It was seven in the evening, my scheduled classes for the day were over. But I had nothing planned for the next couple of hours. There was a class on Strategic Thinking and Problem Solving, which I had not subscribed to, taken by a professor whose classes I had enjoyed the last term. I decided to attend it. I was also under mental stress due to problems I could not solve immediately. I decided that the structured environment of a lecture hall would offer relief with the professor as the soothsayer than be alone and let random thoughts weigh my mind.
The professor identified me immediately and asked what I was doing gatecrashing his class. Of course, as was the norm, I had to pay a small tax in the way of class participation.
For a second, I thought I were in a literature or a creative writing class, as the words analogy and metaphor were mentioned. But the professor was talking about the use of analogies and metaphors in problem-solving.
An analogy is when you can identify the broad specifics of a particular situation elsewhere. Improving farming is like fighting a war. The enemy in farming is the environment, the weapons are the fertilizers and pesticides, the military intelligence is the weather reports, the allies could be the supporting agricultural policies and the high tech missiles are the GMO varieties.
During the 1990s, Intel adapted the steel analogy to anticipate a possible disruption in the microprocessor industry. Andy Grove, Intel’s CEO at that time, purportedly referred to cheaps CEOs as the digital rebar.
“Could we be the Toys R Us of office supplies?”
We moved on to metaphors. Purifying water is a balancing act. This metaphor was used by a company to develop a new concept for a water purifying device. Just as the right side is balanced with the left side in a balancing act, in water purification, there is a need to remove what is harmful without filtering what was good.
Of course, bad analogies could lead to wrong conclusions.
… an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine …
– From Virginia Woolf’s The Lighthouse
Last night, I had an interesting assignment that was due. It was a Product and Brand Management assignment on luxury brands. Based on first come first serve we could choose to cover the luxury brands industry we were interested in. I chose restaurants. My task was to give at least three luxury restaurants and describe what set them apart.
My choice of restaurants was driven by interest and exposure to the gastronomic world through food shows like MasterChef, food books like My Life in France by Julia Child and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, hours spent browsing food blogs, and of course food films.
But picking the luxury restaurants proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. I knew I had to pick one from Paris. I decided to start with films. With much excitement, I tried to figure out the restaurant the General mentions in the film The Babette’s Feast, which is famous for cailles en sarcophage (quail in puff pastry). It was the restaurant Café Anglais but a google search revealed that it had shut down and even the building was demolished. Then I moved on to the film The Hundred-Foot Journey – the story features a one star Michelin restaurant nested in the French countryside but it was fictional.
I resorted to googling. When that too didn’t work out, I went to YouTube. After experiencing a couple of vlogs in Parisian restaurants, I stumbled on a video that was useful. Picking the first restaurant took a little long but it was quick after that. I wanted to ensure that restaurants were from different parts of the world and the cuisines were entirely different.
Here’s a brief of the restaurants I covered (do look at the videos, they’re are delicious):
A Michelin 3-star restaurant based in Copenhagen, it focusses on nouvelle Nordic cuisine. They strive to create delicious but also well-balanced and light meals. There is heavy use of herbs, flower, and other ingredients.
Again a Michelin 3-star restaurant based in Monaco, it serves cuisine inspired by the French Riviera. The experience of pageantry is its undeclared motto. But as notions of luxury have undergone changes from the 20th century, the restaurant has taken up refurbishing work to be more in sync with the modern notions of luxury. The interiors of the restaurant are decorated with frescos, oil paintings, and mulberry wood. The staff is attired in designer uniform.
Set in a colonial mansion in Bankok, the focus is on modern Turkish cuisine. The interiors have an Ottoman ambiance. The inspiration for the menu comes from in and around Turkey including foods from the street markets of Istanbul. The dishes are creatively named and each one has a story behind them.
The Sultan’s Message: a plate of pigeon seemingly lying on a pool of blood – cherry sauce
I was to plan a module on interview strategy for the juniors. I put together a group of four people whom I knew were good at interviews based on their past performance. As interviews can be very subjective, I also wanted to make it a representative group that had multiple personalities. I had a persuasive talker, an understated guy, a hardcore seller, and a dominator.
We met well past midnight to discuss the content to be presented. We decided that we will focus on a few important things that often come up in interviews. We then recollected our own interviews and also the interviews we had conducted to come up with insights. We had also sent out a query form to the prospective participants on what they’d like us to address. The importance of understanding the expectations of your target audience is something I’ve learned over time.
