Create a magnum opus- every time

While passion and emotion may seem conflicting, it is only when the two come together that creates a work of genius

“I want to build a car for the multitude” Henry Ford proclaimed, “that is so low in price that every man will be able to afford one.” Hailed as the man who taught America how to drive, Ford’s vision was one driven by an emotion, sparking a new modern industrial revolution.  At a time when an automobile was an expensive toy available only to the super rich, Ford wanted one for the common man. For him, there was no reason why every man cannot have a car. With this vision in mind, he founded the Ford Motor company at the beginning of the 20th century. The rest is history.  Ford is fondly remembered for several legendary statements he made during his life time. Among them, one sticks out― “A car looks good in any colour,” Ford said, “so long as it is black.” People who worked directly with Ford remembered him as a man whose love for automobiles was so great, that it superseded every other desire he had. While Ford wanted to build a car for the common man, he was not prepared to compromise on its quality in any department, including the way it looked.  Ford’s statements exemplify two central ingredients of perfection-emotion and passion.

Emotion + passion equals perfection

Emotion drives a behavioural change. It is a conscious reaction to act on the strong desire to serve a customer in the best possible way. Passion, on the other hand, is singlehanded devotion toward perfecting a product, even independent of convention and market demand. Oftentimes, products or ideas driven by emotion have the best functionality, but end up looking unimpressive. On the other hand, products built only with passion become prohibitively expensive or miss the mark completely. It is when emotion and passion merge that we truly see a product so remarkable that it alters paradigms.

Apple is an interesting case in point. Apple’s legacy of product perfection was not an outcome of a fleeting idea by a genius inventor. Very little is spoken about Steve Jobs’ skill as a qualified calligraphist. His biography reveals his love for fonts so great that he dedicated a considerable part of his life to the study and practice of the subject. As a result, Apple’s legacy of innovative design, sleek form factor, and simple interfaces have continued to set new industry standards. Not only do Apple products signify Job’s passion for design, they scream of the man’s emotional vision to provide customers with a product which is easy to experience.

Don’t let passion override emotion, or vice versa

Reebok released a print advertisement in 2012 that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” Such brand disasters are qualified by Twiteratti as an #Epicfail. While it raised indignant eyebrows, the advertisement made it to Huffington Post’s list of “top 10 advertising disasters for women” in no time. One can sit back and wonder what level of arrogance the creative team must have possessed to conceive and execute such a derisive idea. The execution was flawless. It did not lack wit. And yet, the creator was so possessed with his passion for the product that s/he failed to consider the basic question, “will the consumer like it?” Clearly on this occasion, it did not. After it was widely condoned by social media globally, Reebok had to make a scamper for face-saving tactics. The ads were pulled down and every trace of them vaporised in a jiffy.

The automobile world is rife with several examples of highly functional cars with hideous designs. The creators of these cars were driven by the myopic emotional drive for customer comfort, while grossly overlooking the basic need for making a good looking car. Porsche or Cadillac, Chrysler or Buick, every car brand has made it to lists of ugly-looking cars. Where was the passion for creating a magnum opus when Porsche built the Panamera in 2010 or when Austin built the Allegro in 1973?

What drives us to work every day? Is it the passion to create a work of genius? Or is it the drive to make a customer happy? It may not be necessary to view emotion and passion as an everyday conflict. Maybe a good thought to ponder before the start of every day could be, “Is genius of any use without utility?”

Thinking about someone else is service-Ron Kaufman on service and value

The aspiration and quest for higher service is an “always on” agenda for any service-oriented business. In this age of seamless connectivity and information availability, products and services are easy to replicate and pace of improvements are rapid. Several small and monumental service innovations continue to redefine industry standards and the turf continues to get tougher by the day. The rules of exceptional service, however, remain unchanged. The renowned management speaker and author of the globally acclaimed book, ‘Uplifting Service,’ Ron Kaufman defines service as “taking action to create value for someone else.” Kaufman, who was speaking at the annual SHRM conference in Gurgaon describes service in six levels that range from undesirable to incredible. According to Kaufman, the six levels of service are― criminal, basic, expected, desired, surprising, and unbelievable.

