Sunday, May 25, 2014

Demystified- Unbundling as a Product strategy

I have had the privilege of reading the book- Product Strategy for high-Technology Companies not too long ago and would vouch that though this book was originally written a while back and has some examples which may seem old but it sheds some of the valuable insights into high technology (including Software) product strategy. If one tries to think a bit deeper it will not be as hard to find parallels with today's IT world.

Shifting gears a bit and speaking about one of the recent interviews of Mark Zukerberg where he mentioned about the need for Facebook to create a single-purpose first-class experiences to capture the mobile user's attention. To understand what Zukerberg really means by this statement, i would really want to go back and quote a some of the stuff from one of the articles i earlier wrote for Techwell.

Facebook's monolithic design in desktops spells trouble in mobiles:
Broadly, Facebook's users can be divided into two categories—those who access it via a desktop and thosearticle,
who access it via a mobile device. Facebook more or less retains its monopoly of desktop users for meeting their social networking needs, but retaining mobile users poses a real challenge. As mentioned in an Entrepreneur
"On the phone, it's easy to hit the home button, then open a new app, like WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Instagram...Want to just see photos from friends? Go to Instagram, or Snapchat. Want to just exchange messages with friends? WhatsApp, or Snapchat work. Want to play games? Candy Crush, Angry Birds, QuizUp, or whatever you want are available."

Though Facebook is still a monolithic application, it now suddenly sees competition from relatively newer players.  Facebook can easily retain its desktop user base because they use the site for social networking basics—such as sharing updates, posting pictures and videos, chatting, etc. As Zuckerberg explained, mobile users pose a different challenge. "I think on mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small."

What is Facebook thinking to solve its problems with mobile platforms ?- Emergence of unbundling as a product strategy:
One commonality between Facebook’s recent high-profile acquisitions (WhatsApp and Instagram) and the popularity of other apps—such as Snapchat—suggests that these are light apps focusing on just one or two aspects of social networking. It is evident that the monolithic nature of Facebook's mobile app may not get the same level of users engaged as its desktop version. Unbundling the complexity in mobiles seems like a logical step forward for Facebook. What that means is having a much leaner feature-set on mobile platforms may work much better than having a cluttered app. So, here comes unbundling as a product strategy.
As much as the book on Product Strategy (that i mentioned earlier) spoke about "building" a product, combining unbundling with product strategy may sound like oxymoron. Its just interesting that this phenomenon is happening in the tech world around us.

Will Facebook's unbundling endeavor succeed ?
A Harvard Business Review article suggests that- "Facebook enjoys three advantages over rivals: technological capabilities, economies of scale in its infrastructure, and most importantly, network effects."
A network effect is characterized by the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. When network effect is present, the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. The classic example is the telephone. The more people who own telephones, the more valuable the telephone is to each owner. This creates a positive externality because a user may purchase a telephone without intending to create value for other users, but does so in any case.
Facebook, with almost 1 billion plus user base and literally a single stop website for social networking needs have been able to create unprecedented network effects.
Now, if Facebook unbundles its apps, will it be able to retain the network effects ? Considering Facebook's approach with Instagram and WhatsApp, one peculiar thing that comes to the fore is that it has not imposed the Facebook brand on these acquisitions, which means that they have retained their own identity. It is reflective of fact that Facebook now realizes that each social media segment has its own requirements and it is best served by uncomplicated focused apps with their own brand identity. For example, teens associates Facebook more as a brand that their parents uses and associates themselves more with brands such as WhatsApp, Snapchat etc. In this scenario, as the Harvard Business Review article suggests, Facebook may let go of some of the network effects but the thing that goes in their favor is that most of these independent apps have millions of their own users causing Network effect on its own.

Is Facebook alone considering unbundling as a strategy ?
Facebook inst alone in Unbundling foray. Foresquare recently announced its decision to split its mobile app into two for simplification sake. Dropbox announced Carousel an image-focused application separate from its main app. Google has brought its document and spreadsheet editing software out of the main Google Drive app.

Facebook under Mark Zukerberg realizes that to be relevant in today's business space, they will need to disrupt themselves faster than letting their competitors take charge. Unbundling strategy just reflects this thinking.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to manage the load of unread books ?

