(Intensive Cardiac Care Unit) at their upcoming new hospital. Inevitably, the design blueprint presented did not depart too much from what has already been executed in multiple ICCUs across thousands of hospitals worldwide. Been there, done that. Enter the intrepid Customer Experience Manager, newly appointed at the hospital and what she suggested immediately managed to raise many eyebrows. ” How about borrowing some design thinking from the Formula 1 Pit stop ‘ as we look at building the new ICCU ? she suggested. One could hear a pin drop. In that room, was more than 200 years of insights and experience and all that was being the cold shoulder. The young lady went onto elaborate what her thoughts were. The Formula 1 Pit Stop is where critical decisions involving millions are taken in micro milli seconds that will affect many stakeholders, almost a life and death scenario. All she was suggesting was to borrow thinking from a completely heterogeneous industry that had nothing to do with healthcare. And to her credit, she won the day. The legacy thinking was punctured to arrive at a smarter solution that was equally if not more relevant to the cause at hand.

Similarly an airline check in counter can actually gain inspiration from observing a hotel front desk check in process. Or a bike supplies store seeking inspiration from beauty retail brand like Sephora to get more customers comfortable with buying and using bikes.

We define such thinking as ‘ analogous inspiration ‘ wherein you remain and in fact seek thinking and ideas from an industry completely unrelated to your own. Only to realise the unlocked value hidden therein.

Till about some years back, we connected ‘ subscriptions ‘ as something that the media industry especially newspapers and magazines used to ensure they have a loyal customer base. In the current context, we have vast tranche of products and services including cars(yes Volvo already implemented it in Sweden), Fashion, Airline tickets, OTT(Netflix, HBO, Amazon), Fintech, Furniture etc using that route to grow and more importantly retain customers.

It’s not that such ‘ break the mold ‘ thinking be restricted to organisations and brands alone. Shalane Flanagan is an American long-distance runner. She holds the American record times in the 3000 meters (indoor), 5000 m (indoor) and 15K road race. She won the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in the 10,000 m (since upgraded to silver). She also won the 2017 New York City Marathon. What is interesting to understand in her case is that by design she would train with her rivals– yes you read it right- her rivals. To her it was an opportunity to go beyond her own arc of biases and understanding and soaking in new approaches that otherwise she would not have been privy to.

The whole thought is to replace the context you are in and seek newer, untapped contexts as sources of inspiration. This is something that we try to practice regularly within ISD Global where I work. There are better stories outside the book you are reading. So, go ahead, turn the page!

ENDS

groupisd.com/story

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Going for Gr8?

We have seen, heard and experienced this before. A top down driven organisation. Where feedback and candour is discouraged, probably a non starter . Suggestions and inputs alien. Empowerment and trust  non existent. In short, my way or …my way!

Which brings us to the concept and significance of psychological safety in the workplace. Let’s define what that is.

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career “. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected.

Throwback to 2016 and Wells Fargo( then the world’s largest bank by market cap and the 3rd largest in the US). CEO John Stumpf’s mantra to employees was often “eight is great” ; meaning get eight Wells Fargo products into the hands of each customer. But this directive proved burdensome for bank employees as they struggled to meet demanding quotas and satisfy even more demanding managers. They began to cut corners and opened deposit accounts and credit cards for Wells customers – without their knowledge or permission.

After a LA Times investigation that uncovered the sham accounts and a lawsuit filed by the city of Los Angeles, Wells Fargo had to pay US$ 185 Million in fines to city regulators. Not to mention the serious drop in goodwill and reputation, a pre requisite for a financial services brand. Caused by: you guessed it, the absence of psychological safety in the work eco sphere.

Move onto another organisation. Pixar. What is common knowledge is that when it comes to films and movie production, there are far more misses than there are hits. Almost a 10: 1 ratio of misses to hits. In such an industry, for Pixar to have delivered 17 super blockbusters in a row, called for something extraordinary. At the fulcrum of it all was the culture. A culture that sought openness, persistent feedback, constructive criticism, a voice and relevance for all and a perennial hunger to excel. An environment where people felt trusted, safe, confident, believed. Ed Catmull(recently retired), CEO was a driving force in ensuring the right questions were asked all the time, facilitating an open conversational culture. (As an aside, I will urge you to read this HBR article on how departing leaders can pass along more than wisdom https://hbr.org/2019/04/how-departing-leaders-can-pass-along-their-wisdom-to-employees ).

It’s not as if that creating a ‘ psychological safety ‘ environment was the pre requisite for leading and growing successful organisations. As a counter to that, if one were to look at brands like Apple or Uber, none of what we mentioned in the case of Pixar above counted for much in these organisations. Their becoming uber successful was clearly a function of brilliant strategy and unabashed opportunism. But the jury is still out on whether these organisations can more of what we are propagating, making them even bigger, better, revered organisations.

It might be worthwhile talking briefly about Project Aristotle(a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts“) at Google which was initiated to understand the dynamics of effective teams, what topped the charts of the prognosis was ‘ psychological safety ‘ where team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other, apart from factors like dependability, structure & clarity and meaning.

