Blog

At Vivékin, we like to think big, think crazy, and think often. This blog may be called a scratch pad that shows our thinking (ok, let’s admit it, it’s a manicured scratch pad)… We’d love you to read and engage with us. And we’d love to hear your scratchy thoughts too—so please email us a note with your entry and we will feature it on our blog under “Your View”!!

 

Trending Now: Emergent Leaders & Agility

A recent write-up in the Business Insider examines “why Google has stopped asking bizarre, crazy-hard interview questions”—a quick read through and it is evident why. Google has realized that in order to better understand how candidates perform in real life situations, and whether they are capable of being agile, they need to do away with brain-teasing questions and in their place ask more pertinent behavioral questions. Like Google, more and more companies today are realizing the need for agile, ‘emergent’ leaders.
Who is an ‘emergent’ leader? And what makes you one? Anyone who can quickly adapt themselves to adopt the appropriate strategy in a context-sensitive manner is an emergent leader. Clearly, the key capability here is agility. Agility, often confused with Adaptability (a slow evolutionary process that is often a one-way street), is the ability to change gears at a moment’s notice, and to be able to go back and forth between different options or modes of operation as the situation demands.

 

At Vivékin, we understand the need for agility in today’s business environment and have developed the VIF™ framework with the specific aim of assessing individuals in a multi-dimensional way. Individuals can assess themselves by taking our VIF-based test after which they will be provided with their Vivékin Agility Profile (VAP), a report on their agility across 5-dimensions.

 

To get your VAP, please visit our test-portal, www.viftest.com. To learn more about agility, and strategic agility, please go through our website.

Strategic Agility in the New Year

We surge into the New Year filled with hope and determination.

Hope–that this year will see a lot of our dreams fulfilled. Determination–to get one step closer to our goal for Vivékin.

 

At Vivékin, we continue to forge ahead with our vision for a world where businesses flourish with a collective benefit, a world where companies think differently, where organizations empower themselves by being strategically agile.

 

Here’s to strategic agility in 2014!

Cross-Domain Application of Knowledge & Jugaad

It was around a discussion on cross-domain knowledge that I realized that there was no better place to look for instances of these than in India. India is a hotbed for innovation using cross-domain knowledge, most of which gets pushed under the umbrella of jugaad, a concept we find is commonly misinterpreted & misunderstood.

 

At Vivékin, we’ve understood jugaad to be a form of innovation, which while fabulously inventive and immensely beneficial to the immediate community of the concerned innovator, very often tends to be restrictive due to its inability to scale up and last long. In other words, jugaad is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. What makes jugaad truly an innovation is when it lends itself to being a scalable long-term solution to a problem.

 

Instances of innovation using the application of lateral thinking and cross-domain knowledge in India are many. The living bridges of Meghalaya, a tradition that was started sometime in ancient India, where bridges are built by coaxing the young roots of trees (planted on the riverbank) into formation – a practice that spans several decades; the MittiCool, an electricity-free refrigerator invented by a small time entrepreneur, Manuskhbhai Prajapati, by applying the cooling principle of the clay pot in which drinking water is stored in the hot summer months;  a water mill that generates electricity, designed by Siddappa, a farmer in Karnataka, using a giant wheel, plastic basins and a dynamo.

 

Instances elsewhere in the world – the windmill built by William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, a 14 year old school dropout at the time, using spare parts from a tractor and bicycle to generate electricity for his family; or in the corporate context, the car-parts incubator (for new born babies) designed by a nonprofit firm in Massachussets, USA, “Design that Matters”, using the same technology used in cars to allow people in third world and developing countries to be able to easily repair them.

 

Some of the instances above could be classified as jugaad, like the makeshift water mill by farmer Siddappa, and the windmill by William Kamkwamba, but most of the others are true innovations resulting from the application of lateral thinking and long-term vision.

Being Human

“Being human” – this is the almost constant backdrop of all the conversations that we have at Vivékin – and it is something that has become increasingly important for organizations today, especially at a time that social media marketing has gained huge popularity. Who – right from big giants to small start-ups – has not dived into the bandwagon of creating a company page in popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?

 

However, mere presence on social media sites is not enough and companies should be utilizing their presence more meaningfully.Interacting with customers through these sites, promoting new products&services, communicating the company’s opinion on current issues, solving customers’ problems, answering their queries et al are few of the ways in which they can make their presence felt.  And we should always remember that all these interactions should have humanness at their core, lest the whole effort of being on social media looks superficial.

 

Take for example, the social media outreach of Home Depot. An offensive tweet was sent from their official twitter account but the Home Depot team was quick enough to act on it and did a PR clean-up. The steps taken by them were perfect, till they decided to tweet everyone personally with the same message.  Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich Inc., in her blog-post says, “Tweeting the same message to every, single person makes it look like a robot – rather than a human being – is in charge.” Yes, we all know that it would take quite some time to customize the message but such a gesture would have created a lasting impression on the customers. And who would not want to be in the good books of the customer?

 

Again, like we say at Vivékin, being human is no longer an option but a necessity!

