To dethrone a good king, you need to change the game

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I had written about it on my blog a long time ago. The news of Google and Barnes & Noble tie-up to take on Amazon is making me write it again. This move is a non-starter. Google has the cash to keep such non-starters running for a long time. But it won’t do anything for Barnes and Noble. And it will pose no credible threat to Amazon.

To understand why let’s start by talking of Google’s core business – Search. Most website owners are unhappy with Google. Why? Because Google keeps changing algorithms and “punishes” websites in search results. They don’t make the “rules of the game” known. They are “undemocratic” and “opaque”.

Too bad! Let’s come up with a search engine that will be nice to webmasters. Brilliant idea, right? Except, it won’t work. Consumers will continue searching on Google because Google works for them. Webmasters’ troubles do not concern them.

Similarly, the frustration of “industry” folks – the publishers, the booksellers, the distributors, and others looking to subdue Amazon – won’t translate into an opportunity to build an Amazon competitor. The customer mostly does not care about these frustrations.  By customer, I don’t mean the loud voices on industry blogs, but the real customer who reflects in those sales numbers which Amazon has aplenty. Amazon is a business entity shrewd enough to know when a customer cares and will cater to his needs. They are not idiots or egomaniacs; they will do whatever it takes to advance their business interests.

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Amazon’s Monopoly? Publishers’ Doing.

Originally posted on InstaScribe:

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Publishers,

I abso-bloody-lutely hate monopolies.

Have a look at the term monopoly on Wikipedia. You will read how monopolies have screwed humanity through the ages! Take the salt monopoly in China that dates back to the year 758. Okay, okay, if that’s too prehistoric for you, take the company store that gives credit, or sells food close by. Aren’t their prices always higher than normal shops? And the selection limited?

Somewhere during the late 1800’s Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Things have not changed. Monopolies have power and everyone dealing with them gets screwed.

Don’t worry. I am not going to make a political or social rant about how powerful governments are forcing smaller, weaker and hungrier countries to dance to their tune. I’m aiming my bullets at Amazon and its near…

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Must we spit it out immediately?

Our instincts are not always wise. Our first reactions to situations, news, people are often hasty and irrational; or insufficiently thought through, if not outright wrong. But we are not slaves to our first reactions. We have learned better than to react hastily. We have received pearls of wisdom from our elders, teachers and mentors like “think before you speak”, “never reply when you are angry” and so on.

But it seems we have received advices in certain context and forget to take them into account in others. Most notably on online social network. Hardly has a news been released, the facebooks and twitters of the world are filled with reactions. Some people may have the ability to be either sensible, or funny in their immediate responses, most of us don’t. Most people don’t wait to consider if their immediate emotion can be defended once it is out on a public platform (even if your posts are limited to friends only, it is public enough). To top that we are slaves of some psychological traps. Till we keep our ideas to ourselves, our chances of changing them in view of further thinking, or in light of new facts are high. Once we have publicly stated them, we become stubborn. We refuse to look at alternatives that we are perfectly capable of understanding otherwise.

The result? The debates on social media platforms are more stubborn and more futile than they need to be.

All of us are not in the business of “breaking news”. How about we apply the advice our parents gave for socializing well to social media as well – that is we take some time, and think before we speak (type)? We will do the world a favour, and ourselves too – by not becoming stubborn about what is not our best idea.

Choices, choices

Getting new glasses is an exercise in agony. Frames are bad enough. Full-frame, half-frame, rimless. This body, that body. This colour, that colour. This fashion, that fashion.

And then the lenses. Everytime I need a new one made, the number of choices have gone up. And the comparison chart looks worse that Zendesk’s pricing page with the entire feature list. And the sales person is trying to convince you of something you know he has no idea about. He is trying to spout what he mugged up from the latest brochure and is doing a bad job of it. Can’t differentiate one feature from the other, or one brand from the other. Got confused about whether one kind of glasses provide 25 times more protection than the other, or 25%.

