Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vibrams, the marketing thinking and the invisible style

Just came back from a 5km run in the backwoods in my Vibrams FiveFingers.

A little girl going to school watched the shoes and followed my moving feet with a sleepy curiosity. A taxi-driver followed my feet for a few seconds. A watchman (whom I encountered for the first time) at a neighborhood building followed my feet for a few seconds too. Sometimes even dogs look at my feet with curiosity.

When at Hiranandani Garden in Mumbai, quite a few fellow runners/walkers on the track look on with inquisitive eyes.

Over more than 2 years now, I've rarely encountered another person in my vicinity wearing Vibrams.

None of the people who've talked to me about Vibrams have ever admitted that they love the style. Strangely, it doesn't bother me. My feet feel so right, so very natural, so free.

That's the point. I am sure Vibrams must have been written to or informed by a mighty number of shoe-lovers about the 'ugliness' of the visual design. On the other hand, a mighty number of Vibrams wearers must have shared how amazing they feel on wearing the shoes.

Surely, exclusivity - even that of the weird or the incomprehensible which borders ugliness - is a style statement. But unless there's something substantial, such style statements are difficult to sustain.

In the case of Vibrams, the movement the shoes facilitate and the feeling arising out of that movement in the wearer, far surpass the awkwardness of visual style. In fact, if you video-record the movements/the action of someone wearing Vibrams, you might not find anything extraordinary either. And this someone won't stop wearing Vibrams.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Toyota's Express Maintenance is great strategy

I am not a great believer of the carzy ecosystem. But having bought and owned and maintained a car, this initiative makes perfect sense. In fact, more than perfect sense.

It's the kind of strategic move that was open to all the car brands of the country. But again it takes guts and simple observation of the customers' travails at the service stations to come up with such a move. Coming from a brand that promises Quality Revolution, it looks the right thing. Am sure this must have taken quite a bit of preparation to be able to promise such a thing.

Among those bullet points, look at the last one. Watch your car being serviced. And 60 Minutes Comprehensive Service.

I don't quite like the Toyota's styling department but if I were to buy another car today, this initiative would be enough to switch my mind to a Toyota.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The ad-driven revenue model for content sites

I have no problems with them from this moment. And here are some points.

I understand that advertisements offer a way for content-driven sites to survive and earn. So far it's innocuous.

I used to get disturbed whenever I clicked an ad flashing right beside the article I would be reading, or a promo-link embedded within a piece of text. Imagine rushing out of a meeting that felt like worthy of your time and never returning to the room again. What's the purpose of that publisher who published the text that resides beside the tempting ad?

The problem gets yet more compounded when the writer talks about the nuisance of using cars on the congested Indian roads and there's an ad promoting a long sedan right beside that post. What does a reader believe? What does a reader believe about what the publisher believes in? Is the aim of such publishing to make the reader understand the virtues of believing paradoxes? And does the reader visit such sites to learn the skill of paradox assimilation?

Motorcycle ads on motorcycle blogs seem a great match. Yesterday I visited this blog that I often visit. The post I was reading was cautiously critical of the move of launching Mahindra Centuro. Right beside I noticed an ad promoting that very motorcycle. No problem so far but if I had left the post midway by clicking the ad, guess it would be an incomplete sort of experience. I read the post and then checked out the motorcycle by clicking the ad. Felt appropriate.

And it isn't a stretch of imagination to apply these occurrences to other media like TV or Radio or newspaper/magazines et al. And I have no doubts that the damage to people's understanding of the world is unprecedented even though seemingly unmeasurable.

One thing I can say for such content-driven sites, where conflicts between advertising and their messages are rampant and blatant, is the publishers aren't doing enough to enhance a reader's understanding in spite of the revenues they earn because of the readers visiting their sites. I think that's such a waste of the opportunity that the readers have given them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Smart phony and dizzy

I feel dizzy when I read on smart phones for slightly more than 2 minutes.

I felt that with the earlier handset too. Feel more with this handset, I sense. The inference that smart phones have become smarter at causing dizziness wouldn't be right though :).

I think quite a few people feel this. A few of my friends definitely do.

If it turns out a mighty serious issue in the times to come, I won't be surprised.

The problem is one of orientation.

Phones of course were largely meant for talking. Since we hear and talk through one-block-piece instrument, the design had to straddle the distance between ear and mouth and so it is the way it is. Vertically oriented.

But we started consuming a hell lot of videos and reading matter and games, all of which require our eyes to look at the screen that's perfect for a squirrel's eyes not ours. Why? Eyes are horizontally oriented.

But then the screens can be oriented horizontally for data consumption. And yet horizontally oriented screens are also very small to fit the eye-span without straining.

There could be other reasons too which strain the eyes (in turn leading to headaches and such issues) that interact with data on screens.

My reading is there will be a significant decline in the usage of smartphones (for data) in their current forms.

Even as I make the above statement I am aware that the penetration of smart phones is still in single digits, at least in India. Unless there's a really really smart solution to this orientation problem, laptops and less smarter mobile phones don't have much to worry.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't stay in the middle...

