Author Archives: Prasad

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

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.

Gratitude and leadership

A TEDxSF talk by Louie Schwartzberg titled Nature. Beauty. Gratitude offers much to think about for all of us in how we can and should lead. Humility is perhaps the most important characteristic of leadership. And at the heart of humility is gratitude. Intelligence makes us aware; awareness makes us recognize all there is to be thankful for and thus generates gratitude; and gratitude makes us humble.

Enjoy the video:

How to measure a leader’s capacity to adapt

The leadership guru Warren Bennis says that the key competence of a leader is “adaptive capacity”–the ability to deal with change. Adaptability is also at the core of innovation. Vivekin’s Leadership Intelligences Framework (LIF) is centrally concerned with measuring and developing a person’s ability to adapt. It does this comprehensively using 5 different intelligences: analytical, operational, inventive, communicative, and most importantly, ethical intelligence. Vivekin’s LIF is comprehensive in another way too: it measures both one’s aptitude to adapt and one’s ability to adapt.
We’re trying to benchmark LIF against other measures of adaptability. One such metric is Lumina Learning Inc.’s Spark–which uses a Jungian approach . Do you know of any other framework or system that measures the adaptive capacity of an individual? Do you use any such system in your organization?

Donate to Help Haiti Earthquake Victims

As the work week begins in the USA after the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I urge you to make a donation to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Stories of true leadership emerge everyday from amidst the ruins and the disorder, but the need of the hour is our help.Donate through UNICEF:

Help Victims of Earthquake in Haiti through UNICEF.

Or through the American Red Cross:

Donate through Red Cross to help Earthquake Victims in Haiti.

President Obama: Speech on intelligence failures

Barack Obama is always fascinating when it comes to leadership intelligences. Yesterday’s speech, was a succinct demonstration of communicative leadership intelligence.Watch:

In an appropriately stern voice, Obama declared, “… our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list. In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.” He went on to say, that this situation was “not acceptable.”
In its editorial wisdom, the Washington Post says, “What was missing from yesterday’s assessment, and what Mr. Obama promised would be quickly forthcoming, was a treatment plan.”
In my opinion, Obama’s speech would have failed if it had laid out a “treatment plan.” Given that the purpose of the speech was to use communicative intelligence to solve a problem–”Obama’s administration goofed up in anti-terrorism efforts”–it had to demonstrate candor and the President’ authority to call relevant parts of his administration to task. And that it definitely did.
A spelling out of policy would have led to this becoming an exercise in analysis and full of operational details. A speech of the kind the Washington Post call for, would have at this point achieved far less than the speech Obama gave.
What do you think? Did Obama succeed in being a leader in this speech?

Understand your customer

On a Saturday some weeks ago, I was driving from Chapel Hill to Durham along a commuter-friendly back road. The car in front of me suddenly turned its hazard lights on and stopped. Luckily I was some distance and I too turned my hazard lights on and stopped. Cars that were behind me were quite far off and also came to a stop behind me. I was about to get out to see if I could help, when a man jumped out of the car in front and went to pick up something from the road. He emerged holding a turtle by its shell and started walking to the ditch with the obvious intention of helping to speed the turtle’s road crossing. As we were all admiring this act of grace and how it had saved the turtle’s life, the turtle seemed to be of a different opinion. It turned its head and tried to snap at the man’s wrist. Startled, the man quickly finished his task of escorting the turtle, and I laughed to see the relief on his face.Your customers are like the turtle. You think they think like you. Unfortunately, they don’t. And this is the biggest marketing myth that is being propagated these days. How often have you heard: “Treat your customers like you would like to be treated.” No. The market is never homogeneous. The best customer service is when you treat your customers as they would like to be treated. I can’t emphasize that. Imagine a hotel manager who arranges feather pillows for you in your room before you check in. Great thought! But what if you are allergic to feathers, or if, like me, you simply hate the thought of some poor bird’s feathers under your head? Seth Godin has an interesting take on this.I’m reminded of a story–perhaps fictitious–from history. When Alexander came to conquer India, he faced the mighty king Puru (“Porus” as the Greeks called him). Puru had a huge army with terrifying elephants. Alexander’s victory on the banks of the river, Jhelum–the Greeks called it Hydaspes–was hard and long-fought (some say the victory was so Pyrrhic that his army rebelled, and Alexander had to go back without conquering the rest of India). The legend goes that when Puru was brought before Alexander, Alexander asked him, “How would you like to be treated?” Puru replied, “Like a king.” Impressed, Alexander let him retain his kingship.Firms had better start asking their customers, “How would you like to be treated?” instead of making stereotypical assumptions. This used to be difficult in the past but today’s technology allows us to do this. But more than the ability to do this perhaps, one needs the courage to do it.Vivekin’s Pay WYVAYCan pricing policy (in a sense) asks–”What would you like to pay?” I hope other consulting firms follow this example.

Warren Buffet, Goldman Sachs,&Leadership Intelligences

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that as recently as in March, Warren Buffet wrote to his shareholders expressing disdain for Wall Street firms, “You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out–and what we are witnessing at some of our large financial institutions is an ugly sight.”And yet, today’s WSJ reports that Buffet will invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs, and also has an option to invest $5 billion more at a later time. What is Buffet’s rationale?Actually, Buffet is just demonstrating his great leadership skills. In particular, in the context of leadership intelligences, Buffet’s decision reflects his “analytical intelligence”. Think about it. Why Goldman and not any other company? Why now and not anytime sooner or later?Here are a few thoughts: About timing. Buffet knows that the financial markets need a shot in the arm, and as a thought leader, he is in the best position to provide that much-needed confidence by investing in a company. About Goldman. While not safe from the crisis in the financial markets, Goldman has avoided any mortgage-related crisis. And although profits have been declining, the firm has been steadily showing a quarterly profit. Now, with Buffet’s investment, Goldman can raise additional money from selling stock to the public. The boost Goldman is getting has already been demonstrated in the 6.5% uptick in its share price yesterday. The WSJ article notes that the deal “will give Mr. Buffet a healthy stream of cash and potentially ownership of 10% of Goldman.” Win-win. And of course, a desperately-needed vote of confidence in the financial institutions.Isn’t that leadership?