Wise Leadership

An article on ‘wise leadership’ talked about how we tend to think that the best and wisest leaders are smart, intelligent people. But what do we mean by ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’? According to Prasad Kaipa (Senior Research Fellow & Executive Director Emeritus at The Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change of Indian School of Business) what we call ‘smartness’, falls into either the Red or the Blue Zone. The Red zone is about being more aggressive, always looking for the next opportunity, always looking at the big picture but not paying attention to the operational details, and so on; the Blue is about being more cautious and careful, paying attention to excellence, making sure everything gets done impeccably, etc.
So which is a better leadership style? Is it just a combination of the two or avoiding an extreme of either? Kaipa says that a good leader or a wise-leader is one who is able to maintain a balance between the two zones, or use each set of traits appropriately.

 

This ties in very well with what we believe at Vivékin: A good leader is one who is able to exercise the appropriate intelligence according to context. We believe that with anything, be it leadership, or business strategy, what makes it most effective is when the right intelligence is exercised at the right moment.

BCC (Building Cultural Companies)

When I read about how Google HR uses people analytics in its HR practices, it made me realize that Google could be one of the few companies that walk the talk when it comes to building a company around a firmly rooted culture. While there are a lot of articles and discussions on why it is important to identify and build a company around a culture, I would like to focus more on why this term is merely PR jargon for most companies, or punch line for their leaders.

 

The identification of a company’s culture and how a company should be built around it is most profound during the formative years of the company. It acts as a vetting tool to decide on the business areas, the clients it would like to acquire and most importantly the profile of the new employees coming into the organization. The greatest challenge lies in keeping this culture intact when companies begin to grow, especially when the growth is rapid. Most companies lose the cultural aspect in this growth period during which more and more employees are recruited to sustain business growth without due consideration to cultural fitment, the underlying belief being “Once they come in, they will just figure it out and blend in”. Sadly this is not the case; rather it results in cultural dilution.

 

Specifically, I would like to illustrate this point with my experience in top IT services firms in India. It is a well-known fact that Indian IT firms recruit fresh college graduates by herds if not dozens. They pride themselves in the training facilities and methods for onboarding these graduates – their secret sauce to “mold” them to make them employable (billable) in the company. The vision, mission and the “culture” of the company occupy a prominent but small portion of the presentation about the company made to them during their induction process. The most impressionable employees come in without a clue of what drives the company.

 

Now moving up a level to the middle management, which is usually an equal mix of people who have grown within the company and laterals (people who have joined with industry experience) – the former’s definition of company culture comes from the most influential manager they have worked under, thereby making it more an individual established culture; while the latter’s definition is in relation to their previous work experience. The discussion on company culture in this group is usually in retrospect: how it used to be and how everything has changed. The middle tier, which is a major influencer for new employees, wonders if there exists a culture.

 

And finally we come to the senior management who are proud about a bygone culture that they were a part of but refuse to admit its non-existence. The reality is that when it comes to the question of the topline and the bottom line in their balance sheets, the word culture vanishes from their vocabulary. In their focus on the rat race for higher and faster growth, most of the senior management is focused only on business impact.

 

The only place where culture is spoken about in eloquent terms is in the CXOs’ interviews and letters, intra company newsletters and banners. A reality check will be to ask their employees what the culture of their company is. Some of the responses I have heard are:

 

  • “Fun at work” – from freshers; an HR initiative. This notion typically gives way to “work, work and more work” after a couple of years in the company
  • “Customer Centricity” – my favorite response. On a single day, I came across 3 definitions for this term. The CEO in his email defined it as knowing what the customer wants before we proposed solutions. When I was discussing some issue with an Account Manager, he said, “We are Customer Centric, we will do anything to keep the customer happy”. And in a project meeting when one of the team members checked if we can get the deadline extended, the Project Lead replied in a somber tone: “Customer centricity is all about delivering projects on time and with best quality”.

 

Adding more confusion to this definition is the notion of regional footprint like “Bangalore culture is more open”, “We do things differently in Chennai office” etc. My intention to highlight these examples is not to sound condescending but to indicate how disparately company culture can be perceived and why it is important that everyone understands it correctly.

 

Some may argue that all this philosophy of well-defined company culture is good for writing articles but becomes impractical when you have to deal with a size of 1 lakh + employees that these organizations manage. My counter to that is, if you can take the time and effort to explain the company culture to every employee, they understand the company’s raison d’être and their expected contribution becomes much clearer. This could be a good starting point to improve employee productivity. It should not just stop with understanding alone; it will have to be actively discussed and openly debated within the company and repeatedly exhibited in the major decisions company makes, including letting go of people who are not contributing to the culture. If you want to know more about such companies, you can start by googling.

 

Reference:

http://www.tlnt.com/2013/02/26/how-google-is-using-people-analytics-to-completely-reinvent-hr/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=linkedin&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tlnt+%28TLNT%3A+The+Business+of+HR%29

 

Is Google being a leader with Nexus?

