Future Scoping: Artificial Intelligence for One

So this, is my vacuum cleaner. As you can see, I’ve added a bit of flourish to Doraemon. He’s an excellent house companion – getting to work at precisely 7:30 in the morning, and doing the entire apartment and nicely getting back to his spot. Every now and then he does get tangled on some random wires I dropped, but otherwise, he gets the job done and and a darn good job of it too.

I’ve also already set my lamp to turn on at 7:30 am and a Google Home to wake me up at 7:30. And my Fitbit also to buzz at 7:30.

At this point you can guess that I tend to wake up at 7:30am.

You may also be aware of other Bots like good old Siri. Ah yes, well, she’s growing a little old in the tooth now, compared to the new kids on the block like Alexa who can pretty much replace your babysitter in engaging the kids, or Google (aka Google?.. I was trying to think of more human name).

We’re still at an early stage where really, we’re just putting names on various flavours of automation. We set the rules, or the parameters of engagement and the bots (hardware and software), do as they are asked.

Wait is Automation, AI?

If you look at where AI is right now – the ‘truest’ form of machine learning that in 2019 we could still get away with calling AI, is in the cosy arms of large technology companies which have the volume of data enough to ‘teach’ the system and scale the learning to something else.

For example, self driving cars require a tremendous amount of data. In fact, why don’t you go ahead and pat your back here, because you’re also help helping train the ‘brain’ of self driving systems (particularly the one by google)

Most of the automations and what dear marketers call Smart, is just a set of if->then conditions, like if temperature of room is >40C, turn on AC. Works great, no arguments there. We’re now taking this about a million levels (which actually isn’t a lot) to get to the point where we can ask a program to look at a photo and tell us whether its a traffic light or a bus.

So really, I’m not talking about AI today, but of tomorrow. We’re getting there. The ‘there’ is what is most interesting.

AI for One

As AI stands now, we are just entering into an era where the computing power required to do this level of machine learning can now be done on a mobile phone. Remember, the amount of training data itself took Gigabytes, Petabytes, exabytes of storage (imagine at least a closet to a massive shopping mall), and the processing took a couple of horses to an army (yep, just stick with that visual), and now that all can be done on 1 chocolate bar sized device called your smartphone. This will lead to more interesting use cases and business models.

Here are a couple of random ideas:

Privacy AI

In the real world, if you are rich, famous, or crazy enough, you’ll probably have security guards who are hired to keep the masses a good couple of meters away from you at minimum, and also plan and defuse any wider threats. The online world is going to get more and more turbulent, from all the apps that we use, browsing, and new VR/AR experiences that we are exposed to.

Imagine then, a self teaching, always learning PrivacyGuard AI that knows you intimately and actively takes steps to prevent you from being exposed to online threats, or anything that is out of the ordinary for you. Think of it as a more advanced watch dog rather, someone who will growl when they don’t know you but will ease up when seeing positive interaction.

For example, getting spam calls – the AI will listen in, and block those (like email spam filters). Much of the logic for this may be written by humans initially, but as features become more standardised, any new form of communication can be monitored, tracked, learnt and safeguarded. After all, everything is bits, bytes, words and pictures.

Learning AI

This AI takes the form of a virtual teacher that is assigned to you at your first class in school, and that already has information about you from your birth (your Privacy Bot has approved this interaction), and from then on, your Learning Bot knows exactly how you learn, what you like, what you don’t like.

Your persona (fully anonymised, come on), is compared directly with the growth pattern of a child in Norway, Australia, China and how you learn gets real time feedback on how to maximise learning.

If this sounds like shoving data and tests into your Childs mouths, nope – LeanAI knows when to let up. After all, it has the data of a few million other people over a decade of growth.

Citizen AI

Democracy is tough. Like how do we pick 1 person who is the best to lead, and then the hundred or so to help lead the country, etc. Every single bill, law, would have so many nuances, that well, that’s why politics is a full time job right.

Now consider the scenario, that we can train a person, a replica of our beliefs, values, along with life experiences and lessons that we’ve picked up. This Citizen AI would then go through all the bills and let the government system know what your opinion would be. A poll may submit feedback directly, while a formal referendum could require human confirmation.

