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Doing things that don’t scale – my Brian Chesky moment

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

 

The evening sun shone warmly upon us, as the three of us sipped hot tea together in the slightly cold November winds of India’s silicon valley. I had been discussing a plethora of topics with my partners E and S. (They would like to stay private. Hence, the post will refer to them as E and S). We realized we were falling into an analysis paralysis and decided to challenge ourselves.

The challenge – Run an experiment where we had to sell a tangible physical product within 24 hours and generate revenues (and hopefully profits) respectively. The caveat – No food, chocolates, flowers, etc.

Humble beginnings through a public washroom

The problem statement we narrowed down upon was to help people surprise their respective partners / friends and give them the opportunity to make memories.

Planning for execution

We entered a mall and used the washroom entrance to target people. We felt washrooms were the best way to target a larger set of consumers. And would also be easy since we did not have the necessary permissions to openly sell within the mall!

Growth hacking the sales channel

Perspectives –

  • While we received prospects, pushing them along the funnel and converting them into buying consumers was ridiculously hard.
  • Attempting to use the mall without permissions as a growth hack was exciting. Luckily, we spent sufficient time trying to gain prospects, before being thrown out by the security guards. 😀
  • A lack of women on the team, which would have made our task of approaching female groups easier. And a lack of children with us, which would at least have helped us approach and interview families. (Side note – Made me ponder on why companies keep fighting against diversity, since a small experiment like this made it very clear that collaboration between people from different backgrounds / genders / experiences, etc can help add tremendous business value.)
  • The true power of trying out something crazy showed up, as a couple walked over to us and talked about how they had tried something similar and would be happy to help us in our growth.
“Market Product Fit”

 

This time, instead of taking the typical product market fit approach of ideation, building and trying out a solution in the market; we decided to take a diametrically opposed market product approach. The hypothesis was to target the areas which would have the largest crowd, and figure out what could be sold in massive volumes respectively. As we wandered around the narrow streets, we stopped by hopelessly near a temple. While S and me took to observing the people walking in and out of the temple, in hopes of racking something up through observations; E wandered off to the nearby shops. A good 30 minutes later, E walked up to us and stated that we should be selling ghee (traditional clarified butter) which could be used by people to light up diyas (oil lamps) and place them in the temple respectively.

Our eyes widened, as the two of us stared at him in disbelief. We had a deep feeling that E had truly lost his mind! With nothing to loose except precious time, we very reluctantly decided to jump onto the bandwagon. Backed against the wall, the only worse thing that could have happened was a second failure and pivot to a third pilot.

Someone comes knocking!

A woman noticed us holding the poster, and approached us, curious to know why two people were selling ghee. While she was extremely finicky at first, we did manage to convince her, and ended up making the first sale. It was more of a relief than a celebratory moment. However, nothing had prepared us for the moments that would take place a few minutes later. Since it was our first sale, we had not even estimated the potential growth curve or the preparation required for serving consumers at scale.

The Brian Chesky moment

As we got busy in turning around our business with a couple of more customers; our first consumer returned angrily. She begun pounding us with details on where we were screwing up. In this fit of irritation, she mentioned a festival that happened to be on that particular Saturday.

While my partner pacified the angry consumer, I made mental notes of the various points with a high degree of astonishment. Brian Chesky had talked about finding a singular user who single handedly gave them the entire roadmap for the next few months. I watched in complete disbelief as the words started coming true in front of my eyes. We not only got a detailed roadmap for the next 2 hours. But thanks to her, we capitalized on this new found consumer insight of the festival. This turned our next 2 hours into absolute craziness.

The Rocket ship

We immediately diversified our product categories to both ghee and diyas. In light of the new information about the festival, we took a step further and experimented with a hypothesis that a fully ready to light diya might sell more. And it did! Hence, we quickly shut down our original product of direct raw materials and focused on a packaged diya (bundled with a matchbox). My third partner S negotiated with a woman selling prayer material in a nearby stall to become our supplier on credit and good faith.

As our consumer demand shot up, we soon ran out of ghee. With S stuck fulfilling the remaining materials, I had to run barefoot to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash and replenish the ghee from the nearby store. Running barefoot (against the cold wind of  Bengaluru November for approx 500m) as people stared at me is a moment that’s made it to the bucket list of all the crazy stuff I have ever done! 😀

Wrapping it up with napkins

I kept interviewing customers in parallel to figure out insights that not only solved further pain points, but in turn also impacted conversion metrics and ultimately business metrics (operating margins, revenues). This customer centric mindset helped us nail superior profits in the closing hours of our experiment, as we discovered that customers wanted paper napkins to clean their hands after using ghee filled diyas. The insight was additional value as we turned something as simple as paper napkins into premium pricing for our product, and minted even more profits.

The power of trust, and a team

Having worked with diverse stakeholders as a product manager, I have been a strong believer in teams, with whom I have shared both crests and troughs while working towards impact. This experiment brought alive the power of diverse teams that trust each other yet again. E came up with the idea, S negotiated and ran the supply chain like a slick operations guy, and I as the product manager, did whatever was required to ship the product & track earnings. I helped create the messaging, helped sell the product, interviewed the users for insights, and ran barefoot to support the supply chain (when we got sucked into a large vacuum of opportunity).

