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Archive for the ‘General Rants’ Category

It’s a common occurrence for people to get annoyed with overused, rarely-understood and highly overrated buzz words. The Trouble With Web 2.0 - Alexander Wilms - Boxes and Arrows
But to know what’s really entertaining, you should try taking a look at large “formal and hierarchical culture” corporations who desperately try to look hip and cool because they adopt “web 2.0” technologies in their existing web applications.

This very interesting article on “The Trouble With Web 2.0” elaborates on what seems to have become a strangely fascinating trend in enterprises. CIOs are talking about it, Senior management in a bunch of companies are trying to show small software services shops are touting it to every prospective client and even PR firms are trying to sell it as an “additional service”. The trouble is: most of these folks think that adding some audio clips, social bookmarks “Digg This! Add to del.icio.us! etc” to their boring, corporate, centralized content generated websites makes them Web 2.0.

The most important and most simple is that corporate behaviours and processes are not changed just by implementing a new IT service. Installing a blog in a formal and hierarchical corporate culture will not change the company in an open and informal community. Web 2.0 patterns will only work if the corporate and even national culture is already responsive to more collaboration and participation or if the implementation is accompanied by other measures to support cultural change.

The entire “collaborative content”, “decentralized knowledge creation” thing seems to be a little lost on monolithic corporations who’ve lived and thrived on an environment of “protect and hide all knowledge until absolutely necessary”. As for the ones that have evolved, they wonder why their brand spanking new Web 2.0 intranet just isn’t being used as much as the old intranet.

What attracts users to donate their time and energy to contribute to Web services like Wikipedia or Flickr while not doing so to corporate services? Psychology and economics teach us that there is no such thing as altruism – whatever people do will create a personal return of value for them. This personal value is measured by individual criteria.

Respect and prestige, personal reputation, political beliefs or desires, and of course monetary incentives influence the decision as to whether their contribution creates this value. People create an article in Wikipedia because they believe that the topic is interesting or important or because they want to see their name in print, and put pictures on Flickr because they want to share them with others, thereby influencing how they are perceived by others.

I agree, the answers on how to solve these issues aren’t here yet – Mindset changes along with the new technology is what’s needed, not just shiny new technology.

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This quote from a recent article on Harvard Business Review pretty much sums up emotions that our entire team is feeling right now:

Great leaders — whether they lead entire organizations or groups within them — leave a legacy that transcends them and cements their contribution to the growth and transformation of their organization.

I’m not talking about being a mere manager here, but a leader. One your team looks up to for all kinds of advice, personal as well as professional. A leader who gently guides you, encourages you, corrects you, doesn’t force ideology on you, doesn’t coerce you to do your job to the best of your ability, but asks nicely. A leader sticks up for and takes responsibility for his/her team members in times of adversity, but passes on the compliments and gives credit where it is due as well. I read this on another blog: Leadership stems from self-knowledge and integrity.

Several friends I know are not very happy with their jobs – not because of the kind of work they’re doing, but because of the lack of leaders managing their teams. And there’s an interesting observation I made here: When non-ethical or petty behavior is displayed by the leaders of teams/organizations, that behavioral attitude is automatically adopted by team members as well. For example: one person I know got a new boss after being in an organization for a few months, and the boss happens to be a petty, finger-pointing slimeball. So suddenly, after months of relative calm and ease, others in the team become petty and indulged in finger-pointing as well! The same people who were happy, accountable professionals before the leadership change. Needless to say, this has destroyed any semblance of morale and made everyone in the team disgruntled cribbers.

From another HBR article:

As the Gallup Organizations says, people join organizations but leave their boss. In other words, a manager’s key responsibility is to create mutual respect and trust with the people who report to them.

When managers lead and manage their people effectively, their people are much more likely to be engaged – and to achieve results for the organization.

In practice this involves walking the talk, being transparent, communicating effectively, treating people equally, teaching, leading subordinates to increasingly excellent performance – and responding to subordinates as mature individuals who are owed fairness, the truth and recognition of their achievements.

