Posted on 31-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

A repeatedly admired subject in society can be measured in the Emotional Surplus frame as I’d explained in last week’s article. That’s the high blend of 3 attributes: quality (non visible, rational factor), functionality (experience that is relevant) and the emotive factor (looks good).

Bringing a gift when invited to an evening party at home is a French social rituals I’ve experienced. Bouquets are common as elsewhere in the world, but Francis, a florist near the beautiful forest park of Vincenne in east Paris, presented me a small Ficus plant in a pot and explained how to nurture it. Francis plays the flute, and being a fan of his music, I’d often go to his pop concerts. When 30 years ago I’d invited him home, he wanted to give me a plant that would solidify our long-term friendship. Ten years on, visiting me at home again, he was delighted to see the plant’s growth. He hugged me saying, “Our friendship is solid now.” Although I’ve not met Francis in sometime now, the Ficus, just as our friendship, has taken strong root.

Landing in Hong Kong for a global conference in 1993, I lost my baggage with all the OHP slides of my presentation on Emotional Surplus. It was horrifying. How could I tell the organizers who invited me that I don’t have my material? That’s when Francis’ Ficus tree gift came to my rescue. I bought a bouquet of roses and a rose plant in a flower pot. I explained to the audience that if you gift a bouquet, it momentarily looks beautiful and evokes alluring emotion in your hosts, but the flowers will soon wither away. That is fragile emotion. But presenting a rose plant in a pot, the flower may wither in a couple of days, but new flowers will bloom again as the plant will grow. Even if the gifted plant has no flower, the host knows that flowers will come. I explained that as the bouquet flowers have been cut from the root, their stems have become dysfunctional. But the potted plant has the non visible foundation of roots that nurture the plant. This rational factor helps the stem circulate sap internally to bring alive the plant’s functionality. So the stem is the functional element. The sustaining link of root and stem together empower the cyclical blossoming of flowers. This repetitive flowering that’s sustainable is Emotional Surplus. It’s unlike the ephemeral emotive factor of the bouquet. Let me now narrate a few examples with this thinking of Emotional Surplus.

History as Emotional Surplus reference in the contemporary cricket world: A cricketer had a career Test batting average of 99.94, statistically the greatest achievement in any major sport. He used to practice alone with a golf ball and cricket stump against the wall to sharpen his batting quality, that’s the rational factor. Scoring with almost every ball is the functional factor where his performance responded to the immediacy of time. Being shy, he’d never show-off in glittering after game parties but be discreet, which made him rare and sincere. This was his emotive factor. He consistently sustained these 3 elements, scoring and drawing record spectators in 20 years of playing. After retirement he was an active writer, selector and administrator for 30 years. Today he’s acknowledged as the greatest batsman. This was Don Bradman. With just 20 years of active sportsmanship, his sustainability is proven as he’s repeated as the reference of cricket for all time.

A manufacturer’s self surrender of quality defects sustains Emotional Surplus: A car manufacturer recalled millions of sold cars when sudden failure or defects were detected in them. This high sensitivity to address the rational engineering factor that’s not visible to the buyer proves that the company is proactive and extremely conscious about quality. Competitors have predicted its downfall, but consumers have not walked out. They are confident of always being delivered the high balance of rational, functional and emotive attributes without complacency. When you are sincere to your consumer, your mistake is considered as learning. People have never forsaken Toyota.

If you consciously address the 3 attributes in higher ground, a sudden fall can also revive Emotional Surplus delivery: A thoughtful inventor went through turbulence, even quit from the company he created after a power struggle with his Board of Directors. He next founded NeXT, which his previous company bought in 1996. So he returned to become CEO again in the parent company. A few years ago this company’s balance sheet was in the red. Applying intensity in innovation, he injected very high quality, functionality beyond expectation, and outstandingly sober looks into their new generation products. Consumers held their breath, and this company became synonymous with how commoditized digital technology products can acquire value leading to high aspiration for all classes of people in the world. It even entered the arena of entertainment that Sony had dominated for 2 decades, until earlier this week when Sony declared it could no longer keep up with the digital market. You’ve guessed it, that’s Steve Jobs and his sinful Apple.

Dazzling advertising cannot sell high priced branded daily products that lack Emotional Surplus attributes: In my different interactions with consumers, they have often expressed that they don’t see any quality and efficacy difference between big brands and lower priced products. After watching TV advertising they may buy the branded product once or twice, but easily shift local or pirated products as they find them cheaper and with similar quality. When a big brand pays no attention to higher performance through product engineering in blind tests, either for quality or functionality, it falls into the trap growth and profit saturation. Glittery TV commercials with film stars cannot compensate product deficiency. That’s why such brands cannot enjoy repeat purchase in a sustaining way. A number of brands in India are suffering this trauma.