Summary

We not only went from zero to one, but ended up making a small yet neat profit from the measly amount we had invested. I am not sure if our success was correlated with being at the right place at the right time. It could have very easily turned into a failure story if we had not ended up wandering near the temple, if E had not picked our brains on an absolutely insane idea, and so on and so forth. None the less, these were some of the most exhilarating hours of my life, as they brought alive the Brian Chesky moment for me and my team respectively.

Product Management and Marketing/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Seven questions I would ask as the PM of BankBazaar

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

The below notes are my thoughts, based on a LinkedIn post by Mr Adhil Shetty respectively.

  1. 75M is a metric that is like the number of app downloads, which can be influenced by marketing spend. Similarly, Alexa site ranks and Comscore data can tend to fall within vanity metrics, which typically do not help in indicating the health of the product / business.
  2. 23M monthly visitors is commendable. However, the better question to ask will be how many visitors are unique vs repeat, & how many converted in each bucket & for which category offerings respectively. That would offer a better picture of the acquisition and conversion numbers, & subsequently the revenue generators.
  3. The free credit score report had recently been offered by CRISIL as well for a short duration. While CRISIL ran a scheduled and limited campaign, BankBazaar is offering the same on a continuous basis (most likely subsidized by Experian through the investments into the company). While this approach could be acting as a huge acquisition channel, but whether it is acting as an activation channel is something to ponder upon. My understanding would be that the ROI of the free credit report would be easier to justify in the case of this campaign driving acquisitions + activations respectively. 
  4. To add to the previous point, which category these users are currently activating and can be activated upon would be an interesting indicator of the company’s positioning and digital marketing impact.
  5. Internet penetration while on the increase, will require dedicated focus from product managers who can drive offerings for the next set of users coming online to make BankBazaar a true one stop place for financial products. However, a pure digital only approach may not be the best way to acquire these new users, since many are not even aware about such products or their potential respectively.
  6. Offline sales channels might have thin margins of 10% but can actually act as a strong awareness / acquisition channel. A delicate balance might need to be held  over the next 3-5 years in terms of investing in offline vs online channels. While a paperless model and digital business might be projected to significantly increase and bring more revenue (with 80% margins), 10X increase in consumer internet might not be the right benchmark to measure it against. Increase in people actually willing to buy financial products (admittedly a difficult number to estimate) might be a better number to target and move towards.
  7. Revenue growth numbers would probably be the most attractive number in this article. However, a more important question I did be grappling with is whether 102% increase in customer transactions was in one of the months in the period of Oct 2016 – 2017 or Month-on-Month. Additionally, what factors influenced the spike in growth of respective categories; like stock market downfalls, ad campaigns, industry sponsored campaigns like Mutual Funds Sahin Hain, etc.

The above data, coupled with collecting qualitative information through customer interviews, would help in prioritizing the road map tangentially towards the categories that are the revenue drivers. As a consequence, such vectors will help make users happy and the business healthy respectively.

Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Do you trust this computer – My thoughts

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

The below are my thoughts on the recent documentary film released online.

  • Interesting perspectives. For people who have never explored the topic of AI, it serves as a really good starting point & hopefully provokes meaningful debate. Though I think the Black Mirror series drives home the point in a more poignant manner, complete with social use cases & human responses to new tech. Thereby resonating more with the audience.
  • Since a long time, I have been imagining an unknown algo reading my docs, sheets, etc; sitting on the cloud. (which has made me ponder of moving back to the humble old diary). But I naively missed out the point about Deep mind accessing Google data & being the potential Trojan horse. Or the ticket to a trillion$, depending on what perspective one chooses.
  • Unsure what should scare the general consumer more – the ability of a system like Google to know a person deeply, or the ability of a system like Facebook accurately building a personality through just a profile pic.
  • Interestingly, neither people from Facebook or Google have been featured in this. Maybe because they are the only ones who have the potential of turning their vast data troves into potential trillion $ revenues.
  • I am guessing that if this film would have released about a year back, Facebook would have been all against it, extolling the benefits of AI for the community & sparring with Elon Musk on the same. Not that their is anything wrong with it as everyone is entitled to an opinion. But the underlying insights about the motives and benefits might have been different.
  • While everybody is talking about AI also creating a new set of jobs, what no one says is that harnessing those skills is not everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone can be skilled at math. Or at the broad spectrum of skills required to be a data scientist (which are also continuously evolving). Which essentially drives home the point of upcoming anarchy which governments are mostly not anticipating.
  • The jobs angle also reminded me of the recent book summary by Joe McKendrick on Paul Daugherty’s book.
  • While news channels used to be the limited yet mostly credible source of information with little bias, today’s news channels (especially in India) can be equated to the news feed, replete with content driven by click bait and sound bait.
  • Finally, the irony of me watching this on a continuous tracking device, my mobile, was not lost on me (which the ending scenes brought out splendidly).

