Posted on 04-01-2015
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Our Prime Minister’s call to focus on zero defect manufacturing quality is certainly the correct direction for India’s future. Referring to the IT sector as showing innovation and research prowess 25 years ago, he bemoaned that India is yet to create something path breaking like Google, while talent has left the country. Undoubtedly IT/ITES grew to $86 billion annual exports, but how much adaptable innovation has happened in this business size is debatable, while research investment has been miniscule.

Innovation is a big word, we use it all the time in India, but without capability to produce digital technology basics like hard discs. Thailand is dominating this market. Even the Japanese, Koreans, and now Chinese are incredible adaptable innovators in multiple domains, not fundamental inventors. Where are India’s engineers making wafers and semiconductors in India?

I’m sure our Government is better facilitating technical paperwork to ease business nowadays. The real problem is elsewhere though. It’s in capability building that requires extreme behavioural change to match global standards and an entrepreneurial bent of mind. For manufacturing to acquire an edge, we need engineers dedicated to hardcore engineering, and well-trained, disciplined, capability-driven workforce. But look at the cream of our engineers jumping to MBA Finance, Marketing or HR without even trying out R&D or manufacturing in India. I asked some brilliant 24-year-old IIT-plus-MBA working people, why don’t we hear of 18-year-old Indians having an innovative or entrepreneurial bent of mind?

Several angles emerged in answering this question. Parents in India, they said, want the son to score high marks in school and college, get a high salaried job; the vision for the daughter is wealthy husband and reputable family. Making it to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) is really tough, they explained. During their last 2 years in school, they enrolled for special and expensive coaching classes to learn engineering fundamentals to prepare for IIT entrance exams. Children continuously feel, often unstated, pressure from parents when choosing the education stream in high school. Science, required for engineering and medical studies, is always first priority. You need high overall marks to take science. So by default, arts or commerce students are considered less intelligent, subconsciously giving them an inferiority complex. Even when good in science, these young professionals said avoiding coaching class was unthinkable because basics are not properly emphasized at school. What’s worse, even with rigorous external coaching they may not make it to IIT.

Why go for competitive IIT, when so many engineering colleges exist? “The job market recognizes IIT as top of the pile.” Having become an IIT engineer, why go for MBA? They answered, enterprises value MBA graduates over engineers, it’s obvious from starting salaries where MBAs get double the remuneration. Engineers wanting to pursue an engineering profession find Indian research institutes, R&D labs or corporate engineering positions do not offer the right scope of scientific or engineering work, the payscale is dismal, nor do such jobs enjoy mainstream status. For higher education, IIT graduates try going abroad as MTech or Doctoral studies, even in IITs, do not match the high standard of Western universities. But an IIT-plus-MBA, especially IIT-plus-IIM (Indian Institute of Management) is every parent’s dream come true. This upwardly-mobile education gets the best job offers, highest societal recognition, uppermost starting salary, all without having any work experience. “There’s further hierarchy: IIT-IIM with Finance specialization tops all! Such a student was even offered Rs 1 crore annually.” What’s the real difference between IIM and IIT-IIM? “The IIT-IIM definitely has better analytical ability and structured discipline at the start, but after sometime, there’s no difference.” It’s disgraceful how we misuse pure engineering professionals. Empowering engineers is certainly a prerogative to fructify India’s ambition to become a global manufacturing hub with knowledge competency.

Crunching marks to family pressure somewhat explains how societal systems paralyze self expression, denying our young generation the scope of an inventive bent or entrepreneurial mindset. Here’s where the Prime Minister should start his real brainwashing to displace this culture. When children are dependent and protected like treasures by rich parents, their inventive or entrepreneurial inclination go out the window. When parents don’t have money, children become street urchins. On the other hand, I’ve professionally experienced that less educated people in the practical field like plumbers, electricians, auto or electronic mechanics, now the mobile phone repairers, have a huge bent for entrepreneurship. Such working class individuals are vast in number, but not valued in society. Here again the Prime Minister needs to strongly support their intellectual development. They can translate their working knowledge into adaptable innovation, but they need the right skill guidance, not through pedagogy but with practical training.

I’m very encouraged by a start-up by one of my client friends. The last 12 years I’ve known Vibhu Hajela he’d often ask about entrepreneurship as I’ve written about it several times, and I’ve always encouraged him. This 52-year-old mechanical engineer MBA with 27 years of rich work experience, earning annually half a crore of Rupees suddenly called last year to say he’s left his job to start a plastic injection moulding factory. He knows he has to generate working capital to continue, and will miss the luxury of good salary at month’s end. I’m sure “Make in India” will succeed with this kind of SME initiative, and the Government will support such start-ups. I must add that Vibhu’s wife was extremely supportive of his entrepreneurial drive.

There are several young Americans, school/college dropouts like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates among others who invented in a garage or cellar, then successfully marketed their inventions. Thomas Alva Edison left school from age 7 because his teacher said he was confused. His mother educated him at home, encouraging him to follow his scientific bent of mind. Edison spent all his pocket money buying chemicals for experiments. He invented the microphone, telephone receiver, stock-ticker, phonograph, movies, office copiers, incandescent electric lights, and owns 1093 patents. When Edison died in 1931, his assistant, Russian-born, Paris-trained chemist Martin Rosanoff said, “Had Edison been formally schooled, he might not have had the audacity to create such impossible things.”

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Posted on 09-11-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Thriving on customer dissatisfaction seems to be the hallmark of “digi-tech” service. You buy a phone package that offers hundreds of free text messages, but come Diwali or Christmas and you get a message they’ll charge for the greetings you send on that day. Forgot to close your data service when travelling abroad? You’ll be slapped a big bill! When your private bank has just raised the minimum balance amount, and you don’t have the minimum savings required, they’ll slowly take away your savings as penalty. You’ll never know about it until you visit that bank account you’ve not operated for some time.

