Monday, December 31, 2007

Thank You

Here's a wonderful insight from Oprah . An appropriate sentiment for the end of a year and the start a new one . Here's wishing you a wonderful 2008 filled with love , joy , peace and abundance .

THANK YOU By Oprah Winfrey

I live in the space of thankfulness - and I have been rewarded a million times over for it. I started out giving thanks for small things, and the more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased.That's because what you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.
"Say thank you !" Those words from my friend and mentor Maya Angelou turned my life around. One day about ten years ago, I was sitting in my bathroom with the door closed and the toilet lid down, booing and a hooing on the phone so uncontrollably that I was incoherent."Stop it! Stop it right now and say thank you!" Maya chided. "But - you don't understand," I sobbed .To this day, I can't remember what it was that had me so far gone, which only proves the point Maya was trying to make.

"I do understand," she told me. "I want to hear you say it now....Out loud.""Thank you.'" Tentatively, I repeated it: "Thank you - but what am I saying thank you for?""You're saying thank you," Maya said, "because your faith is so strong that you don't doubt that whatever the problem, you'll get through it.You're saying thank you because you know that even in the eye of the storm, God has put a rainbow in the clouds.You're saying thank you because you know there's no problem created that can compare to the Creator of all things. Say thank you!"So I did - and still do. Only now I do it every day.I kept a gratitude journal, as Sarah Ban Breathnach suggests in Simple Abundance, list at least five things that I'm grateful for. My list includes small pleasures:The feel of Kentucky bluegrass under my feet (like damp silk); A walk in the woods with all nine of my dogs and my cocker spaniel Sophie trying to keep up; Cooking fried green tomatoes with Stedman and eating them while they're hot; Reading a good book and knowing another awaits.My thank-you list also includes things too important to take for granted:An "okay" mammogram, friends who love me, 25 years at the same job (and loving it more than the first day I started), a chance to share my vision for a better life, staying centered, having financial security.I won't kid you, having money for all the things I want is a blessing. But as I look back over my journals, which I've kept since I was 15years old, 99 per cent of what brought me real joy had nothing to do with money (It had a lot to do with food, however.)
It's not easy being grateful all the time. But it's when you feel least thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lead India ?

Lead India - the campaign and the "reality show" by The Times of India .

For months I have been seeing hoardings with the picture of some celebrity(mostly film actors) and the slogan "Lead India " . The hoardings in my opinion were a waste of money - right from the pictures to the outdoor advertising space purchased to thrust them on the populace .
The TV ad I must admit is creatively done esp the one that shows a young boy taking the lead to clear a fallen tree that blocks up traffic .

Yesterday while surfing between channels in the few minutes in a day that I watch TV - I happened to see the reality show "Lead India" . While is seeks to be lofty and supposedly on the mission to identify / deliver leaders - in reality it is no better than any other reality show . In fact it's far worse . Times of India had the opportunity to incubate a movement with this campaign . It could have made it inclusive instead of making it a competitive event with millions of folks passively watching the show . TOI could have used the medium of it's newspapers , TV channels and all the money it spent on the pointless hoardings to motivate and include a wide section of people into substantive action . A small start would be cleaning neighbourhoods .
Most of the contestants on the show have done something commendable and continue to persevere with their chosen mission over years . It is ridiculous to create a competition of people who have taken an initiative to make a contribution to society . The work of most of the contestants is diverse and unique (wrt each other ) . What's the basis for calling one a winner and thereby others as 'losers' ?
The website of Lead India has sections like " Do you resemble a Leader ? " If you think you resemble a leader you can email your picture . And public vote will decide a winner every week.
TOI must be seriously desperate to increase circulation if they feel the need to resort to such contests . There is no distinction between "leader" and "famous person" . This bizarre section has pictures of Katrina Kaif , Himesh Reshammiya , Ritesh Deshmukh under the heading of "leaders" (I could not bear to go past page 2 of this section ) .
It's clear that there is an urgent need for a contest to find the person/people to LEAD The Times of India . They should not mind selecting the "winners" by vote through sms / online polling.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why to do something about global warming

....If the worst of global warming does happen we will be so busy dealing with the fall out that most other human concerns will seem like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic...

Pl watch this video by Greg Craven .

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Light up the world (with the least number of bulbs)

In the ages before electricity was invented mankind seems to have thrived pretty well . Architecture , art , literature flourished . Some of the most exquisite creations - now found in museums or old monuments - are from the pre-electricity age . A recent visit to an incredible monument in India built in the 18th century sparked this thought.....
What if interiors of homes , offices , retail establishments , public spaces were redesigned with creative and well engineered use of mirrors , reflective surfaces and glass to illuminate with minimal use of electric lights ? Imagine a scenario where 10 bulbs are sufficient to illuminate the entire floor of The Mall of The Emirates ? Far-fetched ? Possibly . Impossible ? Maybe not .
This would call for radical rethink by the design fraternity worldwide..possibly an unprecedented collaboration between environmentalists , designers , paint companies , glass and furniture manufacturers,real estate developers ,businesses and consumers (who inhabit/use the spaces) and of course light bulb and appliance manufacturers. As the saying goes ' a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step ' .
If mankind has been able to (over the centuries up to the present day) create the exquisite , complex structures that adorn the face of this planet , then surely we have it within us to creatively and responsibly meet the challenges that we must individually and collectively shoulder to make this planet a nurturing space for centuries to come...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Paper towels

The message is self-explanatory and highly necessary in public restrooms world over . It's amazing to see how people thoughtlessly pull out multiple paper towels . The waste encouraged by the fact that the paper towels are free .

