Posted on 25-07-2010
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

History has documented different eras that have taken business forward. Technology advancement in the 19th century established the mechanical age, the 20th century belonged to electronic technology while the 21st century is proving to be based on digital technology. Last week, I’d touched upon musical breakthroughs in different eras that contributed to business success. Let’s look at the art scene in the West and find how discomfort has set up new art genres with heavy commercial influences.

Before the advent of photography in the 19th century, paintings had represented reality. If an exceptional painter deviated from reproducing realistic form, he was considered anti-society or just plain crazy. The fear of photography replacing an artist’s livelihood created great discomfort among Western artists. This led to art’s first evolutionary form in Expressionism, followed by Impressionism.

Expressionism is the artist’s interpreted form of a realistic subject. It creates a pictorial form in spite of the artist’s imagination twisting it. Vincent van Gogh’s paintings were quite realistic when he was in his motherland, Holland. Look at his Potato Eaters, painted in 1885. It’s dark, reflecting his background amongst the working class miners. He came to France in 1886, and his palette changed radically. His Sunflowers painted in 1888 is bright and cheerful.

His failure was van Gogh’s discomfort, which fuelled the paintings to be hallucinating in expression. Society did not recognise his genius. During his lifetime, he sold just one painting. He committed suicide in 1890 at the age of 37.

Europe’s openness towards artistic talent is interesting. After his death, van Gogh’s work was discovered. The extremely high value of his paintings today has created wealth for van Gogh’s collectors and museums in different parts of the world. This creator of discomfort left behind an avant-garde vision of colour with brushstrokes on canvas. Can business be compared to van Gogh? Are we capable of reviving a neglected dead shell of a brand or company after its tangible presence is gone?

An Impressionist painter executes reality in a semi-abstract form. Unlike Michelangelo who was a realistic artist, Claude Monet painted his thoughts. Monet painted Water Lilies in 1897 from his French style country house at Giverny. People visit Monet’s house amidst the wilderness, which is like a canvas that’s said to be the genesis of Impressionism in 1870s.

As the Expressionist and Impressionist art epochs were building, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque introduced discomfort at the turn of the 20th century by starting the Cubist movement. A totally new style influenced by tribal art, Cubism simultaneously interpreted the essence of an object, human being or nature from multiple viewpoints. Picasso worked with the human character whereas Georges Braque’s Cubism was more with objects and nature.

Braque and Picasso shared a close partnership in the same studio for a few years in 1908–12. Picasso was impetuous and Braque had a sense of order. Their joint ideas unearthed and contributed an immense cultural treasure. Their vision of Cubism created discomfort in the art world.

Surrealism, which is realism in an imaginative world, and the artistic and literary Dada movement were discomfiting ‘jerks’ in Western Europe in 1916–23. Dadaists wanted to discover an authentic reality by abolishing traditional culture and aesthetic forms. Their disgust for bourgeois values and despair over World War I made them anti-establishment. Evolving through the phases of Cubism, futurism and metaphysical painting, Salvador Dali joined the Surrealists in Paris in 1929. The group comprised painters Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Andre Breton, and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. With artistic form that draws upon psychology and weaves into society’s drama, Spaniard Luis Bunuel chose France to locate his masterpieces in. He uncovered French society in surreal dimension. In his film, That Obscure Object of Desire, he wanted to reveal a machismo storyline where a successful businessman narrates his unrequited love for his au pair (live-in maid). The film’s message is when money and sex reign, love and refinement are waylaid.

Surrealism in paintings has a nostalgic character that evokes layers of imagination residing in the subconscious mind. Although Surrealism did not acquire mass appeal at that time, it established itself as the subliminal foundation of the conservative society. Surrealism carried over to modern times and characterised George Lucas’ 1977 film, Star Wars. Stephen Spielberg’s ET, a mega success, also interpreted the surrealist vision of Max Ernst and Salvador Dali.