Sayta Nadella, the recently appointed CEO of Microsoft, mentioned these words in his first memo to employees-

Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things .

This brings forward an interesting point about how to view a pile of unread books. As one can infer from Nadella's words, these could be viewed as a sign of one's curiosity or thinking opposite, it could be viewed as a sign of procrastination too. How could one better manage unread books ?

Clarify your purpose of reading (don't do directionless reading)

Simon Senik in his book Start with Why says- 
"When most people think, act or communicate they do so from outside in, from WHAT to WHY. And for good reason- they go from clearest thing to the fuzziest thing"

Most clearest thing in reading is which book to read but the fuzziest part is why read the chosen book. We tend to know- what we read, even think of How we read it, but it would be a mistake not thinking about Why we read the chosen stuff. What we eventually want out of our reading efforts greatly impacts how we do it. As an example, if we choose to read for knowledge, we will take notes while reading. If its reading for pleasure, we tend to simply go with the flow. If we are reading to teach someone, we will organize the information accordingly in our minds. 

Have reading goals
Having a reading goal not only helps one remain focused but also adds accountability in the process. The reading goal should not only be closely tied to the purpose of your reading but to reduce the load of unread books it is usually worthwhile having a timebound goal. The essence of timebound goal could be understood from this quote [3] from Prakash Iyer-
If you read for just half an hour everyday, you could finish a 250-page book in just two weeks' time. That's twenty-six books in a year. A hundred books in the next four years.”

If one chooses to think this way, the pile suddenly looks less cumbersome.

Don't pressurize yourself to read complete book
Once the purpose of your reading is clarified and goals established, it gives you ample direction not only on what to read but also on what to omit. Unlike what Steve Jobs did to music i.e. making it unbundled and enabling selling single songs than the entire albums, there is no such equivalent available yet for books. The books come as a complete set with all chapters. This organization may prompt readers to consume it entirely. One ought to remember that like a music album which comprises of good songs and not-so-good ones, a book usually has good chapters and not-so-good ones. So committing self to read the chapters that bring in maximum value and omitting the ones that don't may be a good way forward.

Don't let the sight of unread books overwhelm you
Unread books pile may evoke a sight of unfinished business leading to a negative feeling about something that ought to be done but is not done. It may give one a feeling of being "behind". Remember that negative thinking is a choice and so is positive thinking. Such a pile creates positive atmosphere of being surrounded by books.
The popularity of ebook readers and 1-click ordering and delivery of books purchase and delivery innovation means that one can buy and collect books with fair ease. This also means your unread book stock can get significantly higher than the physical books. The key to truncating the pile is to just start reading.

Do you agree ?

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Being passionately curious

One of my tested beliefs have been that-
"If you have to get inspired, then don't look too far- your immediate surroundings would have a lot to seek inspiration from."

I am a great admirer of Mark Templeton, the legendary CEO of Citrix Inc. And this admiration has a lot less
to do with the fact that he is a CEO (which is great in itself) but it stems more from the way he conducts himself despite being a CEO. I recently stumbled upon one of his quotes on Twitter, which said

"A lot of people will have facts and information. I'm looking for wisdom." and he further adds somewhere that he looks for "scars" while hiring.

My humble understanding of what he meant by scars here is the phases of bad judgments in one's career, something we simply prefer to call as failures. We, being humans can't avoid scars and can only learn from them. As one of the quote I like says-

"Effectiveness comes through good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment."

So we are really looking at a cycle here. There is another trait that makes us effective not only in organization but in almost everything we do. To understand that, let me put forward another quote from Mark Templeton-
"People who are curious will develop themselves, They will discover things, They'll invent things."

So the skill that i am referring to here is Curiosity. Moving away from quotes, and looking for inspiration around, i looked at my son few days back. He is 4 and just passed Pre-Nursery. And as a part of his course curriculum he was required to count till 30. I was working with him towards that when he asked me a question, which meant- "Dad- Why does 15 comes after 14 and not 12?". Let’s not get into what i answered him. My guess is that my answer would have been as good as most of yours. J

But the main point that i understood from this instance is that kids are not just "innocently curious" but they are "passionately curious". I don't remember when was the last time i questioned the reasoning behind the sequencing of numbers or for that matter i probably never did. I think as we grow up, our life's experiences crystallizes our thought processes and we form our own way to understand the world. And as our thoughts get more solidified, we tend to compartmentalize things that we know and the ones that we don’t know. And we never question things that we think we know.