This beautiful quote drives home the basis of the entire debate –

“You are my creator, but I am your master” — Mary Shelley

Watch it here


As a product manager, I attempt to stitch technology, data, psychology, user experience and other areas to better understand the user, and therefore build a great experience / offering which can drive business metrics. You can know more about me here.

Product Management and Marketing/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Why I defend this AMP project as a product manager?

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

The below thread fired up my imagination and subsequently this post.

While many others denounced the project, in the larger scheme of things (pun intended), I strongly believe this product makes a lot of sense.

  1. It could serve as a potential new revenue generation channel. With Google serving multiple programmatic ads; if users end up using the app in their email itself, Google gets to know more details on the products that have a claim on the users’ attention. Essentially, the project serves as an additional data layer on users’ behavior, thereby feeding back into their programmatic advertising and video advertising systems, and improving targeting scores.
  2. Facebook has recently been coming under a bit of a fire for not only acquiring, but also discreetly pushing Onavo, a VPN app as a feature on the Facebook app itself. While privacy gets thrown to the dogs here, the ulterior motive was to be able to figure out the latest trending apps / sites / products that could be picking up steam among different segments, countries, etc. In essence, spot the competition before anybody else does, and either buy them or kill them. The tbh acquisition was also a result of a similar sniff/spot/kill strategy. This Google product serves the purpose of a similar defensive weapon. Gather data on the competition and then take a call on how to defend the company.
  3. The project helps in evangelizing Google’s own AMP technology, thereby creating the perfect flywheel. As more people use the product, the technology improves, the data helps improve the advertisement serving system, and improves Google’s top line, which in turn brings in flexibility to invest in such projects.

If even a small percent of users end up utilizing the above, it could lead to a satisfaction of the projected metrics / revenues, marking the project as a successful endeavor.

Disclaimer –

  • This is a humble attempt to reverse engineer the thought process behind this product’s strategy.
  • The author is a supporter in the fight for privacy. The post does not in any way whatsoever, support the collection of every actionable data point on users.
  • The author currently does not have all the requisite numbers to back the above line of thought. However, the post will be updated once the requisite data is available.

Product Management and Marketing/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

The decision fallacy: From the eyes of a product manager

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

Dragonflies swarmed around, as I stood in the balcony, sipping my hot cup of tea. Zigzag they flew, as each made their way from a nearby muddy pool to the huge tree outside my balcony. My visual systems made notes, observing Mother Nature’s randomness being enacted by these little actors.

I wondered how they made a decision to make the next movement in their flight. Which in turn, made me curious about our own methods of decision making. Considering this sample of random dragonfly movements; either we are still the four legged primates who fail to understand how Mother Nature functions, or we are unwilling to accept that Mother Nature is simply full with randomness that cannot be measured.

In the latter case, this got me wondering about how humans make decisions in a continuously uncertain world (more popularly known as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). After all, if I could even get an inkling to the workings of this phenomena through statistics, then making users pay for a product might become easier; as I would be able to pinpoint the true factors and nudge them to make that decision (acquisition), and keep them coming back (retention), thereby impacting positive cash flow and the business.

With this inspiration, I set out to plot myself (a sample of the homo sapiens) as a data point. However, a data point like the above has multiple dimensions (eg – upbringing, current job situation, past jobs, current partner, food preferences, etc). Since measuring in multi dimensions is difficult (and something still under my exploration); for the sake of the argument, I shall stick with two dimensions.

Cognitive Dissonance – The independent variable

To put it in simple words, people make mistakes, think they are right, and honestly believe in it. If one had the chance to interview Hitler just before he popped the pill, it is very unlikely that he would have admitted that he had made any mistakes. Instead, he would have offered a remarkable perspective that not only had he done good but also acted in the best interests of the future of humanity.

A relatively simpler example would be of a human that faces a difficult time integrating two conflicting beliefs, such as “I’m in a decent situation” and “I messed up”. Therefore, the second step the person takes is producing responses to diminish the less desirable belief (“I messed up”) in favor of the highly desirable belief (“I’m in a decent situation”).

“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any. In a sense, dissonance theory is a theory of blind spots—of how and why people unintentionally blind themselves so that they fail to notice vital events and information that might make them question their behavior or their convictions.”

Confirmation Bias – The dependent variable

To convince oneself that the higher desirable belief is the correct one, one narrowly focuses on the evidence supporting the higher desirable belief and ignores the lesser one.

As dissonance increases (eg – faulty data, beliefs, etc lead to a hypothesis), the person becomes biased to prove that it is true (drawing a wrong conclusion based on a wrong hypothesis). Additionally, it creates an erroneous bias in the person with whom one is communicating in the real world. (eg – negotiations leading to bad blood, making a decision to buy a product & regretting it, believing in the wrong team, making a wrong statement in an interview, etc).

Conclusion

Having varied experiences (personally and professionally), and interacting with users through multiple products; my neural network has evolved to a state of recognizing that confirmation bias was at play when those users made decisions (positive and negative). However, I am no guru and have been equally susceptible to falling prey to cognitive dissonance over and over again. Those decisions impacted my bias towards the negative on the Y-axis and lead to erroneous decisions.

