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 26-10-2014
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

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

It’s started raining on digital technology. Arriving for an early morning flight, I started rubbing my eyes at the airport. Am I sleeping or dreaming? No, it’s real! The famous Walkman inventor is cooling his newly launched mobile phone in water inside a display box to prove its unique rainproof character.

Yester-generation’s Japanese Sultan of electro-mechanical Walkman device, who was upstaged by American burger digi-tech Emperor, is trying to avoid showing commoditised digital images. Instead, with rain falling on mobile phones, Sultan is bringing back Gene Kelly’s 1950s tap dance idea, “I’m singin’ in the rain.” Apart from shapely Bollywood heroines getting rain-drenched being obvious, I don’t know whether people require phones in the water. Although Sylvio Berlusconi would love it for his bunga-bunga underwater sex parties. However throwing cold water on digi-tech reinforces my digital skeleton idea. Sultan has understood that make believe with digital image advertising is not working anymore because digi-tech is just a skeleton. So rainfall on mobile phones gives customers distinct benefit.

Another airport wait, 3 hours in Heathrow for connection to Paris, was enough to compare oversize digital screen advertisements of perfume cosmetics brands like Dior, YSL, Estee Lauder, among others. Through a dreamy route they’re taking women to planet hedonism. What was disturbing me was identifying the excessive digital effects in every advertising image: same lighting style, same post production digital retouching of a picture or footage in the computer. From the technical embellishment perspective, all the different ads resembled one another. Lots of global enterprises have still not understood that digi-tech is just a skeleton. Their digital interface is commoditising the inner value of entertainment that the masses experience, making it all look similar.

Advertising that creates make believe by manipulating or stretching a subject earlier needed some artistic sense and multiple craftsmanship. The physical shooting floor stage involving set designers, light-men, sound creators is getting obsolete now. The other day I met an old Parisian friend who makes background sound effects for films, a profession he inherited from his father. I loved his surprising magical sessions with different illogical instruments on the floor of a huge room. In front of a projection screen he’d watch the soundless movie and integrate sound into it as per the film’s action. The numerous instruments created by him looked really spectacular, like today’s installation art. Watching him skilfully chafe ultra-violet coated satin to produce a recordable swish or strangely pull wire-string on some hollow instrument to emit an obtuse howl was itself an entertaining movie. This was his livelihood and passion, which, he sorrowfully narrated, is fading. His 2 children are not interested, so his collection of sound effects instruments has rusted and become antique. He said with digital technology everything’s readymade in the digital disk so anybody can make sound effects. Just imagine, films now have no background sound differentiation.

So many artistic domains are getting massacred due to over-usage of digital technology, the killer of human passion, craftsmanship, knowhow and creative distinction.

At the same time we cannot ignore the advantage of digital content vs. celluloid film which was cumbersome, extremely costly and you had to wait a couple of days to develop the film. With digi-tech advancement, film output is instantaneous, there’s time saving, cost effectiveness and physical effort reduction. The main point is to use digi-tech as the skeleton that it is. It provides the strong base on which flesh can be added, the flesh of human skill and creativity. The human interface should not look digital.

In my branding and advertising experience in Western society, we have to have calligraphic expertise to design a brand name or effective caption. Hungarian professor Paul Gabor taught me the grammar and architecture of typography. There are 4 basics: Gothic, Roman, Antique, Elzevir. After learning these basics, with freehand drawing skill you can start making fantastic typographic work which becomes distinctive for a brand. Later from my colleague, famous French font designer Albert Boton, I learnt that font face just makes the text, not the brand. Branding requires distinctive typographic character for the brand to become iconic in time. From Bauhaus, the radical German design influencer, to Raymond Loewy, father of industrial and brand design, to celebrated designers Gordon Lippincott and Walter Landor, nobody has ever used readymade typography for brand design.

Just to illustrate, my design team and I never allow readymade fonts usage for brands we create, eg. Activia of Danone, Isio4 the famous 4-blend French cooking oil, Greek dairy brand Delta, Remy Martin’s armagnac Cles des Luc, Argentina’s Bagley biscuits, Marico’s Parachute, Britannia, Wipro, Lewis Berger, among others. Our expertise of designing by hand gives brands specific character from typography we develop so that its exact likeness cannot be found anywhere else in the globe. A brand name with its identity has to carry some timeless property which creates its authentic value. More authentic the identity creation, the better is it for commercial protection from plagiarism, for financial results, upto the brand’s deeper timelessness.

