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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pragmatism

People being practical has never moved the world forward. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Facebook vs. Twitter

Facebook has figured out the business they are in. Twitter is still struggling. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

News

What is the purpose of news? Entertainment? Objective fact dissemination? Confirm your beliefs? Make democracy effective? Make you think? Shape your thinking? Make corporations sell more? Or, is it just like any other business where the primary purpose is to make money?

7 Secrets to Unlock Success and Happiness

I frequently speak at conferences on many topics including innovation, leadership, and the future of mobile technologies. At these conferences, young people often ask me for career advice. I am reminded of my younger days when I was looking for the same. Wisdom from a few people has greatly influenced my thinking and actions. Please keep in mind there are no silver bullets. But if you are willing to work hard, be patient and open your mind, you may achieve more than you ever dreamed possible.

Following are the seven guiding principles I’ve used for happiness and success.
1. Learn. You have to be learning all the time. Don’t just learn about the job you are in. Learn how the business operates. Learn about the value-chain your company is a part of. Learn how your competitors do things differently. Think about how technologies can disrupt your industry. Understand your learning style. Do you learn more from sitting in a class, reading a book, doing, or listening to stories? Test what you learn by applying it to the real world.
This will help you develop good judgment.
2. Develop an independent mind. Don’t blindly follow what people say and do. Seek understanding and take context into account. The education system teaches things with generalities and universalities. However, life is different. Your action has to vary with the situation or context. Ask a lot of “why” questions. Foster the ability to argue both sides of an argument. Most people spend their life without questioning why things are the way they are. You have a choice not to do that. Another choice you have is not to increase your expenses with your income. This has a magical effect on the mind. If your expenses grow with your income then you will always be dependent on someone or something for your lifestyle and that limits independent thinking.
This will help you create your own destiny.



3. Have rituals and self-discipline. The number of distractions you have today is exponentially higher than what I had when I was growing up. The Internet, mobile phones, and cable TV were not around when I was in college. Although these new technologies are helpful tools for us to accomplish things, they can also be huge distractions. Goals are a necessity to keep you on track. It is really hard to accomplish anything today without self-discipline, and rituals help reinforce self-discipline. Here is an example of my daily ritual. I create yearly goals, review them frequently and grade myself on my performance at the end of the year. Last year I gave myself a B-.
This will help you get things done.
4. Try a lot of different things before you settle on any one thing. Don’t stay with one function. If you start your career in marketing, don’t just stay in marketing. Work in different functions within the company. Understand how the company works as a system and develop empathy for people who work in areas different from your own. I have worked in innovation, product development, sales, marketing, strategy, finance, and P&L management. With this interdisciplinary approach, I’ve discovered my passion for solving complex problems and aligning diverse groups of people towards a shared goal.
This will help you find the one thing that you will be exceptional at.
5. Become interesting. Have a diverse set of interests. If you work in the tech industry and all you can talk about is tech, then you will be boring to a lot of people. We are so lucky to be alive today. Just one hundred years ago, most people spent their lives worrying about survival. Be curious about other people and ask them questions. They love talking about themselves. Be current on world-affairs. Read the Economist or some other current affairs magazine. If people like being around you, then you will get invited to a lot of social gatherings. This is where new opportunities originate.
This will help you develop an ability to relate to all kinds of people.
6. Be Pragmatic. In the last twenty years, the biggest change I have seen in myself is that I have become a pragmatist from being an ideologue. In my first job, I gave a list of 72 things that were wrong with the company to the President and I wanted everything to be fixed right away. I am lucky that the president was a mature leader and I did not get sacked. Think in terms of making relative improvements and focus on things that you can influence. Prioritize what needs to be done. There are always a million things to do. It is alright not to do everything. All decisions are a function of the options available. When you decide to do something, understand that this comes at the expense of not doing everything else.
This will help you focus on the right things.
7. Raise your consciousness. What is life about? Making money, spending it, and constantly satisfying your senses? Think about how you are contributing to your local community and the world. Join the Rotary Club or some other civic organization. Never miss an opportunity to help others. Keep your word. Always do what you say. Share what you are learning with others. Read philosophy. Develop an interest in the arts. Make everything around you more beautiful. Find the right life partner whose love is not dependent solely on your income or your looks. I live by Leonardo da Vinci’s seven life principles.
This will help you become a good human being.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com on November 28th, 2014. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why Mediocrity Reigns Supreme in Tech Products


