Standardization

Standardization is antagonistic to excellence. It establishes minimal acceptable performance levels; whereas excellence goes well beyond it.

Standardization neutralizes the ups and downs of collective performance levels. The good thing about it is that it elevates the downs and forces it to meet the minimum acceptable baseline performance levels – from poor to acceptable. The bad thing about it is that it more often than not disincentivizes the ups of superior performance and allows it to slip down to the minimum acceptable baseline levels – from excellent to acceptable.

Standard defines the average of acceptability thresholds, which is an inappropriate benchmark for superior performance.

Standards, however, is a good measure for those want to do the bare minimum so as to just suffice and ‘do the job’. Read Herbert Simon’s Nobel prize winning Satisficing model. However, for those who want to excel and go beyond the minimum required levels, Standardization is actually a deterrent. It is detrimental to creativity. Once you meet the established standard levels, your brain is conditioned to be satisfied with the output and you are assigned on the next task. You never have the time or the hunger to look beyond the established baseline – the standard. Your quest for excellence is extinguished as you set out on another project.

Standards came into being when the senior management and the so called intellectual capital of the markets designed a framework and minimum acceptable levels of performance for their so called intellectually-deprived unskilled workers. The workers were unable to define an acceptable performance level and hence unable to produce outputs that met those levels. So, it was the senior management who defined it for them in their bid to sustain in the marketplace.

Thus, standards are often established by someone else, who doesn’t do the work themselves, but rather entrusts a collective group of people with different skill sets to perform the task. Usually, they are set by some analyst or statistician observing a large data set or performing some time and motion studies on a group of doers.

However, the group often has different skill levels, with some peaks who tend to excel and some troughs who tend to be the laggard. Standards averages all these levels into a smooth baseline. That is what a standard is – an average. If you live and work by the accepted standards, you are either elevating your performance troughs or lowering your performance peaks.

Your employer is happy with the standards. But are you? That depends on from where you approach the standards – troughs up towards the standard baseline or from peaks down towards the standard baseline.

Once you determine your approach to the standard performance levels, you will realize if you are growing or shrinking. If it is the former – you would be happy to find out that it is you and the likes who have kept the standard level low, well within the reach of your limited abilities and you are lucky to stay hired.

But if you discover that you are approaching it from the peaks, it is up to you to determine if you want to live by those standards or establish your own performance levels. If you chose to do it, then you can elevate the established standard levels to match your performance.

I would also like to draw an analogy of the above discourse to what we call as group think. Group think is nothing but arriving at a consensus by standards. In group think, a desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. It deteriorates individual peaks of excellence and creativity. It averages everything out. In the same way as standardization kills excellence, group think kills creativity.

Be passionate. Be real

I cannot overemphasize validity and effectiveness of the advice given by the some of the best recruiters and successful managers in the industry – Be passionate. Be real.

Over the last few days, I have been updating my resume in my bid to get a job in the industry of my choice. I went through a lot of career websites and advisory articles that claimed to offer the best practices to build and present your profile to your prospective employers. I read, and read, to the point of getting dizzy. I traced the records of my previous jobs and mined my previous experience, work done, accomplishments and all the keywords that I should include in my profile to improve my chances of getting hired. I spent a lot of time and effort on it, a lot!

However, after a lot of applications, (it’s just been three days), I got my first interview call for the interview. And, if there if anything that I must say, I am 100 per cent sure that none of the industry buzzword on my profile was the key in getting the interview call. Neither was it my academic and professional qualification, nor was the supposedly successful record that I presented on my resume.

The only reason and the most important one, that secured an interview call for me was the fact that I was really passionate about the job when I applied for it. I was real with my words and honest with my application. I really wanted to get hired for ‘that’ position and do ‘that work’, which was listed on the job description.

When we are passionate and real about our application, we often go beyond the standard templates and drafts of our cover letters and often express interest and enthusiasm, which goes beyond the mechanical application process that we otherwise adopt in our application spree.

I understand that we have the urge to go all out and apply for a lot of jobs that are posted on the career websites. But, do we apply for the sake of getting employed or do we apply for really doing the work that is expected of you in that particular position? The answer to this question matters a lot to the recruiter. In our applying spree, we cannot make out this difference, but when we apply to some openings with real passion and honesty, the application stands out by the little things that we say in your cover letter. The hiring managers have an eye for these subtle nuances. And I am sure that even we all know when that passion flows out in our applications.

Having experienced the benefits myself, if there is one advice that I want to give to everyone who is seeking a job out there, it would be to be passionate and be real.

And it is not that difficult do it. It’s actually very simple – Just don’t stop your search till you come across ‘that’ perfect position. Once you do, you can be nothing else but be passionate and real. And be sure to extend that passion and honesty in your interview and in your job once you get hired; and everything else you do in your life.

Cost of calculations

There is a cost for every thing. For every choice we make, something is left unchosen, and there are opportunity costs to it. For every thing we choose to do, there is a transaction cost to it. And similarly some more costs for some things that we often do, and even for the things we don’t do. Economists, financial analysts and accountants will help you to better elucidate these costs.

