I deserve a place on this earth. Where is my Kurukshetra? (Bhagavad Gita from a different lens- Part 1)


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The whole Bhagavad Gita can be explained in just two shlokas, the first one of the first chapter and the last one of the last chapter. The beauty of Vedic communication is that both of these shlokas are not narrated by Krishna. The first one is a question asked by Dhritarashtra and the last one is a closing statement by Sanjaya, the advisor and charioteer of Dhritarashtra. To infer the hidden premise and conclusions that are inbuilt purposefully in these verses, we need a different lens. Let’s look at these, one by one.

V1.1 9 (first verse of the Bhagavadgita)

धर्मक्षेत्रे करुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः I मामका: पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वत सञ्जय  II

Translation: 

Dhritarashtra said: On the field of dharma at Kurukshetra, what did my sons and the sons of Pandu do when they assembled there seeking battle, O Sanjaya? (Sutton, Nicholas. Bhagavad Gita: The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Guide)

In this verse, Dhritarashtra defines the battle field Kurukshetra as Field of Dharma (Dharmakshetra). In what context one can define a battlefield as a field of ultimate duty?

For all the warriors the battlefield of Kurukshetra was the ultimate field of their destined karma and duty. For Pandavas it was for their rights, for Kauravas it was for their kingdom and for Krishna it was for the ultimate purpose of righteousness. None of the positions was wrong, none was right either, yet everyone fought for their duty, the righteousness in a context.

We deserve a place on this earth. Do we know the Kurukshetra of our karma and ultimate duty?

In the same verse, Dhritarashtra differentiates Pandava and Kaurava by saying Kauravas as ‘mine (my sons)’ (मामका:). The war was between two successors of the kingdom, one defending his position, the other claiming the eligibility. Dhritarashtra’s biased favour to his own sons made the Kauravas to perceive the kingdom their private property. Dhritarashtra’s blindness symbolically asks this question to all of us; are we blind too when dealing our own prejudices and biases?

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V 18.78 (last verse of Bhagavadgita)

यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्णो यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धर: I तत्र श्रीविर्जयो भूतिर्ध्रुवा  नीतीर्मतिमर्म II

Translation:

Wherever there is Krishna, the master of yoga, and wherever there is Partha who bears the bow, there will also be good fortune, victory, success, and good judgement. That is my opinion. (Sutton, Nicholas. Bhagavad Gita: The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Guide)

We manage complexities of life through decisions at various points without knowing what will work. For a right judgement, a success, a victory or even a fortune we need to embed three elements within the self:

  1. Partha, the bearer of the bow (धनुर्धर:) represents eligibility and competence. Whatever place we choose on the earth, we would only deserve it with an eligibility and required competency to hold it. Sanjaya concludes that Arjun qualifies the requirements to win the righteous war (dhramayudh)
  2. Krishna is also known as Parthasarathi, the friend and guide of Partha, the Arjuna. If we have the required competencies, even the master of all yoga will help us being a guide.
  3. People who seek guidance from the master of yoga, actually seek the intricacies of yoga. From knowing the self and the purpose of life through yoga of knowledge to persistently work on it through yoga of karma and yoga of unconditional devotion summarise the purpose of any divine guidance. That’s why Krishna is adjectively referred here as yogeshwar (योगेश्वर:, the god of all yoga). To seek a guidance from the teacher or guide, we need to become a disciple first, the disciple of yoga in the real sense.
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These two verses guide us explicitly that to deserve a winning place on this earth, the individual Kurukshetra, we need to develop an eligibility, be a disciple of knowledge, karma and devotion. On such pursuit, even the master of all yoga, the divine power will come and guide us. Isn’t it the summary of the whole philosophy of Bhagavad Gita?
Copyright: Santosh Srivastava, Author of the book: The Gita Way.
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Releasing Soon ‘The Gita Way’


Feeling proud to announce that my book The Gita Way is due for release by end of this month. Soon it will be available on Amazon for pre-order. Will update again the relevant link once it is released.

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The Gita Way is an irreligious take on the tenets of the Bhagavad Gita. Without delving into either mythological or God-centric discourse, the book attempts to understand and explain various insights from the Gita through, in the author’s words, derived theory and application. The Gita Way attempts to shed light on matters of self-realisation, and identifying and following the path to achieve the purpose of life.

Within the framework of Vedic philosophy represented by Gita, this book explores:

  • How to discover the swa-bhava, the inherent natural strength of our real-self?
  • Is my profession aligned with my swa-bhava? What is my purpose of life?
  • What is the real meaning of moksha, the liberation? How the realization of individual purpose leads us to attain supreme purpose we are born to achieve?