When elections come up, your CitizenAI would give you the final say with an informed feedback. This could reduce a hot topic from a binary Stay/Leave based on emotion to a multivariate analysis that tells you that ‘you’ would be 60% happy with a Yes.

Who watches the Watchers?

The thing with AI is that at the heart of it, it is data and logic. And though at the moment we struggle with the advanced logic of a self generated machine learning system, we can estimate at least based on the training data of what the generated logic should do.

As systems get more advanced, much like interviewing your security guard before you hire him, we will want to have more transparency around how these bots works. Perhaps with standardised tests (which well, can also be gamed, ahem Dieselgate).

Perhaps then, another AI that we can set the parameters to test, and that system would test the tool AI’s that we want to check before using.

God help us when the AI’s unite.


If you liked reading this or you have ideas, or best of all – disagree with anything you’ve read, then please do drop a comment!


Automation to Post Scarcity World

Conflict on this world exists because of resources being scarce – so until the point that there is nothing to covet, there will be conflict in some form or the other.

Conflict is also a drain on a countries resources, with the bare minimum of military expenses which takes away from most development programs (though there are some clear benefits from military aimed research & development).

We are at the cusp of a scarcity world entering into post scarcity – though it will be still a few generations before we are truly post scarcity. What do I mean? Anything that is “install once, use many/everwhere”; e.g. renewable energy (discounting degradation over time), software – write once, copy easily and run everywhere (ideally if a problem is solved once, it doesn’t need to be solved again – thanks to open source as well), and now Machine Learning.

Machine Learning is different from software – as software still takes human effort (expensive, limited by head count) to develop, customise. Machine Learning still does take effort to build up, but think of it as renewable energy – a well built ML system would be able to learn, adapt, reducing effort to onboard new things.

Imagine, building an automated system that converted sand/rocks into machines, which then built more of itself while also creating solar panels. Give these machines a few years, and they could potentially terraform a dessert (Paperclip problem?)

Eventually humanity will be able to drive most of the population above poverty line, using renewables/automation to fund Universal Basic Income.

What does humanity do then? what kind of businesses would flourish? Experiences would become the rarity. Rich/Poor divide would continue – until transport is a 0 cost, 0 time system. Accesses will be privileged. Material things would be less valuable, as any commodity can be mass produced.

Jobs would give meaning, uncharted territories would be thrilling – as humanity starts to explore other stars, planets. Happiness and fulfilment will be the most significant things to desire. Religion will likely play an increased role in giving some semblance of direction.

For now, focus on automating as much of your life as possible, encourage others to invest in improving their life by Not wasting time. Seek fulfilment by living a good productive life empowering yourself and others.


Futurescoping #3: Bots vs Bots

We are now on the verge of AI – through its various forms, being built around us to enhance our lives. Take for example, Siri, the first popular voice assistant, now which works seamlessly in your home (once of course you have bought the entire apple gear). We now have Amazon Alexa (in the echo hub form since 2014), and Google Home – now all competing for your attention.

This article isn’t a review of these, or a comparison of their features, but rather, what happens when we have our AI bots, which aid us, starting to interact directly with one another. As a qualifier note, I am going to liberally use AI where the system uses more complex systems than Rule based ones, at least using neural nets (systems which learn rather than following only what they were programmed). And let’s just call them Bots, for ease of conversation.

Take for example, this video, based on an original viral in Nov 2016, of 3 AI assistants, forming an infinite loop based on the output of one device (prerecorded “Hey Siri, Ok Google, or Hey Alexa”), being the calling inputs for the respective other device. This loop, which uninterrupted, would possibly continue until the devices physically wear out (minuscule imperfections in the silicon manufacturing) or you know, the universe ends.

OK Nice, but how does this affect me?

