Trojan Horse 3.0

A Trojan horse – usually an eavesdropping kind of a computer virus, or as some of you may know the mythological wooden horse with hidden warriors inside used by the Greek to end the siege of city of Troy. I think the brilliant metaphor continues to evolve and its latest incarnation is social media! Specifically, the rampant mis-information on social media.

Don’t worry I am not asking you to give up your WhatsApp! However with great power comes great responsibility according to Voltaire or Spiderman 🙂 depending on whose philosophy you follow. I strongly believe that Social media is being used as a Trojan horse to manipulate and literally hack into the minds of billions of people. We need to do something about it.  Social media is probably as profound an invention as the internet itself. However, I believe it is a huge contributor to some crises of our times. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of world-wide-web, highlights these challenges in 3 parts. First, we have lost control of our personal data (huge topic, not for now). Second, it’s too easy to spread misinformation (a.k.a. Trojan horse 3.0) and third,  political advertising needs transparency and understanding. In this blog post, I share my perspectives.

  1. People are the biggest subjects of mass internet adoption & social media

The first apparent signs were seen in Arab spring. People used social to rally public opinion and an uprising. We began to see fundamental impact in Tunisia and other places. Fast forward to today – Brexit is a reality, despite our utter disbelief. Donald Trump got elected on a super controversial and rather ingenious campaign. Most people are still gobsmacked by these results.  These movements have been enabled by social media. Can anyone predict what are the long-term consequences of these events? One thing is certain, the reductionist narratives are succeeding far more than they used to. Savvy people who know how to manipulate social media are grabbing power. The future,   to say the least looks very much on an edge. How did we let this happen?

2. Majority of people do not verify facts, and are prone to cognitive bias. We need to acknowledge this, without an excuse

Most people look at a headline online and assume it must be true. People look at an internet meme negatively associating someone with a crime, and over time, they think it must be true. We are not the most logical creatures we think we are, we are prone to errors of judgement all the time. Information bias, confirmation bias, belief bias, ambiguity bias, conjunction fallacy and more are known pitfalls of our own cognition. These make us an easy prey when we are faced with complex social decision. We favour simple looking options and complete information over complex options and incomplete information – often ignoring truth or facts in the process. Ironically, real world is often full of complex options and incomplete information. Consider Brexit. People were given simple options (In or out), and total but apparently complete mis-information i.e. we go out of EU and we get back ÂŁ350m a week, we keep single market access, and we are in control of free movement – sounds awesome, right? well except it was not a fact. This red-bus photo or similar ones were distributed and seen millions of times, thanks to social media.

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Courtesy : mojoworking.eu
Reality however, turned out far more complex. We have heard ridiculous red, blue or white Brexit, hard-brexit, a “deep and special” partnership, god knows what this all means in future but people voted nonetheless!

 

 

 

3. There is no silver bullet to address the root cause, however we can make a good start with a transparency movement, and a sufficiently strong industry response to this phenomenon

With billions of people X times the content, it is literally impossible to police everything. I have seen algorithms and AI tasked with identifying “bad” stuff, but it is also well known that algorithms are probably even more biased than human beings and are prone to manipulation. Perhaps, a good start would be to start with a transparency movement – Google has made a good start by including a fact checker on some of its content.

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Courtesy : Thisinsider.com 
At least it will act as a warning sign to not take information at the face value – others should follow suit. In fact, I believe with Google and Facebook pretty much controlling most of the products in question, there should be a strong industry response translating in explicit features such as the one describe above, online ads reminding people, awareness campaigns and TV commercials.

 

Ultimately though, we do not believe everything a stranger tells us in the real world, we use discretion. Why should the virtual world be an exception?!

Thanks for reading, please let me know what you think in the comments section.

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Smartphone is now officially boring. Wait, that can be a good thing!!

The rumour is true. When was the last time you got really excited watching a smartphone launch? I bet it was a long time ago. Even the once highly sought after leaks are all too lacklustre these days. I love to be on Twitter during a major launch event and watch some really funny mock-tweets. It has got to a point where people don’t even know the difference. They just love Apple and buy! see one of the Jimmy Kimmel creations below!

