About Manu Prasad

Posts by Manu Prasad:

Re: Org

Timehop, which takes me on a nostalgia trip everyday, reminded me recently that it has been a year since I wrote The Change Imperative. The opening slide features a quote – “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less“- attributed to Gen. Eric Shinseki. In the times we work in, I believe this cannot be overstated, not just for individuals but for organisations as well. Even as business dynamics force changes on the external manifestation of an organisation – the brand – any organisation that faces a client/consumer will also be forced to adapt its internal structure and practices to suit changing needs.

For a long while now, I have been ambivalent about processes. I have worked in an era, and in organisations, where processes had a way of getting things done. But in parallel, I have also felt that many a time, processes have a way of forgetting what they were made for. The output overshadows the outcome. Over the last few months, my surmisal has been that, to use a Taleb classification, processes can make an organisation robust, but not anti-fragile. This very informative post by Aaron Dignan of Undercurrent – The Last Re-Org You’ll Ever Do -highlights many ways that organisations have tried to change standard structures and practices, and even suggests a six step path to reorganisation. More

The purpose of brand

The Guardian had an interesting post recently, titled “Brand is becoming meaningless“, it (brand) is being replaced by a company purpose that the organisation can rally around. Yes, there is a study that this is linked to, and quotes. To paraphrase, brand is the effect, not the cause, and that has made it lose its fashionable shine.  Someone should tell Maggi this, they just lost $200 mn in brand value, even as the corresponding goods value is ‘only’ $50 mn! (via) Now, just so we are clear, I am not completely against this thought, all the more because this is something I have been writing about for a while now.

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In an ambient future…

Digi-Capital claims that by 2020, Virtual and Augmented Reality combined would have hit $150 bn, eclipsing mobile. What is interesting is that a recent Juniper report predicts an $80 bn market for wearables by 2020. (via) If I read that together, by 2020 we would have witnessed three interface cycles – mobile, wearables and AR+VR. The shelf life of interfaces is shrinking, much like other business cycles. In fact, in Trendwatching’s No Interface trend brief, you can get a preview of this. I’d think that by 2020 web access would be much better than what we have now, and with other technology like IoT advancing sufficiently, we would be poised for ambient interfaces to consume and create what we do on the web and mobile now.

It is widely believed that Google is only a challenger in the  mobile and wearable domains – to Facebook and Apple, despite Android. With Facebook’s Oculus move and Glass’ demise, it would seem that the interface that follows the two above would also see a fight. In an insightful post, Ben Evans asks “What does Google need on mobile?” He notes that all of Google’s play is about reach – to collect and surface data. Mobile, and specifically apps, challenge this and create a world of perfect complexity. He ends with saying that Google needs to win at search,  whatever that means and wherever and however far from PageRank that leads you. Christian Hernandez goes further in his post ‘Into the Age of Context‘. He points out that the glue that connects mobile, social and sensor trends is data, but to take it to the next level, it needs machine learning and AI. He sees Google Now as the perfect example of The Age of Context. More

The Entrepreneur and the Professional

A fantastic article in The Atlantic titled ‘The Case Against Credentialism‘ traces the social-cultural and academic  roots of America’s current business dynamics. The part that interested me most was what the author calls the tension between the two cultures – the entrepreneurial and the professional. While both are cultures of achievement, the basic tenet of the latter is that he who goes further in school will go further in life.

It gave me an impetus to write about this in the Indian context. Nothing as exhaustive, but a little note based on my experiences thus far, with much generalisation. My skin in the game is that it affects me personally and professionally. More

Time, Chaos, and Organisational Change

The first chapter of The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil, is titled The Law of Time and Chaos. The law has two strands- The Law of Increasing Chaos and The Law of Increasing Returns, and together they dictate that in a process, the time interval between salient events (i.e. events that change the nature of the process, or significantly affect the future of the process) expands or contracts along with the amount of chaos.  In the book, this is used to explain evolution. Evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity, and evolution builds on its own increasing order. Therefore, in an evolutionary process, order increases exponentially, time speeds up, and the returns accelerate.

It becomes very interesting when I put this in the context of organisations and the business environment they operate in. The business environment consists of various other organisations (exactly like life forms in evolution) and therefore the time interval between salient events (a new ‘disruption’) is becoming shorter. On the flip side, the organisation (akin to evolution of a single organism) is becoming more complex, and thus the time interval between salient events (their own breakthrough developments/innovations) increases. More

Wallet Wars

Recently, thanks to Uber having to comply with RBI regulations, I was forced to introduce myself to Paytm. The entire signing up episode reminded me of a post I had written in early 2014 – “The overhaul of currency“, though that dwelt more on the broad changes and implications rather than the functional aspects. Mobile payment systems have been on a fast evolutionary path for a while now. (a bit dated, but I found this infographic to be a good primer)