Service operators have immense faith in e-service believing no human touch/feel interface delivers great customer service. How wrong can they be! Digi-tech can only solve the program that has been set. Have you experienced getting ripped off because of being unaware of 2G/3G mobile phone service availability when crossing inter-state borders? On landing you can message your client about your flight delay, but you find out the message was never delivered. Text messages don’t go when 3G is not available or works only intermittently. But e-service is so insensitive, it does not bother to inform you about re-adjusting your phone to 2G. Human contact is required in so many areas in the service industry, just going gaga over automation is not a solution.

Digital technology is killing the service industry’s customer centricity. A day’s delay in payment and you can be sure the telephone service provider’s representative will call you even without checking before disturbing you whether they have received the payment by that time. The way text messages junk your mail saying “Ignore if already paid.” Somebody else updates the receipts, the call centre person is merely prompted by the digital board to make that call.

On the other hand, whenever you as a premium customer call for specific service, you will be sent into multiple labyrinths of code to find the right person to solve your problem. Invariably you find no one at the other end, as though the problem is yours alone to carry and coddle because a set digi-tech program cannot be controlled by an operator, you have to go to the source code.

Making love or giving affection cannot be done without human touch. In the same way, the service industry requires extreme human touch. The priority of most Indian mobile phone operators is getting the license and putting up the tower. These are hygiene factors for a mobile phone user.  Whatever you develop in digi-tech, if your relationship with your customer is not humanized, you will never optimise your business to be sustaining, your business will become a fossil.

IT service industry to become the skeleton: Millions of our IT software programmers in the thousands of sophisticated development centers set up in India are doing piecemeal work. Many young IT service employees I’ve met have expressed their utter frustration working in the isolated island of software coding. At work they have little idea what purpose they are solving. They get a decent salary but their daylong digital coding job makes them feel like human robots. The developed country customer would have designed a product or solution, and farmed out the tedious code writing part to our IT service providers. So the IT engineer working on the project is often unaware of where his output will be used, nor what the final product is. He’s just a cog in the wheel, like an aggregate in any device, without a clue of where his hard work will be used. Nor does he care really because he’s signed up to just do this specific action. Will this situation sustain? What they tell me is developed country customers consider them as IT service coolies.

As IT service is an essential commodity product like electricity or water supply that you cannot do without, competition in the IT service industry will accelerate. Developing countries will be rationed out the developed countries’ outsourcing largesse, while the purchase cost of these services will keep plummeting. Unless Indian companies have the vision to use digi-tech as its backend skeleton and start developing flesh on this skeleton such as solving the client’s business solution, their survival will be at stake. Nor will they make any remarkable difference tomorrow. Additionally, shortage of manpower is making developed countries invent many new techniques to reduce and replace the human interface. So in the new way of working in this field, digital technology will reach its matured phase of obviously becoming the skeleton.

Where digi-tech cannot be replaced: Of course digi-tech has helped tremendously in our daily lives. Families and friends globally are coming together with whatsapp, voice/video via viber/skype. Where digi-tech makes huge contribution are the medical, steel, supply chain logistics, banking and aviation industries among others. Industrial backend automation in areas like manufacturing requires uncompromising application of digital technology to avoid human error. Take the food industry where consistency of quality is not negotiable. The heavy use of manpower in processed food manufacturing is totally wrong. Individual peculiarity and interpretation in the assembly line does not add any value to customers who buy the products because lack of discipline erodes the consistency, quality and output of the products. I don’t know either it has been done for using manpower or for less investment on automation. In developed countries robotics is highly used to ensure predictability for in food processing for better public health.

Just see how Disney addresses entertainment for the masses. When you go to Disneyland you don’t interface with digital technology even as their backbone is extremely digitalized.  There’s no technical transaction, just humanized entertainment. Even the backend janitor’s job is performed by Disney animals like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy who play and pose for pictures with visitors even as they manage automated cleaning systems to keep the park clean and customer friendly.  Without human interface, the digitally driven service industry can become fossilized tomorrow.

To download above article in PDF, Click here : “Digital Fossil

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express


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Posted on 02-11-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Beginning of the digital graveyard by 2025: In my observation of the world, the digital graveyard is imminent from 2025 onwards. A new art revolution is likely to emerge, ideating with the blend of brush, mind and vibrant colours to focus on canvas that portrays the next level of the artist’s imagination for society’s future upliftment, just as the Dada movement from Eastern Europe happened exactly a century ago. That was a rebellion against war and society. Since the Internet started, the concept of digital art has proliferated. Software tutors a person to make digital images where originality is barely there, destroying human creativity.

By 2025 people will shift from being zombied armchair travelers on the Internet’s virtual screen to physically travel more for tangible discovery, to enjoy different cultures. By 2025 developed countries will bring the revolution of designing the human interface of any product or service to be warm, vibrant and inviting like flesh that will sit on a digital skeleton. This physical touch seduction and feel will inspire innovation in the urge for the next.

Art of mechanical edge: Gramophone, the first musical reproduction entertainment instrument from the last century, had hallucinating design edge. Instrument styles were recognizable, they were very different country-wise, and even within competitors in a country. Using the same mechanical function, these delivered outstanding craftsmanship before electrical devices arrived around1924. But the customer interface of all current digital products look similar, with barely any distinction among them. Due to digital technology, the output will be the same too, so how does the industry differentiate low to high pricing? At least in a low to high cost automobile, you can enjoy the basic to luxury difference due to engine, speed, quality and fit and finish. In a mobile handset though, it’s difficult to understand the logic of price differentiation hierarchy.

Mobile phones or tablets are like varieties of rice: Huge R&D spends make the screen size a few inches big or small, there’s an overdose of digital gimmicks with no rationale between need vs. the unnecessary. Like varieties of rice new launches come every six months confusing your 2 hands, 2 eyes and one brain. When you travel to a foreign country and forget to switch off mobile data, you suddenly get a bill of Rs.  50,000 -1 lakh on returning to India. Totally surprised you can complain to the service provider saying you did not use such data abroad, the answer you’ll get is your apps were continuously updating your mobile device. Should the customer get cheated for owning a costly phone and not being trained on its umpteen features? The manufacturer and service provider happily made this lollipop for the masses to suck and be fooled. But the day is coming that’ll send all these things to the digital graveyard.