You may spend huge amount of money for market research to get some report. But if the managers don’t go to experience consumers from the bedroom to the toilet, kitchen to the living room, they will never be able to admire the real deficiency consumers feel. In India where brand piracy is common and low priced products proliferate in everyday usage products, it is extremely important to differentiate with a scientific high blend of the rational quality, perceivable functionality then adequate emotive factors.

That’s why Emotional Surplus has the very tedious, hard working job of bringing the high balance of quality, functionality and likeability.

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Posted on 24-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Through the 1970s in Europe, I observed several new brands take birth and just as fast disappear into market oblivion. Advertising had poster girls and boys trying to mesmerise people in all-consuming products. Jumping at the opportunity to shift from my sweeping job outside Paris to becoming a paste up artist in 1977, I soon realised that I was a misfit in advertising. Advertising would conjure up big emotion in 30-second commercials. My discomfort was that consumers don’t buy ads, they buy a product or service that is composed of quality, functionality and the good-looking factor.

By the 1980s, when people were rejecting the superficial glamour of products, I was changing professions to gain expertise in branding, industrial design, retail design, strategy planning to hard core consulting. I started by quitting the drawing table and meeting rooms to visit people’s kitchens, living and dining rooms. I regularly went into unisex coiffeur saloons to hear captive people chat. Conversations were peppered with personal experiences and intimate details. The topics were starkly different in the public park benches where the aged congregate. You’ll hear of health or social security not being good.

Since I didn’t have formal degrees in marketing and management, I proactively took the initiative to observe, understand and learn from people, and this grew to become a passion in me. I was certain that a thinktank strategy presented with an overhead projector and downloaded to the masses through advertising is not the way to go. The offer to the consumer must have some extra benefit that’s perceptible in the product or service itself. From the moment of purchase, people should feel or experience that extra benefit the product promises. So instead of selling creativity, I was explaining to clients about the consumers’ way of life, how their daily life goes through high or low morale, daily routine, economic crisis, health problems, work tension, family stress, social pressure, general depression, monotonous life and what their moment of decision or purchase is. The European market started to reflect me as ‘casseur de code, meaning “the man who breaks the code”. Another name I got was the ‘outsider’ approach. But my clients were hypnotised.

Keeping the consumer at centrestage and making disruption the core principal, I started Shining Consulting in 1984 in Paris to deliver branding, industrial design, retail and corporate culture change solutions. Doubts were expressed about the sustainability of the disruptive work we had done. Was it fashion or hype? It seems our green branding and creating the pro-biotic Bio (later Activia) in 1986 broke the code of the white yoghurt market and created a culture shock in Europe. Among other examples, Activia has become one of the most profitable food brands in the world.

When in the 1990s, professionals were finding our disruptive work to deliver sustainability, global management institutes and professional bodies were inviting me to different countries to explain my adventure with disruption. Intrigued with my uncommon experience with consumers, small intellectual circles would pull me in to speak at their discussion sessions. They encouraged me to develop this platform that delivers extra benefit to my clients and their customers. In such a circle, the very insightful Bernard Gaud, managing director of Yoplait, the direct competitor of Danone, whom I’ve been working for on a continuous basis, said I should dig out the scientific process of our work delivery as it was very sustainable, not just branding as people seemed to think. When working for Evian water, managing director Philippe Ramboud said, “You do something beyond just thinking, strategy and design. You should find and capture what that is.” As proof of success was already there, he said I should research our work with sociologists, psychologists and trend forecasters to define its real consulting substance.

When I researched our disruptive, sustaining value delivery, professionals scientifically explained three absorbing and consuming mind states with two satisfaction layers: receptivity to an immediate, dazzling aspect, and the subtle, sober absorption that grows in the mind with time. They said artificial bulldozing through media creates hype that slowly dies. But subtle and sober content is substantial and grows in people’s mind. According to them, this content is intangible, yet it reflects a perceptible tangibility in the user’s mind. This intangible aspect is quality, the source of any selling proposition. People cannot see this quality when they first interface the brand; it becomes perceptible on usage. The intangible part that slowly becomes tangible is the rational aspect that’s interpreted as quality and leads to repurchase.

