The Art and Science of Story Telling for Business

The art of storytelling always puzzles the people in business. This is predominantly because of what we perceived story-telling to be vs what it means in business. It is always important to breakdown a creative right brained concept with a left-brained workflow. This is where I believe that Micheal, the guest for today’s show does a great job is to break down this creative concept of storytelling in 3 steps that is actionable.
a) Context
b) Emotion
c) Evidence

But in this summary and breakdown blog, I want to highlight some of the interesting and relevant topics that were discussed.

  • Apart from what we already know as Product and service innovation, there is a social aspect to innovation which is accepting that not all innovations would succeed and how you take your peers along with you when you innovate. Communicating internally is just as important as communicating externally.
  • Culture is programmed for self preservation. It is the very nature of a culture to make sure there is not much resistance. The anti-bodies of today will chew up the innovation for tomorrow.
  • When you want to change the culture, change the story, about how today’s culture is included in tomorrow’s narrative.
  • it is important to make people feel a part of your story. You would want to make people feel included since you cannot have the far reaching effect doing alone.
  • Ethnography, is the art of scientifically decoding customs of individual people and cultures and can be one of the most important sources for insights.
  • The audience buy the story attached to the product and not the product itself. So telling a cohesive story becomes extremely important.
  • The key framework for story telling is a) Context b) Emotion c) Evidence.
  • 1) context – Paint a picture in world that relates to the audience. If they lean in then you have won a significant portion of the overall battle. 2) emotions – Show and get people to feel how much you care at who is at the heart of the story. It could be customers or internal stakeholders. It is about showing the emotional impact on people’s life and speaking to the pain point. 3)evidence – bring data and show proof.
  • The framework can be used in various scenarios in everyday life. From Quarterly Business reviews, strategic visions to roadmap exercises. Can be used while talking about the innovation cycle and a creative brief from vision.
  • Never start your story with the data, or else your story is dead on arrival.
  • Often, the team can differ in the story consistency. Having a coherent, cogent story, is an important first step for innovation.
  • It is important on how do you sell people on a possible future that is a moving target and maintaining credibility. You don’t wanna be perceived as a loose canon. As product innovator, you have to deliver the result in addition to creating the vision.
  • Instead of the problem-solution framework, use the obstacle-possibility framework. This helps you to bring a buy-in from the room as well. This additionally helps maintain the creative tension and has scope for inclusion from every stakeholder towards the solution.

Below are the notes straight from the blog-
What is Context? This is a really important principle as it relates to idea adoption. Most of us lead with data. If you start your story with the data, the story is dead on arrival because you haven’t provided any context. You might get people nodding their heads, but they’re not really on board. They’re not leaning in. They’re not accepting your story as their story. Context is when you start a story you start with the where. What I mean by that is, where am I? When you start a story, what your audience is trying to figure out is where the story takes place. What world are you asking them to step into? What’s that ecosystem, universe, or more simply, context? Paint that picture for them and then quickly capture their imagination. If you can’t get them curious and leaning in, you’re going to have a hard time carrying that attention through the rest of your presentation.

What about Emotion? This is where you need to show and get people to feel how much you care about who’s at the heart of this story. Who’s at the heart of the story is usually a customer or a key internal stakeholder. You’re telling a story in a way that shows that you get what they’re going through. You’re showing the emotional impact this has on people’s lives.

How does Evidence fit in? This is where you bring in the data. You demonstrate that you have a right to tell the story and that this story is real. The evidence is the proof. A caution is to not answer all the questions your audience would have. You want to let the story continue.

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42 Rules of Product Marketing

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Thinking to move into product marketing? Never comprehended how Product marketing is different from Product management? Are you trying to learn more about what it takes to be good at product marketing and how it integrates into the marketing eco system? This book helped me figure out some missing pieces of my understanding in product marketing. 

http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/42-rules-of-product-marketing/id511255558?mt=11

Purchasing an iBook is an experience by itself and looking back at the experience after reading the book, Apple seams to have done most of its product marketing right. 

