Tuesday, 13 October 2015


The world is moving at a very fast pace and everybody is working hard to get ahead in as short a time as possible. As a result, people are cramming up their calendars with more and more. Their ‘to-do’ list just never seems to end. The ability to multitask seems to be the most essential requirement in the work environment. However, the fact is that no one has ever been able to achieve much this way.
To be successful in life – Focus on one thing!
Research has shown time and again that the human mind is not meant to multitask. Not just that, research now even proves how long-term multitasking is actually harmful for the brain. A study done in 2009 by Stanford proved that frequent multitaskers were not able to use their brain as efficiently as non-multitaskers. The scary part is that frequent multitaskers were less effective even when asked to focus on one activity. Trying to get too much done in one go is not a good idea. It will not get you quick success; rather, focusing on one thing at a time, nurturing it and developing it slowly is the key to success.
The bottom line is – multitasking is out. It’s a myth that people who can do multiple tasks simultaneously are more effective and efficient. Rather, the ones who keep their focus on one thing and give it their undivided attention are the ones who over time develop focused expertise and eventually take the lead. If one were to have a heart problem, one would prefer to go to a heart specialist rather than a general physician. Well, the same rule applies to business. Everyone likes to work with a specialist. So if you really want to achieve a lot, go one step at a time. Plan well and focus on one thing at a time. You will become a specialist in that one area. And very soon, your productivity too will skyrocket.
Multitasking is for losers. Brands that try to promise too many things or people who try to do too many things finally lose out to the more focused ones. Look around and you will find that all successful entrepreneurs have found the one thing they are best at and have really focused on doing just that. Be it entertainers, rockstars, film stars, or artists – the successful ones have focused on what they are best at. SRK has been best at playing the lover boy; Air Supply the best at singing love songs; the legendary M.F. Hussain was best at painting horses; and the list goes on. Each found a niche and mastered it.
You too should look at your to-do list carefully and find out the one thing that means the most to you and work on that, day in and day out, ignoring all the other tasks that steal your precious time and are a waste eventually. Watch how quickly you will be able to reach your goal as compared to others who are too busy doing too many things, which add up to nothing in the end.
To be successful in brand building – Focus on one message!
All great brands have one thing in common and that is that they live up to the promise they make and keep you as a customer satisfied. However, there is one more important factor and that is, all great brands make only ‘one’ promise. It has a dual advantage. Firstly, the brand does not need to work so hard to fulfill too many promises (and in the process do a mediocre job); secondly, the consumer is clear about exactly what to expect from the brand.
A new brand Chobani started business in 2005 and today owns nearly 20% of the market share for ‘Greek’ yoghurt in USA. It built its brand so fast by keeping the focus on one aspect and that is ‘real yoghurt’. For years, a few players who pumped out products that had high calorie content and preservatives had dominated the yoghurt market. Now with Chobani, people had the option of a Greek yoghurt, which is plain yoghurt with very high protein and very low sugar content.
However, the secret to success for this brand was also its focus on manufacturing. It had to carpet-bomb the aisles of all possible department stores with its products before the biggies woke up and gobbled up this small startup. So Mr. Chobani focused on increasing his production capacity really fast and changed the whole market dynamics. He was absolutely sure about his product, and now just needed to focus on the right business strategy of expanding fast and making his presence felt before the biggies started imitating him and using their mass production capacities to dominate the market. When he started off, the demand for Greek yoghurt was only 0.2%; today, it commands around 50% of the yoghurt market, all thanks to one startup and its focus. Chobani is today the number one yoghurt brand of USA.
Look at the recent success story of another brand called Lululemon. From just one store in 1998 to almost 200 stores now, it has been Canada’s fastest growing brand. The story becomes even more interesting when you look carefully and realize that the brand primarily sells yoga-wear. Add to this another interesting fact that the brand hardly believes in fancy advertising, or in paying celebrities to endorse its products. Its prime focus has been word-of-mouth. Every place that it opens a store in, it builds a strong relationship with the yoga instructors of that community by giving them Lululemon merchandise (worth $1000) to wear and give feedback, and also to recommend it to their students. It even promotes them by calling them for free workshops in its store where it puts up large posters of the trainers. This gives them free publicity and helps them get more students, and it helps Lululemon sell more.
The focus on ‘word-of-mouth’ does not change inside the store either, where staff is trained to eavesdrop on the conversations that the customers have to understand what they liked and did not like about the merchandise. It does so by placing the clothes-folding table on the sales floor near the fitting rooms so that the staff can hear the complaints and comments. This feedback is then used to rework and improve the designs. By just focusing on word-of-mouth, the company has achieved a market value of $10.4 billion. As one employee quoted recently to media, “We have the third highest productivity per square foot after Apple and Tiffany, which is pretty powerful considering they sell computers and diamonds and we sell yoga pants”. In spite of the fact that there are numerous other brands selling yoga pants for much cheaper, the brand has beaten all and managed to carve a niche for itself. Yoga may have started in India, but Canadian brand Lululemon took it to NYSE! Not bad, considering that one of the main teachings of yoga is to learn to ‘focus’ on your mind and body. Focus, as you see, benefits not just the mind and the body, but also the balance sheets.
