Past Trends rarely lead to a new idea…

From Observing to Wondering… Design Thinking opens up a new way of looking at things!

from observing to wondering

I trained as an engineer. My experience (working with some cool designers – a few of them from frog design) quickly taught me to unlearn a few fundamental tenets of engineering practices, and instead embrace some contrasting methods from the radically different approach of design thinking. The first shift in my approach occurred in the mid-2000’s when I learnt the power of moving from a vertical (first) thinking to horizontal (first) thinking. The second shift started a few years thereafter, and it has taken me beyond the realm of conventional reasoning.

Over the years (in part due to my scientific training), I have learnt to combine deductive (top-down) reasoning i.e. applying theories and premises to specific instances, with inductive (bottom-up) reasoning, using observations to build hypothesis and theories. The focus has always been conformance to theories or hypothesis, and the goal is to discern patterns, connect dots and build correlations.

But, I have grown to believe that at times we have to go against the rational extrapolations of data and rely on anecdotal observations and instincts. Many-a-times I find that both deductive and inductive reasoning fail miserably.

In today’s era of data explosion, where we are constantly looking for past trends and data patterns, I have started to question the very goal of looking for conformance and patterns. I have started – instead – to search for those samples of data that break the pattern and wonder why? I know it disrupts conventional wisdom – but I find that it gives me space to think beyond accepted norms, anticipate new circumstances and look for new possibilities. It is quite possible that my interactions with designers has reinforced my own rebellious and contrarian attitude… and given me the confidence to break tradition and opt for design approach of ‘what if…?’ So what if I am currently starting with an incomplete set of observations… I can come up with not just one but several possible explanations. Of-course these are limited by the available information and are often based on conjecture and designed by my imaginative faculties. But it may be the starting point for a very different hypothesis, which can (of-course) be tested over time.

If I had any initial doubts, they soon eroded when I found support from a credible source – an American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (sometimes known as the father of pragmatism) has argued that no new idea could be proved deductively or inductively using past data and in his writings he introduces abductive reasoning, characterised as guessing and an inference to an explanatory hypothesis. He compares the different modes of inference and explains that deduction proves that something must be; induction shows that something actually is operative (it never proposes a new idea for its conclusion); abduction merely suggests that something may be (and seeks a new hypothesis to account for facts).

We have seen ourselves that we can hardly ever explain a new idea using past trends and data patterns… a new idea usually takes form when an observation does not fit into an existing model and we try to make sense of the ‘surprising’ observation by coming up with one or more explanations and slowly arriving at the best explanation.

We tend to forget that data is about past, emerging trends are about the future? And that’s where the problem with conventional thinking lies. Design thinking has extended my outlook with the what-if approach and trained me to move beyond simply observing to start imagining, wondering…

I love thinking about ideas freely… and observing them take shape!

This article is a page from my diary: UnLearning, more specifically an interesting section on ‘Embracing elements of Design Thinking’.

This article was first published at @LinkedIn on September 04, 2016.



Explosion of Data: Can it be monetized? (Part 1)


Effective data pricing is not about simply rolling out new pricing plans – it requires a re-think of strategies: implementation of new capabilities like policy control & traffic management; innovations in self-care, loyalty programs and cross-marketing; and  integration of all these dimensions into real-time charging, notification & payment solutions.

The discussion on the ideal model to monetize the explosion of data is live again! The classic one-size-fits-all  approach does not make sense any more.

Last year saw most of the major operators eliminating unlimited data plans to move to tiered pricing. There is very little support for the operators from the community as everyone sees it at an inhibitor to the connected world. Questions afloat on whether it will impede the growth of video-centric applications (still in their infancy) – be it the multi-player gaming or the video calling,  media streaming or the many anticipated new applications. But it is being recognized that growth in data traffic is impacted by multiple drivers – as was seen in India over the last year after introduction of 3G services, where data growth was  impeded due to high tariff’s, inadequate coverage for 3G across the regions and lack of seamless interoperability of many services (e.g., Video conference) across operators. It is clear that monetization of higher bandwidth networks cannot be taken as given –  a more holistic approach is needed to facilitate the adoption of data services and thereafter manage the explosion of data.