That's the advice so many people offer. So many authors also write on similar lines.

Think about it, all traders and agencies are right there in the middle.

I have a more fundamental problem. What exactly is 'middle'? And 'middle' of what?

Actually businesses lie between us and things (or rather the 'inconvenience of doing a things ourselves'). Now, of course one can easily argue 'middle' = 'lie between'.

If that last arguments holds, then finding middle is simple and lucrative, no?

Statistically we have the measures of mean, median and mode. Let me give finding 'middle' another try.

Say, in the realm of writing/reading, there are books, short stories, blogs and tweets. Someone who forgets 'short stories' now has a triad - books, blogs and tweets - to figure out where's the middle. Someone can say 'blogs' is in the middle. Perhaps by measuring the length (and therefore the time taken to read) of all the three forms. Though one might have to think a bit more about it. Length as what? Mean, median, mode. Try using that measure. Inferences might surprise.

Suppose a certain chocolate costs Rs.10. There's another that costs Rs.250. Are we saying, there shouldn't be a chocolate worth Rs.100? FMCG marketers will thrash me! 

That advice about 'middle' is difficult to fathom.

Another meaning of 'middle' is 'being unable to decide'. A state of confusion that is.

Tablets? Some say it's in the middle of laptop and smartphone. So the market acceptance isn't as high yet. Ridiculous!

Suppose, after a while we find tablets outnumbering PCs (has it already) and smartphones both, what will we say? That it is no longer in the middle. Or that it gained acceptance because it is a good combination of the two? Or some other reason?

Middle is elusive. On a spectrum with two extremes at the end, it might be easy to find the middle. It will, in many cases, simply turn out to be a paradox. What's the middle of best and worst? BestWorst?

There's no conclusion of this post. There's no confusion either though.

But then what to do about 'middle'? How does the pursuit happen?

No, let me not leave you in the middle. Let me start by saying, 'middle' requires a great name. Perhaps, an unmiddling one. A great package. And some more great words on that package.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"What do you want?" asks the shopkeeper


"Steel Mug?"

"No! Beer Mug."

"This one?"

"Yes somewhat like this, but with better design."

"Like this?"

"Ummm, not really. The earlier one was better. But I would like, ummmm, some design in red on the mug."

"Well, then..."

"Can you show me all the mugs you have?"

Words have an inverse relation with specificity! The latter demands micro-detailing. But every detail needs an additional word to be spelled out. The more micro you go, the more words needed to explain the 'micro' point.

Every additional word added to specifications rejects some products. If you want to check out a large array of products to see and feel stuff to help you determine what you want, do not deal with a lot of specifics. If you really really are sure of what you want, if your imagination's that immaculate, prepare for a good adventure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How to become alert?

Use Google Alerts.

In fact, that question in the subject line is just so superficial.

The thing is we all want to keep abreast of stuff happening in our domains of work or interest. Isn't it? We all know that expertise doesn't build just on the day we wish to build one. We don't gain depth the day we want to dig a well.

Yes, alerts once set, this little tool offered by Google keeps sending you stuff that you are really interested in. In your inbox.

It kind of counters the distractive forces (including spam filling our inbox) that the web unleashes upon us.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Return on Formal Education (RFE)

Sharing some stats from this article I read two days back:
  • India now produces more engineers and MBAs than the US and China combined. Our annual output of 15 lakh engineers and 3 lakh MBAs is way ahead of the US (1 lakh engineers and 1.25 lakh MBAs) and China (11 lakh engineers and 75,000 MBAs).
  • MBAuniverse.com estimates that outside the top 20 MBA colleges only 24% of students are employable.
  • Assocham believes that campus placement (in the context of engineering) outside the top 20 colleges is 10%.
The article also has some suggestions which is where it gets really funny. By funny, I mean the quality of suggestions, not really the stats. Stats aren't surprising at all. Have a look:
  • They must get 3-5 years of work experience after their engineering or college degree before getting an MBA.
  • If most students are not getting campus placements we need to fix our dysfunctional employment exchanges that only gave 3 lakh jobs last year to the 4 crore kids registered. We need to allow foreign universities in.
  • We need to raise our 3 lakh formal apprenticeships — Germany has 40 lakh, Japan 1 crore and China has 1.5 crore.
  • Most importantly, India must explode job creation because nothing changes a student's life more than their first formal, non-farm job. 
A critique of the article:
While every action or piece of execution benefits from good measurement systems and the stats emerging out of these measurement systems, the recommendations offered in this article reek of naivete at best. Even offering only the stats would've done better justice to the gravity of the situation.