Surreal influences influenced business too. When Hollywood was turning dull and dreary, Surrealist fiction films changed both the platform and fortunes of the cinema industry worldwide. The art form can juice up a company’s vision into thinking very differently. Even as artists influenced thought processes, manufacturers made surrealist dreams into reality. Surrealism is evident in dream products like Mercedes’ bionic car or a mobile phone-cum-camera-cum-computer-cum-music bank in your hand.

The Western world is intensely involved with the lateral thinking of their artists. These influences reveal continuity and consistency across art, music, film, fiction, industry and business. The imagination of painters has created discomfort, leading to significant human development to enhance the art of life and business.

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Posted on 18-07-2010
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Music is an emotion and passion that people cannot do without. A recent study done by global market research firm Synovate with 8,000 adults ages 18+ across 13 countries, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Korea, Philippines, Spain, UK and US confirmed music to be the world’s favourite pastime.

Singers and musicians have, through discomfort, made a breakthrough in the entertainment business. They have infused new thoughts that have heightened collective and personal human emotion. Let me illustrate this by taking Western music as an example.

Western music’s evolution from medieval, renaissance, baroque to the classical opera, operetta and philharmonic symphony to today’s rock, rap and jazz happened amidst immense discomfort in their musical world. Classical masterpieces emerged mostly from Eastern and Western Europe since 1740. Georges Handel was among the precursors who set the foundation of Western classical music.

Simultaneously from the 1600s, African music from the enslaved African community in USA opened another musical chapter with rhythm as the base. Black music started as spiritual, and evolved incorporating work-songs, ragtime and minstrel shows during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Blues and Dixieland were born in the late 1800s, while jazz and gospel began in early 1900s. After World War II the black influence invented rock and rap music. African American gospel music, the collective humming voice of the black community in church was not considered aristocratic by Caucasians. Over centuries they were used to hearing songs sung in characteristic monotone as in country music. In the 1950s Elvis Presley created a new musical era of discomfort when he brought black gospel music and rhythm into mainstream society as rock ‘n’ roll. He also broke the rules of musical performance and disapprovingly got dubbed ‘Elvis the Pelvis’ for gyrating suggestively, moving his hands and legs while on stage.

Elvis had followed his father’s profession of being a truck driver; he worked for Crown Electric Company. One day he stopped his truck at Memphis Recording Studios where he had heard that anyone could record a 10-inch acetate for $4. He was 19 years old, totally smitten by music, and enthusiastically recorded his own composition ‘My Happiness.’ That was the beginning of an extraordinary journey to be crowned the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

When television shows censored his rhythmic leg movements as too sexy, Elvis concentrated on rhythmically moving the upper part of his body. He wanted his music to stir up everybody’s dancing shoes because the atmosphere after World War II was very morose. His sensational singing style became extremely controversial, with American puritans taking a jab at Christianity and calling it the devil’s music. Elvis was unique in that nobody was ever neutral about him. The shock of this negative–positive current made him the rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon of all time.

Another discomfort in music came from the Beatles in 1962. John Lennon, James Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (who took the name of Ringo Starr later) were born into working class obscurity in post war Liverpool, a dingy depressed town where money was scarce. They took the world by storm, and Beatlemania became a worldwide cult. Even the Queen of England honored them with the MBE in Buckingham Palace in 1965.

An Evening Standard interviewer queried John Lennon about religion, and his apolitical reply was: ‘Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that. I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.’ Pandemonium broke loose. Disk jockeys in the southern American states encouraged a God-fearing youth to destroy Beatles records and memorabilia at bonfire rallies. Within a week, 30 US Bible Belt radio stations banned the Beatles from airplay. Lennon created discomfort at the risk of breaking his own group’s career at the height of their success.

The shock was momentary though. Lennon inspired a whole generation to think fearlessly, openly and clearly. He also touched a raw, discomfiting nerve in a social atmosphere stifled with a telling generation gap. In a world tired of domination, discipline, prudishness and morality, the genuineness of the Beatles was powerfully refreshing. Millions of young and old fans worldwide still uphold the Beatles as the perpetuators of ‘All you need is love.’