The tech industry produces thousands of new products every year. How many products do you notice? How many wow you? Not many. The first iPhone wowed me. Google Search was awesome. Prezi was so cool. After these few examples, I really have to think hard on memorable products. The tech industry employs millions of very smart people worldwide. Most tech companies have a lot of cash. So, how is it that very smart people with a lot of money produce so many unmemorable and even bad products?

To understand,  we have to examine how product development works in big tech environments . I have lead product development for many goods in the tech world. Let me take you behind the scenes.

In any big organization, division of labor is in full force. Marketing and engineering are the two main groups involved in product development. To get started, someone in the marketing group writes a document called an MRD - Marketing Requirements Document. This document is supposed to show what the market needs are and what customers want. Someone on the engineering team converts the MRD into a PRD – Product Requirements Document. This document is supposed to have the product features, timelines, cost, etc. to show how engineering will create the product to meet the market needs. To make it all work a project manager or program manager (PM) is assigned to launch the product. The program manager measures three things:

1. Product Features 
2. Deadlines (time)
3. Budget (money) 


Are you confused yet – MRD, PRD, PM?

A lot gets lost in translation between the marketing and the engineering teams. Feature specifications, time, and money are all estimates in both documents. Marketing teams often put in as many features as they can think of, without any reason to include them other than to  avoid being blamed for missing out on customer needs. I know people people who have never met a customer and who have written market requirements. The engineering team certainly doesn’t meet  the customer and they interpret marketing’s ideas through a  technical lens. Misinterpretation and misunderstanding has already begun.


Amazon Kindle Fire Smartphone- Do you know anyone who has one?


There is quite a wide variation in terminology depending on whether the tech company is making hardware, software, or both. The basic process is the same, though. Someone captures what the market needs and someone else figures out what the company can deliver. How that happens varies widely as well. In all cases, what is measured by the PM is Product features, time, and money. I have never seen everything run according to the plan. What happens when the plan isn’t met? Most people are reasonable so they make compromises to meet money, time, and product feature targets. Incentive plans in big organizations are based on meeting targets so people work toward that. You can meet all the product features, time, and money targets and still produce a bad product. Which happens often. Look at Samsung Gear, a Smart watch. It has all the features, it came out on time and still nobody is buying it because it is aesthetically unpleasant and difficult to use. Or, the Amazon Kindle Fire phone. All the features in the world. Came out when the company wanted it to. And, even with an almost unlimited marketing budget, a huge built-in customer-base and Amazon virtually giving it way, it has very few adopters.  Why? It’s a product that fulfills Amazon’s needs, but not their customers’.


Samsung Gear - Searching for a market 

To resolve the product mediocrity disconnect, the new thing in big organizations is innovation teams. These team members are supposed to be creative thinkers, have empathy for consumers, have the freedom to dream up new products and are not bound by quarterly revenue targets.  Sounds like a good idea? Sadly, it never works. People on these teams do not understand the company’s products and the company’s core-competencies. They are hired from the outside and kind of remain outside the company. They think the answer to everything is post-it notes and design thinking. The product teams never listen to them because of they perceive the innovation team as lacking depth and understanding of their company’s products and customers. The innovation teams remain in their bubble and make fancy presentations for the executives, but have little to no impact on the ultimate product development.


What if any of this worked?


Unless you have someone like Steve Jobs who is obsessed with design and the User Experience, the product you get is a sum of compromises. It is a measurement problem. People measure the number of features, deadlines, and budget. Nobody measures the User Experience (UX). How do you measure UX? It is really hard to do. It is similar to the “what is good art” debate. The best way to measure UX is to do a lot of usability testing with the users. Observe their reactions, their emotions, their body language. Ask the right questions. Find harmony amongst aesthetics, intuitiveness, and function. You can’t squeeze UX into a feature-set. Test, Observe, and Iterate has to be the approach.

