Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Blessings from the Kailasha

The concept of Prakriti and Brahmanda is very beautiful. Prakriti is nature. It is the world as it is. Thus, it's definition is the same for everyone. Every human being has the power of imagination and believes the self to be special. Thus, one creates his own definition of the world. This perception gives rise to Brahmanda which is unique to each individual. Prakriti, therefore, resembles the objective reality whereas Brahmanda represents the subjective reality.

Shiva is the greatest tapasvin. He has liberated himself from the rules of Prakriti and does not try to control it. His control on his mind and his inward looking concentration also ensures he does not create his own Brahmanda. Thus, he does not own anything and detaches himself from all things - material or spiritual. Just as a surface looks white when it reflects back all colours in the spectrum, so does Shiva reflects back all things material. He is equally indifferent to objective and subjective reality.

The two shut eyes of Shiva embodies that nothing is rejected or selected by him. Nothing is approved or disapproved, nothing is included or excluded. Everything is the same. The third eye of Shiva embodies the absence of discrimination and choice. In doing so, Shiva remains aloof from the human world. His wisdom remains divorced from the world.

This wisdom, thus, does not benefit humans. The mythology is full of events that aim at getting Shiva to be involved in this world of humans. His consort, Gauri or Parvati, both aim to get him involved with the world.

His son, Ganesha, is more involved with the human world. Here I borrow from Devdutt Pattanaik's book "7 Secrets of Shiva". The pictures or statues of Ganesha often show two symbols of an axe and a noose. The axe represents analytical skills that enable one to separate objective from subjective reality whereas the noose represents the ability to outgrow this distinction and to unite the opposites.

There is an excellent analogy to the world of analytics in this mythological setup. The world of business is the world of data. This data is absolute and uniform across. The data forms the Prakriti of business. However, business leaders tend to form their own ideas and conclusions basis their  beliefs. This is the individual Brahmanda. Ignoring both the objective data and the subjective beliefs would make one aloof from the business. This is not a desirable state of affairs for the business stakeholders.

One needs the ability to separate the objective, analytical driven decisions with the subjective, gut feel based decision. However, it is not a choice of one over the other. It is required to have the noose in place that considers both option and uses one to reinforce the other with equal respect. Malcolm Gladwell advocates the importance of experience or gut feel. But he also goes on to qualify the subjective decision as those that arise out of 10,000 hours of repetitive experience. Tom Davenport occupies the opposite spectrum of analytical decision making. But neither approach tends to eliminate the other. Each needs to respect the other approach even if it means they are contradicting to each other.

The business that learns to gel the two approaches together as a process will benefit from analytics. But often, business leaders tend to look at analytics as a challenge to their business acumen, especially when the models throw up insights that contradict their belief. They would benefit if they look at analytics to validate their assumption and accept the results. Similarly, the analytical outfit tend to override business approaches without considering the situation on the ground. Data may showcase a certain behaviour but the true nature of the causal or correlated behaviour can only be known by considering the experience of the business leader on the field.

Ancient India has already given this lesson to us. They understood the difference and the combined importance of both the subjective and analytical approach. Modern business should learn from ancient knowledge to benefit from both approaches.

The blessings from Mount Kailash is available for those who are ready to consume and benefit from it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Karma of Analytics

This article has been published by the Analytics India Magazine. You can read it at .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons from Outliers

This article has been published by the Analytics India Magazine. You can read it at . 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Focus on the key moments of customer process

I was interacting with a person who introduced himself as a "customer experience expert". I see an increasing number of this title. I asked him what he does and what would the deliverable be. He defined it as someone who would design the customer interface along the complete process of customer interaction. For example, on a website, he would help design the page layout, the forms (one page or multi pages), menu items. On an in-store process, it would be the layout and the process of checkout.

There are an increasing number of companies that are now "walking the process in the customer shoes". Their aim is to make every step of the process as customer friendly and easy as possible. And this is exactly where they falter.

A Noble Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, once stated:

"Human Beings only remember the peak and the end moments during an experience process."

And this is very true. Lets consider a queue for submission of, say, college admission forms. A typical process would be to obviously queue up early. Then await your turn. The person accepting the forms would check it and you would hope that everything is in order. If okay, then the form is accepted, else you need to get additional documents or information and maybe get back in the queue.

Now, let us evaluate this process. The peak moment is the relief from the anxiety of the comprehensiveness of the application docket. The end moment is getting a receipt of acknowledgement of submission. The college cannot do much about the number of people queueing up. But what it could do is address the peak moment early. So, a person could go down the queue checking the documents of each applicant and giving his advice. Thus the anxiety get eliminated much earlier. Then the wait is only for the queue to move up and submit the document. The end process is getting a receipt of acknowledgement. The college could hand over a bottle of water to the applicant along with the receipt. Well, he was in queue for say over an hour.

But what we find in reality is the college trying to rush up the queue by putting in more desks for acceptance. The security trying to get some sanity in the multiple queues that get formed. And the crowd experimenting with unruly behaviour in hope of jumping spots in the queue.

