Jan 16, 2022

Book Review: Obviously Awesome by April Dunford



 Product positioning is a concept that I'm extremely fascinated about. My very first talk in a Product Camp event was on the topic of Product Positioning.

One of the professional projects that has given me so much satisfaction is being part of the repositioning exercise when Mindtickle repositioned from an HR employee onboarding platform to a sales readiness platform back in 2014. It is a classic case study of how positioning can play a pivotal role in building unicorn businesses.

I used to follow April Dunford's writings through her blog and her Twitter handle. Her thought leadership on product positioning and B2B marketing, in general, is quite inspiring. Her book "Obviously Awesome: How to nail product positioning so customers get it, buy it, love it" is an easy-to-read, practical guide on Positioning.

It starts with the basic definition

"Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about."

I liked the way how Positioning is referenced as “context setting” for products.

"Understanding something new is challenging because we don’t yet have a frame of reference. When we lack context for a product, the easiest way to create one is by starting with something we already know."

The commonly understood belief is that positioning is owned by marketing. Dunford clarifies why it isn't the case and why positioning is an important decision across the board.

"Positioning is too broad and too important to live in one silo of the company"

"While most people think of positioning as a marketing concept, a shift in positioning feels more like a shift in business strategy."

She also reiterates that positioning doesn't imply filling out a template or coming up with a statement that talks about the market, competition, and value.

She then goes on to explain the five(plus one) components of effective positioning. She elaborates these components through a 10-step approach to positioning. Practical, easy to implement steps, elaborated with interesting case studies.

I found the chapter on step #8 - "Find a market frame of reference" to be super interesting, especially her points related to creating a new market category.

"You are aiming to create a new market category. Your goals are first to prove to customers that a new market category deserves to exist, then to define the parameters of that market in the minds of customers, and lastly, to position yourself as the leader within it."

Whether you are a startup founder, a product manager, or a product marketer, you'd find interesting and useful insights to take away from this book. Highly recommended.

Jan 14, 2022

Short Story that made a big impact



A short story left me speechless and full of thoughts today. I'm talking about "Loners", a story which is part of Amazon Prime's Putham Puthu Kaalai Vidiyaadha anthology series, written and directed by Halitha Shameem.

Why this story made such an impact on me?
For starters, it is a beautiful dialogue between two strangers, who felt comfortable opening up to each other.

As the title card "Loners" rolls, the next frame shows the picture of a huge apartment complex. What a perfect portrayal of irony!

Nalla, played by Lijomol Jose is so expressive in her thoughts and words. Yet, she is part of a Zoom session titled "Loners in lockdown".

She meets Dheeran, with the nickname SkyGazer in a virtual wedding ceremony and again, in the Loners meetup.

The gentle nod Nalla and SkyGazer exchange in their second virtual meetup is such a cute start to their friendship.

Though Skygazer lives in a gorgeous sea facing home and a comfortable WFH IT job, he is still in a lockdown - locked down by the guilt of not been able to connect with his friend in his last moments.

Nalla and Skygazer's meetup in the grocery store is such a lovely scene. Nalla's thoughtful gesture of bringing certain things to Skygazer -  shows the level of deep listening and empathy she had developed for him over a few virtual conversations.

Their conversations cover a wide range of topics and they are so comfortable, being vulnerable and authentic - be it Nalla's anger towards productivity chasing people amidst the pandemic or Skygazer's personal turmoil after his friend's sudden demise.

A special mention for superb dialogues -
"The introvert in me is partying"
"We exchange energies"
"We are not attention seekers. We are connection seekers"
"We look into our own souls. We go on a soul tour"
"Cheers to the woman who is making my blues beautiful"
"You have lots of love that nobody needs"

I'm so glad that their relationship didn't turn out to be a romantic one at the end of the story.

I'd have been happier, had this been a full length feature movie of 2.5 hours. Would have loved to see how their relationship and connection evolves. Nevertheless, the 30-min in itself felt so meaningful.

Hats off to Halitha Shameem yet again for creating beautiful, meaningful cinema. Loved all her stories in Sillukaruppatti.

Jan 9, 2022

Book Review: Happiness is your creation by Swami Rama


 Book #2 in 2022

Having read Swami Rama's Living with the Himalayan masters last year, I picked up this book with the belief that his writing would resonate with me again. It was a quick and easy to read book that summarizes the importance of our mind and its role in our happiness.

As always, spiritual and philosophical books arrive at the right time to answer our questions. The very first paragraph answered one of the questions running in my mind - "The key to happiness lies in bridging the two worlds - the world within and the world outside".

In today's times, it is so important to remember this phrase - "The body may influence the behaviors of our mind, but it is the mind that controls the body". In this context, the author explains the role of Yoga and how it creates a harmonious balance between our body and mind. I loved the way he beautifully connected the linkages:
Happy/Joyful Mind <--- Quiet Mind <--- Inner Purity <--- Removal of impurities (anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, attachment, ego, insatiable desire) <--- Yogic techniques

He then briefly explains the eight limbs of Raja Yoga and moves onto the role of meditation in cultivating a quiet mind. It is ironic that I read about the Brain last weekend and picked up a book on the Mind this weekend :-)

This analogy gave me an aha moment - "The brain is like a computer's hardware. Its performance depends on the software. The mind is the programmer".