It is a reality that the carriers need to gain control of growing bandwidth consumption and to make consumers pay for what they use, while provisioning for an adequate level of quality of service. While the initial efforts started with ways to curtail data-hogging activities, it is slowly been recognized that there may be better alternatives to address the fundamental problem by re-defining the delivery of their services, managing the way bandwidth is utilized between voice and data services, as well as within multiple data sessions, and introducing new revenue streams. This also serves to enable the telecom providers to differentiate their role in the value-chain and demand a share in the revenue thru premium services.

This requires a re-think of the existing architecture to target fair play, offer flexibility thru tiered services facilitate monetization thru dynamic policy control & upgrade options, recognize customer loyalty, and integrate partner/sponsors into service models.

Architecture: Manage Inter-linkages

Some of the dimensions involved:

  1. Implement a data architecture which is able to distinguish & differetiate various types of data services in a granular form, so that differentiated policies can be implemented based on service types, usage and subscription profiles.
  2. Implement policy control solutions in the networks to exploit the variation in data usage and apportion the usage of the network to maximise the revenue. It has been seen that the data usage varies widely depending on the end-device, end-user and other parameters – half of a typical operator’s data traffic is driven by approx 5% of the subscribers only, top 20% of subscribers in usage avail 80% of available capacity. The available capacity during off-peak hours can be monetized by deploying non-user-based services (e.g., utility metering, telematics, M2M etc).
  3. Extend Policy Control to create monetization opportunities, i.e. moving beyond a denial or restriction of service to introducing real-time notifications & engagement with the user to present options to upgrade to the desired service levels. These could be offered on additional payment or linked with operator’s other loyalty & payment modules.
  4. The key is to provide a seamless experience to the user that integrates policy control with real time charging, self-care, payment & notification systems.
  5. Develop network intelligence by consolidating data from multiple sources – monitoring usage patterns, behaviour and service experience, data collection from network nodes, integration with operational & service assurance, CRM,  and care systems for analytics in real-time to develop profiles and characterics that can drive usage based pricing strategies aligned with user behavior.
  6. Implement an intelligent “offload mechanism” to selectively detour certain types of data traffic (e.g., bandwidth hogging video traffic etc) to altrenate bypass routes at the network edge, to ensure consistent quality of service.
  7. Proper dimensioning of networks (access and core) to support the heavy-tailed nature of data traffic is required
  8. Enhance  loyalty packages (discounts, loyalty rewars, bonus points, promotions etc) based on collected intelligence to define targeted segment promotions and innovate pricing capsules. Integrate into the payment systems to interlink with service upgrades.
  9. Integrate of new channels for notification, communication and self-care.
  10. Introduce new pricing Models from bundles, service premiums, partner/B2B models etc. Other options such as dynamic pricing could also be added. 

Next  we will look at the opportunities created by the new architecture to introduce new services, products & offers for the changing connected society.

This article first appeared on Aricent Connect on February 14, 2012  (

Great User Experiences start at the Back End


Successful consumer experiences are as much about behind-the-scenes business operations and processes as they are about easy-to-use products and cool designs. 

There is no doubt anymore that most companies recognize the true power of experience—thanks in large part to Apple, who has successfully emphasized user experience as an important element of success. And yet, it’s amazing to see that there is no simple definition of what “experience” really means or entails. Is it the overall interaction with a cool or smart design or is it confined to the graphic user interface (GUI)? I would say both. But I would also add that the complete user experience must also entail the service flows around various experience touch points.

The fact is, experience is the art of taking all those behind-the-scenes business processes and operating complexities (which we always tend to overlook), rationalizing them into streamlined functions, and then hiding them from the user by creating easy-to-use touch points and cool designs. So far, this is what has set Apple ahead of the competition, even as the competition floods the market with a surfeit of Apple look-alike products.

I’ve been associated with customers who go through an innovation cycle to replicate Apple’s success. Most of these initiatives ended with marginal success, and none created any industry-changing paradigms. What they all had in common was a single dimensional approach of hurrying the service functionality to the market. Existing operations and business processes were given short shrift and overlaid with ad-hoc upgrades in order to address service impact requirements. The result was that while the functionality excited technology innovators, it failed to generate any momentum because the experience wasn’t seamless enough.