Using the principles of Gita, this book presents innovative findings on theory of prarabdha, the luck or destiny, role of knowledge and karma, continuous improvement, yoga of universal harmony and yoga of devotion. To highlight few, in chapter combined discipline of knowledge and karma, we introduce most important part of their research -centring. Centring summarizes power of combined application of yoga of knowledge and karma along with simplified theory of spirit and supreme spirit. Chapter Vision of Universal Form and Yoga of Liberation simplifies the meaning of moksha, the state of liberation by linking it to the attainment of the supreme purpose of life. Chapters on Yoga of Devotion and Continuous improvement focus on recipe of staying on the unique path of achieving individual goal.

Unlike other books on Bhagavad Gita, The Gita Way is not a chapter wise discourse. Instead it presents deduced concepts in first place supported with relevant reference from the whole Gita. For example, in the first chapter of the Gita Way, you may get a reference of last chapter of Gita relevant to the topic of discussion.

To know more please visit facebook page at following link:  The Gita Way

Share of Wallet


I came across an interesting article in HBR where authors define wallet allocation rule. I always felt that understanding real share of wallet is a complex phenomenon as each product fights not only with various brands within its segment but also with various other product categories, which share the money available in a consumer wallet. Authors in the article “Customer Loyalty Isn’t Enough Grow Your Share of Wallet” simplify share of wallet in following formula:

Share of Wallet= (1-Rank/ (Number of Brands+1)) x (2/Number of Brands)

This formula is a simple allocation of wallet based on perceived ranking of various brands in consideration. This also shows a significant variation in share of wallet among brands with different rankings. For example, suppose we are interested to know share of wallet in a category where there are only two brands. In such a case brand with high ranking will have 67% of share of wallet. Another intriguing point is that the perceived rankings may or may not be in-line with the actual market share.

To make real use of share of wallet rule, let us try to understand the allocation of consumer money at every stage of decision making before final selection. Share of wallet is a zero sum game. And hence competition starts at product category itself. To understand this let us take one example from building material industry. Suppose a customer in interested in renovating his home with fixed budget and suppose this budget is to be utilised between renovating and decorating wall and floor only. Though share of wallet is a zero sum game, here the customer would choose both but may allocate different share of her budget. Let us also assume that a ceramic tile brand A is interested to define its strategy based on share of wallet analysis.

Level 1: The first fight is at much broader level i.e between wall and floor. Based on the perceived ranking of consumer between two, her initial budget would be allocated. Customer’s actual preference would define actual perceived ranking of wall and floor. For example a customer focusing on beautification would rank wall high. In such case various brands of decorative paints, wall paper etc would have an opportunity to sell their premium products. For ceramic tile brand A, this level is less in control. However, with established innovative products focusing both functionality and beauty, brand A would stand a chance. Still this level is more driven by whole category. Let’s take perceived ranking of floor as a broad category is 2nd. For floor Share of wallet of customer’s initial budget would be 33%.

Level 2: Now the budget of floor can be shared between various flooring options, again at category level. Let’s assume only three flooring options are available, say wooden floors, marbles and ceramic tiles. Once again the perceived ranking would depend on consumer preferences on functionality, look feel and other recommendations available to her. Let’s assume that the perceived ranking for ceramic tile in this case in 1st. Share of ceramic tile as a category at this level would be 50%. This is 16.5% (33% of level 1 x 50% of level 2) of customer’s initial budget.

Level 3: Once the flooring option is zeroed down to ceramic, the fight would start between various ceramic brands. Let us assume there are 7 brands available in this example and perceived ranking of brand A is 2nd. Share of wallet of brand A at this level would be 21%. This is 3.5% of customer’s initial budget defined in level 3 (33% in level 1 x 50% in level 2 x 21% in level 3). Perceived ranking at this level would be primarily based on overall brand performance, quality perceptions, customer experiences, overall word of mouth etc.

There are interesting inferences of above analysis:

1. Let us take if brand A improves its perceived ranking in level 3, its share of wallet would increase from 21% to 25% only (a typical case where number of brands in a particular industry segment are significant). However for other brand in lower rankings this would be significant.

2. To get a bigger pie of the initial budget ranking must improve in level 1 and level 2. Since this is in the interest of whole industry, all players jointly must build perception for the category itself. We see example like promotion of milk, gold etc by common associations focusing on bigger pie; milk positioning for health drink and gold for investment.

3. Investment in creating no. 1 brand choice will pay off in all future share of wallet. This incentive is much high for brands with lower ranks.

