Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is Embracing Diversity In Spaghetti Sauce "The Surer Way To True Happiness"?

This post is my initial reaction to a Ted's video featuring Malcolm Gladwell that I have posted on website.

In this talk, Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point and Blink, acknowledges Howard Maskowitz for his contributions to business and to consumers. Howard Maskowitz was hired in the 80’s by Campbell to help with Prego, which was struggling against Ragu, the top brand in spaghetti sauce at the time. His market research revealed that there is no one best kind of product and instead the company needs to cluster their customers to understand what product will satisfy each group. Based on his advice Prego came up with the first extra chunky spaghetti sauce, which was an instant success and over the next 10 years they made over 600 million dollars selling super chunky spaghetti sauce.

And that’s when you started getting seven different kinds of vinegar, and 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 different kinds of olive oil…That’s Howard’s doing. That is Howard’s gift to the American people.” And from diversity in product offerings, Gladwell jumps to embracing diversity in people as a sure way to happiness. His whole talk at Ted’s is about variety in spaghetti sauce and all the products we find in the super market today to meet consumers’ diverse needs and that he believes is what will make people happy? It is not about the artificial ingredients and genetically modified ingredients put in the sauce to make it appealing to a particular cluster but it is about providing choice and doing what ever it takes to make your customer happy, in the short run at least. Because we all know in the long run, it takes more than spaghetti sauce made with artificial ingredients to keep you healthy and therfore happy.

Indeed, Howard had some remarkable insights about how consumers’ responses in surveys can be misleading. And yes, consumers can be clustered according to their preferences. But is the best we can do and talk about is how to sell more spaghetti sauce? Why do the innovators and great minds not use their insights to improve consumer health and well being? For example, how can we cluster people to make mindfulness practices more appealing? How can we ensure that the products we offer cater to the health of the customers and the environment? What kind of innovations in the distribution system can ensure that there is more equitable distribution so that both waste and scarcity are eliminated?

How can we use innovations in marketing to improve not only your business but also the well being of your customers, employees, suppliers, and the environment? I believe there is a way…

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do or die: Why you should learn the new social media technologies

I posted a new video on my website and you can watch it by clicking here.

This video provides some powerful uses of social media in the context of bringing awareness to issues that would have eluded us in the absence of these powerful new technologies. If you are a business with a purpose, you are very lucky to be operating in an environment that has so many opportunities for you to reach out to your target audience with your authentic content on a very small budget.

It may be intimidating to try these new technologies or we may pledge that we are too busy. Yet it is important to note the resistence you have towards these new opportunities, because you may be using the same mindset of resistence to view other opportunities that surround you, but you miss them because of a closed mindset. On the other extreme you may be so excited about all these new technologies that you lose perspective of how they integrate with your overall purpose. Using these technologies without authentic content that is meaningful to your desired audience is a waste of time for everybody.

Stay open, learn, and then decide how to use these technologies mindfully to deliver content that is authentic and meaningful to your target audience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Are You An Authentic Entrepreneur?

"The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which finds him in employment and happiness"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose. It is the basis for true success. Without that alignment, you can still achieve certain things through effort, struggle, determination and sheer hard work or cunning. But there is no joy in such an endeavor, and it invariably ends in some form of suffering".
- Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

"Think of your life as a house, with a bedroom for your personal life, a study for your professional life, a family room for your family, and a living room to share with your friends. Can you knock down the walls between these rooms and be the same person in each of them?"
- Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer, Harvard Business Review

Living in alignment with your purpose is something that has been discussed by philosophers in the past and spiritual teachers today. Interestingly, this ideal is finding its way in business as well. Many successful entrepreneurs like Bill George (former CEO of Medtronics), Tami Simon (Founder of Sounds True), and John Mackie (CEO of Whole Foods) are beginning to describe an emerging business paradigm that is known by different names including authentic leadership, integral business, conscious capitalism, and mindful marketing.

What these emerging business models have in common is the idea of running a business that is inspired by a higher purpose that goes beyond making profits. While profits are necessary for business, they are not the raison d’ĂȘtre, just like food is necessary for humans to survive but is not the reason for living or at least that would be the hope. These alternative paradigms are becoming more relevant in the face of changing consumer sensibilities, new technologies, and failures of traditional business models based on the narrow vision of maximizing shareholder value.