I started to demystify their explanation. I realised that our way of looking at the consumer’s daily lifecycle, lifestyle and livelihood was being conscious of the product’s quality, how this intangible quality gets magnified at the moment of purchase and becomes perceptible at the time of consuming. The functionality of the product is its physical experience, and its looks comprise its likeability, which is emotive.

From this understanding I crafted our delivered experience with three attributes—intangible quality, functionality and likeability. In fact, if a product or service does not have this three-element high blend, that brand will not get repeat purchase. The three-attribute balance can create a surplus value, which is sustainable; the consumer will return to buy the brand as her attachment to it becomes timeless. I coined this as ‘Surplus du Emotionnel’, which in French was sounding very elevated. When I discussed with Anglophone people, surplus was something negative, an overdose they said. Then I figured that as emotion can be excessive, why not an overdose of emotion because of the added value of the three attributes? This is disruptive. Finally, at a conference in Hong Kong, it came out that Emotional Surplus is credible for its sustaining factor in business, and I officially established Emotional Surplus in 1993. Whatever the business you are in, if you are cautious, the high blend of these three factors—quality (non-visible, rational), functionality (experience that is relevant) and emotive factor (looks good), will ensure your consumer or B2B customer will always return for repeat purchase. This is Emotional Surplus.

To download above article in PDF Please Genesis of emotional surplus in 1993

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Posted on 17-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

The extreme politeness and service attitude of the Japanese can completely bowl you over. After some casual conversation about the fascinating Japanese breakfast at my hotel in Tokyo, as I was getting off the lift, one of the reception managers rushed to touch my feet. Totally unnerved, “What, wha… ?” I stuttered. Immediately stepping back I discovered that my shoe laces had opened, and he was trying to help tie them. Never have I seen such courtesy, except perhaps in the Japanese trains. Unlike the underground or metros in different parts of the world, in Japan people are quiet and gracious, I’ve never seen anyone speak on a mobile phone when traveling, and they readily accommodate one another so everyone can travel together in comfort. Even in the early morning or midnight, black-suited young, middle aged and old men stand out in their plenty. Just as many travelers are black-suited or formally dressed women all going to or from work.

“In America my father would come home for supper every day, and we’d spend two weekend days together,” said Kuniko, an office clerk at a store in Tokyo. She recalls her childhood spent in New Jersey. “Our family bonding was joyful like Americans. But when we moved to Tokyo, my sisters and I barely would meet him for weeks together.” Being the head of a gas station, her father went to work on Sundays too, “So he never ever came to our school events and I hardly know my father now,” she says.

Actually her father is not very different from the thousands of office goers in Japan who board an underground train at 7 am and return home at midnight. The Japanese passion for hard work is legendary, being a workaholic has emerged as corporate culture that’s appreciated. The longer employees stay at work every day, the better rewarded they are with bonus and overtime perquisites. You’re in your boss’s good books if you leave office after him, which generally becomes 11 pm.

Not being able to cope up with the demanding 14-15 work hours plus family responsibilities, most women prefer to quit work on getting married or to raise a family. Kuniko speaks excellent English and had risen to become a section manager of the departmental store she worked in. After childbirth she first returned to part time work, so was given a lower, clerical position. “When I started leaving office at 6 in the evening to pick up my baby from the crèche, people would look at me like I was an alien,” she recounts. “For me, my family is my first priority. Even if I get more salary, if I have to stay long, I will not take up that job. I need to balance and manage my family and work.” No promotions have come her way since, although she’s back to normal hours, while her male counterparts have leapt ahead by burning the midnight oil. Although such gender discriminations exist, Japan’s traditional society is averse to litigation, and social attitudes respect women’s household role.

Immediately after World War II, Japanese women started to participate in the labour force. Today, about 50% of all women have paid work in service, wholesale and retail trades, eating and drinking places, and secondary industry like manufacturing. This percentage is higher than most countries. But reaching positions of authority in managerial roles largely remains the preserve of black-suited salarymen. According to the UN International Labor Organization, women held just 6.6% management jobs in Japanese companies and government in 1985, which rose to just 10.1 percent in 2005, whereas in the US at the same time, women held 42.5% of all managerial jobs.

Japan’s demanding, morning-to-midnight corporate culture is the expectation of its dominating middle management where productivity is very high. According to a 1988 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, management development systems in Japan’s leading corporations have produced executives and managers who are commonly acknowledged to be among the best in the world, although how these systems operate is not well understood. Although the Japanese always listen to their superiors, when it comes to decision making, they discuss a matter threadbare and have several consensus rounds, everybody in the room has to agree to a point, and unless that happens they don’t move on. In contrast, the Chinese are very shrewd and quick, and the senior most in America has the authority to take decisions.