Typographic skill is given scant attention nowadays. A computer geek can quickly design a technical brand, giving you multiple font options. Every fresh marketer in Indian companies asks this from design houses to choose a brand’s typography; variety takes precedence over unique typeface expertise. Rarely would you find hand calligraphy in professional work today. Such skill and expertise are verging into oblivion, commoditizing the brand. Let’s take an analogy. Staple food like rice, wheat, pasta, bread will always be there, you cannot eat digital pasta. Similarly, creative base fundamentals will remain, digi-tech cannot and should not replace human creativity. Creative ingenuity should be allowed to flourish, with digi-tech remaining its skeleton, otherwise all artistic work will become incestuous, looking the same.

Art has always been considered a form of expressive liberation. Digital technology interface should not contaminate this artistic liberty and expression by commoditizing our individual expression and living style. I reckon 2025 will see the digital graveyard even as we embrace the digital skeleton.

Click here  : Digital skeleton To download above article in PDF

Source :  The Indian Express

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Posted on 19-10-2014
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

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

Acoustic sound in music is incomparable, I love it. It’s uncluttered by electric or electronic technology, or by overproduction that excessively uses audio effects. I’ve always liked the harmonica, the smallest and simplest of free reed instruments because it’s totally acoustic. Of course I’m keen on Western modern music too, including hard rock.

What fascinates me in Western music is their outstanding, scientific method of harmonization. Europeans invented harmonization where multiple instruments play a given music in different scales but the musical output convergence is one. The harmonica or mouth organ’s advantage over all instruments is that it’s extremely expressive; you can dramatically alter each note’s tone and pitch to create musical magic by blowing and drawing.

When the harmonica is the solo musical device in a Western symphony orchestra, it looks quite incongruous to audiences. The conductor’s orchestration of larger instruments like violins, double bass, saxophones all hang on the lead music emanating from the little mouth organ that’s mostly not visible in the closed palm of the player, but its marvelous for harmonization. The harmonica’s beginnings go back to Sheng, a Chinese instrument using bamboo reeds invented a few thousand years ago. Sheng came to Europe late 18th century. Instrument maker Christian Buschmann created Aura, a similar instrument with metal reeds, while the modern harmonica of ten holes, two metal reed plates was invented by an European named Richter around 1825. Germany’s Hohner first started mass producing the harmonica, and continues to be the leader. After Matthias Hohner introduced 19th century America to the harmonica, its popularity rose. Being cheap and easy to carry, it became perfect for black slaves, whose uninhibited spiritual music is the root of American popular music and the blues genre.

I was watching an interview with Charlie McCoy, one of my favourite, and among America’s pioneering blues harmonica players from Nashville ‘Music City’ Tennessee. He’s accompanied Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, among others. Explaining the time around 1960s when mono or stereo recordings were done, he said all musicians had to unfailingly practice for these one-shot recordings. Musicians had to be more meticulous and precise for recordings than stage performances. If one among multiple musicians makes a mistake on stage, others can correct it. But a recording does not tolerate errors because a disc is cut for permanency. Any mistake, the recoding had to restart. McCoy said the big thrill of displaying your expertise and ability to harmonize with other instruments in a musical session is what he misses in today’s digital era.

Everything’s recorded separately nowadays. You hear many instruments in a song, but those musicians may never have known one another. Say a saxophone player is hired; he’ll come alone to play just his part in the playback musical track. It’s also possible that an intelligent music programmer will say to the producer, why do you need the saxophone player? My digital keyboard has everything; I can play whatever musical instrument you need, so you don’t need any musician to make your recording. The danger of course is that we are going to lose out on the knowhow. Suppose there are no saxophone players that the new generation can look up to because it’s all programmed, how are new musicians going to learn? When the big studios and great sound engineers retire, will the knowledge have been passed?

In today’s clinical way of recording, the live, unplanned, theatrical musical effect that emerges extempore when musicians play together can never happen. We’ve lost that on-the-spot musical drama that inspired or provoked musicians create. Digital technology has barbarously killed the emotion of musicians in a recording studio. In fact digitization is the barbarian responsible for killing many musical careers. Individual players of specialized instruments like the trumpet, drums, different types of percussion, piano, organ, harp, violin, bass guitar among others have had to put aside their competencies to pursue other jobs.