TV set fooling us: Cumbersome and cubical, yesterday’s TV set takes too much space; bigger the screen, larger the cube. That’s all changed with digital innovation. Now TVs are slim, with better picture quality and super advantage of wall fixing, saving space. Then came further innovation, curved Panavision TV. Taking you back to occupying the same cubic space at home without further benefit, such torturous innovation after frivolous innovation is discrediting the digital world, blaming it of befooling customers to spend money.

Commoditization: The interface of digital products is getting totally commoditized due to its linear character. Anybody can mass produce and mass distribute such consuming products, collapsing all entry barriers. Actually, with software driving user connect nowadays, companies perceive hardware is becoming irrelevant. With minimal focus on the hardware interface, products are looking very generic.  If it’s so easy to achieve human connect, cosmetics companies like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder among others would not have existed. By nature, people always prefer to embellish their look for others in society. So hardware of digital devices also require L’Orealish embellishment.

De-commoditization: Swatch watch is my favorite example of how to de-commoditize a digital brand. The Swatch strategy has been to disrupt the interface of its digital product. The watch runs digitally on a printed circuit board, but its interface is totally analog driven. Swatch has never allowed the visual face of its digital timing to become generic. While being a low cost, mass watch since 1981, Swatch still runs a prestigious reputation of being a trendy Swiss brand with a specific Swatch culture. Sales volume has enabled Swatch to grow tremendously profitable, allowing it to acquire most of the premium to luxury global watch brands.

Digital backbone is just a skeleton: The repetitive character of any digital interface is too boring, it kills visual elegance. Much ahead of its time, Swatch has managed to co-opt and embed the digital system as the skeleton inside its products, and titillate customers with a swanky external face. Undoubtedly nobody can deny that digital technology is the essential backbone. By considering it only as skeleton, the flesh of human skill, creativity and embellishment can grow. At a German airport the other day I saw a very high-tech bluetooth wireless headphone. What heightened my thrill was its round carry case with a feel of jute cloth. So everything in this headphone looked analog, while having an outstanding digital skeleton.

Terrorism and other kinds of propaganda and garbage that spread through social networking are influencing children to leave their homes for jihad. I’ve witnessed parents traumatized by such happenings in France. Persons with malicious intention can spy on people who innocently and foolishly virtually expose their personal details for their friends on social networks. People in developed countries where this technology was born, and is flourishing, are seriously beginning to revolt against such social espionage that different portals practice.

The digital aspect will never go away, but by 2025 it will be like water and electric light which are commodities we cannot do without. It will become a basic, inevitable and necessary slave and commodity of human society.

To download above article in PDF, Click here : Digital Graveyard

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express


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Posted on 21-09-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Japan was known for shoddy products before 1950. Humiliation from World War II defeat accompanied by atomic devastation perhaps made them determined to beat the West. Rising from wartime ashes, the Japanese performed the post-war economic “miracle” from 1950 to 1960 to become the world’s second most powerful economy in less than a decade.

It was a collective national willingness to change the quality perception of Japanese products. They understood then that claiming to be inventors may not be their route. Instead they paid incredible attention on how to adapt European and American invention in a different scale of aspiration and quality to surpass the customer’s expectation. From being fancy but tacky and of flimsy quality, Japanese products have since become the world’s benchmarks in quality with the value addition of miniaturization.

In one of my several visits to Japan on work, in the heart of Tokyo’s commercial district I got hungry seeing a Yaki Tori Restaurant signboard. I followed its directional arrow through a narrow staircase to the first floor. The restaurant chef was cooking tasty, healthy, deliciously aromatic hot food surrounded on 3 sides by customers sitting in bar stools. Behind them were small tables stuck to the wall filled with people, but nothing looked overcrowded. The condiments the chef needed were in a glass showcase behind him and neatly arranged below that were raw ingredients frequently replenished in well orchestrated tempo so nobody had to wait. Even if you don’t speak Japanese it’s not a problem as the Japanese menu translated into English has every dish communicated with beautiful pictures.

Between 2 persons in the bar-top or small tables is a set of interconnected sauce and spice bottles that fit into a wedged carrier.  Every tiny bottle has puzzle designs on it. When I asked the chef about these cute designs he explained how they serve functionality. You can’t mishandle placing the bottles anywhere you want, as the design integrates them into their carrier when the puzzle gets completed. It’s the best time, space and convenience management crockery I’ve seen. Guests get attracted to play with it and arrange it correctly, they never keep any sauce bottle outside the carrier. From procurement of raw products, to servicing crockery, sealed wet napkins to multiple usage of the arranged sauce carrier, there’s no wastage of time or space in the 700 sq ft that’s considered among the best Yaki Tori restaurants in Tokyo. This is unique miniaturization in the gastronomy industry. Having experienced the elaborate, regal way the French come up with sophisticatedly served delicious food, this miniaturization difference was incredible. The comparison with gigantic American restaurants and serving portions also instantly hit me on-the-face.

Do you know the 1957 Toyopet story? Japan, war-torn and labeled “bad” quality, had the guts to enter the US, challenging its gigantic car culture by offering a small car. But the Toyopet name which connoted toys and pets was dropped. But the Japanese managed to impose the mini-car culture of low cost maintenance, where of course the 1973 global petrol crises helped a lot. Apart from Volkswagen Beetle, no small car could market in America the way the Japanese succeeded.

High awareness of hygiene and sanitary conditions is another aspect that makes Japanese design so clean. When Japanese industries took the challenge to improve product quality, they somehow neglected safety. Improper handling of industrial waste resulted in Japan’s “4 big pollution diseases” like itai-itai (earlier in 1912) causing bone fractures and kidney disorders, minamata (1956) and niigata minamata (1965) that afflicted the central nervous system making patients insane, and yokkaichi asthama (1961) that caused chronic bronchitis. From here Japan became aware that chasing extreme economic growth could harm them harshly, that Nature would get her own back by bringing down a variety of calamities. That’s corporations started CSR to preserve and protect environment.

