Sunday, 15 April 2018

A right brain revolution is just round the corner

Planning a family vacation to Manali? Simply ask your Amazon Echo device for a weather update. Bingo! A human voice (named Alexa) promptly responds with 100% accuracy. The same happens with your iPhone’s Siri or Google’s Assistant. 

 What you just experienced here, is an advanced technology called Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive computing - a technology, which according to many, will gradually make humans redundant.

Oh! So what happens to our future generations, if robots and computers take away all their jobs? Something to worry? I would rather say, relax!

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For starters, the human brain is divided into two hemispheres. Each of these hemispheres have a distinct role to perform. While the right brain gives the creative edge, the left brain helps a person to be analytical.

For decades, research scholars have pondered over how, for an individual, one part of the brain could dominate the other. This is how we have ended up dividing individuals primarily into two categories - the right brain thinkers and the left brain thinkers. While the former type include those who are more intuitive, creative and look at situations more subjectively, the second type are more logical, depend more on numerical analysis and look at problems objectively. Hence, people who are good at arts and crafts, work in advertising and other creative fields are generally categorised as right brain thinkers, while those who depend on logical analysis – software engineers, lawyers, chartered accountants – are categorised as left brain thinkers.

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Now, lets take a close look at what’s happening around the world in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). As is reported, advanced robots and machines (read: computers) are being made more and more intelligent. This has rang the alarm bell all over, with people speculating how machines are going to take over human jobs. For instance, AI chatbots are being more frequently used as the first level of communication online (your bank website will certainly have one or any other website requiring customer interface, has one). Similary, in healthcare, various pathological reports and radiological analysis are being managed by machines with much more accuracy, and definitely faster. In stock broking, algorithm based trading is replacing human interface very fast. In legal profession too, artificial intelligence is causing a lot of disruption, leading to furore among the legal fraternity. 

On a close look, what we observe is that AI is being more and more put into use in areas where the task is repetitive or tasks where computer-based logic is required, following a pattern or sequence of steps. This not only helps in making these tasks or jobs more efficiently managed, but also increases the overall productivity. Ofcourse, on the face of it, it might seem a sizeable number of jobs would get replaced, but this would also open opportunities for individuals to get up-skilled and take up tasks of higher degree involving digital capabilities. So eventually, in the long run, many of the left brain tasks – basic computing, accounting, payroll management, ticketing and travel desk, meeting scheduling - would get replaced by AI and cognitive computing.
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The future of jobs for a right brain thinker is brighter!
 On the contrary, no significant breakthrough in AI has yet been observed that could replace tasks involving human emotions, creativity and leadership. These are the right brain tasks. Experts around the world have been going gung ho with the fact that there will be a rise in demand for creatives – and over the years, they are the ones who would rule the job ecosystem. So, if you have a knack for design and art, or you enjoy lying on your back watching the stars, or love to philosophise or appreciate the finer aspects of life – you could surely excel much more than an engineer or an accountant in the coming decades.

There is a right brain revolution just round the corner.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

True Lies: Competition force brands to buy ‘Best Brand’ tags & trophies

Consumer brands all over the country (and the world), are leaving no stone unturned to shout on top of their voice and proclaim themselves as the best or the most powerful or the most trusted in their product category. Be it one of those quarter page inserts or a double page jacket ad, or some gigantic billboard at one of the most ‘strategic’ intersections in the city or your daily dose of digital marketing pokes - brands are there in almost every nook and corner of our lives – pleading you to take a note.

And mind you, it is never a lazy-stroll-on-the-beach for the brand manager. Every day, every moment, the brand manager is put to task by the Boss for his lack of vision - "how the hell could you miss out on 'this' strategy that our closest competition managed to execute so effortlessly?" It is as if the law of the jungle out there - one wrong step, and the brand could be effortlessly devoured by the competition (or better to say, rejected by the consumer).
So what does the brand manager do? He has to constantly be on the look-out for something new, something innovative, something that the company has never invested in before to drive brand marketing efforts. Bingo! This is where enters the various brand research agencies. Of course, there are agencies with a credible past who offer different research methods to investigate and identify the weak points and offer consultations to bring about a change in the way the brands need to talk to their consumers. But they are all not the same.