42 rules of product marketing, puts together inputs from high profile marketers in the industry to help you get a perspective in all aspects of business. High profile marketers don’t have to be the best in training you, but as prospective marketers, their views can serve as more than just a lesson.

Most of book seems to target B2B marketing space, though there is a great example of how Nokia had to stay hands off during the last 3 steps of of its sales cycle. It would be an eye opener for marketers who try to retain control of the entire value chain. 

The book deals with the entire value chain and the plethora of responsibilities that a typical product marketer would deal with. I highly recommend this book if you need a sneak peek into a typical role that you would play as a product marketer. 

The future of Cloud Based Media and Blu Ray

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Cloud based media is currently in the cross roads similar to what the web was during the 1990s. The revenue as well as the mass adoption of cloud-based media is heavily dependent on the nature of relationships and consolidations that are going to take place over the next 1-2 years. With forecasts claiming close to 1 billion connected-devices, there is a huge potential for the cloud based media companies as well as the media content owners. PWC’s Global Entertainment Outlook underlines the huge potential available in this space; Consumer e-book revenue would grow from $4.1B to $8.3B by 2015, Video distribution would grow from $8B to $12B and recorded music revenue to jump from $9B to $12B by 2015.

Current Scenario

There are several stakeholders in the value chain of cloud based media distribution. Though the current ecosystem is very fluid, the key stakeholders are content companies, service providers, devices manufacturers and consumers. We will currently not take into consideration the traditional cable and satellite TV services, (though they do engage in on-demand programming such as Comcast’s Xfinity) as their core business is distribution of content via proprietary cable network. 

Tech powerhouses such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are garnering their entire intellectual asset as well as their relationship with the content owners to establish their supremacy over the cloud based media market. The cloud-based media currently can be classified into music, video, games/apps and books. The presence of a supporting device from each of these players cannot be ignored, as they are successful in locking the users into their eco system. Currently, there are two kinds of cloud services offered to customers namely, storage and media. We would be currently dealing only with cloud-based media services offered to customers. Apart from the tech powerhouses mentioned, services like Netflix, Hulu, Rhapsody etc. are major players in their respective spaces, but do not have associated devices to offer which makes it tougher to vertically integrate their service. They might find themselves at the disposal of the device manufacturers when there are downward pressure on prices (like the recent row between the publishers and Amazon, where Amazon placed a cap on of $9.99 on eBooks). The Content owners or the media companies are finding a huge shift in their bargaining power as the technology companies are trying to disrupt the release windows as well as consumption on multiple screen delivery for the same price.

Future Scenario

The future of content consumption is expected to be in TVs, PCs, Smartphones, Media tablets and Out-of-home screens. Though the death of television has been speculated, it has never been reflective in the numbers. Apart from the companies mentioned earlier, we believe that with over 800 million users Facebook would play a vital role in aggregating the content and facilitating social/usage recommendations to users. With the enormous amount of user data at the disposal of companies such as Facebook and Google, they would play undeniably huge role in the future of cloud based media consumption. Technology companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft who are in an attempt to vertically integrate the content distribution value chain (by being etailers as well device manufacturers) seem to be in a better position to pull customers, depending on their improvement in the customer experience.

The media industry is a concoction of fluid and experimental relationships and business models, currently based on complex licensing and distribution. The future business models for content distribution might be extremely unsettling as previously well-established norms in the media industry such as staggered release-windows and variable screen for multiscreen delivery might topple for good. The next 1-2 years might be a painful transition which gives the top players with significant partnerships to chalk the future business models as well distribution strategies and give an opportunity for artists and content owners to revalue their content and negotiate prices that is profitable for all the stakeholders in this value chain. We do expect around 3-4 years to completely transition to the new business model, the legacy models of DVD and Blu-ray can be expected to stay during the transition period.

