Monthly Archives: March 2011

Monkeys, Rules and Insurgents

There was this forward that did the rounds about 8 years back, about how businesses are run. It involved 8 monkeys, bananas and a ladder. I’m going to repeat it here for the benefit of those not familiar with it. Those who know it already, skip and read the rest please.

Put eight monkeys in a room. In the middle of the room is a ladder, leading to a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook on the ceiling. Each time a monkey tries to climb the ladder, all the monkeys are sprayed with ice water, which makes them miserable. Sooner enough, whenever a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, all of the other monkeys, not wanting to be sprayed, set upon him and beat him up. Soon, none of the eight monkeys ever attempts to climb the ladder.

One of the original monkeys is then removed, and a new monkey is put in the room. Seeing the bananas and the ladder, he wonders why none of the other monkeys are doing the obvious, but, undaunted, he immediately begins to climb the ladder. All the other monkeys fall upon him and beat him silly. He has no idea why. However, he no longer attempts to climb the ladder.

A second original monkey is removed and replaced. The newcomer again attempts to climb the ladder, but all the other monkeys hammer the crap out of him. This includes the previous new monkey, who, grateful that he’s not on the receiving end this time, participates in the beating because all the other monkeys are doing it. However, he has no idea why he’s attacking the new monkey.

One by one, all the original monkeys are replaced. Eight new monkeys are now in the room. None of them have ever been sprayed by ice water. None of them attempt to climb the ladder. All of them will enthusiastically beat up any new monkey who tries, without having any idea why. And that’s how any company’s policies get established.

What reminded me of this? Tom Fishburne’s recent post on ‘low interest’ categories, in which he talks about how “marketers often limit ourselves by the conventional rules of a particular category”. The induction and experiences thereafter changes us from, to use Seth Godin’s words, insurgents to incumbents.

In these times of “hit the ground running”, is it too much to ask of companies to allow new hires to just give their perspectives on the brand and organisational processes in the first month? I too believe that for the brand team, these perspectives are a great representation of the end consumer. With all the money spent on data mining and consumer research, this ‘free’ sample is given a pass, perhaps because, just like the industries itself, even businesses internally fear disruption.

Over a period of time, the brand’s custodians tend to lose their objectivity and processes unfortunately have a way of becoming the ends rather than the means. And that’s where ‘culture’ can make a difference. Know any companies who foster this?

until next time, this is the way things are undone :)

Egonomy

One of the reasons why I liked Gary more than the other two judges in Masterchef was that he played a perfect balance – maintaining that certain amount of gravitas that his role demanded while regularly showing that he really didn’t seem to take himself that seriously.

The best example of that was the show before the finals when there was a role reversal and the judges cooked while the contestants judged. Not only did he take part in some delightful banter, but his reaction when the ‘judges’ found a bone in his dish (strict no-no) was completely priceless.

Mind you, as the accomplishments and the episodes of MasterClass would show you, Gary is damn good at what he does. And yet, its as though he has not allowed any of that to touch him. Which leads me to the thought I’m pondering over – is the lack of ego a function of having complete faith in oneself? If, for a moment, we leave aside the argument that a ‘certain amount of ego’ is necessary for living out this life, is the thought plausible? If the faith in self is absolute, will the ego have no reason to exist or will it completely take over since it has all the reason to exist?

until next time, egologic

Nando’s

The review was first published in Bangalore Mirror, this one isn’t peri peri different, just a few changes.

30 countries spread over 5 continents, but now, we’re just one Big 10 away from our chance to sample what they call the Nando’s “experi-perience”. An international chain of casual dining restaurants that originated in South Africa, Nando’s has a Portuguese – Mozambique theme, and is famous for the Peri Peri sauces.

Since it’s Church Street, I am not competent enough to offer any suggestions on parking. We reached there early – around 7.30, my strategically selected Nandosts and I, and found ourselves among the first lot of customers for the evening. The snag therefore was a constantly hovering service staff, whom we finally had to politely but firmly fend off.