Researching on how to sell French luxury alcohol Remy Martin’s armangnac in Japan, my friends there suggested I’d learn about Japanese drinking habits by visiting their special drinking bars frequented by top corporate managers after work. These bars were very small in size but outstandingly well embellished, not glitzy. They serve high-end European drinks although the local sake comprised 80% of the market in the 1990s. Sophistication in this small space, from the barman to the crockery to ice cubes shaped in a special mold, was unforgettable. As armangnac was an ancient drink of the French monks, I had designed a glass bottle with the hammered effect and shape of a Middle Ages Catholic temple. The transparent plastic cap was elaborate like a chandelier. Interacting with people at the bar, they immediately liked the glass bottle for its sophistication, but said the intricate cap makes it lose its Middle Ages authenticity. To make it classy, it had to be changed to glass and be less complex.

Because of iPod, it seems like miniaturization started in the US. In reality when European or American tape recorders were big sized, Japan miniaturized entertainment instruments since the 1970s, although quality was questionable. Then Sony’s Walkman revolutionized music listening.  Having learnt design from France, Germany, Italy and America I was curious about why the Japanese conceptualized miniature products. Was it because a small island subject to natural calamities needed smaller, more portable objects during crisis situations? Japanese friends didn’t disagree, but said space is a big problem so miniaturizing objects made them more functional, and such design followed the intricacy of ancient Japanese art. Process is incorporated in Japanese culture as is visible in social life too, like their sado tea ceremony which is a highly embellish service system.

Japan taught me the value detailing and embellishment in design. Next week I will conclude my experiential learning of industrial design from 5 countries by taking you to Italy.

To download above article in PDF  Japanese miniaturization and embellishment

Source : Financial Express

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Posted on 14-09-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Hard-core German discipline and process obsession that’s respected the world over is what I’ve learnt through experience. I apply this learning in all our consulting solutions providing ingenious customer centricity in projects.

While working on a global project end 1980s, three of my French colleagues and I went to Hamburg to meet one of our German clients for a project review. Scheduled to finish by 12:30 pm, our meeting stretched upto 1 pm. As we were getting up, the company caterer entered the room to place some steaming hot food. We exchanged happy glances, we were terribly hungry by then. “There’s no food invitation for a meeting that ends at 12:30 pm,” is what we were informed. Obviously the lunch was coming for the next meeting’s participants. Disappointed, we headed outside to savour famous German sauerkraut and sausage called currywurst, a popular snack in Hamburg. Herta Heuwer invented currywurst after World War II when British soldiers in Germany left her some ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. Mixing these she created currywurst that’s become such a rage that a museum is dedicated to it, Deutsches Currywurst Museum, which estimates that Germans eat 800 million currywursts per year!

Unlike in other Western countries, German restaurants did not accept credit card payment then so we had to find an ATM machine. Many German outlets didn’t believe in dealing with plastic money. They preferred to see hard cash at the end of every day.  I later understood that Germany’s economy was the strongest because they followed stringent financial credit processes.

After a month when we returned to this same company for a 1 pm meeting, sure enough, a great lunch was laid out. We first enjoyed our meal with the client team before starting the meeting. This kind of German discipline is not something that Latin societies like France, Italy, Portugal or Spain were habituated to.

On another occasion I travelled to a German factory to finish a few product design prototypes. This was a French project, but everyone in Europe knows that the best quality prototyping can only be achieved in Germany. I planned to be here for 3 days of supervision. Unfortunately, on the first afternoon their production suddenly stopped. It was a crisis, they felt extremely embarrassed and shamefaced. The company’s senior management profusely apologized to me for this mishap and subsequent delay. I tried to assuage their discomfiture saying machines can sometimes go awry and that I will extend my stay by a day. The next day the company CEO came to inform me that some machine part had to be changed by one of their vendors, but that they were unable to find the root cause. He and his production managers were exceptionally worried about the root cause. This did not affect me as the work was resumed and coming along well.

At the end of the second day, they stopped the production. I was escorted to a meeting room and informed that they had found the root cause. They went on to say that the machine should not be used for this work as they were unsure about the output quality. They discovered that the parts causing the problem were procured from Portugal, hence they could not trust them to produce the quality of prototyping work I was demanding. They were sincerely regretful for this inconvenience. Thereafter on their own initiative they took care for my stay, travel and the next visit to their factory. Our prototype production was delayed by 15 days. Back in France I went to explain to my client, but found that the German factory CEO had already sent a letter of apology to my client for this disorderly performance, and conveyed that they would give a cost reduction of 50% for the delay. It sounded like this incident disturbed some kind of German religion.

When I returned to the factory after 15 days, everything was going well, everybody was happy. While working with the machine technician we discussed the earlier catastrophe. It seems their vendor could not source a particular German part so he had replaced it with a Portugal-made part. That conformed to European standards but not to German standards, the technician said with a smile. He assured me they were now using German parts again and so no longer facing problems. German standards are very different, he said, they never fail. Out of curiosity, I asked why. He explained that all kinds of torture tests are done on German tools or machinery before they go-to-market. In Germany, sub-standard quality is instantly rejected. “In Germany, machine error is considered as a human error and not tolerated,” he said.

At the age of 35 when my unique customer centricity expertise was gaining custom and spreading to clients in South and North America and European countries, I understood from Germany that strategy has to be intertwined with process and discipline in execution. In various countries, in whatever brand or industrial design I have been working in since, I have incorporated German process obsession while boiling down unique customer centricity from customer insights and local market experiences to strategy to final execution.

German process obsession translates to providing outstanding value to end customers when they are paying for it. Other European factories I’ve visited for ensuring design output from the machine would all confidently certify their own precision quality and process at a manufacturing level through the window of the German machines they use. Even with the invasion of Chinese proficiency in manufacturing, Germans still wear the badge for the world’s best process and quality of any engineering production. Their collective discipline makes the Germans process obsessive. In Germany, the interpretation of process standards and people quality at work is the same. My great learning was that without addressing stringent process quality standard in delivery, surpassing customer expectation can never be achieved. Your product and service cannot create as emotional connect to customers without having this outstanding quality that Germany stands for.

To download above article in PDF Process obsession

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-process-obsession/

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Posted on 07-09-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Growthmania, the need to scale up, is the American spirit of blossoming. From business, entertainment, living style to science and research, Americans always see everything big. From them I learnt how important it is to design products for mass scale production.