On the other hand, take the case of Rediff, which is India’s first internet company to get listed in the US stock markets, but has failed to impress investors. The main problem is its lack of focus. It has been trying to do too many things and hence has not been able to impress many. It is into spaces like e-mail, search engine, travel, news portal, e-commerce and more. In none has it been able to become a leader. When you think of search, you think Google; when you think of e-commerce, you think of Flipkart or eBay. Where does Rediff fit in? To survive, it needs to work out its one focus area and develop it pretty soon.
A new drink named Paper Boat has been slowly but steadily dominating the beverage market in India. Its focus has been offering unique Indian flavours, which is helping it take on the big multinationals head-on. Flavours true to the Indian palate – like aam ras, jal jeera, jamun kala khatta, golgappe ka pani etcetera – along with its unique packaging, have made the brand stand out. It has now even managed to get funding from Infosys founder Narayana Murthy’s firm. The brand and its clear focus on traditional Indian tastes has won it many loyal customers.
Focus works everywhere. The oft-repeated story of ‘Arjuna and the eye of the fish’ proves the point of importance of focus in success and in life. During one hunting training exercise of the Pandavas, on being asked by Dronacharya what they could see while attempting to focus on the intended target, all the four Pandavas and Karna said they could see the sky, the trees and much more... all except Arjuna, who said he could only see the eye of the fish.  
You too should learn to focus on one aspect of your brand or one aspect of work and build up your capacities just like Arjuna, who focused on becoming a master archer and never wavered off. It’s the best branding and success lesson that the Mahabharata has taught us.


Amazon is today the one of the largest retailers of the world. Most of us have bought or at least browsed through the zillion things the site sells. Most of us have also patiently read the numerous customer reviews before proceeding to check out and finally buying the stuff. Now, here is an interesting fact. Most of the reviews are written by people whose job is to review products sent to them by Amazon. So they are not normal customers like you and me for they did not pay for the stuff they are reviewing. The important thing to note here is the fact that ‘customer review’ is an important factor today in building market share. It’s proved that products which get a feedback, that is are reviewed, are sold more than products which get no reviews. So Amazon has developed a program called ‘Vine’ where some trusted reviewers are invited to be a part of it. Through these reviewers, it populates its site with reviews which can help customers.
In the virtual world, to be successful, you need to be reviewed, to be noticed. It’s similar to the real world where ‘word of mouth’ is responsible for most sales. Today, we all depend on feedback and reviews before deciding on anything. Even before deciding which movie to watch, we check reviews. Before deciding where to dine, we look for what other customers have to say about the place. No wonder, sites like Zomato, Yelp are such big hits. The key word here is feedback. If you want to be successful, you need to get feedback from the market. In marketing terms, this used to be called ‘buzz’.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. Ken Blanchard said this years ago and it’s so true right now. A great leader is one who gives great feedback and a true achiever is one who is constantly asking for such feedback. The same rule applies for all successful companies also. They are those who have learnt the art of talking to their customers and seeking their feedback constantly. In today’s digital world, it’s become all the more easy to connect with your customers and find out what they actually need.
Not just companies, all successful people too attribute good feedback as one of the factors responsible for their success. As Ken Blanchard says, in an organization, the sales guys always are the ones who constantly get feedback so they know exactly how they are doing, while most of the other divisions are not so lucky. A great leader is one who ensures he gives feedback to all his people, especially those whose work cannot be quantified. It’s critical to reach out to these people and thank them for the work they put in and make them feel good about themselves. People who are happy about themselves, are more positive and productive at the workplace too. So the bottom line is, be it a company or an individual, true winners are those who actively seek feedback as this keeps them on their toes and they keep modifying their strategies to keep up to the mark.
If you want your people to work most efficiently, you need to give feedback constantly. It may sound easy, but it takes time to master the art of giving effective feedback. The key word here is ‘effective’. Not many can give a feedback that creates an impact. It is an art that is very important for any good leader to master.
Your feedback should be such that it is understood in the right spirit by the other person and results in positive action, especially when you are giving a negative feedback. If it provokes defensiveness and demotivates the person, you need to work harder on this skill. After all, it’s not easy to hear about our shortcomings from others.
Great communicators understand this. They always try and give ‘constructive feedback’. This helps the other person understand clearly what he did wrong and exactly what is expected of him. Plain criticism can have devastating consequences and break down relationships, even people and their will power.