After three-quarters of an hour, we had fourteen points to discuss. We also realized how each of our strategies was unique from the other. I’ll briefly touch upon the most important notes on giving interviews:
Tell me about yourself – This is a definite question so why not prepare the best answer you could well beforehand. It is a great advantage and talking about something you’re prepared with at the start of the interview would put you at ease. I often weave in a couple of interesting things about me in my answer in anticipation of attracting further questions on them. This allows one to lead the interview. It worked to great effect in my latest interview.
Understand what your employers want – While you have the job description, the news articles, and the public documents of the company like annual reports, it is always valuable to talk to your acquaintances or network who is part of the organization or in a similar role that you’re applying to.
Structured answering – The strength of articulation is always a major advantage in an interview situation. Frameworks are a great help here. STAR (situation-task-action-result), MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive), and McKinsey three-point rule are some which could help.
Smile – A smile can do wonders. Simply force yourself to smile. It works magic both on yourself and the interviewer. And of course, no one wants to work with someone who seldom smiles.
Understand the neuroscience of interviews – Never proclaim yourself using any of the adjectives like entrepreneurial, creative, analytical, etc. Rather narrate instances of these qualities and let the interviewer deduce that you’re entrepreneurial or creative. If he deduces it himself, he is way more convinced about it.
Favorite academic subject and case study – This is more relevant to a b-schooler. You may be asked to name your favorite subject but it is also advisable to plug in your favorite case study. It will most likely attract questions about why that is your favorite and the learnings from the case – for which you must be prepared beforehand.
Emphasize on learnings – We often have the tendency to rattle off achievements and the positions we’ve held in our past. But it is more important to emphasize the learnings from them.
Well, if you’re heading to an interview now, good luck!
We were in Honduras today. Interestingly, the case started with an excerpt from this blog of the protagonist Scott, who was a program director at the La Ceiba, a microfinance institution in El Progreso. Scott was responsible for decisions on issuing microfinance loans to Honduras citizen.
We believe in a world in which the well-being of the client claims center stage in the microfinance community. We believe development requires an ethos that defends human dignity. We are here to put that ethos into practice – demonstrating what is possible when the client comes first. Client protection isn’t enough, and nothing less than clients thriving will do. We measure impact in smiles and lasting friendships, and we aren’t kidding about that. Progress is made over drinks and handshakes – enduring relationships are our collateral. We are here to stand by clients as sidekicks in their fight to end their own poverty. We are LA CEIBA – the vanguard of the client-centered method.
– The La Ceiba Manifesto
La Ceiba, which has its roots in the Students Helping Honduras (HSS) had an interesting model. It offered micro-credit to the residents of the Siete de Abril village and initially started with women clients. It never asked for collateral. The credit-worthiness of a client was determined by the lateness of the repayment. One who repays a previous loan within 30 days of the due date is eligible for a larger loan, between 31 and 60 days one is eligible for a similar sized loan as the previous one, more than 60 days one is eligible for a smaller loan and greater than 90 days one is only eligible for the smallest loan offered. In sum, one was eligible for a loan as long as one repaid their previous loan. What was not paid back was written off as a donation – no pressure on clients to payback. Further, every new client started with the smallest loan offered.
La Ceiba declared that it was a side-kick and never claimed the hero’s role in its client’s life. In the case at hand, Scott had to negotiate with four women in different circumstances on the terms of their loans. What was at stake was La Ceiba’s compassionate philosophy, client relationships, and financial risk management.
. . .
But we did not discuss the Honduras case in class today. Instead, our negotiation professor decided to surprise us with a card game. It’s called the 4 card negotiation game. All the cards of a deck are cut into four equal parts and then distributed equally to the participant teams. The objective was to put together as many cards as possible through negotiation and trade.
Our team did well. We had put together four cards. Only one other team had more. As I try to reflect on what could’ve gone right with us, I can come up with three points:
We were clear about what we wanted.
We did not do much of negotiation. We were simply quick on our feet, we set out looking for what we wanted.
We had a great team cooperation. We hardly wasted time arguing about our strategy, we understood our roles rather well.
Towards the end of the game, the observers shared the insights on the various strategies adopted by different teams:
Some teams adopted strategies that prevented value creation of other teams if a particular did not benefit them.
One team adopted the strategy of distorting the perception of the other and thereby reducing the bargaining power of the other.
Another team, the one with the highest score, adopted aggressive value creation strategies. Once they identified the team that had the card they wanted, they actively pursued the cards their target team wanted.
. . .
