Sunil doubles as Chief of Creative and Culture at Ideafarms. An Entrepreneur, a Consultant-at-large, an avid reader and a passionate speaker has a key objective to bring design-led user sensitivity to the Information Technology business. His belief in individual talent and an interdisciplinary mix provided the impetus to his founding Ideafarms. You can also follow him @SunilMalhotra
13 year old Priyanka* looked around in wonder as she entered Delhi’s International Airport Terminal 3, with her three schoolmates in tow. Teach for India Fellow Manyata, accompanied them through customs and security to board a flight to Poland for the month-long Brave Festival, an international cultural exchange program.
“Their excitement was palpable,” exclaims Manyata every single time she reminisces the awe and wonder with which the teenagers soaked in their very first flying experience. “From the time we entered the Terminal building, all the way through to Poland and their stay with local families, interacting with their ilk from across the world, performing pieces of India’s rich dances, collaborative choreography, et al, it was an experience few of their lot can even begin to imagine. These kids live in urban slums adjoining the most affluent neighbourhoods and yet may never have visited the local shopping mall. Could all the other 400 kids at Nai Disha—the foundation that runs their school—have an experience “nearly” the same as Priyanka and her friends had.”
Never before has anything fired the imagination of the world like Design Thinking. You can almost see Design Thinking vends pop-up in nooks and crannies where you can order ‘cup or cone in 3 flavours’.
But why this new attention to something that looks like common-sense-stuff-we’ve been-doing-forever? For one thing, while the sense is common, the practice is not. Especially when it comes to the world of business, steered by the twin objectives of feasibility and viability. Design Thinking suggests we get the customer into the equation even before we start creating the specifications of a new offering. The best way to do this is to ‘get out of the building’.
So Jorge and I had a chat, he in Mexico and I in India, to see if we could demystify the discipline, in our bid to protect businesses from themselves and from ignorant, opportunistic vendors.
Just like innovation and artificial intelligence, design thinking is a buzzword. There is a cottage industry of practitioners who, with good intention or not, are hoping to get their pockets full from enterprises who want a step by step process that reduces the uncertainty behind innovation.
Believing design thinking is the ONLY way to innovate.
This is a topic which resonates with design thinking practitioners like Sunil Malhotra. We’ve had back and forth conversations over Twitter and Facebook, and we felt the need to demystify design thinking for the benefit of businesses and the discipline itself.
#DesignThinking goes way beyond thinking and somewhat beyond design as well. It’s intuition with Data, it’s Visual Collaboration with Building and Testing ideas, its Iterating with Human Attention. And you think everybody can do it??
So what’s your order?
Watch the vidcast here …
I’ve been having a hard time finding people with the traits that are needed for Design Thinking. I’m wondering if there’s talent around and if so, where it is hiding.
Earlier this year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ‘ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.
Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants 2013.
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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid — the top. Continue reading Become rich by designing products for the poor?
This is the final segment of a 3-post series on Online Reputation Management (ORM). Part 1talked about what reputation is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Part 2 shows how ORM is more than just damage control. This segment is about involving people to take ORM beyond the traditional custodians of public ignorance (euphemistically called information asymmetry).
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford
But you CAN do something to build a reputation. And you ought to do a LOT to safeguard the reputation you’ve already built. So let’s play this little game I just made up. Make a list of words that strike you as being synonymous to your reputation. Chances are you’ll end up with something that looks like the bio of St. Peter. (Hint: Character is who you are when nobody’s looking.)
Alan Kelly has this incisive and direct view on the role of PR in reputation management. [Read Ego goes Solo – What Matthew Freud’s manoeuvres say about the future of PR – on The Economist]
Mr. Freud’s not-so-novel insight that the future of PR lies in reputation management is evidence of his grounding in selling but not in science. Reputation cannot be managed much less measured, not credibly. It is a proxy of the PR industry’s constant search for euphemisms of a publicly less palatable purpose – influence for competitive advantage.
Let’s be honest and fully transparent on this: To manage a client’s reputation is like me and my wife managing the love of our marriage – or hiring a consultant to do it for us. Both are abstract. Both mean different things to the involved parties. Both are a shared responsibility, not a problem to out-source. And both are derivative of other good works. That this escapes the attention of PR industry fathers is testimony to our mastery of hyperbole and malpractice of craft.
