Dec 31, 2010

2010 in review


As I think of the perfect adjective to describe 2010, "busy" is the word that comes to my mind. Whether the "busy"ness yielded positive results is something time will tell. As for 2011, my plan is to live a much more conscious life - the moments lived and captured and not wonder later how the months went by.

The review list below is for my own tracking as I've been doing for the past 5 years. So you can skip reading the rest.

Getting my PGSEM degree from Mr.Mukesh Ambani during IIMB Convocation was a memorable moment
Converted my final year project into an IIMB working paper 
First time working in a start-up kind of environment. Lots of releases and action packed year it was! Good learning experience.
Attended the inspiring TEDXChennai event, it was my first time attending a TED event
Made a presentation at product camp Bangalore on "Product Positioning". A nice feeling to see my topic as the top voted one
90% of my commute this whole year was through BMTC buses. A tiny fraction of an effort towards conserving nature
Switched from Windows to Mac. Awesome experience so far though I miss MS Office 
Visited Delhi after a long time on an official visit. Brought back memories of my final trip with mom years ago.
Attended workshops on Creative Writing and Organic gardening
Started composting organic waste using Daily Dump Kambha. All the vegetable waste from my kitchen is getting reused
Did not eat Lays and Kurkure chips for the whole year (Yes, this deserves a mention!)
More tweets and very few blog posts. Need to get back to writing next year
Fell in love with Zynga games, especially Farmville
Visited 3 new places this year - North Wayanad, Coorg and Swaswara

Books I read:
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
A walk to remember by Nicholas Sparks 
The High Performance Entrepreneur by Subroto Bagchi
A Grasshopper's Pilgrimage by Manjushree Abhinav
Six Thinking Hats by Edward Debono
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Bottom Up Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
True Believer by Nicholas Sparks
Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
A Genie's Wisdom : A Fable of How a CEO learned to be a marketing genius by Jack Trout
Keep off the grass by Karan Bajaj
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (second time read)

Books started to read but not yet finished:
The Long Tail : How endless choice is creating unlimited demand
The Choice by Eliyahu Goldratt
Linchpin by Seth Godin
Leader who had no title by Robin Sharma
Inspired by Marty Cagan
The last lecture by Randy Pausch

Dec 19, 2010

longing

My contribution to Sunday Scribblings - #246

foggy winter mornings,
distant rhythmic hymns
early morning routine
clear objectives at hand

purple and pink flowers
plucked fresh from December bushes
strung in a crisp, white thread
a symmetric, neat garland

a notebook filled with designs
translated into distinct shapes
frontyard neatly decked
adding life to different colours

praise the devotee
one poetic verse everyday,
offer sacred leaves
bless us, Oh Lord Krishna!

longing for the last month
the fragrance, the colours,
the music, the memories
vividly etched for years

P.S - #1 In India, we have a flower named December. These flowers blossom only during this specific month every year.
P.S - #2 December is also special to worshippers of the Hindu Deity, Lord Krishna and his devotee, AndaaL.

Dec 5, 2010

My guide


My contribution to Sunday Scribblings

It was the first day of my second year in Engineering. Having accepted the fact that my dreams of pursuing medicine as my career option is impossible, I decided to approach Computer Science Engineering with rigor. But the first day turned out to be a nightmare. I heard my classmates pursuing programming courses during the summer holidays. Many of them already had a computer at home. They had familiarized themselves with Fortran programming (Yes, we studied Fortran in our 3rd semester). I came home, feeling utterly depressed. Having been the class topper throughout school, there was this sinking feeling that I was way behind everyone in college. 

I came home after a depressing first day. I clearly remember she was in the terrace that evening, preparing for some exam related to her promotion in insurance sector. She noticed the dullness in my face and called out to me. She had been the pillar of support during my school days, always encouraging me to perform well. Like water gushing out of a dam, I poured out to her - all my frustrations and doubts. "Aunty, I have never even seen a computer in my life before. I don't even know the basics. I had taken up Biology in 11th and 12th grade. My classmates already knew programming and they even have a computer at home. My dad will not be able to afford one. I better quit Engineering and join B.Sc.", I sobbed for a long time in front of her. I don't think of her as my neighbour and neither does she. We share a special bond - a mother I found in her after so many years. The next 2 hours turned out to be one of the most precious moments of guidance, mentorship and above all, caring love. She sat next to me, wiped away my self-doubts with her caring and powerful words and helped me take a positive stride towards Engineering.

Over the next few weeks, I was so scared to enter Computer Lab, worrying that I might break its functionality. But her words were my only support that helped me climb the ladder in Computer Engineering. Looking back after 11 years now, without my guide, I'm not able to imagine how my career and life would have turned out to be what it is today. It also brought a smile in my face, comparing those days when I was dead scared to step into Computer Lab and switch on the Compaq desktop and now when not a single day passes, without me spending a significant time in front of my Mac laptop. 

Nov 28, 2010

mastery over randomness

My contribution to 3WW

a planner I am
systematic and meticulous,
checklists and to-dos
tracking the chores to the core

shuffling amidst life's mysteries
I trudge along, confidently
aiming for complete control
mastery over randomness

bills paid in advance
predictability on the rise,
boredom strikes soon
missing elements of drama

ignoring uncertainty
I take the stride as
it comes along, at times
pander for laziness

Music brings me back

I can't believe it's almost 3 months ever since I returned from my wonderful vacation at Swaswara. This personal blog has been gathering dust though there's some action on the professional blog. Words getting shape in my mind during my long commute doesn't seem to get translated into my blog. But there's enough to share about my other interests in music, movies and life in general.

Talking about music, 2010 has been one of the best years for Rahman fans like me. My last post on music was about Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and it still continues to be my favorite album of this year even after listening to the brilliant songs 100s of times. I had mixed reactions to Raavan/Raavanan when it got released. But there are a few gems in this unique album as well. Being a Karthik fan, I just love both "usure poguthey" and the Hindi equivalent "Behne de". The mysterious slow start is followed by a foot tapping beat and his voice so beautifully blends with the feel of the song. Another song which is my favorite in this album is "Khili Re"  which I prefer more than the Tamil version "Kalvare". It's a perfect song to hear after a long, tiring day. The best song of Raavan comes when the end credits start to roll. I'm waiting for the Raavan special edition CD which will have "Jaa re ud jaa re" sung by Rahman himself.