Security Check

While standing in line for the security check at an Indian airport I saw a large board with a list of the people who will not be frisked for security check. It read something like this

1. The President
2. The Prime Minister
3. Chief Ministers of Indian State Governments
4. Governors
24. Sri Robert Vadra when accompanied by SPG (Special Protection Group )

Numbers 1-23 were for officials of the Government , Judiciary ( somewhere in the list was the mention of SPG as being exempted from the check )

Robert Vadra's name in this list is an example of the blatant misuse of power by the Ministry of Civil Aviation . Maybe there's a little paragraph tucked away somewhere in the Indian Constitution that says " the Ministry of Civil Aviation gets to pick one civilian whom they can exempt from security check at the airport " . And the ministry dutifully picked the son-in-law of the self-proclaimed first family of the country for this honor .
( few months ago the media had highlighted this issue esp since the Defence Force chiefs were not on this list )

Once I got over the indignation of seeing this list I thought why is Robert Vadra's name on this list when none of the Gandhi family members are mentioned . It is plausible that Sri Vadra is the sole member of this family who flies commercially ( could be for environmental reasons or reasons that have nothing to do with the environment) . The others would be flying private aircrafts making the need for the name on the list at a terminal for commercial airlines redundant.

One wonders why did they have to do this ? Anyway Robert Vadra or folks like him would get special treatment at Indian airports . In fact you can get VIP treatment at Indian airports ( especially the smaller , regional airports ) if you are male , pot-bellied , wear a white kurta , carry 2 mobiles , carry an air of exaggerated self-importance , known to have political affiliation , famous (especially due to being in or associated with politics) - you could get away with extra-considerate treatment from the airport officials + Indian Airlines / Air India folks . It is the regular travellers who will be harassed at the security check points . Security at Indian airports is a little more than an eye-wash and disguised unemployment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Selective measurement

I signed up for a new mobile connection from a large service provider . This was primarily to be able to access emails on the mobile . I had hoped that they would be far better than the existing service provider whom I shall endure until number portability is enabled .
With Airtel by now I have experienced the full range of problems that one can possibly have with a mobile phone provider - billing problems , activation , lack of technical support , network crash . From this point onwards things can only get better .
One strange phenomenon is that when one calls their technical help line and if the call exceeds a certain duration then an automatic text message is sent to the effect " Thank you for contacting Airtel . If you were satisfied with the last interaction you had with abc pl sms YES else NO to toll free number 247 " . Probably consumers text message their response . The sheer fact that interaction and individual specific feedback is sought makes the individuals do their best to resolve the customer queries . They don't often succeed . But at least they try .
Strangely the customer contact centres of Airtel are totally different story (based on 3 visits to an Airtel centre ) . Chaotic , overcrowded , rising tempers , mismanaged . The folks at the centre don't seem to be trained to be efficient . Most of the time "the system is down" . There is no mechanism for monitoring interactions at this "customer contact centre " . This is carte blanche for the folks manning the centre to respond to customers the way they see fit or able at that point in time .

The common factor in my experience with the technical support centre and the customer contact centre was that neither of them could resolve the problem ( It was finally done by a Nokia dealer ). But the monitoring of the interaction by the company and the feedback system seems to make a world of difference between the 2 experiences.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

At a traffic signal...

A few days ago at a traffic signal when my car stopped a young boy approached the car and asked me to buy some stuff he was selling . I told him that I did not need it ( saying no to a child is tough !) . Then he asked me to buy him some food . The signal started to change color . This kid then looked at me and asked “will you promise to buy me food another time ? “ . I was amazed by his question . Here was a young boy of 10 who has lived on the street all his life , hungry , standing on a road in the afternoon heat with no footwear and yet found it in him to covert a disappointment into a promise with a smile on his face .
* This traffic signal situation is probably unique to India .

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

We Add Up

We certainly add up .

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How many planets would be needed ?

What would the earth look like if everyone lived like me ?

The Earth couldn't support it's 6.6 billion residents if everyone lived like a typical American ( one could replace American with urban consumers in most parts of the world ). Consumer consequences will tell you how many planets it would take to support your lifestyle on a planetary level.

Though it's designed primarily to guage the planetary impact of American lifestyle it's relevant for urban consumers in most parts of the world.

We have one planet . Let's make it sustainable .

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pasta panic and the future of the planet

An article 'Pasta Panic' in Fortune sparked this realisation .

Basically pasta prices have shot up due to rising wheat prices . Wheat prices have gone up for various reasons (listed in no particular order ) :
- demand for wheat has increased
- Australia - one of the largest (estwhile?) wheat producers has had 2 harvests in a row ravaged by drought
-A greater proprotion of agricultural land across the world has shifted to crops for fuel ( corn for ethanol , soy for biodiesel ) . This is likely to impact other agricultural products in future too.

What does this have to do with the future of the planet ?

