Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bob Moorehead on Us


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I could not put the jumble in my head better than Bob Moorehead. So I have copied his rant down for you to read.
“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but
shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more,
but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and
smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more
problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too
little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our
possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and
hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to
life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer
space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom,
but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but
accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more
computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we
communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small
character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but
broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway
morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the
showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can
bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share
this insight, or to just hit delete…

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not
going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks
up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave
your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the
only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most
of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from
deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might
not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak!
And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Tarang Moment

imageThey show these types of moments in movies. Imagine a man sticking his axe into the ground and out shoots a jet stream of oil. The man is sitting on an oilfield and knows that he has arrived. This is his goldmine. And talking about gold, the famous moment in McKenna’s Gold when they enter the valley of gold. The walls, the floor and even the stream are lined with gold. McKenna, Blind Adam and the whole entourage had also arrived. They were looking at a life changing moment.
Sometime in August 2007, myself and many more Engro Foods people, had this same experience. Lifelong we would know this event as the Tarang Moment. It changed our lives.
In commercial parlance, when you launch a brand you are stepping somewhat into the unknown. If you have done it right, then a lot of research on consumer insights has been completed. The product has been tested in stress conditions and has passed. Its taste profile has been matched and tested with consumers. The packaging and name of the brand has been researched, designed and tested. Through research and our own portfolio strategy, we know the bulls eye positioning and the marketing (both media and activation) campaign has been concept tested and fits the positioning. The distribution strategy has been agreed and we know exactly where and at what price the brand will hit the shelves. Our stock levels have been worked out and the production forecast has matched those, so that there is little danger of shortages.
As they say, all the ducks are in a row, and we are ready for success. So then one wonders why, nine out of ten brand launches fail. Unfortunately, that is the history of the world, so very likely things could go wrong and the launch may not be successful. At best recall (I may have missed a small one here or there), I have lived this routine through forty three launches in my career and many of those brands are not around anymore.
So back to that Tarang Moment. We struggled to get approval from our Board of Directors to launch a tea whitener. It took three attempts. Their query was that a rival brand had failed to make it a success, so why would Engro Foods succeed? When it was finally approved, we were allowed to launch only in six towns. That really set our backs up, and it was considered a challenge to our professionalism. Research showed us that tea was the highest incidence of milk usage in Pakistan and it also showed that in those very homes where this tea was consumed, there was a great demand and connection to ‘filminess’ (the movie world). It was also researched that as yet, no right fit product – enhancing the taste of tea – was on the market. Hence the brand Tarang, portrayed a ‘filmi’ world which was enhanced by ‘Chai ka Sahi Jor’. In all my career, I cannot remember a clearer positioning, which was backed by product attributes and fitted its brand world. We felt we had hit the nail on the head.
The Tarang Moment arrived for each of us at different times. For me it arrived at 8.32 am on August 15, 2007 in R A Bazaar, Lahore. The brand had been launched, but media had not yet broken. I was on a market visit to see how we had distributed the brand. A ‘SEC C’ class store in R A Bazar was my first stop early in the morning. An old woman walked in to buy something. She saw our colourful pack on the shelves and asked the shopkeeper “Ay kya haey? Ay Taranga?”. He said ‘chai bananay kou’. The old lady bought it, nary any advertising, nary support, nary any awareness. Alhamdulillah! I knew we had hit gold. Two weeks later this was further confirmed. With advertising on TV and strong supporting activation, our capacity to supply the product had gone short. What we had expected to achieve in a years time, we got there in fifteen days with maybe five days of TV coverage. When a new filling machine arrived four months later, that also ran out of capacity within another fifteen days. The Tarang Moment may last all of us a lifetime. Its unique in my career and probably unique for all the team involved.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Storm Clouds Gather


