Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why can't the next Seth Godin be from India?

About 4 or more years back, I chanced on a TED video that talked not about something American but about something generally human - it was a talk by an author who I would later come to admire - Seth Godin and the talk was on 'The tribes that we lead'. His book Lynchpin also came across has not a western world only book but something that would make sense across the world.

An underlying trend

As I read through his works and that of others, an underlying trend started to become apparent to me - business thinkers are increasingly becoming relevant to the world instead of just an industrialized west - this might partly be due to the increasingly integrated global economy and shared culture thanks to the social web phenomenon.

This newly realized trend got me thinking - if thinkers from the west can deliver to a global context, why can't thinkers from the east do that same? Even before the social web phenomenon hit the world, thinkers like Edward Deming found recognition not first in their home countries but in countries half-way across the world. So why can't it happen now?

A supportive eco-system

To do a Deming but to the other side of the world didnt seem too far fetched. Perhaps the key is, like Deming, to explore beyond geographical barriers and not be limited by closed notions in your home country. Perhaps the next Seth Godin, if from East, would not have consulted for the Fortune 500 at the their global head quarters, as most of the MNC HQs are in the West. But, perhaps he would have solved important problems for them in emerging markets using new paradigms that they wouldn't have thought of themselves.

I think a supportive eco-system is building up, at least in India, for such thinkers with the various MNCs trying to probe the markets here, with booming business education system and the maturing skills pools that are thinking beyond a regular 9-5 job. May be these new thinkers would first be introduced to the west through their online presence and later by their paid literature (i.e. books). Time will tell.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Central Banks and UnEmployment

I chanced on this topic while reading two articles by eminent authors -  
 and  . The articles were about how U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks are shifting priority from inflation to unemployment. Apparently, Fed chairman seems to have made an explicit statement about targeting unemployment. 

The topic on employment / human engagement in future had been touched by me in my previous posts -

One of the authors, in particular, pointed to low-cost global workforce and labor-saving technologies to be prominent factors contributing to the growing unemployment. I think these factors are factors that are here to stay. 

To ensure that young people acquire skills required to participate in global economy, we need to point their learning energy towards such sectors that are relatively immune to the above factors (e.g. Medical Research, Fundamental Scientific Research, etc) and last for a career long. 

My visualization on how money flow should be channeled to right sectors

But such 'long-term' sectors are not yet big employers yet due to the short-term yield and low-risk inclination of the present post-recession capital markets. These sectors didn't attract much investment in the past either. See my tweet below -

A general dumping of money into economy might mean inconsequential investment in certain sector-specific bubbles. We need to nurture the 'long-term' sectors by providing alternate and long term capital through a sector-specific approach. Central Banks have to discover sector specific tools to control money supply. 

To sum up, I think Central Banks can no longer follow the same thought paradigms as in Early Industrialization Era where all industries/sectors were the same. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

About industry dominance and taking a different perspective

At the start of this millennium, the mobile handset industry was dominated by Nokia (in the emerging consumer markets) and RIM, the Blackberry maker (in the corporate markets). In contrast, at about the same time, computer maker, Apple, and search engine, Google, didn’t even have a presence in the mobile market. If you would like to draw parallels, Nokia and RIM were like SAP and Oracle, the behemoths of the enterprise packaged software industry.

Probably at the beginning of this millennium, it was unlikely that anyone at Nokia and RIM even imagined that their dominance might be challenged, let alone their existence questioned. While Nokia and RIM were content with their own world, Apple and Google, were working to create a new industry, which would later get called as the ‘Post-PC devices’ industry. Both Apple and Google were seeing mobile technology in a different perspective – mobile as not just a communication device but as a platform for inconspicuous and ubiquitous applications - a perspective which someone at Nokia or RIM would have only considered impractical.

Today, Apple and Google, together enjoy a fast-increasing and large market share in the mobile market. Both these companies are now valued among some of the largest companies in the world – at valuations Nokia and RIM could never even have dreamed about.

Can the industry change so much in less than 10 years, well within someone’s career span? Why did such a big difference happen? The only answer – someone chose to see things in a different perspective. Who knows may be your company would be the next Apple or Google in your own industry and turn the tables on the existing behemoths. May be you could take such lead in your company and be rewarded. So, let’s not feel shy in thinking different! In Steve Jobs words - Stay foolish, stay hungry!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Innovation and Human Evolution

The collective set of jobs, businesses and organizations today are really us, humanity, engaged in our collective needs -
  • better utilizing our collective resources and
  • defending ourselves against collective threats (diseases, natural disasters, nutrition, etc)-
  • everything else is really the cost of co-existance (e.g. wars, regime changes, etc).