In all seriousness though, we all know that smartphones have transformed the world. Growth in smartphone base, number of apps, and the amount time people spend on the apps is just staggering. This is true despite seeming lack of innovation. I highly recommend reading this blog post. It highlights that Apple & Google are now unassailable until the next S curve is here. AR, VR, AI, voice and chatbot may all turn out to be a thing, but that may not affect the S Curve of the Smartphone. In fact, as the unit growth in smartphone continues, Apple and Google will focus more on improving software, experience and the ecosystem. The massively increased share of revenue via app stores, is certainly a leading indicator of this shift. The reason I say the slow innovation is a good thing is because I believe it is an opportunity for Enterprises. They can focus now more than ever to catch-up on the incredibly challenging task of gaining, keeping and transacting with customers on Mobile. In fact, I strongly believe that many enterprises need to re-think their very perspectives on this.

We need to stop thinking of Mobile as “an interface” and think of it as “the interface” and invest sufficiently, where it matters

Imagine, a fictitious sandwich company that wants to leverage mobile. Sounds like a great idea. You can build an app to enable ordering, delivery, streamline payments, click-to-buy and a host of other things. Alright, assume you have a great app and a fantastic user experience but think about it for a second. How many of us will care to download the Sandwich company app, and even if we did, how many will use it or keep it without deleting? With almost zero footprint of user’s attention, it is incredibly hard.  Even more so for a sandwich company! Business, technology and operational complexity even in a sandwich business is significant, and it would be foolish to suggest that there is one strategy. However I believe, as enterprises strive to leverage mobile they need to consider the following 3 key dimensions. Attention, interaction and transaction. If we consider economics of an app based commerce, we can assume for most businesses it means lower costs, increased margins and potentially great 1-1 customer experience. This is very foundation of e-commerce, so nothing new here; but apart from having a great product, I believe we need to incentivise customers along these dimensions.

Attention

Unless you are Snapchat and you can make a rainbow jump out of people’s mouth, there needs to be londonist32_4a compelling incentive for customers to even notice your app. Some offers are simply not good enough – for instance “a chance to win X” or “a chance to win trip to Y”. We can do better! something tangible, of real benefit to the customer.
Best fulfilled in context and instantly. For the sandwich company for example – 40% off your first purchase, or ÂŁ5 credit on first usage. Nothing new here, most mobile native start-ups do this, so I wouldn’t dwell on it too much.

Interaction

How many times a day do you expect people to open the sandwich app? In order to continue to occupy people’s mind-space, we need to incentivise the customer regularly for visiting the app. I understand that this is easier said than done. Obviously some app categories don’t need this kind of interaction incentive. For instance, great content e.g. Netflix, ultimate productivity e.g. Dropbox, Social e.g. Instagram, to name a few.  So, interaction incentive is when you give something to the user for coming back to the app. Some games do this really well – every time you stop playing but come back to the game after some time, you get free virtual coins. 7bbe7d884987539834f8d9780cc1a3dd_send-me-a-candy-crush-meme-candy-crush_510-522Depending on the nature of business you can decide the frequency of your incentive. For instance, the sandwich company could do one of their best deals exclusively for app users every 2 weeks. Obviously all needs to make commercial sense – generally though customer retention cost is less than acquisition cost and there can always be limited number of deals. Oh and there is word-of-mouth! invite a friend and both get credit. Remember Uber? Virulence is an important feature that needs to be built in to the app. It is expensive though! You could build social invites too. We all hate random invitations on Facebook, something to keep in mind!

 

Transaction

This is the holy grail. Assume that customer downloads the app, interacts with it regularly to redeem your generous incentives. How do you ensure they transact? Well firstly, the sandwich better be good, the ordering, payment, click-to-collect all needs to “just work”. That often is not enough, we still need to incentivise. FreeCharge-Mobile-AppYou might think we’d be out of business after giving so much away in offers. However, with added volume of transactions, you will realise that it almost always makes commercial sense. Otherwise Starbucks wouldn’t do it – collecting stars on the app whilst having the ability to cut the queue is simply fantastic. So, how about an app exclusive loyalty program for our sandwich company? There can be a mix of options – coupons, points, virtual currency, or simply cashback. It is needless to say that apart from offering direct incentives, your app can just create magic through experience that cuts the time and effort it takes for customers to transact or reduces anxiety associated with the transaction. Invisible payments (Uber), cutting the queue (Starbucks), live waiting times (Citymapper), real time tracking (Dominos) are all fantastic examples.