The top management can be quite different in Japan, they move about in business trips, socialize in business lunches and dinners to develop relationships with their customers. The middle level stays stodgily at work, shape policy, send more than 100 – 200 emails a day with lots of conferences and meetings and drive the Japanese working style. They take the responsibility to maintain harmony so employees can work together in a “uchi soto” or “us and them” situation, that means working in groups and teams. This term can also translate as “we Japanese” dealing with an international “them” in the globalizing situation.

The business and social cultures among Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima are a bit different from one another. In Osaka they talk a lot, joke, laugh, express their feelings directly. But people are more reserved in Tokyo which is more commercial. As a society, the Japanese are humble, they are polite, understated and don’t shout. In fact, in their wonderful fast trains, nobody talks, but you will observe a large number of commuters extremely engrossed in reading novels. The Japanese characters are in large print in these 4”x6” books, and I found a lot of them are illustrated comic books. Sitting next to an old gentleman as he pored over the comic book, I got curious and peeked into what absorbed him so. Lo and behold, it was a pornographic comic book! A thought flashed by: if Japan with 99% literacy, as per UNDP’s 2009 report, needs illustrations for easy comprehension of this subject, how long will it take India’s piracy pushers to deliver the same to the 44% of our people who are unlettered?


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Posted on 10-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Cherry blossoms and high technology, Mount Fuji and dazzling neon lights are all iconic images of Japan, the world’s second largest economy. But slums in this $5 trillion GDP country? Can such a cocktail exist? Nobody would believe it, not even people in Japan. Yet if you walk down Kamagasaki in Osaka, you cannot escape the desolate old faces and stink of urine in this affluent commercial capital of Japan.

Dilapidated, small lanes of Osaka’s Nishinari ward are home to thousands of homeless men of average age 60 years. I actually saw them scrounging large waste bins for food. A scraggly, grey-haired man found a disposable plastic container and licked stale gravy off it, another was vigorously shaking a Coke can into his upturned mouth in the hope of a left-over drop, while two others in soiled clothes fought over a cigarette butt on the pavement that was long enough to give a couple of puffs. As you get off the train station, you’ll find Sun Plaza hotel where you have to take off your shoes, and wear the slippers they provide you at the door to walk a few feet to its reception. I could only gauge that it’s to prevent the mud on the feet of the neighbourhood grimy men from dirtying their premises.

Japan, the most technologically advanced producer of cars, electronics, machine tools, ships, steel, chemicals, textiles and processed foods, has the majority of its economy based on the service sector. These old men came to Kamagasaki either by choice or compulsion to populate the construction service sector. These casual labourers, if lucky, get into trucks that come at dawn to pick up whatever number of them is required at some house building site. All of them have some sad, personal story, either of failed marriages, being outcast by the family over property tussles, financial ruin or ill health. Kamagasaki’s tuberculosis infection rate is said to be three in every 100 residents, about 40 times the national average. Extreme poverty afflictions here where 2 die every day include hepatitis C, high blood pressure, alcoholism, depression and drug addition.

The difference in this slum, they say, is that 95% are educated, and you don’t see women and children here. These aged elders are too proud to return to their families in penniless conditions. I saw veterans with thick, unclean glasses reading torn newspapers in the daytime. Japan’s culture of discipline is ingrained in people on the breadline too. By about 3pm, they grab roadside space in advance by lining up their bedding or rucksack at the edge of a large public building’s open ground floor. This is a prime begging spot. Office-going commuters getting off the train will pass by here to go home, and are likely to give alms to the destitute. Kamagasaki actually has several paid public lockers in which the shelter-less can keep whatever small belongings they have. Catering to them are vending machines too, and flea markets that suddenly appear selling second-hand clothes and cheap toiletries and cigarettes.

I’d heard of Tokyo’s high-tech slums, and was shocked to actually see them on a recent visit. As per UN-HABITAT, a slum is a run-down city area with squalor and substandard housing, lacking in tenure security. Parts of Tokyo has housing that is cramped, about 400,000 people use public bath houses as they have no toilets at home, and modern buildings co-exist with older urban landscape in slum-like suburbs of Chiba, Saitama and Ibaraki. I’ve even witnessed the homeless sleeping on the street in prime areas like under the Yurakucho station on the Yamanote line near the impressive Tokyo International Forum.