But digi-tech has had the exact opposite effect on sound engineering. The clarity of sound output, its blending and mix have become extremely powerful and without parallel to earlier times.

You may find I’m writing with an archaic attitude, pouring cold water on the invaluable invention of digital technology without which the world will literally come to a standstill today. Actually, that’s not true. I’m the technology world’s biggest admirer, but my discomfort is in digital technology knocking out the value and competence of human expertise. That’s an extremely dangerous trend for tomorrow’s creators and inventors in different domains. In music, singers like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong among others have deeply impacted many generations, but such commanding musicians have not appeared in the digi-tech era these last 20 years.

As a music lover, I love digi-tech for enabling us to enjoy all the world’s music on our mobile handsets. But that’s exactly what’s killing individual musicians and the music world’s emotion that McCoy lamented about. Music producers no longer need to track musicians for recordings. Musical shows even cheat spectators when singers just make mouth movements of pre-recorded songs while dancing on stage with myriad effects.

Musical sound by itself was hallucinating to listen to, but songs can never be successful today without music videos. Here’s the musician’s plight: passionately build expertise but that pays nothing because music producers are not interested. You have to upload your music free of cost in YouTube. You know the number of hits you get, but will never know if people really liked your music.

Hohner in Germany must be using highly advanced digital technology today to manufacture harmonicas. But I still see their new harmonica having the same acoustic style of 45 years ago. This illustrates that technology has not disturbed the individual musician’s interface with the harmonica and the acoustic sound it delivers. That’s how digi-tech should be, not more than a mere skeleton, definitely not the killer of creativity. We have to know how to perfectly exploit technology at the backend to make it a strong skeleton.

Click here  : Digital Barbarian To download above article in PDF

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express

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Posted on 12-10-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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

Discomfort from Church domination led Italians to pursue an individualistic approach. Disrespecting religious taboos, they embraced art, science, literature and philosophy to begin the Renaissance period, injecting colour in every design element.

This infusion of colour is so deep rooted in every Italian psyche that when I egged on my dressed-David-statue look-alike Italian friend to enter our Painter CEO Club, he subconsciously painted Mediterranean blue of the sea, green of the hills, orange of the sky at sunset. Yes he’s a CEO in India. That’s why I invited him to display his artistic mindset through colours on a canvas, something that 59 CEOs, Managing Directors and Chairmen have already done. Take a look:

Or did my dressed-David paint his favorite Sardinia, his wife’s Mediterranean home? My experiential learning of Italian design techniques got heightened when his 84-year-old father-in-law, Mr. Meloni took us back from AD to BC. He trudged us up to a primeval granite shelter called Nuraghe Majori. Made of piled boulders without any joining material, its rooms, passages, steps to a turret were still decipherable. Sardinia’s hallmark is its unique Bronze Age Nuragica Civilization dating 1800-1100 BC. There once were 10,000 megalithic stone dolmens scattered across the island depicting creative, innovative use of materials and techniques of prehistoric architecture. Just imagine, this ancient foundation of Italian design is transcending to their day-to-day culture today.

Mr Meloni’s spirit of exposing the old was inexhaustible. On a sunny day we went to “Olivastro di Luras” possibly the world’s oldest olive tree of 11.20 meter girth, aged 3500+ years. Speckled light falling under the tree displayed its exquisite bio-design; it was like an expedition to discover living history. Mr Meloni explained differences in trees of thousands of years ago. India’s banyan has multiple roots emanating from branches that spread to become trees, whereas olive trees have just one trunk and root penetrating underground, its age recorded in the rings of its trunk. Perhaps there’s some relationship between Italian individualism and the olive tree’s single trunk, whereas the banyan seems to accommodate a few generations of an Indian joint family living together.

Hilarious was our trip to Mr Meloni’s farm. Driving his small, 4-wheel drive Fiat Panda car, he sped us down winding roads without a single pothole, traversing the beauty of virgin greenery. In 45 minutes we arrived at his undulating farmland where plenty of cows were grazing. A huge metal gate was locked. He gave the key to my dressed-David friend. It’s important to tell you that on our return, he got off the steering wheel to personally lock the gate to be 100% sure. With typical Italian-Mediterranean hand gesture and a wink, dressed-David indicated how his father-in-law had no confidence on anybody when it came to his cows.

