Frameworks and Hierarchies

The response to my recent op-ed in The Hindu (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2967567.ece) was overwhelmingly positive. But about 1% of people misread my message. This small percentage of responders thought that my op-ed was against western frameworks and theories, and that I was calling for them to be replaced by Indian ones. We are conditioned to any call for Indian ways to being seen as nationalist.

Drawing on mathematical logic–I admit I used it rather loosely–I said that western frameworks are “necessary but not sufficient.” And I was thinking here of the oft-quoted example to show the relationship between necessity and sufficiency: being a mammal is necessary but not sufficient to being human. My argument was that we need to understand that frameworks from western thinking are necessary but not sufficient for strategic success. They form one option that needs to be placed alongside Indian thinking (one another option among many others that I did not refer to–Chinese, African, whatever) so that both western and Indian frameworks become options for any strategist to choose from–options that should be level with each other, and not arranged in a hierarchy as is the case now with western theories placed much above Indian ones.

Communicating effectively in every day scenarios

What is the power of the spoken or the written word? Churchill said, “We are masters of the unsaid word, but slaves of those we let slip out” and Jean-Paul Sarte claimed “Words are loaded pistols.”

All of us have, at some point in our personal or professional lives, been confronted with situations where we have either averted a major “disaster” or fallen headfirst into one because of what we said. And when we look back on what transpired, very often we realize, it isn’t “what” we said, but “how” we said something that produced that desirable (or disastrous) outcome.
There is no getting away from it, or getting around it – communicating effectively is something we all need to do, in all walks of life, day in and day out.

The video below is a wonderful example of how your choice of words can influence people or situations differently.


Of the five Leadership Intelligences (Analytical, Communicative, Inventive, Operational and Ethical), it is evident that it is the Communicative Leadership Intelligence that comes into play here. In the video, the lady (in black) exercises this LI to change the way the visually challenged gentleman is perceived by people around (it can also be argued that she does this by appealing to the crowd’s Ethical Leadership Intelligence) thereby considerably increasing the donations made to him.

A Pygmalion approach to pricing a service

Pricing is always a tricky problem where a service like training or teaching is concerned, because marginal price (i.e. the price to serve one additional customer) is almost zero (as with most informational goods). How much more does it cost you to teach 51 students when you’re already teaching 50? Economics teaches us that in the long run, the price of a product goes to its marginal price. But surely, a service with a marginal price near zero cannot be given away for free!?George Bernard Shaw had an interesting take on pricing in his play, Pygmalion. See this video: (if you have difficulty understanding the accent, a (more elaborate) transcript of the relevant portion from the play is below the player).Here’s a videoclip from the 1938 movie Pygmalion (whole movie available on YouTube)[kaltura-widget wid="7rm50xm8tw" width="400" height="365" /]The section from the play is more clear:

HIGGINS. Come back to business. How much do you propose to pay me for the lessons?LIZA. Oh, I know what’s right. A lady friend of mine gets French lessons for eighteen pence an hour from a real French gentleman. Well, you wouldn’t have the face to ask me the same for teaching me my own language as you would for French; so I won’t give more than a shilling. Take it or leave it.HIGGINS [walking up and down the room, rattling his keys and his cash in his pockets]You know, Pickering, if you consider a shilling, not as a simple shilling, but as a percentage of this girl’s income, it works out as fully equivalent to sixty or seventy guineas from a millionaire.PICKERING. How so?HIGGINS. Figure it out. A millionaire has about 150 pounds a day.She earns about half-a-crown.LIZA [haughtily] Who told you I only–HIGGINS [continuing] She offers me two-fifths of her day’s income for a lesson. Two-fifths of a millionaire’s income for a day would be somewhere about 60 pounds. It’s handsome. By George, it’s enormous! it’s the biggest offer I ever had.

What would you call this pricing strategy? An equal-share-of-wallet strategy?

