Showing posts from February, 2016

ASA model - How organisations become Homogeneous

In 1987, Psychologist Benjamin Schneider in an article titled "The People make the place" lays out a model called ASA.

Attraction - Selection - Attrition.

He writes about how organization cultures are defined by the people that work there and not by people at the top.

He asserts that “the people make the place” and that organizational culture, climate and practices are determined by the people in the organization.

Attraction: People are differentially attracted to careers as a function of their own interests and personality. They have stated that people search environments that fit by their personality and that people would like to obtain their outcomes by selecting a specific organization.

Selection: Organizations select people who they think are compatible for many different kinds of jobs. In that way organizations end up choosing people who share many common personal attributes, although they may not share common competencies.

Attrition: The opposite side of attraction. When p…

Disorder produces Creativity

In this study "Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices,Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity" 3 experiments were conducted  Experiment 1 showed that relative to participants in a disorderly room, participants in an orderly room chose healthier snacks and donated more money. Experiment 2 showed that participants in a disorderly room were more creative than participants in an orderly roomExperiment 3 showed a predicted crossover effect: Participants in an orderly room preferred an option labeled as classic, but those in a disorderly room preferred an option labeled as new
Experiment 2

Forty-eight American students participated in a two-condition (orderly vs. disorderly environment) design.
Participants completed tasks in a room arranged to be either orderly or disorderly. Participants imagined that a company wanted to create new uses for the ping-pong balls that it manufactured. They were instructed to list up to 10 new uses for ping-pong balls.

Was Russia's 2010 grain export ban responsible for the Egypt revolution?

In 2010, a severe drought and a spate of wildfires devastated crops in Russia resulting in an export ban by the Government. Russia is the biggest producer of wheat, barley and rye. Its biggest export markets are Egypt followed by Turkey, Syria, Iran and Libya.

This Reuters article "Global dependence on food imports leaves countries vulnerable" states that the 2010 ban may have been partially responsible for triggering social unrest and revolution in Egypt as more than 500,000 tonnes were not supplied and global prices rose damaging Egypt's state bread subsidy program. 

This article also talks about how rapid urbanisation is resulting in wiping out of farmlands which results in countries being dependent on grain imports.

HiPPO - Highest Paid Person's Opinion

HiPPO - Highest Paid Person's Opinion is an affliction that affects most organisations. Managers tend to throw the weight of their designations on their juniors by asserting their will even though the subordinates may have a better perspective. This results in a culture where the workforce gets into an execution mode throwing away their thinking hats.

A famous quote from Jim Barksdale, Netscape CEO is “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

The most famous case is of Ron Johnson who was Sr VP of Retail operations at Apple and was responsible for the success and launch of Apple Stores. 

He was appointed CEO of JC Penney in 2011. Buoyed by his success at Apple, he had complete disdain for the competence of JC Penney staff or their culture. He frequently mocked Senior executives in public, ridiculing them for their decisions. 

He relied on his gut rather than data and bull dozed his way through implementing his mandate. 

By early fall 2011, …

Why Work from office is better than work from home - a Google example

In their book "How Google Works" Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg speak about the Google work culture. Google encourages people to stay longer in office and keep them in cramped quarters. In order to do this they have free food, games on campus, bring your family to work and an open cluttered and cramped office where people are in close proximity to each other.

This constant interaction with people in the office brings out new ideas, breaks communication barriers and keeps the flow of information which is difficult in the case of a work from home environment.

A very good example cited in the book is that Google's Adsense product which developed into a multibillion dollar business was invented by a group of engineers from different teams who were playing pool in the office.

Read the book

Increased Yelp penetration decreases footfall in chains

In this research paper by Michael Luca, "Reviews, Reputation and Revenue: The case of"the author has a few interesting findings. 

The notable one being that in markets where Yelp penetration has increased, chain restaurants have declined in market share. This may indicate that with greater visibility of independent restaurant through reviews, customers are more likely to experiment and visit newer places unlike markets where reviews are unavailable. In a market without reviews people probably choose eating places on the basis of popularity or because of the sheer marketing muscle of the chains. 

The few other highlights as quoted by the author are

(1) a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue, 

(2) this effect is driven by independent restaurants; ratings do not affect restaurants with chain affiliation. 

(3) chain restaurants have declined in market share as Yelp penetration has increased. This suggests that online consumer reviews subst…

Ideal Team Size - Bezos' 2 pizza rule

Amazon's Jeff Bezos is of the view that too much Communication is really a bad thing. 

This WSJ article quotes an Amazon executive who says that during an offsite when some employees suggested that there should be more communication in the organisation, Bezos declared that "No, Communication is terrible"

Bezos preferred a decentralized company where independent thinking prevails over Grouthink.

