Category Archives: Management


2014 General Elections in India are historic in lot of ways. It is the world’s largest election ever with 815 million people eligible to vote, with over 100 million new voters. These are the longest (9 phases, 35 days) and the most expensive (INR 35 billion, USD 600 million government expense; excludes political campaign spending) elections in the country ever.

The most fascinating part of the election is the NaMo phenomenon. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister candidate of the Bhartiya Janata Party, has taken over a party with many contenders for the top post. Political outcome of the election apart, there are a few key learnings that can be taken from the him and applied to life and business.

If you listen to Modi or follow his style of functioning, one thing that you will see from the get go is his vision and determination to get his message through to the voters of the country. He might not be the most eloquent speaker in the world, but he knows how to get his message through. He understands what language his audience will connect with and adapts his script accordingly. For example, his team divided one of the battleground states in 36 zones and he had a different message for each zone in that one state. The biggest lesson here is that you got to understand your audience. Do your research and make sure you know your customers. It’s much easier to mold your script to fit their thought process than to ask them to adapt and understand you.

Second key thing to understand about NaMo campaign is the grip Modi has on his campaign. The man leads from the front and has complete control on the campaign. It’s more about team management than micromanagement. What Modi has made sure is that he has people whom he trusts at the right places. Whether it is people in-charge of battleground states or the core team responsible for seat distribution, he has mapped capabilities of his team members to the jobs. Lesson: You cannot do everything alone, but you need to lead from the front and be in-charge and responsible. You need to build your own team of people you can trust and count on. You need to leverage the strengths of your team members. Different people have different capabilities. Put them at the right places and make them accountable.

If you watch NaMo speak, walk or talk, you will notice an amazing amount of energy. It is said that power brings energy in people and you have the energy to work round the clock on something you love. This  appears to be more true here than anywhere else. Modi has an energy which is in-turn induced  in the millions who attend his public rallies. His energy shows his commitment to be there and do what he is doing. Key thing to learn from this is to do what you love. Do it with 100% commitment. Make sure you are immersed in it. This will provide you excitement and energy to do it and increase the chance to success.

NaMo team is expert in what I call aura development. Whether it was “Jitega Gujarat” (Gujarat will win) in assembly elections or “Vote for India” in 2014 general election, Modi creates an aura which gives you a feeling that if you are voting for him, you are doing the right thing. You are doing it for your state, for your country. Lesson: Take the center stage. Position yourself to be synonymous with the larger purpose. Represent the space and do it with authority and conviction.

Howard Schultz and Ray Kroc

Howard Schultz and Ray Kroc are two great entrepreneurs behind two of the most identified American brands, Starbucks and McDonald’s respectively. I love long plane journeys, one reason being that I get to catch-up on my reading. During my most recent trip to India, I picked up Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time authored by Howard Schultz. This is one great book. (One thing to learn from Howard Schultz apart from his entrepreneurial skills is the art of story telling…) Coincidentally, during my last long plane journey (to Milano, Italy), I was reading Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc, another book that falls in the same autobiographical league. The two autobiographies have some amazing similarities worth talking about.

First, both were believers. After his first visit to the single McDonald’s store in California, Ray Kroc knew that this is going to be something bigger than what anyone can think of. He believed in the concept of McDonald’s and had the drive to spread it beyond boundaries more than anyone else, even more that the McDonald brothers running it. Similarly, Howard Schultz was impressed by the coffee bars he saw in Milano, Italy. He believed that Americans should start enjoying their coffee experience and became a preacher of serving hot coffee in the once retail-only Starbucks stores. Their belief powered by persistence through all the ups and downs led to the formation of these two global brands.

