cognoise

Strategy as a narrative

A version of this post was delivered as a talk last week at a NASSCOM event for a few GIC leaders looking to drive innovation.

Fundamental questions around innovation are

      1. Scouting: What is the idea and how are we getting those ideas? Primarily it is about listening to ideas that are being tabled, presented or being talked about wherever and whenever.
      2. Investing: What is my next action after listening to the idea? Once you hear an idea, if it does not give raise to a “next action” there is very little chance for impact, even if it means just forwarding the email with a note and a presentation. Managers and leaders may choose to ignore an idea right in the inbox or kill it with many of those familiar techniques like death by delay or details. Point is there has to be a set of things that need to happen to the ideas that surface up, and of course lots of ideas surface up, and your capital, time and attention is very limited so you choose to do stuff only with very less number of ideas. When we say to do limited set of things the immediately “is this a process” comes to mind, but really it should be seen as a ritual, that whatever be the idea, your way to act has to kick in. It is generally never the same across 2 departments, I have seen in my company how, Finance is able to go live on ideas with a much lower management support, whereas marketing never goes live without a SVP approval.
      1. Testing:  What the world did about such ideas? Testing ideas at scale is a capability, it is easy for online or mobile; .com experiments are cheaper to run than  most other channels. MVP and lead user feedbacks are most important aspects to find if the idea is worth its salt, and if it can actually create the impact it claims. If the business decides to simply follow quickly rather than lead, testing of high capex technology can actually be delegated to competition that is raring/daring to lead.

Even if you understood how to scout, invest and test ideas, unless you are able to play to the current and historic narratives of the company, it will be very difficult to navigate structures and influence people to create the impact.

Enter strategy as a narrative

  1. If you take corporate and the CFO function, priority is given to investors where the narrative revolves around capex and return on investment, growth and these tend to be driven from the planning function that benchmarks against existing peer/competition. Specifically ROIC and EPS is set on the long range plans that can all be seen with a simple Reuters.com query.
  2. If you take customers as priority, you would account for specific trends for example shifting of shopping online and mobile (both experience and transaction), growth of subscriptions for everyday goods, willingness to pay for same day service, assuming free shipping and returns is affecting our business. Narratives here will be around who the customer is, why certain behavior change will profoundly affect the way of conducting business, how can business continue to provide the same level of experience and service across channels to the customer.
  3. Whereas a business pyramid may be interested in specific outcomes and ways (processes/technologies/partnerships) to achieve those. For example a supply chain or distribution narrative can range across the entire logistics ranging from sourcing countries to last mile delivery convenience to customers or a merchandising narrative cutting across the entire life cycle of the product (like partnership – product placement – price), while a marketing narrative may just focus on branding and advertisement and mode of delivery.

All of the above can be affected profoundly by technology changes, as Brian Arthur (who wrote The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves and advises companies like Google), makes a claim that technology changes brings forward need and further another set of technologies, and an easy analogy could be with the invention of automobile leading to all sorts of technologies across, oil refining technologies, road technologies like highway networks, signal systems, systems like satelite mapping, and now we get real time traffic information on mobile etc. In and of itself, where narratives shift rapidly and has to be made sense with any of the stakeholder outcomes above.

Finally I want to talk about how technology investments are shifting to business functions rather than the IT department. This can simply be seen by growth of budgetary provisions in your company technology and other business. For example out marketing department budget will be easily more than 7 times that of IT department budget. And Marketing do spend a large chunk of these investments in technology.

To be part of any narrative or a broad objective involves engagement with HQ and this is usually achieved by getting a seat at the table, and then building your way across to both receive and transmit signals to the General’s ear. Usually General’s hold cheque books and veto powers. I am not claiming in anyway that this is the only way to do it. For example when Jeff Bezos sends a note to country heads on India as a priority for the year and it means there is a support guarantee from apex leadership that can be summoned when needed.

Another way to achieve the same objective is to set standard processes for say estimating effort, quantifying impact, requesting resource etc.

So being open to work and play with a broad set of narratives that keep changing as needs, approaches, technologies change and the speed at which we can do this sitting in a far off location and scaling the way in which we listen and respond, largely will determine the future, including your very existence.

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cognoise

Whats wrong with todays flipkart sale?

Several things went wrong with today’s sale at flipkart, here is my set of reasons why i did not buy anything and will not buy anything in the near future on any flipkart sales.