Excellent products are almost always a result of the vision of one person and not a compromise of many people. Tesla, which is a car company, but considered a tech company in the Silicon Valley, has an autocratic CEO, Elon Musk, who, like Steve Jobs, dictates the UX. Both the iPhone and the Tesla are category defining products. People stand in lines, or wait for months to get these beautiful, useful, ground-breaking, delight-inducing products.

Whoever is responsible for product development has to dictate the UX and try different iterations of the product internally before the product is launched in the market. The fashion industry is dependent on producing many, many new products every year. All the clothing and accessories you see are ultimately the vision of a single designer. Designers try a lot of designs and only some of them become appealing to the users. I realize that it is hard to do this in the tech world given the enormous costs of developing hardware and software. However, this philosophy of the product being the vision of one person and trying different iterations can and should be applied to tech to create superior products that the market and customers so desperately crave.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com on November 12th, 2014. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apple Watch: A Giant Leap for Apple. A Small Step for Wearables


Apple Watch


Beautiful is not the word that comes to mind when you look at the new Apple Watch (AW). You don’t think of cool, edgy, or sophisticated either.The AW, formerly rumored as the iWatch, is out or, at least, we have an idea of what it is. Well, it looks like a watch and does a lot of other stuff. It blows away anything else that is in the market in the wearable/smartwatch/fitness-tracker/health-monitor category. Google Android Wear and Samsung Gear look ancient in comparison. However, it fails to evoke the emotion that Apple's other successful products like the iPhone evoked. Surprisingly, Apple failed to create an elegant design that is sophisticated, inviting, and moving. The AW looks like a giant screen on your wrist.The AW comes in two sizes. The bigger one is for men and the smaller one is for women. Apple does not state that explicitly, though. Some men may like it but I cannot imagine a fashion-conscious woman wearing an AW.  I understand that it is very, very hard to do a universal design that is personal. But that is what we have come to expect from Apple. 


There have been attempts in the past to make a watch more than a watch but no one has tried to pack so many features in the watch before.


Who wouldn't want a watch that does other things? (1980s)



Microsoft SPOT Smartwatch: Why don't you like me? (2004)



The AW performs five distinct functions: 

1. Watch 

2. Secondary Screen and Notifications for your iPhone

3. Health and Fitness

4. Payment

5. New Form of Communication 


Let's look at these five functions one by one: 


1. Watch: The AW is an engineering marvel. It is full of functions and digital personality. The watch tells you a very precise time i.e. within 50ms of the most definitive known time. Digital Crown as a User Interface (UI) is a good idea. The ability to customize the watch with different straps easily is nice. Apple shows a lot of innovation in strap design. Inductive charging with magnetic alignment is also a good idea. What the AW has in digital function and mechanics, it lacks in physical appeal. People buy things they wear based on how they look and how they make them feel. The AW does not look very appealing. 

Getting in the watch business is a bold move by Apple. In the past, when Apple launched a new product, it launched the best product: iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air. People have loved Apple and Apple products became successful because there was nothing better available. The AW is not the best watch. There are years of history, craftsmanship, brand, and emotional attachment people have for their watches. I am not replacing my Hermès watch for an AW.



There is something about Hermès



For the first time, Apple is playing in the mid-tier of the market. The high-end luxury watch will not be impacted by the AW and neither will the low-end category of watches. Also, for the first time, Apple is launching six products at the same time. The AW comes in three styles - Watch, Sport, and Edition. Each comes in two sizes (38mm and 42mm). Hence, six products. This is very different than an iPhone being available in three different memory sizes (or in three different colors in its 5th edition).

Being on the advisory board of Crimson Mim, a high-end fashion retailer, I have a learned a few things about fashion from its CEO, Christine Campbell. And, I don't see women wearing the AW. That takes away half the AW target market. 



Do you really want me to wear a gadget on my wrist?