In order to achieve this, he implemented a company wide policy, the concept of the "2 Pizza team".

Any team should be small enough that it could be fed with 2 pizzas.

Small teams generally tend to function like families, fighting, bickering but eventually getting the work done. Larger teams tend to be more political.

Source: Birth of a Salesman, WSJ article by Richard L. Brandt

The Impostor Syndrome - Women the major sufferers

The Impostor syndrome (also spelled imposter syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women, while others indicate that men and women are equally affected. src Wiki

In this article the author states that World Health Organization chief Dr. Margaret Chan thinks she’s a fraud and so did Sheryl Sandb…

Expensive = Good

In his book "Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion", the author Robert Cialdini cites 2 examples where change in pricing/positioning influenced the decision of the buyer.

In the first example a Jewelry shop owner was desperately trying to sell a piece of Turquoise set. It was the peak of the tourist season with the store full of customers but the set just wouldn't move despite the set being of good quality and reasonable price. She tried positioning it in the store and even getting the sales staff to push it but to no effect.

Finally, in desperation when she was leaving for an outstation trip, she left a note to her Sales Head instructing her to price it at 1/2. When she returned she was not surprised when she was told that the pieces were sold off however she was shocked when she learnt that her sales Head misread the 1/2 to 2 and had in fact doubled the price.

The author talks about preconceived notions that we have and one of them that we have is that Expensive = Good.

Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior

According to a study by Amos Schurr at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ilana Ritov at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Winning a competition makes people more likely to later behave dishonestly

Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers.

The following are the key highlights of the study

Winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task.  The effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance ie. a Lottery or in reference to a personal goal. A possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.The authors also cites the case of the recent Volkswagen scandal
The key highlight of the research is that 

Structured Debates to eliminate Groupthink

In this HBR article , the author talks about using Structured Debates as a technique to eliminate Groupthink.

One strategy that can significantly help teams avoid the dangers of Groupthink and successfully respond to emerging threats and opportunities is to create structured debates. This is done by randomly assigning different team members to argue opposing points of view. Structured debates can provide an opportunity to rigorously discuss and dispute interpretations of current trends, as well as future predictions, in a kind of organizational “safe mode” that enables teams to explore external risks without putting individual members of the team at internal risk.

Randomly assign different team members to argue opposing points of view. Then, at a team meeting , set up a debate with scenarios such as: “Our organization’s mobile app will be obsolete within two years. Here’s what will replace it, and here’s what we need to do now to survive and thrive.” Ask half the team to argue why the c…


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. src Wiki

The term was coined in 1952 by William Whyte, an American business writer who feared that corporate "groupthink" would suppress original thought and entrepreneurialism.

Nietzsche once said that Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.

In his book "Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions & fiascoes" author Irving Janis cites an example of a disaster that struck a small mining town of Pitcher, Oklahoma in 1950. 

A few days before disaster struck the local mining engineer had warned the inhabitants to…

Finland marketing itself through Emojis

During Christmas , Dec 2015, Finland came up with a Calendar with their own set of country themed Emojis. The Finland emojis illustrate Finnish emotions and strengths, as well as vices, and are part of the Christmas calendar published by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on ThisisFINLAND, the country brand website. The complete list of emojis are available here.

Some good ones are 

 THE ORIGINAL SANTA. The feeling of the never-ending wait for Santa Claus.

The real Santa comes from Finland. He has always lived in Korvatunturi, Lapland. Not the North Pole!

 HEADBANGER. The feeling of banging your head.

In Finland, heavy metal is mainstream. There are more heavy metal bands in Finland per capita than anywhere else.


Finns respect the privacy and personal space of others, and expect the same in return. We tend not to sit down next to anyone if another seat is available. When talking to a Finn, don’t stand too close – unless you want to see a Finn slowly edging backwards.

 The ‘sauna’ fe…

People prefer curved objects over sharp cornered ones

In Multiple research it has been found that people prefer curvy objects over sharp corners. The rationale is that objects with sharper corners may convey a sense of threat at non conscious level. 

In this research  people were exposed to 140 pairs of similar objects and the major difference between them was curvature of their contour. 

The participants liked the curved objects more than the sharply cornered ones.
Also research on car interior designs suggests that curved designs are preferred to straight designs

How short a line is more important than how fast a line is moving

Psychologists have found that we are more concerned with how long a queue is than how fast a line is moving. Given a choice, we would opt for a shorter line than a faster moving line even if the wait times are identical. 

That is why Disney hides the length of its lines by wrapping them around buildings and using long winding queues.