To sum up, I believe that whilst its not necessary to pester the users with deals & offers enterprises must make explicit effort to address the attention, interaction and transaction barriers when they think about their adoption and engagement strategy. While we hit the maturity curve of smartphone product lifecycle, it is now more important than ever for enterprises to catch-up.

A small disclaimer – I realise any generalising is dangerous & this may or may not apply for everyone. Thanks a lot for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section.

 

New beginnings

The force of change I have experienced over last few months is simply incredible. 

“You are crazy, Abhi!”, Andy said. Care to tell me why? I quipped. 

My ex-boss & a great mentor Andy (your identity is safe Andy!) was merely trying to tell me that what I was about to go through are usually the 3 most stressful events in one’s life. Of course they were.

  • Change of career (and an industry) – check
  • Go through having a baby – check
  • Move into a new home – had plans but thought better of it 😄

Andy was right, it has been stressful, but at the same time most wonderful and memorable few months. On November 25’th, Deepika and I were blessed with a baby boy. Anik our bundle of joy is the best thing to have happened to us. Although for now, he loves to party all night 🙂 talk about following his Dad’s footsteps!

 

I have been told its normal and like all other things it shall pass. In return, Deepika and I have high expectations of him. 

We would like Anik to invent the “warp drive”!! you know, humanity’s future is in the stars 😃

On the career front, I am very grateful to have had a long and successful career with Barclays. Over the years I made a few significant career moves. I had a chance to build some wonderful things for our customers,  as well as contribute to some really cutting edge innovations. I worked with many wonderful people and have grown tremendously as a professional. Moreover, I have been able to count on a few amazing mentors for a word of advise at every crucial step.  I have also made a few friends for life and have learnt many valuable lessons along the way. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back all over those years, I  feel a sense of pride and nostalgia. Barclays will always be near and dear to me.

My first 4 months with Vodafone have been amazing. 

An iconic brand sure, but what I didn’t appreciate was its amazing history with over 460+ million customers worldwide. The global scale is just mind-boggling. 

Also, with an ever increasing smartphone base, our mobile app is truly transforming how customers interact with Vodafone. At the outset, it feels like an exciting race between customer expectations and transformation of experience. In last 3 months I visited some Vodafone markets, and plan to visit more this year – very excited by how much opportunity the scale presents. Every country offers a case study for growth and a challenge in commercial strategy. In a nutshell, super interesting stuff!! Andressen Horowitz has a famous quote, “Software is eating the world” and now that has turned into “Mobile is eating the world”. With overwhelming evidence that it is true, obviously I am finding it super interesting being in the “kitchen” here at Vodafone, metaphorically speaking, of-course.

Until next post, I wish you all a wonderful 2017!

Curious case of chasing the sunshine, yet missing the rainbow…

Its been a good summer, wouldn’t you agree? Its funny how I have become obsessed about weather since I moved to London. I have always been amused by the amount of attention weather gets in casual conversations here, but I get it now. In fact, I enjoy moaning about grey days (a LOT) and raving about sunshine (about twice a year :)). Given enough time, I may even flock to the parks all packed with a picnic lunch, and braving the underground with my sunglasses on.

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A Summer Day in London Parks

 

There are scientifically proven links between mood and weather. According to a study, about 27% of people hate summer!? It causes them irritability and general unhappiness. Wait, what? apparently they truly exist. BBC too, recently reported a project trying to measure link between pain and weather. In a nutshell, it is more than conceivable that weather does affect our thoughts. In fact, in some crazy unsubstantiated theories it is even believed that thoughts affect weather. I want to draw your attention to a certain dichotomy of human desires that is represented perfectly in how we perceive weather. On a cold, wet and grey afternoon, we long to see some sunshine whereas on a hot dry and bright summer day, we secretly desire a cold breeze of fresh air. To some extent, it is human nature – we cannot help it!

