Archive for March 2013

My Experiences -Last time (MELT) – 0413

March 31, 2013

Are you a bucket?

I happened to listen to Devdutt Pattnaik, the first chief belief officer of a large group. He articulated the connection between mythology and corporate management well. He argued that there is no right or wrong as it is in the eye of the beholder. He also stressed that belief leads to behavior. It was interesting listening to him. Two things that did not go well with me was when someone asked him  a question whether recent rape case in Delhi was  right or wrong, his typical answer was it is in the eye of beholder. There was general resentment to this response. During the course of this speech, he said one leading Industrialist referred to his people resource as a bucket. He said he was shocked to listen to this and came down heavily on the Industrialist for referring to his people as a bucket. My question is, “What is wrong with that? Is this not in the eye of beholder?”  Hold that thought for a moment.

I was browsing in Barnes and Noble shop and one of the titles of a book “How full is your Bucket” jumped at me. My thought immediately went to Devdutt’s lecture and his reference to a bucket. Curiosity kills the cat – I flipped through a few pages and understood that “Bucket” is being referred to as resource and not in any negative or derogatory manner. Looks like Devdutt’s belief about right or wrong got short circuited here. One lesson learnt is when you speak in public, you need to be consistent and be careful about what you say.

Future of book shops? – are we seeing beginning of the end

In my last blog, I talked about paper media and it’s bleak future. But my recent experience in Barnes and Noble reinforced my belief. I chose two books and was about to go to the cashier to pay for it but wanted to check the price of the digital content to see whether I should download this book rather than buying a hard copy. What I stumbled upon were two interesting facts. One, the price of the hard copy was almost 30% cheaper with free shipping ( as I hold B&N membership card) and second, the price of the digital copy was almost the same price as online purchase.

I was wondering whether I will be ever standing in a B&N shop browsing books in 2020. I used to frequently visit “Borders” –  it used to be a famous book stores until it filed for bankruptcy couple of years back. My initial thought was that their business model was wrong and hence they wound up. But now I strongly believe the whole Industry model is changing and we may not see many book stores in the future. There are people who still argue that buying on line is not the same as buying by visiting a retail store. I am not sure about that any more. People keep stressing the pleasant experiences of flipping few pages and reading it before making a buy decision, hopping from one shelf to other, prying on  what others are buying or reading, taking a break and sipping coffee from Starbucks etc.  Online purchases have matured and come a long way in trying to replicate your retail store purchases. Now you can read few pages on line before buying the book. It gives reviews and ratings of the book and guides you on what other related topics you can consider under the title “people who purchased this also bought’. The only thing you can’t do is meeting various people and sipping coffee from Starbucks. Wait a minute – you can still sip Starbucks coffee by sitting in their retail outlet and do online purchases. If you are lazy to visit their store- buy their coffee vending machine. I am not here to market Starbuck at it was just an example and you can substitute any coffee shop of your liking. The point I am driving home is how technology can be disruptive to a business model or Industry model.

Disruptive technology – are you scared?  

Do you blame technology when your wifi does not work, your phone goes dead, browser hangs etc? I am sure you do and you are not the only one. But how many times do we really pause and look at the positive side of technology, be it in banking, online shopping (as mentioned above), education etc. Do we really foresee what changes it could bring in the way we do things? Take a classic example of Nokia and Blackberry as both of them were sitting on their laurels and did not foresee how a new idea and innovation could disrupt their business. This could happen to you as an individual too. Technology can replace people and transform processes. I recently read that there are softwares to write software.  Are you really getting ready to embrace this change?

What would be your differentiator to survive in the business? Do you really care whether the book you buy is delivered by Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Will Barnes and Noble start selling only rare books?

Do these thoughts scare you?  I am reminded of a famous dialogue from a Hindi movie Sholay –“ Jo darr gaya samjho Mar gaya” which to me  literally means “Change or Die”. I don’t want you to die but want you to consider changing. Hence my prescription is to start thinking about the following:  (My thoughts are inspired by Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage, a book published in 1985 which is so relevant even today)

  1. What is your barrier for disruption? – Can someone tell me why even today small grocery stores exist in spite of online shopping and big stores like Walmart or Big Bazaar.  The research indicates that these stores exist largely due to last minute shopping by people who have immediate needs which can’t be fulfilled by ordering online for immediate delivery or by traveling to large outlets. Is this a barrier? May be for the time being. Let us imagine Walmart buys all ‘Seven Eleven” stores  and any online purchases can be picked up from the neighborhood “Seven Eleven”  or builds “kiosk” and stocks items which are generally purchased in the last minute.  The barrier disappears.
  2.  Will your competitive advantage persist? – The answer to this question depends on the momentum and the extent of technology disruption. Invention of plane has not disrupted Rail travel or Road travel that much. But if someone invents cheap Jet fuel, it could be a game changer. There is certainly a shift towards air travel but the momentum of change will allow Rail travel to be sustainable for some years to come.
  3.  Substitution theory? – Can you ever imagine where your substitution is going to come from? GPS is a classic example. They never thought mobile phone could be their main competition. One should always be wary of bundling technology as any unique product could be bundled by others.

I can go on and on but will stop here as I believe I have provoked you enough to think. Here is the test for your imagination. Share with me where is the next disruptive technology going to come from.  


See what all see, think what none think. Life is beautiful – see you soon.

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