When Europeans arrived in this gigantic island since the 15th century, they got wealthy very fast. Land was free, vast forests gave them animals to hunt, wood for home building; there were many kinds of minerals like coal and oil to extract. They over-powered the native population and became the first industrialised capitalistic society. It’s possible that because the large immigrant population combined to form one continent-like country speaking one language, the feeling of scale is embedded in Americans. For six centuries now the world recognises bigness to be their culture.

I was recently watching Michael Jackson’s last rehearsals for his comeback concerts in London in 2007. After his shocking death, the rehearsals became a famous documentary film called “This is it.” The enormity of the rehearsal preparation is unbelievable. He had advertised for and auditioned the best dancers from across the globe, then invited the rapturous chosen ones to join him in performance. The large scale and global dimension of this rehearsal, its high quality routines, maintenance of clockwork discipline, hundreds of people controlling the stage lights and settings, and Jackson’s passion for perfection, is great entertainment by itself. The public would never have seen this in the actual performance. Only those present as participants during rehearsals would have enjoyed this phenomenon of the King of Pop’s gigantic practice sessions.

Another American example is of a Xerox corporation sales person, the first from a poor Jewish family to go to college, who then joined a Swedish drip coffee maker manufacturer called Hammerplast. In 1981, he was curious to know why a fledgling whole bean coffee shop in Seattle had ordered so many plastic cone filters from Hammerplast. Impressed with this client’s passion and knowledge of coffee, he joined them as Marketing Director the next year. On a business trip to Italy’s Milan he noted that almost every street or public square had espresso coffee cafes that people frequented for social or official meetings. Italy boasted of some 200,000 such cafes across the country. Returning to Seattle he tried persuading his employers to adopt the cafe concept, but they were not interested. Fired by the coffee retail business he totally believed in, he took a gamble to become an entrepreneur. His enthusiasm was such that even his previous employer gave him $ 100,000 to start business. By 1986 he raised $400,000 to open his first store, and two years later bought his previous employer’s coffee shop and brand name for $3.8 million. This big dreamer is Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. He aggressively grew and expanded Starbucks from the US to 40 countries.

Just imagine how the big idea made Schultz to throw up his job to chase his conviction and the big gesture of his previous employers to back his adventure towards global success. Isn’t it hallucinating to learn this spirit of scaling up?

Now American ways have spread so far and wide that even their distance from India’s heterogeneous society is reduced. Around the corner, if you live in a metro, is McDonald’s where, after a client meeting recently, my colleagues and I dropped in for a quick lunch. As I was biting into my Big Mac (even the name has the word Big in it!), I saw one of our team members return to the counter with the French fries I got her, and come back shaking a paper bag. That’s when I discovered McDonald’s incredible marketing localization.

They’ve created a special “shake shake bag” for customized spicing of potato chips. A special piri piri, which means chilli in Africa, spice mix sachet and paper bag is available at the counter for Rs 15. My colleague put her potato chips, a certain quantity of the piri piri mix into the shake shake bag.  When she emptied the bag of chips on her tray, we saw colored, spicy, Indian French fries. This incredibly simple localization attracts even vegetarian Indians to enjoy American cultural offerings while creating their own spice levels. She said in Indian food outlets they give her what they cook, but here she can adjust her spice and sauce levels the way she wants to and in a hygienic way. Isn’t this a great way to scale up by connecting with the local spirit?

Personally, with my teams from France and India I’ve been to the US several times for different work including consumer research for farm machines to FMCG product and pharmaceutical products. After the research we’ve had consumers encouraging us, saying our work will certainly help our clients increase their business. This attitude of egging on people to become big and global, to smile, talk and share with strangers is a very North American trait. Their ability to simplify, to sell an idea differently while understanding the competitive environment has helped Americans to scale up business.

Another advantage I’ve observed in the US is that people often shift residence from one state to another with no regrets of having left a home state. They seem to have no root or attachment to any state and consider one another and any neighbour as American. This ability to adopt the whole country as their own certainly helps as a scaling up metaphor for business. American knowhow is to simplify any grand complex; they have outstanding customer centricity and the bigness of mind to appreciate others in the competitive world. My learning here has been that simplification and an open mindness to bench mark with the beats enables business to scale up.

To download above article in PDF Shake shake scale

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-shake-shake-scale/

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Posted on 22-06-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Brazil, Pele and football comprised the thrilling peaks of my childhood in football crazy Bengal. Gods were evoked in religious ceremonies for Pele to score World Cup goals. Pele played in 4 World Cup tournaments, thrice brought home the Cup for Brazil and became the greatest footballer of all time. Crowding around a news paper we’d noisily egg Pele and Brazil on. Even today, Bengalis behave like the Brazilian team belongs to us.

Catapulting myself to France in 1973, my excitement overflowed because for the first time in my life I would be watching the World Cup on TV in 1974. In Paris, outside my basement room in Cité Universitaire’s Greek House hostel was a black & white TV set in the common room. Watching TV was new and luxurious for me, the World Cup was a bonanza. I didn’t know French yet, would I understand? My intimidation dissolved when as I found myself backslapping Greek students, imitating their swear words Ai gamisou! Malakas! Disappointment: Pele was not playing. Discovery: Franz Beckenbauer carried away the 1974 trophy for Germany.

Colorful football: Digital technology has converted football entertainment from B&W TV images to a plethora of color. USA first introduced colour TV in 1950, France and Germany in 1967. In France the first channel TF1 remained B&W till 1975, so most people watched B&W TV until 1983. World Cup on B&W TV had no real charm like today’s colour. B&W prevented us recognizing the players’ exact jersey colours or different colour flags and ethnic paraphernalia that spectators brought. However, the B&W TV generation will always “own” Pele. Now high definition color TV allows us to watch the match like Pashas, from the comfort of the bed. We scrutinize every detail as football players work hard physically in 90 tension-filled, minutes of full-throttle activity.

