JargonJungle: Thinking outside the box

Thinking outside box is not an airy-fairy affair that means just looking at the blue sky.

This article was first published on bloncampus.com http://www.bloncampus.com/columns/jargon-jungle/use-the-right-box-for-innovation/article8756314.ece in my fortnightly columns titled ‘Jargon Jungle”

“Think innovatively outside the box,” he exhorted his colleagues. Clearly, Chetan was in a hurry. The team leader ran a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for a new app, that would help his company engage better with its customers.

But while he casually threw around the words, in his hurry, he overlooked the fact that innovating isn’t very different from thinking outside the box. Perhaps he wanted to place a ‘double’ emphasis.

Whatever his reason, the world seems to be placing increasingly greater emphasis on ‘thinking outside the box’ or innovation. This kind of thinking also enables one to use cutting-edge technologies innovatively in solutions such as remote patient care or student-centred learning.

Know your ‘boxes’

The most popular method of ‘thinking outside the box’ is by running a brainstorming session. But what really happens in a typical session? Consider Chetan’s group as one ‘box’ and their conference room as another box.

People in a group put a limit on what can be said or thought. To understand this, simply observe what happens if one of the team members walks in late or someone from another group is called in. You will notice a shift in the conversation. This change is more evident when a boss walks in or leaves the room.

There are other invisible ‘boxes’ that restrict our thought process — an individual, a team, a department, company, markets, social and cultural practices, and ignorance of technology, among others. However, we aren’t all that conscious of such boxes.

A conference room, through its familiar walls, posters, pictures and even window blinds, cues us to a familiar thinking pattern, due to its sameness and familiarity. You notice this only when you get out of it.

Without being aware of various ‘boxes’, it is impossible to think outside them.

A big enough box

While ‘thinking outside the box’ needs a box that is big enough, one must ensure that it isn’t too big. Let me illustrate this.

Too big a box for Chetan’s group would be thinking in the context of a totally different business model or a totally different technology platform. If ideas are not feasible, the brainstorming sessions are bound to be useless. It is important to find out more about the ‘big box’ before you start jumping outside the smaller ones. You can start by asking questions like:

~ How would I define the aim or the problem more clearly? (How is customer engagement measured?)

~ How much time do you have to show results? (When is the app needed?)

~ How much of a budget do you have?

Perhaps you can start the session with a discussion on the Big Box definition. The above questions will lead to more questions, which will in turn help in productive thinking.

Demolishing small boxes

Having defined the Big Box, you have start demolishing the smaller boxes. Here’s how you can do that.

Set a different perspective; ask people to play a customer and watch what happens; use a tool like Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, which helps people leave their personal boxes aside and think without inhibition.

Another powerful tool is to devote some time to only asking questions. Avoid spending time in answering them initially.

Here are some questions that can be asked in Chetan’s group: ‘Why would customers want to be engaged with us?’, ‘What will they get through engagement?’, ‘What will we get through it all?’, ‘What is meant by engagement?’ and so on.

No walk in the park

They say innovation or creativity is fun. This may be true for some who genuinely enjoy it. Or it could be also because of the way it is portrayed — companies like Alphabet or Apple make it appear fun. It is certainly cool to be a designer or an engineer who creates something new that gets talked about.

But while the outcome of thinking outside box is exciting and fun, the creative process itself isn’t a walk in the park. It is like sweating and gasping through a hard climb to find the exhilarating breeze at the peak. Not everyone enjoys the climb; some may find it too daunting.

Thinking outside box is not an airy-fairy affair that means just looking at the blue sky. You have to set up conditions, painstakingly navigate many questions, and rigorously harvest discussions.

Thinking outside the box needs a big box, some rough rules of moving about, and someone who leads the project with clear goals, flexibility of tools, and the tenacity of a trekker — someone who considers pattern-busting thoughts a reward in itself.

“This article was published at https://leadtoregenerate.wordpress.com/2016/06/28/jargonjungle-thinking-outside-the-box/

For more such articles, visit the authors’ blog at https://leadtoregenerate.wordpress.com/

Work-life Balance

These days, when you feel fatigued and dull all the time, you don’t say things like ‘I am overworked and underpaid’, or that ‘I am working like a dog’. Neither do you say ‘I have lousy habits like being a couch or chair potato’; nor do you say ‘I am not healthy’. Instead, you spout a bit of jargon that’s so generic that no one really asks you what’s wrong — you just say ‘I don’t have a work-life balance’.

It might mean you have absolutely no idea what is wrong with you.

You have a feeling that this ‘balance’ is just a question of taking off the ‘work bricks’ from one pan and adding ‘dollops of life’ on the other. You do this and voila! You have balance!

