Thursday, August 31, 2006

Giving up Planning

I just gave up on – planning.

It is absurd. It’s alright as long as you do it as a play, but it does not remain playful too long.

I remember, I never planned when I was sane, when I was in college and had no time, when I loved every moment of my existence. I started planning as I got hurled into a windowless office, and wishing every moment about the day when I can get out. That madness got me into planning.

I don’t mean that I never thought about future before I got stuck in an office. That would have been irresponsible. But I never planned, I dreamt – of playing cricket in Eden Gardens, of writing a great novel, of making my mother immensely proud, of seeing my eternally cynical teachers startled by my success – sort of. I could not have planned for these. So, I dreamt.

These dreams appear less absurd than my plans. For a start, I was not trying to run away from the present when I dreamt, I loved it – all of it – its lightness, its temporariness, and its possibilities. I was logical in thinking of conquering the world. I did not limit my possibilities. I felt the power in me, I trusted myself – and I lived in dreams.

The plans, on the other hand, were absurd. Or, may be, they were not my type. I made them to run away from the present. I lost faith in myself. I started believing that every moment is eternal, they keep coming back and hence must have the same pattern, and hence there is a point in planning. I planned to change the present, and assumed that the present is eternal, and gave up on dreaming.

Wise men tried to persuade that I should not give up planning altogether. I need both – dreaming and planning – they are what-s and how-s of the future. They are right, they ought to be, but they forgot to mention a few things. For example, dreaming pulls you to future, while planning pegs you back in present – the reviled present. Dreaming is about possibilities, planning is about limitations. And, I must not forget – if you think you can, you can – limitations are to be encountered and dealt with, not to be imagined and get scared of.

So, from today, I gave up planning. I shall follow the elemental myself; the cloak I put on ever since I lost faith on dreams will go now. I planned transforming myself all this while, but now the transformed me must give up planning.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Story Based Learning

Consider this story that appeared today:

New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) has ditched traditional classroom-based learning for a story-based approach to teaching fire safety to its 20,000 or so staff. The new Story-based Learning Objects (StoBLs™), delivered via e-learning, have been developed by the global e-learning producer, Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) - and have generated strongly positive reactions from managers and thousands of learners at NYP. Staff trained via the classroom-based courses had consistently demonstrated levels of comprehension and retention which were lower than desired. One reason suggested for this was that the training was presented only in terms of steps and rules, without the application of the principles in a real-world situation. "Basically, the content didn't relate closely enough to the audience's daily experiences," said TIS's Chaitanya Hakkaladadi. "NYP, like many hospitals, has a recurring training requirement related to certifying - and re-certifying - that all of their 20,000 or so employees are aware of, and competent in, the basics of Fire Safety," commented Hakkaladadi. "This is necessary not only to ensure they can react appropriately in the event of an actual fire emergency, but also for regulatory/compliance 'spot checks', when fire and safety officials randomly show up, unannounced, and ask questions of anyone they wish. And if these employees don't answer the questions correctly, the hospital is penalised." TIS's solution was to create the 'NYP Fire Safety Course Demo' which uses a story-based approach to a learning programme which is built around the NYP fire safety acronym of 'RACE': rescue, alarm, confine, evacuate/extinguish. Each element of the acronym forms a module of the course. "Each module is a retelling of a fire event, from one character's perspective - so the same fire event is recalled five different times. Each module opens with the story, and then is followed by a series of 'teach screens' and knowledge checks," explained Hakkaladadi. "The StoBLs™ approach uses visual imagery and audio to bring learning content to life," said Alan Samuel, head of TIS's UK operations. "This enables the learning programme to achieve interactivity in the true sense of the term - engaging learners' feelings and emotions as well as imparting the knowledge that they need. "Everyone - of any age - loves a good story," Samuel continued. "Stories help to lower adult resistance to new ideas; can make the tedious memorable; make abstract concepts 'concrete' and simplify complex ideas to concepts that are readily understood."

This isn’t new – case studies are being used in Business Schools! Oh, I heard you mention Aeshop, or Panchatantra as in India, or Ancient texts. But, I must give to TIS that this is novel, whoever thought this up, as training and innovation do not usually go hand in hand.

Lessons from Kotler's Seminar in Mumbai [Business Standard/ Reproduced in]

