Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

Design Thinking A Critical Next Step For Indian Companies, And Professionals

on Saturday, July 27, 2013
Note: This post was featured as an article in The Economic Times (Titled the "Case for Beauty") and their online edition (see below.)
For a moment, I bristled. Then I sat back, reflected and agreed. Over a quite dinner, the CEO and Digital Officer of a major US company had gently suggested that they LOVE India, but were distressed by the absolutely shoddy design sensibility in India. "Our team there is lovely, hugely smart, engaged - what they never deliver is a crisp, brand-worthy product. Their content is world-class. Presentation? Horrible."

With one foot firmly planted each in India and the US, I have to admit, the balance and differences are striking. Sometimes, I despair about the analytics I get from my US associates, and sometimes I wish I could just get a product that I could depend on in India. The Indian-made pencil cases for the kids tear apart in one day, the churidhar turns out to have holes when I look closely at it at home, the brand-new car door squeaks, the wifi router decides to take a break whenever it wants to.

Precision in industrial design ensures that the right pieces fit together. The only way IKEA’s business model works, with its mass produced but excellent, cost-effective, DIY (do it yourself) furniture and homewares is that when they tell you two pieces will fit together and hold your baby’s weight, you know you can trust them. That obsession with precision should be part of all product development – my tea infuser from Teavana works on a system of levers and never spills a drop. That kind of dependability should be a key metric of any great company. The early morning perfection certainly made me go back to buy a few more as gifts for my tea-drinking friends and family. In contrast, I struggle each morning with my pretty stainless steel tea container from Chennai that holds my Nilgiri tea. As I jimmy it open with tea spoon, I get an early morning reminder on the importance of good industrial design.

And it’s not just product design, it’s an obsession with quality. I’ve been in enough Fortune 100 companies when a communication goes out with a slightly wrong font, the logo colors get muted, or one of the website links don’t work. The level of scrutiny is high, the urgency and speed of action is unmatched.

Education, as always, is key. I think it took me a decade of trial and error serving outside of my country to get to some basic design capability. If I had learned some elements of design thinking as a child, it would have become part of my ingrained mind-set:

  •      Design Thinking  is a particular style of problem-solving that designers use to ideate. It lays out the connection between a gap in the current state (A problem, if you will) and a solution, and then focuses on developing a creative design that is precise, unique and functional.
  •      Companies like IDEO have been able to show that by using design thinking principles, individuals and businesses will be better able to take innovation to a higher level and create a competitive advantage in today's global economy.
  •      As a culture, we believe in the merit of the idea. Design thinking goes beyond the idea. Form follows function - but it SHOULD always be part of the process. In looking at creative Jugaad Indian ideas, the part that seems to need more work is the crisp design that the IDEOs of the world have perfected.
  • The genius economist, sociologist and psychologist, Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, set the tone for connecting disciplines - it was not enough to stick to the problem, but start with the vision or goal. By turning the way you think from solving a problem to having a vision of what great looks like. In the former case the goal is to fix something, and move on once it is fixed, even if the fix is a work-around or "sticky tape and rubber bands" - i.e, not very elegant, In the latter case, you envision the improved future state, and work back from that. So an elegant design become an inherent part of the solution process.
Despite the vicissitudes of our economy, Indians are inexorably getting to the point where they regularly spend discretionary funds. The influx of foreign products makes it possible for middle class Indian to start doing side-by-side comparisons between home-made (swadeshi) and foreign. It's time to raise our  Swadeshi flag again - but not just by thumping nationalist tables, but by building compelling products that work fantastically, and look elegant. My Titan watch sits on my bed-side next to it’s Swiss sister, and reminds me every day that it's possible. Now the rest of our companies could follow suit.

Your Salesforce Can Be A Source Of Great Innovation - If You Listen To Them....

on Saturday, July 6, 2013

I'm writing an eBook for, and so have interviewed a few innovative heads of sales from different organizations. One of the anecdotes that struck me as really interesting, didn't make it into the final cut because the book took a slightly different track.

Here's a tale of how Salespeople Ensured Great Programming at the Food Network.
My friend Erica Gruen masterminded one of television’s biggest brands as President/CEO of The Food Network and, the #1 site for food. 

Taking over in June 1996 when the network had no ratings and no distribution, she staged a complete brand and programming turnaround and created a blockbuster in only two years - introducing the smash hits Emeril Live!, The Two Fat Ladies, and The Iron Chef.