We entered the farm, my wife and Italian friendrushed to greet the cows. Watching from my camera lens, I saw the cows were going away. Well, my wife’s a brown foreigner, but how could they refuse to reciprocate an Italian Psychology Doctorate from Cambridge? Mr Meloni behind me was chuckling childishly. When he appeared in my camera, in a beautiful voice he called, “Bey! Bey!” Believe me, all the cows immediately turned to surround him, as though they were conversing, nudging to get closer to him. My wife laughed, but David-look-alike was totally disappointed. He dramatically bemoaned in heavy Italian accent and perfect English that even being a loving son-in-law, the cows didn’t care. I really enjoyed capturing this mutually loving attitude of the animals and Mr Meloni on video.

Unlike French society, I find that Italy’s incredible theatre reputation goes beyond the stage into real life. Their day-to-day practical living is extremely dramatic, from body gesture to spoken language to dressing style, transcending to their toilet, kitchen, bedroom, living room. You can understand grand Italian culture from famous cine directors Fellini or Ettore Scola, actors Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman. Of course let’s not forget their political drama, from former President Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga nude underwater parties with nubile girls, to Cicciolina, the prostitute who became Italian Minister of Parliament in 1987. When Cicciolina went on official visits to different countries, she’d dramatically bare her breasts at the airport. She openly offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in return for world peace. In every aspect of Italian life there’s drama that’s not artificial, but real social life. It’s really spectacular.

Easter Sunday lunch was an incredible 4-hours of true Sardinian-North Italian atmosphere surrounded by dressed-David’s extended family and some friends. When I accompanied my friend to bring the food, I figured we were going to a caterer. But, no. His wife had ordered special food from different friends’ homes. They cooked for us, each dish had unique character. Fraternity like this is a symbol of Italian Mediterranean breeze. I’ve never seen it in France. I’m not sure this can happen in mainland Italy either.

What touched me while returning home was dressed-David’s affectionate conjugal gesture. He suddenly stopped the car at a slope, climbed the mountain’s edge, cut some wild lavender flowers with a knife from his pocket. That he’d planned to embellish his wife’s Easter lunch table with Sardinia’s fragrance is another example of Italian elegance. Such cultural aesthetics is embedded in Italian living style. We dined in full view of the valley, mountains with plenty of “cidre de Liban” and cork trees so bountiful in Sardinia. Then in village Luras we visited his sister-in-law’s ancestral home. Entering a centuries-old house and feeling family continuity in every corner was more hallucinating than visiting Versailles Palace.

My Italian experience can fill a book, but let me conclude my learning of design from 5 countries:  France on making every selling proposition aspirational and disruptive, Germany on precision and process, Americans taught me industrial scale, Japan about miniaturization and embellishment and Italians, elegance and artistic sense. Such learning is relevant to our country’s new mantra of developing our peoples’ skills and capability so the world can come to “Make in India.”

To Download a FREE PDF copy Click here My Sardinian sojourn

Source : The Indian Express


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Posted on 05-10-2014
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

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

Let me continue my experiential learning of Italian design, so full of artistic sense and elegance, through travels with my Michael Angelo’s David sculpture look-alike Italian friend. The only difference, unfortunately, is that my friend always turns up in chic dressing style, whereas David exhibits his anatomical splendour sans clothes.

We first arrived in Milan and met his graceful wife, an entrepreneur scientist with her own research laboratory. What struck me on entering her workplace is simple arrangements, outstanding decor and subtle touches of orange everywhere, her signature colour. Scientists here were working on American Mac computers, their screens exposing high-tech scientific sense; but all of that was overshadowed by her Italian design touch, even in a scientific lab.  I call this the Italian art of working and living.  Before taking the flight to Olbia, her welcome breakfast at their urbane home was aromatic coffee and special Milanese Easter dome cake. That’s when I realised the importance of different types of bread, all artistically designed, for various occasions and cuisines in Italy.