We knew football referees as serious, black-outfitted controllers, but World Cup 2014 referees are like colourfully dressed kindergarten students. They carry headphone gadgets, blow whistles, twirl flags, whip up red and yellow cards that don’t look like punishment cards. FIFA may need to change the color of punishment cards because amongst other colors, their seriousness is diminished. The referee sprays an aerosolized foamy substance that provides temporary visual aid on the green grass. He looks to be decorating for Christmas, but actually he’s demarcating for play after a foul, ensuring 9.1 meters mandatory separation during a free kick is kept. From a distance today’s virtual football generation can see the white foam so no player can cheat.

Actually the World Cup has become a creative canvas. Football boots were always black, today they are colourful. Players’ boot kicks look like powerful brush strokes on canvas. Even the ball has become multi-coloured, imitating society’s multi-coloured people and cultures. Player hairstyles, carved with design and colour, their body accessories are trend spots that millions are following. The stretcher carrying wounded players away from the field is orange.

The amazing entry of serious color in football is making me flash back to my entry to the corporate management stage. I’d initially dress soberly in dark suits, a white shirt. One day a woman CEO in Paris remarked that my colorful business proposition does not match my corporate dress. Where was my creative distinction, how were they to instantly know I bring disruptive, leap-frogging solutions? Her words struck me hard. From the artist’s canvas I’d gone into the management arena to bring creativity for my clients’ growth. So the corporate look was actually quite fake for me.

I walked into a crazy garment store called Alainaxel in Paris Rive Gauche Boulevard St Germain-des-Près. My black suit startled the salesman but the shop of colourful men’s merchandize was thrilling for me. From 1980 I totally changed my dress style to off-patterned ties, colourful socks, shoes, even underwear. I’d frequent specialty stores in UK and Europe. Colourful jackets were impossible to find so fit-to-order, Indian jacquard silk jackets completed my look. Now I was truthful to colour in my dress, mind and work. The corporate corridors at first received me in shock. Many distinguished creative persons were homosexual in Western society so those who didn’t know me even labeled me a fag!

Colour is embedded in the digital age, but not India’s tech industry brands that look like pharmaceutical branding. When I created Wipro’s vibrant rainbow flower, employees criticized saying it reminded them of the gay flag in San Francisco’s Castro Street. Chairman Azim Premji heard everyone, then said with a smile at an official function, "You may not like it, but you will never forget it." Wipro is among the first IT companies to have a bold colourful identity aligned to the digi-tech industry.

Digital technology has brought huge, engrossing proximity to football spectators, while reducing effort and increasing comfort for judgment in the playground. For players, physical struggle has increased. Digi-tech’s become a miserable digital trap to catch their slightest defect which is replayed, analysed and judged by millions worldwide, before facing FIFA decision consequences. Players could not even enjoy the Holland-Spain match where transvestites were revealing big silicon breasts from the stadium in Brazil.

Incredibly colourful World Cup football proves that color has universal attraction. Actually B&W images are quite unnatural, everything’s colorful in the planet. This color revolution, from stadium to field, makes it clear that tomorrow’s tilt is towards colour that gives us energy, peppers our imagination and fantasy. Digi-tech with colour is changing human behavior, taking it to a socially connected platform that didn’t exist earlier. Color has diametrically changed football from being military style to cheeky style.

My colour spirit and colourful clothes have remained consistent since 1980. Now vibrantly hued World Cup football players are entertaining us artistically and energetically. Society is ridding itself of boring monotony, there’s colour now in activities like sports, education, love and affection, business, music and drama among others. Vive la couleur de la vie! (long live colour of life!)

To download above article in PDF Colouring football

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-colouring-football/99/

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Posted on 27-04-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

A chilly wind was caressing the skin on our faces under the clean Italian winter sky of Venice. My wife and I were visiting the spectacular Piazza San Marco, about 200 meters from the mouths of Po and Piave Rivers where the famed St Valentine’s mask festival runs for a week in February. To profess true love, lovers use masks as a ritual to surprise each other with.

The romance of Venice is its 118 small islands separated by canals, linked by bridges. The peculiarity of ancient Piazza San Marco is you can sometimes walk nonchalantly there, at other times the tide raises the river almost a metre making the Piazza a lake. Some 3 million tourists from around the world come to celebrate St Valentine’s carnival when Venetians and Italian men and women dress up in traditional period costumes especially available on hire at this time. The festive atmosphere makes you feel like you’ve returned to the Middle Ages. Masks went through periods of celebration or being banned since the 12th century in Venice, and were officially revived from 1979 to encourage tourism.

Particularly spectacular is the outstanding way women’s faces are designed with the refined art of Italy. Painters paint delicate tendrils, decorative motifs to beautify women’s faces to accentuate the city’s ancient beige stone architecture. Sometimes you feel it’s a Hollywood studio set for historical films. On these gala nights people wear various expressive masks embellished with soft feathers, glitter or colourful gemstones to charm the night with an unreal, glamorous touch. Savouring this theatrical flavour, my wife and I joined the festivity in Piazza San Marco surrounded with musicians in front of cafes and restaurants. The specialty was waltz music with the grand piano, counter bass cello and of course the Italian accordion. When dressed in a sari, people would give my wife admiring glances from a distance, but when she wore Western clothes they’d embrace her as a Latino because being of Assamese origin she’s naturally crafted with high cheek bones. She was in fact in high demand among the crowd of artists in Piazza San Marco who were keen on painting her face. When she happily agreed, she was told the session would last upto 2 hours during which time the artists asked me to move around here and there, promising I’d be in for an incredible surprise.

Just a few meters away I took a seat in a musical cafe. The air was filled with different music groups playing tunes which from a distance seemed like a cacophony of music. In the middle was the face painters surrounded by dressed sophisticatedly women, vivaciously appreciating one another’s face designs. The Piazza was indeed a place of beautiful human festivity. In many open air bazaars and places of gaiety in the world you will find artists painting portraits on-the-spot. Such artistic activity originated in Montmarte, in northern Paris where painters with their brushes and colours are busy at work. But here in Venice the artist painter works not on canvas or paper, but painting women’s faces in Italy’s typical, dramatic culture.