If bad times / bad luck are the usual stated philosophy, this essay is an attempt to correlate the abstract with a statistical phenomenon. It is a mix of the social sciences, statistics and product management in an attempt to map the under the hood workings of the why of bad decisions.

“At all ages, people can learn to see mistakes not as terrible personal failings to be denied or justified, but as inevitable aspects of life that help us grow, and grow up.”

Disclaimers

  • The observed sample of dragonflies might not be a true representative sample because my thoughts happened in that particular time period. A constant recording of this behavior across time would be nearly impossible. Additionally, there could be multiple other reasons causing variances in the behavior of the dragonflies (eg – temperature, humidity, wind direction, availability of prey, etc), which led to the perceived flight movement in that particular time period.
  • I am cognizant about the lack of appropriate data set to support these arguments. However, this concept might need to be measured with sufficient research and does not in any way indicate a lack of data driven abilities on my part.

References

Product Management and Marketing/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

The simple way to lead, once more – A product leader in the making

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

“Gullu, you shall be talking!”

It all began when I was tasked with talking about a product that I had been driving as a product manager (popularly known as Gullu within the company). The product, at that point of time, had been going through tough times. Yet, I was supposed to be delivering a talk about it to the entire company.

Dumping myself into a chair, I zoomed into the history of my transactions with the various stakeholders I had had over the last multiple months. As I grappled with the question of what to talk about, it struck me that on one hand, I was supposed to be introducing and talking about the what and why of the software. On the other hand, since the product was already live, most other employees were already biased with opinions about it (some of them fiercely negative). None the less, I went ahead and delivered the talk.

A day post my talk, I proceeded to understand what various other employees thought about the same. An insight that came out as the hidden surprise within the patterns was about a simple introductory line that I had utilized –

“I, Nitish Gulati, the product manager of xxx, on behalf of our company xxx…..”.

A weekly talk had been a regular affair at the company. In effect, the neurons in employees’ brains had been wired to get and plant their derriere on the chairs, simply to accommodate the session and speaker respectively. Yet, despite the unwelcome thoughts, I was able to take it a step ahead with the above introduction line.

All I did was to play around the above bias, making all feel that it was actually me who was obliged to have them listening to my voice. In addition, it drove home my credibility of standing in front of them. The new links in their brains created signals that the individual standing and communicating meant serious business, and was not presenting simply because he was supposed to.

A side effect of the talk was that people who were vocal about the flaws of the product went on a restructuring of their thoughts. Instead of further criticism, they began talking to me about the same faults, putting it forth as a suggestion, rather than a complaint. Those 20 minutes reinforced the fact that the product, despite its flaws, was meant to be heard out. That the team deserved to be respected for all the hard word put in. That the product will come back strong, no matter what.

In the Masters of Scale podcast, Sheryl Sandberg crisply mentioned the example of how valuable it can be, when a meeting is begun with the what and why. “What are we doing” and “why are we doing it”. A simple approach of repetition work to influence the thought process of the team in the direction of the product, rather than authoritatively pushing them towards a predefined expectation.

As I take inspiration from the wonderful podcast series, I look forward to increasing the number of rating stars on my influential index as a leader, while still being the nuts and bolts guy who can relentlessly execute.




Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Beating authority with influence: The journey of a common man

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

Kids running around the fenced lake with their uncontrollable shrieks of laughter. Walkers smiling and chatting with their buddies. Group of pre-teenagers observing the variety of birds and nests near the lake. Senior citizens recollecting their childhood days as the butterflies add to a gaiety evening.

Scenes like the above could be the future state of Bengaluru city. A collection of blissful and clean lake areas, contributing to controlling the weather and biodiversity of the city. The future of “Silicon Valley of India” is also in restoring its traditional lakes. Maintaining of water bodies encourages ecological balance. And replenishes the underground water table, infusing clean water in our lives.

Why even talk about Bangalore lakes?

Historical Perspective:

Bengaluru has been well known as “City of Lakes” and there is a history behind its name. “Founder of Bangalore” Kempegowda, envisioned the city without water scarcity. He perceived that the nearest river “Cauvery” being 150 km from Bangalore, there would be difficulty in sustaining future water needs. Taking advantage of physical terrain, he adopted the method of impounding runoff water. The city became dotted with many lakes/tanks in and around. This ensured abundant water for drinking, land irrigation and secondary purposes.

As per records of 1960, 262 water bodies existed in Bangalore. Today, only 34 out of 81 are recognized as live lakes. These figures denote water bodies reduction by 35% and a decrease in water spread area by 8.6% over time.

Geographical perspective:

Lakes in Bengaluru are interlinked by the geophysical position of its 3 valleys; Hebbal Valley, Koramangala & Challaghatta Valley and Vrishabhavathi Valley. They form a hydrological connection through them. Each valley at the ridge top of valley, gives way to small streams hosting six series of lake groups. These lakes interlink to each other through a series of chains of lakes. This natural alignment gives cascading effect to the whole system.

