Archive for the ‘books’ Category

In praise of inefficiency

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

Setting sun

What price Efficiency?

The glory of the dying sun on the plains of India stirred interesting thoughts. Why is so showy? Why are we so gaudy about everything? Is the beauty of the universe reliant on the waste of energy?

These are heavy thoughts and perhaps belong to the philosophers, poets and mystics among us. On to more prosaic matters, a few weeks ago, I read an article on how Amazon had figured out a no-friction way to make shoppers get what they want. Just this week, the Economist brings in an interesting article on why too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The one-click ordering from Amazon.com that makes me buy too many books or the no-click Pizza buying from Domino’s through it’s app comes to mind.

Similarly, in SAAS products, we try to make the funnel narrower and thinner all the time to induce the customer to buy right away. What we forget many times is that subscription products are longer terms commitments and do require some thinking before the “Buy” button gets clicked. It may help to introduce some inefficiency the process by required watching of a training video or some demos from experienced sales folks before we allow users to swipe their cards. “But we will lose a lot of orders”, you might say. Well, perhaps. Have you considered the amount of churn you already generate by allowing anyone to just swipe their card and then cancel a few days later. I bet, that impacts more of your bottom-line than people taking their time ordering pricey services online.

The Volga Vikings

Talking of inefficiencies, let’s talk of these tribes of marauding Vikings who traded and raided all over Europe, sometimes to everyone’s credit and at other times, just causing mayhem all around. It is conjectured that these people came to so ferocious because a cataclysm(a meteor or comet) hit Northern Europe in the middle of the 6th century. It caused lots of hardship and caused the people to spill out looking for food and provisions for their families. Couldn’t they just trade, one may ask?

Two excuses come to mind. One, there were already established trade networks in Northern Europe and the raiding of Monasteries was to break their stranglehold on these networks. Two, there was lots more loot to be had when you could use physical threats with those you traded, Imperial East India Companies of later years come to mind.

They had mastered the sail and some raided on the coasts of Europe to get loot and other went the route of the Volga and traded with Byzantium and Baghdad. They brought in slaves and furs and traded them for gold, silver and spices.

Volga Trade Routes

Some of these groups of Vikings settled lands like Iceland, parts of Greenland and some early settlements can be seen in the coastal United States and Canada. The trade route linked to the famous silk route and so flourished until the Abbasid Caliphate had control, petering out in the 12th century.

To learn some more of their achievements, please listen to this lovely podcast and read about them in these lovely books.

 

 

 

Interesting reads for the week of 27th March 2017

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Gathering quantitative and qualitative data for sales leads.

We have been struggling to divine what customers tell us via their click trails for the last 2 decades. For the last few years we have the capability to gather data in real time. That doesn’t mean it can be put to proper use. After all, what hits the bottom-line matters most. Real-time engagement and segmentation on where the visitor lands on your site and making them into leads right there is a challenge that Segment is trying to solve. This isn’t the only path but it is a good idea nevertheless.

While bed sheet sales may seem to be a bit of a stretch to move using data but Brooklinen seems to have a good strategy figured out. This site focused on collecting all the quantitative and qualitative feedback, used some good intuition and tested it. They had a great thought in trying to satisfy men who are often under-served customers of bed linen. Also, they carry a ruthlessly narrow inventory based on all that customers demand and don’t go for any frills. Do read this lovely piece on their efforts

 

Les Miserables and how it rings true in every era.

It is a horrible read. Torrid at times, uplifting and cautiously optimistic rarely; and truly sad most of the way. However, Victor Hugo was probably on the money when he said

“AS LONG as there are ignorance and poverty on Earth,” wrote Victor Hugo in his preface to “Les Misérables”, “books such as this one may not be useless.”

The Economist put together a really nice piece on it. Do read it.

The Sasquatch fights, tooth and nail and hide!

Now for some contentious reads. The book by Mr. Meldrum is written for people who operate from a premise that there could be a hominid still living in the boreal forest of North America. He has some personal experience as an encounter with a beast like that while hiking in a very remote area. There is lots of evidence presented, presuming that all sightings are NOT hoaxes.