But this is obviously not true. Jargon is jargon because it tends to hide the problematic reality, obscures diagnosis, and therefore prevents corrective action. And using ‘work-life balance’ to describe a complex situation does all three. Maybe your problems don’t have anything to do with ‘balance’.

Problems at work

The reality could be that you’re suffering from bad work. There can be many causes for this.

Maybe your employer believes that to get the company’s money’s worth, you must put in long working hours, your weekends and holidays included. Maybe you hate your work. Or maybe you like your work, but you have to put in a lot of effort to get results.

It could also be that you don’t enjoy your work because everyone gets away with delays and shoddy work, leaving you to clean up after them, since you are the last in the chain. It may be that you don’t have cooperative colleagues. Perhaps a tough market is causing difficulties.

Or it is possible that your work requires you to make compromises about your values.

Difficult life

Alternatively, you could be unhappy outside your work as well.

Perhaps you don’t spare much thought for others, including those close to you. Or you don’t express your feelings. It is possible that you don’t have anyone whom you can confide in and share your weaknesses, fears or dark thoughts.

Possibly, you don’t exercise regularly; you aren’t learning anything new or you aren’t doing anything differently. There might be some health issues, niggles, or bad habits which you have swept under the carpet.

Others may think that you are selfish or unreliable, which is why they keep away from you. It is possible that you get more tired by thinking about the unpleasant tasks than by actually doing them.

A big possibility is that your ‘bad work’ is spilling over to your ‘life’ and is causing problems.

You may not even know why your energy levels are low, why you are irritable, or why you suffer from mood swings. When you use jargon like work-life balance, it prevents you from taking a good, long, hard look at yourself.

Elusive balance

Unless you investigate the causes behind your bad work or difficult life, any amount of ‘work-life balance’ initiatives by your HR will be of no use.

But even before you begin to investigate, you must recognise and accept your reality. A chat with a good friend or your spouse or a professional counsellor might help. You may also consider online tools that help you find out more about yourself.

Work-life balance is not about avoiding hard work — it can’t be achieved by slogging until you are 35 to make a fortune and then retiring — in all likelihood, you will retire with a lifelong lifestyle disease!

The balance we need is not that of two pans and a pointer in the middle. That’s dead balance.

The balance we need is that of a runner who enjoys his movement, or that of a musician who enjoys his performance. The balance we need is that of working hard and well, followed by rest as one savours the sweet exhaustion that comes with doing a good job. All of us know what that is.

Whether in sports, at work, or in life, such a balance is difficult to achieve. And it happens only if we practise to set up conditions of balance and then let go.

Conditions for balance

We must work well and long — but not so hard as to get fatigued and not so little that it makes us feel worthless. We need to be in a zone that is between the two extremes.

What causes us to work too hard? Ego or pride (need to show off), fear (I will lag behind), less skill, less knowledge, less experience, wrong methods, wrong tools, and attitude mismatch are a few reasons.

What causes laziness? Fear of failure, dislike for the work, energy or health issues, and wrong attitude could make you dull.

The prevention

Naturally, we need to prevent any of the above conditions that either make us work too hard or too little. If we can identify the specific causes, we know what to do to set conditions for balance.

We must also realise that there are certain things we can’t change — at least in the short term. We must learn to accept them. Such situations hold important learning opportunities for us.

We need to take responsibility for our own work-life balance. No one else can do this for us.

” This article was published at https://leadtoregenerate.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/work-life-balance/
For more such articles, visit the authors’ blog at https://leadtoregenerate.wordpress.com/

IoT:Imagination of things

Iot:Imagination of Things

Calling all ‘imaginators’!

Internet of Things is an invitation to breakthrough thinking, where imagination can be let loose

Cloud computing is passé; Big Data is getting bigger and mobility is a given. But what is stirring excitement and merger and acquisition deals is the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). Companies with their feet in the cloud (pun unintended!), mobility, big data analytics, and the IoTs, are hot commodities.

Firms that have cash to spare are buys buying big into the above areas. We will see more and more sector- or industry-defying deals — the idea of a Google car doesn’t seem an oddity anymore. IoT is at the epicentre of a tidal wave that is likely to overturn the established industrial order.

What is IoT?
Shorn of all jargon, the Internet of Things is a network of products and devices that are connected to the Internet. So far, people have been on internet through their computers and mobile phones, and have mainly used the Net for searching, browsing news, gathering information, shopping, planning travels, messaging, talking, collaborating, checking weather, watching events live, storing and streaming pictures, music and videos — countless other activities.

In this sense, people are the acting agents in the ‘normal’ internet.