The custodians of public ignorance viz. erstwhile Media, PR, Politicians and, believe it or not, our hallowed Educational Institutions are becoming redundant. Internet enabled information percolates through the weave of the social fabric empowering all in its wake. Going forward, the value of past ‘information hoarders’ is diminished; information will extend its reach through the simultaneity of devices, platforms and content. Context will rule supreme and will become a currency that the ‘ruling classes’ will find difficult to control.
And the current Social Media revolution is all about context. It is about communities of interest, purpose and practice. These communities combine nicely with with the viral effect of the Internet to propagate information that others can easily build upon. Crowdsourcing is a great example of how we use technology today to collaboratively create and manage information. No command and control here.
Therefore if company ‘A’ is looking to manage its online reputation, it must understand how people think and not just what they can be made to think. This is a big shift from the ‘push’ marketing mindset that has created several brands. It doesn’t matter what company ‘A’ tries to tell the world, what really matters is how the world receives the information. Everybody looks at why you are trying to say something. If you try to defend yourself, people wonder what you are trying to hide. If you don’t, YOU have to keep wondering about what they are thinking.
Consumers want to be heard. Social media will have to break free form the grips of marketing in order to truly socialize the enterprise to listen, engage, learn, and adapt. You can’t create a social business if the business is not designed to be customer-centric from the outside-in and the inside-out.
The end of Social Media 1.0 is the beginning of a new era of business, consumer engagement, and relevance.
ORM is less about tools, techniques and SEO. Welcome to the brave new world of ‘value, engagement and relevance’. And of course reputation. Credible and honest.
Welcome to Part 2 of a 3-post series – Online Reputation Management (ORM) is more than just damage control. Simply entrusting the job to PR professionals especially in the Social Media world is a sure recipe for disaster. (Read on or go toPart 1)
ORM – Think about it. Does ORM mean managing the reputation of your ‘online’ business OR does it mean using online platforms and tools to manage your ‘offline’ reputation OR is it a bit of both … OR is it something else altogether?
Let’s look at recent examples of reputation toll that money couldn’t buy (in no particular order).
2. The 2G spectrum allocation scam: All stripped and nowhere to hide
India’s political invincibles are cooling their heels in Tihar. Corporate fortresses have not been spared either. The much revered Tata brand is a surprise casualty, least for the way Ratan Tata literally ‘asked for it’.
I’m not sure if PR could’ve saved the day for them and others who haven’t yet realised that their currency of ‘information asymmetry’ has been hopelessly devalued.
Remember the story – the one-horse town that had 2 barbers; — one dishevelled and the other not a hair out of place — the dishevelled guy was the better barber. I’m not saying that PR, Advertising, MarComm or other communication professionals don’t know communication. The scary part is that while they seem to know the HOW of communication; they do not want to even acknowledge or take responsibility for the more critical WHAT. I’m worried about their understanding (and acceptance) of the realities of today; it simply isn’t yesterday once more guys!
Online spares none!!
And the speed of technology evolution isn’t helping either. By the time you get to figuring out how to exploit one wave, another surges from right behind it. Conversations are the new content; structuring them into content bins (databases) is a sure way to diminish value. We know that reputation is
“the way others see you and what they think of you“.
Your reputation is about your WHOLE personality, the good with the bad (and the indifferent), not just the good parts. So there’s a chance that if you say what you mean and do what you say, they’ll trust you a whole lot and more.
Now, there’s a bunch of reputation management companies offering services ostensibly using tools that can look for all instances of mentions of you or your company across the Web and strip the negative comments/mentions and whathaveyou. Automated scavenging … hmmm. Funny they have a hard time managing their own reputation though. ;-). See this post about Reputation.com (formerly ReputationDefender). And not far behind is a creed of ‘experts’ hustling you into trying some form of automated social media or other. Automated Social Media?? Gimme a break!
Be careful of all the jargon out there. Take responsibility for your end of the deal. Too many clients “outsource” their own responsibility of defining what they need to the agency. It is key to determine what you or your company stands for, not just what the doctor ordered. Pardon my use of the cliche but don’t, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Consistency will always get you better “rankings” online and offline:
While the Internet has become the choice for many to evaluate a product or service, getting positive reviews with traditional word of mouth trumps all else. When you’re at a restaurant checking email on your Blackberry and someone is doing the same on their Droid, any comparison with intuitive features shared in-person and then verified online will be a powerful brand and reputation builder.
By the way, the barber analogy fits nicely with the way today’s content ‘virals’ itself through communities. Word of mouth is a great viral that’s unflatteringly labelled gossip by some. Your reputation does not lend itself to virality (if such a word exists) despite what the new media department of your advertising agency tells you. And Word of Mouth (WoM) is replacing the credibility (read reputation) of the very folks who claim they can manage yours!