You may not have realized it, but if you are a user of a smart phone (iPhone or Android, no need to argue over which is better) – you are already an AI User. The searches you make on Google Search are designed to be the most optimal results for you – based on all your previous searches and what you ended up clicking through. Google Now, now known as Google Assistant,  is now integrated into Google Home, and is designed to know when you are leaving home, inform you of the time it takes to get to work or to an airport if you had booked a flight, and possibly more intrusively, what to type next when you are responding back to someone. These are fairly basic features mind you, but we are starting to see Smart tools in the form of scheduling bots (hello,  and the rise of Self Driving Cars, and more.

The Dark Side?

So what happens when, for the lack of better terms, we let the bots loose? We have few instances to base our vision on this, but one came to mind: In 2010, the US stock market fell steeply by 10%, which was a rapid decent, for really, no apparently reason.

Image result for new york times may 6th flash in the market


What happened (in as simple terms as I can put it), is that various high frequency trading algorithms did what they were built to do, and completed trades which would have taken hours/days by humans within seconds/minutes and brought down the stock market. The interesting part of this was the net result of multiple algorithms reacting off one another, a bit like Siri, Alexa, and Google bouncing off one another.

Here is where my analogy goes – as we build systems, smart AI based Bot systems – we need to be aware of the consequences of when we have those systems interact with one another. Each Bot was designed to do what it does best – complete against humans. But what happened was a now classic Bot vs Bot scenario. And this is only set to launch now. We will now have competing Apple, Amazon and Google bots, each customized to their user base. Below are some examples of Bots vs Bots that I can see right now, and where they are likely to be heading:


Image: NY Times /Jason Raish


  • Social Media Posting Bots vs. Social Media Reading Bots:
    • On one side, we have Posting Bots, like PostBot 3, which optimizes the hashtags and the timing of your posts to optimize reach, popularity, and other typical social media metrics. As the system learns from the past, it can start customizing the posts content and timing to optimize on these.
    • On the other side, we have now maturing systems that read social media sentiments, and accordingly buy/sell stocks.  They’ve already been doing quite well in the market, as the system learns from the past, it will surely get better.
    • As the race between the two bots evolves, we may be likely to see Posters which can influence their own stock price, as they know the impact they will have on Readers.

Image: Volvo

  • Self Driving Car Bots vs Traffic Systems Bots
    • Here’s likely where we can expect to see cooperation between the Bots.
    • Self Driving Bots are designed to take physical vehicles around from point A to point B, typically in the path that will take the shortest time possible. This is presently done using route mapping systems such as Waze, or Google Maps, and the now emerging field of using multiple sensors to navigate the car in real world. At the moment these systems rely on what they see around them, with overall mapping insights.
    • Traffic Systems Bots, have a very compatible objective of ensuring that all the vehicles travel from their Point As to Point B’s as soon as possible. Using a range of sensors to track the present traffic loads, and by having Bots run all the traffic lights, we can see some remarkable achievements, such as the recent pilots in Pittsburg. In the works since 2012, the lights now adapt to the traffic at various intersections and pass on the knowledge to all other traffic lights
    • The true win will be when the Cars start directly taking to the Traffic Systems, informing them of their individual Point A’s and Point B’s, so that the traffic lights are optimized to reduce everyone’s time. This would radically reduce traffic, reduce pollution (though hopefully we will see net nonpolluting electric cars by then).
      • We may eventually see tiered pricing models for this – pay more to reach faster, though the definition of slow is already on par with our fast now.


Image: Chatbot Magazine

  • Customer Service Chatbots vs Customer Representative Chatbots
    • One of the biggest costs for end customer is Customer Service. As a company, I might wish for customer to please read the FAQs, and call only if you have a real issue. However, there is nothing like chatting with someone who can respond to your specific questions. Here is where Chatbots come in. By providing a chat window, where you can type in a question and the Chatbot responds exactly to your circumstance, its a win-win for both the company and the customer. Various research groups have already estimated billions of dollars in savings:


Chatbots Salary Savings

    • On the flip side, from the customer’s perspective, we have Bots which can act as our representatives to cut through the chatter. For example, Trim is an Chrome Extension that is specifically designed to navigate through Comcast’s customer service chat bot, and NextCaller is designed to navigate through the initial information gathering session so that you don’t need to waste time before getting to the matter.
    • Pretty soon we are going to see smart customer service apps, and smart customer bots, optimized for each others requests (e.g. you just state your intent to your Bot, and your Bot ‘negotiate’s with the customer service Bot).