Blu-Ray, Is it the last Physical Media?

Blu-Ray might well be the last physical format for video consumption and distribution. To delve further into this we would need to measure the success of Blu-Ray in comparison to DVD or CD in terms of ubiquity in adoption. Blu-Ray never seemed to have caught up the imagination of an average viewer like DVD or a CD. There can be multiple reasons from proprietary distribution to availability of substitutes such as Netflix and other streaming services. If we analyze the reasons why consumers currently opt in for Blu-Ray would be the quality of media, lack of user training for alternative sources( as user training is minimal when moving from DVD to Blu-Ray) and Blu-Ray content’s availability before online sources. Thus, the extinction of Blu-Ray would be heavily dependent on filling the gaps mentioned above. With better or equivalent quality of media made available online using better decoding and faster internet, Blu-Ray’s necessity is obviated. Similarly, if the media companies are able to come to mutually beneficial contracts to release the content immediately along with the Blu-Ray release, the need for physical media would be visibly reduced. With smart TVs entering the mass market and consumer awareness improving on these areas, the Blu-Ray could be the last physical media. However, for successful adoption in the mainstream market, would require more than 6-7 years. With Sony shipping close to 18.5 billion Blu-Ray players the end of the physical media is still not here yet If the fate of Quickster’s or growth of cloud media services such Amazon, Netflix or Apple is anything to go by, then there is an imminent shift in consumer’s preferences towards cloud based media is imminent.

THE PETRODOLLAR

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This is one of the research Papers submitted for my Global Energy Course. Though a bit judgmental, these represent solely my views and no one else.

Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; that controls money can control the world.

— Henry A. Kissinger

The price of crude oil over the last 10 years has risen by over 350% in USD, over 250% in Euros but the price of oil vis-à-vis the price of gold has remained constant. This points us to a very interesting reasoning of inflation of the USD and the subsequent diminishing value of USD. Experts believe that the only way to curb the sky rocketing prices of crude oil, is to curb the reckless printing of USD bills.

On August 15th 1971, President Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard. The inside sources say that OPEC did consider moving away from dollar oil pricing, as dollars no longer had the guaranteed value they once did. The US lobbied with Saudi Arabia in the 1970s to ensure that the world’s most important oil exporter stuck with the dollar. Considering the monopoly of oil production in the Middle East, the OPEC followed anything that received consent from Saudis. International oil trades at New York’s NYMEX and London’s IPE were (and still are) strictly denominated in dollars, hence the name ‘petrodollar’. Most of oil traded in the world is through the USD.

The goods and services imported by United States are paid in USD to the producing nation. As a part of the cycle, the producing nations pay their oil bills in dollars to the Middle East producers. These dollars received by the oil producers flow back into the Federal Reserve in New York. This concept is commonly known in international political circles as Petrodollar recycling or Petrodollar cycle. And in response to this cycle, all United States needs to do is print the bills. Essentially this has two effects on the economy of United States of America, it keeps the value of USD artificially inflated with respect to other currencies and given USA precarious flow of credit. The Petrodollar cycle has contributed significantly to the $15 Trillion debt.

The US military and the USD are the two pillars that have helped United States establish hegemony over the years. Any shift in the scales with the valuation of USD would definitely harm the military and vice versa. A sound understanding of the petrodollar concept is essential to comprehend the current political turn of events in the Middle East.

The military might of United States protecting the other pillar, the US Dollar, was at display during the war with Iraq in 2003. Saddam Hussein, after decade-long economic sanctions, was ready to export oil to the Euro nations and the world. In November 2000, Saddam Hussein decided to trade the oil in Euro denominated currency. The reason for this was a mix of economic and political elements. He decided to forgo dealing with the “currency of the enemy” also for the reason that the Euro seemed to be 17% more valuable vis-à-vis the dollar. Almost all of Iraq’s oil exports under the United Nations oil-for-food program were paid in Euros since 2001. Around 26 billion Euros (£17.4bn) was paid for 3.3 billion barrels.