The earth has substantial resources which it has given generously to all it's inhabitants - so far .
Excessive consumption of fossil fuels , other natural resources + environment insensitive to environment damaging activities for decades continue to impact the equilibrium of the planet. The earth is now telling us clearly that it's resources are linked and will not be available for reckless consumption . Mankind cannot irresponsibly consume one resource and then move to the next .Case in point being -wheat. To cope with the ever growing demand for and ever increasing prices of fuel - we ( as in mankind ) have experimented with crops for fuel . For a while it seemed like a great solution because it could be created (unlike fossil fuels which we can only find ) . Crops for fuel pose their own challenges :

- shift from producing food crops to crops for fuel - driving up food prices
- Affecting the ecology of the region ( monocultures visavis a more diverse and rich ecosystem)
- Water consumption

2 important resources - fuel and water - which are indispensible for mankind . Linked inextricably. Even while grappling with the implications of this it's tough not to marvel at the beauty and elegant underlying order of the universe.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Infrastructure growth enabled by reduced investment

Either news on TV is getting bizarre or the world is ( or more likely both ) .

Watched a news item on NDTV yesterday where the reporter was speaking to some govt official in Bangalore about the infrastructure in Bangalore or rather the absence of it . Even those who make infrequent visits to the city can attest to the chaos that prevails due to the lack of even the most basic of infrastructures - roads . With a virtually non-existent public transport most people have no option but to buy a vehicle to commute .

Coming back to the news item . The govt official said " We have to improve the infrastructure . Otherwise new investments will not come into Bangalore " Wow ! Citizens of Bangalore should be thankful that the prospect of new investments slowing down is finally rousing the govt administration from it's slumber . The quality of life of the millions of residents of the city is apparently not reason enough for the govt to improve the infrastructure. Then the official droned " We are building helipads so that VVIPS can take a helicopter from the airport into the city and they don't have to waste time " . What about the millions of people who have to commute daily on the city's non-existent roads ?
It would be too much to expect that people who display such quality of thought may have even considered what a waste of fuel it will mean to increase air traffic by encouraging helicopter usage .
The general idea seems to be to have traffic at different levels of the atmosphere starting from the ground level . And label it ' progress' .
There would be many who may choose to see this as a victory of sorts for business .That reduced investments have at last and at least prompted a lethargic administration into some action .We can't afford for our cities to improve only for the sake of fresh business investment or imagery. Is the quality (and often duration ) of lives of it's residents not reason enough ?

Injustice taken to a new low

Evidence that material wealth of a country is no sign of evolution . It seems from cases like this that material wealth serves to mask the repressive and cruel mind set of an important section of the society .
It's hard to imagine any other part of the world where cruelty of this nature and magnitude can be blatantly inflicted by the judiciary.
Pl raise your voice in protest . Write in to relevant media to voice your views on this case.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Letter to Fedex

text of a letter sent to Fedex India .
Dear Fedex representative ,

This is with ref to our telecon today .

We are an account holder with Fedex . For every parcel sent we get a separate , 2 page invoice .
I understand post our telecon that the invoices are raised on weekly basis .This is resulting in excessive documentation , wastage of physical resources , time and cost .

All other couriers raise monthly invoices .In 2 pages entire month’s details get listed with approx 30-50 parcel details .Whereas Fedex sends a 2 page invoice even if only one parcel was sent .
This practice alone results in :

- Wastage of paper
- cost of couriering an invoice each week .
- The wastage of energy and human resources in that envelope getting delivered and
received ( fuel consumed to transport the document , human effort involved )
- Then we have to keep track of multiple invoices , send a cheque . Starting the reverse chain of courier – again with wastage of physical and human resources.

All of this is unnecessary , damaging to the environment as well as consuming excessive human resources in terms of time and efforts .

Non-document parcels –Fedex insists on 8 copies of invoice !!!! That’s 6 too many .This is an environmental hazard !!

We urge Fedex India to urgently relook at this processes and change them to be sensitive to the environment as well it’s customers .

Frankly , this sort of thoughtless wastage could have been understood if the company was a small courier company .But it is incomprehensible when it comes from a large corporation like Fedex which is said to a leader in the courier business .

One would ,in fact, expect a company like Fedex to take a leadership stance and set an inspiring example of environment friendly practices .

Just because something is not captured in an invoice does not mean that it involves no cost or consumption of resources .Neither should a practice be perpetuated simply because ‘ we’ve always done it that way or this comes to us from our Head Office or all our computer systems are based on this logic currently ' .

I hope you will take this matter up with concerned people at your office and change the processes suitably .

Monday, November 12, 2007


Visited a store in Bombay which is a cross between a grocery and a supermarket . Formerly this store used to stock a range that was quite average - with neither depth nor breadth . With the advent of large industrial groups making a serious foray into food retailing this chain of stores seems to have gone back to the drawing board . Now , they stock a wide range of non-Indian cuisine ingredients - Italian , Thai , Japanese , a whole section dedicated to wines . As well as a focused selection of fruits and vegetables that would complement these cuisines. It's a good response as a business as well as for the consumer . We could do without yet another store carrying the same range of products . And we can do with a store where one can be reasonably sure of finding a good selection of products for other cuisines .

From the earlier visits to this store I remembered that they have a peculiar practice that the security guard at the exit would insist on the receipt and stamp it " paid " . For some reason a lot of the supermarket type stores in Bombay seem to have this practice . On that day I found the store manager and asked him the reason for this procedure . His explanation was that 'if you need to return / exchange something then we need the bill which is confirmed as being paid ' . Fair enough . I asked the manager if that's the objective why not make the cashier stamp the bill as 'paid' ? Only the cashier can confirm whether the bill was paid or not . How will the security guard know whether the bill was paid or how many items were paid for ?
Normal consumer behaviour is that when one gets the receipt it is put into the wallet or bag . And the focus is then on the balancing act of holding the various bags . With this tight-rope act in full progress one reaches the door and is asked to stop and retreive the receipt . Most papers follow Murphy's law . Or sink to the bottom of the bag not unlike the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean .The consumer will eventually locate the receipt only to have it stamped 'paid' by someone who has no basis to know whether the payment was made or to what extent .

