Finite and Infinite Games

James P Carse

The last book that fundamentally affected my way of thinking was ‘Antifragile’. It altered my perspective on ownership, planning, and in general, the approach to various events and things. It remains a favourite. But this book took my thinking to a different plane altogether, and has probably altered it irrevocably. Credit goes to James P Carse for at least two things – one for the thinking that clarified everything around us to this level of ‘simplicity’, and two, for explaining it in a manner that makes it easy to absorb.

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite.” From politics and wars to sports and business, finite games are all around us. They are played to be won, and are over when there is a victor. There is only one infinite game and its only purpose is continuing the play. In both, “whoever plays, plays freely.” More

Brand with a world view

In Feels & Fields in Marketing, I had written about my view that the sustainable advantage in data driven marketing over the long term might be lesser than an approach where the brand is marketed as a worldview – reflected in thought and deed. A couple of nuances I’d like to point out here. One, the reason I feel so is because from the evolution of digital media thus far, the end game of new platforms/technologies arguably seem to be a version of a “cost per” arms race, and that end game is reached rather fast. Two, I don’t strictly see data and story telling as an either/or. It’s just that I don’t see a lot of justice being done to the latter thanks to the focus on the former, and I also see the dumbing down/tempering of messaging to access a larger mass.

However, I’ll admit that putting down ‘brand with a worldview’ into a generic framework is a rather challenging. But I have seen quite a few examples – personal experiences as well as larger campaigns – that highlight various aspects of this approach. The new POTUS has in fact, provided quite some fodder for this. Hardly surprising, since his usage of extreme stances contributed majorly to his victory.  More

Broadway Gourmet Theatre

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Even as recently as a decade back, going to HSR required a strong stomach, because very few roads even had streetlights! But times have changed. These days, I’m finding it difficult to digest the fact that more new eateries are opening here than in the neighbouring restaurant paradise (and our favourite) Koramangala! Broadway Gourmet Theatre is the latest attraction. (map, you’ll have to make do with basement/valet parking – a very helpful security guard!) The signage is bold enough to make it visible from afar, but for the kind of showbiz character the restaurant has chosen to have, we found the ambiance a little underwhelming. It isn’t as though the space is unrefined or cramped, it’s just that we expected a little more flair and grandeur. There is one way in which it redeems itself though – an outdoor section that offers a splendid view of not just HSR on one side and the busy Sarjapur Road on the other, but the greenery of the army land across the road. We spared a thought for the jawan guarding the compound border, probably sitting on duty for most of the day in the shade of lush trees, even as we prepared to do our duty and sample what the restaurant had to offer. Food, after all, knows no boundaries!

The elegant looking menu is an eclectic mix of various cuisines and we intended to try out as many as possible. Our original choice of Indonesian soup wasn’t available, thankfully so, because its replacement was the well presented Magic Mushroom soup. Though our hopes of ‘magic mushroom’ went up in the smoked porcini, the deliciously thick soup that also had button mushrooms and truffle was exactly what a wintry Bangalore night demanded! We did wonder why exactly the tender chicken stick that came with it was called a solder though. The Labneh Patty that followed was creamy awesomeness. The soft cheese, made from strained yogurt, was the melt-in-the-mouth variety and the patty’s crust provided just the right texture. The pork dish we wanted wasn’t available so we decided to swim with the tide and ordered a Tawa Grouper. The fish fillet had a chilli masala that provided an excellent contrast to the milder fare we’d had thus far. More

A case for the showcase

Clever tees have been an attraction for quite a while now. Less generic, and more fun mashups. This one is an example from a few years ago.

viva_la_evolucion

Once, when I wore this while out in a group, one kind soul complimented the design. Another person in the group immediately commented that people wore such tees to send a “look how smart I am” message. My views was that at least for me, it was less vanity/personality and more a means of expression and identity, which served as a conversation starter, given my less-than-gregarious nature. But it did stay with with me, and make me wonder whether he had a point. More

Solo

Rana Dasgupta

I remember liking Tokyo Cancelled, Rana Dasgupta’s earlier (and first) work of fiction. When I first came across Solo, its blurb content for some reason made me stay away. I remembered the leaps of imagination and thought I might not be able to keep pace. Recently, I read his non-fiction work ‘Capital’ and thoroughly loved it. And thus Solo arrived on my bookshelf.

A blind old man in Bulgaria, cared for by his neighbours, and dependent on them for many of his basic needs, reminiscing about the days gone by, might seem like a rather dry premise to base a novel on, but it magnificently surprised me. Ulrich is nearing the end of his life’s tenth decade and has lived through years of Bulgarian political experiments as the country’s elite switched their ideologies through the great wars and after. His early well-provided-for life contrasts sharply with the poverty of his later years, and the steadily declining quality of his life is poignant in itself. Through Ulrich’s perspective and experiences we see the socio-economic changes that take place in the country, and the author is able to do justice to both the suddenness of some of them as well as the gradual nature of the others. The sensitivity with which the author narrates a life that’s fallen on hard times that’s truly wonderful. More