I learned some video-making today. We had to make a video for the menstrual hygiene movement we were working on. I have been wanting to explore video content creation from some time now. A kind friend who is also a photography enthusiast helped us shoot the video. I figured out that it’d be easy to do it all on the phone, and looked around for suitable apps. I tried out a few and then settled for Adobe Clip on the Play Store. The process is fairly simple – shoot the video and edit out the glitches, add intro and the exit scenes, and overlay some music. The response to the video in my social media circle was more than what I had anticipated. I’d attribute the response to two reasons: the immensity of the issue at hand and the power of the video media.
As I maneuvered the flaking pooris into my mouth during breakfast, a batchmate walked over to me and congratulated me. I was confused. When I asked him the reason for his wishes, he simply said that I’d have passed hundred days on my blog yesterday and congratulations was for that. I was flattered for a moment. He asked me to continue writing irrespective of anything. It is moments like these that we need the most when we doubt ourselves and our actions.
. . .
There was one important lesson that I took away from the negotiation class yesterday: Do not let the negotiation end with a rejection of your offer
The professor substantiated this point with a real example which I shall narrate here. A top consulting firm had bid for a large government project. As it happened, their rival was awarded the project. If you were the one leading the bidding process from the consulting firm, would just leave this episode and move on? What would you do?
In our case, the consulting firm guy met with the government official of the concerned ministry to ask “why.” To understand where their firm did not fit the project’s need. It came out that it was just a small tweak that was required. But it was too late now and the project has already been awarded to the other firm and nothing can change it now.
Was this meeting futile?
There were multiple positives that came out. First, understanding the needs of the government can help in future bids. Second, the official also revealed that soon they’d be launching another project and they’re looking for a consultant for that.
This situation illustrates the importance of not letting the negotiation end with a rejection of your offer, rather going back to understand ‘why’ and build a relationship with the other party.
. . .
Good teachers drive effective learning. While I had not subscribed for the course on Fixed Income Securities, I decided to sit in the class after having heard some rave reviews about the professor. And it did not disappoint.
The class covered the kinds of returns, yields, and some quantitative moments. We then moved onto some important historical situations that involved bonds to develop a deeper understanding. The professor narrated the story of the millennium bond launch in India. The point was that as an investor we ought to understand the financial position of the issuer.
The professor then went on to show us two short situations drawn from the United States. The first was the introduction of securities transaction tax in the 1990s. The second was when President Clinton proposed an increase in the corporate taxes to narrow the fiscal deficit. These were intriguing situations that kept the whole class engaged. The objective was to understand the influence of the government on the financial markets.
But my reason to visit the class was not entirely to learn fixed income securities. I was more interested in being exposed to good teachers and collecting some best practices in teaching. One major takeaway was the ability to fit the theoretical concepts in the large real-world narratives. It was the professor’s knack to narrate financial market stories and derive lessons that made him effective. Well if you’re teaching, then take note of this.
Right, it’s day 100. It is ironic that when a goal is in reaching distance, instead of the joy and excitement of reaching a goal there is a lot of anxiety. It is the question of ‘what next’ that has haunted me over the last few days. Can these 100 days be turned into a book? This anxiety has sapped any excitement of reaching the 100 days. I think this is something that is probably experienced by a lot of people as they reach the end of a treasured project and something that is worth taking more about.
Befitting Day 100, the case we dealt with today in the Digital Transformation class was about something that is dear to me. It was the digital transformation of the Tate Museum, London. I’m a champion of the old world public spaces like libraries and museums (the new world public spaces are restaurants, malls, and movie theatres). I’ve had some of my best moments in these spaces. Not that I have any hatred for the new world spaces, I perfectly enjoy them too, but just that the old world public spaces seem to be dwindling and there is an urgent need to stand by them so that we may not lose perspective of the unique and critical benefits they offer to our civilization.
What Tate Museum had done was something phenomenal. A look at their website is could pull a person unbothered about museums or art to give it a chance. That, I think, will be the greatest achievement of the digital medium. If museums and libraries have to flourish it is not enough they retain their existing patrons but take an evangelical approach to gain more patrons.
The digital content does exactly this: enables us to have a deeper experience
Of course, the digital medium also enables a following from around the world. At my table, thousands of miles away from the Tate Museum, I can experience the Salisbury Cathedral.
I couldn’t help but compare the website of the Tate to the website of the topmost museum in India. The National Museum at New Delhi contains a treasure of artifacts beginning from the Indus Valley Civilization, over four thousand years ago. I’ve been there multiple times and have been overwhelmed being surrounded by history.