When Endhiran's music was released, I didn't feel the urge to listen to the songs immediately since I was disappointed with the songs of Shivaji. But after listening to about 10 times, I started to appreciate the uniqueness of the music of Endhiran. "Kaadhal Anukkal" became my instant favorite because of Shreya's magical voice and her perfect pronunciation. Many of my favorite Kannada songs which I get to hear everyday during my Volvo commute are sung by her. The next favorite has to be "Kilimanjaro". It has a very new feel, thanks to the unique words and folksy beats. Chinmayi has become my favorite female singer with the sheer variety of her songs and she has done a fabulous job in this song too. I got to hear this song in person when she sang in the TEDXChennai event.

Let me share you a tip - when you have to get something done at work or otherwise, listen to Endhiran album in repeat mode. For some reason, my productivity is very high when I listen to this album!

I wish the music of "Jhoota hi sahi" had received enough attention. It felt like this movie came quietly and went out without creating any buzz. I love almost the entire album but my repeated hearings have been these three songs - "Cry cry", "Do nishaaniyan" and "Call me dil". Rashid Ali has given a feel-good touch to "Call me dil" with his peppy voice.

Though I got a taste of "127 hours", I haven't really listened to it with these previous albums taking away most of my time. I don't care what critics talk about how Rahman has lost it. His music is still very precious to me and I look forward to the release of each album that he creates.

Nov 15, 2010

Empathy - who has it?

In the recently concluded Product Manager's Conclave event at IIM, Bangalore, there was a panel discussion on qualities required in a product manager. One specific quality that really made a lot of sense was "Empathy towards customers". However, I'm still not sure how an interviewer gets to validate this quality during an interview for a product management opening.

As a product manager, we interact with customers and try to understand their current problems. If more customers complain of a certain problem, we give a higher priority towards solving it. Nothing new, it's just the basic driver of prioritization. But I believe the quality of empathizing with your customers is not just restricted towards product managers. Everyone in the organization needs to have this quality. I've been reading this book - Linchpin by Seth Godin and he talks about a powerful concept called Emotional Labor. A line that Seth highlights is that "In most jobs that involve a customer, you are getting paid only to do emotional labor". Aren't emotions the key differentiating factor between humans and machines? In an era where every task is getting to a programmable status, emotional quotient (EQ) can become the sole savior, in my opinion.

Talking about empathy and how every individual is expected to have this quality to make a difference to a customer, a product manager can take the lead in enabling other team members embrace this quality. A few ideas which you can explore:

When you communicate the product requirements to the design and development teams, ensure you first talk about the customer pain points and how their current alternatives are creating problems leading to certain negative outcomes - manual effort, loss of time, dependency on other third parties etc.

The same also needs to be communicated to the QA teams as well. Going over the requirements and possible test scenarios come in later. For every product requirement, provide a clear background on why it is important for the customer.

It would also be better if you can take along a developer or a designer during your customer visits. They get to experience a slice of the customer's problems in person which would help a great deal in designing the right solution.

If you have other ideas related to this topic, please comment.

Oct 25, 2010

Product Camp - Bangalore Oct 23rd 2010

It didn't start out as expected, thanks to two flat tires our car ended up with. We missed out on the opening keynote since we reached the venue only at 11 AM. But the event turned out to be a very good experience. On Saturday, a bunch of people including me and my husband turned up at Yahoo! Bagmane Tech Park to participate in Bangalore's first product camp. Because of the delay, we could just catch up the last few points of the session by Vihari, Product Manager from Google. His topic was on product design. It was good to see that he recommended balsamic for low fidelity prototyping.

Key Take-aways from this session:
   * One of his points was on cognitive walkthrough technique with customers. When you are showing a demo or conducting usability testing with customers on new product features/flow, ask this question  - "Before taking action, what do you expect to see?" Were customers able to guess the flow as designed? This will provide good insights related to discoverability.
   * "Keep desirability uppermost while balancing feasibility and viability". What makes a product (or a product feature) desirable for the end customer?

The next session that I attended was on "Designing for video experiences" by Supreet Singh, Microsoft. This was a completely new topic for me as I haven't read up much on video streaming. Though it was slightly more on the technical side, it was useful to learn on adaptive streaming and caching techniques.

I presented the first afternoon session on "product positioning". After the session, I got some good feedback and felt glad that a few people found it to be useful. Though I was presenting to an audience after a long time (almost a year ever since I completed my PGSEM at IIMB), I wasn't feeling nervous. I should thank my 4 year stint in Oracle Toastmasters for getting rid of stage fear. In terms of structure, I had planned out an outline a week in advance and prepared my content accordingly. After the session, I was thinking about areas where I need to improve in terms of my presentation skills.

   * I need to have a lot more examples handy to illustrate what I'm trying to say.
   * Shifting the discussion between the speaker and the audience could be much more smooth so the points conveyed by audience can be captured or repeated to the benefit of others

My presentation is available on slideshare. If you are interested, do check it out -

The last session was a panel discussion on social media, moderated by Amitoj Singh from Wipro. The panel brought out some interesting insights on accountability and ROI in social media initiatives.

   * Rajesh from BrioTribes Technologies brought out an interesting point. For measuring accountability, the three actors involved in advertising are to be considered - brand owner, advertising enabler, customer
  • brand owner - The ads/creatives should talk about benefits customers actually get and shouldn't exaggerate.
  • advertising enabler - Correct measurement of impressions or clicks
  • customer - don't just complain about bad service. Also provide good feedback in case of good experiences

   * On Privacy, Ganga from Yahoo! mentioned that next generations would care much less and so privacy will not get as much attention as it gets now. On attributing the customer's interest towards a brand, he mentioned about customers viewing branded display ads while they browse and the brand gets registered in their minds. When they are actually interested in making a purchase, they search in Google. So the attribution which led to customer's interest is not very clear in such cases.

   * There were also some interesting questions which were discussed - Will social media replace print and TV? What is the worth of a Like?

It was a very useful and interesting Saturday, catching up with ex-colleagues, meeting new people and discussing ideas. Glad to see such forums are getting initiated. As a pleasant surprise, Yahoo! gave us all a bean bag to carry home !