Find the article here

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Web-driven Learning Checklist for the Autodidact

When I want to learn/learn about something, I typically find myself referring to these, not necessarily in the same order:
  1. www.Dictionary.com - Recently I found myself exploring the subject of 'friction' and I came across the word 'Tribology'. Unaware of the precise meaning, it helped to check dictionary dot com before trying to explore the subject further.
  2. www.Amazon.com - Have this peculiar habit of checking books on the subject before googling it or checking it on Wikipedia.
  3. Kindle ebook samples - If one has a smartphone and has downloaded the Kindle app, it proves to be an amazing resources for sampling the subject in fairly good detail without committing monetary resources.
  4. www.Wikipedia.com - It's a no-brainer. You want a good view at almost work or subject under the sun, you might find this a very helpful resource almost every single time. Though, certain technical areas which we are not exposed to at all might be difficult to follow on occasions.
  5. www.Google.com - Search = Google. I don't need to say much. But so often I refer to it after I've checked the above 4 resources.
  6. Google Images - Typically, when I am researching a physical object, firstly I like to see its different avatars, its forms, shapes and so on. Going through the images is like enabling instant awareness and invoking associations.
  7. www.Youtube.com - Video always convinces. Captures attention easily and facilitates concentration sometimes through entertaining and moving presentation of concepts.
  8. Twitter handles and FB pages dedicated to the term/the subject are good reminders. But they don't yet seem to aid us in learning like the other resources do.

Friday, July 5, 2013

SDC Bank?

Oh the brightness captured my attention amidst the drabness of the architecture you see in the picture and the dullness of the traffic of the traffic I found myself in.

SDC Bank. Full form, The Sahebrao Deshmukh Cooperative Bank Ltd. Given the transformation that every little bank has undergone, I wasn't quite surprised to find this. However, it looks to me that this fancy abbreviation was a result to put itself in the league of the big abbreviatedly branded banks of the country.

I wonder if this peculiarly traditional bank name has a history, a story. If it really does, it has just added one more layer between itself and the people's understanding. Perhaps there's another way for such brands to tell  us their stories and appeal to a certain audience.

May be, its customers will now feel a little better when others ask them, "So which bank you have your account in?" And they say, "SDC Bank!" Wow! Was that the thinking for this change?

Brightness helps get attention. Abbreviation adds to the confusion though.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Verbal Confusion

A friend, Subur Khan, expresses on FB:
Why the hell everyone is so politically judgmental these days... If you oppose Modi... Then you are pro congress... If you raise your voice against injustice you become traitor... Nobody ask what Big B/Ajay Devgan/Akhshay Kumar have done for Uttarakhand's victims whereas SRK/Aamir/Salman are being questioned... Suddenly FB has become more communal then that of 'rest of India'
In my response, I didn't touch upon the communal aspect because I reckon that's an off-shoot of what I call the Godly Confusion, that is Verbal Confusion. Here's my response:
Really, is that happening on your timeline!? Ha ha ha ha bollywood finds itself under fire every time something serious happens.

Part of the reason is people think they are heroes. And heroes are always meant to give others a good time, whether the times are good or bad. That's how people view it.

But bollywood is an acting industry not a heroism industry. And heroes are actors, not necessarily heroes. This verbal confusion is the source of income and is the source of pressure.

And this brings to light the deficiency in verbal education in this country. There are english speaking institutes whose mandate was just this. But then the way it happened, english speaking doesn't quite mean speaking english meaningfully. So again a verbal confusion.

All schools I guess were also meant to impart a sense of understanding meanings but since that takes effort and time, they just dropped it out of their list of objectives. Now it seems as if meaning making doesn't exist.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

Don't mind. This is early morning verbal energy.

Tangentially Applied Principles of Economics

The law of diminishing marginal returns applies to India's 24x7 reproductive machinery too. 

I will fail to list a great source which corroborates this claim but if our feelings are any measure of the phenomenon, then we've been witnessing negative returns for decades and decades together.

Let's say there's a subject called Tangentially Applied Principles of Economics (let me give a sexy sounding glamorous abbreviation too: TAPE. If this isn't sexy, please contribute :{). If our entire education system gets dedicated somehow, directly or indirectly, to teach just this one subject and make ourselves understand just this one single point and act upon it, it would take care of a hell lot of troubles.

RIP Umesh Shinde

A friend, Harish Jain, expressed this on FB:
It hurts to wake up and read a news that says a newly wed guy died because of pothole on the road. Life has really gone cheaper than the cost of filling these holes. BMC - Please make a list of all the holes and put a price for filling each one of them. I can assure you that people will come out and pay you for that also other than the taxes. RIP Umesh Shinde.
And I had this to say:
I have been riding slowly. I have been driving slowly. For the co-traveller, typically it's boring but then I start showing my slow-motion pothole dodging skills and it all becomes thoroughly entertaining. And I feel so elegant to myself. 
My description is absurd but it's the truth, at least in my context. But when incidents like these happen, I wonder how absurd it would be to rise in unison against a pothole-indifferent government.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"You have to do this."

Or, "This is the task ahead of us."

The first one's a command emerging out of one's superiority complex. It might not evoke a response as much as it demands a report. Therefore, good big hierarchical set ups so often have reporting as a behavior, instead of responding, among their employees.

My sense is, reporting corrodes, responding creates.