Mr. Nash operates entirely on the other side. His starting premise is that human cognition fails entirely when they encounter something strange and no eyewitnesses can be trusted at all. He is not really being very cynical. He has lots of data to back up his premise. However, it is impossible to deny certain eye-witness accounts, not only of Sasquatches but also other “monsters”. Just labeling them as cultural myths and not be treated as real beings. Please do read the following books. They are very interesting and quite cheap too!

 

 

Reading list for the midst of March

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

As always, I am going to try to foist only three thoughts on you this week.

Horrors of War

The First World War was one which killed enormous amounts of people. The numbers were truly staggering for the time.  There  were 17 million dead and 20 million wounded!!! All for European powers to prove who could rule over more people. It ended the most prosperous era the western world had seen in a long time and also ended the dominance of the British Empire forever.

The monarchies of Europe felt the brunt of the war and were clearly responsible for starting it. The workers International could not prevent it even by appealing to worker solidarity. The armies of Europe were downright eager for it. The following three books talk very eloquently of each and the part they inadvertently played in each other’s roles; both in fomenting and then exacerbating the conflict.

 

The Ambassador car

AmbassadorCan anyone who lived in India through the 1980’s ever forget this classic car? Even now, Kolkata taxis are all Ambassadors. Why, I asked a taxi driver. He responded ” They are the cheapest to maintain and we can manufacture spare parts locally.

This fabulous article by the sagely Mr. Thomas conveys the mystique and the genuine love for this model that we all possess. He is a Master of branding and he should know.

 

Smoothing the path through a customer’s task flow

All product makers struggle with making it easier for customers to use said products. Stumbling onto a product and not realizing what you can do with it, is probably the most probable cause for abandonment. No amount of hard selling or discounts will effectively make the customer loyal to your product. Well, Amazon understands this very well as this article in the First Round shows us.

Do you want me to cover any specific topics or have questions that are creating a slow burn in your brain? Do write to me and I will recommend the palliative, balmy books or studies to deal with them.

Holi Week Reads

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Holi

This week is Holi, the festival of colors in India. This festival is mainly celebrated to mark the coming of spring. Lots of folk gather around after the winter harvest and sprinkle colored water, throw gulal(made out of flour and psychedelic colored dyes). Let’s take a look at the three interesting articles/videos that came my way this week.

Cooked by Micheal Pollan.

This is a great show in four parts: Fire,Water,Air and Earth. It is really fascinating for old lovers of Mr. Pollan’s books.

 

The Real American Pie: No, it is not Apple Pie. It is mince pie instead. The author explores ways in which this pie became famous and how it lost it’s mojo over time.

Cover of the December 17 Reader; click image to enlarge
Enough about my fascination with food. Let’s get real and talk of one of the most dangerous lads in history: Genghis Khan. I first read about him in Mr. Weatherford’s seminal work, Genghis Khan and the making of a Modern World.

Over time, several other writers have come forward and tried to complete, compare and contrast the picture of this ruler of the largest empire known to man. In this article, the BBC History magazine explores the various facets of this fascinating ruler.

Until next week then! Have a good week and remember to play some Holi with friends and not get too drunk on Bhang. Yes, it is indisputably legal in India, during Holi, at least.

Three fabulous travel writers

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

Today, I will give you three authors who have written really great books on travel. These authors all have a common approach. They don’t judge;they include lots of anecdotes and personal interactions with locals; they use dollops of humor very judiciously.

Paul Theroux

One of the originals in travel writing. Very few people have invested so much effort in knowing and empathizing with people and places they have visited. Two recommendations for you.

Micheal Palin

Monty Python maybe his more famous work but his travelogues are some of the best in recent times. Rich in wry humor, very english! i would recommend that you listen to him in the following books.

Bill Bryson

An American who writes like an Englishman. Great humor! Some of his books read really well as Audio books while you are traveling. I will give you a couple that you will really enjoy.