Bath-tubs & Intelligence!

July 20th, 2009

Apparently, the idea of ‘an expanding universe’ occurred to Albert Einstein when he was relaxing in his bath playing with the soap bubbles. Ditto for Greek Scholar – Archimedes – who proclaimed “Eureka” when he stepped into the bath – and noticed the rising water level. A little away from the bath, Mr. Newton stumbled upon the nature of the ‘transparent pull’ from the earth when he saw an apple fall from a tree.

Besides ‘bathtubs’ – couple of important themes jump up from the stories above:

 a. the phenomenon of ‘relativity’, ‘buoyancy’ and ‘gravity’ already EXISTED – when discovered (called out and named) by these gentlemen. So is true for all the discoveries, inventions and breakthroughs made by humans.

b. all the above discoveries happened when these folks were in the state of ‘let go’ – meaning away from their labs, relaxing.

So what does it mean: for one, there are no new discoveries. Only existing stuff – discovered newly – in line with what psychologists have been saying for decades now: whatever you see or recognize in the nature or in the other person, already exists in your mind – conscious or subconscious.

So then the question arises – if everything is already in our minds then how come we’re still so ignorant about everything. The point b above offers some help – and some ways to the workings of our minds:

The  discoveries in the opening para ‘happened’ to our scientists when they were in the different states of ‘let go’. Meaning – they were able to access these flashes (of brilliance) from the deep recesses of their subconscious mind, only after they had suspended the use of the conscious mind temporarily!

This perhaps might also explain what is called as – intuition or ‘gut-feel’. And that the only time it could ‘happen’ to you is when you are not thinking!

I think therefore I am.

June 10th, 2009

I believe it was Toyota – which created a nifty framework of “5 Whys’ to analyze the root cause of any broken transaction or process by its teams while they went about their work. The 5 Why tool mandated the teams at Toyota to ask ‘Why’ five times to be able to get to the source (root) of the problem before they attempted to apply the fixes or the solution.

The 5 Whys (and other similar tools/ approaches that are employed to do formal root cause analysis of any problem) are offshoots of what is philosophically called as ‘reflection’ by the human mind. Incidentally, if you leave out the form related attributes, ‘the ability to reflect’ is also perhaps the ONLY thing that differentiates human beings from the animals! It’s also not a coincidence that the  ability or the power to reflect is one of the key determinants of human intelligence (or IQ if you will). It is easier still to appreciate that the whole idea behind the genesis of tools such as 5 Whys  then is to make an ‘average Joe’ think ‘more intelligently’.

So where does it leave what is called as ‘intuition’ when we speak of human intelligence. Intuition, after all has been hailed (equally by celebrated CEOs, marketing minds, scientists, and Zen Masters) as the ‘ultimate truth’ when it comes to making decisions, solving tough problems or conceiving new ideas & break-throughs. It is also a matter of general observation that ‘intution’ typically happens to a human mind only when it stops ‘reflecting’!

If you are interested, please do come back for more on reflection, intuition and human intelligence, as I have some more ideas to go!

The mind of the strategist

May 3rd, 2009

In the classic – The Mind of the Strategist, Kenichi Ohmae argues that “insight”  – the intuitive and creative element of the human mind – and NOT the “rational, numbers driven view of the analyst” – is often behind the strategies that have extraordinary impact in the marketplace. He also avers that this natural, instinctive strategist is a dying breed, pushed to the sidelines by numbers oriented strategic and financial planners!

I can not agree more.

In some of my earlier posts, I have written extensively about concept of Forward Thinking – which points exactly to this capability as a qualification for an organization to be able to launch remarkable products and services in the marketplace.

So, an early Intuition – when tested on the ground in the marketplace – yields to what Ohmae calls as ‘Insight’. Often highly disruptive of the status quo.

How smart are you?

April 13th, 2009

Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher, once dreamt that he was a butterfly flitting and fluttering happily in the bushes. On waking, he found that he was Zhuangzi – and not the butterfly he dreamt of. But now, he was utterly confused. He was not sure whether he was Zhuangzi who dreamt of a butterfly, or a butterfly that was dreaming of Zhuangzi!

What becomes clear from Zhuangzi’s predicament is that contrary to popular (mostly scientific) notions, there are no absolute or universal truths – and that all knowledge – scientific or otherwise – is but relative. Even Newtonian laws held good ( as absolute truths)  – up until Einstein came along – and proved these laws to be only ‘relatively’ true.

Even in the business setting, all so called absolute truths or assertions are true only within a certain context or frame. Change the frame or context, and what was claimed to be as an absolute (read universal) truth, suddenly falls flat.

It’s not very difficult then for smart practitioners (in business, law, journalism or politics) to pass off a ‘relative truth’ (which is true only in a certain context) as a universal truth  – sometimes for very unseemly or unethical ends.

Is relative knowledge (or the art of framing a relative truth) then a ‘true’ measure of smartness (and success thereof)?

 I for one, am not too sure.

Face to face with a tiger?

April 4th, 2009

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself eye to eye with a  tiger in a thicket?  Not sure?

Let’s just stay with this thought experiment for a moment. The first split second into the encounter our mind may not even comprehend what just happened. The body will likely stay frozen – without any reaction or any feelings of fear etc. It’s only after the mind has cognized the situation at hand, that the body will start to react – potentially with some form of a Flight or a Fight response. Most likely Flight!

What becomes clear from this story though is that human mind needs Existing Knowledge (a priori) before Experiencing anything in this world (Also read my earlier post: No knowledge means no experience). So in the example above if the subject did not have any existing knowledge/ data points of Tigers ( or of wild beasts and their fancy for all kinds of flesh) in her mind, she might even be humored or at best pleasantly surprised by this whole episode!