The above example is simulated for limited categories and limited brands. In real terms fighting for share is with all products consumer is willing to invest. It would be a wise decision to decide the level and make strategy accordingly. To address a fair future share of wallet, companies must devise product and brand strategies at least to a level where threat of substitute exists.

Strategy of Making ‘Transparent Strategy’


In the context of communicating strategy to employees and other stake holders, I believe that the best method is to make organisation strategy absolutely transparent to all employees and stake holders. Some people may argue that a select group should drive strategy and transfer same in the form of activities down the line. Though advantages and disadvantages of both of these methods can be debated for long, I would like to present my point of view in favor of making strategy transparent. In fact in my views making strategy transparent is a kind of strategy in itself.

To make a strategy transparent needs a lot of courage and conviction. And this starts from conviction in the strategy itself. Is my strategy a real differentiator? Are our products, services or offerings differentiated enough to attract target audience? Is my workforce capable enough to implement and deliver the outcome of my strategy? If I have to make my strategy known to everyone, I would have to compel myself first to answer above questions. The advantage is the outcome; my strategy would address real capability of organisation to deliver, my strategy would address the desired solution my product or service going to deliver to the target audience, my strategy would be guiding principle for HR managers and functional heads to build capabilities of work force exactly in line with the strategy. Most important the outcome this method results in is ‘a single focused strategy’ for the organisation

However, it would not be a secret for the world outside organisation to know about such transparent plans. Very soon competitors would discover this and could react in advance. My argument is; is it a real risk? In fact this could work in our favor  The competitions, if react, along with addressing their capabilities, have to alter their original strategy. Finally it would result in modification or change in organisational strengths, products, services etc. In most of the cases it would end up in multiple strategies focusing excessively on competition which is a definite recipe for disaster. A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin mention six common strategic errors in “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, Harvard Business Review Press

1. There is the Do-It-All strategy, shorthand for failing to make real choices about priorities.

2. The Don Quixote strategy unwisely attacks the company’s strongest competitor first.

3. The Waterloo strategy pursues war on too many fronts at once.

4. The Something-For-Everyone tries to capture every sort of customer at once, rather than prioritizing.

5. The Programme-Of-The-Month eschews distinctiveness for whatever strategy is currently fashionable in an industry.

6. The Dreams-That-Never-Come-True strategy never translates ambitious mission statements into clear choices about which markets to compete in and how to win in them.

In one of the survey by Booz and Company more than two third of executives who responded to the survey from various companies agreed that their biggest frustration is ‘having too many conflicting priorities’ (As published in HBR blog “Making your strategy more relevant” by by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi). It seems more relevant to have focused transparent strategy, but it is not easy. In a competitive environment the easiest strategy is to play safe and in such situation most of the companies end up working on multiple strategies.

Michael Porter explaining his five forces model in one of the interviews says competitive rivalry is not a zero sum game. Everyone in an industry can work on product and services to create a differentiated value and collectively can increase the pie in the first place. Still there would be a fair competition. However, customers would have an option to choose between products based on their merits and not merely based on competitive pricing. This would uplift industry profitability. And that is the biggest incentive for investment in research and development. A win- win recipe for both the consumer and company.

Product Features’ Rationalization


Rationalization of product features to optimize cost with a hypothesis that some features usage pattern of which are rare, if removed, will not affect a consumer choice of a brand could be a good idea. Manufacturer will have choice of transferring the gained value in the form of price to consumer in a high competitive environment. This strategy can be suitable for a brand targeting mid segment consumer to whom price matters. The limitation of this hypothesis is that the segment we define based on demographic variability is actually usage or need based.

Recently, few manufacturers thought in this direction, and they introduced new variants with rationalized features targeting a specific group on demographic and need based segmentation. Samsung and LG introduced refrigerators with lower size of freezer based on their findings of Indian consumer’s usage pattern of freezers. This helped them to charge 20% lower than the other premium brands. There are numerous examples in FMCG industry. To name a few, GSK’s “Asha”, a low cost substitute to Horlics for rural market, Maggie Masal–ae- magic and Maggie Rasile chow targeting population with low purchasing power.

Customer requirements can be translated into technical requirements of the product. However; a customer wish list does not always convert into a good business proposition. It’s important to understand cost of the customer’s wish. A customer of small car may wish for a power and safety requirements of a high capacity cars. So from a product manager’s point of view it is very important to understand target group and its actual need (not the wish list) from the product right at the time of conceptualization of new product. The right approach starts with segmentation which must be NEED or USAGE based than the other demographic parameters. The cost advantage will be the outcome if the product features are designed for specific needs or usage.