What does this mean as a Next Gen Company?

Your organisation may be building a next generation digital company, which usually means some form of connectivity to your suppliers, customers, and 3rd party organizations which enhance the experience for your suppliers, customers, and even regulatory authorities.

These connections (in the form of perhaps MicroServices, or APIs), which were (and are) being built for other applications/systems which function more or less as the streams of inputs and outputs of your company’s data and business functions. Most of these services are designed for inputs/outputs on manual requests, or at best, periodic requests from apps. But when we mix Bots into play, suddenly you need to think about the impact of having super intelligent systems with the ability to make micro decisions that have radical impacts your business outcomes.

  • Start thinking and engaging with other ancillary services around your company and how you can automate those processes
  • Once you have a systematic approach for exchanging information, consider building Bots that start learning and optimizing.
  • Build the services to scale (Bots can consume data and streams faster than you can conceive it)
  • Build services to be able to control an avalanche (Bots can get hungry, and do more than you ever thought of)


Note: Views expressed are my own. Looking forward to your comments on this.


Futurescoping #2: Autonomous Driving

Autonomous Driving represents the next major leap in the way we transport ourselves, and will radically change the business models around transportation. While the technologies are still maturing and regulations are still being debated and written, we look at some of the practical implications, especially on businesses related to the space.


Futurescoping #1: Ubiquitous Wireless Power

We live now at the cusp of staggering rapid innovation at a global level, with almost all economies firing towards multiple Silicon Valleys across the globe. A few thoughts triggered that I wanted to write up for future reference, specifically, of which technologies and innovations we can expect mankind to make.

Ubiquitous Wireless Power:

Researchers have recently invented a way to power up low-power devices using general WiFi alone (Link), which represents a breakthrough well beyond the emerging close contact charging found now in wireless adapters that you can add to your phones (example devices) and in the form of furniture with integrated charging (from IKEA). This got me thinking, what does this mean for us as end customers and as businesses and governments looking to build society.

If we track the rapid growth of internet usage, from wired internet to WIFI and faster growth of 2G/3G/4G services, with noted growth and spread of Internet usage on mobile (Internet Report), all signs point to a pent up demand in mobile usage. The below graph indicates an overwhelming usage of Mobile for accessing Internet, and it will only continue to grow.

As we continue to develop faster processors, bigger screens (hello iPhone 6+) – we need more and more power. The biggest frustration faced by users is the short supply of power that we need to power the mobile devices we have.

We continue to innovate of course, in super fast charging, such as batteries that can charge up in minutes instead of hours (such as these promising techs) By 2017, hopefully, we should be able to charge a smartphone under a minute.

Future State:

The beautiful merger of all the above technologies will be a state of the world where we get the power to charge up all the devices we own, as ubiquitously as we get Mobile connectivity. At first, it would start with Wi-Fi range and then get full coverage as Mobiles. With projects such as Google Loon to get Internet all over the world, along with Solar charging technologies, we should hopefully get Power globally as well.

What does this mean for businesses? Well, this opens up a range of opportunities for the present network and power vendors. The days of stop-gap power banks would come to an end, and would go along with the flood of mobile only internet usage. We would soon be purchasing top up cards similar to mobile recharges that we do now, and then eventually all payments would be integrated to automated deduction to your account. You walk, talk, recharge and it all gets neatly billed against your needs.

Well, this is just me jotting down my projections. Please do comment if you have any ideas, updates, feedback to add. I’m always looking out for interesting concepts.



Artifacts of our lives

Stumbled back on my blog again, and this time fixed a a loading bug on one of my most popular posts (a tutorial on using Gmail on PHP), so hopefully that should help people in the future.

For now, though I shall ramble. Hold on time.

