Friday, July 01, 2011

Business design from the gut

This was not for entrepreneurs going from A to B, but rather from B2B. A to B to Babes- Rajiv Bajaj’s brand formula for revival of Bajaj did seem to be the overall theme of the event called ‘Young Turks Conclave’. (Rajiv confessed that he secretly coined the word B2B for lifting Bajaj’s sagging image that time, to a desirable brand).
CNBC TV18 was celebrating 10 years of the programme ‘Young Turks Transformers’ (one of them did feature yours truly and Onio Design). Out of roughly 1000 people who featured on this programme, 250 turned up. The event was also graced by a rather eclectic mix of luminaries- Shiv Nadar- promoter of HCL Technologies, Narayana Murthy, Chairman Emeritus of Infosys, Malvinder Mohan Singh- Chairman of Fortis and Religare, Anurag Kashyap- film maker, Virendra-the Olympic Academy head and Jyotiraditya Scindia- the young politician. Taking advantage of the gathering Maserati and Ducati showcased the best from their stables being launched in India.

Well, after a long time, I felt educated in such a gathering. Shiv Nadar did send home the message that empires are built on the zenith of salesmanship. After all, a services company needs to have salesmen at the top. Malvinder and Jyotiraditya Scindia spoke verbose generalities of any foreign educated ‘born-with a-silver-spoon’ kind of profile. However Rajiv Bajaj was unusually pleasant. He started management-funda bashing and brought up a few key words which kept him oriented during the difficult times at Bajaj Auto and helped him prove his mettle. Presented below are some of the things which I picked up from Narayana Murthy’s and Rajiv Bajaj’s insightful discussions-

1.    Adaptation: Darwin had already declared that it is not the most intelligent nor the strongest, but the species that is the most ADAPTABLE that survives. One of the most important learnings he shared behind this age-old axiom is that in order to remain adaptable, one needs to keep a modular back-up team. Rigid structures kill adaptability.

2.    Alignment: ‘Brands manage themselves if defined clear and sharp’. It is easy to decipher the non-aligned energies if the brand focus is sharp.

 3.      Specialise & Sacrifice: This probably is the problem of all organically grown businesses. One day, they need to sit and take a call on what to retain and what to let go. Specialisation brings retention value, at the same time it also kills some part of the business which could have come your way. I can sense, why Rajiv is not keen on scooters. However, one should read between the lines that Bajaj may not remain the motorcycle brand but Pulsar may emerge as the motorcycle brand.

 4.    Respect: ‘Respect’ as the core value or the core goal of an enterprise can only emanate from the kinds of Mr. Narayana Murthy. He said, turnover and capitalisation based goals should give way to a goal like ‘respect’. If a company generates more wealth, employees get more wealth and get respect from the people around; they respect their seniors. If a company is seen doing something significant in the social responsibility domain then it generates respect in the society. Higher market capitalisation earns your respect in competitors and the government.

5.    Courage: Mr. Murthy was talking of how he took a decision of setting up the office complex at ElectronicsCity, far away from Bangalore way back when the company’s turnover was Rs. 33crore and 20 crores were spent on this. He said, everyone, including the HR team was against the decision to go so far. His idea was simple- people get 8 hours of fresh air, better food, more space and hence better productivity. According to him it is NOW called a visionary step, but all it took was to have COURAGE to follow the instincts in the face of adverse opinions.

 6.    Simplify: ‘You must be able to speak the value offering in one simple sentence.’ If it takes too many lines and too many complex words to say, then you are really not focused. You brand message is fuzzy and soon you will be a commodity. Narayana Murthy’s advice on simplification of value offering was bang in line with Rajiv Bajaj’s advice on specialisation. Different wrappers, same coming from products company, other coming from a services company.