Our planet’s human population is 6.5 billion where the number of slum dwellers is shooting up to be 2 billion by 2030. In Mumbai alone the slum growth rate is larger than urban growth rate. Currently, 55% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums, which cover only 6% of its land. Isn’t it time we took stock of this alarming situation? Although not all slum dwellers are poor, the UN has warned that unplanned, unsanitary settlements threaten political stability and trigger an explosion of social problems.

To download above article in PDF Please Shadow behind the opulence

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Posted on 03-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit


There’s a difference between aesthetics and visual art. Aesthetics is difficult to define as it exists in nature and the human form. Visual art is the composition of human intelligence that adapts as different things in people’s mind, and expresses them in collage form. Visual art is human expression with any kind of material in the form of art.

Visual art drives the economy through industrial design: For long, engineering products have improved human life. In today’s competitive scenario, differentiation through industrial design is what breaks the benchmark. Industrial design, a combination of applied art and applied science that improves marketability and production by incorporating visual art, ergonomics and product usability, drives a developed country’s economy. Automobiles, two-wheelers, phones, home appliances, office furniture, electronics, medical equipment, tools, machinery and transportation, are all empowered by visual art. Originating in Europe, established manufacturers have prioritised creating differentiation in industrial design through visual art aesthetics. Later, US, Japan and Korea followed suit.

Visual art in all design touch points: When people reach a certain economic level, they get involved with different engineering products as extensions of life. So, strong visual art in every touch point counts as it makes them feel they are surrounded with unique things. The collage of materials and textures in multiple elements play as visual art in an engineering product’s visible areas of design.

Visual art starts from non-visible areas: It’s not enough to address the overall visible aspect of a product with external visual aesthetics. When a consumer opens a car’s bonnet to find that its hidden mechanical engineering components are not well designed with visual art, he can lose consideration in the vehicle and its aspiration. Should your washing machine require repair, and the technician comes and opens its panel and you find the chamber inside looks untidy, exposing no visual art, you’ll never consider this brand to be aspirational. Psychologically, in your next purchase, you will not buy the same brand. That’s because washing itself is a chore, and this product’s inner functionality corroborates that tedious task. Visual art is so powerful that no engineer with an aesthetic sense will leave non-visible industrial design areas devoid of it. French sculptor César proved that even scraps of metal can have visual art. He astonished art lovers by showing three crushed cars at a Paris exhibition. César selected particular elements for crushing and mixing from differently coloured vehicles to control the surface pattern and colour scheme of his works. He became renowned for his Compressions.

Visual art in industrial product retails: The retail outlets of even sophisticated industrial products are still very archaic. I recently visited Reebok in London where they ingeniously used the yellow corrugated, zigzag shoe sole of their latest design to decorate the entire store and façade, calling it Reezig. This gave the shoe a dimension larger than life, and demonstrated how a single touch point can be magnified to mesmerise consumers. This is the way visual art can change the retail character of industrial products.

Free from user manuals: The 21st century’s digital technology era has created another phase where the experience of functionality in industrial design is implicit. This means a product’s look and touch should be so compelling that consumers can figure it out instantly without the help of user manuals. As digital technology is commoditising most products, the importance of differentiation through engineering design is becoming a prime factor where visual art plays the central role.

The partly-slanted mud table: In designing industrial products, I strongly respect engineering rationalities, even as I deploy my palette of colours, always co-opting visual art. The inspiration probably comes from my mother who made me an 18-inch, partly-slanted reading table with mud. I could sit on the floor and keep my books on it. Saying poverty is no excuse for ugliness, she’d obsessively keep everything very aesthetically, particularly swabbing my table with cow dung water everyday. The monsoon season invariably broke down everything. When water would lash into our bamboo-walled, thatched-roofed mud house, her priority was always to remake my slanting table. Later when I attended my gorgeous British architecture art college in Kolkata and went on to become a designer in Paris, I came to realise my mother’s sense of visual art in design in that slanted mud table. My childhood training has grown in me, as I breathe visual art in my way of life today.

Beyond 2+2=4: An engineering product design that’s associated with visual art has high and unlimited appeal, beyond the 2+2=4 equation. India requires massive numbers of engineering designers with the capacity to transform an engineering design to a selling proposition that’s driven by visual art. There’s great potential for such careers that command attractive salaries. But the product’s quality, functionality and performance can never be compromised for the duration of its lifespan in consumer or professional usage as per its industry standard. In mass production, visual art is a very decisive factor for business success.

To download above article in PDF Please Visual art to transform engineering products

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