Posts Tagged 'lessons learned'

Technology is not the panacea – Part 2

The next part of the puzzle has to do with the traditional “market ethos” of “why break something that ain’t broken?” If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, you can catch it here (you might want to take a quick look at it before reading this thread)

One might argue, “let’s make things better” or “this is for their good”. But, asking someone to put in any more effort than what requires to keep things going doesn’t ring a bell of happiness in most people’s heads, it rings a bell of despair/alarm. (Obviously, I’m not referring to the market of “techno-enthusiasts” here)

They either know that you right, but don’t want to be the first adopters and hence, a ring of despair or they are alarmed that you are out to get them.

Take the case of school teachers, they all agree that technology could potentially improve the learning capability in students, but why should they be the learning scapegoats? Why, for the peanuts they earn, should they put in any kind of extra effort without a social/economic benefit to show for it (no extra pay, no climbing the hierarchy, no awards – you know, the works)? The prevailing majority attitude then becomes, let it happen independently. That shows for the success of many online tutoring services and several other direct to student technologies. One might ask, what about the success of the likes of Educomp, Everonn etc. – that, for me, is a subject of another post. I’m referring to technology from the teacher’s point of view in this example.

Lets take another example, the nation’s favorite for technology advancement – farmers! All the incubation labs in the country are buzzing with activity around creating technology innovation for farmers. What is the story on the other side though? Alarm bells start ringing in their heads when you talk of any new technology introduction. They think that you might have a trick or so up your sleeve and hence want them to use the technology that you are talking about. Call it lack of knowledge, their hand-to-mouth existence that precludes trial-n-error or “been-there-been-tricked” experiences.

All this results in the best of the technology interventions not being met with the kind of excitement or implemented with the kind of enthusiasm that was intended. What with all the effort that was put into creating the “cool technology wonder”? Be it the lowest cost laptop, the simplest digitally controlled water pump – if the team doesn’t make an equally gallant effort (as for creating product) into delving and unifying the product experience with the market ethos – it is bound to just remain “a newsworthy cool technology”, nothing more.

Technology is not the panacea – Part 1

I know the title might seem clichéd to many, but for a technophile like me who has an eye (more say an affection) for products, a cool technology seems to open up a vista of opportunities (and more dreams) that can be tapped. I had to learn it the hard way to realize that technology is not the panacea, it is only a piece of the larger puzzle that needs to be solved to create innovative solutions that create an impact in the world.

Lets take a few examples, why is the penetration of information technology, internet and computer in substantial parts of India, say vis-a-vis mobile phones, TV, Radio etc. so low?

I’ve come to believe that it has less to do with technology and more to do with “perceived need” (and I mean a need and not a benefit – very difficult to convince people living on subsistence money on the “potential benefits” of your product when all they are worried about is their day-to-day life). This is the immediate, visible, “will-break-a-habit” – kind of need and not some random “wish”. So, if internet (or any other technology for that matter) has to penetrate further we need to establish and educate people of the “need” first.

This first step of establishing a need and educating people how to “elevate their problem” through the use of technology cannot be over emphasized. Skip the first step and the coolest of technology cannot win against “traditional ways”. Do the first step right and with/without technology innovation, adoption might skyrocket. Two real examples opened up my eyes to this:

1. I realized the importance of “educating” people on their problem when I came face to face with the “perceived notions” on technology in schools. At a deep rooted level most teachers believe that technology is an “attention grabbing” technique for today’s students (and hence, at best frivolous). Very few amongst them have the exposure/experience to use technology as an aid to help the students learn and explore the world around them in innovative ways. Without the right orientation and understanding of the need for change, the best of technology aids are largely underutilized in schools and any wonder the usage of technology remains so low despite the potential benefits?

2. Recently, I came across an entrepreneur at a Tie event who is selling “clean water” to the villagers in India. In order to accomplish this, he says the major challenge for him was to educate the villagers that the water they were using was “unclean/contaminated”. They didn’t know that many of the issues being faced by them and their children like bowed legs, deformed teeth etc had to do with something like fluoride contamination in the water.

Technology (no matter how simple or low-cost) cannot by itself make someone use it, there needs to be a larger momentum for that to happen – which can only be achieved through structured & mediated educational/training interventions to help the participants “be better”, “do better” and hence, “deliver better” through the right kind of technology aids.

In the next post, I’ll talk about understanding and working with the “ethos” of the market rather than pushing a technology-based solution that you consider innovative.

Learnings On The Job…Taking Home A Career

This is my 100th post, hurrah!!! Please feel free to rate the post and leave comments, if the posts interest you :).

Looking back at the 21/2 years that I spent in the strategic marketing role, I tried to think of what I took away from the experience and here are some thoughts…

1. Joining a “startup” group within a large company is not same as joining a “startup” – Remember, it is still a large company. (Note: Subsidiaries and some “startup” groups might be exceptions, but, hardly!). A startup within or outside a large organization is always hard work, there is always reputation to prove and establish with customers inside or outside. The thing to know is, in return for the security of the large group and the subsequent de-risking, the upside is never yours to share (which is fair, by the way). Having said that, the chaos, the adrenaline rush of making things work is definitely there for those who love that.

2. Always evaluate what you are learning vs where you want to go – Map your short and mid-term career path. These should be available in your organization and there should be a reasonable process in place to get there. If not, you are at the wrong place, to begin with. This was such a glaring fact in my case, with the market not being in India. For more details read my previous post here.

3. Look at the size and location of the market that the group will address as an opportunity – the favorable order should be starting with a local, large market going down to a remote, small market. Unless you want to eventually convert the remote location into your local residence. In which case, it might be ok to make that sacrifice of night-outs and family time.

4. Stay focussed, learn a “few” things well – Focussing and learning to do a “few” things very well can be much more fruitful than attempting to learn many things at the same time. You can experiment a bit and figure out a couple of things that interest you, but after a few of months it is always better to focus. More so in our group’s case, where the temptation to get into too many things was always there. Truth being told, it is always easier to sell depth vs diversity whether you are looking for a new job or talking to the VC about a startup. (Aside: If you have both to some extent, great! But, I’m referring to a choice, if you have to make one. Also, some will not know what they like most upfront, which is ok. Knowing that you are diversifying for the sake of finding what to focus is a “good” focus in itself. But, most importantly, be honest to yourself.)

These are just a few generic ones that I can think of, right now. I shall keep posting more thoughts as they come along. As they say, sometimes a contrast serves the purpose of a “light” better than the visibility the most powerful light can render.

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