Sitting just in front of me was a tall, graceful woman of perhaps 50 years. Indicating my wife, she started talking to me, saying how marvellous it was that we’d come from another culture so far away to enjoy artistry in Venice. She enquired if I knew anything about the mask festival. Obviously, with my habit of doing consumer research continuously, I played the role of being an innocently stupid observer in the hope that I may learn many things from her. This elegantly poised woman had strong burn marks on her face, giving her a scary image. Explaining the origin of masks, she said using them in rituals or ceremonies was an ancient human practice across the world. She said the mask game started in Italy’s Sardinia before 2000 BC.

She then turned philosophical, relating how important the human head and face were in identifying a human being, the rest of the body merely enables execution. She revealed her personal experience. She was returning to Venice to enjoy the mask festival after almost 30 years. Originally from Florence, she had migrated to San Francisco after marriage. The mask festival is a game she said where you discover different individuals through the expression of different types of masks. Yesterday she’d gone to a mask party where she found the man she’d fallen in love with. Both of them were wearing masks and talking for nearly 3 hours, so they didn’t see each other. The man was sadly reminiscing how he was madly in love with a girl from Florence, they’d meet year after year at this mask festival when he was very young, but he suddenly lost her.

The woman then understood she found her Alberto again. She silently remembered this love of hers, but she did not dare to reveal herself and her burnt face to him. Jumbled images and emotions ran through her… how can she go back to her old lover who remembered her as a beautiful young person when in actuality she is now old and physically tarnished? Slowly she was discovering she’s going deeper into dangerous mental territory. She wanted to escape, to not expose her burnt face to kill his beautiful memories. So in that swaying crowd she quickly exchanged her mask with another woman. When he turned back to talk to her, he could not recognize he was addressing another woman who was wearing her mask. This is the way she hid herself from Alberto whom she’d lost after her fire accident long ago when she’d badly burnt her face and lost her memory. Having recovered that terrible trauma, a kind American soldier she met loved her as she was, married and carried her away from the masks of Venice to a new American life.

How mysterious is the mask she said that she regained this lost memory of Alberto on returning to Venice and wearing the mask after 30 years. In the meantime my wife’s face was incredibly designed, we started to walk to join a masked gala.

To download above article in PDF Mysterious mask

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-mysterious-mask/99/

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Posted on 20-04-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

The resemblance between staple food and mobile phones that I wrote about last week spells a red danger signal for manufacturers. How long can manufacturers continue the version strategy in the hope of sustaining their business?

New model versions every quarter is the name of the game now. Global companies bring out several price categories; inside each category there’s some tinkering with the software. This becomes the new version with inhuman digits like Nokia Lumia 1320, 1520, 1020 or Samsung Galaxy note, 2, 3, s, s2, s3, s4, S5; then there’s Apple’s iPhone, 2g, 3, 3G, 3gs, 4, 4S, 5, 5c, 5s. Such insensitive acts are done robotically to generate revenue without understanding the customers’ subconscious mind. What is the distinctive change the mobile device design brings?

Sooner than later, the handset is becoming commodity. The huge number of new handset buyers getting added everyday is more intelligent than the buyer of reputed brand mobile phones. The masses either don’t have money to waste, or consider it foolish to spend extra on a brand’s value. The mobile is like commodity rice and bread where no brand has yet established its pull nor tangibly shown any better benefit. Similarly, the large community of unbranded mobile phone buyers find negligible, untenable distinction between different branded handheld devices in the market. The branded handset buyer will shift to unbranded categories because as there’s no functional distinction, why specially choose a brand, why pay more?

The mobile phone industry is lagging behind in understanding the parameters of differentiation vs distinction. Everybody knows that digital technology brings cost down. By altering colors and digital icons to prove premiumness and brand distinction, digi-tech mobile phones are struggling. Perhaps there’s technological engineering differentiation in the software, but the consumer eye that chooses the instrument, gives that differentiation no credence. Steve Jobs was driving Apple like a fashion designer. After the death of this sultan of design, everybody has realised that the mobile hand device is generic.

Big mobile brands are destroying their brand value by frequent launch of new versions bearing heartless code names that nobody can mentally register. I was using Samsung Note 2 without any problem when suddenly I was provoked to buy Note 3 within 6 months. According to my requirement, I never did figure out why I needed the new one, it showed no extra purpose. Making such versions, brands are losing consumer mindshare in the product’s human touch. Here local or pseudo-Chinese handset manufacturers get the opportunity to commoditize the global brands. Actually if we see the frequently changing versions manufacturers make we can easily detect there’s been no radical or disruptive change in user interface in the last 3 years. So as a victim, I consider it all as eyewash to change for the sake of change.

But as a designer sensitive to the human touch, let me take my readers’ permission to narrate my ideas on the quality customers want:

  1. No version model can ever overcome the conclusion I’d arrived at that the handset has become akin to staple food, whatever may be its digital mathematics.

  2. It’s impossible for digi-tech users to emotionally bond with the digital interface. Only when the device is held in the hand can it play a role of sustaining emotional attachment.

  3. It’s the upper portion of the human body, the head and face, that identify and define emotional cues in different individuals.

  4. The recognition of love, affection and sexual inclination all start with the face, that’s the real connecter. The rest of the body enables generic enactment from the brain’s command.

  5. Using this analogy, the mobile phone device performs the body’s work, making it like generic staple requirement. It’s missing the human face and head that reflect aesthetics, emotion and brain command over the body.

  6. The brain or face of mobile phone is devoid of digital dogma that enslaves some digi engineers in the world.

  7. The handset is the only object that can become the face. It can be made to have strong human connect. It’s the only way you can break its staple character in the generic market.

  8. If an automobile body styling has to sustain minimum 5 years in the market, why not a mobile phone device? Lasting emotional connect can be created on the mobile device itself. It’s not the size or quality of a canvas that defines its distinction and a painter’s emotional connect with its admirers, but the content of the painting. In the same way, designing a handset requires an involved vision. The design should sustain for 3 to 5 years like a visionary artist whose painting sells beyond a price.

  9. Once the user gets used to the physical design of the handset, its digital aspect cannot be the frivolous reason to change the brand or product.

