Posted on 28-03-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Whenever I speak of intangibles having unlimited value, I’m often met with silence in India. In our consulting practice of Change Management to Branding, Retailing and Industrial Design (for engineering products like automobiles, refrigerators or laptops among others), we need to constantly create intangibles for our clients’ deliverables to sustainably connect to their end-customers in today’s market banality.

Intangibles always come from a strong, tangible base platform. Anything tangible has logic, science and is materialistic, but these are technicalities. When elevated to a certain point they become illogical, making them intangible. The boundaryless, illogical substance that is the intangible is absolutely non-intellectual; it’s never a readymade formula. What is intangible for you may not be for me. So creating intangibles in a subject for mass consumption requires passion and activities beyond the obvious.

In business, intangibles are invaluable, the basis of an organization’s goodwill. Only when customers first appreciate this intangible, will they pay a premium for it. Better profitability, better share price, better market capitalization are all related to intangibles.

Learning of, admiring and ingraining intangibles in my body and mind may have roots in the milieu of artists I associated with at the start of my French life. As part of my sweeper’s job in a lithography print shop, I had to deliver packets of 175 lithography proofs to the painter’s car. When the painter would offer me a service tip, I’d refuse and instead ask for a chance to spend time in his atelier (painting studio).

When I met Erte, Russian-born Parisian artist and designer, at his atelier, he told me of his obsession with the encadreure (framer) of his paintings. It took me time to understand that Erte found a framer to be unique because he understood the artistic value of Erte’s paintings. Another famous French landscape painter, Yves Brayer, used to sit me down in his atelier and narrate his imagination of the South of France, the primary subject of his paintings. I’ve since been to the south of France many times, but I’ve always seen its reality overshadowed through Brayer’s paintings.

My fixation on the intangible went through several artistes I became good friends with. Celebrated mime Marcel Marceau, illustrious photographer Marc Riboud and feted writer-singer Francis Lemarque all showed me the tangible base of the intangible. Renowned theatre-tv-film actor Daniel Prevost told me about professionalism, of dropping his personal life scene when on stage. He recounted how, on the day he lost his loved one, he had to play-act comic absurdity to create the intangible so that his theatre audience could connect and get mesmerized. “People don’t see Daniel Prevost when I play a role, they see what I represent. So I detach myself on stage to create the intangible of the character.”

Francis Lemarque eulogised the beauty of “Paris” in a song that travelled across the globe. One day he described to me his sad childhood, how his Lithuanian Jewish mother was suddenly transported off to the Auschwitz Nazi gas chamber, and he had to overcome this mental stress. He said he looked up at the Paris skyline to write the song that intangibly made the world dream about Paris, but his own ground reality was very cruel.

After watching Marcel Marceau’s mime artistry in Le Theatre des Champs-Ellysees I asked him how, through his “art of silence” he could transport his audience to a totally different atmosphere on a vacant stage. Over dinner at my home in Paris he explained that this is the drama of the intangible. He practices in real surroundings for several hours, tangibly touching and feeling everything to totally internalise it all. The moment he comes onto the empty stage, he transposes all the tangible aspects into his act, allowing the audience to feel and visualise them even as the stage is without sets. A critic once wrote of his ingenious Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death: “He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”

Marc Riboud of Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative, was famous for powerfully capturing fleeting moments in potent compositions. He happened to be a judge at my design school, Academie Julian, when I topped a project. Afterwards, he invited me to Magnum where I saw his famous 1957 photo of Jawaharlal Nehru laughing together with Chou en Lai, obviously not anticipating the 1962 India-China scuffle. Marc explained to me how the camera’s view should arrest that exact memorable moment that can never become old. The visual direction should cover the 24×36 frame, with no cropping. The picture may be still, but it should look to be moving. There is always the dilemma of whether to focus the foreground, mid-ground or background within a second. He trained me that the main subject can become a timeless intangible only by highly calibrating the focus dilemma. He said a photograph has to be so intangible that it becomes universal for all nationalities to understand at a glance.

