In ‘Is Kindness a Strategy?’, Jeffrey F. Rayport shares the story of an American Airlines employee who ingeniously helped a passenger catch a flight though he was late, by using the express lane for ‘invalid’ guests. He mentions that many colleagues of the employee might not be happy with her way of dealing with the passenger. He also writes about Ritz-Carlton’s use of “service recovery” - a company’s ability to respond quickly, decisively, and effectively to a service problem of its own making — is a powerful way to increase loyalty among existing customers. He rightly draws the distinction between the two approaches – they vary on who’s at fault, the customer or the company, and asks what any business might stand to gain if it oriented its associates to look out aggressively for opportunities to perform true acts of kindness for their customers.

In my mailbox, a few minutes earlier, I had seen this, in which Hugh MacLeod takes a (what I considered a) legit shot at meetings. As always, the toon says it all. When confronted with a business problem, (generally) the organisation’s first impulse is to meet, discuss, analyse and arrive at a consensus… probably 24 hours later. Yes, even when it involves a real-time platform.

As I was writing last week’s post on culture, I was asking myself on the ingredients that make up a great organisational culture. Based on the above, I’d say Empowerment. When you have hired a professional to do a job that he has skills in, he/she should be empowered to apply his judgment to situations and not have to go through red tape or meetings involving people with minimal perspective on the matter. The first tenet of Zappos’ famous core values is “Deliver WOW through service”. In the same breath, Tony Hsieh also talks about “investing in a corporate culture that allows employees freedom and space” and follows it up with “If you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a brand will just happen naturally.” On a related note, their unique hiring policy ensures that their sales staff don’t need scripts, they are trusted enough. It also ensures that an excellent culture is built by finding a fit between what makes the individual and the organisation tick. Empowering the employee so that he grows and so does the organisation.

until next time, power trips

Realty Check 1

They would’ve loved to live here. A relatively hidden area in the heart of Koramangala, such that the EMIs would karmically commit them to several rebirths. But they had a plan. A group deal involving like minded people – to dump garbage there everyday until the rates came down. This post is the first step. ;)

Deaf Heaven

Pinki Virani

I’m quite a fan of Pinki Virani’s earlier work – Once was Bombay, so there might be a bit of a bias here. :)

‘Deaf heaven’ is billed as her first work of fiction, but is perhaps as close to non-fiction as it can get. The characters are clearly based on the contemporary personalities – from movie stars to politicians, and the descriptions are such that a little knowledge can easily help you identify them – the ‘caterpillar -eyebrows’ actress to the leader of the saffron army, to the famous film star and his wannabe famous son and the lesbian maker of daily soaps. See? :)

The narrator is the cleft lipped and recently dead Saraswati, librarian by profession and collector of facts. Over a weekend, with an eclipse that serves as a climax for the multiple narratives, she traces the lives of the characters, a mixture of the famous and the ordinary, connected to each other by varying degrees of separation.

The book is a commentary on modern India and its mixture of contradictions, with representatives from different geographies, strata in life, age, and religion. Though primarily a woman’s perspective, the author manages to tackle the paradoxes of the emerging superpower – from female infanticide (and an ingenious way of communicating the unborn child’s gender – an illegal act), and tribal exploitation, to the mechanics of religion-politics, the effect of chemicals on vultures and the ‘death by railway track’ on Mumbai’s famed local trains, all interconnected, just like the characters.

Though a preachy tone does dominate the last part of the book, it is definitely a must read, not just for the pertinent and fundamental questions the author makes us think about, but also for her razor sharp wit.


For quite a while, I have believed that culture is the most underestimated and underutilised tool among the organisation’s means of gaining strategic advantage. A few like the much venerated Zappos have used this lapse to maximum effect and by assembling a group of passionate and aligned individuals generated profits and publicity, all while retaining a culture that continues to thrive. Remember “Anyone can do what we do, but nobody can be who we are.”?

Last week, Maneesh wrote an excellent post titled ‘The Importance of Culture‘ that started off a discussion on twitter involving him, Harish and me. Having experienced a few instances when the influx of money into an organisation (not necessarily a startup) changed the internal landscape completely, I wondered whether scale (that many a time follows money) and culture are usually mutually exclusive. It’s not always so, but it takes not just a very skilled management team, but also an empowered employee bunch down the line to make it happen. It takes communication, rewarding the right behaviour and a lot of clarity to ensure that the culture is not lost. To quote from the post, “Culture is attitude, it is not behaviour. Everyone knows this, but we all get it messed up.

When he linked professionalism and culture, I smiled because I remembered an incident from a couple of years back. That (very interesting) discussion, which prompted this post, was on whether passion or professionalism could better help the organisation scale. For various reasons, at that time, the two were mutually exclusive in the organisation. I argued for professionalism, because to me, it represented consistency and reliability. We both refused to accept the easy compromise of ‘both are necessary’. Towards the end, the management guru equated a professional to a mercenary. To me, the difference, was in alignment. In that sense, I agree with Maneesh that professionalism is practically non-negotiable. To quote from the post again, “You become a professional when you care. Your culture defines what you care about.