Faced with stuff that flies in the face of common sense I tend to be persistent . Idea being that hopefully the individual / business will relook at the process /action and make a change . The response of the manager was interesting .The logic of what was being presented to him was undeniable . At the same time the idea of changing a simple process seemed quite unthinkable .

Often organisations have some processes that serve no purpose . These could be procedures that involve the customer directly or backend processes that the customer does not experience or witness and sometimes is not impacted at all by it . These are the process equivalents of a vestigial organ . These can still be endured as while they do no good they don't inconvenience either . Processes that serve no purpose and actively inconvenience the customer need to be scrutinised and done away with .

The reaction of the manager was symptomatic of the inside-out view that businesses often tend to develop ( in varying degrees ) .
Take a few minutes to introspect whether your business has the equivalent of ' security guard stamps the receipt paid ' . Better still - ask your customers !

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Global business

For companies that truly have a vision of being global , the expansion of human minds and hearts is more than global expansion...A global business is a business - whether worldwide or not - that has a vision for questing towards wholeness - for itself , for the people within it and the world at large

Barbara Shipka

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Dead wood

Yesterday I happened to watch a news item on a business channel re how the Indian garment industry is coping with the strong Rupee . It profiled one of the large garment companies of India and included an interview with the MD of the company.

The stated strategy of the company is :

- to reduce the low margin products

- to enter the Indian retail sector possibly as a franchisee of one of their client brands ( a brand of European origin )*

Nothing radical about either approach. Most conventional companies would adopt the approach to reduce very low margin products . And with India being touted as an strong , growing market a lot of companies are seeking to enter the Indian market across various categories. An international brand seeking to enter Indian retail would feel comfortable to have a partner they know . A common approach is to ally with someone you already know. In this case a supplier of garments will be the partner to enter retail (whether the company has the skills or more importantly the mindset is perhaps a secondary consideration ) .

* I suspect that the European company may have been looking to enter the Indian market . And thought of joining hands with an existing supplier . It may be more of a timing of the sequence of events rather than a planned strategy on part of this Indian garment company .

What was appalling was the manner in which the MD spoke about the reducing of the low margin business . The footage showed workers in the factory . Then zooms in the MD saying 'over the years we have accumulated dead wood which we have to / will reduce ' . The "dead wood" being the 3000 people who stand to lose their jobs . Clearly the man has a lot of respect for the people who work in his various factories .

In several cases it happens that one MD/CEO or several, successive CEOs make decisions . And someone , someday has to deal with the consequences in a changed context . In this case this MD has been the one at the helm all along . So any 'dead wood' is his creation . Yet he blithely spoke about people as "dead wood" as though they were washed on the shores of his company by some tsunami.

If I was interviewing this MD the question to him would have been " Your business approach all these years has been to compete largely on price . You followed the no-brainer strategy of volume as the means build your business . If you had built a business based on value (and values !) the margins would have been higher and the business would have been able to withstand the impact of a strong rupee . Why refer to hard working people as 'dead wood' when in fact the origin of the problem lies to a large extent in your approach to business ? And now 3000 people will face the consequences of your quality of thought. "

As someone who's been in the clothing business for several years I have seen the manufacturing end of the business quite closely . Even in the best factories in India the work is demanding - physically and mentally .

The rise of the Rupee has hit the clothing industry in India . Thousands have lost their jobs . Especially hit are the smaller companies . What would be the plight of a worker who's been diligently working on his/her job only to find one day that the job no longer exists ? I wonder if they can even comprehend the reasons . ' Rupee has become strong .' What would this mean to someone who has seen only one currency all his/her life - the Rupee ?

Larger companies have the possibility and more importantly the responsibility to enable their stakeholders to tide through the challenge . This could be done in a variety and combination of ways - for a temporary period the larger margin businesses can subsidize the low margin business which can be done at cost prices if necessary for a while , explore other markets , sell domestically , offer value added products / services which will fetch higher margins . To resort to layoffs at the first touch of pressure is irresponsible .

The wider issue is the very basis of business which forms the stated and unstated philosophy of most companies . Profit is pursued as the sacred end which justifies all means .Business is esentially a human activity . The core of business should be respectful of the people involved .

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Start with denial

Visited a not so small bookstore in my neighborhood today . We sometimes buy office supplies from this store . The store labels all products for barcode and price . The labels they use have adhesive that could bond wood to steel . When taken off or rather when one attempts to take them off one of the following consequences is guaranteed :
- the base material (if paper) gets torn
- if it does get removed it leaves a clear mark to 'mark' it's presence
- the label gets only partially removed
( products spared this fate are those where the price tag is on the external packaging which is to be discarded on purchase )
A few times my colleague and me have mentioned about this problem to store staff . There has been no change whatsoever . Like a lot of retail stores it is highly possible that the person who receives the feedback does not do much about it . More likely that there is no mechanism for feedback to be solicited and acted upon .
Today , I requested to speak with the Manager of the store . Met the manager and mentioned to him about this persistent problem with the labels. His response was to first say that 'it's not a problem ' . When I insisted it was - the response changed to ' all labels are like that ' implying that there's not much he can do about it . I explained to him that this is not the case with other book stores . Then he said something to the effect that they are or will experiment to change the label quality . No apology , no attempt to understand the inconvenience caused by this seemingly small problem . This entire exchange was extremely courteous .
This evoked a sense of deja vu . A large number of companies (B2B and B2C) function this way when faced with a complaint from a customer. Start with denial and move to rationalising it if the denial does not do away with the complaint . All along be polite , courteous .And as the consumer walks out of the store proceed to protect and perpetuate status quo through inaction .