The thousands of consumers I interact with in my work, deal with intangibles in different ways. As a poor child, I remember it was an incredible experience to sit in an Ambassador car and touch the steering wheel and pedals. A rich person is likely to have the same intangible feeling in a Rolls Royce. In love and affection intangibles you want to recall certain moments over and over again. The materialistic world is highly driven by intangibles that you value beyond the price. A brand’s real value is its intangible. But every brand cannot be for everyone, as something intangible for you may not be for others. In the same category, Lexus gives you more features but Mercedes commands a higher price as people value its intangibles. It’s not cost that matters though. At just $30 Swatch watch has created aspiration that’s driven higher intangibles than expensive watches in the last 26 years.

Intangibles form and grow from a product’s rational credibility. It may remain totally tacit with the user, but its unspoken layers are extremely crucial for business houses of any size to ignore. Starting at ground zero, your business can grow to become gigantic tomorrow if you have the capacity to uniquely deliver what consumers’ hidden desire. For business results beyond the obvious, you may take regular baths in the ocean of the intangible.



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Posted on 21-03-2010
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Woman is the nigger of the world,” said Yoko Ono in 1969. Her husband, my singing idol John Lennon, embraced the words in a contentious song in 1972: “We make her bear and raise our children/ And then we leave her flat for being a fat old mother hen/ We tell her home is the only place she should be/ Then we complain that she’s too unworldly to be our friend/ Woman is the nigger of the world/ Yes she is… if you don’t believe me, take a look at the one you’re with/ Woman is the slave to the slaves/ Yes she is… if you believe me you better scream about it.”

I agree with Lennon, when he conveyed that men across cultures treat women as objects of subservience to them. Objecting to the word “nigger”, radio stations banned the song from airplay. But African-Americans defended it saying that if ‘nigger’ is someone whose lifestyle, opportunities or role in society is defined by others, then you don’t have to be black to be a ‘nigger.’

Perceptions about women vary. Some consider Indian mythology most advanced as Draupadi could have multiple husbands, even though arguments may arise that this might have been imposed on her. When at age 53, famed French philosopher and singer Serge Gainsbourg married a 22-year-old, he was happy that nobody cared, they found it normal. He said that if the situation had been reversed, that is if at age 22 he was marrying a 53-year-old woman, people would have immediately dubbed him a gigolo.

In the largely male chauvinistic societies we live in, men have legal or illegal rights to overpower women, whereas women are socially or legally restricted. Among the worst cases is Afghanistan where, according to the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks, one in every three Afghan women experiences physical, psychological or sexual violence, 87 per cent are illiterate, 44 years is the average life expectancy, 80 per cent are forced into marriages, and every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies in childbirth.

In all countries, it is men who have to take decisions about giving equal power to women. Our Women’s Bill is a case in point, which does not even ask for equal, but only one-third representation of women in Parliament.

Yet men have no way of experiencing or comprehending the different stages of life with hormonal and bodily changes that women rollercoaster through. Women’s biological character makes their procreating experience extremely rich. They naturally become adept at dealing with crises and taking on multiple tasks simultaneously. So at the workplace, there should no difference between the man and woman. But I have often heard from professional women during consumer research that after marriage their families encourage them to concentrate on home rather than work. At work, too, superiors take it for granted that their priorities will now change. Social obligations prevent these women from expressing their desire for independence.

In India, historic, traditional and cultural reasons prevent better women participation in the organised workforce. An Asian study of multinational companies in 2009 found that in India, women constituted 25 per cent of the workforce, while in China it was 42.9 per cent, in Japan 33 per cent and in Singapore 43.8 per cent. Of the 11 multinational firms surveyed here, women comprised 30 per cent of the junior management, dropping to below 10 per cent at senior levels. Women exiting companies on family pressure, including to accompany husbands on transfer, is a big unresolved issue. Only in low-end BPO jobs do women have 50 per cent participation. The IT industry has just 15-20 per cent women.

In a few striking examples here, Western women who’ve rebelled against society have exploited their own sexuality as the most effective weapon to get quick fame. With time I have understood these acts not to be perversion, but as women’s struggle for recognition.