Throughout my conscious existence, the eventual dire fate of our world has hovered in the background. Ibn Katheer described it best in his End of Times book. All faiths of the holy books, have forecast dire circumstances and the resultant conflagration within an approaching time period. That they have also forecast the heavy involvement of Syria in the events, is even more disconcerting. Till five years ago, one relied on the unlikelyhood of the imminent involvement of Syria as a show stopper. Not anymore! Syria is central to the worlds issues. The internet is rife with scholars warnings that events are leading to disaster. Not that anyone is heeding them.
If you turn to logic rather than religious belief, it is as alarming. The status quo suggests a terrible period ahead. Why mankind cannot cure its ills, is a subject of great study. We are seemingly on an auto pilot and heading towards a mountain. Listed below in no particular order, are some of the prevalent issues.
A) economic upheavals and another impending economic disaster.
B) social ills (ageing, population, migration, inequality, family breakdown).
C) military tensions which have come to the fore.
D) consumer economics and its by-product “disastrous environmental damage”.
E) technology race, the cause of many social and economic ills.
All the above are well documented or broadcast over media channels. We get a daily doze in the news. It probably compounds the issue, as positions get entrenched. So Fox News broadcasts to 30 % of the US population, who believe in them implicitly and each story is a further confirmation of that belief.
Nevertheless, we humans have lived in hope down the ages. We do not give up easily and surely our minds look at these circumstances and say ‘there must be a way out’…’there must be some hope’.
To my mind this is really encapsulated in two differing routes.
I) the spiritual answer
II) the technology answer
They seem to be mutually exclusive, as the first does not rest well with the second; both are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The ones who believe in the spiritual side and Allah being the omnipotent one, think that we have to slow this cycle down. Bring a balance to existence. Stop exploiting humans and resources, consume less, be friendlier and rely on Allah to help us to repair this world. It means a peaceful existence, with much less to consume and a calmness returning to life, rather than the present headlong madness and rush. The stock market would rule us no more. It means economic targets are not man’s goal and we shall revert to conditions where serenity is as important as the next square meal.
The technology side hopes to create more advanced technology, which will resolve our consumption issues and enable us to power the earth to sustenance, without causing long term damage, unlike in the last 300 years. Can this be achieved? Certainly, some technology suggests this. But, a bit worrying is the cognitive artificial intelligence which can design and build by itself. Personalities like Steven Hawking and Bill Gates have expressed trepidation, whether humanity is about to lose control to the computer and end up with a Skynet type scenario.
Either silver lining, to the present circumstances of the world, is an essential. If one is intuitive enough, one can feel the stretch of humanity. Unfortunately, most cannot see this, as they go about their stressful tasks of daily existence; but sit back and watch….it is visible. A world at the edge of the precipice, one can see storm clouds gather and there is horror on the horizon. Someone or some people will have to come forth and steady the ship. Soon!.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Winner Takes All


imageIn late 1973 Red Star Belgrade came to Anfield in the European Cup (Champions League today) and ran the legs off Liverpool. Liverpool were one of the favourites, and couple of years later won the same European trophy twice back to back, besides winning the UEFA Cup twice in this period, and five League Championships in eight years and being runners-up in the remaining three. So no mugs.
Anfield must have been shocked. Absolutely, no argument about that. At the end of the match, the Kop (at the time, the most celebrated football crowd in the world, pre Heysel and Hillsborough), simply stood up and gave them a standing ovation, genuine and appreciative of the great skill of that Red Star team.
History records this particular Red Star Belgrade team was one of the great underachievers of club football. They were one of the best football teams in the world, but simply disappeared into the unknown. A later Red Star team won the European Cup in 1991, and that is what Red Star Belgrade is known for today. Like some other underachievers, namely Puskas Hungarians of 1954 and Tele Santana Brazilians of 1982, they won nothing and today, even very knowledgeable football fans do not know of them.
Who really remembers the 1970 South Africans? Except that they were one of the most magical cricket teams to exist. But they never won on the world stage, other than the 4-0 drubbing of Australia. Players like Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor were kings of their era.
This winner takes all mentality is a modern phenomenon. It has several aspects to it. Firstly, it expects that people win something to be acknowledged and become somebody. Secondly, the expectations and loyalty of supporters is also short and variable.
If, it’s a question of numbers and probabilities, one wonders how people will achieve acknowledgement in this world. Only 2 percent are outstanding in the Bell Curve. I am presuming title winners will come from within this 2 percent. So, what of the 98 per cent? Are they to be consigned to the scrap machine? Will these people live out an also-ran existence, because fortune did not smile on them?
The other point is of patience and loyalty. I read the Liverpool and Manchester United forums. In the old days, Shankly and Busby were given deep loyalty. When their teams were not doing well, the supporters never lost patience. Nowadays, Rogers, Moyes and Van Gaal, have had praise and then dung heaped on them. Sometimes this variability is week to week. A good performance and the manager is up in the sky; a bad performance and he is buried. The recent case of Mourinho is a stark reminder, ‘success is now measured in concrete returns – the trophies’.
There is a more obscure third matter, people my age will notice. In the past, there used to be a case for aesthetics in sports. Today it has been replaced by efficiency, because of the need to win. Guardiola, Benitez and Mourinho are all about this efficiency. Used to be that the luxury, skilful, maverick player would roam the park. They would deliver supreme beauty of skill, but were not too pushed about marking opposite players or getting back in position. Nevertheless, the joy of watching what they did with the ball was enough. Today these players have disappeared. Messi and Ronaldo, the most skilful players today, do not exercise their skills in matches as a Finney, Zico or Rivera (thats right, how many have heard these names, they were great, but never won a famous trophy). The same with a graceful batsman. They crunch the beauty out of his game and leave instead an efficient, slogging or boring run machine. One has to watch a free-wheeling Kanhai to understand what I mean. The joy of the visual has gone and the efficient deliverer has to perform on the stage.
Now just imagine this thinking spread across sports, art, literature and more. The flamboyant beauty of a Sobers innings, the risky manoeuvre of a Senna in F1, the audacious paint strokes of a Van Gogh, the long styled challenging writings of a Dickens. All these have disappeared and been replaced by efficiency, which cuts out risks and delivers results. Today, the winner takes all and so we also refine our lives accordingly. Imagine you advising your child to pursue a profession which is guaranteed good returns, shunning any particular artistic skills which may have been the real passion. Drabness starts to take over life.
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Stephen Hawking on our “imminent danger”