Apple is also not positioning the watch as a product to test the market like they did with Apple TV. It has not been a widely adopted product and Apple positioned Apple TV as a “hobby” at the time of launch. The AW is positioned as the next big thing. I predicted that Apple TV services will have limited adoption and had to face the wrath of Apple fans in the comment section of my blog. Hence, you can no longer comment on my blog.

The AW comes in three editions. The Edition version of AW is “gold plated”. Is Apple’s idea of making a product more luxurious to put gold around it?




This is luxury


Watches can last for generations. Will people change watches every year now just like they upgrade their phones every year? Apple is trying to change human behavior which is always a tough thing to do. Not only you may have to change your watch every year but also you may have to charge it every night. Will people get used to the idea of charging their watches every night?


2. Secondary Screen and Notifications for your iPhone: The basic idea is that you don't have to take your phone out of your pocket/purse when you get a message/notification. And, you can respond directly from your wrist. I think the AW does a good job here. The AW requires an iPhone to work. The UI on the AW may be good but I have the iPhone right here with abetter UI. Why wouldn't I just use that for Apps/messages, etc?

On one hand, Apple is launching bigger iPhones based on people’s feedback and on the other hand,  Apple is launching a  very small “iPhone” for the wrist. Is there a market for both? Will people change their habit of looking at their phones 150+ times a day and start enjoying the physical surroundings more because of the AW? Or, will people start looking at their wrists all the time now? Will people feel comfortable talking to their wrists in public à la Dick Tracy?


3. Health and Fitness: The AW will tell you how many calories you are burning, how intense your workout is, how many miles you have walked/run, etc. The AW shows progress here. It tells people what to do. This was my key learning during the field trial of the world's first multi-sensor, consumer-fitness, cloud-connected, wearable device. Most of the other wearable fitness device makers have failed in this area. People want the fitness device to act more like a personal fitness coach. The AW presents results in a simple form of three physical activities 1) Move 2) Exercise 3) Stand. 

Are the reminders and notifications good enough for people to change their behavior? Many people are lazy. Many people do not like to exercise and it is really hard to make people do things they do not want to do. People who like to workout will like the AW but those who don't may get annoyed with the reminders and turn them off. Actually, can you turn them off?

There are practical challenges with the Health and Fitness function. Am I supposed to change my watch strap (from steel to sport) when I go running? Data visualization is still not personalized i.e. I am still seeing charts and graphs. Why can’t I see my avatar changing shape based on my activity level. I am baffled that none of the companies are using gamification and social pressure to break people's habits. The real benefits of Health and Fitness devices will come from connecting personal vital statistics data to the healthcare system. Does the AW do that?


4. Payment: I am not clear if I need to do fingerprint authentication on the iPhone before I use the AW to pay at a retail store. For now, let's assume that I can use the AW without the fingerprint authentication for payments. There are certainly some advantages in using the AW for payment but in this case it is tricky to predict if people will change their behavior because credit cards seems to work fine. How many merchants have the NFC terminals, devices that will allow merchants to accept Apple payments? And the location of the NFC terminal on the retail counter will play a big role on how people adopt payments using the AW. 


5. New Form of Communication: The AW enables you to send taps (vibrations), sketches, and your heartbeat to other AW users. I am super-excited about this category. Last year, I worked on an idea, Swedee, where my vision was to create a new vibration-based language because the subtleties and complexities of communicating emotions are lost in SMS. You can see the rough plan here. I worked with industrial, jewelry, and apparel designers but I could not find a design that was universal, inexpensive, and personal. Without the right design, I did not move forward with the idea. 

This new form of communication will happen eventually because people have a fundamental desire to express emotions. Language is not evolved enough to communicate emotions completely. There are trillions of SMSes sent every day. Younger people express emotions in these short messages with emoticons and stickers and they are not used to long-form writing. A “vibration” message brings you much closer to a physical hug or kiss than an emoticon. Hence, younger people are more likely to adopt this new form of communication but can they afford to spend $349 on the AW? 


The AW is a very complex product. It is a triumph of function over form. This may not make sense to my fellow engineers but people buy things they wear based on how they look and feel and not how they function. Maybe people will be so fascinated with the functions that they will accept the form. I doubt it. We shall see...