The decor and furniture are quite a few notches above casual dining. Bright colors and music that goes with the restaurant’s theme ensure that there’s a buzz to the place. The unique tablemats and the famous bottles of sauce only add to the setting. My friends noted that this setting was quite different from their Nando’s experience abroad.

The menu screams chicken. Loads of it – liver, wings, chicken meals, Espetada and so on. But vegetarians need not be completely put off since they have quite a few options including salads, hummus, burgers and several side dishes. Zomato has the menu and a few photos. Like all the other chains that pay homage to the uniqueness that’s India, Nando’s does too, in the form of a Peri Peri Paneer. There are also a few interesting beverages and dessert options. Note the conversational tone of the menu and the occasional witticisms and wordplay.

We decided to start with the Indianised offering – Peri Peri Paneer, with the Extra hot sauce. It wasn’t as spicy as we expected, but still managed to deliver. The Petisco platter would’ve worked if not for the chicken wings, which were not only undercooked – a problem that was repeated later with the Quarter Chicken Meal, but suffered from an uneven distribution of spiciness. Its other flaw was the pita bread, though the hummus was quite good.

The Chicken Espetada Rustica, in the main course, was quite a visual treat, in addition to being a reasonably tasty dish, despite the deceptively bland butter. The Chicken Strips & Rice also proved a good choice though the rice could have done with more flavour. The potato wedges were surprisingly good. The Chicken Wrap was a complete disaster, with the wrap taking its role too seriously. The sauces, famed for their spice were more tangy than hot.

Except for the Natas, the desserts failed to make any impact. Ditto the beverages, though we expected much from the Crimson Cola and the Poncha Zurra Tinto. So that should give you an idea of Nando’s and dont’s. Meanwhile, the portion sizes are not that great for the Quarter Meal and Chicken Strips, so a full stomach is not guaranteed.

The service is a bit patchy, especially when the crowd grows. Though there were no delays in taking orders or serving the dishes, refilling water promptly is a skill that needs to be learned when dealing with spicy stuff.

Go there you must, to know what makes the African Bird’s Eye chilli so famous, but though it’s definitely different from the regular chicken stereotype, you’ll wonder whether it’s really worth the hype. Nando’s does need to polish its act for sustained prosperi-perity.

Nando’s, 1A Church Street, Bangalore – 1. Tel: 65681480

Designs on Data

In the last post, I’d written about the massive amounts of data that is already being generated and will grow, whether or not organisations track/capture/use it. The question then becomes one of ‘ownership’, within the organisation’s structure.

The consumer, irrespective of his touch point, will expect a consistent and probably even a customised experience,  basis preferences communicated earlier, and transactions which can only happen if the functions talk to each other. And it is in that context that I found this (slightly dated) post by Dave Gray very interesting.

He cites a talk by John Hagel, in which it was mentioned that “the average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped precipitously, from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years in a more recent study.” In this context, he then goes on to dissect the design of companies – from a machine like structure with focus on control, maintenance and leading to eventual wearing out… to a design based on organisms or complex structures built by humans, like cities where there exist flexible ecosystems, a shared identity and an early seizing of opportunities to grow.

Within the same analogy, he also then shows how a ‘machine’ design also brings in a “design by division”, resulting ultimately in function based silos. The alternative is “design by connection” which goes on to the Social Business Design concept and includes crucial elements like culture, starting small and scaling and so on.

There is another interesting angle to this – the way much of this data (I have only social platforms to rely on now) seems to be flowing, it does not necessarily have to be the organisation that uses it best. It could be any of the middlemen – from retailers armed with sensors to a platform like Facebook/Foursquare/Twitter/Groupon (the last entity is talking to cash register manufacturers to have their button pre-installed at retail cash registers!) to super users. So perhaps it is time for brands to take a more structured view of data and its custodians. I have a feeling that it will have to be a hybrid model of design by division and connection.