He goes onto explain the mystery of the mind - the power of our unconscious mind, our perceptions and actions without awareness. There were multiple insights that I have highlighted throughout the book, which need a deeper reflection:
"It is after knowing who you are that you will understand what you want to become".
"Expectation is a deadly disease that kills love."
"Expectation is the mother of all frustrations and disappointments"
"Safeguard your mind, for once it is safe, the whole world will be safe"
"Fear caused by insecurity drains vitality from your body"

This book is a proof that powerful messages can be conveyed in 115 pages - through simple words and impactful stories.

Jan 4, 2022

Book Review: The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman



The first book of 2022. What a fascinating read it was! I was pleasantly surprised to see this book on Kindle Unlimited and got completely hooked onto it this New Year weekend.

It was so inspiring to see how the author, in his quest towards unraveling the workings and future potential of the human brain, has brought up the interlinkages cutting across multiple fields - neurobiology, philosophy, psychology, technology, AI, robotics, etc.

The book starts with answering the fundamental question - "Who am I" from the point of view of the brain. Our life experiences shape our brain circuitry. The author takes us on a journey of how our brain grows and changes from birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood to old age.

"Neurally speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been."

The lack of preparedness during birth (as compared to animals) gives us the flexibility to adapt and thrive in different environments. The author calls this attribute as being "live wired", as compared to "hardwired" instincts and behaviors that many animals are born with.

"It’s not just illness or chemicals that change us: from the movies we watch to the jobs we work, everything contributes to a continual reshaping of the neural networks we summarize as us."

The author then explains how we experience reality and how the brain processes inputs from different senses, processing only the minimal amount needed for us to navigate the world.

"Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain."

My favorite chapter in the book is the one titled "Who's in control?". It argues that our conscious mind isn't involved in several actions we take for granted in a day. The behind-the-scenes narrative of what happens during a daily activity like lifting a cup of coffee and taking a sip was just mind-blowing.

"the conscious you is only the smallest part of the activity of your brain. Your actions, your beliefs and your biases are all driven by networks in your brain to which you have no conscious access."

"Consciousness gets involved when the unexpected happens, when we need to work out what to do next"

The chapter on decision making has some interesting examples and case studies related to instant gratification, willpower (ego depletion) and the impact of past experiences and body sensations on present decisions.

"the key business of brains is to predict. And to do this reasonably well, we need to continually learn about the world from our every experience"

The importance of social connection and its relevance to brain function is another insightful chapter, that talks about how we are preprogrammed to read subtle facial, auditory, and other sensory cues and how empathy works in the context of the pain matrix of the brain.

The final chapter talks about the plethora of possibilities that open up at the intersection of neurobiology and technology. I found it harder to comprehend or even imagine the potential use cases. It explores whether consciousness can be transferred, if thoughts can exist outside the realm of biological origins, if we can extend ourselves beyond our flesh. This chapter just went way over my head🙂

This statement is such a fitting end to this remarkable book

"Our species is just now discovering the tools to shape our own destiny. Who we become is up to us"

Dec 31, 2021

Behaviors across physical and digital worlds

The way we interact with the physical world and the digital world has a lot of similarities. Let me explain.


Last weekend, I had been to a book store, which had a wide collection across various categories. How did I navigate this place?


First, I went to the categories that I'm mostly interested in - psychology, business, marketing, spirituality. As I was walking through the different aisles, I picked up books to browse - those I have either heard of OR added to my Amazon wish list. Except for a few random books with an interesting title, I mostly stuck to books that I was familiar with.


I wanted to take a look at this book "Behave" by Robert Sapolsky but couldn't find it under psychology. I asked an associate working there and he brought the book from the "Science" section.


I also enquired about a few other books and also wanted to check if they are available in the used books collection. The associate answered all my questions patiently. I ended up buying the book "Behave", which had been in my wish list for a while but couldn't make the purchase decision earlier because of the font size and cost.


A few years back, I was visiting a book store in Chennai. It was a nice, cozy place with a limited collection of books. As I was browsing through the aisle, a gentleman introduced himself as someone who works at this store and would be able to recommend books to me. Without asking whether I'd be interested in such a service, he started picking books from the shelf and was showing them to me, explaining a little bit about the book, the author, etc. Without giving any time for me to process the information or peruse through the book he handed over to me, he went ahead and brought more books. After a point, the whole experience felt irritating. I left the place without buying anything.


As I thought about these two incidents, a few ideas emerged on how these translate into building meaningful experiences in the digital world.

  1. There will be a set of users who need guidance and help to pick from a collection - be it books, online courses, jewelry, clothing, etc. Maybe, they are beginners or they would need some assistance in making the right choice.
  2. There will be a set of users who know exactly what they want. They are capable of searching it themselves through the catalog. If they are not able to, they might ask for help. Maybe, they were looking for it in the wrong place, their search queries may be incorrect or the catalog doesn't have a robust search capability.
  3. Make sense of their actions, beyond just clicks. In the physical world, this would mean - the person looking clueless in a bookstore and he is just going in circles, sometimes even looking around for help. In the digital world, this would mean - opening multiple product descriptions across various categories, scrolling randomly without getting into any specific product description, looking for FAQ/Help/Support pages.
  4. If you notice a user behavior pattern that matches to users being clueless and might need some help, take proactive steps and offer suggestions. Ask for permission first. Then ask a few questions (without sounding too intrusive) to understand their intent and suggest a few options that might be relevant. Make sure to consider their budget - in terms of money, time, or effort, depending on the context.

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