Sunday, October 28, 2007

India Faces The World

The cover story of the latest Asia edition of The Fortune is about India . Not surprisingly stellar Indian companies like Suzlon , Bharat Forge , Mahindra & Mahindra are featured . Then there's the mandatory article about Google in India .
While India has , in many ways come of age and recognised globally - the recognition is in specific sectors ( and rightfully so ) e.g India is seen as a manufacturing / sourcing hub ranging from commodities to finished products and of course IT services . Indian companies / business groups have acquired businesses in various parts of the world to consolidate and complement their exisiting businesses . The overseas businesses acquired by Indian groups range from manufacturing operations to brands .
India is not yet seen as a country that is the origin of brands - fashion / lifestyle products , consumer durables , services . I.e brands of Indian origin which retail internationally .
Within India - everyday a new brand seems to be getting launched in some category or the other. Cumulatively the options for consumers are getting better.As the brands evolve perhaps they will seek to expand their offerings internationally * .
(*this excludes international forays made by some of the Indian brands seeking to reach out to the expatriate Indian community in the target country. e.g Amul butter being available in New Jersey stores , to Raymond / Louis Phillipe/Van Heusen/Arrow in Sri Lanka , M.East etc . While it can be a starting point for the international foray - the real test is for the brands to become preferred brands within that country beyond the expat community )
Hopefully a Fortune issue on India in 2010 ( and all subsequent issues from then on) will find the issue incomplete without a section on worldclass Indian brands that would have made an impact on retail and consumers internationally . This is not just about scale and whether an Indian brand would have grossed 1 $ billion in international retail sales or not . It's about making a powerful impact in the chosen category . Several Indian companies have the capability to do so . Here's hoping that at least some of them will.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Mobile Store

I continue my search for the successor to my present mobile . Should the day arrive when I have to change the handset immediately I should be very clear on which brand and model will be the chosen one .
( my reluctance to change hand sets frequently stems from environment concerns and the quantum of data transfer it invariably involves )
A few days ago I visited a retail outlet that specialises in mobile phones . Enquired about a particular model . Was informed that it was not in stock . They noted my contact details . Before leaving the store I asked for a store card . I did not hear from the store .Today I pulled out the card to call and check if they had received a set . The card of The Mobile Store has only one solitary land line number ! I turned the card around few times to look for a mobile phone number that should logically be on a card of The Mobile Store ( or any mobile store for that matter ) . I tried calling on that number only to find it engaged for the few times that I tried .
Looked at the card again and noticed that this enterprise is a venture between Essar and Virgin.2 large business groups in their respective countries have joined hands to market mobile phones in India . And the retail store ( at least the one I visited ) does not have a mobile number as a contact . They have put in considerable effort to create a brand identity . The stores externally look distinctive , the team at the store all wear T-shirts with the brand logo , the visiting card has the brand logo . Hopefully someday soon they will start to use the product they market .
This is more than just about whether The Mobile Store uses a mobile or not . It's about the convenience for customers , being accessible to customers , missed opportunities. Instead of waiting to get through on a land line one could message . And the store could respond . If I don't get through to the store and I don't therefore know whether they have stock of the set I want I could easily go to another store and make the purchase. Worse , I'm imagining ' what if I buy a product and then need to get in touch with them for some query or to solve a problem ? '
Completely obvious ?

The Population Myth

Interesting article by Amit Varma in MINT .

...All human beings , if allowed to express their creativity , add more value to the world than they consume .

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The completely obvious...

My mobile phone has started to malfunction with an regularity that now demands that I investigate the option of changing it . Few days ago I received a mailer from the phone company with an interesting exchange offer . I called them to find out details . All terms were ok except the fact that data on the existing phone can't be transferred to the new one ( except what would be there on the SIM ) . As per the company I could try to sync the old phone to my computer and then move that data to the new phone . After this tortuous exercise all that will be accomplished is transfer of the address book and calender !
When mobile phones are being equipped with esoteric features - camera , net browsing , gaming , email etc in an attempt to provide PC like functionalities - is it too much for phone companies to make data transfer from one phone to another a simple yet safe process ? e.g enable data transfer by means of a cable or memory chip . Make the process password protected to reduce risk of data pilferage .
Does anyone buy a computer and have to even think whether all data from the earlier computer will get transferred or not ? Mobile phones these days have become important information storage devices for most consumers esp business users . The data transfer ideally should be possible across all mobile phones allowing consumers the freedom to switch phones without loss of data . As a start phone companies can at least begin to offer complete data transfer between their phone models .

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gift wrap

The obscure we eventually see . The completely obvious it seems takes a little longer . Words that apply particularly to retail in India .