So, what can we do to discover the ‘ power within ‘? Simple. Take some of the examples from the likes of Pixar and Google shared above and look at implementing them. At ISD Global, where I work, this has been happening for quite a while and it is only going to get better. Over to you!

ENDS

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The ‘ Expertise Burden ‘

The X Factor might make you an ‘ ex not to be factored ‘.

Contradicting yes. Certainly so. How can expertise ever be a burden? It is what gets normally equated with leadership abilities and high performance. But when we look around, you will find instances where expertise comes across as unwanted baggage, thereby halting progress, impeding momentum.

Look around and you will scores of cases where expertise has been a trap for many an organisation and individuals alike. Kodak was at the frontier of imaging technology and photography and remained glued to the thought that things would remain the same.

” You press the button. We do the rest “, quoted George Eastman. Steve Sasson was the engineer at Kodak who invented the digital camera in 1975. US$ 10 billion in sales way back in 1981. However, Kodak failed to recognise the rise of digital photography, decline in analog camera sales and the rise in digital camera sales. Eventually, the brand filed for bankruptcy in 1992. The ‘ expertise trap ‘ played its part. The hunter became the hunted.

Let’s move onto Microsoft for a bit. When Apple introduced the iPhone(without the conventional Qwerty keypad), then CEO Steve Ballmer(steeped deep in PC and connected computing business), never gave it a chance. The legacy of expertise has played its part and things didn’t look too ‘ smart’ for Microsoft as iPhone made history. Windows had shut the door on a big opportunity as the Explorer stopped exploring.

And so goes the case with stalwart retail brands who stuck to the coat tails of merchandise, brick and mortar, store design and alterations to the marketing mix- erstwhile pillars of retail success till such time Amazon came in and broke the mould completely.

While expertise has several ticks in the box, it can also lead to individual thinking that is narrow( Why upset the applecart, we have always done it that way), resting on past laurels, ignoring the dynamics of the market place, the emergence of new thinking and technology( AI, the power of algorithms that replace rote tasks very easily) and behaviours that leave a gaping distance between colleagues and business partners, causing loss of confidence and trust. Over time the very expertise that led to our success can leave us feeling unhappy, unsatisfied, and stuck.

Some examples that might trigger counter intuitive thinking is when ‘ experts ‘ realise the need of the hour and wake up to smell the coffee. Who would have thought that automobile technology, ones exemplified by brands like Mercedes, BMW and their ilk would ever get upended. And how. Till such time Tesla disrupted the space with a vengeance and driverless, autonomous technology hit the road and put them in a MUSK DO situation. Real soon, the established brands were investing their billions into the new self driving technology to keep up, send out a signal and get ready for their future. They didn’t hang on to the ‘ expert ‘ in the field narrative. They let the new rubber hit the road. Good for them.

Some warning signs that you may have fallen prey to the expertise trap:

Have you fallen into a creative rut?

Do you feel “old” and out of touch in your job?

Do others seem uncomfortable challenging your assumptions and ideas?

Are market developments beginning to take you by surprise?

These are just a few of the warning signs.

All hope is not lost. Rediscover the path to new thinking, new learning and growth. Embark on a new journey and as the Buddhists call it ‘ embrace a beginner’s mind ‘.

That’s why we are happy with our ethos at ISD Global where I work. Be hungry, be foolish. The more you know, the more you realise how much more there is to know. Changing for the better and bettering the change go hand in hand. And all the ‘ trappings ‘ be blown!

ENDS

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A case for brands and business to be more ‘visible’?

Visible not in the conventional sense of the term. Visible here means the value that can be derived by keeping your processes and efforts(emotional labour included) being made clear and visible to your customer universe. Seeing is believing the saying goes.

Imagine you are at your favourite restaurant. And ordered their to die for stake. 30 minutes (with nothing at stake and meaningless multiple up and down scrolling on the smartphone later), you see the restaurant attendant bring your order swinging in through the kitchen doors and sashaying to your table and placing it on your table. Voila! You are a sizzling hot stakeholder now.

Now, lets visit the same situation wherein once you have placed your order for your favourite stake, you get to see what is happening in the kitchen and the team of chefs and kitchen staff doing what they need to get your stake ready. You see the intensity, the passion, the precision, the effort and the collaborative energy that is being invested to get your order to the table. You recognise the emotional labour that has gone into the making and delivering of your order.

So what is the prognosis from the above two scenarios. In situation one, you the customer has no idea of what is happening behind the scenes. Your order comes in and there is almost a sense of deja vu- ” I expected this “. You are not according any additional value to the experience. On the contrary, the opaqueness of the experience, takes away the true potential value proposition.

What happens in situation two? As you see what is happening behind the scenes, the labour , the effort, the commitment that is going into your order being processed, subliminally you begin to value the experience far better. Respect for the brand grows. Not just that. In the context of the team that put the order together, they begin to take greater pride in what they are doing as their effort is being showcased to the end user and the chain reaction of getting better continues.