These are signs of a great leader. And yes, contrary to most people’s opinions, there are such leaders around in the corporate world. I’ve personally known and worked with only 2 in my life so far (out of 5 previous direct bosses), and regret not spending a lot more time absorbing gyaan on the art of leadership from them.

Having a good leader manage your team makes working a lot more fun – you look forward to your work day and you want to deliver and achieve more because of a sense of commitment. And that’s the legacy that’s left behind when he or she moves on – a strong sense of values, commitment to doing your best at your job and managing (leading) your team to the best of your abilities.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

So true.

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I think the answer to “why can’t businesses understand that the world has changed so much in the past decade (regarding the freedom of information) that they need to evolve drastically to survive?” is simple – with the advent of this new scale of information sharing on the internet, these “information-age” corporations are simply confused. They’re still hung up on lost opportunities. They don’t have the time to wonder about how they can survive in a world that doesn’t want to pay as much as before (or anything at all!) for information/media/ideas/content. And they don’t seem to realize they’re facing a losing battle.

So what are the answers? If a company’s copyrighted content is being “pirated” on the internet, what can it do? Should it just turn around and give it away? Should it consider reducing the amount that’s charged for the content in the hope that people will buy it? Should it take a cynical view and get out of business while it’s still profitable? How does one monetize “free”?

The answers are difficult and complex – and haven’t been figured out yet. Human greed is just as powerful an emotion for us as the need to share and communicate. Everybody wants to be rich and have a comfortable life, and will take a beating to protect anything they create. So the disadvantages seem to overrule the advantages of “free” to a content creator. Take the open source movement as an example – we don’t hear of any billionaires who made their fortunes writing open source software.

Examples of leaked software source code, stolen databases of people’s personal information,

But, have you noticed? The information revolution is already taking place. Individuals and their small businesses have already figured out ways to get noticed, give away content for free AND earn money on related products and services. To me, online comics are the best example of this, with certain open source software coming in a close second. The biggest names in the media industry have announced that they’re dropping DRM too. Where will this go? How will the information economy evolve? I’m still searching for answers.

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The problem with “profound truths” in this world that is that very few people really know about them. As technology and human desires move along the circumference of the wheel of time, some people understand these “profound truths” – about their existence, their business, their quality of life or even daily habits and then adapt and evolve accordingly to ensure longevity.

So why, then, does it take so long for corporations in the digital age who rely on business from information or content to understand these profound truths about their business?

  • The age of “closely guarded” information/media/ideas is slowly dying out – as with the printing of books, the internet has changed forever the way society creates and consumes content
  • One cannot rely on a sole business model of content creation and distribution any longer – your “proprietary and copyrighted” content will get distributed to millions on the internet sooner or later
  • It is impossible to “guard” information completely – whether it’s DRM or Encryption or Anti-piracy measures – these get creacked within a few hours, if not days

If you haven’t seen “Steal this Film”, Part 1 and Part 2 yet, I highly recommend you download it and watch it ASAP. It basically encapsulates the thoughts of millions of people in the world today, who have been brought up and are living in the Internet era, where boundaries don’t exist and freedom is mandatory. The films might be Europe-centric, but they reflect the sentiments of people around the world. There are a lot of “profound truths” in those two films – I can’t recommend them highly enough.

So why can’t businesses understand that the world has changed so much in the past decade (regarding the freedom of information) that they need to evolve drastically to survive? How come millions of people in the world agree that “pirating” content is alright? Why are so many businesses still in denial mode, whining to the world’s legal systems and trying to enforce profit-making copyrights and trying to control the distribution of content?

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Ever worked with a vendor/advertising agency or outsourced a share of your work to another company? For people new to doing this or experienced in doing this, here’s a list of 5 things you should do to ensure you get the best service, get loyalty and nurture a high level of trust in your relationship.