Over the past decade or so, a ‘new breed’ of research agencies have mushroomed all over the country. These firms are not the typical research agencies - although they find it 'credible' enough to be categorised as one. Their claim to fame is a mix of 'three-dimensional' offering - brand research, a coffee table publication with ‘customised’ brand content and a 'gala' event with awards and recognitions. These agencies brought in a whiff of fresh air for the brand manager, opening up choices galore – “whatever and however you want your brand to be categorised as – the best, the most powerful, the most trusted – we have an award to meet all your needs.” The brand manager is certainly spoilt for choice.

Globally, Superbrands was the first such agency to initiate an effort to recognise select brands based on certain parameters. Starting as a radio show on GLR (now BBC Radio London), the Superbrand organisation has come a long way over the past 22 years, operating out of 55 different countries and publishing different titles, each honouring a different category of brand development. The organisation has been quite active in India for over a decade now, offering the Superbrands trademark to be used by selected brands, in different brand communication. This thereby helped many brands leverage the credibility of the Superbrand trademark and create an impact in the minds of the target audience.

Gradually, over the past 5-7 years, a number of me-too ‘brand research’ agencies soon realised the market potential of such brand assessment services and decided to jump on the bandwagon. It was too lucrative a business proposition with a lot of ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ brands willing to rub shoulders with the real big brothers in the industry. These agencies offer lucrative ‘packages’ for brand managers to select from, with little or no viable research process in place.

The model is very simple – brands need to pay up a price, in lieu of which they get an award, a certificate and a customised content in the brand publication (which is often given away as a coffee-table book) – thereby nullifying all claims such agencies make, of the ‘most comprehensive and credible’ research driven brand listing. Yes, they do add in some top-of-the-mind brands in their listing (all of who however decline to make any payment of sorts) to ensure that their claim of a credible ‘top 100’ list is maintained.

At times, to assert their claim that the research process is credible, such agencies rope in one of the ‘globally acclaimed’ audit firms to validate their listing. The firms, unfortunately, seem to have their own revenue targets to fulfill and hence, remain completely uninvolved till the last stage. By then, it really gets pretty late and they finally give their stamp of approval, allowing the agencies to go ahead with their publications and award ceremonies. Not to forget, the awards are held in some of the choicest venues all over the world with the brand heads or promoters flying in to collect the trophy from the hand of a Bollywood celebrity in the presence of hired-out models and social butterflies.

It’s a shame that members of the marketing and branding fraternity are very much in the know of such unethical practices of ‘buying’ awards. They still refrain from voicing their concerns. Self proclaimed ‘management gurus’ and ‘marketing geniuses’ often pop-up with their own proposition of brand models, while offering such brand listing services.

Out of 100 brands (or whatever numbers) listed in such publications, they entice around 20-30 ‘Tom, Dick & Harry’ brands (using a structured business development team with revenue targets) which till then, no one would have possibly heard of. The list is further topped-up with another 30 names which are credible and definitely more established, while filling up the middle with some more names, if not in the top league, but having some reasonable brand recall. Payments received from the lowest rung 30 (Tom, Dick & Harry) brands is enough for the agencies to execute a project. With a lot of fanfare, a coffee table book is published, the award ceremony is held and a glitzy, glamour event executed, leaving behind a sizeable margin for the agency to revel after the show and plan out the next ‘project in the coming 3-4 months.’ This has become an established business model, which unfortunately, is being adopted and executed by various established media groups as well.

So the competition here is heating up. More and more brand research agencies are entering the fray to make some quick money. Brand managers are happy in keeping aside a part of their marketing budgets to buy as many ‘stamps of credible approvals’ from ‘consumer insight’ driven brand researches. For consumers, they are even more confused – to believe in what they see (in ads) or in what they experience (when they use).

And the game must go on... (sic!)

Friday, 11 October 2013


‘Rules and regulations are meant to be broken’ – an adage, which by now, every literate and illiterate Indian citizen have adapted to consciously or subconsciously. Schools and colleges have also played a great role in helping one to imbibe the same in one form or the other. And then you have the natural nurturing environment back home, among family members or friends, in your professional lives, in relationships and so on. At every step, in your daily routine life, you indulge in breaking rules and regulations. It somehow gives you a ‘great kick’ – a feeling of immense satisfaction, a sense of euphoria, an incomparable achievement orientation.