And that’s the case with everything you have to buy. Washing machine? Choose between 25-minute quick wash, or 30-minute quick wash. One has a way to wash woolen, one has a way to wash silk. Microwave? Between 104 Indian-cook menu at 28-litre and 98 Indian-cook menu at 25-litre. Mattress? Foam, coir, cotton, some-unpronunciable-material? 1-inch, 2-inch, 2.96-inch, 5.349595 inch? Density? Mixture? Disposability? Resale value? Want to buy a pair of shoes? The good, old shoes, we have been wearing for centuries. What do you want it for? For exercise? Do you want to run? To jog? To train for a marathon? To walk? There is a shoe for every need. And one to bang your head with.

There is no dearth of advice too. Apparently 1.414 and 1.678 inch make a difference.

Wish I could go back to “branded” vs. “local” world of choices.

An economy of abundance someone said, is it? And yet – the fact is that most people don’t have anything in abundance. Large part of population still needs a shoe. Any bloody kind of shoe to save them from heated concrete or cold marble as they toil through the day.

Need a new philosophy for our Economics?

Building a Humanistic Organization is Like Falling in Love

OfficeGot into a totally unexpected discussion about humanistic vs. mechanistic organization-building. There wasn’t much of the debate as both parties in the discussion were in favor of humanistic organization. To clarify the sense in which these words are being used, a humanistic organization sees employees as people who are intrinsically motivated, and whom you try to inspire instead of manage. Mechanistic organization is the one that is run by command and control mechanism. It is the one which tries to build rules, processes and relies on external deadlines to get people to work.

What I realized after the discussion was this. People who intrinsically believe that humanistic organizations work better, need no proof of it. But those who do not have this intrinsic belief find it very difficult to internalize the idea. In a motivational lecture, you might still be able to sell it to them, but when it comes to the day-to-day decision-making, it is almost impossible for them to move away from the mechanistic view of the world. Why would people really work if somebody is not after their life to make them work? Won’t they rather have fun? If there is a free-for-all, won’t everybody start hogging? If we don’t track holidays and absences, won’t people miss office all the time? And the problem is that all too often they will find a reason to doubt the lofty, humanistic view, because somebody or the other would fall out of line. They won’t meet a deadline, or they would not be in the office by a certain time.

So, if you are one such individual, are you at fault in doubting people’s intrinsic honesty, willingness to work or their motivation?

The only parallel I can think of is falling in love. You risk a lot when you fall in love. Risk of rejection, risk of falling for the wrong person, risk of offending others and what not. And yet, many people will agree that you might be losing on one of the most beautiful and enlightening experience of the life, if you decide to stay away from love. An experience that can help you grow and be happy like none other can.

It is something similar when you try to build a humanistic organization. People fall in different categories. There would be those who simply won’t work in a mechanistic organization. There was those would adopt (consciously or subconsciously) to the type of organization they are placed in. Then there is a small percentage of those who just won’t do the right thing in a humanistic organization. And you might end up hiring some of these bad apples, because really, no interviewing or hiring technique is fool-proof enough even if you are very clear in your head about the kind of people you want to hire.

So, yes, a humanistic organization would by no means be a tolerate-everyone organization. Those who can’t work responsibly would have to be shown the door. But what it will have to do is give everyone space and time to adjust. The founders and early employees have to set the bars high. By their actions, and not by setting the quotas, deadlines or rules. You would be taken for a ride once in a while, you would have disappointments, but I would say that all of that is worth it. Because if you do manage to successfully create an organization that depends on and channels people’s intrinsic motivation, you would save a lot in managerial activities, time and cost. Not to forget, you will build a workplace that will be pleasant place to be at! For you, and for everyone else.

To paraphrase a quote often used for love -

Better to have tried building a humanistic organization and risk being taken for a ride than to have stuck to a mechanistic, contractual one.