A great leader uses feedback as a tool to motivate his team and get them to trust him, like him and consequently work harder.
‘United broke my guitar’ is a very interesting case study on feedback. United Airlines broke the guitar of Dave Carroll the lead singer of a Canadian band. He tried contacting the airlines and pursued them for over a year but no one was ready to listen. So he and his band wrote a song titled very appropriately ‘United breaks guitars’ and uploaded it on YouTube. The video got more than 2.5million views within days of it being posted on the net. He showed how some creativity and $150 can turn an entire industry upside down. The video made all airlines sit up and take notice .It finally got companies thinking seriously about the consequences of ignoring feedback from customers. It also showed the new level of relationship that companies and customers have today and how fragile it is and how today, more than ever before, it has to be handled with utmost care.
One company, which is always ready to receive feedback, is Vanguard Investments. The company has a culture where everybody is encouraged to receive feedback. Its chief executive Bill McNabb recalls the days when the telephone was the main medium of doing business. If the telephone was ringing and the staff was not enough, then everybody in the company including the CEO dropped what they were doing and answered phone calls. He called it the ‘Swiss Army’ culture. Every citizen of Switzerland considers himself to be a part of the army; similarly, every employee at Vanguard considers himself to be responsible for listening to customers and solving their problems. Things can go wrong and normally do, and one of the best ways to solve that is to just listen attentively to the person on the other side. Great companies not only listen, but also actively seek feedback from their customers to help plan better strategies for the future.
In a survey done on leadership effectiveness, it was found that the ones who were ranked at the top were also the ones who frequently asked their employees for feedback. The person who asks for feedback is the one who displays a unique behavior trait, which is the ability to take in criticism about oneself. Such people are also great listeners. If you really want to understand, then you really need to listen well, without getting offended, without interrupting the other person and making him trust you and giving him the confidence to speak the truth without fear. A leader wields great power and influence making it all the more difficult for people to speak up in front of him.
As the legendary Dr. Peter Drucker said, “The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis.” Great leaders are great learners and one of the best ways to learn is from feedback. Remember the story of ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’. It’s a classic case of a leader who was unable to build an environment around him where his followers could give him honest feedback and tell him that he was naked and had no clothes on.
To be a great leader, be a great learner and a great listener. What you should be listening to most attentively is the feedback, which could come to you verbally or non verbally. Air travel is today one of the safest modes of transport, but then planes do crash. The surprising fact is that most of the aviation disasters are caused by human error, and one of the reasons for human error is giving or receiving incorrect feedback. In January 1982, Air Florida fight was scheduled to travel from Washington to Florida. It had been snowing and the aircraft had not been de-iced properly; as a result, the instruments were frozen and were not giving the proper reading. The First Officer noticed the problem and tried telling this to the Captain, who just brushed the First Officer aside and ordered him to prepare for take-off. The run up before the take-off took longer than it should have taken; and the plane sadly crashed into a street a few hundred meters after the runway, killing 78 people, including four motorists. The sad part is that the reports showed that even after take-off, if the Captain had listened to the First Officer (who repeatedly kept telling the readings were wrong) there was enough space to halt the plane and avoid the disaster. If only the Captain had taken the feedback from his junior seriously!
One of the critical aspects of success is your ability to accept feedback with the right attitude, specially negative feedback.
Nick Woodman was a very average student in college. However, he had very above average ambitions. When the crazed dotcom bubble started in 2000, he too created a company named empowerall.com which sold very cheap electronics to young people. The company made huge losses and soon shut down. He then started another company Fugbug. This online company gave users a chance to win cash prizes by participating in sweepstakes. It was a good idea and he even managed to raise funding of $3.9 million. But he could not run it well and this too went bust. This time he lost $4 million, not a small amount and not an easy thing to handle, especially when it was the money of people who trusted him and invested in his business. Not to give up, he stared a third company named GoPro, which sold his new invention, a camera that could be used by athletes. Today, GoPro is one of the fastest growing camera companies in the USA. The important thing about this story is that Nick never let failure scare him to stop trying again. He took it as a feedback. It was a lesson from which he learnt what would work and what would not work. In fact, he says that the fear of failure made him work his ass off!!! He was so scared of failing that he was determined to succeed. This outlook made him one of the youngest billionaires in the world.
Take failure as a feedback and not as an end and chances are, you too would be able to join the billionaires’ club soon. According to a survey, out of the top 100 billionaires, 73 are self made. The reason they are on that list is because they went ahead and tried. At every stage, they reviewed their progress with a positive attitude and kept moving on. So can you.
Get ready to write your success story as you prepare to face the world and all the feedback it gives you. That’s the secret to success!