Oct 28, 2016

Why "reduce" is the only option for sustainable living

Among the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), I'm a strong believer that "reduce" is THE need of the hour to preserve whatever is left of our environment. 

The plastic ban imposed in a city like Bangalore is a welcome move but what's the alternative? Supermarkets and large-scale grocery chains have switched to brown paper bags for vegetables and fruits. I used to collect and reuse the plastic bags earlier but with paper, they are so flimsy and easily tear apart when you try to remove the price tag. When I end up going to these supermarkets, I leave behind a pile of use-and-throw paper bags in my garbage bin.  When I want to throw a party or fulfill food orders for my EthnicPalate initiative, I opt for areca-nut plates and cups. What is the source of these paper bags and areca-nut plates? Trees, of course. So if we need to switch from plastic to eco-friendly alternatives, we have to extract materials from the environment. How many trees need to be cut in order to implement the so-called eco-friendly switch? How much more can we destroy the planet for the sake of our convenience? 

I recently came across a very interesting, thought-provoking TED talk by Leyla Acaroglu, a sustainability strategist and designer based out of Australia. I highly recommend you take a look. Among the many observations and insights she shared, the one point that struck me was the design of refrigerators. The size keeps getting bigger and the number of sections and doors keep increasing, with new models and brands coming into the market each year. As a result, we hoard on groceries and fresh produce, without being aware of what's in stock. In the USA, around 40% of food purchased for the home is wasted. For a country like India where 270 million people live below the poverty line, it would be a crime to waste food.

Just imagine the resources and raw material that went into producing a kilogram of vegetables. Not to forget the energy and effort of the farmer. If we buy such produce in bulk and waste half of it, it's not just our hard-earned money that gets wasted but also the energy expended in the entire lifecycle - the chain of events from farming, harvesting, food preservation, transportation and storage. 

Buy only what's required. You don't need to stock up on all kinds of vegetables and fruits in your fridge. You don't need all kinds of grains and lentils in your pantry. Buy less, finish them and then go for your next purchase. Don't fall into the trap of bulk purchases and mindless discounts. I'm not exaggerating but I find myself to be more creative in the kitchen when I have fewer supplies. 

Be mindful of every little thing that enters your home and that gets added to your shopping cart (both online and offline). It only takes an extra minute to think whether you need a particular product or if you can postpone the purchase. 

The increasing popularity of Dhanteras and Akshaya Tritya (auspicious days to buy stuff) can only be attributed to carefully crafted marketing plans of consumer goods companies and jewelers.

This Diwali, let's ensure there is space in our homes (fridge, pantry and wardrobes too) for light and air to flow freely and not load our homes with "stuff". 

Oct 19, 2016

Why you need to care about your customer's motivations?

Over the past 4 years working on multiple products, I noticed an interesting pattern on the problems that many product managers are trying to solve. They seem to fall under one of these five major themes:
  1. Evangelizing the product
  2. Driving product adoption
  3. Effective onboarding
  4. Increasing user engagement
  5. Demonstrating value during the customer lifecycle
The debate on whether we are building the right product or not seems to have settled down. The much bigger question many are grappling with is how to communicate the right value to the right target customers. This makes me ponder if the role of product marketing is now becoming a lot more important and crucial for product success.

Many of these problems involve identifying the right audience, right channels, right message and right context. That explains the proliferation of contextual communication platforms such as Intercom, WebEngage, Customer.io, Appcues, Autosend etc.

With plenty of tools and platforms available, these problems should have been easy to solve. But the crux of these problems involve understanding customer motivations -
- why should a user be interested in your product?
- what conditions / situations / context in his life will lead to interest in your product?
- when do such conditions / situations manifest in your user's personal (or professional) life?
- what are the current alternatives that he has deployed in his life to solve the problem your product is intended to solve?
- what are the limitations of such alternatives? When will those limitations become such a big issue for your target user that he is ready to seek an alternative?
- what are the repercussions that would arise if he doesn't address those problems, by using these less-capable alternatives?

Unless we have a deep understanding of these areas, the problems listed will persist, irrespective of any number of targeted communications that a product manager / product marketer sends out to their users.

Oct 10, 2016

How can you improve your mental health?

 Today is World Mental Health day (10th Oct).

Dr.Sivaraman, the leading Siddha doctor from Tamilnadu has written multiple books in Tamil and these have changed my life. He points out repeatedly in his books and speeches about 3 issues that are the the main reasons for the rise of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, depression, cancer etc.

1) Change in our food habits - right from food cultivation, processing, storage, preservation, cooking techniques, serving to eating practices
2) Our disturbed mental health - attributing happiness to material possessions, societal status, raising ego clashes
3) The mindless violence we have unleashed on environment and nature

This post is dedicated to the second issue - our mental happiness and peace. When did our happiness start to be influenced by latest iPhone launches, purchase of new gadgets, getting FB likes, riding a swanky new car, jumping companies to get that promotion or a huge salary hike, buying expensive jewelry, renting high-end branded fashion wear etc etc?