A small example being the service of neatly gift wrapping a product should the consumer request for it . Most stores in India whether stand-alone stores or department stores tend to approach gift wrapping with a reluctance that is mystifying . Gift wrapping if done well can exponentially enhance the experience and the value for the purchaser as well as the recepient . It can convert 2 people at least into repeat customers if not evangelists . Yet this is ignored by retailers .
This manifests in various forms :
- Packaging of various brands finds it's way to the gift wrapping area . So you could spend megabucks and buy a shirt from brand A only to find it being packed in the box of Brand D . Finally the damage is compounded by wierd looking decorative paper ( this can range from teddy bear motifs to the garish logo/signature print of the retailer ) . Should you choose to go with it your relationship with the recepient of the gift will need mending ( the colleague who receives a shirt wrapped in pink heart motifs may speculate if you meant to covey something other than birthday wishes ! )
- Sorry , we don't gift-wrap
- The gift-wrapping would be done so shoddily that one would regret the time spent waiting for it . And the time that would need to be spent in scouting for appropriate material to DIY .
Retailers in India seem to prefer to pour money into ad-campaigns/promotions to draw customers into their stores. And ignore the opportunity that lies within reach to covert a customer in the store into an evangelist .

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The expert

" The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second-best swordsman in the world .
No , the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before ; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do , and so the expert isn't prepared for him ; he does the thing he ought not to do , and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot . " ......Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Not lost in translation

Few shirts are as useful as the International Translation T-Shirt ($15) from Threadless. The next time you find yourself wandering the streets of Tehran and need to quickly find a bathroom or phone, just point and let your tee do the talking !
( found on Uncrate )

Friday, September 28, 2007

Talent has no gender

A leading Indian economic newspaper carried an article .

The article quotes the India CEO of a multinational bank who says that their recruitment policies follow a norm of hiring women proportionate to the number of women in an educational institution. “If there are 30% girls in an educational institution, then they account for at least 30% of our hirings from that institute.”
A policy like this is arbitrary and serves the interest of no stakeholder . The company will lose out on some outstanding candidates simply on the grounds of gender . Likewise , there would be candidates who would be denied an opportunity simply because of their gender ( sorry you don't fall in the 30% ) .
Talent has no gender .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Less would indeed be more

These days every other service provider- mobile service provider , bank etc seems to have either set up a call centre or engaged the services of a call centre . Or worse - use technology to inundate customers with messages .
Having incurred the cost of a call centre they then seem to try to come up with ways to keep the folks in the call centre or their servers busy . Consumers feel the impact by way of incessant , intrusive , pointless communication via phone calls , text msgs .
Case in point - a mobile service provider . I have the same mobile number for at least 8 years now . Every month the bill is received and paid for ( this would be one of the cases where the payment is paid almost always several days in advance of the due date) . In the past few months there has been a steady stream of text messages...
approximately a fortnight before the due date "You can view your ebill with password 800 "
Few days later " If you have forgotten your password sms 500 to 800 "
A day later " Your bill has been couriered "
A day later " Your bill is due by 16/09/07 . If you have made the payment pl ignore this msg"
A few hours later " Your bill is due by 16/09/07 . If you have made the payment pl ignore this msg "
This message is then received daily for 2-3 days post the due date irrespective of whether the payment is made or not .
Strangely , when the payment is made there is never a message that says " Thank you for your payment " .
There is never a message that says " How happy are you with our service ? sms 1 for very happy , 2 for ok , 3 for unhappy to 800 "
At the very least companies like these can attempt to use technology prudently by sorting through customer history and sending messages such as these where the history shows a need for such messages ( I checked with few folks who endure this service provider and found that they all receive messages with the same frequency )
There seem to be a lot of companies out there who think that communication of this nature constitutes service . Certainly a case when less would be more .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Less is More

Terrific post by Dan Pink

Ah, choices. For shoppers in Tokyo, they're endless. So how does a smart retail deigner respond to consumers' ocean of options? By restricting those choices. Radically.
Welcome to Ranking RanQueen -- a store that carries only the one, three, five, or ten most popular products in given category.
Here's how it works. Suppose you're shopping for an ear cleaner. Go to a drug store and you'll find dozens. Go to RanQueen and you'll find only the three most popular ones -- ranked in order. Looking for bust care products? The day I visited the Ranqueen that's stuffed into about 60-square meter space the Shibuya train station, the top seller, denoted with a crown surrounding the number 1, was "Beauty Bust-Up Gel." You'll find the top 3 Wii games, the top 3 mobile phone straps, the top 5 American snacks, the top 10 J-Pop singles, and the top 5 "lady's fragrances to find true love." (The shelf with the top 3 "after bath products" is pictured to the right.) The rankings are based on sales at other stores around Tokyo and they can change week to week.
In a world of abundance, Ranqueen imposes scarcity. "Curated consumption," my virtual pal Reinier Evans calls this new kind of retail. Or as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe told us last century, "less is more."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Learnings from across industries