Data can help, but only if you want it to

Advancements in technology and analytics enable several in-depth insights into what constitutes “delight factors” for a customer. Simple CRM systems can become useful tools for frontline staff to delight customers. Many times, the challenge is not about the cost and effectiveness of building the right platform, but more a question of the organisational leadership’s intent. A great service experience is a marriage between exceptional service design coupled with the intent to delight.

When an individual decides to delight a customer, s/he may be able to do it despite all odds. But that’s not sustainable. What organisations really need is to create a service process to create customer delight, even if there are multiple stakeholders and teams involved.’ Data and analytics can be used effectively as means to create customer delight. Data can track buying histories, spending patterns, and product preferences to pre-empt and fix points of failure in a service delivery process. On top of that, pre-empting customer expectations and proactive resolution of process-level issues may contribute to higher-order customer experiences, such as surprise and delight.

An example of exceptional service delivery can be typified with the following example. A customer calls his neighbourhood pizza delivery outlet to order pizza. When a customer calls for a pizza delivery and the customer representative on the other side proactively asks questions like “if the customer wants to order the same pizza as last week’s” and “if s/he would like to pay seamlessly through the same credit card used the last time” it delights the customer. How does the customer representative know all this? There was someone at the back-end of the chain who thought it would be cool to integrate the phone caller IDs with the CRM systems. Data can help in many ways, but only if you want it to. Its not magic!

The four categories of value

The intent to delight is dependent to a great extent to what Kaufman describes as the four categories of value― primary product, delivery system, service mind-set, and ongoing relationships. Each one is interdependent and they collectively comprise the four essentials of customer delight.

Talking on the topic of service and value is not easy anymore; almost everything about service is already said and heard. Hearing Ron Kaufman talk about service is a delight though! He keeps the audience engaged, he modulates his voice, mimics imaginary Germans and Scandinavians, and does not tire his audience; even though his speech may be long. He is not a selfish orator! Perhaps that’s the biggest testimony of his orientation towards service.

Women can’t have it all, so can’t men

Your-way-of-success
Photo source: http://www.imigion.com

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi’s famous quote at the Aspen Ideas Festival has caused a lot of stir. Mostly among feminists and journalists. Nooyi says that women pretend that they have it all but it’s not the truth. “Every day,” she says, “a woman needs to make a choice between whether she wants to be a wife or a mother at least once.” On the other hand, Kim Kardashian who many term as the poster girl of first world frivolity “begs to differ.” Kardashian says that her mother taught her that women can have it all if they prioritise right. Feminists and social mercenaries were quick to jump and dismiss Kardashian’s point of view. After all, “how could a world famous celebrity with a legion of staff to take care of childcare, career, and husband’s untameable ego know about the truth in the ground?”

As much as one may hate to admit it, Kardashian does have a point. A deep one too!

The world’s cruel, yes

Women undergo the biological event of child-birth and subsequent motherhood which causes them to take a break from their corporate careers. Women start out with peers from business schools in a corporate career, the top percentile get ahead of the race while the others are still at par with their male peers. There is, of course, the 25-40 age window where most women take a break from their corporate careers mostly because of motherhood obligations. Irrespective of what stage a woman is with her corporate career, the feminist lobby argues that she comes in with the disadvantage of starting behind her peers and loses the motivation to carry on. Even if the woman gathers enough motivation to join another corporate job, she finds out that her male peers have moved ahead and she has to catch up.

At work, the woman is worried about her child/children and the health of the family. She faces prejudice from her bosses because of the perceptions that a woman cannot stay back for late hours, and there is always the risk of another career break with a new pregnancy. Many corporate women complain that they were unfairly overlooked by their bosses for a well-deserved promotion because of gender bias. As a result of all that, a woman’s CV looks less prolific than a man’s. There are fewer women in leadership positions in the corporate world than men. All of the above is true. And all relevant. But is that how we really measure success?

Corporate success does not equate absolute success

All the issues listed above are true for the modern corporate woman. The truth is, corporate success and success in absolute terms are two different things. Would you call the “douchebag CTO of the global service firm who cannot tell a scone from a macaroon and talks like a jerk” a successful person? Does the word “CTO” negate the words “douchebag” and “jerk”? I guess not! In absolute terms, this guy has been unsuccessful in becoming an all-rounder. He is highly unsuccessful. In fact, in absolute terms chances are, more people will end up calling him a “loser with a capital L.”