  1. Annoying and repeated advertisements on tv is my first personal reason, the same stupid ad in the middle of a live sports 5 times in a row, is an insult to the viewer’s intelligence
  2. You have no way of getting to a product detail page from the mobile app without knowing the code that is printed in newspapers i don’t read and the product search results never get you to the actual offer product pages. Classification on the mobile app on top, limited time, limited stock, steal deal is poor design that is adding to the search issues. Of course on top of this images never loaded during the first 30 minutes of the sale
  3. Most items felt like they were all clearance and possibly a preparation for upcoming season sales. It is a massive push for traffic with very less value for the customer
  4. Prices were of course increased and then discounted and there are multiple proofs for this across product categories
  5. If all the stock is going to run out in 5 minutes and why push so much for a traffic that will never convert, and in the process lose trust that you built over a long time

May be all the bizarre funding, silent aggression from amazon, simplicity of snapdeal, lack of original ideas for the indian, and recent successes of mi sales, blinded flipkart so badly that it did not even necessitate to check basic retail sense before starting the marketing and in turn losing at least major chunk of my trust in flipkart.

No deals here.

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cognoise

Why inventory notifications are not friendly enough?

Can’t believe there is no readymade feature on amazon, zappos, Myntra or platforms like shopify and magento for requesting notification on item becoming available in a specific size, color, style or other attributes?

Can you please let me know when brown uk 10 becomes available on this one.

Surely inventory is maintained that way, why customer notifications are not possible is beyond me?

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books, f.art, somedaymaybe

Panchatantra in VUE

Fable sets like Panchatantra are best performed with music and in the local language and a conducive setting. My intent is to recreate it with plain visuals, in VUE. All in all the exercise was satisfying, and I am happy with the outcome. Layers of narrative arising from the frame story, the complications of characterization and continuity becomes visible when done this way. The aim was not to give away stories which I strongly recommend for reading or hearing. I am not one to steal the thrill of hearing a good fable first hand, but rather to see how the fable will move from one to other in a map. I feel the use such a visual is only as an aid to performance. Click the image to see a larger version.

Panchatantra Book 4 Loss of Gains

Panchatantra Book 4 Loss of Gains

Loss of Gains is the smallest of the books in Panchatantra, I will need a long holiday to do the others where the number of layers are far higher than this. #somedaymaybe…

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metaidea

So you are offering Innovation as a Service

What we talk of services, when we talk of services differs from person to person. When you talk of Innovation as a service here is what I am looking for

1. About your service and the service terms

2. Team that delivers this service, preferably with photos of real people and their profiles

3. Contact details of a non-sales support person and his role

4. Follow options from a mutually convenient place say Facebook, twitter, blogs if any

5. Best and Worst customer story so far

Let me also add, I am NOT looking for a brochure with platitudes around the concept of innovation and why it is important for my organization or about another innovation management tool or technique.

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cognoise

To Indianise a Cartoon, please dont

I saw 2 curious editorials about importing Archie to India in Point Counterpoint in Times yesterday.

If I were to take sides, mine will be on the side of not trying to Indianise anything.

Simply because of the variety and colours that India offers, cannot do justice on any “Indianise” process however clever.

Secondly my personal experience with 2 of my kids with Cindrella, which they just don’t relate.

While fables are most easily transferable across cultures, (see how Panchatantra got the reach and derivatives across cultures)

stereotype transfers (like this Archie transfer) from another culture will fail to convey anything or even be mildly entertaining.

Archie will be in for a rude shock in India…

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cognoise

Org Vocabulary

All jobs include a vocabulary exercise, be it responding to a prospect need, or writing your appraisal or coming up with a methodology/strategy or just speaking publicly for a change especially KM jobs. What differentiates departments/companies is not their vocabularies but their stories and it takes long time to catch stories from different contexts.

Anyways problems of attrition in my industry gave rise to other problems as people migrated from company to company with their vocabulary.
To such an extent that even slidewares and pitches (to specific egos) across vendors started to sound same. I have heard vendor selectors claiming “that just changing the master layout of your presentation will make it exactly same as what I saw with the last vendor prospect”. I also know of some real stories when people moved from one large vendor to other with their slideware, actually confused these selectors because it was exactly the same “methodology”.

Second of the problem that arises from vocabulary is, for those that stuck around and got older in parent companies without switching. These seniors were stuck with limited stories in a restricted vocabulary/language of the company they are loyal to. That in itself is not the problem, it becomes one if all they have is old stories to make new changes in the enterprise, because nobody feels that story (distant in space, time and intent) and language itself has shifted to something else that these seniors cannot speak.

So sparking action internally or selling to your boss or prospect almost becomes impossible just by changing vocabulary or being stuck with one for too long.

What do you think KM Managers should do? What story should be listened? retold?

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