But, it is important to remember that our life is not a corporate mission. In life, there are some costs that are best left uncalculated. For in calculating these costs, you often end up spending considerable time and effort, eventually incurring more cost of calculations than the one you set out to calculate in the first place.

For example, I see a recent trend of reliance on task managers and productivity apps. While I am not a tech-averse person, I often wonder at the amount of time we spend researching and comparing the plethora of products out there before deciding to download and install one. Do these apps account for the time spend in researching and installing them in the first place?

Setting up calendars, scheduling weeks and months ahead of time only to reschedule it, creating to-do lists, reminders, and other such productive tasks are quite a paradox in my opinion. Although they claim to increase our productivity, I find that they are counter-productive instead.

Trying to control and align too much has its own costs. Trying to manage and squeeze out the maximum has its own costs. This is applicable in the present as well as the future. In fact all of us incur costs in the present to avoid potential future costs – this is how insurance industry thrives!

What is it about Twitter?

It is not 140 characters, but rather 140 opportunities to make an impact. It is about doing a favor to the current time impoverished world by being concise and precise. It is a good tool to practice and improve your  signal to noise ratio. It helps you cut the fluff and get to the core. It is about getting to the crux of the matter.

It follows Steve Krug’s ‘don’t make me think‘ principle transposed from design to content  – ‘don’t make me search and skim, make me read instead‘. It eliminates the need for Ctrl + F in your posts. It makes sure that the reader reads it and not just skim it. It gives the publisher two of the most scarce resources available today – time and attention.

More time to create less of more compelling content and more of 100 per cent attention from your audience. (Marketers, take note!)

However, while I say this it is very important to remember what Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Less is only more when more is no good.”

At your service – The Amazon way

How many times have you wasted 20 minutes walking through the aisles of a supermarket looking for a small utility product that you would have just purchased and walked away in a couple of minutes, had you found it quickly in the first place?

Probably many times. And this must have happened to most of us.

Well, just counter this with a situation where you wanted a particular product, and just as you walked into a store you magically landed up exactly in the aisle carrying that product, and exactly in the front of the rack displaying it.

Wishful, but unrealistic? Not in the online shopping world, especially at Amazon.

Amazon knows what you want even before you login to their website. It takes you where you want to go. Rather it just gets the products you want and places them right in front of you.

This is what their recommendation engine does. Inspired by your browsing history, their recommendation engine throws up a slew of options for you to consider. These options present you with items to consider, items to explore, items you have viewed, recently viewed items, featured recommendations, items to sell and other such modular boxes, which make up the homepage of Amazon.com (only if you are logged in). Another element that frequently garners significant click through rates is the ‘Frequently brought together bundle’ that plugs other related products, or products that other similar customers have bought together.

Judging by Amazon’s success, the recommendation system works. A lot of that growth can be attributed to the way Amazon has integrated recommendations into nearly every part of the purchasing process from product discovery to checkout.

The recommendation engine presents specially curated content boxes personalized to suit your preferences and are based on your behavior, or interaction with Amazon in the past. It is the result of some algorithmic magic being able to read your mind by analyzing and extrapolating past data; and it more often than not succeeds in meeting your buying criteria and getting you hooked to the items listed in one of these boxes. The magic boxes!

It isn’t surprising that their recommendation engine is such a big part of their overall user interface right from the product discovery through to the checkout stages. The recommendation engines incorporate typical marketing concepts including affinity analysis for the identification of primary driver items and that of affinity items to selective target up-sell and cross-sell products. So, while the primary purpose of their recommendation engine is to delight their customers by allowing them to serendipitously discover great products, we can see that there is a significant role-play of data capture and analytics, rather than being a mere serendipity!

However, there is one caveat here. More so for Amazon Prime customers.

Amazon offers a premium Prime membership that caters premium services to its subscribers, including free two day shipping and other such benefits. However, considering that it is a premium service, there is not a plausible rationale to have more than one user account for every household. Hence, it would be fair to say that there are multiple users in a given household for a single user account. And all these users accessing the same account have different preferences and buying criteria. So, there would often be instances of completely irrelevant, or even contradictory browsing history and patterns as a result of multiple users accessing the same account. What this does is that it throws up irrelevant recommendations to the users accessing the same account, and hence potentially leads to lost sales.

What Amazon can do to overcome this problem is something similar to what Netflix has already done with profiles. Netflix profiles allow different members of your household to have their own, personalized Netflix experience, built around the movies and TV shows they enjoy. Netflix allows up to five individual profiles within a single Netflix account.

Similarly, Amazon can allow to have multiple access ids associated with a single primary account. They can limit the number of access ids to say 5 per account. What this will ensure is that each member from a given household will then be able to browse independently of each other without affecting the recommendation engine algorithm. The algorithm can then associate different attributes and preferences for each of the access ids and thus will improve the quality of recommendations being presented. Can and whether this service should be extended to include multiple wishlists is a different concern, but it definitely makes a lot of sense for recommendations.

It will go a long way in helping Amazon better realize their mission statement, which reads, “Our mission is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”