Mitch Joel, as usual, has an interesting take on Google’s new phone, Nexus One. He argues that the Nexus One should not be compared with other smart phones; rather, it should be compared to a hand-held computer.Yes, Google may be positioning itself to work on the hand-held computer market, but I’m afraid it may not be learning from the past. It labors under the impression that limiting access to a product increases te public’s appetite for that product. Look at Gmail for lessons. Nearly 5 years after it was launched, Gmail is a pathetic third behind Yahoo and MSN Hotmail. It just managed to overtake, of all things, AOL!! The latest Hitwise list provides a nice snapshot of email service usage:

Website Usage Stats from Hitwise

On Jugaad

By Ayesha Vemuri

The point you make about jugaad being responsible for killing innovation is something that I have been trying to articulate as well – the fact is that, as long we’re satisfied (and even proud) of our makeshift, barely working, hastily put together solutions, there is no demand on the providers of these products and services to actually improve. We tend to have this “sab kuch chalega” attitude about everything, including things that affect our quality of life, our safety and security, our health and well-being and happiness, and somehow we tend to not demand better and more. Why is that and how do we even begin to overcome this highly ingrained attitude?

 

Presidential Debates, Professors, and Leadership

The first US Presidential Debate of 2012 concluded a few hours ago and, as usual with events of this nature, it offered some lessons on leadership. Analyzing the debate immediately afterwards on CNN, David Gergen opined that President Obama was “professorial.” “And more!” he said. To use the word “professorial” to describe Obama—and perhaps Romney too—in today’s debate reinforces stereotypes that do a disservice to the great profession of teaching. In fact, more than any other profession, the teaching profession knows the value of drama and the power drama bestows on communication. As anybody who has stood in front of a class of disinterested students knows, the professor dons an acting persona that may be totally different from his or her non-teaching persona. Every professor knows that it’s not enough to know–however well or however much in detail–the intricacies of math, or the habits of societies, or the facts of history, or the nuances of poetry. To be effective, to lead students into knowledge, professors know that they need to be dramatic.

In contrast, in today’s debate, both Obama and Romney, came across as boring walking-talking-account-books–not as professors, and definitely not as leaders. Consider for a moment how Obama could have responded to the moderator Jim Lehrer’s question of how, going forward, he would work toward resolving the stalemate with the Congress in Washington. In boring tones, Obama declared that leadership is about knowing what you want to achieve and saying “No!” to people sometimes in order to achieve that goal.  What if instead, Obama had waved his hand in the air vigorously for a moment and then turned to Jim Lehrer and asked him if he had heard a clap? He could have then said that it takes two hands to clap and that the Republican Congress was the other hand. He could have remarked somewhere that Romney was lucky that for him, working across the aisle as Governor in Massachusetts meant that he was negotiating with Democrats. He could have then gone on to say that would continue to work vigorously on negotiating with the Republicans and at the same time would continue to hope that the people of America would send more people to Congress who didn’t think that negotiation always compromises principles. That would have been a leader using the power of drama to persuade.

 

Bottlenecking Innovation: What can a bottle of water tell us about Indian innovation?

On a recent flight from Delhi to Hyderabad, the flight attendant handed me a bottle of water. This was a full-service flight, and like all airlines trying to make the best of both worlds, this airline’s dinner too was watered-down. The bottle of water was part of it. As I tried to open the bottle, however, I was nearly poked by a hard, pointer sliver of the plastic that broke off and stood projected from the neck (see picture). I was grateful that it was not my daughter who was opening the bottle.
Water Bottle on Flight from Delhi to Hyderabad

But the bottle raises many questions about Indian innovation. The state of the packaging industry in India is symbolic of the state of Indian innovation in general, and the bottleneck is both a literal and a metaphorical commentary on the culture of innovation in India.

A few weeks ago, I bought a bottle of cough syrup, and try as I might, I could not open the plastic bottle because the metal cap kept turning with the metal band underneath that is supposed to be fixed to the bottle.Cough Medicine Bottle

As every Indian knows, this is a common occurrence and is, in fact, a decades-old problem. As a kid, I saw my parents struggle with the same problem when they opened medicine bottles for the family. Why has the Indian packaging industry not innovated for decades? And these medicines are made by international pharmaceutical giants who would not even think of selling drugs in this packaging in Europe or America. True, we have seen more tetrapaks and better bottles in India in recent years, but if we have truly innovated, we should not be seeing the kinds of bottles that I am referring to—the water bottle on the plane or the cough syrup bottle.

So how do you open the cough syrup bottle? Well, we Indians are very resourceful. In fact, jugaad, resourcefulness, has been proudly promoted as a national characteristic of India and the foundation of the Indian way of innovation. So like my parents, like me, we Indians look for the kitchen knife or a similar instrument and quickly cut the metal band at each place it is attached to the cap.opening cough medicine bottle with knife

Voilà! The cap can now be untwisted, and the medicine becomes available.

At the same time however, unwittingly, our jugaad has killed innovation. Because we can open the bottle with a knife, we don’t pressurize the drug company to make a better bottle, and of course, the consequence is that there is no shift in market demand to another drug maker who uses better bottles. Result: drug makers continue to use same types of un-openable bottles for decades; no innovation.

Long live Jugaad! Death to innovation! We are a nation of jugaadis with no innovation.