Eliminating baggage waiting time complaints at the airport by delaying arrival at the Baggage counter

Some time ago, Houston airport executives received a lot of complaints about long waiting time at baggage claims. They reacted by increasing the number of handlers which reduced the time but still the complaints persisted.

When they analysed it further they realized that it took 1 minute for passengers to travel from the plane to Baggage claim and 7 minutes to get their bags.

So the airport smartly reversed this by moving the arrival gates away from the baggage claim counter. This resulted in passengers walking for 7 minutes to the Baggage claim and 1 min to collect their bags. 

This resulted in almost zero complaints

src Nytimes story

Eliminating Elevator waiting time complaints with Mirrors

At a large Multistoreyed office building, people complained about long waiting times for the Elevator during peak hours. Increasing the number of elevators was not feasible so an alternative solution was needed. The management called a meeting of the staff to brainstorm. A young employee who was a graduate in psychology observed that people complained about waiting only a few minutes for the elevator. The main issue was boredom rather than elevator performance. 

He suggested installing Mirrors in the elevator boarding areas so that people could be busy looking at themselves or looking at others. This was promptly done at a very low cost.

The complaints stopped immediately.

Related reading
Defining the problem of Elevator wait times

Great HR policy - Netflix

Netflix's HR practice is so revolutionary that Sheryl Sandberg called it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley.

The company is treated like a Pro Sports team which means Stars are hired in every position

Key Highlights of the policy are

Face to Face 360 degree feedback.

People who are not good enough are given a very generous severance package
Attendance is not measured. No 9am to 5pm policy

No Clothing policy 

The company's Expense policy is 5 words - "Act in Netflix's best interest" 
eg: Travel as you would as if it were your own money. Employees booked their trips online on their own.
Vacation Policy - No policy, take a vacation whenever you wish to. If you work in accounting or finance, you shouldn’t plan to be out during the beginning or the end of a quarter, because those are busy times. If you want 30 days off in a row, you need to meet with HR. Senior leaders are urged to take vacations and to let people know about them.

Pay Top of …

Radical Candor - Being a Good Boss

Kim Scott, ex Googler and now a coach speaks about Guidance and in her view it is the single most important part of managing people. "Apart from giving Guidance it's also important to receive it. Guidance which is basically Praise and Criticism is feedback.

She speaks about a tool called Radical Candor.

To explain Radical Candor she speaks about an incident in her career. During her early days at Google, she had to make a presentation to the founders and the CEO. The presentation went off very well and Eric Schmidt was ecstatic. After the meeting was over, her boss Sheryl Sandberg walked her back to her office. She spoke about 4 or 5 points about the presentation that she liked and while she was speaking Kim felt that there was something amiss and a criticism was around the corner.

Finally Sandberg said "But, you said 'Um' a lot during your presentation". Kim was relieved and said "Ah! No big deal, I know I do that".

Sandberg: "Was it because you …

Design Thinking - Designing with the Disabled in mind

In this article from Fastcompany which talks about Microsoft's Radical type of design thinking where the core of the Designing philosophy was to think from a Disabled person's perspective.

It talks about how many great inventions happened thinking of the disabled in mind. Pellegrino Turri built the first typewriter, so that his blind lover, could write letters more legibly. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone to support his work helping the deaf. Vint Cerf programmed the first email protocols for the nascent Internet. Electronic messaging was the only seamless way to communicate with his wife, who was deaf, while he was at work.

Designing so that the disabled can have universal access—we can create products better for everyone else. 

One excellent example is that if you want to create a phone or an app that's easier to interact while driving. You could study people driving with their phones or you could study how Blind people interact with their phones. How do they k…

Priming - Beginning meetings with Positives rather than Negatives

In most meetings and discussions people expend all their energies focusing on Negatives rather than the positives which may be a minor problem in the overall context of things.

In this McKinsey article, the author talks about an example used by a manager where 95% of the project is going well with problems in 3% of the areas. She would insist all meetings start off by talking of all the positives of the project which would be result in relaxing and calming everyone before starting off on the 3%. This helped people think more clearly and calmly on the problems resulting in improved productivity.

This technique is also called Priming which is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus.

src Wiki.

Leadership by Extreme Listening

Often when employees have issues related to work, Leaders offer advice and suggestions. Employees get intimidated by the suggestion and often tend to go by the boss' recommendations. The pitfall of this is that it results in a culture where employees shy away from taking decisions and keep escalating it to their bosses.

In this McKinsey article, the author cites an example of a Leader who uses the principle of "Extreme Listening"  which results in creating a space for people to do their own best quality thinking. 