I believe that the nature of our collective needs has evolved and will evolve. I believe that the pace of this evolution will fasten in an increasingly connected and inclusive world. I foresee that this will result in career paths, markets and organizations evolving and dying faster.

I think there is a definite need for us, humanity, to brace for the impacts of this evolution - build faster means to train and engage people, quicker ways to get new products to market and lower costs of organizational failure. Although this might not look like an urgent issue, humanity has a learning cycle and that means we should probably start looking at this evolution and its impact on us sooner.

I sense that in the long term, the direction of this evolution is the change of humanity's enagement

  • from resource cornering (on earth)
  • to innovation garnering (for better utilization of resources, better defenses against natural disasters, etc).  
I think this change, away from 'resource cornering', will not be because everyone will have all resources they need but because collectively humanity would have tapped into every resource on earth, in the future, and therefore there would be not much scope for human engagement in cornering futher resources. Innovation garnering, on the other hand, will continue to engage humanity in continuously defending itself and optimizing resources - e.g. there might always be a disease to discover and cure, there might always be an efficiency improvement on power transmission or such others.

What does this mean for you or me, as an individual? I think it means we should start aligning ourselves, our work and our careers towards innovation orientation - start questioning why something cannot be done in someway, find problems that need solving, etc.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Industries and Human Evolution

As a species, we have evolved a lot over other species. We use more complex tools than any other species on the planet. And we continue to invent more and more complex tools to help us do things more efficiently. We are evolving into a super efficient species. A carpenter in medieval ages might have taken a certain amount of time to build a certain furniture. Today tool-trained carpenters can do the same certain furniture in a fraction of that time. I could notice how efficient today's tools are as I see some of the TV series that focus on home improvements in a short time span. Everything from small things to big things are more efficiently done by humans today. Driving a nail into a wall needed couple of knocks on the nail earlier. Today that is done through a nail-gun. Getting flat wood would have needed a lot of effort in the olden times. Today flat wood is made my machines (ply wood). Everything is becoming more and more efficient.

These improvements in efficiency happened over a period of time. There will be more improvements to come in the future. Ultimately we will probably end up being super efficient on almost all things. Machines will probably start building machines to build other machines. Travel will probably be not necessary at all. What I see with all this is the share of the economy that some of the industries occupy today will be changed. It happened earlier too. Compare the primary professions/industries of our grand fathers to the professions/industries of our generation.

I think the key industries that would prosper and continue to provide employment are such industries that service needs that humans will need no matter how evolved we become. These I think will be the industries that help the unhealthy and provide efficient access to food. Guess what these industries are - healthcare and retail! I feel lucky to be in one of them!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brain Drain vs. Talent Spread

While in college, I had been hearing a lot of disappointment in media and in general discussions about brain drain. It was considered a loss for the nation that the best of our young minds from IITs chose to work overseas. Those days I was in college and didn't realize how work skills are built. But, I left nevertheless, like the others, for better pay.

Less than a decade later, I chose to come back permanently to India. Not just me, lot of the people I know of the same age group chose to come back to India. Some made the choice because of the economic situation. But, most were already planning for it. I had confirmed this in my numerous lunch conversations with different friends.

So, what people were fearing as brain drain, did not really end up as brain drain. Our best Young minds went abroad to build their skills and eventually come back and enrich India. All seemed good, until one day it dawned on me, that all the people who I knew to have planned and came back were in the IT or related industries!

For most of the people who returned, I could notice that they came back to roles which were not available until couple of years back in India. The gradual return of the best minds, over the years, made the IT industry more mature. The industry became more confident in handling the high end roles that were otherwise done in US - these were roles like the Solution Architects, Enterprise Architects, Domain Experts, Presales Consultants, etc.

But, all was not well. There were still some more who couldn't come back to India. Not because they didn't want to. For them the choice meant they had to retire from work. Because, they were the people who were in industries like Retail, Media, Fundamental Scientific Research, etc. For them, India didn't offer the same high end roles and pay that it offered to the IT guys. That triggered a thought, could it be that the problem initially was not brain drain. Could it be that the best of our Young minds only chose to become engineers and doctors? And even in engineering everyone was trying hard to get into IT. This meant that very few industries had the brightest of our people. Was this the reason those other non-IT industries couldn't achieve the level of maturity to provide high-end roles, the level of efficiency to afford high-pay roles?