Musicians and singers comprised a new kind of creature who emerged to kill gloominess and depression in Europe and America in the second half of the 20th century. They deliberately brought discomfort with a message. Singer Mick Jagger, now over 60, is still creating discomfort with ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ He’s taken his 40 Licks World Tour to wake up newer generations across the globe.

There was a cliché that the Punks were less a musical genre than a state of mind. In their discomfort creating heydays from early 1970, being a Punk fashion victim became fashionable. The Punks remained an underground music sect upto 1976. They demonstrated individualism and even revolted against older sub-cultures like hard-rockers and hippies. Being an anarchistic, anti-power movement, the Punks were amazingly successful in establishing a trend that influenced industry and lasted beyond their generation. For 40 years the Punks have been considered the trend that brought color into European fashion and music with breakaway characteristics and tremendous business gain.

But today the music industry faces a commercial dilemma about how to better encash music when computer downloads and recording from TV has become the music lover’s way of getting music. As per Synovate’s 2010 study, MTV in 1981 ushered in a new way for fans to connect to artists. About 57% of people surveyed said they watch songs on TV, but the computer is fast catching up as 46% use it for enjoying music in.

In India 38% of people use their mobile phones to listen to music. That’s because the mobile phone market is growing phenomenally here with millions of subscribers being added every year. In fact a fully loaded mobile phone has become a basic in India. About 73% of Indians polled say they watch music videos, mainly Bollywood music, on TV. Bollywood still rules the roost so we have not seen many artists make breakthrough change in the music scene here by creating the kind of discomfort that the West has experienced.

The flourishing entertainment business worldwide is a perpetual discomfort-creating machine. Being a perfect performer is never enough; the masses will endow the artist with commercial success only if they can remember the discomfort the artist created when reaching out to them.

To download above article in PDF Please Breaking through musically

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Posted on 11-07-2010
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Last December I’d written about how India’s 3 generations: the Retro (above 45 years of age) and Compromise (between 30 and 45 years) generations seem to have connived with this country’s peculiar socio-eco-political circumstances to create the Zap86, a generation widely divergent from them. These below-30 youngsters, particularly those born in 1986 who were 5-year-olds in 1991 when India’s economic reforms were introduced, have only known their parents’ open pockets. The economy had started booming then, foreign companies came seeking Indian talent to solve problems like Y2K, new jobs opened up, salaries saw an upturn, and foreign goods became freely available giving everyone ample purchase choice. People started to spend on unfulfilled urges, from having hitherto lived in the closed economy. More importantly, they indulged their children, whose whims and fancies continue to influence all buying decisions made in every home.

From my different work travels around the world, I’ve come to realize of late that the Zap, Compromise (they try to adjust with both sides) and Retro generations are not an exclusive India phenomenon; they exist everywhere, albeit with different parameters. My classification of the 19th century being the mechanical era, electronic technology ruling the 20th century, and 21st century being the digital age is doubly endorsed from watching how the Zap generation operates. Like zapping TV channels, Zappers are most comfortable with change, change and rapid change in every aspect of life. Their text messaging is phonetic, and giving vowels a miss is accepted script today. The above 30s may find it jarring, yet their mentality is to co-opt Zapper trends because clearly, discrete numerical form is ruling this digital century that’s become totally Zap driven.

The establishment and its doctrines do not work anymore today. Take the world of high fashion. Chanel, the French haute couture design house the Coco Chanel founded in 1909 had maintained an elegant, prim and classical tradition upto the 1990s. Chanel’s classic, rectangular shaped perfume container was so coveted that it was impossible to think it could be disturbed. But even Chanel had to bow to the Zap generation. Their recent perfume called Chance broke Chanel’s classicism by having a round bottle with a half naked, funky young girl gracefully showing her beautiful legs. To make the brand contemporary, Chanel radically changed its dresses too. Chanel now stitches jeans for Zap girls to look rowdy and sexy. Levis Strauss had popularized the cowboy logo for the jeans back pocket to sport, now Chanel’s “CC” logo also adorns back pocket of jeans. From archetypical French haute couture to jeans is indeed a daring step. By doing that Chanel has not reduced its brand value, rather it’s been extended to the youth.