The Leader used this technique with an employee who came to her with a problem. She kept asking "what else?" and kept nudging him for a solution. Within 5 minutes he solved the problem himself. 

Very often Leaders try to prove their own competency in the eyes of their subordinate and feel that it is their duty to put in their 2 bits. But this may end up intimidating people instead of bringing out the best out of them.

Improving productivity by taking frequent breaks

In this McKinsey article the author tries to dispel the myth of Multitasking. She talks about how the brain is really not capable of doing multiple tasks but keeps switching between tasks. Too much of switching between email to reading to speaking on the phone results in stress and mistakes.

In an example, a founder of a company implemented the concept of taking frequent breaks. Some of the techniques that he implemented were

Schedule breaks between meetingsThe CEO would take 25-45 minutes break to go offline which would include being switched off from mail, messages, etcGo off for a walkcheering people who would leave office to go for a run.

Innovation - $500 dialysis machine

When 17 year old Anya Pogharian saw a $30,000 price tag for a conventional dialysis machine she was so shocked that she decided to make her own dialysis machine which she did at a cost of $500.

She volunteered in the dialysis unit at Montreal General Hospital. The time spent in that unit inspired her with the idea of trying to devise a dialysis machine affordable to patients in developing countries. She built a prototype which her school selected for entry into the Montreal Regional Expo-Science fair. This lead to Provincial science fair and finally the Canada Wide Science Fair where she was awarded bronze. 

Read more on her site Dialysave

Read her interview with Fortune here

Brands that centered their businesses on the ideal of improving people’s lives outperformed competitors

In his book "Grow", former P&G executive Jim Stengel talks about what differentiates a top performer from the rest of the pack. 

He researched more than 50,000 brands and concluded that brands that centered their businesses on the ideal of improving people’s lives resonate more with consumers—and outperform their category competitors.Top performing brands are built on ideals, higher-order purposes that transcend products and services.  Stengel concludes that the best-performing businesses are driven by brand ideals; that touch on five human values - “eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or impacting society” 
In the book he cites an example of how Pampers lost market share by focusing too narrowly on nappies’ dryness, before he redefined its brand ideal as “helping mothers care for their babies’ and toddlers’ healthy, happy development”.

He came up with the Stengel 50 and compared the growth with other brands.

He created a model called Bra…

Cultural Branding - Jack Daniels 1950s

This HBR article, cites Jack Daniels' marketing example. It says that most Iconic brands are cultural innovators. They leapfrog the conventions of their categories to champion new ideologies that are meaningful to customers.

Whiskies compete to be perceived as upscale and masculine. In the 1950s the major brands aligned themselves with the image of the sophisticated modern corporate executive. Jack Daniels was a small Whiskey producer and was being trounced by the National players. Jack Daniels was running ads showing corporate executives drinking their whiskey, however nothing worked.

The firm then pursued a cultural branding approach. The assumption was that because masculine ideals are shaped by society, they change over time. During the cold war, the corporate executive seemed too sedentary. The public was then drawn to the Old Wild West and the popularity of Wild west films also indicated towards this shift. Jack Daniels distillery was in rural Tennessee which in the American i…

When your employee asks for a raise

In this HBR article "How to respond when your employee asks for a raise" the author offers a few do's and don'ts on how to handle the situation.

First and foremost when the employee asks for a raise, don't react right away. The writer quotes from a book "How to be good at Performance Appraisals" by Grote.

He suggests a simple 3 word sentence "Tell me more" and take notes while the person tells you why she deserves the pay increase. This conveys that you are not dismissing the request and your act of taking note indicates your seriousness.

The article also has 2 case studies at the end.

Buy the book

How Employers use Big Data to predict Employee Health issues and pregnancies

This Fortune article talks about how many Employers are using third party firms to analyse Medical reimbursements, pharmacy claims and Search queries to predict whether an employee is trying to get pregnant, is pregnant or about to undergo any major surgery.

Castlight Health is an Enterprise Healthcare management platform that lets companies provide employees with personalized tools for healthcare benefits. According to the Fortune article, Castlight has the ability to gather employees' medical information and then predict who's at risk for being diagnosed with diabetes, who's considering pregnancy and who may need a back surgery.

Also read "Behavior targeting - How Target knew about customer's pregnancy before her own Father knew about it"

Priming - Changing Behavior

Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus. src Wiki. If a person reads a list of words including the word table, and is later asked to complete a word starting with tab, the probability that he or she will answer table is greater than if they are not primed.

women who are sometimes less confident in leadership roles can be primed to feel empowered and more confident when delivering a speech in public if they can see a photograph of a powerful political female figure like Angela Merkel or Hillary Clinton src Marketing Society

Female and male students were asked to give a public speech in a room with a poster of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture. Researchers recorded the length of the speech as an objective measure of empowered behavior in a stressful leadership task.