It’s all about things
One way to understand IoT is to imagine it as a kind of internet where the acting agents are ‘things’, not people — think car engines, tires, factory machines, appliances such as refrigerators, air-conditioners or heaters, and even streetlights and parking lots; whatever you can imagine can be fitted with sensors and internet connectivity.

Networks of these can be formed. Cars already come with an army of sensors, measuring every conceivable parameter from speed, tire pressure and engine temperature to pitch and roll, acceleration and exhaust gas composition. Machines in factories have detectors and control mechanisms to automate them; wearable devices like fitness bands and phones have many sensors too.

We already have many instruments in our homes, offices, factories, and public spaces that are fitted with sensors, and some of these have forms of connectivity, such as bluetooth, RFID, analogue interfaces or Wi-Fi.

Miniature motes of sensors
A lot of work is taking place in research and development of new sensors and what are called ‘motes’. Motes combine a sensor, some electronics for interface, memory, computing, and a means of powering all of this. If they can be miniaturised, such intelligent sensors can be embedded in a variety of things — they can be implanted in a device, stuck on, or worn. They can even be sprayed — in farms, for example, they can measure soil moisture content, conductivity and other parameters as feedback to begin drip irrigation or replenish doses of nutrients. These ‘things’ can also be equipped with their own diagnostics.

So, what do we mean when we say the ‘acting agents’ are ‘things’? In simple terms, it just means that motors, thermostats, sprinklers, valves, lamps, cars and other instruments fitted with such ‘motes’ will generate information, share it across the IoT network and act on information over the network, with minimal human intervention.

Human beings (still) need to figure out how to group ‘things’ fitted with ‘motes’, what they will share and in what ways they will act so that the IoT network does something more productive than what they (the humans) could have contributed.

Limiting factors
What IoT networks can achieve is hindered only by the factors given below.

  • Sensor and mote size
  • Powering of motes
  • Protocols of connectivity and sharing information
  • Algorithms and artificial intelligence backed by (big) data
  • Proofs of concepts and commercialisation
  • Human imagination
  • Human inertia or resistance to change

Breakthrough thinking
One can imagine how and why the resistance to change will come about. The Google Car, yet to be commercially available, is already seen as potential threat to the existing order in the world of automobiles. Companies like Toyota are scrambling to produce their own automated cars. Pushback from existing car companies, regulators who listen to existing industry players, and social factors (like cabbies’ unions) will naturally play out. Google Car is an IoT network by itself (with numerous sensors and actuators working to a plan) connected with other cars and with a super network of networks. In this, human beings can just feed information about where they wish to go and input the road rules of the game, and they might be dropped off there.

In healthcare, the entire chains, from patients to physicians, pathology and diagnostic centres to hospitals and specialists are likely to morph into something entirely different through a combination of IoT and traditional computer networks.

In homes, you can imagine that in homes, an IoT network may allow control of lights depending on not just the time of day or movement of people but also based on whether your television is on (to provide some ambient lighting to cut glare or contrast) or whether you are listening to music. Even the curtains or window blinds can be adjusted. Humidity and temperature sensors connected to IoT will help you optimise energy consumption.

All these are possible, but the challenge will be in developing IoT apps that make various settings easy and which can learn your preferences. Researchers are working on ‘cells’ which generate electricity from body heat. Such energy sources will be a boon to wearable devices or even body implants equipped with IoT networking.

One can only imagine how value chains in industry will undergo upheavals. Tremendous value locked in existing ways will be destroyed and be captured in newer ways. IoT networks will generate data that are orders of magnitude bigger than humans now create. Obviously, we will need even bigger capacities in big data analytics and cloud technology. You can now understand why cloud, big data, mobility, and IoT are hot.

It’s likely that you will deal with the emerging IoT network related businesses while working with a start-up or with an existing player. If you extend your knowledge into other areas and spend time imagining, you may surprise yourself.

You will need to indulge your imagination time and again. People capable of breakthrough thinking will be in hot demand — ‘imaginators’ will be in as much demand as the techies.

Article written by Hemant Karandikar.
Visit his Linkedin Profile
Visit his Blog

How do you brand ‘thinking’ ?

When some eminent intellectuals of Pune, got together with an idea of setting up a think tank, they needed to communicate:
PIC Logo
Pune has always been a city of learning, scholarship, values, enlightened thinking and action. The city today boasts of the presence of thought leaders from all walks of life be it art, culture, education, law, science, engineering, politics, trade, commerce, manufacturing industry, knowledge based services, and so on. The Pune International Center (PIC) is a world class think tank, it provides a public forum for free & fair debates on policy, and it promotes art and culture.

That was the design challenge. We needed to communicate profound and abstract thinking prowess. We needed to reflect aspirations, yet bring out the quality of intellectual output rising above the ordinary.