These days, as the world becomes more connected than ever, dependency on the entire business eco-system has increased significantly. Touch points of customer experience now extend into multiple and diverse back end systems and processes (e.g. authentication and user identity/profile management, discovery and recommendations, download and upgrades, optimization for bandwidth and performance, campaigns and advertising, billing and revenue assurance, business analytics and service assurance, inventory and fulfillment, and third party eco-system management across CRM, billing, BI, OSS and SDP systems). Initially, it’s fairly common to overlook the complexity and impact of creating a comprehensive user experience, and when the challenge surfaces during the later phases of deployment cycles, the impending launch dates leave no room for innovation in that area.

In my experience, the most well-defined experiences get created when the impact on operations is envisioned at the same time as the product or service itself. This allows for all dependencies to be built in upfront into planning, while ensuring that a separate focus is created to commit to a seamless end-to-end operation. This may be possible through simple rationalization or through the evolution of existing systems, but in some cases it may require a full transformation. As the world becomes more connected and more people and products come online, the biggest challenge to service delivery models and business processes will be to sustain dynamic ever-changing real-time user and business parameters.

This is, in-fact, the difference. Apple designs for the end-to-end service—not just for a product. What this means is that companies must plan for service integration as part of an innovation strategy. At least, they do if they want Apple-like success.

This article first appeared on Aricent Connect on June 18, 2011 (

Leading Innovation – Making Ideas Happen


Success of Innovation is generally associated with Ideas. There is little doubt that ideas are core to innovation,  but we have also seen time-and-again that many good ideas and innovations lose their way – in fact only a small fraction eventually end up living to the original promise.

Innovation is the talk-of-the-industry. It is probably the most overused term in business today – and yet, everyone has there own interpretation of what innovation means and how it can be introduced. The focus is mostly on Idea Generation – some emphasize on systemizing innovation processes while others look to inculcate innovation thru specialized focus groups. Innovation is rarely measurable and disappointingly it seems to have become an end in itself – it is no longer about transforming businesses, changing lives or creating a new world. Innovation seems to be losing its meaning.

In reality, innovation is not just about ideas – an idea is just the beginning of the innovation process and the real work starts after that. This is not to say that defining the idea is not important – it is at the core of the innovation process and the relevance of innovation is tied to its response to real problems and addressing the pain points. However the potential of the idea needs to be deterministic and fully measurable – the path and the journey itself in most cases of true innovation would always be unknown. The difference between success and failure usually lies in how this unknown and unchartered journey is undertaken – how the idea is translated into a goal and (more importantly) the commitment that is made to take it forward.  

And this is where leadership comes in and leaves its mark. For innovation to drive achievement, it cannot be simply built around creativity, but has to be realized through careful planning, painstaking execution, constant vigilance, periodic adjustments and diligent pursuit. All examples of successful innovation have been driven by strong leaders who have been instrumental in changing the impact of various actions down the path of success. There is no better example than Steve Jobs – the ideas in themselves were not his own nor were these new inventions – it was the journey that made all the difference!

There is no doubt that the basic qualities of a good leader – i.e. clarity of goal, adaptability to change, swift & decisive action, calculated risk taking and the courage to override obstacles – are still important. But these form only the minimum requirements to drive innovation, and are not necessarily sufficient to ensure successful impact. Leading innovation requires additional capabilities that help traverse the lifecycle of change.

(1) Passion to make a difference – the inspiration to leave a lasting impact.  

(2) Perseverance & Courage to pursue, to keep going despite all odds & contradictions, to always look for alternatives.

(3) Conviction to challenge conventional wisdom, manage inertia and resistance to change.

(4) Focus to drive towards the goal – ignoring newer attractions and distractions, staying on course, constantly improving usability, simplifying the experience and using technology as a means and not as the goal.

(5) Pursuit of Perfection – willingness to admit mistakes, change course even late in the game and striving always for the best possible.

We just need to look around to see how many innovations have been lost on the way – some have been stopped, others modified beyond recognition, while the majority have simply been replaced by newer initiatives. In most of these instances, it has rarely been the idea at fault, seldom a scarcity of resources – and mostly always a lack of conviction or a faltering commitment.

There is no doubt that success in innovation is far more influenced by leadership than any other element – even more than creative ideas, smart resources or unconventional out-of-the-box thinking!

This article was written on February 09, 2012.