Customers don’t know what they want

Technology works in mysterious ways. Take Windows’ OS for instance. It promises you to get better every time it asks for an update. Does it give you a choice? Nay. It simply goes ahead and updates itself. Does it get better? who knows? we are just too naive to know that. No one cares to ask what this update means to them as they blankly stare at the screen.

Who knows it is costing us millions of man-hours. The default mode and direction of this planet is concentrated around very few people. That is dangerous, but more than that, we are all indifferent about this direction. We blindly trust. And we all move in a swarm. Imagine millions and millions of people going through the pain of the update.
If everyone believes in the same stuff, it must be true! technology is like a new religion. People are too lazy to decide for themselves. It is so convenient to believe that the fate has already been decided by the God. It is so convenient to believe that good deeds lead us all to heaven or hell.
It is so convenient to believe that software updates work for the greater good. But come to think of it, if they did then every new update defeats the purpose of the previous update. Wasn’t that good enough?
Collectively we all are blind as species. And our average IQ might be 12. Few people bank on this fact.When Steve Job said “Customers don’t know what they want until we have shown them”, he meant it!



The Day I Felt Like a Waiter

Disclaimer: I am not using the term waiter in any derogatory manner. I respect every profession and waiting tables happens to be one of them.

Some part of my role is client facing and yesterday I got a really bad remark. I was told that I was incapable and hence I was responsible for the inefficiency and delay in the project. But more than being hurt, I was really surprised. As the mild shock settled, I just retrospected over how had I had worked for the past several months to keep everything on track. To say the least, the variables which were responsible to keep everything on track were just beyond my control. I really felt like a waiter, here is how:

The core key responsible areas for waiting tables are as below:

  1. Take orders from the customers, smile and transfer that order to the production floor.
  2. Deliver order to the customers, serve them.
  3. Clear the tables , clear the bill , smile.

Waiter is like the Single Point of Contact SPOC for a restaurant. He is no manager. He has 0 authority but almost 100% accountability . When I say almost 100% accountability, that means perceived accountability. This accountability is perceived by the customers who make him/her responsible for the bad experience they have at the restaurant. I will cover more about perceived accountability at the end of this article.

When I say 0 authority he really doesn’t have a direct control over the other human resources in the restaurant. For instance:

a. He doesn’t have any control on the production floor, he can’t prioritize any order neither he can push the chefs to work faster for an order.

b. He has no control over the cleaning staff who maintain basic hygiene , he can give them a signal to do something but he can’t fire them.

c. He has no control over the quality of the food served and also the corresponding prices.

All of the above means that he has little or no control over : Time, price/cost and Quality because he has 0 authority over all the resources.

But he is somehow accountable for all of the above just because he is customer/client facing. If the order is delayed for some reason, he is reprimanded by the customer. If there is no basic hygiene (plates, glasses, table cloth,washroom, washbasin) he will get the stink eye. If the quality of the food is not up-to the taste of the customer, he will get the first remark. In some big establishments it is the maitre d’hotel or head waiter who might face all the brunt. But that position might be marginally better than waiters position.

Now more on perceived accountability: Customers perceive that their whole dining experience is somehow controlled by the waiter. If they have a bad experience , it is the waiter who they held responsible. This fact is corroborated by the following fact: If there is a good experience, waiter gets all the tip, and not all the chefs and managers and cleaning staff. So perceived accountability for a waiter is like a double edge sword.

But in my world, projects are more intricate than the food served on table. There is big scope for things to go really bad. It is not one instance of serving the food but a very long timeline where good stuff is not often remembered and not even praised and rewarded but when things get derailed I take the whole brunt of perceived accountability. 🙂



It is Ok not to be different

Some of us believe in having unique skills. Being different from others is good. We all are taught that : be different be bold and stand out from the crowd. And we really do that all our lives. In the pursuit of uniqueness, we end-up developing a bias for what we know. We don’t really embrace skills which most people have and tag such skills as generic skills. We assume the unique abilities we possess will make us win in the long run. And we as individuals are not alone at fault for this. All the popular literature, mainstream movies and shows perpetrate this belief.

Case in point : In  my MBA class everyone wanted to learn all the fancy and arcane software for analytics. My colleagues were amazed with the possibilities which analytics offered in the near future. But no one saw the merit in learning simple and more prevalent software like Microsoft Excel; the workhorse of analytics and number crunching for over two decades!

The job market is all about generic and simple skills. An MBA who is a Ninja in Excel spreadsheets has three times more chances of getting hired than an MBA who is average at analytics or some rare skill for that matter. A graduate accountant is still more in demand than a rocket scientist.The economy wants readily usable skills. Excel is used everywhere. So the economy wants more of that.

Mass job market would always absorb generic skills: read , write, talk, do Excel spread sheets, send E-mails. And the behaviors of the people who have such skills will be revolving around adaptability and perseverance. People who want to cultivate unique skills and want to stand out from the rest fail here. Not that they are incompetent but they simply don’t have anything to offer to the economy. They have to wait till their time comes or compete in very small niches.

You might have often heard some people saying ” I want to love what I do and do what I love” well that is a good thought but the world has always shown rapid development through economies of scale and standardization: a skill which is uniform and understood across all geographies and economic domains : Java, Excel, Typewriting, Accounting etc.Having said that, there might be a space for a person who wants to write travel blogs and travel across the world. Or who wants to be an Egyptologist for that matter. But that space is too tight.

Sometimes you just need to do the stuff which everyone else can do. Just be in the crowd. So many people can’t be foolish to follow a trend. Sometimes it is just Ok to be more similar than more different. It is just risk mitigation strategy.