Oct 8, 2010

Enrich your time as a product manager

Based on the points I put together for a presentation in the recent IIMB product manager's conclave, Bangalore


One of the best things about being a product manager is the number of activities one gets to work on in a day. Broadly, we can classify these activities into three categories – strategic, tactical and operational. All three categories are essential in solving market's problems and adding value to your target customers. What matters most is the percentage split a PM allocates in each of these categories in a given time period. There are no fixed guidelines on a percentage split that will work for a successful PM. But the more time a PM spends on strategic activities, he/she can create a bigger impact in the target market, thereby a bigger impact to his/her organization.

Observe how your time gets spent in a week, consciously noting down the different tasks/activities that occupy your time - the interruptions, context switches, phone calls, emails, meetings, casual discussions, status updates, ideation, brainstorming etc. Group your time under the three different categories and compute your percentage split of strategic, tactical and operational activities. If your strategic percentage is higher compared to the other two, you are doing an excellent job. For the rest of us, we have work to do to reallocate the percentages.

First, see if you will be able to delegate the operational activities to business operations and technical sales support teams. If initial handholding is needed, give the required support but eventually they should be able to take care of customer complaints and issues independently. For tactical activities such as product demos and requirements review with stakeholders, requirements prioritization and bugs triaging, allocate a fixed time in your calendar preferably the time of the day when your ideation or thinking hats would like to take a break.

As a product manager, one has to constantly keep abreast of the market situation, industry updates, competition growth and developments in related industries. These would give you useful insights which would help you plan your product roadmap. Subscribe to relevant blogs and news articles and ensure you catch up on reading on a regular basis. Setup 30 minutes in your calendar exclusively for catching up on these blogs everyday. Most importantly, to plan a high impact product roadmap, interfacing with customers preferably face-to-face or at least over the phone will give you a better understanding of their pain points and how your product is solving or not solving those pain points for them.

With inputs coming from all these different sources, it is important that you spend some uninterrupted time with yourself, interpreting these different inputs and brainstorming on how you can evolve your product in the next few months. I have found timeboxing / Pomodoro techniques to be very useful to ideate or brainstorm within a specific box of time.

I hope some of these points are helpful in enriching your precious time as a product manager and launching awesome market oriented products.

Sep 20, 2010

Memories for a lifetime

It feels like a dream. We returned from a magical vacation to a serene, beautiful place named Swaswara. In performance appraisals, you would have come across the term "Exceeds expectations". This place has definitely surpassed the high expectations that we had set before the vacation. Our idea of a vacation this time was to just take time out for ourselves and spend more time together in a quiet place, away from city life. Having been to Coconut Lagoon, Spice Village and Marari Beach resorts, we have become a loyal customer of CGH Earth properties. The perfect locations, sumptuous food and lots of activity within their property makes the trips so memorable that you keep revisiting those memories. When we were browsing through their site, we stumbled upon Swaswara and found to be a unique resort by itself. Being the off season, we got a very sweet deal for our 5 day stay. After working out the logistics, we knew the trip is going to be excellent.

We took the early morning flight to Goa. We were picked up from Dabolim airport promptly and the 3 hour drive to Gokarna through one of the beautiful roads in the country was pleasant. Being my first trip to Goa, I was completely surprised by the greenery, Kerala-like architectural styles, the narrow 2 lane roads with paddy fields and coconut trees. My mind has already added Goa to my to-visit list. The chauffeur was an interesting guy, explaining us about different beaches of Goa, the seasons and people who come to visit Swaswara from abroad. We stopped for a late breakfast at Kamat near Ankola and we reached Swaswara at 12 PM. There were a group of people waiting to give us a reception. It felt a little overwhelming when they explained about different activities we could engage in our 5 day stay. The refreshing Kokum juice provided the much needed breather. From the moment we stepped in, we knew it's going to be one of our best vacations. We were shown our Konkan villa and we were just speechless. The villa has a central courtyard with plants, a neat bedroom tucked inside, a open-to-sky bath, a nice backyard stepping onto the rainwater harvesting lake and a little terrace facing the Arabian sea.

We were given a schedule for Yoga and meditation sessions, another schedule for art classes, interactive cooking sessions and nature walk. The planner in me started listing out the time schedule. We controlled our urge to overplan since it was our vacation :-) After a nice warm shower, we went for lunch to the restaurant. Healthy, nutritious and tasty - three words to best describe their unique menu. Although it was a typical 5 course meal, it never felt that we were stuffing ourselves. The menu for every meal was so neatly presented that I started clicking pictures before eating. Vegetables like long beans, bottle gourd, red spinach, drumstick leaves etc which I don't normally buy in Bangalore were so tasty. We met the talented chef Mr.Joy and his team. Such simple people with amazing talent !

Yoga Nidhra is our first activity post lunch. It's a practice where your body is resting while your mind is completely aware. As it felt so relaxing, both hubby and I just dozed off during the session :-) Having done Yoga 5 years ago, our bodies have become so stiff and inflexible, we decided to go for a Gentle Yoga session next. Our Yoga instructor, Ms.Juhie was very helpful and didn't put much pressure since it was our first session. With our minds relaxed and bodies stretched a bit, we felt so happy to be in Swaswara. We also started regretting why we didn't choose the 7 day package (the minimum stay at Swaswara is for 5 days). There were just 2 other guests in the 28 acre property with 24 villas. It was quiet, peaceful and calming. We spent an hour in the library, flipping through books on Ayurveda and Yoga. At the end of this trip, my interest towards Ayurveda has increased to a great extent. After dinner, we went for a Gayatri Mantra chanting session. Though chanting this mantra for 108 times was getting a little tough being our first time, the feeling was so good at the end of it. Swaswara team has planned the activities in such a way that your body, mind and soul are energized and revitalized.

The next four days were packed with many activities that were the first experiences for me - brushing my teeth using a neem twig, taking bath in neem water etc. These practices which were daily habits for our grandparents brought out the special meaning of our traditions. Though I wish to be more of an artistic and creative person, my left brain had completely dominated over my right brain in my life so far. It's no wonder I have never picked up a paint brush and done something with it. Thanks to Ms.Jyothi, our art instructor at Swaswara, I got a chance to try out different art forms - water colour painting, acrylic colour, glass painting, Warli painting, pencil shading and clay modeling. Another very talented and simple person at Swaswara. Observing her art creations displayed in the art gallery made me appreciate the creative abilities one could nurture and build.