In our journey towards achieving materialistic possessions, where is the last stop? Gadget manufacturers keep luring us with new upgrades and fancy marketing tactics. On top of that, we succumb to peer pressure and equate our "net worth" to these gadgets. Our parents used the same watch for 30 years whereas we want to upgrade our smart phone every year. We want to revamp our wardrobe every year based on what the growth-obsessed marketing strategists and the media-savvy Bollywood heroines dictate as the latest "fashion". We are ready to stay in lifelong debt in order to maintain the unaffordable, ultra-luxurious lifestyle.

The corporate cut-throat competition is not for the weak-hearted, people say. Clashes due to big fat egos, pressures of the rat race, sky-high expectations and the various challenges of climbing the steep corporate ladder suck our mental energies completely.

And when we are drained of our mental energies, where do we seek happiness from? Clicking selfies, addiction to social media, clamoring for FB likes, showing off pretentious lifestyles with those materialistic possessions and what not.

Jeff Hammerbacher (founder of Cloudera) once mentioned,
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads".  
 It's also worth mentioning that
"the best minds of our generation are thinking about how to get people to like their posts on FB".
Enough of the negativity in this post. What can we do about it?

1) Seriously think about what makes you happy - activities, feelings, people, experiences, moments etc. Carry a journal with you always and jot down whenever something brought a smile on your face, when your life felt more content and meaningful, when your heart felt calm and relaxed. Revisit your past and ask yourself what made you happy when you were a child. Invest your time in them every single day.
2) Be confident with who you are from within. Ignore the society's definition of how a man/woman of your age should look like, what they should do, what they should wear, how their home should look like etc. Most people would usually feel threatened if you are non-conforming. Let them be. Be rebellious and show off that "don't care" attitude. Care deeply about your inside happiness, that's all it matters. Celebrate your uniqueness.
3) Don't get glued to social media. Disconnect as much as you can. You don't have to share everything that's happening in your world. And you don't need to know everything that's happening in other's worlds. Use social media as a break from routine. But don't hitch-hike with it for your happiness.
4) Connect to real people in the real world more often. Meet them in person, have deep conversations, listen intently without judgment. Seriously, why do we judge people in a matter of micro-seconds? The more prejudices and stereotypes we have, the more opportunities we lose out in the world.
5) Always carry a positive attitude, keep the cynicism aside, be humble and always open to learn from others.

Oct 4, 2016

Listen to your body's signals

 I'm a firm believer of the fact that our human body has amazing abilities. How do we feel when a peck of dust enters our eyes or a sand particle enters our nostrils? Our body will ensure that the foreign particle is thrown out immediately, by the use of tears in the first scenario or a sequence of sneezes in the second case.

Over the years, we have lost touch with our body. While we want to stay connected to our smart phones with strong Wi-fi / 4G signals, very few of us are able to detect the signals sent by our body. The very basic of these signals are hunger and thirst. How many of us eat food when we are hungry? We like to be busy throughout the day and grab something on the go, without an understanding of our hunger pangs. Either we starve ourselves completely and pride on the fact that we had a late lunch due to a "client meeting". Or we keep munching something every 10-15 minutes, distracted with our umpteen number of devices.

As much as I respect Rujuta Diwekar for bringing awareness on Indian food traditions and practices, I don't agree to her principle of eating every 2 hours. I believe in the old adage - "eat when you are hungry". Hunger is a way of signaling us that the stomach has digested the food eaten earlier and is ready with the digestive juices to take in the next meal. At times, either our body needs rest (do we feel hungry when we are sick? Not at all) or the earlier meal is taking more time to digest. So it is better to wait for the signal before you eat the next meal. If we eat even a small portion of any food before the previous meal is fully digested, the undigested food interrupts the digestion of the previous meal. As a result, both the meals end up not getting digested and absorbed properly.

I also believe that we should drink water when we are thirsty. Not sipping throughout the day. It is very easy to understand the trigger our body sends if we care to listen. The one-size-fits-all measurement of drinking 4-5 litres of water a day doesn't apply to all human beings. Each of us are unique - our needs are different and so does our body types, activity levels, gender, food habits, genes, location and many other parameters.

This is what our ancestors believed, who led calm, peaceful lives without any lifestyle diseases. This might sound impractical, given our busy schedules. But I suggest that you try eating atleast one meal a day only when you start to feel hungry.  Start saying No to any food when you are not hungry. I bet you'll feel a positive difference (the lightness, the high energy levels) in a few days. Do share your experience in the comments below.

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