The gender leadership gap disappeared when women were exposed to a female role model: Female speakers who spoke in front of an…

When the Leader follows - Lessons from Sailboat racing

Winning the battle for market leadership is at the heart of competitive strategy. Overtaking the market leader has often been termed “dethronement” in prior literature and is considered a key managerial objective (Ferrier, Smith, & Grimm, 1999;Smith, Ferrier, & Grimm, 2001a).
Management scholars across different fields have shown that imitating leaders can be an effective way for followers to catch up with and surpass the leader (Posen, Lee, & Yi, 2013). However, less attention has been given to the possibility of leaders imitating competitor moves and to the performance consequences of such a strategy.
This is surprising, since leading firms do leverage imitation strategies in attempts to defend their leadership. For example, Apple, the market leader in smartphones for a number of years, imitated the moves made by Samsung in offering larger screens for iPhones two years after Apple’s chief executive officer (CEO) publicly stated that phones with larger screens would not sel…

Comparing Brand building with Abe Lincoln's words on character and reputation

In her article "5 reasons to bring Brand into the boardroom", Deloitte's principal Jennifer Baron quotes Abraham Lincoln's words: "Character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow". She states that Brand building is not about manipulating the shadow but it is about nurturing the health of the tree.

In her report she highlights how Brand is the most important intangible asset of a company and it is estimated at approximately 15% of the market cap of top tier organisations. Apple is at 26% and McDonalds' is 42%.

Read the report here

Jennifer's profiles on
Linkedin -

How P&G saved a product by understanding consumer habits and changed the communication

In the late 90s P&G created an odorless air freshener spray. They launched a campaign showing a woman complaining about bad odor and remarking to her friend that using Febreze will eliminate odor. The marketers anticipated great sales but the product didn't take off at all.

Old Febreze ad

To understand why it didn't sell, they conducted in depth consumer surveys to figure out what went wrong. However, they could not find an answer until they visited the house of one of the respondents. The woman was a cleanliness freak with 9 cats. However, when the P&G team walked into the house they were overpowered by the strong odor of the cats. When the owner was asked what she thought about the cat smell, she replied saying "Isn't it wonderful, they hardly smell at all!". 

The reason why Febreze wasnt selling was because people don't detect bad smells because they get used to it. 

P&G then employed a Harvard Business School professor to analyze what went wrong. …

Behavior targeting - How Target knew about customer's pregnancy before her own Father knew about it

Behavioral analysis is becoming a new tool in the hands of marketers. According to this NYT story, Target's statistician received a brief from the marketing department “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”. 

After analyzing the voluminous data that Target collects, the trends that he observed were that Pregnant ladies tended to

Buy large quantities of unscented lotionsIn the first 20 weeks, pregnant ladies loaded up on supplements like Calcium, Magnesium and ZincBuy Hand sanitizersBuy Extra bags of cotton balls
 He came up with a "Pregnancy Prediction score" which would analyze shopping data and predict when the shopper is due.  Target would then use this data to send out promotional material to the shoppers.

One day a man walked into Target and yelled angrily at the Manager. He was furious that Target was sending coupons of cribs, maternity clothing and baby clothes to his High school daughter. The mana…

How removing food vendors eliminated riots

In his book "The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business", the author Charles Duhigg cites a peculiar case of an army major posted in Iraq who eliminated riots by implementing a small policy change.
He analyzed video tapes of recent riots and identified a pattern. Violence was usually preceded by a crowd of Iraqis gathering in a plaza and growing in size over the course of several hours. Food vendors and spectators would show up. Then someone would throw a bottle and all hell would break loose.

The major met the mayor and requested him to keep the food vendors out of the plaza which he agreed to.

A few weeks later, a small crowd gathered near a Mosque, it grew in size through the afternoon. Some people started chanting slogans and by dusk people started getting restless and hungry. People looked for the kebab sellers normally filling the plaza but there were none to be found. The spectators left, the chanters became dispirited and everyone was gone by 8pm.

Buy …

Marketing Service - How this small restaurant delivered food in trains

Hotel Guptaji, a small restaurant in Palanpur India situated near a railway station started a food ordering service for trains passing by. Passengers traveling on this route would call the Hotel in advance to order lunch on dinner packets which would be promptly delivered to the passenger when the train stops at the station.The delivery boys keep the change ready and the entire transaction is completed within 30 seconds.  

The Hotel has even received a mention in Philip Kotler's Marketing Management , A South Asian Perspective ver 14e.

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