Another dream which I have been nurturing is to become a chef. I tried out my hand in a couple of cooking sessions with chefs in the kitchen of Swaswara and noted down a few recipes. Wearing an apron and a chef's hat was a tiny wish which got fulfilled during this trip. After a couple of days of getting used to these sessions, our minds and bodies started to open up and we decided it was time to try out a Progressive Yoga session. It's a little advanced set of Yoga asanas, taught perfectly by our another Yoga instructor, Mr. Ruchir. He is the best example of a person who is always happy and cheerful with a smile on his face, greeting us every time we meet him. He also helped us practice a form of meditation technique called MSRT (mind sound resonance technique). The vibrations you experience in this session makes you feel connected with the universe. It was indeed a unique spiritual experience. Ruchir also conducted a laughter Yoga session which was rather funny and interesting.

Being a 28 acre property with lots of trees amidst forests, mountains and the sea (Om beach), Swaswara plays host to a number of different species, especially birds. We went for a nature walk with our naturalist, Mr. Dutta who showed us a few birds, butterflies and ants. Since it was mostly raining in the mornings, we couldn't see many of them. Winter would be the best time to spot a lot of birds.

I kept myself so busy in those 5 days that I was going for one session after the next. Yet there was no tiredness or resistance. I felt so active and open to accept new experiences. My energy levels were high and yet, my mind and body was so relaxed. We had some interesting conversations with many people in the team, especially Juhie who was kind enough to prepare a custom Yoga schedule for me to practice everyday at home, Sam and Anil from the restaurant answering our questions on the various dishes served and Chef Joy who gave us good tips on cooking healthy food.

I could just go on and on with what we experienced at Swaswara. Everyone who works there gave their best to make our stay pleasant and memorable. Their attention to detail is just mind-blowing. The memories are here to stay forever. In marketing texts, we often hear this phrase - "Customer is king". Indeed, Swaswara team treated us like a king and queen.

Sep 17, 2010

"Linger" memories


 My previous trip to Madikeri/Coorg 2 years ago was mainly due to the fact that we wanted to go on a drive some place over the weekend. But when hubby put forth the idea of a long break, Coorg came to our minds instantly. The main purpose of this trip was just to do nothing. What better place than Linger which claims the same phrase as their tag line - "DO NOTHING"!

While hubby decided to stay there for 5 nights, I planned to join him a little later since I didn't want to exhaust all my leave days on this trip (we followed it with another amazing trip, watch out for the next post!). Having booked a KSRTC to Bhagamandala, the challenge was to figure out where the Mysore Road Satellite bus station was. It turned out to be an easy task and I reached the bus stand 2 hours earlier than the departure time. The clean bus station with good seating facility and the few magazines that I picked up from the nearby stall helped me pass the 2 hours quickly. The bus reached my destination bus stop at 7:15 AM on a drizzling Saturday morning. It was a deserted road and I saw a narrow mud track on the left side. I started walking for about 10 minutes, only to realize that this road was leading nowhere. After a few more steps, two angry dogs was staring at me in the middle of the mud road and started to bark aloud, recognizing the stranger in town. Though I panicked, I didn't show them any fear on my face. I slowly took a turn and started walking back, praying that they don't chase me. Once the intensity of their voices simmered, I caught up speed and reached the main road. I know my hubby was waiting at the bus stand but I can't tell him where I was since both our phone signals were down in this location. Fortunately, a middle aged lady was walking past me and she helped me locate the right bus stand. After seeing my hubby, I heaved a sigh of relief. What an adventurous start!

After entering our room, my first instinct was to take a look at the much-publicized attic bed :-) Though my body was begging me to take a nap, my mind was so fresh with the greenery and mild drizzle. After a quick cup of coffee, hubby and I went for a walk around - deserted roads, green fields, peeking sunshine and cool breeze. It was a bliss to take a walk in such a breathtaking atmosphere. One of the best features of Linger is its location amidst the mountains and paddy fields. In the afternoon, we went for a drive to Talacauvery. Though it wasn't raining until we reached the temple, the dark clouds started pouring down heavily when we started climbing the steps towards the view point. It would have been a beautiful view, had the mist not engulfed the whole place. As the rains were heavy, we came back and sat in the verandah, reading our books. Linger has a small collection of books and some board games. I was glad to see Sidin's Dork among the collection. It felt good to finish this fun novel in 2 days.

The next morning, we went for a drive to a border town named Karike, around 30 kms from Bhagamandala. It was a fantastic drive through the dense forests and waterfalls with no traffic on the narrow single lane road. Sipping tea (I'm a tea person even in Coorg!), it was so relaxing to sit in the verandah and observe the time pass slowly with the company of birds and insects. It was a homely place with no intrusion of privacy by the caretakers. The food was mainly of simple Coorgi dishes. The only point to be improved was that the food could have been prepared, especially the pooris/chapathis just before we started our lunch/dinner. With the cold weather, the food tends to become rubbery.

The return drive to Bangalore was smooth, with a few pitstops at Cafe Coorg and Kamat. Overall, it was a very good trip to Coorg, yet again.

P.S. Carry enough mosquito repellants or else forget your sleep! :-) We went well prepared for them.

Sep 15, 2010

Distractions dropped!

I couldn't believe this morning when I opened my blog URL after several weeks and realized that I haven't written a single word in the past 3 months. The irony is that the last blog post was on power of distractions while I was happily getting distracted with 2 games that I was hooked onto for the past two months. For those who follow my tweets, you would have guessed by now that I'm referring to Zynga's Farmville and Cafe World. Ever since I started working with Computers, I never was into any form of gaming (except for Roadrash for a while during college days).

When my brothers introduced me to the world of social gaming, it immediately caught my interest and I started playing them every night after coming back from work. These games were even more fun to play, with hubby and brothers also playing enthusiastically. Weekends were busy with planting new crops that harvest and cooking dishes that get done in a few hours. What took 4-5 months for my brothers, I reached those levels in 2 months. Such was the level of addiction and fun. Expanding the farm, constructing a horse stable, asking neighbors for gifts, buying new equipments, setting up a optimized cafe to increase the buzz rating - the experience was so real and new.