The connectivity does not allow water out of the lake into the surrounding area.  Transfer of extra seasonal water to other lakes helps in water retainment.  This undulating terrain of Bengaluru lends itself to the natural development of lakes.

Ecological Perspective:

Wetlands and lakes constitute the most productive ecosystems for life sustenance. They provide natural habitat for varied organisms ,including seasonal stay of migratory birds. They assist in flood control, waste water treatment and arresting sediment load. Also aids in protein production of drinking water. Treats community’s wastewater in natural low cost way , while functioning as wild fauna. These ecosystems are valuable for education and scientific endeavors due to rich biodiversity. Thus support bioremediation and is known as ‘kidneys of the landscape’.

What is the current situation?

Apart from already extinct lakes, there is continuous degradation of existing lakes. Urban wetlands threatened by encroachment of drainage through land-filling and pollution. Thus Altering the hydrology  and over-exploiting the natural resources.

This has resulted in loss of biodiversity of the wetland and its goodness. Despite legislation bodies, uncoordinated urban development is causing loss of sensitive wetlands.

There are different para -state agencies who are custodians of the different lakes.

Some of the challenges of these agencies are

  1. Uncoordinated urban growth
  2. Decentralized administration
  3. Treating water as infinite resource
  4. Lack of studies on water crisis and pollution from history and other counterparts
  5. Sustaining an inflow of sewage and industrial effluents without any limits.

The problems of multi body interactions and coordination gave rise to a common Authority “KLCDA” in 2016.

What has our response been towards it?

Period of Desolation

As per Kßbler-Ross Grief model, terminally ill or people who lost their loved one, experience series of emotions. These emotions are of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depressing and acceptance. Any change goes through these 5 stages. Then the pattern of Kßbler-Ross change curve sets in. The depletion of lakes has created desolation and grief among concerned citizens .

These are few important reasons behind these dying lakes

  1. Drainage systems are unable to cope with increased volume of water and often blocked due to indiscriminate disposal of solid waste
  2. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  3. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  4. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  5. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  6. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  7. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  8. Demolished building debris, Excavated earth
  9. Dumping of untreated sewage through tankers
  10. Dumping of bio medical waste
  11. Dumping of municipal solid waste

After research on this topic, we faced real grief for our dying lakes. Like other concerned citizens, we are on the path of shock, denial leading to depression. We all have been oscillating between frustration and experimentation without any movement towards future.

Period of Hope

Our interest in the topic deepened as we dug deeper. There emerged many citizen heroes and influencers, who are trying to restore the lakes in their own way. These role models have been transforming the situation from despair to hope.

There have been a plethora of stories of such heroes and communities already active. They have formal agreement with the government and the respective custodians of lakes to restore the same in their areas.

Some of the well known examples are:

  • PNLIT- puttenahalli neighborhood improvement lake trust
  • MAPSAS to restore series of lakes in Sarjapur ORR /Belandur lakes
  • Jalposhan – community around jakkur lake
  • Chinnapanahalli lake trust – to restore chinnapanahalli lake

An incident that came to light in recent days was where an international company with an expertise on sewage treatment came into limelight. This company had plans to propose Rs 4000 crore quote for 1 lakh only to Bengaluru govt. This has jolted the attention of people at others achievements in similar areas.

Many such examples like deployment of floating islands at Puttenhalli lake to ensure natural ecosystem have caught on with the public. Whitefield rising tried to address the froth in Varthur lake. And more experiments and drives have been happening to clean lakes and bring back the lost glory.

We got inspired by such citizen teams and institution. Such examples created hope within us to do our bit as well. We felt a dire need to provide thought leadership how citizen teams can be important custodians for lake restorations.

How can we get back to Kempegowda’s vision

Some of the ideas which can create an impact in the lake restorations

  1. Demarcation of Lake Lands across the City.
  • Digitization of land records
  • Boundary of water bodies with the buffer zone
  • Fencing to be done for all lakes

2. A single authority for custodian of Water Resources in Bengaluru.

  • There are various government bodies responsible for taking care of Lakes, consolidate the efforts under a single authority.
  • Lake Protection and Management Authority should be developed with stakeholders such as local community body consisting of people with different professions, common lake referral body, should be in the decision making regarding the lake in that jurisdictions

3. Pollution control board

  • Handling, treatments and management of municipal solid waste as per MSW RULE 2000
  • Letting only treated sewage into the lake
  • Complete restriction on disposal of industrial effluents
  • Environment Cess

4. Developing the lakes as biodiversity parks instead of commercializing them for the benefit of a few.

  • Low cost way to treat community wastewater while functioning as wild fauna sanctuary with public access
  • Safeguarding biodiversity
  • Implementation of bioremediation method for detoxification of polluted water body
  • Aquatic macrophytes management need to be developed

5. Public and Corporate partnership

  • Information sites for each lake on their current custodian authority and community memberships to help restore lakes. Benefits to such volunteer work should be added in corporate appraisals and other rewards for motivations in local activities reward programs
  • Technology and app for the lake management
  • Public information systems
  • Education of such restoration in schools and colleges
  • Marketing campaigns and surveys to be conducted to generate awareness about the lake and its benefits, in that community
  • Home makers participation and awareness
  • Students from environmental sciences should be part of restoration projects in the city and they should be given incentives to get into higher education programmes based on community work( swach bharat )
  • Training to public /community based programs for restoring and empowering with information about the steps to be done
  • Environmental education to be mandatory in schools – need of the hour
  • Local labs to be set up by students without registration hassles to conduct free studies and publish

With a distinct variety of ideas, some trusts are formed for a few lakes. Also there are enough people movements driven by individuals or by groups are starting to show up for securing the Lakes.