The trading of oil in Euros was considered blasphemous and was one of the reasons for the attack by US army on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, which the military was unable to find eventually. Once the Saddam was put to death, USA ensured that the trading of oil in Iraq happens through dollar denominated currency. The global economists have always held Petrodollar as one of the top reasons for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Iraq is often claimed by experts to have shot at its own foot, and its neighbor, Iran, was in similar waters. Though Iran and Iraq share a very bitter history, they have irked United States and its stock currency, the dollar, in a very similar style. In 2005, Mohammad Javed Asemipour stressed the vision of initiating the trade of petrochemicals and light sulfur crude (and eventually regular crude) in its own oil exchange on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, southern Iran. Iran proclaimed that the trade could be carried on in the Euro denominated currency. As the Kish Bourse gains momentum, Iran has offered to trade in a basket of currencies that is preferred to the seller and the buyer. This could pose some serious threat to the hegemony of US dollar as the paramount currency. United States and the European Union have unanimously imposed sanctions that have made international financial transactions for the government and Iran’s business community more costly. Iran has increased its offense on the United States to continue trading in either dollar or trading with the home currencies such as Rupee and Yuan. Coincidentally, on March 20th 2007, Levey told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs that unilateral US financial sanctions “warn people and businesses not to deal with the designated target.“ The sanctions are now targeting foreign banks that handle transactions for Iran’s national oil and tanker companies, and companies or individuals involved in dealing with Iran. The sanctions are perceived in international political circles, as an attempt to cripple Iran trade and thus cash strap it. Iran, though, cannot be considered morally supreme with its impending nuclear program, and the Petrodollar is one of the many reasons why United States cannot ignore Iran or its imminent threat to the US.

Why its time for the Gasoline Engine to Bid Adieu

It almost seems as though public transportation and electric vehicles in the United States faced similar battles at different points in time; the petroleum companies cartel pushed for development of the famed US highway system which encouraged consumers to buy more cars and spend more on gasoline while the electric vehicles are facing stiff resistance from policy makers and benefactors of the petroleum regime to institute a new model of operation which is economically viable.

Most electric vehicles today can run on a single charge for about 130 miles. Beyond that, the car needs to be charged for about 6-8 hours to return to full charge. One will argue that 130 miles is hardly sufficient for hassle free transportation which results in the often used term ‘range anxiety.’ This purely refers to the limited range an electric vehicle can travel on a single charge. But wouldn’t this problem be mitigated if we develop charging stations every 100 miles? The gasoline station infrastructure came into being in the US in the early 1900s and has had an extensive network across the country for over 40-50 years. Will the automobile sector have taken off, had there been no fuelling stations? Certainly not, and therein lies our answer to the mass adoption of electric vehicles. The infrastructure needs to come first and then the customers will follow, PERIOD.

I was listening to a talk by Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, a venture capital backed American-Israeli company based in Palo Alto which develops transportation infrastructure for electric vehicles. According to Shai, the solution to mass adoption of electric vehicles lies in dissociating the ownership of the battery from the entire system. His recommendation is to have ‘swap stations’ where car drivers go up to gasoline stations and replace their discharged battery with a new, fully charged battery for a fee. Since the battery constitutes about 30-40% of the cost of the system, the cost of ownership of an electric vehicle is reduced substantially but the battery cost will have to be amortized over the lifetime of usage. Here’s where the problem arises when you give the customer such a heavy “discount” at purchase. Your refueling/re-charging expense will be then comparable or even higher than gasoline resulting in value degradation in the minds of the customer.  In my opinion, battery ownership with a nominal fee on every swap is smoother business model.