In 2005 air travellers in India had huge gift in the form of Kingfisher Airlines . Since it's inception the airline has raised the bar for service in the aviation industry . As someone who has travelled extensively within India and internationally - I can state that Kingfisher's service is outstanding and consistent when compared with international airlines too . By focusing on the customer Kingfisher has catalysed significant improvements in service in the airline industry . Certainly a case where competition has benefited the consumers in ways more than one .
It was interesting to watch the response of the other airlines mired in their ways of working and their culture . At first the approach seemed to be " this is a flash in a pan . they won't be able to live upto their promises " . Jet Airways until then was perceived as being most efficient . Post Kingfisher they seemed stodgy and not so customer friendly . Even Indian Airlines has become less unbearable than they used to be . Of course the overall growth in the number of airlines has impacted the industry and the service standards - there is no doubt that Kingfisher made the "king's contribution " to enabling this much needed change ( growth in the number and network of airlines keeps Kingfisher on it's toes ! )
Point is that even companies within an industry seem to take a while ( longer than they should have ) to evolve to respond ( if not lead ) in the changing competitive landscape .
The lessons seem quite lost across the borders of the industry .
This struck me while visiting a mall in Mumbai few weeks ago . Stores , malls in India ( at least the ones I have visited ) tend to approach service as something they need to extend to a customer once he /she has stepped inside the store . And their liability to offer any service remains only as long as the customer is within the defined physical space they see as "their premises" . This tended to be the approach of airlines too e.g the airline's service started once you got to the airline counter and then the inflight service . Kingfisher changed it by posting their representatives at most airports right from the entrance . They help you unload your luggage and get it inside the airport . Similarly at the arrival section at most airports . Strangely , no other airline has so far chosen to offer this thoughtful service to it's customers .
This is much needed service in the retail sector today in India. And it would be easier to organise for a retail establishment than for an airline .
While individual stores may or may not be able to offer this service there is no doubt that malls , stand alone department stores can easily offer a service of helping consumers get a taxi or an auto .This service alone can make consumers prefer to frequent the mall / store that offers this service .
On the physical front all it would take is to put up a signboard indicating the taxi/auto stand , a person or two whose only mandate is to ensure transport for the consumers who wait in the line
( necessary in a country like India where taxi / auto drivers will choose whether or not they wish to go to the destination where the consumer wishes to travel to ) . The tougher bit is for malls / dept stores to rethink their concept and scope of service .

Saturday, September 15, 2007


We shape our words . Thereafter , they shape us.

Tom Peters

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spoiling Dinner

This picture is a true image ! Unimaginable that any company would use the word "spoil" in any context in a tagline for marketing food products.

But apparently there are great minds who are convinced that consumers would somehow crack the code and get the message (?) they are seeking to convey .

Yours truly had the opportunity to watch the fate of this stall for 45 mins (while waiting to get a cab ) . Not a single consumer was seen at the stall . Perhaps they could understand English ?

With this tagline Auntie Anne's should perhaps exclusively target non-English speaking consumers .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How to Green Your Wardrobe

terrific article from Treehugger .

What’s the Big Deal?Here's the irony: fashion is ephemeral while fabric and pollution are not. After all of the inspiration, image-making, and excitement pass, the clothes remain. Pouf skirts. Acid-washed denim. M. C. Hammer pants. They're out there still, in closets, thrift stores, and land fills. Eco-savvy fashion choices mean not only reducing post-consumer refuse, but also pre-consumer waste and pollution. After its origins on the farm, forest, or oil field, that jacket spent some time morphing into its present form. What chemicals were used to grow it? Were the dyes safe? As more designers and manufacturers create with eco-concerns in mind, it's easier to find satisfying answers. Through smart wardrobe management and consumer choices, you can cut down on closet clutter, support clean industry, and look fabulous. The FAQs below will help you navigate all of the terminology and find the best ways to green your wardrobe.

1. Shop with a plan
When you bring an article of clothing into your life, it’s kind of like adopting a dog or cat. That cute little number has to have a place in your wardrobe, and you’re agreeing to provide for and give it the longest possible life with you. Abandoning the impulse buy may sound boring, but how exciting is a closet full of stuff that doesn’t work? In the long run, knowing what you're looking for before you shop will save time and eliminate clutter. You'll get more use out of a piece that looks and feels great: What colors work for you? What fits work the best? How will the piece get along with everything else in the closet? If the answer to "Will I still want to wear this rhinestone-studded bustier in two years?" or “Can I eventually find a way to use it in a craft project?” is no, skip it.

2. Love your duds
Whatever you've chosen, take good care of it. When you get home, change out of work gear and into your famous dressing gown or leisure suit. Don’t cook or check the tire pressure in clothes you want to wear in public. Learn how to sew a button back on, or how to coax a nimble friend into doing it for you. Get the name of a local tailor or seamstress for major repairs or alterations.

3. Don't go dry
Though the industry has improved much since 1992, there is still a high likelihood that your trusty corner cleaner uses perc (tetrachloroethylene), a known carcinogen. See if there is a local green cleaner employing "wet cleaning" or liquid CO2 techniques. Many articles whose tags ask for the dry clean treatment can actually be hand washed, especially silk, wool and linen.

4. Buy vintage or used
People unload clothes for all types of reasons, and you know that adage about trash and treasure. From Oscar-worthy vintage dresses to Freecycled denim, you can likely find the piece you’re looking for second hand. You’ll be giving a cast-off garment a second life, and possibly supporting charitable work in the process.

5. Wash well
Washing wreaks the most havoc of all. It requires lots of water and energy, so only do it when you absolutely need to and have a full laundry load. Turn articles inside out and use the lowest temp possible. If you know you glowed all over a piece, make a thin salt paste and soak the affected fabric for a half hour before washing. Choose phosphate-free and biodegradable detergents and line dry as much as possible. Treat stains quickly with nontoxic removers. If you’re buying a new washing machine, look for one with an Energy Star label.