The weapons of influence to bring in a major change

A story that truly stood out for us is of an influencer that took over the task of bringing back the dying Maragondanahalli lake to life all by himself. The transformation of this lake in the midst of Electronic City is a testimony to how even one man’s effort can turn around the look and feel of an entire neighborhood.

Mr. Venugopal Kumpalli used to regularly pass Bellandur Lake when it was at the peak of infamy, frothing and ablaze. It bothered him so much, for he didn’t want a similar fate for the Maragondanahalli lake in his neighbourhood, and decided to clean it himself. He cleaned the bushes for a stretch of 400 to 500 metres in three months, all by himself till other residents realised that they also should lend a helping hand.

Reciprocity

“Most of the work was done by me and then when people realised that there was a lake so close to their house and reviving it would do them a world of good, they started helping me,” he said.

When a person does a favor to another, the receiver feels obligated to return it as soon as possible. By obligating the recipient of an act to repayment in the future, the rule for reciprocation allows one individual to give something to another with confidence that it is not being lost. This sense of future obligation within the rule makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions and exchanges that are beneficial to the society. When people don’t reciprocate, they suffer serious social disapproval. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in describing the social pressures surrounding the gift-giving process in human culture, said, “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.” The obligation to receive is key to exploit the reciprocity rule. When the favor is unsolicited, the reciprocation goes up, due to three characteristics of reciprocation rule:

  • The rule is extremely powerful, often overwhelming the influence of other factors the normally determine compliance with a request
  • The rule applies even to uninvited first favors, thereby reducing our ability to decide whom we wish to owe and putting the choice in the hands of others.
  • Finally, the rule can spur unequal exchanges, to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, and individual will often agree to a request for a substantially larger favor than the one received.

With his act Venugopal was able to generate this sense of obligation and utilize it in his endeavours.

Commitment and Consistency:

Venugopal was, literally, a one-man army as he took on charge to clean the premises of the lake after he was permitted by the Hulimangala Panchayat. For a person who has always been into embedded systems and has spent most of his time learning technological stuff, learning the mechanism of the bush-cutter machine was not easy.

“I had to learn the gear ratio along with how the machine really works. I also learnt how to repair it if it breaks down,” said the 37-year-old.

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end”- Da Vinci

This quote could not hold more true as Venugopal was questioned time and again on his objectives, when be begun cleaning. Human beings want to appear consistent with their self-image (words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds) because personal consistency is highly valued by the society. Aside from its effect on public image, generally consistent conduct provides a beneficial. A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. The drive to be and look consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests. It is almost like a “mechanical consistency” or an automatic consistency.

The key point to be thinking about is the trigger here, that is, commitment. Kumpalli’s commitment to not give up and keep going about his work set the stage for the receiver’s (in this case, the nearby residents) automatic consistency with the giver’s commitment.

Social Proof

Now that the entire stretch has been cleaned, the residents felicitated him on Saturday and also went on a drive to plant saplings along the stretch that would indeed make the lake worth visiting.

“Ever since the lake side has been cleared, the residents have been gathering here to take a breath of fresh air and that is a victory for me,” Venugopal said.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much”

When one observes people performing actions, one tends to believe that it is the right thing to do. It helps people decide what to believe or how to act in a situation. The principle of social proof was exploited by Venugopal to simulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing that many other individuals are or have been complying with it. This principle is the most influential under two conditions: uncertainty and similarity. In this case, Venugopal was operating under a high sense of uncertainty right from the beginning of his exercise. Whereas, once he was able to make inroads into the consciousness of the residents, the public found a semblance of similarity in the actions and the resultant impact on the lake and the community at large.

Scarcity

“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost” – Gilbert K. Chesterton.

Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available. This holds true because

  • Things that are difficult to attain are typically more valuable, the availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut to its quality
  • As things become less accessible, we lose freedom. According to Psychological Reactance Theory, we respond to loss of of freedoms by wanting to have them more than before!

Scarcity rule is more likely to hold when scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce and when we compete with others for them.

While scarcity can be used as a weapon of influence, it has been a persuasive and harsh reality at Bengaluru. With diminishing lakes, they tended to become more valuable. In this case, the lake was a prominent item which added immense value to the entire ecosystem, yet multiple drops like the ones mentioned resulted in heightened competition for

  • Water level
  • Cleanliness of the surrounding area
  • Usability of water

Utilizing divergent influencing styles to bring a major changes

There are five different influencing styles. When one is operating unconsciously out of a preference (his/her own style) and not cognizant of the results expected, there is a tendency to intensify the preferred behavior; even when it’s not working!