Shai also discussed the extremely progressive measures adopted by Isreal for promoting electrics. Apparently, there is a 70% tax on usage of gasoline-powered vehicles compared to just 10% for non-gasoline. This will go a long way in driving adoption of electric vehicles. What’s more, its not just not like any other subsidy where tax dollars are used to drive consumption; in this case, the tax slab for electric vehicles will be increased constantly as demand increases but the delta of 60% between gasoline and non-gasoline vehicles would remain constant. The policy is a win-win-win; for EV companies,  the government and consumers. Once EVs become mainstream, the taxes will be much higher and in a sense the EVs will be promoted as mainstream while the internal combustion engines (ICEs) will be ‘taxed out’. In other words, the policy states that if we buy an electric vehicle today at a lower tax rate, we can sell it four years hence at a price higher than acquisition cost due to the increased taxation in the future- a clear profit motive for early market entrants.

Coulomb technologies, another bay area start-up with its proprietary charging station infrastructure forms another part of this EV puzzle.  About a year ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Richard Lowenthal, founder and CTO of Coulomb. It was fascinating how Coulomb was going about seeding the market, talking to legislators, policy makers and consumer bodies and educating them on how an efficient charging station infrastructure can help reduce our dependence on the grid. Coloumb has created what is called the ChargePoint Network for recharging electric vehicles which are being deployed in cities, availability of which can be checked online. Moreover, a ChargePoint station for use at home is available for about $2500 which will allow for customers to charge vehicles at the most optimum pricing using demand side management and call centre support for charging issues. This idea can be revolutionary when used by swap station owners as they will be considerably reducing costs of charging batteries, thereby increasing their profit margins.

The third piece to this story is the battery itself and that’s why its important for us to understand how Tesla Motors is pushing the limits of the Lithium Ion technology in having batteries run for over 300 miles on a single charge. That is more than twice that of batteries in most other electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. I believe that Tesla’s cars with its over $100,000 price range will attract only those customers who are rather price insensitive. They buy electric vehicles because its cool and because Tesla plays to the gallery of having a sports vehicle packaged as an EV. But if battery technology can be pushed to giving us over 300 miles on a single charge, we would have no apparent reason to complain. A charging station and swapping infrastructure dotting national highways or interstates is a clear and very feasible solution.

I did a very basic cost benefit analysis by comparing the Nissan Leaf with Toyota Corolla, Honda Accord and the Nissan Versa Hatchback.

Toyota Corolla

Honda Accord

Nissan Versa Hatchback

Nissan Leaf after Tax Savings

Car Purchase Price

 $17,000

 $22,000

 $15,000

 $28,000

Miles/gallon

 $27.00

 $23.00

 $28.00

$/Gallon

 $3.60

 $3.60

 $3.60

$2.4 for full charge

Lifetime of Usage

 $100,000

 $100,000

 $100,000

 $100,000

Total Gallons In Lifetime

 $3,704

 $4,348

 $3,571

Total Op. Ex

 $13,333

 $15,652

 $12,857

 $1,846

Total Cost

 $30,333

 $37,652

 $27,857

 $29,846

It’s clear that if you compare any vehicle in the price range above $17,000, the Leaf will win, hands down. But if you were to compare apples to apples and pit the Versa Hatchback against the Leaf and discount all other benefits associated with EVs, you might end up paying a few thousand dollars more for the leaf. But hang on, what about the costs associated with maintenance of an ICE beyond 100,00 miles? And wait a minute- did we compute the increased resale value of the Leaf since the battery is designed for 200,000 miles of operation? Again, didn’t we say that the batteries could be swapped and that what you have at any given time is a fully charged battery supplied by the recharging station? So what we have to incur is only the annual maintenance charge or the extended warranty charge which will be the case even in gasoline powered vehicles.

Overall, I believe that it is an almost no-brainer decision to switch to electric. The consumers need to have a profit motive albeit not through a myopic lens, legislators must take bold moves to drive adoption and car companies must incessantly innovate and not worry about EVs cannibalizing their ICE business- a reality which is not that far away from now!