Although I had so much fun playing these games, it's time to look at bigger and important things in life. So I have bid goodbye to Farmville and Cafe World, to make some positive changes to my daily routine. What has inspired me to make these changes? A perfect vacation that I enjoyed last week - free from Internet, free from mobile and free from the buzzing city life. More to follow on this vacation !

Jun 17, 2010

Power of distractions

The past six months have been keeping me a lot busy, thanks to a new job. There is also a feeling of restlessness and I feel distracted most of the times. I was not sure if the restlessness is leading to distraction or vice-versa. Last weekend, I sat for 4 hours straight and finished reading a book "Keep off the grass" by Karan Bajaj (review to follow soon). It felt so much better to focus on a single task at hand for a stretch with no distractions whatsoever. But such un-distracted times have become a rare and precious entity these days. While pursuing PGSEM, such focused activities were common - 90 minutes of focused attention on interesting lectures, reading a 18 page HBR case study at a stretch for 2 hours or working on a presentation deck with project partners, discussing on skype.

I realized the reason I was feeling restless was that I was getting distracted, almost all the time these days. Constant interruptions over phone (both landline and mobile), multiple context switches, my increased interest towards twitter updates, emails for which people expect responses almost the next minute and so on. Being a GTD follower, I capture almost all the thoughts and commitments that come to my mind into my trusted system. That helps me to reduce any chances of missing commitments that I need to work on. But this practice of collecting and processing these thoughts alone doesn't seem to suffice. Information and new work keeps flowing into my collection box all the time. Is it that I have started to juggle multiple focus areas? No way, since I definitely had much more commitments and projects six months ago and I always consider myself to be a better multi-tasker.

"Distractions" has become the one enemy that I need to attack in order to feel much more productive in my day-to-day activities. Although it cannot be defeated in a day, I have started to take a few simple steps to defeat this enemy:

- No Internet access for one day during the weekend (either Saturday or Sunday).
- Facebook access once a day (it has got boring these days, with Farmville updates taking much of the space)
- Orkut access once in three days (seems none of my friends in orkut are active these days, moved to Facebook perhaps!)
- Personal mails (Yahoo! / Gmail) access once a day
- Hiding the dock on my Mac so I don't get to see new mail updates while I'm focusing at work
- Mute my TV when advertisements start to show up while watching a movie or a TV show (Used to constantly change the channels with remote)
- Tracking twitter updates a few times a day (not check as and when new tweets keep coming) - Need to reduce from a few times to once a day
- When new web links are shared by friends or colleagues through email, chat or tweets, I used to check them almost immediately or have them open in my browser. So at the end of the day, I would have around 10-15 browser tabs open, with a few of them read, some more half read and the rest not read yet. Now I have started to bookmark them and add a tag "Read & Review". I later come back to such links and view a few of them at a time.

Any other suggestions?

PS: I typed this post, with no distractions whatsoever :-)

Jun 6, 2010

Drive to North Wayanad

2010 seems to be zooming past at a speed which I'm trying to comprehend. With 5 months already gone in a jiffy, I wonder how the time had flown by. Being a person who loves to travel, it didn't take me too long to figure out that I haven't traveled anywhere for leisure in these 5 months. So hubby and I decided to drive down to Wayanad in the last weekend of May. Although we had visited Wayanad in 2007 (Vythiri to be specific), we didn't go around anywhere, thanks to the monsoons.

After a quick browsing through the review sites, we finalized our stay with Thirunelli Agraharam cottages. The owner of the cottages, Mr.Sebastian had sent us a detailed route from Bangalore which was very helpful. Getting up early on a Saturday morning could have only been made possible, if we are traveling somewhere. It was a smooth drive on Mysore Road and we stopped for breakfast at Kamat (where else!!). After Srirangapatna, the route got exciting as we had to find our way to Hunsur. The sun was at its scorching peak but the trees on both sides of the road provided some respite. Once we spotted the banner indicating Rajiv Gandhi National Park, we were very excited, hoping we could see some animals inside the sanctuary. There are a few restrictions while driving through the park - 30 km/hr speed limit, no honking, no music and no parking. Though we followed these restrictions which helped us to admire nature's pristine  beauty, there were others who seemed to be in a hurry and speeding past the road. We spotted deers, monkeys and a couple of elephants. By the time we crossed the park and entered Kerala border, it was past 1 PM. The border town of Kutta didn't have any good places to eat. So we called up the hotel manager and asked him if lunch would be available in the resort.

This was definitely one of the best typical Kerala lunches we've ever had. After a long drive and a sumptuous lunch, we took a nice siesta. When we planned our trip, we were expecting Wayanad to have a cool and pleasant weather. It was as hot as Bangalore.

The manager gave us a few pamphlets indicating the places to visit. Though we would have loved to drive down to all the places, time was definitely a constraint (the weather as well).  We went to Thirunelli temple (just a km away from the resort) and Kuruva islands. If only the weather wasn't that hot and sultry, we could have enjoyed the walk inside Kuruva islands. We felt very exhausted after the long walk in the sun. We were planning to go to Banasurasagar dam but we missed the route and ended up coming towards Kutta. After having a late lunch in a small local eatery, we headed back to the resort.

With crispy onion pakodas and hot tea, we spent the rest of the evening, playing carroms and reading a novel.After breakfast and a long chat with Mr.Sebastian on Monday, we headed back to Bangalore. The monsoon clouds were just looming dark on top of the Brahmagiri mountains when we bid goodbye to Wayanad.


May 18, 2010

Getting a BMTC monthly bus pass

At the beginning of this month, I decided to get the BMTC monthly bus pass since it had become a big pain to carry enough change every morning. On 4th May evening, I asked the bus conductor of a Volvo to give me the bus pass and I paid him Rs.1250. It was a big relief on 5th morning when I was leaving for work. "I don't have to carry 10s or coins. I can switch buses easily without any problem", I thought to myself. As I was about to leave my home, I quickly looked at the bus pass and there was a mention of ID card. I quickly went to my cupboard and grabbed my PAN card. Without much waiting time, I boarded a Volvo to work. When the conductor asked me to show the bus pass, I happily showed the pass as well as my PAN card. She stared at them for a while and then said "This is not a valid ID card. This pass is invalid". I looked at her in disbelief and replied "PAN card is a valid ID proof just like driving license".