Looking down the aircraft window at Sardinia’s islands over the blue-green Mediterranean Sea was exhilarating. We drove through total greenery to the entrepreneur scientist’s native village in Luras village. Her 84-year-old father, Mr Meloni, explained to us how Northern, Central and Southern Italian cultures are very different; of course Sardinia being an island has even more dissimilarities. On our first day at lunch we were served pane carasau, a thin and crisp, half-meter wide Sardinian bread, and heard of other Sardinian breads like pane con gerda, civraxiu, moddizzosu. My question to Mr Meloni was, how come there are more than 20 bread styles in Italy, in different creative shapes, sizes and ingredients including coppia ferrarese dating back to 1287, fragguno eaten on Easter Sunday, focaccia, pandoro, taralli, penia, piadina, ciabatta, cecina, grissini? Across the south, east, north and west of France we have only 3 types of bread, pain, baguette and pain a la campagne. His incisive reply was that unity had come very early to France as a nation post the 1789 French Revolution, so everybody eats the same breads. But Italy did not have this unity, different regions continue to practice their own culture. Historical phenomenon translated to social eating habits was indeed a great education. My take is that this Mediterranean wave, which starts from the daily basic staple of bread, is another reason for Italian versatility and creativity in design.

In our frequent philosophical conversations I have asked my clothed-David friend to narrate how Italian art has penetrated across Mediterranean society, from religion, art, politics to social life. Here’s what he said: “You have to go back many centuries and understand the role played by religion and the Church. At its origin, religion created its role to protect man from adversities of natural calamities supposedly created by Gods to punish mankind’s misbehavior. There was no way out in this life, so believers were asked to obey the Gods via the priests to have a better life after death. This went on for centuries till for social, political, philosophical reasons man started playing a role for himself due to commerce. Commerce brought an end to the war, fought feudalism and started to instill in people the idea that life on earth has a value in itself. The Roman Church was clever enough to proactively play a political and cultural role in that period: on one side it invested in art and culture with the marvelous pieces of art in Rome and on the other it strengthened its power and avoided any Reform at the core of its world.”

My clothed-David continued, “The Roman Church played a pivotal role in Italian society upto the 19th century, its political role is still extremely powerful. Although the Christian faith drives Italian society, certain ‘illuminated minds’ started to question the silent obedience to faith and the Church for a better afterlife. This started a cultural movement in Italy where an artistic environment developed around the 14th to 17th century. Called the Renaissance, this later spread to the rest of Europe and led to the neoclassic movement called Hellenism. This approach started to trickle down to lower levels but it never became public due to the power of the Church. So it was an individualistic reaction which is still strong and growing. We developed an individualist approach based on Mediterranean culture and lifestyle: individualistic which relates back to the seeds of the Renaissance, disrespectful vis-a-vis the power of the Church, and colorful based on the marvelous landscape and much better solar weather we enjoy in Italy compared to Northern Europe.”

That such artistic pursuit engulfs every area of Italian life till today is evident from my clothed-David’s mother-in-law.  A slim 82-year-old with lots of wrinkle lines on her face, I could not control complimenting her for being a Sardinian beauty. She looked at her Sardinian husband sweetly and said she’s from Bologne, meaning Northern Italians are inherently more refined than rustic Sardinians. Their house with paintings was like an art gallery, her balcony abloom with varieties of orchids. Her art of sensitively nurturing the orchids, scrolling curtains to give them the correct light conjured up a beautiful scene of neo-classic Italian film after the Great War.  I was never so attracted by orchids until her strong bone structure in twilight recounting stories about the character of each flower gave me the imagery of an Italian Eden island.  She’s conscious about her beauty, brushing and re-clipping strands in her hair if they get ruffled, in exactly the way she wants them disciplined on her aesthetics.

I must say if Michael Angelo was there, he would surely have sculpted her fine-looking timeless face, a face that’s very appealing to artists, including me. I have to continue this artistic Italian rhapsody next week because I am totally downed in the Mediterranean sense which pervades every area of living style till today.

To Download a FREE PDF copy Click here Italian rhapsody

Source : The Indian Express


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Posted on 28-09-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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

Italian art fascinated me when I first discovered it in my Kolkata art college. Coming as I did from my mud-house refugee colony then, I’d considered the solid structured British architecture college building itself to be a place of pilgrimage. Today I can see how it was art alone that saved me from extreme poverty where an important breadwinner in our joint family, my school teacher mother, was quite vulnerable, regularly bleeding from her nose and mouth from malnourishment and overwork.