imageIn his last interview, Marlon Brando (one of the most venerated people of the 20th century) of full age and wisdom, sat in his mansion on the hill, looking down on Los Angeles. The interviewer asked one final question, “Do you think mankind will make it?”. Brando looked sad, but almost relieved that his day was over. “No!” Brando answered.
Taking this cue, at the end of an astonishing career, when Professor Stephen Hawking says mankind is threatened, then the world takes notice. And its not to say, it has not been said before by others. The holy books and holy men have been saying it for many thousands of years. Maybe we have become desensitised to their words. Logic and science in the present day, are our foundation stone. Todays populace has been brought up on that diet and so it reaches deeper, I guess.
What does Hawking say?
Three specifics threats and one more general statement. Also, in an earlier talk, he classified one more specific threat.
Mankind is in danger and he would expect some catastrophic event to occur over the ages. An extinction level event has regularly happened every 100 million years or so in the world. This makes sense, as it is really a question of probability and statistical chance. The last time it occurred, the dinosaurs were wiped out. A catastrophic event is about due on Earth.
So where are the possible dangers coming from.
A) nuclear or similar world wide conflagration.
B) environmental damage.
C) genetically engineered viruses.
D) cognitive architecture artificial intelligence.*
*The D point was stated by Hawking in an earlier discussion – the development of artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”-, while the points A to C are in the Reith Lectures which Hawking made recently for the BBC. The above four points are not a catch-all and future developments might well see more threats appear in this world of ours.
It is very ironic that all these four dangerous points are self created by humans. When science and technology advances, it seems always to be a double edged sword. Used within reason and balance, it is a great benefit to mankind. However, over use or emphasis and it tends to get out of hand, as we reach out for more than our due. This has ever been humanity’s story. We have allowed our greed, ambition and larger unawareness to create threats, which should not have been there at all. Professor Hawking remarked that technological advances, were taking humanity into one of the most dangerous time periods ever.
So how are we to revert this danger of an existential threat to our future generations? Hawking thought the best chance of survival would be to colonise space. That is reverting to our past and core human behaviour. Whenever, what we have in hand is not enough, then we venture out and grab from others. Even the most celebrated mind today, cannot escape our programmed characteristics. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the moment we are at the edge of the science of space travel and surviving out there. This outlet could be hundreds of years away perhaps. So in this time we stand in great existential danger.
Hawking describes himself an optimist, despite the perceived future dangers. Considering his tilt of mind and his great mental capacity, we are well advised to take this danger seriously.
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A Driving Test


imageAs part of an elaborate procedure of hiring, corporates test a candidates personality. This is a dive into the inner being, to see hidden personality traits, create a picture and then try to match this personality with the corporates profile. There is a wish, that within this uncertain and complex procedure, some success is achieved in getting the right personality match.
Over the years I have seen this develop into a very complicated exercise, with hours of online questioning. Myself and the Engro Foods Management Committee (MC) went through just such testing sometime ago, to ensure that the next MC member can be tested for fit and thus make it a successful entry.
Over the years, most managers are still left with a nagging feeling. Where are these tests coming from? Who is designing them? How do we know they reach the correct conclusions? These have been designed for other cultures, do they really fit here? Many times it is simply a case of conflict. Reason and intuition is saying something and the tests are saying different things. Who to believe? Personally, my best results have come based on intuition and some judgement, rather than depending on physchometrics. So the jury is still out, on whether this works and the preferred route. Maybe, it should be a combination, but which is the dominant influence on a hiring decision? Psychometrics or a judgement call.
Now this might sound wacky, but bear with me. I have reached a conclusion, that as part of a hiring procedure, candidates who can drive, should be taken on the road and asked to drive for a time period. A Driving Test! Often, I have found, real personality traits are revealed under driving stress. Sometimes, one is really surprised. A mild mannered individual can turn out to be an aggressive, in the face, rude and abusive driver.
So following on from the above train of thought, I have carried this a bit further. While observing people drive, certain traits are revealed. These I have listed below, to show the appropriateness of my recommendation.
A mild mannered driver, under stress, will tend to be a calm manager, little impulse action and much serenity.
A decisive driver will apply similar decisions in a managerial role and will not dither and lose confidence. The reverse will be true for an indecisive driver.
An aggressive and pushy driver, will most likely take the same attitude into his job and also treat others in the same way at work.
Those drivers who follow all the driving rules, will tend to manage by the book and be strong in process and less so in human connect.
A risky driver can tend to risk himself and others in his surrounding. They might well apply similar behaviour at work and can tend towards taking risks which may or may not be appropriate. Similarly, a person who is a safety first and risk-less driver might be a very careful manager, who then will only take safe decisions.
The above is not a catch all list and there must be many other individual facets which could be monitored. These are better looked at by HR experts for appropriateness.
The above might sound way out of the box, but it is my feeling that if proper research and work is done on the above thought, we should be able to go a long way in revealing the personality profile of a candidate and then doing related work to match these traits to our organisational fit.
Something for HR experts and CEOs to chew on, for improvement in the hiring process.
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