There were other passengers overhearing this conversation. One of the passengers showed me a new ID card and said that this is the ID card we are supposed to carry and it's issued by BMTC. Now how the hell am I supposed to know that? I don't see any specific need to carry another ID card. Thankfully he also gave a tip that this ID card is available in Shanti Nagar Bus depot only till 6th of every month. Or else I need to go to Majestic to get this ID card. None of these make sense to me. Anyway, the next day, I went to Shanti Nagar bus depot and purchased the ID card. This trip took me more than an hour. Such a waste of time and energy!

1) Why should we get another ID card? Why doesn't BMTC allow either PAN card, driving license or voter's ID card?
2) Why doesn't the conductor check if the commuter already has this so-called BMTC ID card before issuing the monthly pass?
3) Why can't the conductors carry the fresh ID card which commuters can purchase while purchasing the monthly pass and then they can apply the stamp?
4) Why do they issue the ID cards only till 6th of every month in Shanti Nagar bus depot?
5) Why should one go all the way to Majestic bus stand just to get this ID card after 6th?

If BMTC wants more and more people to take public transport, they should make things easily accessible. Will they ponder over these 5 questions and make this bus pass purchasing process simpler for commuters?

Update: (based on Times of India article dated 6th June 2010)
 BMTC has introduced a friendly pass which you can purchase directly from the bus conductor. You can use any ID card like driver's license, passport, voter's ID card etc. With this new pass, all the five questions I raised have been answered. Kudos to BMTC!!!

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIBG/2010/06/02&PageLabel=3&EntityId=Ar00301&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T

May 17, 2010

User Personas

Having touched upon the idea of integrating user behavior into the product design in the previous post, let me explore further on this topic. One of the approaches that I have found to be very useful is this idea of "user personas".

By trying to build a persona, one gets to understand the intricacies of the user behavior. This provides valuable inputs that can be fed into the product design.

A user persona is a mechanism to understand the potential users of your product or service. The idea of a persona derives more from the behavioral and psychographic aspects of the users.

In order to build a user persona, explore the following questions:
* Who is my customer?
* Where does he live?
* What does his typical day look like?
* Whom does he interact with on a typical day?
* What motivates him to do something?
* What irritates him the most?
* What is his typical personality?
* Is he intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?
* Under what circumstances does he feel the pain point that you are trying to solve?
* What are the after-effects when he faces the pain point that you are trying to solve?

It helps if you can build a story around this user by giving a fictitious name and articulating his environment. You can also come up with hand sketches and drawings to illustrate the personality of the user of your product idea. This can provide useful and interesting inputs to your design and engineering teams.

If your product or service is catered to different market segments, build a user persona that represents each of these segments. Highlight the difference in the behaviors of these different users.

The best time to take up this persona building activity is just after you are done with segmentation of your market and just before you formulate the product strategy. With segmentation in place, you will exactly know which markets to target and depending on the target segments, whether the personas will be different. After you have the personas clearly defined, it will be much more easier to think about your product roadmap and the needs you will address for your target segments.

For more information on personas, check out these blogs:
http://www.buyerpersona.com/2010/05/how-kristine-developed-a-great-buyer-persona.html
http://carsonified.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/personas_final_b.jpg
http://bonfireda.com/docs/The-Power-of-the-Persona.pdf
http://www.savvyb2bmarketing.com/blog/entry/580831/getting-back-to-the-roots-of-buyer-personas-interview-with-tony-zambito-of-goal-centric

Apr 25, 2010

User behavior and product design

I use a Yahoo! mail account for my personal emails and I have subscriptions to many group emails. Over the past few months, my mailbox has been overflowing with many unread emails as I tend to scroll through the list and read only the most important ones at the beginning of my day. I have unsubscribed from many group lists to keep the incoming information under control. However there are some groups in which I might get a few important messages occasionally which I do not want to miss out. So I decided to create a few filters and organize my inbox.

This is exactly THE time in the lifecycle of product-user interaction when one starts to think about filters in a mail product - when there is a bunch of unread mails and the user feels that it is getting unmanageable and wants to get organized; not when the time he/she creates a new mail account and immediately starts to create filters.

Coming back to my problem, I located the "Filter emails like this" and created a filter. So far, so good. But to my utter disbelief, I couldn't see the "run filter" or similar such option. I wondered if this feature was hidden somewhere that it wasn't evident to me. After googling for a bit, I found out that such a feature doesn't exist in Yahoo! mail. Disappointed with the lack of this feature, I dropped the effort of organizing my inbox.

This experience triggered a thought process of how one should go about integrating user behavior into the product design. Before designing a product's feature or even a minor functionality, ask yourself these questions -
1. When will my user explore this specific functionality?
2. What are the circumstances under which this particular feature will be used?
3. What is the motivation factor that will enable the user to try out this feature?

Evaluate the physical circumstances (place of usage), the psychological state of the users (positive or negative frame of mind) and the expected outcome (not only from a product point of view but also from the user's intended action).

More to follow on this topic.


Apr 4, 2010

Books and more

Commute using public transport has paved a way for me to catch up on reading much more often than what it used to be. The last 3 books I have read in the past two months belong to different genres. Subroto Bagchi has given a very nice summary of Entrepreneurship 101 in his book "The high performance entrepreneur". Starting from whether you are ready to take the entrepreneur path until the IPO, this book provides a breadth of coverage related to various aspects of building your firm from ground up. Easy to read along with personal examples of building Mindtree, he takes you through the different stages of building a firm, from defining your business strategy to nurturing an organization culture to creating your brand.

Having attended Ms.Manjushree Abhinav's creative writing workshop a few weeks ago, I picked up her first novel "A grasshopper's pilgrimage". The plot of this novel can be classified under spiritual fiction and also semi-autobiographical. The protogonist, Gopika is in search of her life's meaning and ends up in Thiruvannaamalai. Her  encounters with different people who are in such similar search forms the rest of the story. Although the novel began on an interesting note, somewhere down the line I felt it lost its steam. Maybe, I wasn't able to relate with a character like Gopika.

