Three Lessons

One: Respect the audience’s time. For my first speech, I took 13 minutes for a 4–6 minutes speech! I had never felt so guilty. I had learned that ‘meeting time’ spent by a group is actually the meeting’s duration multiplied by the number of attendees.

Two: Use effective body language. Watching people speak on- and off-stage within and outside Toastmasters, I found that stage usage and body language have an enormous effect on the audience. This is consistent with my belief that 80% of inter-personal communication happens through body language. We connect deeply with performances that are even slightly dramatic. This is probably why people would prefer a movie to a lecture.

Just like a movie’s ‘establishment shot’ before a scene sets the context, telling the audience the time and place of an event helps them easily imagine themselves in that context.

Three: Judge a person’s actions, not the person. Participating in speech contests as a contestant, judge, and a member of the audience, I found that an objective judge compares aspects of the speech to a list of predetermined parameters and ignores aspects of the speaker that are not related to the particular speech. If you are not judging objectively, a lot of the content you react to or think about has probably already been influenced by your previous knowledge of the speaker’s personality.

If I use this to answer, ‘What conditions determine whether a court case must be heard by a judge, a bench or a jury?’, I understand that the harder it is to remain objective in a case, the more members there are in a jury. We can infer something about the objectivity in a case from the size of the jury.

How to Invest

May 4, 2012

Is this your ROI?So, you want to maximize the returns on your long-term investments from the companies you are invested in. You probably figured out Warren Buffett’s investment strategy already, and know how he makes money when the economy goes down. In case you haven’t, here it is:

In an open letter to shareholders, Buffett measured the intrinsic value of his business according to its book value, which is what its shareholders would get if it was liquidated. He is famously quoted for saying, “I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not open for 10 years.” So, he made money when markets went down. His fortune may not lie at the bottom of the pyramid, but it’s apparently closer to the ground.

Now that you know his strategy, can you guarantee that you are safe from all the ups and downs in the markets you are invested in? Are you sure you are taking the right decisions every time and everywhere about why, how and what to invest?

First of all, three simple steps to decision-making will make you safer:

1. Don’t decide until you have to.
2. The more important the decision, the more people you involve and the more time you spend on it.
3. Mutually agree on how the decision will be reversed, and prepare for it.

The last step seems counter-intuitive. To understand it, answer this: Did you ever eat your words when your boss raised and challenged assumptions you hadn’t considered? If not your boss, it could have been someone who wasn’t present in the meeting when the decision was made. If you did, had you prepared for it beforehand?

Your corporate vision is something that the world cannot achieve without your company. To know your vision, simply ask yourself, “What will the world be unable to gain after five years if I shut down my business right now?”

Start with why before you measure!

In a consumer market, companies sell products that satisfy our wants and needs. How many of them serve our perceptions, lifestyles, values, and most importantly, our beliefs and purposes? Adding to the problem, each consumer has a distinct taste and requirement, and they have different lifestyles and unique beliefs. So, how can any company address such a large diversity of perceptions in its market?

Even with a thorough understanding of their target audience, marketers don’t adequately sell. Occasionally and under pressure, clients shift focus from creativity in advertising to sticking to sales and forecasts. There is a view on why creativity cannot be measured. After all, we see an ad on TV to decide whether to buy a product or not, which defines an ad’s success. Direct marketing is an alternative, if not simply putting it on a store shelf and waiting behind the cash register.

Is measuring creativity necessary to sell a product? An advertiser would want to quantify his creativity to measure and monitor his performance. At the end of the day, isn’t he performing creatively to sell the product? Advertisers could revisit their role in marketing.

Let’s get creative. Simon says, ‘Start With Why‘. Why should I buy the product and what will I lose if I don’t? To answer this, marketers could measure the following instead:

1. The satisfaction a consumer gains after buying,

2. The effort the target audience spent in searching for a suitable product, and

3. The time and money the client spent in developing it.

One, if not all these questions, might answer why anyone should buy it. After you have the answer, you can draw the curtains on your creative performance and bill your client.

Every day, we crave to understand how we are doing in the eyes of our peers. Sometimes, we also question ourselves on what we are supposed to be doing. ‘Why are we here?’, we ask. ‘What am I doing here?’, we try to find out. It’s not always clear to us or our peers what we are supposed to do. Not always we are able to answer each others’ questions. Do we not know anything for sure? Isn’t there anything in business that is beyond uncertainty, something that is beyond illusion, timeless and not confined to any space?

There seems to be a ray of hope. The client is the most important person on our premises. Service to the client is service to ourselves. It justifies our existence in business. On top of that, when commitment and dedication are added to service, they justify our excellence in business. Customers have objectives. These objectives lead to questions. Some questions are asked before the task is done. Some questions are raised after the task is done. Sometimes, the mind’s eye can see the elusive objective lurking behind the curtains of unanswered questions. If there is one thing that will bring us closer to our values, whatever values we choose, it is our acceptance of the principle of customer service.

A customer with an objective is a customer to be served. Our minds, hearts and souls go into achieving this objective. If not for that reason, at least we know that whether we are present in this arena or not, these objectives will be achieved. It is not a common enemy, the competitor, but it is a common objective of the customer that unites people from various walks of life. Let us make the customer’s objective our objective.

The Bad Lemon

April 4, 2012

The Bad Lemon

Self-appointed life coaches say, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. Most of the time, we are not starving or have parched throats, we have options to choose from. Don’t we look for plump, ripe, and juicy lemons at the grocery store when we want to make cool lemonade at home? Only an inexperienced person would start picking lemons after bringing a dozen of them home: some ripe, some plump, some hard, dark and dry, and the rest already half-rotten.

It is said that consulting and research industries tend to thrive when the economy doesn’t perform well. We have choices not only when we pick fruits and vegetables, we have options in everyday business. Consultants and analysts don’t sit around waiting for the economy to slow down, and it may not be ethical on their part to hope so. Most of the time, industries and economies do fairly well.

Analytics maybe a juice-making machine, but it’s not just lemonade it makes. There is another side to analytics which cannot get more irrational. Someone asks, ‘This data point seems weird and it’s not consistent with the others. Can you tell me why?’. This question causes slight panic and gives rise to a tendency to eliminate outliers instead of investigating them. It’s very tempting to make the data look smooth and consistent. This tendency is found in analysts and consultants alike, not to mention some incompetent managers. The real question is whether eliminating outliers affects how you interpret data in your business. Does it improve your decision-making abilities, or does it make you look good? Do you remove the bad lemons when you are making lemonade, or while you are picking them in the store?