But the museum awaits its Tate moment.
I will also soon start reading about the Tate-like examples for public libraries.
I gained some lessons in negotiation today, but I shall wait another day to talk about it.
Four of us friends took a walk around the campus a little past midnight. Far away from the beauty-robbing effects of light pollution, the night sky was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen. As we walked, I couldn’t help but keep crooning my head to catch one more glimpse at the star-dotted night sky.
During the course brief, the instructors mentioned that the Business Dynamics classes will be intensive on thinking. Today, we experienced that.
We took a step towards modeling phenomena by learning to construct causal loop diagrams (CLD). We started with some simplified phenomena with just two variables like birth and population and later moved onto phenomena with more variables.
The CLD helps us to move away from the common but unreal linear cause-effect model.
During the discussion, we had to invariably touch upon correlation vs causation. Just always remember that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
We built stories around CLDs that were shown on the screen. I was soon able to appreciate the power of this approach to thinking about phenomena. We then started to map the behavior of the models. Balancing loops are equilibrium seeking and the reinforcing loops keep moving away from equilibrium.
Our next task was to come up with a CLD for the beer game we played last week. The idea is to know the behavior of the system and then figure out the model that will describe this behavior. Here, we learned to add delay to the model.
The biggest takeaway in applying this approach to business problems is this: If you see that an oscillating behavior in an organization with respect to a particular phenomenon, then we could conclude that this behavior is caused by a balancing loop and a delay. Having identified this, we can go forward to break the balancing loop or reduce the delay.
This is hard but very exciting. I understand that I need to spend a lot of time to get a grasp of it and then effectively apply to a particular phenomenon.
. . .
I’ve been uninspired for the last couple of days. I made the jump to personalize my room a tad. Nothing much, a couple of wall stickers or posters. One had to be a large wall art of the world – a symbol of my desire for exploration, the vastness of our world and the sense of perspective that brings to me. The second was something I just came across while I was just looking for interesting posters. It is a poster from the film The Sound of Music. A picture of Maria (Julie Andrews) feeling exuberance on the hills. The mood of the film and the character Maria has always inspired positivity and light spiritedness in me. This poster will be a reminder of that.
I understand how important it is to create a space of our own and add little things to your environment.
This was our first multimedia case. The case was on Havas, a global communications company, for our Digital Transformation class. I couldn’t help thinking about the digital transformation of case publishing itself.
The case contained a narrative of videos with the key executives and stakeholders in the Havas case. Of course, there is a natural excitement as this is the advertisement industry. Havas had bagged multiple awards in the advertising category including the ‘Ads worth spreading’ by TED. I watched a couple. They were amongst the best things I’ve watched in the last couple of weeks. Below are the links to these life-affirming ads:
But then, I have to admit that I was bored to go through the video narrative of this case. I’m not sure where it was the case setting, my mood, or the medium that made me feel disengaged as I was going through the case. I just concluded that these multimedia cases are less absorbing compared to text cases. The intuitive sense would be that a video is more engaging than a text, and most of my classmates seemed to find the multimedia case more engaging.
But the class made amends for my rather disengaged case preparation. The instructor brought in a slew of innovation and strategy related concepts into the picture. One of the most important points that I gained was how an incumbent can respond to disruptive innovation.
The transition of the advertising industry from traditional to digital has brought in new aspects – push to pull based advertising, digital integration has brought in the possibility of continuous analytics and attribution. Moreover, the platforms of Google and Facebook has led to disintermediation (many businesses choose to do their own creatives) and displacement in the industry. Importantly, it is the people who have the power to decide which ad spreads most through their social media activity – dictatorship in communication to democracy in communication.
We understood that the advertising industry where there has been progressive innovation – print to radio to TV to the internet. It follows a punctualized equilibrium model of innovation. There are discontinuities at the point of the shift from print to TV and TV to the internet. A discontinuity can be competence enhancing or competence destroying. In Kodak’s case, when the industry shifted from film to digital, it was competence destroying.
Havas was a successful company that was already well adapted to the digital ecosystem. But there was a smaller company Victor and Spoils which followed a newer model. It crowdsourced its creative ideas and other roles through a database of people. This model led to higher creativity and a lower cost structure, thus, the potential to disrupt the industry.
Havas sensed it. It wanted to acquire V&S. But acquiring V&S may make its own business obsolete. But if they themselves didn’t disrupt their legacy business someone else will. So, they decided to go for disruption from within. Now, Havas had two models operating under its umbrella. An ambidextrous strategy. A response to disruptive innovation.