Staying with the plot, let’s try replacing the Tiger in this experiment with a new (read alien) product or a concept – face to face with the subject (in this case the customer); Now, what do you think the subject’s (the customer) experience and/ or reaction going to be?

Moral of the story: If you haven’t experienced what it is like to be face to face with a Tiger, you might not do nearly as good a job of launching a new concept/ brand in the marketplace as our protagonist in the Tiger experiment!!

The McKinsey effect!

March 21st, 2009

Peter Drucker is supposed to have commented once – “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”


Incidentally, that is also the difference between “making customers buy from you” and “you having to sell to them” – and the difference is much more than pure semantics. While the former is driven by outside-in thinking, the latter is marked by more commonly practiced, inside-out type sales work.


Top consulting firms such as McKinsey have traditionally marketed (in line with outside-in philosophy) their wares. While there are many well-chronicled studies on how top consulting companies have mastered the art of marketing – one thing that clearly stands out in how these firms have succeeded in having their target customers “find” and “buy” from them is: Content.


Availability of world-class Content in the areas of their focus. Tons of it.  White papers, research notes, case studies, web-casts, articles, panels, presentations, seminars, blogs – focused, thought provoking and actionable insights for helping their target customers run their businesses well; Insights that are easily accessible to their customers at the right forums (both online & offline).


Generating high quality content, day after day, requires not only sharp & incisive minds but also a passion for creating and documenting knowledge. Remarkable businesses (small or big) have generally made a habit of creating world-class content.


By now you must have guessed that putting out world-class content is not exactly a trivial endeavor. But it just might be the only choice you have – a choice between between getting relegated to the commodity hell (read having to sell) or having your customers call you to do business with them. And the choice is yours!

Does McKinsey sell?

March 4th, 2009

Imagine folks at McKinsey & Co making cold calls to the CEO offices of Fortune firms to get a meeting for a consulting gig! Not a chance.

Does that mean they don’t sell their services? Sort of.

McKinsey does not SELL their services, they MARKET them.

Which means instead of working the phones to get engagements, they wait for the phones to ring!

And ring they do.

So, how did McKinsey manage it? And what could rest of us possibly do to get the same McKinsey Effect  working for us?

I’ll continue with some ideas/suggestions on this theme in my next post(s). So stay tuned in.

Just do it!

February 24th, 2009

Too many marketers spend too much of their precious time laboring over a grandiose, cumulatively exhaustive, integrated marketing plan (!),  before they could do anything about it. In my experience, most of it stays on their spreadsheets without ever seeing the light of the day.

What might work better though is that once you have figured out a general sense of direction – then beat that inertia and quickly start running. Which simply means: run that email campaign, spruce up your brochure, make those calls, do that event, upgrade a webpage, round up some sales guys to chat about that new offering…however tactical it might sound. Because this, and only this, is your moment of truth – making touch with people who pay to keep you in business – day after day.

Seth Godin also has a one line advice on this subject. And I can not agree more.

So get over that vague feeling of “have I got it right yet” or “I am sure there’s more to it” right now – and just do it!

The thing about segmentation

February 16th, 2009

I was in the city of Kolkata last week moderating a panel for an audience largely consisting of Heads or Principals of the leading Schools. Among other things, I also noticed that most of the School Heads in the audience knew each other very well – fairly evident from the bonhomie and back-slapping in view during the coffee and lunch breaks.

If you were a business, marketing your story to the Schools in Kolkata, you don’t need an MBA to tell that as soon as you sign up your first client from this community – others will generally follow as long as you execute well on your story. Why? Because your story is so clearly and immediately referenceable in the context.

What if you went after schools based in another part of India – say Bangalore (in the State of Karnataka) with Kolkata Schools as your only clients? Would it be as easy to secure an entry into this group? I doubt that. For the simple reason that the Bangalore Schools have no way to get a “credible” and “immediate” reference of your story. But with some struggle (read good sales effort) you could still manage it as – however dilute it may be – the story is still referenceable at least from a cultural standpoint. 

But what happens if you train your sights on Schools in China? or the States? The model breaks completely. Your Indian story may not have any referenceability with the School community in these regions.

The ‘ability to reference’ then becomes a critical data-point for every marketer to test the veracity or the consistency of their “target groups”. Which means if you find that a customer/ cluster from a certain target group can not credibly reference your story with some one else in the group, it could well be a red flag indicating a broken segmentation exercise.

Even In the world of Internet or online marketing, marketers typically use what is called as viral marketing  (using a sticky concept with a pre-designed hook/ idea virus) to “zero-in” or uncover a high potential target group – which is nothing but a segment or community that is able to reference your story with each other! Same idea but a different application.

Human Frailty and Marketing

February 4th, 2009

My young toddler asked me an interesting question the other day: “How can Lord Hanuman (a Hindu God and a Noble Hero) carry the whole mountain on his hand?”

It is not important what I answered him, nonetheless, here is an interesting observation: until he asked me this question or sometime before that, he was probably not aware of the fact that he can NOT lift a mountain – or that only a God can perform such a feat!

If he’s not already, very soon he will also realize that he can not fly without wings, walk on the water,  can not reach the stars…

For most of us growing up means – discovering our limitations and frailties every day of our lives…

Wonder what were folks like Graham Bell, Wright Brothers, Edison, Lincoln, Gandhi and more recently Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and President Obama, thinking when they did, what they did?

Great marketing or entrepreneurship always starts by challenging an existing point of view or a belief, and in doing so, necessarily transcends all the frailties or limitations associated with the human mind around that concept.

And that , by the way, is also the 101 for a course in performing miracles or doing great marketing!