Undoubtedly, there is a weather system at our workplaces too – right? While leaders do not have the ability to control the weather system outside in the park, they can definitely influence the one at work. A team or an organisation goes through a rough patch every now and then. This winter (sometimes long) can be taxing for your teams. As a leader, you need to provide your team with the warmth of positive affirmation of their accomplishments and you need to provide them with the shelter and safety of your trust. If a leader is trusted, people are rarely insecure with the rough weather. There are times when a team or an organisation is going through a growth spurt, or a “spring”. You must invest more in the team during this period – not only hiring but developing people, skills and their careers. If your best talent feels appreciated, you can be assured of good returns during the “fall”. When success comes, it may feel like “summer” and its time for leaders to reflect on what worked best, and what did not. Leaders should think about how to incorporate this into their plans for next set of seasons. In summary, a great leader can actually be a weather master, allowing positive impact of all situations. John Ruskin puts it beautifully –

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin

In my experience, we chase sunshine all our lives but we often forget how beautiful a rainbow is. With the right attitude, we can create the perfect golden sunshine on one side and refreshing rain playing like a joyful child on the other, perhaps that is where amazing colours of life come from?

rainbow-436171_1920

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Do we need a JFK moment in our Space exploration?

May 25th 1961 or precisely 55 years, 3 months and 7 days ago;  in a historic address to the US Congress, President John F Kennedy set an unprecedented goal for a nation. A goal that would challenge, push to the limit and test the very spirit and ambition of mankind. An ambition that not only made the manned lunar missions possible but also unleashed a number of tech advances taken for granted today.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project…will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important…and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish..”

– US President John F Kennedy

Laptops, virtual reality, 3D graphics, modern solar cells, global positioning system – all were a result of this space race. Many decades later, humanity has made great progress in space. However as a space faring civilisation our accomplishments are relatively modest. Modern day visionaries like Elon Musk are working on grand ambitions to get colonies on Mars. Even though the path to get there is laced with failure.  Only today I learnt of Space X’s Falcon vehicle being destroyed, incinerating a new Facebook built satellite with it.

I think funding is a fundamental issue. No country is spending a huge amount of money on Space exploration and with the exception of SpaceX the private space exploration is still very nascent.

Screenshot_2016_09_01_23_57_14@2x
National Space Budgets
I wonder why. See the chart here from Wiki. It is astounding – even NASA, the largest in the pack spends less than 1% of US GDP on space. In comparison, venture capital backed companies received a total of $68 Billion in funding in 2015 in the US alone and… wait for it… the US military defence budget was a whopping $600 Billion in 2015!! That is inconceivable to me. I guess in today’s capitalist world, space exploration does not yield a sufficient ROI. What about second and third order ROI of a much aggressive space exploration policy? JFK had the vision to see these, why don’t we?

I believe as a civilisation we need to set ourselves much bolder goals, and a much stronger vision. We should colonise planets, send out manned deep space missions and invest heavily in space propulsion technology. I know there are many problems on earth, almost too many. It is hard to divert precious time and resources to something that may not have immediate value or applications. However time is witness – inward looking civilisations – however advanced for their time hdbee5e8b800eff204250eb94e59e3aa3ave perished in history books. We have got to be different, we have got to work together and inspire the new generation of scientists, engineers and young citizens. I do believe though that in order for this status-quo to change, we probably need a turning point – it may not be a far fetched imagination that our civilisation will not set our differences aside unless we face a more fundamental reality of our existence in the Universe.

 Lets hope that reality unites us sooner than later. Thanks for reading, and in words of Spock – 

“Live Long… and Prosper”
🙂

 

 

3 Reasons leaders should re-assess diversity within their teams

Have you ever heard of mildly racist mondays? Please do not be concerned 🙂 seriously! a hilarious colleague of mine invented this ‘comic theme’ a few months ago.  You basically gather people of at least 3 different nationalities, pick a topic and start debating. Add a dash of millennials to the group and you have a recipe for some genuine fun! The topics often range from the famous Indian head-shakes, to the queue conundrum with the British. The banter is almost therapeutic and very good for team-bonding. In a way, we celebrate and appreciate diversity . As a result, we work better together, trust each other more and are more tolerant towards each others way of thinking. Hey and Mondays do not need a reason to be jazzed-up, right?

Anyway, speaking of diversity, 3 key themes stand out –

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1. Diversity is a multi-dimensional concept

Diversity is not only about nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientations. Diversity can be much more than that. A millennial that does not believe in hierarchy is diversity. An individual that requires as a minimum a strong sense of purpose, is part of diversity too. Moreover in product teams, you may have a designer, an engineer and a marketing person that think very differently. This diversity of thoughts, beliefs, and opinions whilst not legally protected, needs some serious consideration.