In Italy’s extremely macho society, also the hub of Catholic religion, Cicciolina carved herself into history. A Hungarian-born porn star and singer, she fought the elections, became a parliament member, and then Italy’s culture minister. Not shy about her primary profession, she continued to make pornographic films while in office. On an official visit to Greece, she took off her dress on arrival at the airport. The orthodox Greek government didn’t allow her to enter the country. Before the Gulf War, she offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein if he would release his foreign hostages. She renewed her offer to him in October 2002 when Iraq was resisting international pressure to allow inspections for weapons of mass destruction. In April 2006, she made the same offer to Osama bin Laden.

When Nina Hagen, considered the mother of rebellious Punk singers, was confronted on television on violence in youth culture, her insolent reply was to explicitly demonstrate sexual gestures.

Renowned American singer Madonna has often laid bare her sexuality in her concerts. As the world’s highest-earning female singer who generated over $1.2 billion dollars in sales within the first decade of her career, she has become a role model now, but not for sexual prowess.

The 20th century’s most revolutionary philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, said biological differences cannot empower a man to attain a position of superiority. In her book, The Second Sex, she analysed that early Western philosophers established women as ‘the other’ to rationalise and develop the growth of patriarchy. In defiance, during the 1968 Revolution in France, Beauvoir became active in France’s women’s liberation movement. In 1971, she signed the Manifesto of the 343, a list of famous women who claimed, mostly falsely, to have had an abortion, then illegal in France, thereby exposing themselves to criminal prosecution. The women celebrities who signed what was also known as "le manifeste des 343 salopes" or the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts” / “Manifesto of the 343 Bitches” included film personalities Catherine Deneuve and Delphine Seyrig. France legalised abortion in 1975.

In today’s world of advanced technology, it’s a crying shame for men not to recognise that women are equal to them in every respect, and superior to them in biological complexity.

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Posted on 14-03-2010
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Karl Marx wrote, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” My personal experience from being born into a poor family is that acceptance of poverty is also an opium in our highly tolerant Indian culture. “Amra gorib lok” (we are poor people, in Bengali) is what I heard over and over again in my neighbourhood at childhood, we should not dream too much as that would paralyse us. It was like a religion to act like poor people. Having a watch in your hand, wearing Bata shoes or sunglasses was a sign of the bourgeoisie. In my locality if any of us had one of these 3 things, it was a discussion point. The acceptance of poverty has left large numbers of our population below subsistence level. My obsessive thought is about how the poor can break the shackles of poverty with dignity to shine in life and change the world.

Poverty is regarded as a kind of defeat in Western society. Those with not enough, work very hard to get rich. In contrast, it’s very difficult for scarcity mindset Indians to emerge from it. The affluent support the persistence of poverty through charity works or NGOs for their upliftment, but how much such activities can change the plight of the poor is questionable. “The inevitable consequence of poverty is dependence,” said the English poet Samuel Johnson. Its human inclination to exercise control over people, so keeping the poor dependent is a ploy to feel powerful. The real mission for tomorrow’s India should be to activate the economically weak so they are no longer dependent. The only help they need is to learn how to earn and how to enjoy life. Otherwise this huge visible difference in inequality will continue to grow.

I had to take a breakthrough step to release myself from poverty. My parents’ stringent discipline when we were the under-privileged banned me from Hindi films, possibly to avoid my adopting Bollywood fantasies. I remember stealthily accompanying school friends at age 14 to ‘Around the world with 8 dollars’ at Lakshmi Cinema, Kanchrapara, my native town. These last bench school friends showed me many prohibited areas. When followers of my father, a well known proletariat leader, sometimes caught me, my grandmother had to save me from severe punishment. I was witness to pitiable situations like wage workers of Kanchrapara railway workshop getting totally drunk on pay day, returning home and beating up their wives. One of these drunk ‘uncles’ would regularly say, “why come sou.” We would laugh, imitate him, but nobody could figure out its meaning. When our village-folk got drunk, they’d spontaneously speak incomprehensible English. This remained a mysterious memory for me until, arriving in France, I discovered ‘soul’ means drunken. So ‘uncle’s’ drunken speech superseded English to get into French even without his knowledge! Subconsciously though, I’ve never since enjoyed Hindi films and don’t drink alcohol inspite of having worked for several alcohol companies. I do see popular Hindi films today but only for half an hour to observe and understand public enthusiasm of the masses in the cinema hall.