Was pleasantly surprised to read what I had written earlier, and now look forward to writing something else of material interest that I shall look enjoy reading from the near future. I realized that these are really just artifacts of our lives – the pieces of things that we have done, which for some reason, hold value to us. We need them, and depend on these artifacts. Entire relationships can be made or destroyed by the presence or absence of something physical.

Alright, even my randomness generator is feeling that its overloading. Point is, I shall need to work on my outputs, and focus on creating things, for both myself and for others. Its the only way that we exist beyond the time frame that our lives run. These artifacts are who we are. Without these creations, we would cease to exist.

Too often we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of doing tasks which have no significance for ourselves, except to get paid for receiving other services that we need to be done for ourselves. The objects we create, our writings, our paintings, our recordings of songs, etc – these are the things that truly define us.

That said, I shall try to put words on paper, color on a painting and record my singing so that I can Ctrl+S myself. I would highly recommend you do the same. I shall be eager to follow you.



Theories and Things to Do

As usual, its been a very long time since my last post. A thousand pardons.

I write now from Sydney, Australia, (Rhodes, if you really want), working as a client relationship manager at the same organization I used to since post-graduating. Different role, but definitely lots of learning.

I’ve also realized the human potential to learn is still pretty vast. I am more cognizant of things that can be done, how it can benefit others, and how value can be extracted. But wow, so little time for it all.

Anyway, before I save this as a draft and promise to update it and then never do, I thought I’d jot down one theory I’m working on.

The fundamental idea is that there is an optimal population density that is directly correlated to overall economic development. If the density is too low, then it would be hard to collect enough resources to develop anything. And if it is too high, then you have the problem of dealing with large scale under-utilization, unemployment, and the issue of subsidies or dependencies that hamper growth. Therefore, an optimal level of population density would allow the region to have enough employment for everyone, and to progress as a society.

Ok, like I said, it is a theory, so I haven’t substantiated it, and possibly never will (time, oh dear, time), but these are the kind of thoughts that occur to me now as I walk 5 minutes from a high rise apartment to a shopping mall and look at the relatively low density of people living in (perceived) prosperity. Contrast to developing nations (including my own), where the focus of budgets are on improving the lives at the base of the (very large) pyramid.

Now, I haven’t thought out the action items yet, but job and education schemes (why are they called schemes anyway) would be the crux of it. Back to thinking.

Life is long enough to do something. Let me see.

Productivity Uncategorized

Productive Me: A Better Use of Time and Grey Matter


It’s been more than a year since graduating from IIM Bangalore, and having been in employment for about the same period of time, I realize there are wow, a crazy amount of distractions out there.

For example, most of my free time used to go into watching TV series (Suits, Newsroom, Under the Dome),, a lot of tech websites, indian news websites, youtubing, facebooking, whatsapping, etc. And these are all buckets which I am consciously aware of, sucking out time.

I may sometimes mention in person, that there was a time when I was literally glued to facebook and gmail on my phone in college, to a point that I realized I needed to get that under control, and eventually restricted myself to checking once a day, between 6 and 6:30pm.

Now, I am right now, at a state where there is a healthy enough balance between getting work done (for which I am paid for), and fun things to do that somehow fill up the remaining time. However, it isn’t satisfying enough. I believe, like perhaps many others, have gotten sunk into time holes – activities, (like the CAT questions you know will take up too much time solve) which you do, but don’t really add any value to life.

I realized this a week ago, and have since uninstalled the 9gag app and removed 9gag link from my default home screens (yeah, don’t ask what it was doing there in the first place). Not bad, made it a week without needing to check.

Next up, I realize that we get into this ‘data consumption’ need too easily. We love being fed things. Updates, pictures, videos – we love new things, and we love that all you need to do is scroll down to get more of it.

And while we are busy consuming data, our other talents are slowly dying away. Our lives are now ‘work’ and ‘consume’ (data, and food, of course). What we need to start doing, is to replace that with ‘Get things done’, and ‘Produce for enjoyment’. If you are working in a place that you enjoy working in, then that’s already a huge improvement in your life. Now, let’s get you to a place where you do things you love, that also have a positive impact, with the skills you have.