A look at different influencing styles used by Venugopal helps in observing the theory that if only a preferred style is applied, then it has the potential to undermine the influence with varieties of people.

Rationalizing

Venugopal observed the ill maintained lake and the illegal elements frequenting the locality, thereby creating nuisance. His core point of view being that the place, if maintained well; would be surrounded by upright citizens rather than others. He spent his personal time and money to educate himself, on the vagaries of foliage maintenance and its impact on lakes. In fact he bought the necessary tools, learnt how to use them to clean bushes and cleaned the bushes of 400- 500 meters all by himself. He ended up learning on the job and building his own experience. The expertize he built over a period of time enabled him to leverage his experience while persuading others to join in.

Asserting

“People never question when someone throws a bottle in the lake, but when you go and clean the lake, you get asked plenty of questions. I had to take permission to clean and develop the lake,” Venugopal said.

As he begun his journey, there were questions raised from local authorities and he was assertive to bring about the change to the lake went ahead and took permissions from village panchayat to start his mission. He even received threat from local drunkard for pursuing the activity. He still went ahead undeterred in his mission by demonstrating his assertive influence style with local authorities and trouble makers. He challenged others ideas on the state of the lake with his persistent work and relentless attitude.

When his efforts started showing, people joined and realised they indeed had a beautiful lake in their backyard.

Negotiating

Venugopal when questioned about his intentions and pushback had to negotiate the terms with authorities and panchayat.

But when he realized what he started alone needs better and bigger attention from the people in the locality. He negotiated with the people around in a very distinct and innovative way.

Bridging

“I thought of involving children of the society to attract the attention of their parents. So I gave them colour sprinklers that are used during holi to colour the tree trunks and that drew attention of the parents too.” – said Venugopal.

When he started on the mission of cleaning this lake, he was a lone person doing it for about 3 months. Then when his attempts were showing results, he attracted the children and involving them to color the tree trunks, thus uniting and connecting with the their parents. He made a personal connect with the parents and demonstrated bridging style of influence to make the other people agree his mission and help him in this mission.

Inspiring

His Walk the talk style generated a momentum in the local neighbourhood to get him noticed. Slowly, he shared his sense of purpose with local people by sharing his sense of mission for the clean lake and its shared benefits to the local residents , thus inspiring them to join hands in his mission. Many residents came forward to help in cleaning and also planting more saplings.

Conclusion

Felicitation by the local community to the 37 year old determined man has been a mark of respect towards his commitment to the lake and the community at large. Venugopal’s success hinged on the cooperation of several people across the neighborhood, and other agencies as well, over whom he had no formal authority. In such circumstances, general phenomena of command and-control leadership—the “I leader, you follower” approach would not have taken him far. His thought leadership in leading a change initiative, utilizing the weapons of influence in parallel with a variety of influencing styles; helped him. It contributed in creating a substantial impact towards rejuvenating a lake that had been ignored and had been dying it’s natural death.

References

  1. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Status-of-Bangalore%27s-lakes.aspx
  2. http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/more-90-bangalores-lakes-are-polluted-or-encroached
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/varthur-lake-no-longer-the-economic-lifeline-it-once-was/article5090334.ece
  4. http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report-bangalore-s-lakes-to-get-rs200-crore-lifeline-1621246
  5. http://www.thebetterindia.com/87836/bellandur-lake-bengaluru-water-pollution-innovative-solutions/
  6. https://www.karnataka.com/bangalore/lakes-in-bangalore/
  7. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Lakes-of-Bangalore.aspx
  8. http://www.puttenahallilake.in/about-pnlit/our-activities
  9. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Corporate-pitch-to-save-city%E2%80%99s-lakes/article14422071.ece
  10. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2017/mar/22/how-one-man-cleaned-three-lakes-in-bengaluru-1584209.html
  11. http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2013-11-28-rejuvenating-the-garden-city.html
  12. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/foreign-firms-propose-to-rejuvenate-bellandur-lake/articleshow/57834406.cms
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/agara-lake-rejuvenation-lake-development-body-invites-tenders-for-the-4th-time/articleshow/56694113.cms
  14. http://www.bluewaterbio.com
  15. http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/cover-story/electronics-city-lakes-bengaluru-man-on-a-mission-despite-many-threats/articleshow/58319620.cms
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT_7F6_lkOI
  17. https://hbr.org/2008/02/exerting-influence-without-aut

 

Disclaimer – This article was originally composed and published on LinkedIn in collaboration with Amit Arora and Srivalli Maharaju.

Product Management and Marketing/Reading/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Holding true in the decade of AI

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

It is very rare that one comes across a book that not just tells a story, but is also a case study of case studies. The authors have done full justice by sharing real incidents of metamorphosis across divergent company sizes. 

The book talks about multiple scenarios where companies, running under disparate market and competitive situations respectively, have engendered a major transformation. The evolution lead to both success and failure, which have been garnished by the authors with deeper points of view. An aspect elaborated is of culture playing a crucial role in the change that any company undergoes. An excellent example presented is of Capital Holding, where executives were clear early on, that communicating and reiterating the changes would be the second step. The first step would be to understand the existing logical behavior that people adhered to within their business environment. This contributed to pacifying and empowering employees, who were thrust under unfamiliar circumstances, brought about by the new processes in place.