In early life I was poor both in India and France. Here’s the difference. In keeping with India’s caste-ridden structure, poverty becomes another social layer. Poor people are afraid to take opportunities. I remember my mental shivers when my rich fellow students at the Government Art College in Kolkata insisted I accompany them to the air conditioned American Library that was freely open to all. In contrast, when I found my first employment as a sweeper in a lithography print studio near Paris, the owner would introduce me as a fellow artist to all the famous artists who got their lithography prints done there. In my experience, the acknowledgement of equality is the biggest driver for personal ambition and performance. It proves that when you don’t want to compromise with poverty you can radically change your situation and see your life differently. It’s definitely possible for other poor people to also take opportunities not only me.

Let’s look at how industrial auto mechanisation machines can help to remove poverty. Inventions through auto mechanisation have changed the poor classes in the Western world. Six hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci unbelievably made mechanical inventions ahead of his time. His principles of flying machines, bridge building, functioning of the human anatomy have changed the way we operate in modern times. Yet he had to secretly hide his ingenious inventions as they went against religious dictates then. Feudal lords, in association with religious authorities, totally opposed development that would deprive their usage of human labour to slave-drive the interests of the aristocracy.

Historically, economic growth has led to poverty reduction. Britain’s Industrial Revolution spread to Europe, led to overall development, and eliminated mass poverty. In 1820, 75% of humanity lived on less than a dollar a day; in 2001, only about 20% did so. The World Bank says three quarters of the world’s poor live in the countryside, so poverty fighting should begin there. Two weeks ago I had written that practical invention of machines is required to fortify livelihood efforts of people like 2-acre farmers and porters, and that affordable, effective commercial transportation is required. I was hearted by a reader response that people are working on such innovations in India. But how can they be converted for mass scale usage with sustaining quality for the poor to get off the dependence ride?

From human labour to mechanization has been a significant shift that society had to accept. With deeper injection of democracy in political systems, the mechanical aspect is gaining ground in reducing human effort. It has since transformed to auto mechanism and now landed in digital auto mechanism, fuelling a productivity chain that’s prompting the masses to work, earn money and then spend.

There is no religious barrier today, fundamentals of invention exist in the world. Courage is all the poor need to change their mental acceptance of ‘slavery.’ An inventive assembler can digi-auto-mechanise devices relevant to our country’s need to empower under-privileged people. Developing digital technology alone will not take us anywhere in reducing the poverty line. Digi-auto-mechanised machines in different working class layers are the most crucial devices India needs to give a lift to the masses at large.



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Posted on 07-03-2010
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit



Art has been a human right before civilisation started. The earliest cave painters at Lascaux, France, dating back 30,000 years drew animals. The San people in South Africa drew people in 27,000-year-old caves. Ancient Indian cave art 20,000 years ago in Bhimabetaka, Madhya Pradesh, had both animals and people, often fighting wars.

Several civilizations have been lost over centuries, buried under the soil with volcanic or earthquake eruptions, or vanished due to human destruction or negligence. But whatever discoveries have happened, the testimony has always been from art left behind in the form of cave paintings, stone engraving or sculptures with figurative or nature expressions. Art was the first medium of communication in human society. The era of petroglyphs faded to pictograms before logographic writing gave way to the alphabet.

My thought was, if art is so elemental for expression, why is it not better meshed into business? After all, there is great symbiosis between art and business, they share the same five fundamentals of thought, subtlety, elegance, loudness and sustainability. In art, thought translates to a unique idea beyond time, subtlety is subliminal, elegance is being always displayed in a sophisticated place, whereas loudness in art is the shock of the new expression of an artist. Art is sustainable as its monetary value rises with time.