I shall look into ways of doing this, and shall document these as much as possible. As for now, my first step is to reduce the cycle of consumption of data. Therefore, I shall begin by restricting myself to only certain hours per day for consumption. On weekdays, it is quite easy – switch to work, and you’re mostly good. But it could be better.

As a human experiment, I intend to limit myself to 2 hours of consumption (Facebook, Youtube, TV series, Movies), all included. The only exception I make is to reading books, as I believe I this should suffice as a good enough incentive for when I want to consume, but in a way that would be actually useful (Btw, reading ‘Lateral Thinking’ by De Bono, as there’s a two day workshop as part of my employment in a few weeks).

Now, with all the available free time, one must move to ‘Producing’. This blog is one such avenue. Coding, designing, playing the guitar (practicing for a performance, or recording to send to friends), talking to an old friend (interactions produce positive results by sharing information, ideas, etc), writing down ideas (more on this later). A full plethora of things to do. Recognize that ‘you’ as a person, with your history, upbringing, interactions with people, and perspective on life, in this time, exactly where you are now – Will Never Happen Again. Make sure you bring out the maximum usage of yourself, as only you can do what you can do.

‘Time’ Summary: Limit the hours of consuming (I intend to start with 3 hours per day). Start creating.

Grey Matter:

Now, to add on to a point about our uniqueness, and our skills: we are all geniuses. Now, I’m not comparing myself to dear old (and dead) Albert Einstein, but we all (yes, everyone), possesses the amazing ability to Think. Just reading this post required you do handle multiple complex interactions involving an electronic device, awareness of Internet technology, understanding hyperlinks, typing, language, and usage of virtual triggers like ‘scroll bars’ and other controls. Try asking a chimp to do that.

Even if you aren’t technologically strong (all the above I mentioned are already leaps and bounds ahead of vast majority of the world’s population, and you can do all of it), you can innovate in ways that will amaze even you. For example, to solve the problem of womenfolk carrying pots on their backs to bring water from far distances, someone innovated with a drum, with a sealed lid, that’s also shaped like a wide tire,  to which handles can be attached to so that they can be rolled easily for long distances.

Point is, we can think. Unfortunately, the consumption culture is slowly destroying it. If you are constantly given solutions, why would you solve them. And if you are asked to think something different, why, you can’t because you are so used to it being given to you.

Hence, I believe, we must all put our heads to use, in the idle time  (waiting for tea to boil, showering (I’m sure we do a lot of thinking here anyway), etc). Now, if your work anyway is too stressful, and you just want to relax and consume, then that’s understandable – you’e been thinking all day. However, I suggest you relax your mood by thinking of other ways of looking at what you’ve already been through today.

What I am suggesting, to put our brain power to use, is to solve problems. So here’s what I’m doing to do. Every day, I shall take page in a notebook, and write down 3 questions, with enough space to answer each one. This I shall do in the morning. And then by the evening, I shall jot down my final thoughts on them, and if required, do some light research on them. I am hoping to let my friends know about my plan here, so that they can offer questions (I can think of a few friends who have nothing but questions for me – thank you, I love you guys, keep them coming), to make sure that I keep thinking.

We are all Problem Solvers (apparently ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, and lazy people are the best for thinking of innovating solutions for reducing their effort further). So lets put our heads together to think of solutions, ideas, etc. I shall give it a shot to see how it goes, and would appreciate your encouragement on this. I’m not looking to find solutions to world hunger or war, but by jotting ideas and possible solutions, it should allow my brain to start to form analogies and new ways of looking at things that might help in the long run. I would of course, encourage you to do the same, but you can wait for feedback from me to see if its worth the effort.

‘Grey Matter’ Summary: Answer questions or solve problems everyday.

Most highly successful people are quite disciplined. Even if it seems they party like crazy or just don’t make sense, they are certainly clocking a crazy amount of hours doing what they want to do that brings them success. One of the ways you can do that is to reduce or eliminate wasted time.