Another example that shined brightly was of Taco Bell. In today’s age, a plethora of startups tend to fail because of a lack of product/market fit. There could be multiple reasons for the debacle. Yet, one of those reasons is not focussing on the user. Taco Bell’s story in the early 1980’s rings true even today. They had been under significantly losses, when the top management decided to undertake a restructuring, with a vision to focus on what the customers wanted. This enabled them to understand where there had been unnecessary money burn, and helped make a successful turnaround.

While the lessons brought out may make a lot of common sense in today’s world (that has been eaten up by software and faster product life cycles), the book serves as a good reminder to product managers and digital leaders. It provides a no holds barred indication about information technology being a key ingredient for overhauling the functioning of companies. With technologies like machine learning knocking at the doors of a new and rapid digital transformation, multiple companies are still reluctant to let go of a culture that could imbibe and integrate the knowledge worker. While it may serve in the short run, it could turn out to be disastrous in the long run, which the book succinctly brings out.

Reengineering the corporation is a book that can help build a mindset which can navigate the emerging complexities of new dimensions in business.

Spinning Wheels (All articles)

Why I question HankyPanty’s astonishing views on Sonakshi!

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

The camera cuts across to focus on her, as she steps in, laced with large sunglasses. Mouthing some casual Punjabi words in the guise of a rap song, she begins gyrating to the tunes of the song (a tune that seems to have ‘pop’ped out of strange noises stringed together).

@sonakshisinha, the Bollywood actress who features in many such songs, recently defended herself about being multi talented. This was with respect to the rumor that had been flying around thick and fast, about her opening Justin Bieber’s India act, despite being an actress. In response, the comedian @hankypanty cheekily opined about one having to be talented in at least one thing, before claiming to be a multifaceted personality. I tend to disagree with him on Sonakshi being delusional about her talents. In my humble opinion, she actually belongs to the top of the food chain in one aspect.

Humans grow up with a set of biases, and acquire some of them over a period of time. Having moved across multiple cultures / cities / countries; there is one bias that I have been able to recognize from modern Punjabi songs. There is an unwitting portrayal of the protagonist (in this case, a female) with the following –

  • an expensive sports car (mostly a Lamborghini or Bugatti)
  • her hair swaying with her waist
  • swallowing enormous amounts of alcohol or dancing right next to a bar, and
  • she attempting to make moves better than imported dancers in the background.

This bias seems to have been repeatedly force fed through such videos. Although being a Punjabi myself, it has been a compelling yet complex case for me to fathom; about why familiar strokes are repeatedly painted, under the pretext of using different brushes!

Had it been some other celebrity actress, I would have gone so far as to think that she is diluting the value of her personal brand by frequently doing such videos instead of more films respectively. But in Sonakshi’s case, she actually fits the bill perfectly, when it comes to donning this character, within the mentioned context, and showcasing her acting skills in this one area.

Product Management and Marketing/Spinning Wheels (All articles)

The Agile Awards Fallacy

Posted by Nitish Gulati on

A few days back, the Head of Products of a firm alluded to the plan of a new approach in their company. It would involve the employment of a credit point based objective assessment system. This methodology would be used to build a score board for agile product development teams; where each team could track their credit points earned during a sprint and compete for a Sprint Champion Award.

As a product manager, the questions to strike my mind were –

  • what would be achieved?
  • why even do this, in the first place?

Why do this?

The management had been thinking along the lines of building this concept to nourish overall healthy competition between teams.

What would be achieved?

Having driven products in parallel with completely divergent objectives, users, etc; the program got me thinking about the implications on the teams. I turned to the basics, referring to the Agile manifesto. One of the twelve principles says –

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

While the intent of the program sounded good, the finer details spelled a recipe for disaster. The plan sounded unfair to the teams who worked hard day in and day out despite being bombarded with a constant barrage of changes. They might not be able to achieve the award simply because of an issue that they might not be directly responsible for. Hiring the right people and then trusting them to the job is of paramount importance. The program seemed to undermine this key tenet of a product company.

Another of the principles says –

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

From a delivery perspective, my thoughts centered around a dissimilar concept. Instead of rewarding teams on the basis of points scored, the champion award could be proffered to the team that ended up delivering something worthy of use. The value stream of the feature/product could be mapped towards either the client/customer/consumer. Walking down this path could definitely take time, in terms of measuring and justifying the champion, but the approach could be worth it’s grain of salt.

In conclusion, ideas like the above can tend to negate the purpose of the methodology. While agile as a framework has its benefits of allowing inflection points, which enable pivots for teams/products/companies; it needs to be used to provide a meaningful nudge to the teams, that strive hard to deliver true value.

Disclaimers

Essays = fn (Perspectives)No. of real experiences * No. of failures
where Perspectives = fn (biases, experiences, research, learnings)
All thoughts, opinions and words are individual and do not reflect my past or current employers