Somehow I was terrified by school exams; that’s probably why I still have no degree beyond matriculation. But the art college entrance exam was most exciting. We had to draw a human figure in front of the professor, an exercise that our refugee colony neighbour, Subhinoy Uncle, had made me practice since childhood.  Subhinoy Uncle with his outstanding artistic talent was my role model. He couldn’t exploit art for livelihood generation so did some basic level work in electric supply. The incomparable learning I got from him was so vital that it’s like the blood of my art. It allowed me my first leapfrog into Kolkata Government College of Art and Craft.

Our college library exposed to me the high skill of Italian artists. Leonardo da Vinci’s quality of observation captured through sepia Conté drawing of drapery, the natural folds of fabric coming alive with just pencil sketching, made my mind turn upside down. He started my passionate love affair with incredible Mediterranean art and culture of the last 2000 years. Italy taught me artistic sense and elegance in art and industrial design.

Vincent van Gogh’s artistic palette changing from dark Dutch Potato Eaters to bright Sunflowers on arrival in France was my inspirational pull to go to Paris in 1973. So in art, Italy is my mind, France is my heart and Subhinoy Uncle is my blood.

Departing on Air India for Paris, something incredible happened. The air hostess announced a transit in Rome, and do you know what mesmerized me more? The airport’s name was Leonardo da Vinci! I didn’t know that. Actually I didn’t even know the meaning of transit. She said we could stay in the aircraft or disembark. I was enthralled but hesitant; what if plane flies away without me? Then I took the bold step of touching the airport floor. This immediately took me to another planet mentally, my first step on Mediterranean Europe, the country of Raphael, da Vinci, Michael Angelo that I had studied with my pencils in Kolkata Art College. Now here I was at their place, this unforgettable step on Rome airport with its elegant Italian marble flooring. All the money I had with me was $8; but I could not resist buying and posting a postcard to my mother about experiencing Europe. Italy continues to drive me to imbibe artistry and elegance in design.

In 1986 a famous Italian company hired my company to work for their pasta brand. Their Marketing wing was briefing me about how different all pastas are. We visited the factory to see how different shaped pasta come out from the machine. Lunch was organized with the company’s owner who spoke very good French. After lunch he took me back to the factory to show the pasta dough. He trained me on how from the same pasta dough, using the art of design through dissimilar moulds they change the shape and perception. This invites consumers to prepare diverse types of recipes with differently shaped pasta. I found his pasta explanation ingenious; I understood that Italian art and culture starts right from the food they eat. The art of the designs of penne, tripolini, fettuccine, rottini, farfelle, lasagne, tortellili, gnocchi, spaghetti and more were explained for 2 hours by this gentleman. He very often held a single pasta with 2 fingers and showed off its beauty in front of a table lamp. His elaboration on the culture of pasta was to help me express it in the branding. I met with him 6 more times to learn of the aesthetics to the eating enjoyment of pasta.

Having worked for many years with many Italian companies ranging from automobiles to food, FMCG to fashion, I’ve learned that Italian designers of different disciplines always look at any product’s aesthetics from its specific aesthetics angle. Actually I was surprised why such a great design society would call a French company like mine. In response they said the key attraction was the effective way we translated customer centricity into European and global strategy and design. When we worked to make Carapelli Italian olive oil into a global brand, the company allowed us total artistic license.  We translated the olive oil’s origin in Tuscany with very sophisticated imagery and disruptively broke tradition by putting the product in a thin whisky bottle type design so it didn’t look like oil. Only this brave, risk-taking Italian management could accept our new branding and structural packaging which subsequently made olive oil branding history and brought positive returns to the company.

If you walk down an Italian street you’ll rarely find anyone badly dressed. Irrespective of income, Italians seem to psychologically carry an elegance that I’ve not seen in many countries. In the past 18 months I’ve been associated with a terrific Italian whose body structure gives the living idea of Michael Angelo’s David sculpture. With my close affinity to Italian culture, we hit it off instantly; our relationship has transcended to philosophical areas. He invited my wife and me to spend Easter with his in-laws in the beautiful island of Sardinia.  At midnight mass in their parish church, the small village population, from children to geriatrics, was all there. The contrast of this old-style village church with stained-glass holy pictures and modern-dressed locals religiously singing classical hymns was amazing. On my left my wife, on my right my Italian David-featured friend is a pictorial canvas I will never forget. Let me continue to express my learning of Italian aesthetics through the window of this family next week.

To download above article in PDF : Psychologically aesthetic Italians

Source : 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

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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:

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