I also remembered a Seth Godin post from 2009 that called Twitter a protocol. On the web, the subsequent discussion then was that just as we were transferring links and messages on the platform, we would soon be transferring money too. That took a while coming though – it was only in late 2014 that Twitter released a payment service.  A week before that, a hacked screenshot had begun rumours of Facebook’s Messenger having the wherewithal for money transfer. But they were both late entrants in a market that was already crowded with the likes of Paypal, Google, banks, credit card companies and so on. Apple Pay would join later. More

Change Strategies

It was mid last year when I wrote The Change Imperative, which was as much a note on massively changing business dynamics as it was a note to self. I thought the new year was a perfect time to revisit and explore how brands and business can use change as an opportunity. The new year sees a glut of predictions, trends, insights etc, but the one I look forward to is the JWT Future 100. This year too, it impressed me with unique insights and potentially far reaching consequences. But in the change’ context, I found slides 33 and 52 most interesting. Both of these were related to brand strategy – 33 (Third Way Commerce) was about how millennials were looking for brands with clear values, and 52 (The Long Near Game) was on brands taking a dualist approach to balance short and long term goals.

In my mind, they are related, as brands are making efforts to maintain/create business models that are buffered from current and future shocks and can remain relevant now and later. I found an intersection of the two thoughts in a couple of places. The first was in this post by David Card on new models of  disruption. The first model brought up in this is “Adjacency Platforms”, which is about platforms migrating into new markets or industries. Apple’s iOS moving to payment is the example given here. This thought is also echoed in slides 24-28 of this trends presentation – the phrase used was Startups going ‘Full Stack’. I particularly liked this framing of the thought – It’s not like a brand like Virgin diversifying to follow an audience, it’s diversifying to follow an expertise. Both fantastic approaches, I must say, because they’re based on consumers who believe in the brand’s values. [I believe that Uber is a brand with much potential in this respect – check this]

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An Interweb of Things

Since the time I wrote An Internet of Things narrative, its trajectory and pace has seen tremendous acceleration, to an extent where TC has claimed that it has reached escape velocity. Indeed, there is a whole lot of activity happening that would back this claim – startups, larger companies getting interested in the space, geographic expansion and so on. In fact, the article has what seems like a comprehensive chart on applications, platforms etc.

In my earlier post (linked above) I had pointed to the distinction between the Internet of Things and the Web of Things. What was then a nuance seems much more wider now and is even more relevant. Another article on TC, titled The Problem with the Internet of Things is actually about this. One of the products that has fascinated me for a while is Mother, from Sen.se. To me, it aims to solve this problem, and the last two points in their ‘Creating the Internet of Life’ document is proof of it. (Like wearables in 2014, I plan to get a consumer IoT experience in 2015, and this is most likely going to be my preference) Another simplistic but potentially very useful product I have seen is Flic. The last example is Signul, which uses a beacon system to automate things used in daily lives. (both on Indiegogo)

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Changing brandscapes

Recently, I was part of an interesting round table discussion organised by afaqs and IBM around “Technology in Marketing“. While we did stick to the subject, in my mind, I was also wondering about the impact this (topic) was  having on the idea of brand. It has been only 4 years since I had last held a brand job, (I left TOI in 2010) but I can safely say that the landscape has changed massively. A few thoughts –

Time: The cycles of brand building have been massively reduced. This is not a 2010 phenomenon, but to give you some perspective, in that year Flipkart was just venturing beyond books and hardly the well known brand it is now. Zomato was a ‘promising startup’ according to a list made by the Smart Techie magazine and had just expanded beyond a single city. The flip side is that some of the other startups in that list no longer exist. AlooTechie, which reported this, also does not exist. I had a Nokia E series phone then, and they are pretty much a non entity now. In short, that word – change, and it’s faster than ever! It is said that brands get built over time, but do business cycles allow that liberty now?

Geography: A cliche used frequently is “Geography is history”, but a little incident reminded me that it may not altogether be true. One of the regular conversations these days is around taxi rentals and Uber is a favourite among many of my friends. I casually asked them whether they knew of the heavy rap Uber was getting in the US for remarks allegedly made by a senior VP. (alternate perspective) They didn’t, and it isn’t as though they don’t consume news online. They missed it amidst all the ‘noise’. While a brand may be global, how much does its international stature impact regional preferences, even in this hyper connected era?

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Processes, People & Culture

It has been more than three years since I wrote about my Indigo fandom. Since then, they have been my preferred airline, mostly thanks to their on-time promise. A few weeks ago, Karthik wrote an excellent post “Why I love an errant Meru and hate the awesome Indigo!” that offered some unique perspectives based on a few of his recent experiences with the airline. He ends the post with When did the ‘plastic’ nature of Indigo’s customer-facing organization set in? May be around the same time their hostesses were asked to use wigs? It restored a sense of objectivity to my fandom.

Our way of doing things” is how one definition of culture goes and I remembered Gautam’s recent insightful post on the components that make up ‘culture’ in an organisation. If you look at these factors, you’d wonder whether a cultural change was at the root of Indigo’s new avatar. It made me think of something I wrote earlier – Culture Architecture – the thrust of which  was culture being a strategic business advantage. But how can that be made sustainable? I’ve been a big fan of processes. Indeed, one of my favourite posters is

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