The way, every individual strives to raise the bar in achieving a bigger goal, a greater fortune and a more comfortable lifestyle, similarly do we, raise the bar of bending rules to the extent that they are not broken, but gouged out from the very rule books in the most notorious manner.

The recent headlines on sand mafia in Gautam Budh Nagar district of UP and the suspension of SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal, add to a multitude of small and large scale conscious acts of ‘legalised crime’ over the decades, ever since licensing or other control mechanisms have been employed in any commercial system in India. The media has only glorified the so-called ‘rule breakers’ by branding them as Mafias - doing a greater favor of boosting their self-esteem to a higher pinnacle. So, let me also stick to the same term, only to extend its usage as a generic term for ‘a group of conscious law breakers with an intent to cause immense damage to public exchequer and public livelihood to attain their own selfish motives.’

Now that I have already generalized the term, let me enlist the different types of Mafia who are actively operating in India currently:

Political Mafias – A group of decrepit, old men, who subvert the common man’s conscience by the most inglorious means with an objective to stay in total power and control as the sole decision maker of the country’s future course of action. (example – Laloo Prasad Yadav, Sharad Pawar, etc.)

Corporate Mafias – A group of well groomed, white collar corporate big-wigs, who, in the name of selfless contribution and CSR, stack up hoard of money for their political bosses, in return favour of lucrative tenders, at quarter of a cost of the actual prices. (example – Mukesh Ambani, Anil Aggarwal, etc.)

Education Mafias – A group of ‘world-class’ institutions, which in the name of offering ‘a life-changing experience,’ change the lives of the students once and for all. These students finally seek respite by making their presence felt in another world, not frequented by mortal beings. In the meantime, these institutions make a lot of money, change more lives and continue to offer newer means to change many more lives. (example – IIPM, Sharda, Lovely Professional University)

Aam-admi Mafias – A group of people, with or without any political affiliation, generalized as the common man or aam-admi, enjoy the privilege of being represented by the most powerful political leaders, while they themselves take a lot of pride in quashing every possible rule on the streets, at the workplace, at home, at almost every conceivable place on earth. (example – seen in the mirror)

Bureaucratic Mafias – A group of highly educated, erudite individuals, who occupy the highest seats of governance, with little or no authority of their own. This breed enjoys getting recognized in the eyes of the aam-admi, by making a hell of their lives. (example – visit any government office to find one)

Defence Mafias – A group of individuals, vested with the authority and power to maintain the sovereignty of the homeland, enjoys flexing their muscles in building houses, orchards, resorts on properties of the state or stashing cash out of illegal sale of arms, ammunition or secret information. (example – there are many donning the olive greens)

Media Mafias – A group of institutions, a part of the 4 pillars of democracy, who likes to create breaking news to subdue/criticize someone or something at the behest of the political or corporate mafias. The mostly illiterate aam-admi mafias take onto the streets to protest, thereby helping the media mafias to gain more TRPs and their political/corporate bosses more mileage in the entire cycle of events. (example – Kolkata TV, News India, etc.)

Student Mafias – A group of individuals with bloated egos and high self-notion of worldly knowledge, who feel they are the next generation to look out for, when it comes to politics, corporate world or social sphere, takes pride in disrupting everything – from education to public life – at the slightest wink of the political mafias. Although they symbolize youth power, but the incumbent executive councils comprise mostly of grey-haired, forty somethings. (example – all college unions)

Social Service Mafias – A group of individuals from different walks of life, who desire to bring about a social change in different spheres – education, public policy, poverty alleviation, malnutrition, etc – but end up becoming cronies of the political or corporate mafias. Their ‘hand-in-glove’ approach to serve as the secret treasury of their political or corporate masters, have made them a safer bet for investments with higher RoI. (example – GIDF, SoS Village, etc)

Medical Mafias – A group of individuals or institutions in the profession of providing medical healthcare – doctors, hospitals, clinics, pharma companies – who can get subversive, while wrenching out money from your pockets, at the cost of providing world-class medical healthcare. Their blackmailing tactics, while sometimes subtle, are mostly loud and on the face. They are very closely networked with the political and corporate mafias as well. (example – Apollo, Max, Fortis, etc.)