Brand Managers; Let us create an emotional connection with the consumer


The thought of ‘emotional connection’ triggered when I woke up with new version of song ‘mile sur mera tumahara’ airing on zoom on the morning of 60th republic day. It was a surprise that how easily I could make a connection with the two decade old original song with lot of other memories attached with Doordarshan. How would you define the emotional connection established here? I feel it was more of nostalgic feeling of childhood freedom in the form of association with golden past than a feeling of patriotism.

When we try to create an emotional connection with audience, while building or rebuilding a brand; its better to define what emotion the brand is talking about. Recently Fevicol celebrated its 50th birthday and launched ‘Moochwali’ campaign which reminded again the journey of time with a story of a girl bearing adhesive quality of fevicol through out her life and even beyond. I feel fevicol successfully established their journey of 50 years with the adhesiveness as the attribute with this ad.

Let us discuss a case in which attributes of the product does not make a real difference.

Let us take the branding of water; that’s too in India; where water is in abundance and quality of drinking water is at least priority for more than 50 % of the population. Water is a commodity; all major players in packaged water industry build their brands along with the category with a similar set of attributes; like taste, health qualities, source, uses, distribution etc. One of the important emotional connections some major players did with audience by color of packaging and shape of the bottle. Do aqua or blue triggers something when it is associated with drinking water? Can you recall some of your emotion while holding a different shape of bottle in your hand? Definitely yes. I feel it’s a good case to study in differentiating a commodity. In future of flat world, where all information and knowledge will be available to every one, the life of exclusivity will be very short. And there would be lesser scope to differentiate the products on attributes. I can see the branding using neuromarketing techniques to establish emotional connection is going to be prominent.

To establish emotional connection, it’s better to start from the creation of brand identity. While defining the positioning attributes, the brand manager should think of connection of each attribute to the emotional connection. Name, color, packaging, store placement, in shop branding, media and press advertisements; everything defining a brand must connect to the audience emotionally while demonstrating some of the differentiating attributes. The emotion and attributes must be defined to make it consistent across all marketing channel. This holds true for repositioning of a brand as well.

Establishing an emotional connection with consumer is not easy. We need to first understand the ways a consumer respond with each emotional trigger. You will be surprised with the variability in emotional triggers across region, language, customs, culture etc. Understanding target audience needs and emotions and common moments of truth is must. It needs intensive study of consumer. Most of the consumer research will come up with hundreds of ways to define the triggers. Choosing one, need real insight and a business acumen to know the investment and return over investment objectives. However; brand manager must make sure that selected emotional trigger must gel with attributes of the product being positioned.

Some interesting blog posts on emotional branding:

Power of nostalgia in adverting

Building emotional connection to your brand

We are now conditioned to the word ‘cost’


We are now conditioned to the world ‘cost’. It was recession which hastened us to think of ‘cost’, otherwise, I am sure, none of us ever have considered cost as prime strategy. During the recent downturn, most of the companies improved or sustained their relative bottom lines with the help of cost cutting measures. According to a recent Mc Kinsey survey, most of the companies made effective and significant cutbacks in overall costs since the onset of economic downturn in September 2008. As the downturn is supposed to be behind now, I feel most of us overreacted to it and become hyper aggressive in cost cutting measures. This resulted in the reduction of investments in productive area, impacting future growth prospects. One reason could be that in difficult times, when managing cash flow is the prime concern, or it is projected as prime concern, all outflow including future investments appear as costs. In this perspective, we must understand the difference between cost and investments.

According to one of the reports of Crisil, India Inc’s planned capex expenditure will be dropped by 25% over next three years. This is an example of cutting investment which was designed for future growth prospects. In some cases it could be postponements. In both the cases, cutting future capacity investments or postponing capacity addition is actually creating a gap which we may face in next two or three years. Companies conservative on their own plan capital expenditures, will loose opportunity if situation comes back to normal, which seems more likely now.

Situation is actually coming back to normal. According to a recent McKinsey report, the number of households in the deprived segment is likely to drop from 101 million in 2005 to 74 million in 2015. Which means around 27 million households will enter into lower middle to middle class. Can you imagine the kind of increase in overall consumption? Who will cash such demands in an environment where companies are postponing their capacity expansion plan?