  1. Clarity is Paramount
    Do you know your organization’s goals for the year? Your budgets? Do you have a plan for what you want to achieve in the coming quarter? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, you need to get them ASAP! If you do know the answers, the most important question here is: Does your agency know all this too? If they don’t have the big picture, if they don’t get the answers to their questions and if they see you as a client who needs to be constantly prodded for information and clarity, how can they serve you with the kind of efficiency and professionalism you expect? They’ll respect you and your organization more if you confide and explain things to them in the most verbose possible way.

    Don’t have a close relationship with your agency? Do you treat them as just suppliers of a commodity? Then you need to do one of two things: either take them into confidence and share all the information you have with them, or fire them and hire someone you can trust. The middle ground here is just too inefficient.

  2. Plan in Advance
    Always on the edge when it comes to demanding tight deadlines for deliverables? That’s probably why the output from your agency is low quality – they haven’t had the time to digest the situation and come up with better ideas. Remember, you are not the only client they have – everyone else is also demanding their time with unreasonable deadlines and its usually a case of too many things to do for too few people. Planning the bulk of your activities in advance helps everyone – forces you to make rational plans of what you want to achieve and why in the short term, and notifies your agency of the kind of work they can expect from you in the coming months so they can plan their resource allocation. At the end of the year, your plans will have changed significantly, but at least your agency will not have been completely clueless about what you wanted to achieve.
  3. Giving a good brief is an art form
    Well ok maybe it’s not exactly “art” but you get my drift; you need to spend a lot of time on your briefs, explaining everything from the core reasons why you want something done to what you aim to achieve from it. The more you explain, your agency gets a better idea of what to do and what will help the most. Of course, there are some that argue that “My agency knows our organization so well, only a one line brief is enough”. Well, in my opinion, even if an agency knows your organization well, you still need to give them a slightly verbose brief. It need not have a huge amount of detail, but simple objectives and reasons need to be there. Also, if you have any preferences for colors, logo sizes, shapes, database structure, code style or typography, please leave them out of your brief – leave that stuff to the agency, which is what my next point talks about.
  4. Why keep a Dog and Bark Yourself?
    Ogilvy’s famous words say it all: You’re hiring your agency/vendor to do something that’s not your organizations core competence, they are probably the ones who’ve given a lot more thought to your communication/marketing activities, so why can’t you trust their judgement? Sure, theres a fair amount of learning that has to happen if you’ve engaged a new agency or are at a very young stage in your relationship – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to direct everything they do. Making decisions through a “committee” is another thing that will induce high blood pressure for your agency’s people. The more opinions they get on their work, the harder it is to maintain the original intended integrity of the message. I’ve seen several instances where agencies have distanced themselves from work they’ve done because the final output was completely different from the original idea. (bigger logo! change the typeface! change headline! change visual! um.. ok, now I’m happy – lets see what the sales team have to say.) You’ll have agencies dumping your account the moment this seems to happen too often – however much money you’re paying them. If you want so much control, why hire an agency? You might as well do it yourself.
  5. Nurture the relationship
    If you are satisfied with the approach your agency takes in their work and if they seem like the right kind of people you want to work with, don’t just show your appreciation by praising them. Give them more work. After all, this is a business, and if their work is satisfactory and you’re compfortable with them, what’s preventing you from growing the relationship too? They have people, just like your organization does. they probably have targets, just like your organization’s peolple do – The best way you can show your appreciation for good work is to give them more work, trust them more and start giving them access to various people in your organization so that they can know your company better. If all goes well, this can only help increase the quality of the work delivered to you, as people who respect you will always do their best for you. Also, remember another of David Ogilvy’s famous lines: Pay Peanuts and you’ll get monkeys. Be open to expanding the scope of your relationship slowly, and demanding higher quality work and interaction for it.

At the end of the day, you need to achieve your organization’s objectives in some way – working with an agency or a vendor usually means a long term committment to the relationship – and like all relationships, you need to invest time and patience to make it a happy one.

