Monday, July 19, 2010

Of Competitive Advantage and Fish Cakes...

For some reason the title music of Monk is playing in my mind “It’s a jungle out there”. As a fresh starry eyed graduate straight out of B-School eons back all I wanted was to join the “Big 5”…at that point it was a set of consulting companies that most graduating B-School students wanted to get into. With razor sharp focus on my goal and lots of luck I did end up getting into the company of my dreams…years later and a couple career changes later, as I contemplate the industries that I have worked in – the reality is there is always a Big 3/5 in every industry. It is the living nightmare of those companies (especially the market leader) to stay ahead and maintain their competitive position. The reality is that the “Challengers” have not much to lose and are constantly testing boundaries and strategies – fearless, hungry, disrupting existing business models…biting away slowly into market share by showing the market a new way of doing things.
I believe very strongly that maintaining “Competitive Advantage” in a dynamic market like ours is a tough deal and at times like this, what really marks a company different is what are the steps that it is taking to maintain market share, mind share, agility and innovation. I think that a company needs to take a holistic approach to market leadership -it begins with Organizational Agility and ends with product execution (and everything else in between). I always use the analogy of an Organization as a human being – both are very similar. What is necessary for both their progress and well being are five seemingly simple things –
  1. Health – could mean financial, operational, physical

  2. Instinct – How well does your “flight or fight” gut instinct work…very essential for survival? For an Organization, that killer instinct filters “Top Down”.
    a. Can your management team make hard decisions (For eg. eliminating a Business Unit if the ROI or potential is not realized).
    b. Can they wean out the real technologies from the fads and the hype…or do they have a team of professionals that doesn’t feed them hype but moves them forward in this competitive game
    c. Are they only about grandiose vision and planning or is the focus more on execution. A thousand start ups have great ideas but the ones that make it also have flawless execution

  3. Social Networks – Can the Organization play nice with other companies to create something of value and unique. Just like we humans cannot exist in a bubble and need social relationships for our existence…such is the case with Organizations today – the need for building their ecosystems

  4. Kaizen – It is very easy for us to become complacent in our own achievements – I am an executive at this company or I am a market leader in this segment. Organizations and Individuals do not keep an eye on the ball and end up losing their perspective on where the market is…the reality is that “Continuous Improvement” is key. Understanding that success is transitional and what is key is constant betterment is critical. For us individuals – I am not proposing a constant discontent with the state of existence. Take my case – I am happy where I am career wise and personal life wise (in fact I would go as far as use the word content – yeah I am making myself sound like a heifer). However, every day brings to my life both personal and professional learnings and truth be told I am the sum of all my experiences – stretching, learning, growing.

  5. Humility – It is so easy to get stuck in past glory and wallow in false ego – I am indispensable or I am a market leader. Get over it – Every stage for the individual or Organization is about a fresh start – No one really cares about what you have already achieved…it is about what you are about to achieve.

To remain relavent and not become obsolete, an organization or an individual will need to achieve a delicate balance – it is not all about action and no reaction, it is not about all execution and no strategy, it is not done in isolation and has elements cooperation and relationships --- but it is about the five elements discussed - it is a jungle out there and only the fittest can survive.

On a personal front, I learnt in the past couple months that Fish is a healthy option for growing toddlers. I buy sustainable fish from my Organic Vendors. The fish I cooked for K2 today is a crispy Almond Crusted Sole Fish Cake which I pan fried in EVOO…K2 ate two of the fish cakes without any complaints...Life is good.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Life in Perspective...

"I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present."

This was a quote from Tagore and I try to live life with this as a guiding principle and the truth has been that this has generally held true through most of my life. There are times when the logic just isn’t there, rationality has to take a back seat and emotions seems to govern those moments…for me those moments used to be few and far between but lately there seems to be an extra deluge of emotional vs. rational…yesterday while I was putting K2 to sleep…he said “Mommy Song” and I sang to him my favorite song from the movie Anari Kisi Ke Muskurahaton Pe Ho Misar…he fell asleep in no time but I was left with the sentiments of that song –

Be someone's smile,
Take the pain away from someone,
Be there for someone with love in your heart,
This is what is called living.Based on the content of my pocket, I am a beggar,
But I am rich if you look at the content of my heart.
If I am gone tomorrow,
You will remember me in your tears,
The flower will tell the buds my stories – This is what I call living….

Today I watched this Bengali movie “Anuranan”.. Anuranan stands for resonance and yes Bengali is like a 5th language to me…I grew up in the South so my 1st language is English, 2nd Hindi, 3rd Tamil, 4th Oriya…so there were parts where I had to replay the dialogues to get the subtle nuances yet the movie left me strangely dissatisfied – not resonating a clear message…the actors were superb, yet there was something missing. However, it made me long for Calcutta…the graceful old city – with its maniac taxi drivers, the stately Victoria Memorial, the sprawling Howrah bridge, the buzzing Ballygunge market where I went to satiate my soul on second hand books and my stomach on kathi rolls; I missed watching the beautiful Bengali women in their beautiful saris and large bindis and the Babus in their pristine white Kurtas and Dhotis (I was an outsider getting a brief glimpse into someone else’s life). I missed the trips to the guy selling Mishti Doi near our house in Ballygunge, making the driver stop the car at an intersection for my phuchkas…the long trips to Tangda for the best Indian Chinese food ever…but most of all I miss that culture which was accepting…refined….educating.

This has been a week of relaxation and joy for me. Taking pleasure in the simple things – Eating Poori & Choley at the Chaat Place, an impromptu picnic with the boys, Roasting Fresh Corn, watching the beautiful fireworks in the Bay Area night sky, watching the awe on my son’s face as we took him through the car wash for the first time, his joy watching Toy Story 3 (his first movie in the theatres)…I couldn’t agree with Tagore more – Life remains when hope and joy remains…this is what I call living.