6. Wear organic
Though cotton is marketed as clean, fresh, and natural, conventional varieties are anything but. It takes a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton for one T-shirt! That means lots of direct, unhealthy exposure for farmers and nearby wildlife, and heaps of unnecessary pollution. Ick. Luckily, organic cotton is becoming easier and easier to find. As mega-stores get into the game, however, it’s important to stay vigilant about what organic means, so you know you’re really getting clean clothes. Also know that though the cotton may have been organic to start with, your T may be full of processing chemicals and metal-laden dyes. See below for more info on labeling and certification.

7. Find a re-purpose
A re-purposed garment used to be another or many other articles. Designers all over the globe have taken on this transformative challenge in recent years, with very wearable results. This means a one-of-a-kind look for you, a new life for old fabric, and a livelihood for maverick re-users.

8. Approach new fabrics with skeptical enthusiasm
No doubt you’ve heard the hype around bamboo, soy, or even corn fabric. The idea of finding alternatives to petrochemical-based and conventionally grown options makes us all perk up and we see why many eco-conscious designers are excited about them. Bamboo, for instance, sounds great: it’s a fast-growing plant, not reliant on chemicals, and beautifully drapes the human form. Trouble is, bamboo plantations can displace native forests, and the harvesting and fiber processing are often polluting and unregulated. As with soy, corn, and Tencel (which comes from trees), the processing from plant to fabric is energy and resource intensive. For now, approach these as alternatives to poly, nylon, acrylic or conventional silk and await more info. As always, shop with a plan: don’t fill multiple shopping bags just because the labels say “eco.” Read more about fabric choices below.

9. Choose clothes that work for you
It’s hard to feel beautiful in your raw silk dress when it’s likely that children’s scalded hands were part of the production chain. Conventional clothing might not say it, but clothing made under fair-wage and labor practices will usually advertise it. SweatShop Watch and Behind The Label are good sources of info. See more resources below.

10. Don’t throw it all away
Finally, a stain, a tear, or changing fashion threaten to separate you from your favorite dress shirt. Don’t just abandon your old friend to the waste-stream! If the condition is perfectly good, you can always donate or Freecycle it (see below for donation resources).

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Returned home one evening and found 2 interesting pieces of paper peacefully sharing space on my bedside table .

One ( the smaller image ) the Tag from a SEWA garment I had purchased at an exibition . I had liked the tag and somehow did not feel like tossing it in the bin .

Another ( the hot Sale event ) was a mailer from a lingerie brand that has launched in India recently .

The 2 images are a striking contrast to each other . Yet are linked in the sense that they pertain to women and the fashion/clothing industry . Alluding perhaps to the fact that there's space for both to co-exist . Like the 2 pieces of paper sharing the table space .

Monday, July 2, 2007

Build your ecosystem carefully

A sequence of events - seemingly straight out of the book of Murphy's laws - sparked this conscious realisation .
2 packages being delivered by 2 different courier companies had to be received and sent out to a client to meet a commitment. Interestingly both parcels were sent from one location. The only difference was the time of handing over to the courier . And as it turned out - to 2 different companies. Strangely both parcels had to be collected from the respective offices of the courier companies in Bombay since they would assure delivery only the subsequent day . One(Bluedart) took 2 days after promising next day delivery and the another(First Flight) took nearly 4 days after promising delivery in 2 days ( notice the consistency of 100% extension from the commited time frame !)
International couriers not to be outdone in this seeming race towards inefficiency - DHL joined the fray by adding their contribution to eroding time and energy . Finally the saga came to an end with DHL collecting the package .
As a company in the clothing business we use + are the recipient of the "services" of several courier companies . From time to time they seem to attempt vigorously to be deemed the most inefficient company in their business . Seldom has it happened that 3 of them decide to do so within a span of few days and to one set of contents .
We were determined to meet the commitment made to the client . So if that entailed repeated calls to various offices of the courier companies to ensure receipt of the incoming packages , sending someone to collect the packages , repeating it all over again to send it out and ensure it connected on the flight to it's final destination - then that's what was done . At the end of the day we met the commitment . But at the cost of significant time and energy which undoubtedly could have been to better use .
It brought about a conscious realisation of the need to build the ecosystem - of customers , suppliers , service providers - consciously and carefully . Often when individuals , teams , organizations seek to improve their productivity and output - they introspect and seek to identify , analyse and weed out habits , practices that are internal to them . Unless the net is cast wider to include the players from the related ecosystem the impact of such introspection could be limited . Or worse - bandwidth is freed up only to deal with a growing tribe of energy drainers within the ecosystem . From a customer who seems to take an inordinate time for most issues to service providers/suppliers who seem to exist only to 'serve' their needs ( or serve if and when convenient ) to all shades of grey in between . This impacts organisations differently . Smaller organisations are likely to experience a direct impact in terms of time and effort wasted . Larger organisations may experience this plus the cost of building an army to deal to mundane tasks simply because the scale of it's energy draining ecosystem necessitates it
( assumption being that both the small and the large organisation are conscious of and continually work to improve their internal productivity ) .
As my former yoga teacher would reiterate - a part cannot be treated without treating the whole .
Build your ecosystem - consciously and carefully .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I n t e r e s t i n g T i m e s

These are interesting times for most businesses . Challenging too . The world we inhabit today - whether as consumers or producers - is constantly evolving . Each day a border seems to disappear or at least become fuzzy . What once seemed like a distant , unrelated event has an impact that's close , direct and sometimes without a time-lag . The clothing business feels and lives the impact of this ever-changing world . While in turn impacting the world it inhabits .