Another fashion example is reputed French designer Christian Dior who started in 1946. His legacy was carried forward by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré in Paris in 1989. After Bernard Arnault, Chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH acquired Dior, he found Ferre to be too straight laced. So in 1996 he appointed John Galliano, the most eccentric English fashion designer, for Christian Dior. Galliano had demonstrated the ability to redefine existing subcultures to create fashion garments for the younger, funkier set. "My role is to seduce," he confessed, saying that theatre and femininity inspired him in his creations. He recreated some of Dior’s period clothing for Madonna to wear in the film Evita.

Galliano’s fashion radically shifted Dior’s old classicism. The perfume Miss Dior has been a French classic. From such a gentle perfume, Dior went on to create the provocative Poison, a new departure in perfume. Christian Dior used to be dressed in very classy suits when in the fashion ramp with models, but Galliano came to his first Dior fashion showing a great deal of skin, you could openly see his body and leg in a provocative carnival dress. By doing this, the Dior brand has not lost its value in the world, but has instead connected to the Zap generation, and contemporarized its image for the continuity of the brand.

Critics did question whether Galliano’s maverick reputation would appeal to Dior’s established clientele. The designer shook up the haute couture world, infused energy into an industry that was showing signs of losing sales and customers. In his 1997spring/summer collection, Galliano spun classic Dior themes around exotic African Masai tribal forms to fashion silk evening dresses. He used colorful choker bead necklaces that injected a young image. But the Dior name remained glamorous and refined. Galliano’s collections, complete with historic personalities and forces, have always enchanted or shocked audiences and been of commercial success. These two examples among many show how connecting to Zappers is taken so seriously.

But in India, there’s still a huge distance between industries and their attempt to appeal to the Zap generation. Most connect their products and services to Compromise or Retro generation buyers. They are not sensitive to the fact that the Zap generation has, and will continue to have, a significant influence on their elders. Without this realization and connect to Zappers, Indian brands will become old fashioned and the whole country will be swamped with foreign brands. Developed countries have the capability to co-opt the trend in advance to drive the world. But the Compromise and Retro generations running business in India, either choose to neglect or do not notice the attitude and behavioural aspects of the Zap generation. Inspite of their children or grandchildren being Zappers, the Retro generation is highly disconnected from them. But the Zap pressure, their way of living and exposure, is so high that neither the Retro nor the Compromise can ignore it.

Working in the West through almost four decades from 1970s onwards, I among others have meticulously used disruption as a weapon in strategizing for brands, industrial products, retails or in corporate structure design. Industries there welcome the “fresh” perspective as a point of differentiation, because these disruptive strategies help their cash registers to ring. In India almost two decades have passed since liberalization that brought in gigantic changes to the marketplace. Indian industrial houses first refused to believe that Indian consumers would ever discard their savings mentality. Now that the market has become vibrant, they are in a paralytic situation, wondering how to get back the consumers they lost to foreign brands. But I still don’t see any attempt to apply the disruptive attitude to retain market share that’s escaping to new foreign players. If Indian brands don’t think about using disruption for profitability and sustainability in the face of incoming foreign brands, they may grow in volume but the bottomline will be ruined.

To download above article in PDF Please Only Zap connect disruption can increase profitability

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Posted on 04-07-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit


Business across the world operates in the paradigm of either catering to demand or leading the market with value. A demand led market is akin to trading, supplying to fill an order, but crafting value to lead the market with requires ample use of brainware.

When huge market demand exists for a product or service, it would mean the requirement is basic and useful. This market flourishes with high user demand, and it’s the easiest situation for business houses to deal with. There is a 100 per cent certainty of big revenue generation. The only problem here is how to make a better bottomline and sustain it because competition is rife. There’s always the temptation to increase volume, irrespective of the quality of the product, service or people behind it.