A couple of days after this discussion, this tweet appeared on my TL

Posts across years, across industries, across lines of work, but if you read them, you’ll sense the similarity.

To me, culture is not a fancy set of perks and trappings that money can buy. It’s a sense of belonging, a feeling of being connected to a set of objectives and activities that give the individual a sense of purpose. A sense of enjoying the ride even when it’s a tough one, because you know there are many who will be your parachute in case you fall off a cliff that you didn’t anticipate. When that feeling is lost, the light in the cubicle is switched off. More often than not, permanently.

until next time, culture counter

Glimpse into the future.. and the present

Fans of Star Trek : The Next Generation would easily remember Geordi La Forge and his VISOR. For those not familiar, the VISOR is “a device used by the blind to artificially provide them with a sense of sight.” It does so by scanning a scene and transmitting it directly to the brain via optic nerves. Science fiction? Yes.

But when I read about Google’s Augmented Reality glasses and the potential – from the glasses that could act as a guide for tourists at popular destinations to the more complex “consensual imaging among belief circles” for sharing ideas and to “overlay a trusted source’s view of a given scene on mine”, I wonder how far we really are from what would have been, until recently, tagged science fiction. In response to another related post shared on Google+, I commented, “I have this thought of the glasses capturing information even when the eyes are closed and the brain processing it by the time we’re awake.” I wonder if it is not far off when the ability of our natural sense organs will be negligible compared to the technology we create. No, we’re not getting into the augmented human debate or an eye vs camera one. :)

I tweeted that I had expected Google to give me a view of parallel universes. (my alternate reality) :) That’s probably still science fiction, until we really master time. But I did see something (awesome) on those lines too – The Quantum Parallelograph, a device that allows you to get a glimpse of your life in parallel universes.  Maybe there will indeed be a time, when a human species can make choices with all the data of not just its current reality, but alternate realities too. Would you really want it? Would the whimsical concept of an alternate reality make sense at all then?

until next time, sight vs vision

1, 2….34

One of the characters in Preeta Samarasan’s “Evening is the whole day” asks, during a conversation, ”Everyone is always so tired nowadays. I wish we could all be young forever, or whatever age we ourselves choose. What age would you be if you could choose..?

It made me think of what my answer would be. At first, I wondered if I would like to be older than what I am today – to sit back comfortably with the perspectives I have gained.  As the years pass by, and the memories accumulate, I seem to be viewing most phases of my life so far through a happy prism. Despite remembering a few specific instances that made me unhappy, and (paradoxically) being certain that I was probably frustrated/terrified/bitter on many occasions and would never want them to be repeated, I can now look back and smile at the overall scheme of things. Perhaps I am lucky or perhaps, this is the way it works for most of us.

And yet, even happy memories, I have noticed, can evoke contrasting sentiments within me. When melancholy strikes, and I remember happy times, it’s a bit like what Alfred Tennyson wrote (in a context I have no idea of)

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, 
Tears from the depths of some devine despair 
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, 
In looking on the happy autumn fields, 
And thinking of the days that are no more.” 

until next time, “I’ll spend my future living the past

Pinning it down

Though it’s almost been 2 years since it launched, the buzz on Pinterest has grown stronger in the last few months. This infographic should help you get a quick update. The ‘experts’ are polarised on this, and I have seen some digs on my twitter timeline, which remind me of the things I used to hear about Twitter on Facebook. :) Will Pinterest grow that big? I don’t know, but it always helps to build one’s own perspective.

This is one of those social networks which have not been easy for me to adopt. As the text-only posts here would indicate, I am not an ‘image’ person. :) This was probably why delicious worked for me very well. But I did manage to find my own applications of Pinterest, most significantly, my infographics board, which is now nearing a 100 pins, and others that I enjoy – Angry Birds, Star Farce, and so on. One apprehension I have is whether it will go the way of all social platforms when they go more mainstream – from pinning ‘what I like’ to ‘what I think you want to see’ or ‘what I want you to see’. An extension of the carefully crafted persona.

But meanwhile, over at Myntra, we have created an account and have been busy pinning and ‘boarding’. We’re in the process of experimenting with the platform, and as part of that, have also integrated it on our fashion blog. We have already found quite a few use cases for it, and I plan to consolidate that before moving further on boards.

One of the most interesting stats in the infographic I shared earlier is that Pinterest has now beaten twitter as a source for referral traffic. From a brand perspective, this is indeed turning out to be an interesting tool, especially if the brand is related to e-com or fashion. Many fashion brands are already there. In fact, JustFabulous is even doing an extremely interesting Scrabble based contest there. I’d think that food, travel, and other visually appealing domains would also do well here. In fact there are over 100 brands across categories already on Pinterest.

So, should you believe the hype? Not necessarily, but as a brand marketer or a social web practitioner, I think it’s probably a good time to take a long look at Pinterest and see if it can deliver value to your brand. It could be traffic generation, relationship building, or thought leadership, and these are just a few use cases. Unless you play, you won’t know. :)

until next time, you could fancy this too ;)