The whole essence of curiosity is recognizing a gap in knowledge. Coming to corporate life, where we know we have to be curious like Mark Templeton's above quote suggested but one way to measure if we were really passionately curious is to count how many questions we asked ourselves every day. Was it 1, 2, 10 or none? How many answers did we seek? How many answers that i tried to find that helped me understand the technology better? Ok. Not only technology but also my team members better.

I have heard people say that - As we grow higher, the skills that differentiate us are not only the hefty technical skills but taking cue from Mark Templeton, for most part are the skills that we used to exhibit so effortlessly as a kids (Read: curiosity). Closing in on with Satya Nadella's recent quote that he used to describe himself during the first communication as a Microsoft CEO

"Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.”

Since I promised that I will write about the work-place behaviors in the coming posts, just wanted to assure that this post also conveys some message about work-place behavior. If we start considering curiosity as a behavior that should enable us to start thinking that this is something that is within ourselves to change. And we can be better at curiosity by just seeking more answers. And how do we seek more answers- by asking more questions. First to self, then to the world around!

Note: This article is a modified version of speech i recently gave at a local event i was involved in.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Being intellectually humble is actually Being human

Glue that holds Tendulkars and Tatas of this world together :
 "Sachin Tendulkar is a humble human being", for those of you who have been associated with India in a reasonable capacity in the last 2 decades, this may almost sound like a cliché.
I had recently started reading a book called- "Pitch It- Inspirational Stories From The Cricket Dressing Room To The Corporate Boardroom" and this book's opening chapter is on humility and modesty and the corporate leader it features is JRD Tata. It narrates a story of Sachin Tendlukar touching the feet of his 87 years old fan in all humility saying that he felt lucky to meet her.
No, my post is not another one in the list to praise the retired batsman. In my eyes he still is among the #2 cricketer from India (...and #1 in my list is not Gavaskar or Kapil) but bigger point that I am trying to address here is largely these 2 questions-

1. Is humility the quality only for successful, rich people?
2. What would humility mean to people like us who are neither Tendulkars or Tatas of their respective fields?

What actually is humility?

  • When I Google the word "humility", the first phrase that shows up is- "the quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance."
  • Wikipedia defines "humility" as seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one's place in context.
  • And defines "humility" as "not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.", "having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience"

These definitions are good, these are closer to my perspective of humility but I don’t agree with the part that says being humble is having low view of one’s importance. If one is humble at an expense of one’s self-esteem then that doesn’t paint a right picture or rather paints a picture of a loser. The core idea of being humble, as we have seen in the cases of Tendulkar and Tata is just not that.

Humility in today’s organizations context:
I was reading this book- "A Whole New Mind-Why Right-Brainers will Rule The Future" the other day and came across an interesting narration of how the human mind has evolved over the last century. It talked about some three phases that world has passed in the recent history. In my hope to recollect these phases right- mass-production era, Information era and conceptual era. In the mass-production era, the worker was the central character of the game and his job mainly was to do a set, precise job and comply with specifications. Then came information age, in which the computers starting gaining prominence and internet started connecting the world. The workers in this era, as against the previous era were more left-brained aligned meaning that they were required to think logical to make computers do the things they normally do. The conceptual age is probably more abstract in my understanding, which is more creative, that helped brings products more closer to user's human behavior by more using the right side of the brain.

My idea about specifying this illustration was characterize the evolution of the central characters in the organizations i.e. the worker in the first era to an engineer or knowledge worker. Knowledge worker's USP lies in the fact the she is now responsible to do more intellectually demanding jobs. Some prefer to call such people white-collared workers but I prefer calling them the intellectual personnel.

Intellectual personnel are driven by different degree of motivation. With them much in demand and survival no longer in question due to increase in wealth, they are driven a lot more by the intellectual potential of the work content i.e. the work that is different, closer to technology, something that is never done (by anyone) before, something that is not manual, something they can get machines to do.
Now when we talk about humility in today's corporate world we should remember this context. Humility in today's context would more resemble the phrase- "Intellectual humility".

