Saturday, March 08, 2008

Leading by scenarios: Learning from the kids

I came across this exercise conducted by Sonali, a friend of mine who caringly teaches kids under 10, where majority of them are from rural background. Kids were told to write a story/essay on their village and then draw it out. Results were surprising. Story-telling, could be so telling...I knew but this was illuminating... Look at how vivid and clear imagery do kids carry, of their village-

Now look at the second one. This kid is from a village called Vashi, which actually has been gobbled up by the expanding city of Mumbai and one can see the multi-storey apearing in the picture. There is a train station in which three trains are standing.

These two images below, show how a village by the highway appears to a kid. Kid could see the jungle thick with trees beyond the village, and a highway divides the jungle and the village. Along the highway there are many restaurants....(you can see the chairs and the table)..even the milestones and direction boards are visible here.

This kid shows a temple which has lots of stairs to climb, as an important element of the village. One can see another temple in the background. Roads are more clearly marked and houses are relegated to side elements here.

This kid draws out her village as the one full of trees, only jungle of buildings can see a church in the side. Houses are also multi-storied and not huts. There are no clearly demarketed roads like in the earlier cases. It appears to be more of a case of a 'slum' or some ghetto areas of city depicted rather thn a village.

What clicked in my mind is that the way child can be so illustrative about his/her imagery if once queued with words, the same way designers can pick-up better concepts, they can conceptualise better if brief is told as a scenario, rather than what many of us are familiar with.
I am sure some of the best leaders in the world also rule through 'scenarios' rather than 'instructions'.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Vision Monologues on Packaging and Innovation in India


Packaging is no more what it used to be. Nice wrappers are a passé. Beautiful ‘experience’ is the new world of packaging. ‘Out of Box experience’ is what is being talked from ‘Apple’ to ‘Nike’ to ‘Chyavanprash’ alike. That is the new economy in India.
From plastics to multicoated papers to corrugated sheets to natural materials, packaging is redefining itself. Finishes and printing technology that is available to all, however high-tech they be, become a no brainer very soon. With increasing access to this wide variety of quality packaging, consumer’s attention span is reducing and they seek fresher experience with every purchase.

Another important tweak in the game is the structural packaging that never went out of the fashion, yet new demands are being generated everyday because of changing lifestyle. Gifting becoming a big trend in India, will see the need for better small packaging soon. Postal department will soon see an overhaul of the packaging options in the lines of western countries. Retail revolution will bring along packaging for stuff that is never sold in the western markets and would need totally Indian thought i.e. semi cooked chapattis.

While ‘experience’ is defining the front end, ‘sustainability’ is on the tail-end now which could soon catch-up as a buzz word in the cluttered market. Indian consumers could soon be looking for ‘recyclables’ stamp as more of a necessity than a fashion statement. Indian culture is used to REUSE. This could become a great differentiator for a packaging company, if applied with a focused vision.


When whole of India is talking volume and scale, one must gear up for the next challenge beyond volume delivery. Well the answer is ‘Innovation’ which actually is a no brainer today. But most of the time, innovation is sporadic, personal opinion based rather than based on sensing from the ground; very very ‘current situation based’ rather than futuristic; too much controlled by current technology rather then based on ‘insights and the need of the user’. This is usually the scenario in companies that have grown organically or have a traditional management set-ups. Have you ever wondered, when the bathrooms are becoming smaller day by day in the apartment system and they all are rectanglular/square, why the buckets, tubs, mugs etc, should still be circular? Just to save the mould cost?

‘Design Thinking’ is about infusing the thought of COMPREHENSIVE & CREATIVE thinking at every part and every level of organization (not just product design). From Design to Dealer, and from Plant to Product, every link in the chain should resonate with making things better. GOOD LOOKS of the brand, product, packaging etc. are just the very first manifestations of it.

Very recent example is Tata’s Nano car….it is not just the product design innovation…the innovation has happened across value-chain…from component design to supply-chain, to retailing plan…all have been creatively put-together to leverage the scale and economy. Pantaloon (Future Group) has trained several levels of top management in ‘Design Management’ in a pioneering effort. They really believe that Design Thinking alone can give them insulation against poaching and foreign brand invasion.

The Design Thinking is what Onio takes ahead in all its interactions and offerings, deeply grounded in ‘strategy’ based on ‘sensing insights’.

We believe that Indian brands can do wonders if they learn how to seed the future with insights into fast evolving social patterns and combined it with systematic innovation/design-thinking.

Alchemy of Innovation: Design Thinking At Onio

Innovation is a complex phenomenon today, immersed in the deep web of market dynamics, individual preferences, regulations, technology, user contexts, cultural nuances, brand legacy and several other interacting factors. Designers and engineers who are fresh from college are severely trailing behind the preparedness needed for innovating in such a paradigm. Here is an elaboration of some criticalities as we experienced in last one decade of managing an innovation hub-

Endless iterations, trying to accommodate every point of view (from boss to client to user) can sap out the essence of good idea. A pragmatic call on where to put the foot down; how to retain the essence of initial conception; how to articulate the process by which the concept has evolved so that super-boss does not wipe-out the work in a sweeping sentence etc. are some of the key learning that need to be inculcated in the new force that joins the team.

We have seen that clearly there are two kinds of people, those who constantly upgrade their own knowledge base, skills and those who don’t. The first kind would always find ways and means to browse through the latest update in their field, be it a good looking design idea or a good piece of graphic They are the ones who would insist on subscribing to a new journal and would fret if that does not happen. They would have a personal network of friends who refer them tips and leads about what’s cool. They would have their strong opinion on the things around them and will express it through blog as well. This creed is the real life line of an innovation center. Other kind are usually driven by what is right- Boss could be right or the client could be right. They always put customer first, and rightly they won laurels for completing assignments on time. So a right balance has to be struck between these populace in the team.

Innovators, as a creed, hate documentation. This is one last useless piece of activity that always pushes them to an internal revolt. However, this is a step that no innovation center can afford to ignore from day one. The process that went by, new learning that took place, team that played a key role, new materials that were explored, finishes that work on particular surface and not on the other, how the client reacted to particular line of ideas, and what strategy worked in terms of presentation …..last but not the least, getting the final story together that would come handy selling similar assignment to the next client. These are the things that an innovation center should take up with an alert priority but usually not possible due to looming project.

Innovation ideas with a free-flow, open the flood gates of thinking through the design competitions. They are a good way to rejuvenate and synergize the sluggish teams. They can do what a great people manager can not, for an innovation team.

Structured and forward thinking is not everybody’s business. Some are naturally gifted for this, while others in the innovation team are more hands-on people. They revel in perfecting a hand skill and find all the ‘thinking part quite boring. Library and the workshop both have their own place in the innovation team. Inspirations and sense of achievement both would differ for these to kinds and should be treated differently.

There is a technical term of this kind. However, here I am referring to ‘ability to quickly give a physical/tangible shape to ideas’. Prototyping could be done on a paper through sketches or it can be done in a fabrication workshop or it can be done in a stereo-litho machine. Scenarios and prototyping is one big capability any innovation team requires. This, combined with story-telling capabilities become the power-drive for the innovation center. Nurturing the ‘prototyping’ capabilities is one of the key goals of managing innovation.

Over the period we have realized that ‘design’ per se is a commodity i.e. once told what needs to be done, there are several qualified teams who can do that in a clinical precision. But today, WHAT TO INNOVATE is a bigger question then HOW. Ethnography, cultural trend reading, social psychology, user trip etc. are some of the key ingredients of a new age innovation team which give a highly gilded edge to the innovation team.