Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5 Awesome Recent Life Lessons

Among all the different things people say about life decisions, I think the following 5 stand out for me. I chose these 5 because they struck a chord with me. Will hopefully benefit you in moments of dilemma.

1) Life is not like a mathematical equation:

In May/June of 2012, during the course on leadership at the Young India Fellowship, we had all just been sorted into our MB personality types and the discussion regarding suitable professions for each type had sprung up. In a personal exchange, Prof Dwight Jaggard, told me that life is not like maths. In maths, you have 'n' equations and 'n' unknown variables, and you can solve for definite answers. Life's problems have more variables than answers. You will have to make some assumptions to find your way. The trick is to make assumptions based on some understanding of the self and the environment around you.

2) Don't worry too much

This was during a guest session by Mr Sanjeev Aga. I had asked him how does one let go of the tendency to micro-manage as you progress higher up. He told me that one has to learn to let go and not worry too much. I didn't understand it fully back then, but I get it very much now. Things never happen in the way you would like them to happen. Live with it. As lumps of snow roll downhill, they are not perfectly round to start with, but they get rounded along the way.

3) Getting recognized means you have been doing it right

Going from a ranking of 141 in the world back to No. 1 was not an accomplishment; it was the reflection of an accomplishment. It was the symptom of good choices; it was the result of being careful.

These words are from Andre Agassi's Hall of Fame acceptance speech. No, I wasn't there when he said it. I don't even follow tennis. I read this online. For me, this was a very profound statement that I have not been able to fully appreciate till this date. But I think what he meant is that the achievement is in the journey that led to the recognition and not in the manifestation of the journey or the recognition in itself. And, while setting out on a journey we do not know what the outcome is going to be, we should concentrate on making the journey beautiful. I had myself touched upon the idea of journey in the sense of pursuit of happiness in an earlier post.

4) Follow people, not roles:

An outright People's person, Pramath Raj Sinha, summed up his career advice to the Founding Batch of YIF in these words. You learn from your peers and your boss about doing business more than from any management book. And, if you are following the right people, they do see you through along your career. Opportunities do not float in the air - they exist in the form of the people around us. The source of recommendations and responsibility are people who trust you to do things and with whom you have a personal professional relationship. I am beginning to see this in action in my work and I am sure there are many more experiences in the days to come that will remind me of this.

5) When evaluating opportunities, risks are involved. But you need to keep the risks separate from the opportunity scope.

This one is from my boss, Tushar. I also read something similar in a preview of The Start Up of You by LinkedIn's founder Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. When you have thought about the worst-case scenario and if you are comfortable with that, your mind clears and you can see the opportunities for themselves. Now, traditional risk-benefit analysis asks you to factor in the risks, but in most cases, you have no answer to the probability of the risks actually turning true and hence, have little way of quantifying the risk. So, think about the worst that can happen. Unless it means you being homeless or dead or something that's severe, you are covered. And, it's possible that we have been overestimating the risk because of fear. This approach really helps you to evaluate the opportunity for the content with a clearer mind.

What have been some of your most important life lessons in recent times?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Remove the Clutter

It's important to remove the clutter and focus on the important things. Peripheral concerns and issues often cause us to deviate from the core and we get lost in too much detail.

At the very inception, all things are simple. As they evolve, their scope expands till we often reach a point where the original idea gets side-tracked and we have is a bubble waiting to be bust. So, write down your goals and aspirations in simple terms before you set out to achieve them. When you get lost, these written notes will guide your way. Everything else is incidental.

I am not against mid-course corrections. However, if we strip down the layers from our seemingly dynamic goals, we would find that on a higher abstract plane, we are more consistent in what we aim for than what appears.

So, empty your backpacks, like George Clooney asks you to do in "Up in the Air". Take only what's important and forget about the rest.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How our Phones got Smarter

A visit to any mobile phone store would tell you that the market for phones in India has completely changed from where it was less than a decade ago. For an average Indian consumer, mobile phones have become much more than a means to communicate and I am not even talking about the shift from voice to text and data. These devices have managed to capture the middle class imagination and have attained an aspirational status. Especially the smartphone category. So much so that the erstwhile market leader Nokia had to undergo a massive shift in its product offering to stay competitive. While Apple might have broken into this market first, Samsung really took the people off their feet with its Galaxy offering. Catching up with them are HTC and Blackberry who are fighting back to stay relevant.

Here are 3 possible reasons behind this tectonic shift in the market trends:

1) Social Media on the move:
Let's face it. Mobile browsing and gaming had not been able to do what social media has done to the Indian mobile phone market. People got addicted to Facebook and Gmail so much that they wanted to stay hooked on - every moment. Mobile phones and network providers did everything they could to enable this experience for the users by way of better applications or data plan offerings. While the users were constantly checking their Facebook feeds, receiving emails or chatting over messengers, they got hooked onto blogs, news sites and other social content. More and more people made the shift to mobile platforms and a host of apps ensured that they stayed on.

2) Visibility, Market Reach and Distribution:
They are everywhere. The mobile phone distribution network is matched these days perhaps only by FMCG companies. When Apple moved in first, their phones were not available easily. They stayed with a very limited premium distribution network for a long time. However, Samsung went all out with its reach. Not only did exclusive stores come up, small and big dealers began to stock Samsung phones too. Sony and HTC missed out too in the initial days because of limited reach while Nokia missed out on the product innovation wave. Hence Samsung enjoyed the top position for a good while before HTC and Apple decided to go deeper and broader into the market and gain back some share.

3) Premium pricing and constant innovation:
iPhone's prices were well in tune with their positioning. However, they also began to serve as the anchor point for this new animal in the jungle called smartphones. When other players followed suit with high prices, the product in itself gained a premium status. As soon as smartphones came in 10k to 20k range with almost similar features, people started buying because these prices were much lower than the anchor price set by the first movers and for similar phones. Also, there was always something to look up to. With constant innovation, upgrades and new product offerings, people were kept wanting. They were never satisfied with what they had. While phone makers made such a huge cry about their new launches, users began wanting to stay updated and relevant, even if it came at a price.

The willingness to pay for a mobile phone today is much higher than that for computers, watches, cameras, shoes and other lifestyle accessories. They have also become the first purchase out of the pocket for a lot of youngsters with new jobs. Besides what I talked about, why do you think such is the case?