Either I have a reputation or I don’t. And reputation is not something I can buy off the supermarket. It’s not just my brand, personality or product; my reputation is my identity. It’s really all I have and it took years of sweat to build it.
Reputation has a huge problem. It is invisible; however hard I try looking even in the mirror I just can’t see it. The only way to know it even exists is listening to who’s saying what. Yeah, you experts will give me reasons why my reputation isn’t okay or how some rumour eroded it or how, for a “small” fee you can give me good advice. Dammit, I already told you it’s all I have and I’m not letting someone else use it to experiment with their theories.
We accept as a verity* of capitalism that someone (usually an expert) knows more than someone else (usually a consumer). But information asymmetries everywhere have in fact been gravely wounded by the Internet.
Information is the currency of the Internet. … The Internet has accomplished what even the most fervent consumer advocates usually cannot: it has vastly shrunk the gap between the experts and the public.
The above excerpt from Freakonomics says it all: the message is loud and clear that the experts – PR agencies, Advertising folks, Media Publications, the new breed of Social Media ‘experts’ – and all the erstwhile keepers of information asymmetry have to learn to play the game by the rules of our times. The rules do not allow for you to build your business by taking advantage of my ignorance or by hiding the source of your information. Are you game? No? I thought as much.
Which is why I had a huge problem with this Economic Times story: Social Media Entrepreneurs are transforming companies virtually. Read my lips – “by simply affixing the label ‘online reputation management’ on CRM techniques and tools, you just fell back to your old ways of creating information asymmetry.” Fortunately, this time around your white-labeling tricks couldn’t fool too many.
So here’s the thing. Reputation management is not like any other technique or methodology that you can learn in a B-School. Reputation is the ‘perception’ of a person, company, institution, nation whatever.
Reputation is about the personality of the entity as seen and felt by all those who come in contact with it directly or indirectly. And personality is not only about how you look in the photoshopped version of your picture on the cover of Vogue.
Personality is who you are and nobody but nobody can present you to the world without knowing the real you. Not even the experts.
Question I’m leaving on the table:
1. Who do you think is managing Airtel’s online reputation? They are doing a great job, don’t you think.
a) PR agency
b) Internal MarComm guys
c) Advertising folk
d) All of the above (Social Media ‘Expert’) 😛
*Something, such as a statement, principle, or belief, that is true
Note: This is the first part of a series of 3 – hopefully I have been able to give the reader some sense what reputation is. More importantly, I hope you have your own understanding of what it isn’t. Feedback welcome.
The original article had been written in 1997 and the following is an excerpt from the post that was edited for The Living Principles.
Design sensibility as applied to sustainability and appropriate technology exposes new dimensions that embrace environmental concerns: habits and cultures of native people(s), potential for building indigenously on acquired technologies, protection of native heritage, promotion of craft, eco-friendly issues and the like. Design thinking plays a crucial role as a qualitative audit mechanism for adaptation of ‘preferable’ over existing fiscally ‘preferred’ packages. The prime concerns for sustainability are contextual relevance in native settings and the present-future availability of skills and material resources. The benefits of such auditing are evident and must be accrued cumulatively for true impact.
Looking back, I am amazed to find that the thought is still very relevant. Infact, it’s probably more relevant today than ever before.
Entrepreneurship is like flying a kite. You wait for that gust to launch it and then you watch it soar, manouevring it through a series of slacks and tugs. Just like a kite, the company you founded sways and rolls and one day you realise that you have to let it go.
Or you bring it back to earth, cut the string and then attach a brand new kite. The way you fly the new kite will not change, except that you may have become a trifle more skilful. The new kite will look different, behave differently and entertain the world in ways the old kite never did.
Entrepreneurship is as much fun and just as challenging.
At Ideafarms, entrepreneurship is always on offer. We enjoy uncertainty. And we hope it rubs off on those who work here. Building a culture of entrepreneurship means much more than defining some processes and plastering walls with ‘feel good’ quotes. It means providing the freedom to take ownership; handing over the reel to someone else and watching her fly her kite.
Now we’re experimenting with ‘outsiders’ that have the makings of outliers to test new frontiers of entrepreneurship. Just like flying kites in outer space. Calling all MBA types and geeks that are not looking for neck’ties’ in a Bank job. Come fly your kite at Ideafarms.