2. Culture trumps process – every time!

I believe culture and diversity are joined at the hip. In order to create or maintain great culture, you need to re-assess the importance you give to diversity. Brian Chesky (CEO, AirBnB) puts in aptly in his article – “The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products“. The article also implies that strong culture removes the need for arduous processes. It is like doing mental math vs. doing calculations on paper. Mental math is great culture whereas calculations on paper are like processeses – they may achieve the same goal but processes are much slower (in most cases). Great culture means that you can trust people to make the right decisions!

3. Diversity helps avoid cognitive biases thereby improving decision-making

Recently Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his interview to Sam Altman of Y-Combinator talked about how Facebook places its bets on the future. He highlighted the strong role culture plays in that decision-making, whether it be testing a new ad-format or choosing the next big thing or people to invest-in. Mark’s commitment to diversity is visible from the quote below (17:00 in the clip)

“We invest in people who we think are really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before – like the CFO who hasn’t taken a company public before – we simply are committed to invest in talented people”

Having the diversity on the team also massively helps in putting checks and balances on the decision-making. This Deloitte University Press article sums it up nicely. It says, diversity of thought leads to the following –

  • Avoiding group-think or expert opinion errors – as you benefit from having all the diverse perspectives on the same problem or solutions
  • Increasing scale of insight – this is something that I have personally experienced in my career .. quality and scale of ideas or ingenious solutions is infinitely better in a diverse team
  • Helps organisations identify the right talent to solve their most pressing issues – imagine having an option to use a broad spectrum anti-biotic as opposed to a single specialised anti-biotic that may or may not work in a bacterial infection (Sorry – for that example ;))

All these can be achieved through – hiring, managing and promoting differently. Please read the dupress article above for more insight.

Okay! now that I have given you 3 reasons to re-assess your understanding of diversity – if you want to learn more about the famous Indian head-shake, please DO NOT ask me. I really don’t know 🙂

Premium brands & great customer service – an unending cause and effect cycle?

An impromptu trip to Vienna, Austria began with a – “Thank god they haven’t banned Uber there”. We were traveling Uber style and for the most part it worked like it always does; magic. One of the attractions was a vertical strip of island located on the Danube river – for those familiar with Vienna. We pushed the button for an Uber and a Mercedes Benz E-class pulled over. A suave driver with an exotic accent welcomed us in English, and we were on our way. The GPS was whispering away quietly in German. 20 minutes into the ride we discovered that we were going around in circles for a while. After a discussion with the driver, we decided to drop the plan and go somewhere else. Who’s fault was it? Uber’s? Unsure! Nonetheless, I felt the 26 EUR charge was not justified for the trip. I contacted Uber via the app,  service rep promptly responded with a 20 EUR rebate saying you only pay for “most optimal route”. All done under 20 minutes. No annoying phone line or “Speech recognition”.
Over the years, I remember dealing with Apple Customer Service – 3 times to repair issues with Macbook, 2 times to repair iPhone and once to complain about slightly squeaky headphones. Result? Every time Apple delivered – replacement headphones, replacement iPhones, and wait for it, replacement Macbook motherboards! Good quality? probably not; customer service? Top notch 100%.
I kept wondering why that is, and one of the hypothesis came to mind that it may have to do something with the economics of their business models. We all know Uber charges about 30% commission on the rides, makes them cash rich – I mean its the dream business model, right? We also know Apple probably makes better margin than any other company on their products. Cash rich too. There are lots of reasons why the premium brands are premium however, that would be a much wider topic! So, premium brands have much better margins and therefore can invest in better customer service, thereby increasing the “feel good” factor. This feels like a virtuous circle. What comes first? A premium brand or great customer service? I don’t think there is an easy answer. I think the premium brands such as Uber realise that they want to differentiate not only on the basis of product but also on the basis of customer service, so the margins are alway higher. Perhaps the competition can undercut them on price, but they will find it hard to undercut them on the service with lower margins. For the record, this is a completely untested, un-researched hypothesis. At least at the outset it makes sense though! Tell me what you think in the comments.
As we reach Prague on the train, it reminds me that I don’t have any Koruna’s! Damn… open that Uber app to the Hotel.