Alright, I hope that I can get started on these things to do (this post was a long time coming, and is hopefully a start). Other things I have in mind is to set up a strict schedule of things to do (if you get my Good Mornings on time, you know I’m already on a decent start), and possibly hack my sleep.


Zero State Principle

We often wonder why, we are forced to do things that are ‘apparently’ good for us, but we feel that we don’t need them at all. For instance, after paying thousands and lakhs of rupees for education, most of it ends up in one ear and out the other. When we see some effort done by others to improve something, we dismiss it for their hopelessness. Allow me to introduce to you, the Zero State Principle, a way of looking at something to understand its full worth.

The Zero State Principle is something I thought up (hence the rather simple name), as a way of applying thought process to understand the Reason behind doing something. The logic of ZSP is simple: Whenever you see something being done, eliminate it completely, and then imagine the state of the environment (business, personal, political, etc). Then start building up to the current state, the process through which you will understand the full benefit or need of doing it.

For instance, Micromax, the Indian mobile phone brand, has been extremely aggressive in their advertising. They make low to high end mobile phones, which sell at almost half of what the current leaders, Samsung sells comparable products at. Meanwhile, Micromax is pushing ads on Radio, Television, sponsoring major events like the colossal Indian Premier League cricket event.

All this made me wonder ‘Why’? Surely, it would have enough to have TV ads and Radio. Why events so large? Aren’t they just over-doing it? I take this example, though there are countless others (spate of recent E-commerce TV advertisements should be an indication).

So I had to imagine what Micromax would look like in a Zero State of marketing. So let’s say Micromax has a perfect back end supply chain – excellent manufacturing, high quality processes, quick transports, and a well balance and distributed retail channel. So in this side, Micromax makes excellent phones, and you can buy one pretty much everywhere.

But with Zero Marketing. So now, who is going to try the first phone? Surely, someone who does not know the brand, and is looking at the cost/features alone. On a purely technical or objective note, Micromax might still be quite competitive (though facing stiff competition from clones). A few people might try it out, find it to be a decent find, and share amongst a few friends. Growth would probably happen, but a rather slow trajectory. Basically, Micromax would struggle to sell enough in volume to regain its investments in manufacturing, quality control and distribution. It needs to sell more. Zero State of Marketing isn’t enough. At all.

Now, from Zero State, let’s start adding elements.

So let’s start looking at mediums which India uses: TV, Radio and Print. Newspapers are still very well penetrated in India, and TV gives visual feedback and allows users to get a sense of the product in its ‘natural’ habitat (in some lovely looking damsel’s hands, or in the palm of smart executive with a suit).

Phase 1: Micromax rolls out TV advertisements (after hiring an Ad Agency of course. In this case, Lowe Lintas made those TV ads). Not bad, decent coverage – people are curious

Phase 2: Billboards, Print Ads, promotions and discounts, some Radio ads. People should be picking up phones with proper incentives, and finding that the phones are of good quality, recommend to friends. But some of those friends still haven’t heard of Micromax (“Microsoft?”) and  are not completely convinced.

Phase 3: The big guns – Sponsor IPL. This would be worth a lot of money, but wow, the visibility of it cannot be denied. As India’s favorite sport, it had a Cumulative Reach of 90-110 Million people, almost 10% of all of India? Now, as Tarantino’s character from D’Jango Unchained said “You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention”. If you haven’t experienced a Micromax yet – go out there and do it!

Phase 4(?): Now, in marketing, you toy with two basic parameters – reach and frequency. While all of the above media indicate different ways to get reach, the only way to get frequency is to keep pumping money (I shall not bore you with facts of how much each costs, but lest to say, its quite expensive to get footage in India, unless you really don’t want footage). Depending on how much money you have, you can theoretically keep paying up, well, forever – though one would argue that it wouldn’t make sense.

But let’s rewind back to the point. Micromax is spending a lot. If we ask ourselves why, go to Zero State – the Why Not? and see what would it do. Then build up back to the current state. Now appreciate what they’ve done. (On a note though, this a theoretical exercise. Micromax has been around since 1991, and is a major national and international player)

Switching examples to something more closer to us, consider education. We often give little regard to some of the classes we attend, fooling ourselves with the pride that ‘We know all of this already’. When working, there are training workshops which we half-heartedly attend for the sake of checking off the requirements.