  10. The mobile handset manufacturer needs vision that’s totally missing today. Like quarterly account handling for shareholders, manufacturers view the short-term, not the long-term. While keeping the same handset, continuous digital interface upgradation has to become the new trend, even as changing the handset’s internal circuit panel should be put in practice. I’m sure if new digital changes become user advantage centric, people will pay for digi upgradation while keeping the same device for a long time. I believe this is the right direction to change the buying behavior of mobile phone device.

When Swatch was launched in 1981, the vision was to create a Swiss marquee to go beyond the digital dial wrist watch that was signaling watch market commoditization. This vision led to the incredible sustaining business success of Swatch. Many companies copied Swatch but nobody could create another Swatch-type brand in the vulnerable low cost watch market. Mobile phone companies should hire people who invent the substance that makes addiction happen in cigarette companies. Creating addiction to retain their customers is every cigarette brand’s challenge.

Mobile device design needs bigger ideation to make it distinguished and prevent its becoming like commodity staple rice. The human hand with 10 fingers has so many sensitive areas to connect to the device. You can’t imagine the kind of sustaining emotional connect that can be established before the mobile phone turns into a commodity.

To download above article in PDF Mobile phone is a commodity

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mobile-phone-is-a-commodity/99/

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Posted on 12-01-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Visiting beautiful places in India, not as a researcher but a tourist accompanying my best friend from Paris, I was quite enamored to find that low income group people are touring historical monuments with a great deal of interest. Both in the Christmas chill of the north and the warm balmy breeze of southern beaches, it was evident that holidaying has become a pronounced activity among the masses.

The consuming pattern is certainly growing after 22 years of economic reforms in India. At Orchha Palace in Madhya Pradesh we were surprised that so many Indian visitors were climbing up and down the Jahangir Mahal, a particularly ornamented specimen of Mughal architecture built in the 15th century by the Rajput king of Orchha. Its noteworthy that Emperor Akbar’s queen and Jahangir’s mother was a Rajput princess Jodha from Amber. Legend has it that Orccha Palace is where Jahangir took shelter when he incurred his father’s wrath for loving a commoner, as depicted in the film Mughal-e-Azam. Our host, the Rajasaheb of Alipura who accompanied us commented that when there was no charge levied to see this palace, nobody used to come; but ever since a small entry fee was started, mass visitors are flooding in. Domestic tourism has surely come to stay.

In Khajuraho, the guide Anand was a very interesting personality. He’s actually a 40-year-old farmer who does the job of a guide with fluent and admirable English. He wears a pair of stone-washed jeans with the US flag knit-stitched as his back pocket. In the high tourist season from October to March, he’s learnt how to excite both foreign and Indian tourists with the erotic exotica of Khajuraho’s temples protected as Unesco’s World Heritage. He makes Rs 2000 to 3000 per day during this period. When Indians come with whole family in a religious mood to worship at the temples built by the Chandelas, a powerful Rajput dynasty of the 10th to 12th centuries, he feels frustrated. He says it becomes very difficult for him to explain the details of the Khajuraho factor. Whereas when foreign visitors hire him, it’s more interesting because they want to learn every detail from him.

In fact I was watching Anand hold forth, displaying his vast knowledge of the 85 temples, revealing that only 20 remain today. He pointed out that the sculptures were part of the temple structure and not ornamentation. There were three types, divinities, female nymphs or apsaras and the most famous Mithuna, the sculptures of couples in graceful, amorous, coitus, or sexual positions. Sometimes the foreign visitors totally flummox Anand. In front of one of the famous Kamasutra postures, a tourist asked whether the sculpture was the top view or the real standing position. Anand was at a loss to answer properly. The foreigner was justifying that it may be the top view as the necklace is not falling but straight. Another foreign tourist, who appeared to be a connoisseur of Khajuraho, explained that it is not the top view. He said nobody should look at the necklace because in Indian art and sculpture, the decorative part is more important than the realistic aspect of the necklace hanging. So according to one foreigner explaining to another foreigner, this is the real essence of Kamasutra, “sex with meditation.” Then Anand brightened up and congratulated the learned foreigner, saying that he particularly enjoyed guiding Europeans who very seriously research the subject they are about to view. This farmer was certainly quick on the uptake and knew how to retain his business. Later when I asked him about his parents and other family members, he answered that the older one know nothing about these sexual expressions. For them, these are just like other temples.

Next at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, after paying Rs 10 per ticket, we found a phenomenal crowd. They had all come from villages and were entering the foundation steps, scrutinizing the paintings, photographs, sculptures and weapons of the British Raj with huge passion and curiosity. But what disappointed me was the poor upkeep where metal shutters were put and painted white, and visible from outside was a huge dump yard of carton boxes and building materials on the top floor. I asked some of the young people in this crowd what had brought them in. They replied that they learnt about our colonial heritage from the Internet, that this large marble museum, built between 1906 and 1921, was in the memory of the Empress of India, Queen Victoria. Even in Delhi’s Qutub Minar to Agra’s Taj Mahal, I saw at least 3 times more of mass visitors than foreign tourists. They were serious about finding out more about our historical monuments and keep the local guides busy.

The crux of the subject is that everybody has the mobile phone. Digital knowledge is driving India’s low income society to enter previously uncharted territory. They are travelling within the country like never before. Our dogmatic and traditional political parties have still not understood the power of this growing curiosity and hunger to know new things that digital technology has induced. For example, when I asked taxi drivers and street vendors in West Bengal about the current political condition of the state, they say there’s serious improvement that they had not experienced in the 35 years of the Left Government. Taxi drivers in Delhi too are highly appreciative of the new political era where they feel their voices and woes will be considered.

People with basic, low incomes are changing drastically. The advent of digital technology is making them aware of their rights, waking them up to become digital mindset voters. Enjoying newfound transparency, they are excited about the prospect of getting their rights with political support through digital media. Exciting times are ahead as we enter the polling booths at a national level in a few months. Unpredictability is slated to be the new political dimension tomorrow.

To download above article in PDF Entering uncharted territory

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/entering-uncharted-territory/

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