Measure success on absolute value, not bell-curve placement

Why does no one talk about absolute value? Giving birth and nurturing a child in absolute terms is progressively more valuable than growing older and less valuable as a social and economic entity. After an individual is past her/his prime, the capacity of the individual to generate value diminishes. True, the individual may continue to earn more based on his experience. But s/he will progressively have lesser and lesser energy for family and friends, and lesser capability to remain “an interesting person.” Not to mention, beauty and pleasing looks will fade away too. The absolute value of the individual goes down. The only way to continue being valuable is to nurture a progressively valuable entity. A child is a great bet!

One’s placement in your organisation’s bell curve may not be in the lead area, but that’s really not a measure of somebody’s worth, right?

Men can’t have it all either

Once someone’s measurement standards are truly elevated to absolute terms, it is possible to acknowledge that men can’t have it all either. For a man, not succeeding is not an option. A man is born with the expectations to lead, to be faster, better, swifter than the rest.

While a man is busy attending to the world’s expectations, he fails to invest in overall well-being. He stops developing a personality, stops doing things that interested him once, and invests as much time as he can to vegetate and regain lost mind space. Being taught all life to have things under absolute and unequivocal control, to be on top is of the game now and always, men cannot afford to just float if they have to lead “a worthy life.”
Read about hikikomori in Japan. It’s the growing trend among men in Japan unable to cope with the society’s expectations around them to ultimately withdraw to a vegetative state. It’s a miserable life to lead. It’s not just a phenomenon in Japan. Men all around the world face the same burden and will continue to. We don’t need WHO statistics to tell us that significantly more men die of stress-related disease than women. Simply put, men have it tough too!

Kardashian may just be right

Prioritisation is an unfailing answer to the question, “What is success and how do you measure it?” I hope there will come a time when the world becomes more rational and measures people in absolute terms than their economic worth. Until then, there is one thing someone can always do. Just find out what one enjoys doing, prioritise that over everything else, and invest in overall welfare. As my 20 year old cousin puts it, “YOLO.” (If you didn’t get that, it’s possible that you’re past your prime)

Stop abusing the word ‘Impact’ in performance discussions

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

How often have we heard a manager say, “You do good work, but I din’t see you bring impact?” A lot of performance management conversations ride on the back of ‘impact.’ While the smart (read crafty) employee uses it to steer the conversation for her/his benefit, it is the ultimate weapon that a manager uses to justify a promotion, increment, or an average rank to the guy s/he doesn’t like. Most of the ‘average blokes’ find it hard to defeat the impact argument during the performance review conversation. Most come out of the room grumbling without knowing why, while a few others even come out convinced though defeated. We grumble, we burn our blood, and we have endless conversations about why we deserved more but couldn’t get our fair share. We even grumble that the ‘smart-ass’ manipulator in the team, who has the IQ of a pocket calculator, has inched his way ahead by justifying his ‘impact.’

So what should the average bloke keep in mind the next time s/he hears about impact?

1. Too many impacts may bring the structure down. Physics has the answer to why any structure should not suffer too many impacts, big or small. Period. Running a business is not always about impact.

2. Nothing in this world is really an invention, but merely an improvement on somebody else’s work. The next time, when the pocket-calculator colleague boasts about her/his ‘life-altering idea’ it should not be too hard to prove that idea was merely borrowed.

3. Respect every individual’s uniqueness. There is no point for a manager to expect someone to share the same beliefs as himself. Employees who prove that they are perfectly in alignment with their manager’s beliefs have sold their souls and are now mere puppets. They seem to act and talk straight out of a script. The only fair thing to do is to make sure that every employee is respected and celebrated for her/his uniqueness.

4. I have the right to know where I really lag. Instead of hiding behind the shield of ‘impact’, it is alright to be forthcoming and make someone aware of her/his true weakness. A manager has a moral responsibility toward her/his team members, though it might even mean losing the employee in the near future. That’s what makes us different from army ants.

There may be others to this list, but these are my top ones.