 

until next time, data open

Comics and moral signs

Though many claim that most comic book – movie adaptations completely spoil the original work, I still find them fascinating, simply because of discovery. Many a time, I have realised that comics are an amazing representation of culture, whether it’s popular, alternate, counter or even imaginary (eg. different renditions of myths, accommodating the changing ethos), either overtly or through subtext. So they work like a time portal for me, giving me a vicarious experience of a different era. (just like some books, music, cooking, smells etc)

I’d never have known about Watchmen if not for the movie. Since I don’t want to miss out on references and subtext, I always try to read up on the characters and original work before watching the movie. And that’s how I came across the concept of moral absolutism, while reading about Rorschach, an amazing character, made more so by a class performance by Jackie Earle Haley. Wikipedia defines moral absolutism as the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them.

I’ve wondered many a time about the concept, without knowing about the existence of a term, so it’s good to find it and read up more. With morality in a constant state of flux, who would be objective enough to give an absolute perspective, and would it matter at all? I guess not. So maybe, in some later rendition of Rorschach, his moral absolutism might shift to consequentialism, (holds that the morality of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act) and a future reader would get a sense of how the times have changed.

Late night. Red Signal. No vehicle or human in sight. Stop or Proceed? :)

until next time, moral abdication

Dalma

The Oriya cook is quite good, but the side-effect is that we kept shifting our ‘odyssey’ to Dalma, despite it being only a short walk away from home. Dalma specialises in Eastern India cuisine, and is located on the Intermediate Ring Road, at the junction with 8th Main. Zomato has the map as well as the menu. They have some parking in front of the restaurant, but that’s minimal. You should probably park on one of the side lanes nearby, especially if you have a 4 wheeler.

Though it has a bright setting, comfortable seating and other such necessary ingredients necessary to make it a functional restaurant, there’s something about the place that  makes it a ‘home away from home’. I confess to not having any knowledge of Oriya homes, despite this boy and this girl being among my best buddies, but for those who’re familiar with the erstwhile “Ravi’s Kitchen”, perhaps you’ll get an idea. The smiling and helpful staff only add to this.

We started with a Chicken Pakoda, which didn’t turn out great. It got the pakoda part right, but the bones spoiled the dish. For the main course, we ordered a Chicken Kasha with Luchis. The luchis were thicker and I felt it was better than the Bengali versions I’ve had. It also went very well with the thick chicken gravy. We also ordered a ‘Saguati Khechudi – Chicken’ and a fish fry. The former is a rice dish, reminiscent of the Biriyani, but only in basic form and the latter turned out to be Rohu, cooked very well. And then the real main course – Pahala Rasgulla, and Chhenapoda. I liked the former much more than the familiar sponge rasgullas and the latter, with its burnt crust and made from cottage cheese was also awesome!

All of the above cost us just over Rs.450. A visit is highly recommended, for a simple yet different cuisine experience.

Dalma, #37, 100ft Ring Road, Koramangala Ph: 41660921

Data beyond social

A couple of weeks back, when I wrote about location based interactions, I’d said that the limits of my imagination prevent me from thinking of anything beyond brand ‘controlled’ interactive sensors in individual products as a way for non-retail brands to directly connect with their consumers – at the point of consumption.

Thanks to RWW, I found this extremely interesting presentation which gives perspectives on the future of social media analysis and how brands will capture and use the data to increase business value – for itself and hopefully consumers too. I also remembered a McKinsey “Internet of things’ report from last year in this context.

“social media is still viewed by many as just a tool rather than as an immersive environment.” Must admit I hadn’t thought about it that way. Meanwhile, there is indeed a lot of focus on the data we can get from social networks. But that’s only one source of data. There are many others too, including those which don’t even involve a consumer’s active communication. One look at the RFID wiki page will give you a perspective on the possibilities.

If brands can take cognizance of the rapid advancements in technology, and work on how they can capture, analyse and apply data, then the contexts and ways they can interact with their consumers will substantially increase. Perhaps their dependency on existing communication platforms will decrease too, especially if they consciously build their own platforms. One old but still relevant example, which I have used earlier too, is Nike+, which uses popular social tools to augment the fundamental data capture.

until next time, data entry barriers?