What Matters Now: Leadership Intelligences

Seth Godin brought out a free e-book titled, What Matters Now (download it here). It’s a fascinating collection from many thought leaders. Each writer elaborates in one page on a theme s/he has chosen. It is a must read.I am sure that Seth–in his usual generous style–intended this book to be a thought-provoker. In that spirit, I asked myself–what do I think would particularly matter now? Not just in a corporate environment or an organizational setting, but more so, in our everyday lives. I read Seth’s book, and found that a particularly human quality-that quality which marks us as quintessentially human–was not on any page. This quality–the hallmark of us homo sapiens, the “thinking” race– which I think matters very much now is “Intelligence“.Intelligence, not as IQ, and not even as Emotional Intelligence. But intelligence as something that drives leadership–to be more precise intelligence, in its five-fold form, as the five leadership intelligences. Intelligence–or intelligences–however, does not figure as a topic in What Matters Now. In fact, it does not figure even as a word.My work with underprivileged schoolchildren in India, the partisan debate in the US over the important issue of health care, but most immediately, the gang-rape of a schoolgirl in California–in which dozens of witnesses looked on, or simply walked away without doing anything–and the speedy response of a passenger yesterday who thwarted a terrorist’s attempt to blow up a Delta Airlines flight, have all convinced me that intelligences–leadership intelligences–matter tremendously now.So, in the spirit of adding to the knowledge in the book, I made a page titled “Intelligences”. You can download it here and forward it to friends.I’d love to hear your comments and additions.

Scott Brown&the Massachusetts Election: Leadership Lessons for Obama

Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts elections may have put health care reform in jeopardy, but it holds some important leadership lessons for President Obama.

  1. Despite Barack Obama being a great communicator, he is demonstrating a tremendous lack of communicative leadership intelligence. On the presidential campaign, his speeches inspired hope in large audiences across America, and during the televised debates, his cool unflappable delivery inspired confidence in viewers. However, during the first year of his presidency, his communication has not shown a key characteristic of leaders–adaptability. The cool tone is not cool when bailed-out banks pay out out fat bonuses to their employees from tax payers’ money. Obama needs to channel the public’s outrage in an angry voice.The ease with which he chooses to compromise on campaign promises on grounds on “pragmatism” with the Republicans in Congress–especially when they won’t yield an inch–is again seen by the American public as a weakness in leadership–not being firm when one needs to.
  2. Obama’s first year has made him seem to have lost his path in the wilderness left behind by the previous administration. What does Obama want to do specifically? Healthcare? Economy? Afghanistan? GITMO? Climate Change? This is a case of a leader trying to do too many things and doing only a bit of each. Nancy Koehn writes in The Washington Post that Abraham Lincoln’s problems as he entered the second year of his presidency in 1862, were far greater than Obama’s today. But Lincoln found his backbone in the first 6 months of 1862. The question is whether Obama will find his backbone and focus in 2010.

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?

Innovation Value Chain

Along the lines of Michael Porter’s value chain in strategy analysis, it is possible to conceptualize an innovation value chain. Often companies get stuck in a rut by confusing innovation with ideation and not moving beyond idea generation.Recently, researchers at INSEAD have pointed out that “The [innovation value] chain starts with idea generation, but then moves to prioritising and funding ideas, to converting those ideas to products and finally to diffusing those products and business practices across the company.”It is interesting how this maps into the leadership intelligences framework.

Stage in Innovation Value Chain

Leadership Intelligence

Idea Generation

Inventive intelligence

Prioritizing and funding ideas

Analytical intelligence

Converting ideas to products

Operational intelligence

Diffusing products and business practices

Communicative intelligence

The problem with an innovation value chain is that it can mislead us into visualizing the innovation process as linear, proceeding in sequential stages, whereas in reality, the stages messily tumble into each other–back and forth. (The innovation value chain reminds me of the woefully inadequate “waterfall model” in software development.) Further, another danger is that such stepwise conceptions of innovation make it easy to compartmentalize the organization into hermetic silos by assigning ideation to one department, budgeting to another, and so on. In the leadership intelligences framework, a focus on the abilities needed for innovation rather than on processes and stages, allows us to break free of sequential mindsets and compartmentalized organizations. In this sense, the leadership intelligences framework helps to structure chaos, to provide the “disciplined disorganization” necessary for innovation.