 7.      Will at a time: This one is what AnuragKashayp shared. How his fixation with CONTENT and not STAR POWER got him laurels, young fans, big offers but NO money. He shared how financers withdrew at the last moment from projects, putting unacceptable demands but he carried on using some borrowings from friends on day-to-day basis. Anurag was humble and spoke from the gut. He said, “After DevD’s success, I am being offered money to do DevD2 and DevD3, but that’s not I believe in.” Kudos to the strong beliefs and will power in the kinds of Anurag and Shekhar Kapurs of the world. They show us the way on how will power can transcend the establishment.

 Lastly a confession from Narayana Murthy- it really feels scary sometimes, to give away a giant like Infosys into the next cadre’s hands, as Mr. Murthy confessed. He said that it was natural. Despite having seen success from so close and building up a structure that could take care of close to a lakh people working across the glo

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Accessibility Deja-Vu

“When you come near Hotel Mahableshwar, a large tilted building you would see on your right...a little ahead...”.  I was interrupted “Manoj, we both are visually impaired, let me give the phone to our auto-rickshaw driver”. For the first time in my life, I realised that simple instruction to reach our office could have special needs.

Dr Homiyar walked in after some time, and the guard took him right up the staircase where I welcomed him and his companion into the conference room. Dr. Homiyar is a practicing physiotherapist at Ahmadabad and ACCESSIBILITY AND ACCESS TECHNOLOGY CONSULTANT at The Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged, Mumbai. Once settled Dr. Homiyar started talking of how digitalisation of gadgets is a bit inconsiderate for visually changed. Microwaves and Washing Machines don’t have features that can guide the visually challenged. Earlier, the specific knob shapes on the gadgets could give information on the job status, but since the invent of the touch screens, loaded with ‘fuzzy logic’ and multiple functionality, visually challenged are left with difficult situation. Only recently some gadgets did incorporate ‘speak’ options.

He did mention about the XVCRC ( and the pioneering work it is doing in using technology to help visually challenged people lead a normal life. One of the things which we noticed was that neither him nor his companion was using the white stick, we usually see the blind men using. He happened to mention that there were people like him who are partially blind. His companion could see us somewhat but cannot put together the face in the brain. Partial blindness makes them look like normal people and they can go about doing things with little help. India alone has largest number of visually challenged people in the world, estimated to be nearly 2 Crore (20 million).
They also mentioned how ‘signs of pity’ and not ‘help’ upsets them. On an airport, they are offered ‘wheel-chair’ while they can perfectly walk up the staircase or escalator with little guidance.

Discussing about website: They said our website is somewhat more ‘accessible’ than many others. How? He opened his laptop to show us the website. We started hearing different operation commands being spoken out by the software. Once the website opened, the software started speaking out different things wherever tab went. We did name each image on the website properly (alt tag). I was surprised to know that what is a good technique for Google search optimisation is also a good design thinking for accessibility. If the Image of the button ‘Contact Us’ has an alt-tag as ‘Contact-us’ then it will be SPOKEN by the speech software deployed on the machines, visually challenged people tends to use. But if the images are named as ‘button 23_c’, it garbles the entire website structure in their head.
I asked them if they faced any difficulty in walking up the two staircases while coming up. They said “ not much, though it would have been better if the railing could continue throughout, rather than pausing it at corners (architect probably saved some corner rounding of pipes in the railing). Also, if you could put a small rub-strip or matt-tile just before the stairs begin, we can sense the beginning of stairs.” That is an indication to the visually challenged that they must expect the staircase now. Change of tactile textures and shapes are such an important design element. But never did it occur to me in those deeper dimensions, till Dr. Homiyar articulated in the terms, designers and managers understand.

He talked of many other things, which I as a designer, was sensitized during studies at design school. However, things were left out in the hum-drum of ‘client briefs’. Now thinking back, forget about the Indian clients, even so called ‘mature economy’ clients also did really press on accessibility criterion at all; not even mentions. Constant mention from Dr. Homiyar was that visually challenged people just need a ‘little help’ from all, and especially from designers, who are creating products that hit the mass market. I was glad that I met him. I was sad that it had to take this long, and a personal visit by a visually challenged person himself, to open our eyes.