There is another similar example in form of manpower layoffs cases. Most of the IT companies, who estimated their manpower as more than adequate in number, discovered an opportunity to rationalize their headcount during the period of downturn. They did it. Most of the other companies in various other industries followed the same strategy. I feel this was a wrong decision in the name of cost. Now, when the growth prospects for IT industry is returning back in shape, (estimated software export growth in coming year is over 20%), the manpower strength is becoming the bottleneck. Almost, all IT companies are now back to recruiting in full swing, to fill the gap created by them only. A sudden increase in demand of IT professional means rotation of same net people strength for short term prospects without filling the actual gap in the industry. This means more lucrative offers in form of salary structures. So, who lost in the process? This is one of the example of cutting investment in the name of cost.

A waste is a cost. It is one of the easiest think to differentiate between costs and investments. To reduce the waste two things are required; one is discipline and the other is investment. Discipline at work place can reduce wastages in the form of stationary, electricity; maintenance etc. and to some extent productivity. Investment in new technologies and new skills reduces wastage by improving efficiencies. A more efficient process takes lesser costs. Instead of focusing on cost why should not we focus on process to make it more efficient? This is a tough decision to make, especially in difficult times, as it needs investments. I am sure that few companies must have thought in such direction.If I assume that a company’s lifecycle is long enough to handle one or two economic downturn and believe the cyclical nature of such fluctuations, imagine the gain a company would have who sees downturn an opportunity to invest in new technologies, training and processes at negotiable rate, and is ready for the time when the downturn cycle turns in other direction.

When to kill a product?


Usually, when a product manager takes a decision to kill a product, service or a segment we assume that a proper analysis must be in place on financial, organizational and strategic factors. This means such products are at the end or at least towards the end of their life cycle. In other words the key performance indicators (KPI) of the product are not healthy. Would you be surprised, if I say that a decision of killing a product should not only depend on the product KPI but also on the business objectives? Rather, a business objective is bigger than the KPI of a product. This means, product managers could often take a decision to kill even their performing products.

So, when is the right time to kill a particular product or service? Based on the observations made on fall of various products in various industries, I have categorized the reasons to kill (or save) a product in three broad parameters which need to be assessed before taking a final call. The notable thing is that the sales and revenue of a product is the part of the first parameter only which may not be appropriate if considered as only parameter. The three broad parameters are:

Product KPI: This is the most visible parameter and product manager often get carried away with the observations made in this category. Declining sales, declining market price because of competition and declining market share are the reasons enough to believe that the product is at the end of its life cycle. In some advance analysis, increasing input cost of the low KPI product can also be considered as the reason.

Brand KPI: We often fail to asses performance indicators of brand while making an assessment of product performance. Brand image especially in the segment in which a product is in question, representation of company in the category and level of customer satisfaction. If you have low brand KPI, it is very difficult to find the root cause of low product KPI. One of the easiest measurements of brand performance is the change in working capital of all the channel partners. If it is declining, it is even more dangerous for a company than the performance of a particular product.

Business Objective of the company: I assume that most of the companies are rational enough to think for a longer term. Short term fluctuations in sales, country’s economy and business environment should not alter the business objectives set for a longer period. Before taking a call on a product company must evaluate the alternatives, alignment of alternatives to company objective and foreseen changes in technology. Driven by business objective, there are companies which replaced their performing products with new innovative and differentiated products and offerings.

Any one or more than one strong observations from the above parameters can be a trigger for a removal of a product from the portfolio. All I suggest is to analyze all three before taking a call. Beware of the fact that some times, a symptom can divert you from the root cause.

Coaching is an Art


All CMMi (Capability Maturity Model Integration) 5 level companies have institutionalized coaching and mentoring. There are scientific patterns defined just to follow and it will make you a successful coach or mentor. There is no doubt that such system gives an structured way to define profiles of employee which can be used for their future coarse of gains in the form of rewards or otherwise in the company. However; I am a strong believer that coaching is an art and it requires a lot more than system and procedures.

In old days people striving for knowledge, search for a ‘Guru’. ‘Guru’ is a Hindi word, which is now common in English too, meaning of which is tough to define in a single word. To understand the word ‘Guru’ you need to combine meaning of teacher, coach and mentor. These Gurus were great as they used to take ownership of their pupils for their evolution into the greatness in the life. They had their own style and no structural or defined rules. They had a purpose and an art in the form of their style, for instance, we can term those styles as coaching, mentoring or teaching or combination of all. Their approaches were very effective as they used to plan and execute a list of activities to eliminate the weaknesses of their pupils with or without their knowledge. We have examples of great achievers in various fields who dedicated their success to their respective Gurus.

In an organizational perspective, I mentioned four parameters required for motivation in any in one of my post. These four parameters are product, strategy, the role model and career (What Motivates You?). A coach or mentor in your role model can make you great in your approach to profession and life.