I, for one, have been through this scenario. The only thing I remembered was happily holding the submission receipt that confirmed my admission to the college. The 2 hour wait was forgotten. The anxiety was forgotten.

Businesses will do good to apply this analogy to their customer facing processes. The first step is to identify the peak moment of the process. Then address the same as early as possible. The next is to make the end moment or exit more pleasant.

For an online store, the peak moment would be creating the shopping basket. I have experienced web sites where once I click the "buy" button, I am taken to the shopping basket for checkout. For additional items, I am lost at this page. I need to go back or press the home page. There are websites that allow adding to the "shopping intention basket" from any page in the background. It stays on the same page and provides an uninterrupted experience of searching for additional buys. Finally, when I am ready, I get to review my basket and add/modify items in it. Also, the check out is often just a one page activity. With concepts like AJAX, this is a reality and I dont understand why websites dont adopt this approach. Often, checkout means atleast 4 pages of activity.

Focussing on the peak and end moments will make life simple and help the business focus on the key aspects of customer experience. The critical question here is "do we know the peak moment of our customer process?".

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Campaign is not for the Wild Hearted

An amazing fact came to the fore while watching a documentary on National Geographic on the hunting and defensive skills of the wild animals. The key aspect of survival was not strength or size or venom ... it was patience. In one of the episodes, a group of three lioness laid seige on a watering hole for over 3 hours before the first zebra showed up. And even then, due to the impatience of one young lioness, they lost the hunt. If only the young lioness had waited a few more minutes they could have got the zebra trapped in the vicious triangle they had created. In this case the strength of the lions were not useful in achieving the success. Another episode showed a fish lying still under sand till its prey came close enough. Time to kill ... over two hours.

This was an amusing fact. The law of the wild rewards the one with most patience. But then nature has one resource which is unlimited ... TIME. Alas, we who live in the concrete jungle do not have access to unlimited stocks of time. There is always someone practicing to run faster, jump higher, become stronger.

Analytics was bought in to make organizations more nimble by using foresight or predictive insights. Knowing what is likely to happen in future gave businesses more time to adjust their business plans and approaches. But as more and more organizations are adopting analytics, the law of faster, higher and stronger is taking over. Already, the analytics vendors have started talking of automation and analytics factories. In-memory analytics is another subject area gaining popularity. These approaches are aimed at operationalizing anaytics much faster.

In light of this scenario, one cannot have a 3 month project plan for any analytical exercise. The secret mantra is to Fail Fast. This is epecially true in the marketing field. The campaign managers still make project plans that run into weeks for each campaigns. When the campaign is launched, a lot of time and effort and money has gone into the preparation. In order to justify this investment, the campaign managers then try to keep the campaign over the red line. This may involve additional efforts, more money or more precise analysis.

The catch is that while the campaign was in a planning phase, the world around the business was constantly moving. Things change very rapidly in the consumer business. So when the campaigns eventually get launched, it was a different world then the one that was referenced during the planning and analysis phase.

I was surprised when discussing with an ex team member who is currently implementing a "multi channel campaign management" product (I will refrain from naming the product now). He had run into some issues and had called up to check on some configuration. He told me he was too busy since this was a "go live" weekend for a campaign. I found out that this campaign was being planned for over a month. The customer had a one week UAT (user acceptance test). I was shocked and amused to know this. I am very confident that this customer had no idea of BTL campaigns. The best UAT is out on the field. He should have done a quick test campaign to maybe 100 or 500 or 2% of the customer base and checked out the result. This should have been done as quick as possible. Depending on the industry, even within a couple of hours. If it worked, he could have gone across the customer base. If not, then look for something else. There is a nice scenario that a colleague shared with me. He said a typical day in the life of the campaign manager should be "A new idea by 0800 hrs, a new campaign by 1000 hrs, a test campaign by 1200 hrs, evaluate results by 1400 hrs, reject or deploy campaign by 1600 hrs, track the campaign by 1800 hrs".

But everytime I present this case, the idea does not find acceptance. Maybe it creates stress on the campaign manager. Cause now he has to get up with atleast 10 new ideas that he will test during the day alongwith the campaigns of days past. Most probably 9 out of the 10 will get rejected in the test phase. 1 campaign gets rolled out along with other campaigns. The start of the next day needs another 10 ideas. Compare this scenario with the one where he takes a month to plan and launch one campaign and his rejection is understandable.

I have seen marketing departments with 7 or 10 campaign managers running maybe 5 times the number of campaigns. Some of these campaigns have been in force for over 3 or 6 months. On the other side, I have met companies that claim to run over 1000 campaigns daily. I seriously doubt how they calculcate the contribution from these campaigns. The world outside has changed a lot over the past 3 months, so how can a campaign perform uniformly over the same period. Let alone 1000s of campaigns. 

Somewhere, somehow complacency has set in the process. This is where a nimbler competition can overrun the business. Get your campaign department to run more finer and more multiple campaigns with shorter turnaround. If possible, with a turnaround of a few hours. That is a sure shot recipe to beat your competition. For a man of patience belongs to the wild world and not the business world.