Similarly in business, you need to think how to strategize to expand the market with uniqueness. Subtlety is engraving the product or service into the customer’s top-of-mind, while elegance is being aspirational. Business needs loudness to have all time differentiation in the market while sustainability is business growth with high net worth.

In the last 35 years I have been privileged to spend time with several CEOs, MDs and Chairmen in different countries across 4 continents on business transactions for their growth and increased net worth. Our discussions invariably took place at a strategic and creative level. I found creativity in their thoughts, which inspired me to think beyond expectation on how their businesses can sustain end-customer connect. From such interactions I have long been convinced that CEOs are successful in business because they have a high value artist’s palette in their mind, which is similar to the management palette. So, I’ve strongly believed, a CEO’s performance on canvas would definitely be brilliant.

In an attempt to execute this idea, a unique venture has emerged. We inaugurated in Mumbai yesterday the world’s first exhibition of paintings done by CEOs. For the first time in their lives 26 CEOs took brush in hand and boldly put colour on canvas. You can view their out-of-the-box art from noon to 8 pm at Piramal art gallery, National Centre for the Performing Arts upto 12 March 2010.

This is how the saga started. I asked the 26 CEOs to spend a crazy, creative session with me. I didn’t divulge anything more. I arrived with a large suitcase of acrylic paints, brushes, a color palette and 18”x24” canvas, arranged it all on the CEO’s table, and gestured an invitation. Puzzled, the CEO asked, “Do I have to paint?” The beauty of this initiative is that, to them, my sudden proposition to paint was like an enigma. It’s generally known in industry that I started my management consulting business from a fine arts career, and that I still paint. That’s perhaps why the CEOs spontaneously agreed and immediately became engrossed in painting.

I met them either in office or at home. They could have avoided the painting session, but they seemed to have a hidden urge to express themselves, and chose their colours. Their confidence soared when I mentioned, “You are at total liberty here. There’s no shareholder, promoter, employee or competitor scrutinizing you!” It was just as well that I discreetly captured them with my movie camera as they painted, because people are now asking me if I’ve helped them. This goes to show their paintings are very appealing. The CEOs spontaneity of thought and application was indeed a lesson for me.

Business always runs with rationality and the glamour of numbers. But the tragedy is that business crunched with numbers alone confines you to mere logic in a given blocked system. Shareholders always expect to encash this result of numbers in unlimited multiplication of their investment. Only an empty canvas can inspire you to paint with unrestrained thought for business. A vision with numbers can be foggy, hypothetic, so the next step for CEOs is to go beyond that boundary. When you can paint the vision on canvas, imagination gets concretized and unlimited possibilities morph into visuals that can be actioned. Once the art is done and understood by everybody, application of technicalities is a mere slave.

Art circles always critique the craftsmanship and quality of an artist’s painting. CEO Thinker Painters can be considered a new art movement because they took up the challenge at a moment’s notice, made no trial, yet their boldness, confidence and passion on the canvas were outstanding. Asking them to sing or write would not have taken me anywhere, but this adventurous act has proved that the expression of art is an inherent human inclination that demystifies expression. In fact, a few were so absorbed they took the initiative to paint on a second canvas.

Western art has had several collective movements after prehistoric cave paintings. From the Medieval period’s Religious art, the Masters painted Realistic portraits and reproduced real life around 1506. When photography was invented in 1826, it shocked the art world as Realism was no longer required. So artists had to think out-of-the-box and express images in their mind. Art movements have since given a boost for the world to think differently. These movements were Expressionism (1888), Impressionism (1897), Cubism (1910), Surrealism (1929), Abstract (1940), Pop (1960) and Graphic (1965) art to street graffiti (1969), Vanishing art (1994) to Extrapolated art (2006). As no globally renowned contemporary movement of painting has emerged in India so far, CEO Thinker Painters can represent a new, collective, first time effort and movement that can be taken forward to become part of global art history of the 21st century.

Everybody in business talks about creating differentiation. My prime objective of inspiring the 26 CEOs to peel out their creativity was to prove that differentiation is not the buzzword it has become in business today. In this uniform, digital world, differentiation that’s tangible in a product or service will bring business success.

To download above article in PDF Please CEO Thinker Painters

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