What all this means, I felt, is something more profound than what brain drain could ever have been. It meant that the best kids who came out of schools and X+2 were making education choices that put most of them into only a specific type of industries. These kids probably had the best IQ, the best scores and probably the most attention of our education system. But this 'talent' never got spread into all the industries - the result, in most domestic industries, our performance is not even comparable to what most developed countries have.

Nothing made this lack of performance more apparent to me than the time I was researching for an article on Indian retail. Some of the best apparel retailers in India have inventory turns (a key metric of efficiency) of 3 for just moving goods over a stretch of 1200 Kms. Their counterparts in the US, move goods all the way from half across the world, over the most turbulent oceans, over countries that don't speak English and still manage all this at a very high level of efficiency (10-12 inventory turns - 3 times better than their Indian counterparts do). Obviously we can't claim that our roads are worse than the typhoons in pacific ocean. The only reason that occurred to me for this, was because the industry was not mature and this was probably because the people running those industries were not our brightest minds - the best of our talent never got to any of our domestic industries. There might be one or two people of such talent reaching the industry, but an industry level metric is built not by those one or two people but by the masses who were probably not the best talent of the country.

If the talent spread issue was true, it should mean more to us than the brain drain issue. As a society we should probably be tackling this, not for immediate benefits but for long term changes. We should probably be educating parents about the alternative career options for their kids, sponsor some free physcometric tests to help children figure which career suits them the best, build industry-validated curriculum in all subjects and do such similar other things. It's for a better tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

World Economy and Human Productivity

I was recently watching a TV news report in a news channel that the World Economy could shrink by a certain extent. Now that raised a serious red flag.

When I think of the World Economy, I think of the collective effort of all the humans in the world. If the population were constant, increase in World Economy would have meant an increase in productivity of humans as a whole. Productivity could be increased by finding more efficient ways of doing things - a process of continuous improvement - use of tools, better tools. World Economy has certainly increased since the days of industrial revolution - the revolution that flooded the world with tools. Anyone could guess how many lesser humans it takes to prepare a piece of cloth now-a-days than it would have taken, say, before the weaving machines - a tool. If all this makes sense, then I can think of 2 scenarios for the potential shrink in the World Economy -

Scenario 1:

Now, the world population is not constant - it has been increasing. If the World Economy doesn't grow as fast as the human population, what does it mean? It means that we have more humans producing lesser as a whole. Does it also imply that we did not find more efficient ways of doing things? Does it mean that we did not continuously improve or identify better tools? What happened to all the technology we built? Why didn't it amount to significant productivity increases - and significant economic cost reductions - making a lot of things cheaper? Or did we build inconsequential technologies?!

Scenario 2:

Probably it means all the above. Probably it means that there has been lesser need for producing anything more than we already do - in other words there may not have been growth in the demand for the products of this collective effort. Why? May be because some of the demand withered away due to changes in the macro-environment. But, is there no more Latent Demand today that is not yet addressed - as I mentioned earlier, there is so much unmet demand in the developing and under-developed world - I mentioned about how my farm still does not get enough electricity even today while the prices my farm produce can fetch is increasing - i.e. there is a sustainable demand for electricity that is not met. Why was the collective effort not addressing such demand that is more premanent in the first place? Should we as humans be more wiser in choosing which demand we address? Does it mean we need to define a mechanism, a business model, to provide businesses, the drivers of this collective effort, greater visibility and incentive to access such Latent Demand?


In the both scenarios there are some action items on us humans -

1. Build more relevant technologies - May be we need to invest lesser in building fad-type technologies and invest more on such technologies that address real world needs
2. Incentivise businesses which address Latent Demand - May be the stock market should provide better P/E valuations for businesses addressing such demand - demand of a better quality should matter. May be there is a need for businesses (consultancies) that help other businesses access this Latent Demand.


Probably I did not understand this concept. Probably I just realized what a lot of people already know. Probably I hit a point that we need to ponder! Thought of sharing it anyway and be corrected, if appropriate. I did try to use more simpler relations in macro-economics to bring out the argument than the theory.