After much brain storming a logo concept was finalized and designed by Falguni Gokhale, Director Visual Communications, Design Directions, Pune.

About the logo:

Lotus which is a symbol of beauty, art, intelligence, enlightenment and growth was chosen. The ‘whirls’ signify churning (manthan) of thoughts which bring out the core or the essence. The gold signifies purity of thought, the burgundy-pink express the youth and festivities and the blue signifies wisdom of people of Pune. The traditional motif in ‘international’ context creates a modern but timeless expression.

The logo received CII Design Excellence Award.

The PIC produces its brochures and policy papers under this identity and these are well received.
PIC Branding

Article written by Hemant Karandikar. Visit his Linkedin Profile

Do your corporate communications help your sales people? (a design challenge)

A field hardened sales chief once remarked that a key audience group of your marketing material is your sales team. He was so right!

In a previous post I illustrated use of visual language for communicating brand or product identity message. Brand message needs to be simple. But we also need to communicate complex messages related to a corporate brand or a complex product or a suite of offerings. The challenge for visual communications here is entirely different.

An engineering group having presence in textile engineering, liquid transfer, high speed print solutions, machine to machine communications, and clean technology through several business entities, the design challenge was to communicate all these under a single corporate master brand umbrella.

Do your corporate communications help your sales people? (a design challenge)

Such complex information places considerable cognitive load and a reader may gloss over some important part of the message. The base requirement in the above situation was that the reader should be able to visually register in her mind the corporate brand, several lines of business, and existence of business entities. She can then pay more attention to area of her immediate interest. The corporate brochure was well received by the company’s existing and prospective clients.

What’s more, the above corporate brochure became an important marketing collateral. It directly addressed the needs of sales engineers in early stage communications in a typical sales cycle -when you are introducing your company. Imagine a sales engineer having to explain the above message! He might either lose the attention of his prospective customer or he may rush through his talk by skipping what might be relevant!

Communications need to be put in the context of business processes like selling or buying. That’s another design challenge!

Article written by Hemant Karandikar. Visit his Linkedin Profile

Visual language, the next design challenge

When you have developed the right design philosophy, your next challenge is creating the visual language which will convey your philosophy.

Q: How will you convey “(respect for) tradition, (spirit of) celebration, and authenticity” visually -all at once?

A: There are (there must be) many ways of developing the language. Your design language will depend on the target audience and the product. Here is what Falguni Gokhale, ready to cook spice mixes for the Jain communityDirector, Visual Communications at Design Directions, Pune came up with for ready to cook spice mixes for the Jain community.  Noticed the graphic in white line (drawn as ‘Rangoli’) which depict the auspicious Jain ‘Mandala’, the spices used for coloring, and the over all bright effects?

What is your answer?

Article written by Hemant Karandikar. Visit his Linkedin Profile

From Operation Theater to Refinery: design philosophy is critical

In the recent post about design philosophy I had discussed the design challenge of revamping a medical product requiring a user interface which would let the operating theater staff to focus the medical procedure underway rather than fumbling around the instrument’s screen for getting things done. So we had narrowed down to the need for a context-restricted navigation kind of philosophy.

From surgeon’s operating theater to a large control room of a refinery

Here is another example: Now we must move away from the operating theater and step into a control room of a petroleum refinery. A typical control room houses over 60-70 control room engineers who use their desktop consoles to ‘see’ and ‘control’ refinery’s equipment. Each operator is glued to his console screen focusing on a small section of the huge plant allotted to him.


While this specialization is necessary, the operators are less aware of the plant’s overall status and technical conditions which might need attention in their respective areas. What is at stake is safety. Therefore, the management of the refinery came up with the requirement of improving situational awareness of the operators.

The design challenge here was to conceive ways of displaying refinery’s complex technical and operational data live for bringing out critical conditions which are imminent and without without distracting them from their respective core tasks. We met this design challenge by developing a display design philosophy which conceived visual representation of complex, multi-parameter conditions in cognitively efficient way, defining a color palette tolerant to ‘permitted’ types of color blindness, fonts and their sizes, and ways of notifying critical conditions. The control room was equipped with eight video walls each of 8 meter width and 4 meter height displaying live infographics. All that any operator would need to do was to glance up at the video wall of his section and know all that is important happening around his area.

Our client and we had to stay course with this design philosophy for the success of this very large and critical project.

Whether it is an operating theater or a large control room, whether it is a small touch screen or a huge video wall; a sound design philosophy must be developed. This needs intersection of domain expertise, process engineering, and visual communications.

As a I said before, a designer must live in all of them.

Article written by Hemant Karandikar. Visit his Linkedin Profile

Brand strategy, Communications, and User Interface Design

Design Directions Pvt. Ltd



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