Decoding Intellectual humility:
Recently a renowned journalist and author of the book- "The World is Flat" Thomas Friedman interviewed an executive at Google to find-out what it is like to get a job at Google. Google’s representative categorically told in the interview that they don’t generally prefer candidates from top colleges because, among other valid reasons, they don’t find most of these candidates to be intellectually humble. Dissecting some pieces from this article and adding some of my thinking and experience here-

A person is intellectually humble when-
1. She is willing to create the space for others to contribute.
2. She loves to possess knowledge but refrains from boasting about it.
3. She is willing to acknowledge that bad performance at workplace can happen because of them (or their lack of application of skills).
4. She won’t unnecessarily blame others when the bad performance happens at the team level.
5. She won’t pounce to take credit even for seemingly small achievements or rather bigger ones too.
6. Intellectual person may show sense of responsibility and ownership and will try to solve any problem. Showing humility here would mean that she will be willing to step back and embrace other's better ideas.
7. She is willing to change her opinion when someone else comes-up with a better fact or idea. And this changing of opinion is graceful (giving due credit to others) when it happens
8. She won’t just be quiet when the mistakes happen or when she needs to change her opinion. Staying quiet is often an escapist tendency in the organization but saying “Thank you” and “Sorry” when needed certainly are characteristics of being humble.
9. She knows despite having high position, she is unconcerned i.e. she doesn’t let the position speak or influence her words.
10. She may be ambitious and having higher position but during a conversation speak to the level of other person.
11. She doesn't use her position for undue advantages.

Intellectual humility simply means that you don’t know everything, and that you can be probably wrong. And as often as you are right, others have as much opportunity to be right.

What more could I say?
The key intention in the workplaces dominated by knowledge professionals should not be to show "how much I know vs others?" but the real battle is to channelize what everyone knows towards a common objective. To achieve this leader can really show the path, but it’s up to the intellectual personnel to embrace humility. Intellectual humility as a subject is quite personal or rather a choice everyone makes and that makes it hard to coach to others.

Another point is that lack of humility may not hampers one's growth always. We have a scores of top-executives in the world who are brash but embracing humility surely enables smart growth, one that comes with respect.

So referring back to questions that I intended to answer in this post, humility is more a human trait than the one to be only shown by the successful people. Probably, rich, successful people gets lauded more than a common man for showing humility but a humble person will know that its just fine. After all, gaining positive press is not a key goal for a humble person but at the end of the day, simply being human is!

Before I close this article, I wanted to express that I intend to focus next few posts on work place behaviors and Intellectual humility was one of the first things I thought to tackle.

Be humble. Be great!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Are you the CEO of your career ?

Wish you all a Happy new year! At the outset, i have to admit that i dont feel good to be away from this blog for really a long while. But good thing is i am back to contributing whatever little i can.

As its the start of new year, i intended to share some good special stuff that i learned a while earlier. I had the privilege of attending a session conducted by Mr. Ravi Venkatesan, now better know as the author of the book Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere. He was earlier the Country Manager of Microsoft India.

He delivered the talk titled "You are the CEO of your life. Take charge!" and some the points that he shared are listed below-

1. Define what success means to you. Do what you love, love what you do.
2. Early on differentiate yourself through initiative, excellence and personal accountability.
3. Take big challenges and tenaciously see them through. Leave a Legacy.
4. Develop financial freedom early.
5. Seek mentor (called as God in human form). A good mentor is the one who sees something in you that you won't yourself see.
6. Cultivate self-awareness. Build on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Manage your weakness but focus on your strengths.
7. Remember: Its all about People.
8. Develop Courage.
   Do what's right not what's convenient.
   Take big risks and deal with failure.
   Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.
   Confront your fears; go outside your comfort zone. Lean into your fears.
9. Make time for important things. Family, Health, the inner journey.
10. Luck matters more than you think, so be humble and grateful.
I hope to be more regular in sharing stuff by means of this blog in 2014. If all goes as i am thinking, i intend to share some of the stuff i have been working on researching of late.

Please stay tuned!

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