Lesson 1: R&D must be market-ready
Kotler had a poser for his audience. His question: "If you were the chief marketing officer of your organisation, who would you prefer to be close to? The CEO, CFO, CIO (chief information officer) or the CRO (chief research officer)?" There was no single opinion, so Kotler decided to have the final say. He would have had it, anyways.
According to Kotler, the CMO needs to be close to everybody from the CEO to the CRO. Typically, the CFO does not see logic in investing behind brands because he is not close to marketing. And, there is an 80 per cent failure rate in new products.
"The R&D is farthest away from customers, hence they often get it wrong," he explained. Now, even in research-focused organisations like IT giant Microsoft, "marketing has become the front door and their new product success rate has become higher".
Lesson 2: Number-crunching is more than just calculating market shares
"In B-schools most students choose marketing because they did not like accounts," quips Kotler. He recommends that instead, most marketing professionals must be "clued into finance" so that the other functions in the company take marketing seriously.
"The CMO must demonstrate the return on marketing investment," he says. Kotler recommends the creation of a marketing scorecard that captures the number of new customers added every year, measures the satisfaction level of current customers and indicates the brand health.
Lesson 3: The co-creation mantra
"Make your business a workshop where your customer can draw what he wants," recommends Kotler, adding "marketing is the delivery of experience". His example is the Four Seasons hotel chain that customises hotel rooms for its guests. Whenever possible, the next time the guest visits the hotel, he gets the same room.
"While the aim of business is to create satisfied customers, the truth is companies continue to lose unsatisfied customers."
The message: plug the leaks by exceeding customer satisfaction and customer delight, moving to a higher level - customer astonishment. Kotler feels that iconic brands like Harley Davidson and iPod reach these higher levels.
What else? Devise a net promoter score to track customer satisfaction levels. Round up your most loyal customers. Ask them if they would recommend your products to others and become promoters for your brand. If the number of those promoters is increasing, it's a good score. Otherwise get the point.
Lesson 4: Expand market size
Kotler begins this lesson with the story of Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric who made it a thumb rule that GE would only operate in businesses where it was a dominant player.
When Welch asked his managers about GE's market share in their business, the executives would give impressive numbers in the range of 50 per cent.
Welch would reply, "I think it's only 10 per cent. We have not tapped the rest of the market." Kotler's point: in your rush to hit the bull's eye, don't miss out on the markets that surround the sweet spot. The dart board is bigger. There are more places to hit.
Lesson 5: Strategic trajectory for Indian brands
Indian companies face two challenges - defending their markets against the invasion of foreign labels. The second is to develop strong global brands themselves.
According to Kotler, the trajectory for Indian brands is to move from being seen as low-cost average quality products, to low-cost superior quality and finally to higher-end products.
He gives the example of Haier, the Chinese consumer durables company, which has successfully acquired a global brand status. In its first stage, Haier fixed quality. In the second stage, the company diversified its product basket from just making refrigerators to mcrowaves, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and other products.
The third stage was to globalise. Most importantly, Kotler recommends that Indian companies must lean on research. "Instead of reducing marketing to advertising and selling, it makes sense to stick to research," says the 75-year-old, with child-like enthusiasm for his pet subject.

NIIT & Element K : Analyst Views

Analyst Review: NIIT and Element K Consummate the Perfect Marriage

By Doug Harward, Founder and CEO of

On July 27, global learning services provider NIIT, headquartered in New Delhi, India announced that it had acquired Rochester, N.Y. based Element K. Combined the companies will have more than 3,000 employees throughout the world with revenues in excess of US $250 million. Instead of terming this an acquisition, I like to view it more as the perfect marriage of two complementary organizations. The union of the two companies has the ability to become one of the most powerful companies in the corporate and educational marketplace.
This is the second merger this year among "Top 20 Companies in the Training Outsourcing Industry" and definitely the most significant in terms of global reach. In June, ACS announced it was acquiring Ernst and Young's Intellinex Learning Services division. Although each deal has great importance to the industry, the NIIT - Element K deal combines two companies with strong international impact. NIIT has long been known for its content development and learning technology capabilities with a strong presence in India, China, Europe, and Africa, and a growing presence in North America. Element K's prominence has primarily been in North America through managed services for e-learning and learning technologies. Their KnowledgeHubTM solution has been well received along with their award winning suite of over 3500 online courses.

The Exciting Future of Music

From : On the Future of Music Distribution

Zinedine Zidane's seeing red in the final of the football World Cup has inspired a chart-topping song in France. The song is called, you guessed it, Head-Butt (or rather, Coup de Boule in French).

The reggae-ish song, which was reportedly composed in 30 minutes and posted on the Internet by a music producer trio, goes: 'Zidane a frappe, la Coupe on l'a ratee (Zidane struck, we blew the cup).'
Reports in most major newspapers of the world say the song is playing everywhere in France and being downloaded in the thousands from the Internet.

Warner Music France has bought the song from composers Franck Lascombes, S├ębastien Lipszyc and Emmanuel Lipszyc, who wrote the song out of the depression that hit them and all of France after their football captain's head-butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi blew France's hopes of being champions of the world.

Reportedly, the trio sent the song to friends over the Internet and three hours later it was playing on Skyrock, one of the biggest French radio networks.

Interestingly, the success of the Head-Butt song -- on the heels of the success of bands like the Arctic Monkeys, who promoted their songs over the Web -- is being viewed as another example to illustrate that the Internet is where the future of music lies.

'It wasn't made to be a hit; it was made to be a joke for friends,' Emmanuel Lipszyc told London's The Guardian.

With Warner planning to release translated versions in 20 countries, it looks like the world is laughing along.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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