On agreeing to a vocabulary

Here is what we joke about conferences, everybody (audience, speakers, and event managers) starts with ‘a need to agree‘ on something early morning. This could range from “innovation is critical to success of business/India”, “gamification is revolutionizing business process”, “stories are the next strategy” or something like that. By end of day after speakers speaking, audience listening and event managers buzzing, the host notes that ‘all have agreed‘ on what we began with as a need, marking the successful close of the conference.

What happens in between is forcing a choice between competing sets of vocabulary, and each trying to push the other out. Even within one vocabulary, speakers/participants lean towards a specific sub set.

Here is where the conflict lies, and below examples as I noticed in a recent conference.

1. Visibility versus viability, while who ever is on stage successfully runs a viable business or used to, everyone else is simply looking to be more visible, like a 70 word intro before a 15 word question to speakers, or other plugs.

2. Cost versus price, this one is common even while the discussion is about pricing, most participants confuse it with their costs, and unable to rephrase / appreciate a concept for price. I think this is a genuine psychological inertia that is exhibited.

3. Revenue versus capitalization, most speakers agree that while the real deal for any valuation should actually be the revenues, most tech ventures are traded for capitalization. And who decides this price, the banker / investor / startup / someone else. In any case the switch to the higher number (usually capitalization) is towards resolving the first conflict of visibility versus viability.

4. Sales versus marketing, even if a session is about writing an advertorial or sponsored tweet, most confuse it with sales, this chunking of ‘sales and marketing’ is a way to avoid any responsibility in it, “…see I am techie…, the other guy in my team does all that”

5. Problem versus opportunity, not much of a conflict in this one, but still this comes to play when you are inside an already running business, best resources are staffed in the largest / most profitable current account fixing issues to keep the customer and not the most promising opportunity of acquiring a new (possibly less painful) customer. (the ‘strategic account’ conversation for another day)

Point I am trying to make is simple, to choose a field means adopting its vocabulary and its conflicts, and with changing fashions/fads if your vocabulary does not evolve as well, you are outdated even before you started.


Making case for systematic innovation in consulting

I am in the idea business for about 7 years now, usually my kitty is small in terms of budget to spend, management attention, and customer appetite to ideas. Problems/Opportunities are as always many and wide. Making this a green territory for the consultant in me. 3 realities that I face are pictured below. I will then pick reasons from each and make case for the consultant in you to learn a systematic innovation method this year. It is still not too late for a resolution.

First no one including you, your boss, his/her boss, their customer, his/her investor knows for sure which will be the greatest idea (since sliced bread, iPhone, facebook, flush toilet, the movable type, safety-pin, or whatever). Greatest here is one that gives max return, finds large customer base, impacts life, etc on the outcome side. So I go for safety with numbers, instead of the 2 large bets can I get 200 ideas and later ruthlessly eliminate, or make ideas robust socially from that base before investing. If I knew how to get from 2 to 200 ideas in say 4 hours.

Second, problems manifest as contradictions or trade offs. When I try to solve one problem I have only merely shifted its base to a different department, or another part of the system. Examples could be while increasing revenue there is a disproportionate increase in marketing costs as well, while scaling up operations fast there is also significant loss of critical substance/knowledge, by increasing hourly rates am I killing a customer account slowly, and more such combinations. I don’t want to compromise on anything really, we just yet don’t know how.

Third is on the search for the rare breed genius/creative person that all of us want in our team. My experience is hugely disappointing in this front, because I can never afford this “genius in residence” and wait for the eureka moment. Instead I take safety in history, all problems that can be solved, have already been solved (by all those dead geniuses I don’t have to pay for) and I just have to adapt the solutions for my situation. Again if only I knew how.

So in short here are the 3 different reasons why you need to add ‘systematic innovation’ to your consulting arsenal/portfolio,

  1. To take safety in large number of ideas
  2. To not compromise on outcomes or merely shift problems
  3. Not afford another unpredictable genius to solve problem that have been solved elsewhere

It does not matter much what that specific innovation method is, but Sensei is guaranteeing a sharper edge to you.