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I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's phenomenal and brilliant book titled "Blink" – easily the most enjoyable non-fiction book I've read since the Tipping Point. Yes, I know it's been around for quite a while and I've read it quite late, but I managed to make time to read it only now 😛

Not only did this book give me a fascinating insight into the way we make decisions, it also made me think about some of the relatively important snap decisions I've made in my life so far – from important ones like choosing a house and a car to not so important ones like choosing a new unfamiliar dish at a restaurant.

What is "Blink" about?
It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it's a book about intuition, except that I don't like that word. In fact it never appears in "Blink." Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings – thoughts and impressions that don't seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It's thinking – its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with "thinking." In "Blink" I'm trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

Thin-slicing is a new term I learnt, which is a phrase in psychology – "the power of thin slicing" – which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. And this is what I found that I could really relate to – from complex and important decisions to pretty mundane ones, it's not always that we examine and logically disect the information in front of us and come to a decision – doing that just creates information overload.

To quote Malcolm Gladwell on his book, this is a paragraph that I felt really summarizes the intent of the book, and made my level of respect for the author go a grade higher.

"The Tipping Point" was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. "Blink" is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

There have been reams of blog posts, reviews and quotes on this book, all available on the net, but don't get excited over all the hype. At the end of the day, the book is just a perspective on an interesting, everyday phenomenon we've all experienced 🙂 That said, even if you're not interested in marketing or information architecture or websites (in my opinion, there are far-reaching implications for all of those fields), go ahead, buy/beg/borrow/steal this book and read it, because you can infer implications from it that will affect your life and work.

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<rant>
Is it just me or have incompetence levels in agencies/retail stores/marketing teams/production houses shot through the roof? Where have all the people who understand simple directions/requests gone? Am I the only one who finds it amazing that companies in Bangalore are doing so well when 80% of their staff are inarticulate, lazy, never-on-time, constantly whining slackers who take their jobs for granted?
</rant>

The angst comes from recent examples in my professional career that involve dealing with different vendors for marketing activities. Take for example a certain agency that needs to be spoon fed production and finalization details on their creatives. They never show up on time for meetings, they actually have the gall to ask their client how to make flash presentations go full screen, and better still, they need to be told that they’re using the wrong client logo in multiple places. All this after working with this client for over 2 years!

Or, take for another example a branded, well-known car dealer dealing in used cars. Because of a combination of mismanagement, lazy people at the lower rung of the food chain and incompetent staff in the finance department, it takes 1 month for me to get my new car – as opposed to the usual 5 days. And the icing on the cake here: I need an accessory for my car (a cigarette lighter) that’s not already fitted on the car. So I ask for one. And I get this response: “Sorry sir, we can’t fit a lighter because we can’t get hold of any in Bangalore – everybody is out of stock”. I calmly wiped the incredulous look on my face, grabbed my car keys and drove over to the road 2 kilometers away and got a lighter fit.

Another example: This time with getting minor changes to a certain website ready. I write a detailed mail with easy to understand steps – step 1: Do this, step 2: do that etc for 8 steps in total. 3 days and a lot of blood pressure rises, it still wasn’t done. Its not like the person who I was coordinating with was stupid or uneducated – He actually has a master’s degree and has been doing web development work for quite a while. But he still has comprehension issues with essential things like indenting code, understanding easy-to-read instructions and understanding how search engines work. At first I thought it might be my fault because my instructions weren’t as clear as I thought they were – so I gave him a brief on the phone, in person and clarified all doubts over email. Did that work? Nope, so in the interest of my blood pressure and senior management deadlines, I just did it myself.

Interested in this phenomenon of how people like this get jobs (some of them are VERY well paid), I asked around with a few friends in Pune and Bangalore – and it seems I’m not the only one experiencing this wave of interactions with people who just can’t do their job.

Maybe this is one of the problems:

There are many incompetent people in the world. But a Cornell University study has shown that most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

People who do things badly, according to David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

Never mind their educational qualifications or their backgrounds – that doesn’t matter as long as they can do what they are paid to do. Never mind if they can’t do it well – even “average” execution would be acceptable. But it seems even asking for “average” is quite an uphill battle for the average Bangalorean.

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