Because every competitor can deliver more or less similarly in demand led markets, and the hunger for increased business is so high, there is negligible scope to create differentiation. This situation compels an enterprise to reduce profitability year after year. The demand led market is extremely vulnerable as anybody with money, infrastructure, people and good trading skills can enter it. In this space, you don’t have to worry about competency, skill set, differentiation, quality standard or capacity, you can also forget about high profit after tax. You are generating revenue on big volume alone.

Conversely, in the value led market, you can actually get sizable margins. Take a simple banana that has high demand in world markets. How can you create a difference with a banana? A talented chef can take two ripe bananas costing 50 cents, dramatically change their value by using crème, chocolate sauce, nuts for another 50 cents, and then with appetising styling, he can sell a banana desert for $15 in his restaurant. A four-star restaurant can even sell it for $50. The basic banana has been transformed to enter the value led market.

Sophisticated developed countries have displayed tremendous flair in creating the value led market. Value here does not mean bringing in fundamental invention. It requires intellectual thought and shared passion between the leader and team for market study and forward planning.

My favourite value led market example is the innovative success of Swatch. If we look back at the Swatch adventure under co-founder Nicholas Hayek, it happened when digital watches from Japan threatened the Swiss watch industry in the 1970s. Swiss entry level watches with manual craftsmanship was losing market share. Swatch not only innovated through high technology, but reduced parts in the watch from over 91 to 51, and with aggressive marketing, daring designs and unfailing quality made Swatch into a fashion statement. Swatch means both Swiss watch and second watch. This low-priced $30 “change your dress, change your Swatch”, was cheeky and fun, girls even wore them as ponytail bands. Swatch proved that you can drive aspirational value even with low pricing. The company has become so successful since its 1983 launch that Swatch has acquired some of the world’s most sophisticated watch brands, including Breguet, Blancpain, Jaquet Droz, Glashütte Original, Léon Hatot, Omega, Tiffany & Co., Rado, Longines, Union Glashütte, Tissot, Calvin Klein, Certina, Mido, Pierre Balmain, Hamilton, Flik Flak and Endura.

All-time trendy Swatch is the first individual brand in the watch category to bring out a business model through a retail chain. Walking along New York’s Times Square five years ago, I crossed a funky painting gallery. I walked in to discover it was a Swatch retail. Inside there were very few watches interspersed with cult images and trendy gear. When an enterprise thinks like that in the demand led watch market, it gives you the learning of how to radically transfer from demand-supply to lead with value and win customers, profit and create benchmarks.

By the 1970s, fastfood outlets like McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, had established their brands. But a gap existed in fastfood chains that they somehow make you feel pressurised to eat quickly and leave so somebody else can occupy your chair. This is the way their revenues go up. There were those who looked at this gap of how to create fastfood chains that would give people a relaxed ambience. Latin societies like Italy and France have a cafe culture where, with a glass of beer or coffee, you sit in individually owned cafes for hours. Europeans have never thought that their cafe heritage can be made into a chain. But three Americans, by founding Starbucks, successfully commercialised this space, gave it value, and took the concept to 55 countries. This is the value led market approach with lateral thinking.

In the 20 years since economic liberalisation, India has responded well to the demand led market in most industries and amassed critical mass. It’s good to hear that we have big size, billion dollar Indian companies with a global footprint, but while benchmarking with global competitors, we have a great deal of catching up to do. In a demand led situation, Indian companies can certainly grow in revenue. But they will be under huge profit pressure in the coming years unless they can change gears in the direction of the value led market.

The more companies drive towards value, attrition will come down as people will work with pride to help the company that they want to be part of grow. When people work with passion, they can create perceptible quality in products or services. Such a company’s brand gets magnified when it becomes a subject of discussion in society, which automatically would lead to increased profitability, or even becoming the industry benchmark. India’s vision in the next 20 years should be to climb the value led market. It requires only guts and brainware to get there.

To download above article in PDF Please Demand-led market is a disease

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