When CEO Teruo Yabe came aboard Tessei( the Facilities Management company that cleans Japan’s Bullet Trains), the perception of the company was at an all time low. The work was considered 3D: dirty, difficult, dangerous. Yabe wanted to change this into the 3K : it stands for “kansha,” “kangeki” and “kando” (gratitude, drama and strong impressions). How did he do it? Read on..

Firstly, he changed the colours of the workers uniforms from a pale blue to flaming red. Attract attention, yes! On any day, in Tokyo Central Station, a work unit clad in the red uniforms of Tessei Co line up with military precision. A bullet train on the Tohoku shinkansen pulls in, and the workers, at the given signal, step aboard and hastily go about their work. They have a total of 12 minutes(gap between train pulling in and departing) of which 5 minutes must be set aside for passengers disembarking. So, effectively time available to them is just 7 minutes to complete their tasks.

Normally (to quote the  Shukan Post), two to three workers are assigned to a first-class car, as opposed to one to clean up a regular car. In addition to checking for items left behind on the overhead racks and seats, they must flip the 100 seat backs in each car to make them face the front of the train, and while doing this, they scan the aisles and floor for any refuse, a task generally performed in roughly one minute, 30 seconds.

They then proceed to wipe off the table tops in front of each seat and adjust the window blinds. If any of the white covers on seat backs appear begrimed, these are exchanged for clean ones.

At the two-minute warning, they turn their attention to emptying the waste receptacles between cars. They also team up with other staff, whose task is to tend to the lavatories and washrooms. After a final check of all assigned jobs on their list, they assemble outside on the platform and bow in unison toward the passengers awaiting boarding.

1000 seat train, 22 team members, 7 minutes turnaround. Visible : Very. The CNN Crew called it the ‘ 7 Minute Miracle ‘. Their efforts have even inspired a bestselling book, “Shinkansen osoji no tenshi-tachi” (Shinkansen’s cleanup angels) by Isao Endo (published by Asa Shuppan).

Now, lets move onto another brand that hopped onto the visibility bandwagaon. Domino’s Pizza. About 10 or so years ago, Domino’s decided that they will throw open to their customers an interface(Dominos Tracker) wherein they are able to track what is happening to their order right from order received, dough prepared, toppings gathered, gone inside the oven, packed and on the way to delivered. The image quotient for the brand skyrocketed. Not surprising that this has become case studies in many business schools.

As I write this, I am tempted to share what we should have done when at ISD Global(the Dubai based branding agency where I work) delivered the ExceLENS Awards for Photography( sponsored by Toshiba) a couple of weeks ago. Over 10 weeks, a talented, passionate, committed ISD Global team of more than 10 members(apart from a number of equally committed external partners) clocked really long hours to make the event a resounding success. Am trying to make a case for visibility which helps improve and transform experiences, outcomes and business objectives for all stakeholders.

Till the next, VISIBLY Yours!

ENDS

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​Have the Crisis Management folks at Boeing flown away?

Boeing, Boeing, Gone!

Have the Crisis Management folks at Boeing flown away?

346 people killed in 2 crashes. One involving Lion Air in October 2018 and the more recent Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019.Both involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts.​ That amidst only 1 fatal crash in over 3 million flights last year. Which is a stupendous track record. So, in the light of this, something seems terribly awry, isn’t it?

It’s exactly for situations like this that ‘ Crisis Management ‘ cells or savvy PR departments or Corporate Communications team are constituted by brands, or so we thought.

Ever since the first crash, it has been a series of muddled, fuzzy obfuscation​ and nothing else. Blaming the pilots, software glitch, we are investigating and offering all support, lot of cock(pit) and bull…​

Take a look at the ‘ Enduring Values ‘ section on the Boeing website and this is what it reads like:

​” ​Safety 

We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly. We believe all incidents, injuries and workplace illnesses are preventable. We are personally accountable for our own safety and collectively responsible for each other’s safety. By committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost, and schedule​ “​.

​Are we missing something here? Is it difficult to walk(or fly) the talk?​

For an organisation like Boeing, with almost 12 Billion US Dollars in cash reserves, was this too much to handle better? We wouldn’t want to think so. More than 50 countries have banned the Boeing 737 Max 8 series to be flown(with US being the last of the nations to do it). Brand allegiance, but at what cost?

Silence is golden but only when appropriate. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg have been conveniently missing in action when most needed except for comments of late saying “the company is “humbled” and “learning.”

Genuine empathy communicated at the right time would definitely have not brought back lost lives but would have surely built a humane face for the brand. It is said that ‘ crisis brings out character ‘ and Boeing seems to have missed the flight.

The reticence could be attributed to the fact this aircraft model contributes almost 30% to the Boeing coffers.After many lives in the coffin unfortunately.(The stock has declined by almost 21% in the first quarter of this year).

Boeing is expected to roll out a software update meant to give pilots more control over MCAS(Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System software​)​ and make it less likely to malfunction.​  Scary!!

On a wing and a prayer? Some flight of fancy!

​ENDS

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