Second, neither one of the two started the first store of what they are known for. Not only this, both of them were suppliers to the stores they later converted into big phenomena. Ray Kroc supplied juice mixers to the original McDonald’s store in California and Schultz supplied appliances to the Starbucks stores in Seattle. A slight difference in approach over here, Ray Kroc signed a deal with McDonald’s owners to use their name and concept to open similar stores elsewhere, while Howard Schultz joined Starbucks as a marketing manager, left the company to open coffee joints under the name of Il Giornale, bought Starbucks and became its CEO.

Third, both were obsessed with the names. Kroc went through series of issues with the McDonald’s founders but stuck with the name and the famous M curves. Ditto for Schultz. He opened his coffee bars Il Giornale, but liked the name Starbucks so much that he renamed all his already running Il Giornale stores after acquiring Starbucks.

Fourth, both left stable jobs to chase their dreams. Kroc was selling mixers when he came in contact with McDonald’s. Within weeks, he was on plane with deal papers to start his journey. Schultz decided to quit his well paying job of $75,000 a year in 1980 and took a big pay-cut to join Starbucks.

Fifth, both were staunch believers of quality. Starbucks is known for its quality, and Schultz developed the entire enterprise one store at a time keeping the quality intact. Till today, Starbucks does not compromise on the quality as far as possible. They do not add flavor to the beans, or sell low quality beans in their stores. Starbucks, since its inception has a 40 hours training program for its baristas to serve the perfect cup of coffee. If McDonald’s is known for one thing, its the fries. McDonald’s got a perfect process for preparing its fries and they have not compromised on standards there even a little bit. There’s a complete university like program for the employees at McDonald’s for decades and every person working in McDonald’s goes through this program to maintain the McDonald’s quality and service standards.

Sixth, like any other successful entrepreneur, both Kroc and Schultz pioneered the unique quality of building and leading great teams. Read their autobiographies and you will find chapter after chapter in praise of the people they worked with and the great folks who embarked on the journey with them to lay the foundation of their respective enterprises.

These two individuals, role models for many budding entrepreneurs, and the similarities in their approaches endorses the importance of persistence and people management among other things. A look at one big difference between the two can be interesting as well. Howard Schultz started his first coffee store operation when he was 28 years old. On the other hand, Ray Kroc started his first McDonald’s when he was 52. If nothing else, this definitely proves that age is no barrier to kick-start something you believe in…all you need is a dream and the vigor to chase it!

Innovation in Product Development

Innovation is a word with varied definitions and interpretations. I think the definition that makes the most sense is the one given by Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman. He defines Innovation as trying to figure out a better way to do something. I think that’s very much true. Innovation is all about solving problems in a way better than ever done before. When we talk about product development, this definition makes even more sense. Customers are not looking for a product or service, they are looking for a solution of a problem. Addressing those pain points and making improvements in the existing products is innovation.

Innovation is the pursuit of perfection. It is very well said that perfection is a fine goal, but improvement is much more realistic. Perfection is something that is not achievable. There is always a better way to do anything. That is what innovation is – always trying to do something in a better way. What fuels the best innovators in the World? It’s the pursuit of perfection. Innovators can be in any field. One of the greatest innovators to idealize is Tiger Woods. He is someone who has taken the game of golf to the next level. If you ask him what keeps him going, the answer you will get is number 18. So what’s number 18? It’s not the number of majors Tiger Woods wants to win (to match Jack Nicklaus’s World record). It’s the perfect score is golf. The never achievable. That’s where he has set the bar and that’s what keeps him innovating.

Innovation is all about applying creativity. It’s trying to do more with less, get more resourceful, bring the costs down and develop products better than before. Innovation is something that really meets the needs of the society. An innovative product development is looking at what’s out there, what’s bugging the customers and then trying to fix it.