Vietnamese Kitchen

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Even without demonetisation there are times in a month when one feels the lack of currency, and ATMs aren’t really of much help. On such occasions, the stretch of 80 feet Road in Indiranagar after you take a left at the bottom of the Domlur flyover can be a source of comfort (food) thanks to quite a few small eateries on your left that serve decent fare. The double use of ‘left’ in the previous sentence wasn’t a coincidence, it’s because the pricing here is very socialist! Vietnamese Kitchen is one such space, and despite its name, a lot of its food remains comfort Chinese at heart. (map) That’s not to say it doesn’t serve Vietnamese dishes, but it’d be wise to temper your expectations in terms of authenticity and setting. As I told my dinner guests, if you take ten steps from the door, you’d hit the kitchen! But there’s a charm about the tiny place, and they have used the space well – functional yet elegant seating, warm red lamp shades and a wall that’s completely covered with a collage of life in Vietnam.

collage1 More

Feels & Fields in brand building

information attention

In Scarcity Thinking in Marketing, I’d written about how, in an era of ‘infinite’ consumption choices, attention is arguably the most precious commodity for a brand. Also, as Faris pointed out in his excellent post, it is a zero sum game, and we’re approaching “peak attention”. We’re also well on our way to manipulating (read fracking)  it. State of the art marketing technology (say, programmatic) can sift through a consumer’s data from multiple sources, and use interest, intent and a bunch of other contexts to deliver an ad at the precise point when he/she can act favourably.

Very few brands, however, are close to this level though. Having the data is in itself a huge step, converting that to actionable insights is even huger! Data can be true, but not necessarily accurate. (read) Also, arguably marketing tech is still a wild west with snake oil salesmen. But more importantly, even if we assume that all the brands will finally get there, it then becomes a ‘square one’ driven by who can pay the most. In that respect, I do not see this as a sustainable advantage. Arguably again, at that point in time, new tech might come up with a potential of first mover advantage, but the way I’ve seen the digital marketing narrative evolve, it is probably an optimisation play than anything else. e.g. In the early days of Facebook marketing, much was made about storytelling and organic Likes, but look where we are now! Similarly, something radically different like VR is now being talked of as paradigm shifting storytelling opportunity, but until proven otherwise, I’ll be cynical.  More

This Divided Island : Stories from the Sri Lankan War

Samanth Subramanian

We visited Lanka in 2010, just after the war had ended. Reading this book, and on hindsight, I think we underestimated the seriousness of what the country had gone through. I remember the undercurrent of bitterness in a conversation I overheard while sitting in a Colombo cafe. Directed at Rajapaksa, whose smiles beamed down on you every time you looked around, it was about how he was presiding over a reign of terror. I was surprised, because I thought everyone would be happy that the war had ended. Another instance I remember clearly – driving through Trincomalee and seeing some lovely beaches, I asked the driver to stop so we could walk a bit. He laughed ruefully and said that entry was restricted. The soldiers were clearing the area of land mines and a walk there might relieve me of limbs or even life!
When I wrote the travel log, I had the luxury of making these footnotes, but this book is a visceral breakdown of what Lanka went (and still goes) through. The war might have ended, but the scars remain fresh. I haven’t read any war or post war accounts, and therefore lack the perspective to compare, but I do know that this book really brings out the futility of such human conflict. The battle has very less to do with good and evil, because both sides have very little territory to occupy on moral high grounds. A line from Star Wars comes to mind “you have become the very thing you swore to destroy”. Prabhakaran’s treatment of fellow Tamils is about as bad as what the Lankan army inflicted on them. As a Lankan Tamil says in the book, the Tigers first lost the war “for the unconditional affections of the island’s Tamils” before it lost the other war.

In a world of abstractions…

It was in Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus that I first became really aware of how much of an abstraction money is. Just to clarify what ‘abstraction’ is in this context, vegetables, meat, human labour etc all have clear, tangible value. Money is a transactional device with many advantages but it has no inherent value. Its common acceptance is its value. The exercise on 8th November 2016 is a great example to illustrate this –  those pieces of paper we thought were valuable until a minute ago suddenly became worthless. In fact, at one point, there was a chance that after Dec 31st, they would even be harmful!

At some point, I started thinking of abstraction with respect to consciousness. At a very broad level, I think of consciousness as having three basic fluid forces at play – sensations, emotions, and thoughts. We tend to use the adjacent ones (sensation/emotion and emotion/thought) interchangeably but if you think about it, nuances separate them. They all have a role to play, but I also see them as a hierarchy with respect to their influence on consciousness – thoughts at the top. More

Koramangala Social

Yes, I know, I’ve already written about Whitefield Social, so what really is new? Well,  it’s Koramangala, and we welcome any chance to go back to our ‘native place in Bangalore’. When we heard a Social had opened, we just had to drop in. Koramangala continues to change rapidly, and we notice it even more in our quarterly/biannual visits. Meanwhile, when I heard my friends describe it, I thought they must have taken some independent bungalow on 80 feet Road, but this was near Starbucks in an otherwise (except for Social’s own signage) unspectacular building. (map) But once inside, it is evident that in terms of ambiance, this is easily the best Social in Bangalore yet. It is quite bag, spans two floors and offers much better seating options than the other two. There’s also a lot of greenery around, and that includes the bar area as well. We visited during Halloween, and the staff was dressed for the occasion. The service itself, was thankfully not horrible, and we actually liked it more than the other Social outlets – Church Street folks are clear that they are doing humanity a service by taking orders, and Whitefield people tend to be a little too laidback every once in a while.

collage1 More