But imagine it at Zero State. Most of us have completed a bachelors degree, and then many of us are on a masters as well. If you really knew everything that was already taught, then start skipping classes. Surely one class wouldn’t matter. We can skip this class on a whim, right?

Why not. Let’s go. Eliminate trainings at office. Scale back on each of the classes that you are forced to attend at masters/bachelors. Once you start eliminating each class individually, pretty soon you can imagine that you need not attend any class. Since you’re not attending any class, why do any exercise (on a slight note, its usually these forced exercises/submissions that require you to learn). But for arguments sake, eliminate higher education. Then secondary education. Then primary education. Ta-da you’re just reversed generations of fighting for right to education.

Now imagine yourself in a state where, by assuming yourself to be the beneficiary of a short term decision (like well, missing a class), extended the argument to Zero State – no education. For argument’s sake, let’s say you were given hollow degrees, so on paper you didn’t miss anything. Isn’t it likely, that in Zero State, you gain none of the wild skills that someone else gained by going through the grind?

Going to Gym, another example – you miss out on one day, fine, another day, also ok – but go to Zero State, and you’re stuck with a shape that isn’t shapely (Round is a shape isn’t an argument folks).

I think you get my point.

Zero State Principle. When in doubt of why you are doing something or asked to do something which value seems too minor in a small step, or when something seems too much and unnecessary, imagine a scenario where it doesn’t exist at all. Then keep adding elements to the state you are in, or where you want to be. Appreciate.


The Time to Question

I was recently talking to a friend of a friend (now, of course, a friend, directly), who was in Bangalore, potentially looking for a job change. We had a few really good intellectual discussions which I wanted to record here, for safeguarding it from the merciless villain that is, forgetfulness.

Over a Costa Coffee, my friend, who was a working a global management consulting firm, looking for a switch to a financial company, described how he perceived the work that he was getting, to which I added some thoughts.
Basically, when you first join a job, you are pretty much told what you need to do. The work is usually cut out, based on a clear set of requirements from your manager, or a directive from your boss to do something that you have previously done in the past. I drew parallels to both these instances from working at my present role, and found both of them to be quite straightforward and easy to do.

With the passage of time, of course, this would become repetitive, and you begin to explore what more can be done. And here we must pause, because the juncture at which you as an individual realize that you can actually do more than you were tasked to, or that you begin to take on the right to question what is given, that is where you start contributing real, irreplaceable value.
Now, even with my limited employment experience, I begin to question what I am doing, and how I can make it better, faster, easier to comprehend, etc (usually through the powerful use of technology). I would begin asking, how can I use technology to make this better. My friend suggested, take it a step forward “”Why technology””. I had a pretty good answer (keywords: “”multiplicative effect””, “”do-once-run-forever””).

At this point, I realized that fundamentally, everything must be questioned to the absolute core. Why technology? To improve something? Why improve something? To make it better? Why? To serve customers better? Why? …. this process should go on, until the only answer you have is a test of how strong your company’s or your personal Vision and Mission holds against what you are doing.

And of course, where do the vision and mission come from? Well, someone has to sit and write them. A rather famous quote went something along the lines of “”If you aren’t working for your own dream, you are helping someone else’s dream come true””.

I thought I should end this short note with a few points from my discussion, lest I forget them.
1. Initially, absorb what it is that you are doing, and what you need to do it (from your peers, managers, parents)
2. Start questioning what you are doing, why, and how
3. Question all the way till you can define yourself and your organization.
4. Turn Questions into possible ways of improvement, focusing on the sticky points of your line of questioning, or abandon the current process for a better one (e.g. Why are we rewriting code in different languages => Switch to WebApps, etc)
5. Add value to whatever you are doing, making an impact that is attributable to you, a legacy to leave behind.

No process is perfect, and there is always scope to improve. The key lies in your ability to question things, and improve on them. Absorb, then question.