I think this paints a pretty clear picture of what is Innovation. But before we move any further, it’s very important to understand what is not Innovation. Innovation is not trying to hit the home run or finding a killer application. In fact there is nothing like a killer app. Whatever gets the name of the killer app, be it the IPod or the Xbox 360, it is actually improvement over something that already existed in the market. Of course both IPod and Xbox 360 are great innovations, but that’s because with the help of creativity and improvement these products tried to identify and meet the needs of customers in their respective markets. Innovation is not trying to solve problem not tied to anything. Till you don’t have something that solves a problem, you have not done any innovation. Creating something just for the sake of it is not innovation. And of course, last but not the least, innovation is not adding bells and whistles to a product to tick mark the checkbox features to out beat the competitor.

Toyota, the Japanese car maker, is the most common example cited for an innovative enterprise. This is one company that has market worth more than the market worth of all the other car makers in the World combined. So what fueled this amazing growth at Toyota? The millions of innovation that took place in the company over the years. Toyota defines Kaizen, or continuous improvement, as the base of innovation. They have some very simple principles that they follow to keep the innovative machine running. They implement small ideas as close to the front line as possible. They create a standard, follow it and find a better way to do the same thing. Standards are made by people at the front line, not by an uber committee sitting in an ivory tower. And more important than anything else, standards are made to be changed by doing something in a better way. Toyota believes in reflection of success. They evaluate the success and failure at various steps in product development. They focus of failures and try to find out ways to avoid them. The Toyota employees are not just making cars, they are continuously trying to find out better ways to make cars, and are trying to make a car that is better than the one out there.

So does your company believe in innovation? In order to answer this question, take a look at the products and services your company develops. Look at the value they provide to the customers. Are the customers better-off with the help of these products and services? Are these products better than the ones already available in the market? If yes, then you can claim that your company believes in innovation.

Just do it!

Every ones in a while I come across some product and say why didn’t I think of this first? Equal number of times something strikes me but I think this is too obvious; someone must have done it or must be working on this already. And the third category is to find a successful product or service and exclaim – I thought of this long time back and knew this was going to be a home run. Carefully observing these ideas turned into products, we can see a couple of things that are common between them. First and foremost, most successful ideas are the simplest ones. I think that is like a prerequisite for them to be successful products. The idea being simple implies there is something that is missing from the existing market and the customer is in need of the missing element. That makes the idea simple and obvious. Second, someone with a “just do it” attitude to convert the idea into reality. These are the people with ultimate faith in their concept. The drive and passion that they bring with them separate innovators from the crowd.

World around us is full of examples of such concepts that are now cash cows worth billions. Let people rent movies online and mail it to them eliminating the store trips: Netflix. Reed Hastings brought one of the most innovative concepts to reality. It was simple because people were looking for something like this. No one liked to go to the movie store looking for a movie and come back without one of their favorites because the store didn’t have shelf space to store it or pay outrageous late fees if you were late for a few days. So Netflix came up with an online movie rental service where you can select and queue up the movies you want to watch from thousands of selections (their long tail), pay a flat monthly fee to watch as many movies as you can and keep the movie as long as you want. Reed Hastings had the courage to invest in the idea and create the service to take on the blockbusters of the business at that time.

To name a few more – Sell Personal Computers directly to the end customer and let them configure it to fit their needs: Dell. Create a universal bidding platform: Ebay. Create an online community for people to keep in touch: MySpace. Let people make their own sandwich: Subways (or let people make their own Pizza: Kramerica). All of them have baked in simplicity and drive of passionate people to make sure the idea materialize into reality.

The important thing to understand here is that idea is not important, what’s important is the implementation of the idea. There is nothing in this World that only you can think of and no one else can. So just getting an idea and letting it go earns you nothing. The drive to bring this idea to reality is what counts. The passion in building a team of people who have faith in you and your concept, the tireless work in creating the financial backbone, and the endless marketing efforts to face the pre-existing mammoths in the market is what is required to turn your idea into a product. If your idea is simple and obvious, it’s even better. Don’t give it up assuming that someone out there has done it, do your market research. If it is already done, look for what’s next. If you thought of something that is now a successful product, it means you had a good idea. Look for the next thing that strikes you, and this time, take it with the just do it attitude!