I do not like to interact with people who are always cynical about everything in their lives. I encounter such people often and at best, I try to avoid striking a conversation with such people. It's definitely not worth the time or energy. It's worse when such people end up in meeting rooms or conference calls at work. If ever I encounter such people again, I plan to recommend them this interesting book "Six thinking hats" by Edward Debono. This book talks about the six different hats one could wear while trying to solve a problem or take a decision as a group. Structured thinking is very essential especially in this knowledge based economy. Ideas are crucial and cannot be dismissed just because your boss or boss's boss thinks its a bad idea. Can one do a positive assessment before criticizing an idea? Can one just talk about facts and data without passing their own judgment? Can one just express their emotions and feelings without the need to justify? Each of these questions has an associated hat and the order in which you wear each of the six hats is significant. This is definitely a very interesting approach to group thinking process. 


Mar 6, 2010

அந்த நிமிடம்

காதல் சொன்ன அந்த நிமிடம்
கண்களில் ஆயிரம் கோடி வினாக்கள்
ஏற்று என்னை அணைப்பாயா
மறுத்து என்னை விடுவிப்பாயா

காதல் சொன்ன அந்த நிமிடம்
சில பல புவியியல் மாற்றங்கள்
அதிர்ச்சி விரிசல்கள் நம்
நட்பென்ற பூமியில் தெரிக்குமோ?

காதல் சொன்ன அந்த நிமிடம்
இருபது அடி மேலே பறக்கும் என்னை
உன் "இல்லை" என்ற வார்த்தை மதிற்சுவர்
மேலே இடித்து விழுவேனோ?

காதல் சொன்ன அந்த நிமிடம்
 என் வாழ்க்கையை பசுமையாக்க
நயாகரா மேகங்கள் மிதந்து
வந்து என்னை நனைக்குமோ?

காதல் சொன்ன அந்த நிமிடம்
 நம் இதயத்துடிப்பு ஒன்றாகி
என் கை கோர்த்து நடக்க
நீ சம்மதம் தெரிவிப்பாயோ?

Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya - the movie

I've always been a fan of Tamil movies with simple love stories - be it the youthful Kaadhal Desam, the scintillating Minsaara Kanavu or the emotional Mouna Raagam. But off late, such movies have become a rarity, what with populistic heroism oriented films dominating the industry. No wonder, I didn't see many new Tamil movies in 2009.  I cannot watch  a movie where the hero is larger than life, beating up the villains left, right and center, and blurting out punch dialogues like no-one else's business. The only exception to this rule is ofcourse, the evergreen Super Star Rajni.

In such a boring scenario, Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya (VTV) feels like the first few drops of the monsoon rain. Having fallen in love with the music of this movie for over a month now, I couldn't wait to see how the songs have been picturized. Moreover, the promos of this movie have also been very interesting. I always liked the films of Gowtham Menon and he has moved up the ranks to become my favorite director next to Maniratnam, displacing Shankar. His beautiful depiction of the love and the chemistry between the hero and heroine in most of his movies is very memorable - the mature interactions between Surya and Jyotika in Kaaka Kaaka or the love-at-first-sight scene in the train in Vaaranam Aayiram (what a cute scene it is!).

There is nothing new about the story of VTV - Hindu boy meets Christian girl, love at first sight, follows her wherever she goes. We might have seen such stories like a hundred times but the screenplay and the dialogues in VTV are unique and new. I loved the scene when the hero Karthik goes to Alleppey to meet Jessie and the dialogue that follows when she asks him why he likes her so much. For some reason, I couldn't take the image of Sameera Reddy in the first few dialogues of Trisha. I guess because Chinmayi has dubbed for Trisha and her voice suited so much for Sameera in Vaaranam Aayiram. Except for Manmadhan, I haven't seen any of Simbu's movies. This guy definitely has much more capability to act than a typical hero. Hope he does more soft roles in his future movies.  His expressions in this movie have been very good, right from the time he falls in love, the confusions on why Trisha wouldn't reciprocate and the frustrations when she says "It's over".

Trisha's characterization of an indecisive and confused woman is well portrayed. 'Enna enakke theriyaathu, enakku enna venum-nu ennakke theriyaathu" summarizes everything of her behavior. But I felt maybe a few more scenes where the conflict between her feelings and her family's responses could have been included which might have added more rationale to the way she keeps changing her decision.

The guy who plays Simbu's friend provides some good entertainment in the first half, with his humorous one-liners. The colors, the costumes and the locations of "Hosanna" and "Omana Penne" provide a visual delight. The background score by Rahman was perfect, especially in the first half (wish I could buy a CD of just the background tunes).The climax of the movie had an unexpected twist. But I don't think there is a better way to end this story.

VTV is a beautiful movie with very good performances by Simbu and Trisha, brilliant music and memorable dialogues. I wouldn't mind watching it a few more times.

Feb 15, 2010

Commute using BMTC

It's been nearly three months ever since I started commuting to work everyday using public transport. Before I made the decision to join my current job, the commute was one of the important constraints that my husband and I pondered and discussed a lot. Except for a bicycle, I'm not trained to drive other forms of vehicles. I had become dependent on my husband's car or company-provided transportation in the past three years. Although I took the first step in joining a driving class and attended around 6 sessions, I am not very confident of driving a four wheeler on my own.

I decided to take the plunge and trust BMTC services for my everyday commute. After nearly 3 months, I'm very much happy with the Volvo series (Vajra). The route that I commute has a lot of Volvos plying in both directions. It's very comfortable and quick. I get a seat immediately as I get inside the bus and sometimes, after a few stops. The 15 km commute during peak hours takes me around 75 minutes on an average. Sometimes, I do have to shuttle between 2-3 buses to reach my destination. But the wait time is not that long.

The long wait for signals and traffic jams are no more irritating as I enjoy music from my iPod or read a book. Whether you are in a car or an auto rickshaw or a public bus, traffic jams are a given. So I decided not to get irritated and instead turn this time into something more meaningful. Did I say it's much more cost effective compared to filling up petrol in a car?

If only BMTC could increase the frequency and cover more routes, many of the daily commuters can utilize the Vajra ride and hopefully, the number of cars on the road would reduce to some extent.