. . .
Writing a murder mystery.
This is the upcoming assignment for the students in the course Strategic Thinking and Problem Solving, an elective I didn’t opt.
Though I’m not part of the course, I feel lucky to be part of an environment where these diverse skills are emphasized for the candidates.
. . .
Here are my goals for the remaining five months at b-school (of course, the cases and the assignments are going to fill my time like always):
Author: Publish a book. Possibly convert this over 50000-word blog into a book
Profile: Make my profile stronger by doing some research work or projects
Personal Brand: Develop my personal brand on the digital medium by working on my website
Entrepreneur: Build a business or a concept based on something close to my heart like books or libraries;
Social Contribution: Develop a social enterprise that has a tangible social impact
Explore: Travel, understand, and write about the world
Public Speaker: Giving a TEDx talk would be the highest achievement, but effective teaching in classrooms would also do
Interpersonal Skills: Develop the skills to get the most out of relationships and create value
These are merely my priorities, it is not possible for me to do all of this in the short time I have. But if I can do three of these, I’d be satisfied.
How often do we judge a candidate’s success by the high-paying job right out of b-school? Is a high-paying job right out of b-school the ultimate sign of success? Is this what the objective of the candidates should be?
I’ve thought about this before. We’ve always seen comparisons between b-schools on the basis of the median salary out of b-school. This is myopic. If there is to be a better parameter – it must be in the kind of progress the alumni are making five years down the line.
Today, I came across an article about HBS Dean Nitin Nohria’s thoughts on this.
What we want is to have students, 10 years later, be at an arc in their lives where they really feel that they’re gaining increasing responsibility.
Ten years out is when you start to see the breadth of leadership that the class represents. So that’s exciting.
I spent the evening doing some research on the ready to eat category. I did not make any progress. I checked my Instagram and WhatsApp tens of times during that couple of hours. It’s a chicken and egg problem. Is my lack of progress leading to a state of distraction and restlessness or is it the other way around?
82% of menstruating Indian women have to use unhygienic alternatives such an old cloth, rag, hay or even sand.
There is another interesting project lined up. This one is close to my heart. The Niine Movement aims to tackle the taboos of menstruation and raise menstrual hygiene awareness; they make sanitary pads. Our team will be working on consumer insights and building a penetrative distribution channel in our experiment zone. If this succeeds, the model will be scaled up the national level. In the last third of the b-school education, this is an opportunity to test and build my skills to make a real-world impact.
When one important thing is done, new priorities are to be set up. I have to quickly narrow down my new priorities and start working on them. I fear that my next five months will just trickle away in restless exploration.
As b-schoolers, we are exposed to lots of corporate leaders from the private sector. Today, we met the more than ten leaders from public sector firms in India. Public sector units began with India’s socialist beginnings. While accounting for 2% of the firms listed on the stock market, the public sector units account for more than 15% of the total market capitalization while also contributing 20% of India’s GDP.
Such big drivers of the Indian economy, these public sector units seldom are in media’s limelight except when government talks of disinvestment. They are the silent workers of the economy. Despite the common characterization of the public sector as being inefficient all over the world, some of the most spectacular organizations in the world belong to the public sector.
While the salaries at the entry levels are relatively higher in the public sector, the wage gap between the public and the private sector increases as we move up the ladder. The government, as a model employer strives to maintain a reasonable ratio between the bottom-most and the top-most role. Despite the phenomenally low pay compared to similar roles in the private sector, especially at the top, some of the most impactful leaders in our society have come from the public sector.
. . .
One of the speakers brought out an interesting point during the discussion. It is about how disharmony in teams enhance performance and the creativity of the team. This is something I’ve experienced over the last year and a half of working in different teams, but I had never thought about this in concrete terms.
The performance benefits of controlled disharmony are witnessed in the performance jazz bands, between Lennon and McCartney, between Wozniak and Jobs. What matters in the team is the psychological safety.
A little past midnight, seated by the steps beside the grass, in the blissful cold-breeze of pre-winter nights, over some tea and ready-to-eat noodles, my team and I pondered over our approach to a corporate competition. We had to give a solution to HUL’s bid to launch a ready-to-eat product in a particular city. First meetings are awkward and filled with pockets of silences. This was the same too. After a couple of hours, we had taken a one step ahead. Enough for the day. But for the first time in many months, I spent casual time with a bunch of people under the night sky.