Feb 4, 2010

A walk to remember

Ever since I started commuting using public transport, my reading habit has got a revival. Last week, I finished reading Nicholas Sparks's "A walk to remember". It's a very touching novel based on love, compassion and empathy. It's the story of Jamie and Landon, two teenagers whose completely different paths in life get intertwined slowly. Their journey in a year together as friends and later a lovely couple forms the crux of the story.

Although the story is simple and we have seen similar stories in many Indian cinemas, I liked this novel mainly because of the way in which love transforms a person's character. Jamie's influence on Landon's life is narrated with incidents like the play they performed, the homecoming dance, their time together in the orphanage on Christmas and their walks together back home. Slowly and steadily, Jamie has helped Landon transform from being a mischievous kid to a compassionate teenager.

It's a heart wrenching story of true love and life in general. I hope to catch hold of the movie that was based on this book.

Jan 26, 2010

latest spell from ARR

It's been 10 days and I carry it wherever I go. It's a perfect company for the long commute to work. Although I carry my iPod, the music of "Vinnai Thaandi Varuvayaa" has ensured I use it everyday. Ever since I bought the CD from Crosswords, the beautiful songs have been continuously playing in my music player and in my mind. It's been a while since Rahman created such brilliant music for a Tamil movie. I wasn't very much impressed with his earlier music in ATM or Sakkarakkatti. But VTV has smashed the bad spell and is here to stay in our memories for a long time.

Of the seven songs, my favorites are Hosanna, Mannippaaya and Anbil Avan. The music feels so fresh and captivating in Hosanna. It starts off as a soothing melody and shifts gear to a foot tapping number, followed by an interesting rap by Blaaze. The way he says Hellooo is just superb. I'm sure the visuals and the picturization will be brilliant for this song.

Although it is evident from the beginning that Mannippaaya is going to be a sad song, it's sung so beautifully by Shreya Ghoshal and Rahman himself. I first heard this song during the music launch when Chinmayi and Karthik sung with so much emotion and feel. The lyrics play an important role in this song and am glad that Rahman didn't give this song to Madhushree. I felt she could have done a better job with the lyrics of "MarudaaNi" in Sakkarakatti.

When I first heard Anbil Avan, I wasn't that impressed but this song definitely grows on you after a few times. The way ARR has blended the wedding tunes of Hindu and Christian traditions sounds so nice. Devan and Chinmayi have sung very well, especially the first saranam.

Omana Penne is a catchy number from the first listen. The title track sung by Karthik is such a good experimental song. I haven't heard such a mix of layers before. Kannukkul Kannai is not that impressive as a whole but a few portions are good. I think I need a few more times of hearing to start liking Aoramale which seems to be the favorite of many Rahman fans.

While getting lost in this beautiful soundtrack, one cannot ignore the perfect lyrics of Thaamarai. What a magical phrase she has written in Hosanna to capture the first feelings of falling in love - "pattu poochi vandaachaa, megam unnai thottaachaa".

I'm a big fan of Gautham Menon's movies and eagerly awaiting VTV, especially this being a musical film.


Jan 18, 2010

2009 in review

18 days have passed since the beginning of 2010. I hadn't allocated the time to do my yearly review so far. 2009 was a good year for me in many ways. The most important occasion has been my completion of PGSEM from IIMB, the journey that began in 2007. It was an excellent learning experience that has given me a good headstart for new plans in future. 2009 was also the year when I decided to come out of a comfortable job and try something new. Although I started writing my first novel, I have lost track in the middle. My writing seemed to have come down a lot as reflected in my blog's dismal frequency of updates. But I managed to read a few good books and as always, hope to read more this year.
- Our iceberg is melting
- New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
- The tales of Beedle the bard by JK Rowling
- The Nordstrom way
- Gently falls the bakula by Sudha Murthy
- Anything for you, Ma'am by Tushar Raheja
- 2 states by Chetan Bhagat
- Getting things done by David Allen
- Indian Summer by Pratima Mitchell
- Ready to lead by Alan Price
- The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

One aspect of my life in 2009 which I'm really happy about is the number of new places I visited.
- Visited Kalimpong, Gangtok and Darjeeling in the North East
- Visited Yelagiri, Belur, Chikmagalur, Mullyangiri, Halebidu and Talakkad in the South

I'm really looking forward to 2010 with lots of hope and inspiration. I'm hoping to have something much more meaningful and worthwhile to accomplish this year.

Getting back to reading

The long holiday break during Christmas and New Year provided the perfect time to read the voluminous Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol". Similar to his other two books that I have read earlier (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons), this book was also just unputdownable (wonder if there is a such a word). The protogonist Robert Langdon traverses through symbols and codes to figure out the lost secret. If DaVinci Code was set in Europe, Lost Symbol is based entirely on Washington and United State's past history. Although the plot is gripping, one couldn't miss seeing the similarity in the flow when compared to his other books. Nevertheless, the plot is so interesting that one can just sit back and get intrigued by the turn of events.

Langdon had been asked by one of his close friends Peter Solomon to deliver a lecture. When Langdon arrives, he is shocked by the event that happens and what follows is a thrilling sequence of unraveling the lost secret, the gory murderer Mal'akh and his intentions, Peter's sister and scientist Katherine's discoveries on noetic sciences. Many references to religious texts and the way the events were tied to the lost secret sometimes makes you wonder if this story is really fiction.

It's a perfect irony that in the very next week after I had finished reading "Lost Symbol", I read a very inspiring book "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne. It conveys a simple message about how our thoughts influence our life. "Thoughts become things" is the core message of this book. This book elaborates on the law of attraction and a simple three step process of Ask-Believe-Receive. Many inspiring examples and quotes are interspersed throughout this little book. While reading this book, I could definitely reflect on a few instances of my life where law of attraction played an important role. Years ago, when I had just finished the written rounds for my campus placement and waiting for the results, I was thinking about how it would feel when I get selected and I have my first job in hand. I was putting forth my intention clearly into the universe and the results were indeed positive.

The Secret has also been made into a film and the flow is very similar to that of the book. I would recommend the book as I feel one needs to read and reflect upon the quotes to fully understand the principles behind the law of attraction.

New Year has begun on a good note with me getting back to my reading habit. Hope to read more books this year!

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