So, what is purpose driven or authentic leadership? Heppner and Kernis (2007) provide a comprehensive definition of "authentic functioning as involving four distinct, yet interrelated components: awareness and knowledge of one’s self-aspects, unbiased processing of evaluative information, behavior that is aligned with one’s true self, and a relational orientation with close others that fosters openness and connectivity." Many of these components reflect ongoing activities rather than characteristic traits that can be acquired once and for all. For example, awareness of self is a continuous process of reflection and contemplation on the self; to be aligned with true self assumes that true self is knowable in one go and permanent, but in fact we know that just like everything else, self is ever changing and so is our knowledge of the self. As such, it is more constructive to think of authentic functioning as a process rather than a stable trait.

Authentic or purpose driven entrepreneurship includes other processes that are unique to the business context. In addition to the processes described under general authentic functioning, authentic entrepreneurs are driven by a higher purpose that contributes positively to the world. In addition, they are courageous, committed, and creative; open; and enjoy the many challenges of being authentic entrepreneurs. Each of these aspects of authentic entrepreneurs is described next:

1) Inspired
Authentic entrepreneurs are inspired by a purpose beyond profits. Inspiration is different from motivation. While motivation is driven by external factors like financial and social benefits, inspiration arises from individuals’ unique life experiences and passions. In a recent Harvard Business Review article Bill George and his colleagues describe the inspiration authentic leaders derive from their life stories and the transformative role of challenges in their lives. Inspired people are energized and empowered to do things that normally people are not able to accomplish. Dr. Larry Brilliant, epidemiologist, successful entrepreneur, technologist, author, philanthropist, and former executive director of, is a perfect example of an inspired leader. Because only an inspired person can spend six years traversing India, enduring floods and drought, sickness and fatigue to help the WHO eradicate small pox from this world.

What is your inspired purpose?
(Here is a post to help you reflect on your inner purpose if you need additional help)

2) Positive Contribution
An authentic entrepreneur is inspired by a higher purpose that makes a positive contribution to the world. John Mackie describes conscious businesses as benefiting all stakeholders rather than only shareholders. This does not mean that businesses in certain sectors like fashion or entertainment cannot make a positive contribution. For example, Bonnie Siefers, an eco-designer and owner of Sami Designs Inc. is inspired by her love for fashion and the environment. She designs and sources clothes that are environmentally friendly, cutting-edge, and providing fair wages to workers.

What is your positive contribution?

3) Integrated
The values and purpose guiding authentic entrepreneurs are not merely strategies to win a loyal customer following but are their natural way of being. Such people live their talk not only at work but also in their personal lives. It is easy for customers to assess when the values of authentic leaders are integrated fully into the company and when they are being used as a strategy. For example, when Starbucks says it is selling fair trade coffee, it refers to a small percentage of its entire coffee purchase (3.7% according to Organic Consumers Association) that is offered only once a week to its customers, where as when a company like Deans Beans says it is selling fair trade it means 100% of it’s purchase is fair trade because it is not a strategy but a well integrated value. Like Bill George et al, I believe life can be much simpler if we can be the same person in all aspects of our lives. Gandhi’s quote on happiness is relevant here: "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

How integrated are you across different aspects of your life?

4) Self awareness
"When the 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness" (Bill George et al). While colleges and schools provide ample training in various skills and disciplines, they do not provide any training in self-awareness. However, many leading business people, like John Mackie (CEO of Whole Foods), Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia), Bill George (Former CEO of Medtronics), and Michael Rennie (McKinsey Managing Partner) are beginning to openly discuss the merits of practices like meditation and mindfulness. In addition, there is a lot of scientific research to provide evidence to support these practices. As an authentic entrepreneur managing your business mindfully and innovatively requires some time out of your daily routine to spend in silence to connect with your self and find your truth.

What do you do to get in touch with your self?

5) Courage, commitment, and creativity
Having a higher purpose is inspiring but can be challenging because there are many willing to take shortcuts that an authentic entrepreneur will not consider. Being an authentic entrepreneur is certainly not for the weak at heart. Neil Crofts (2005) has a very interesting quote in his book, Authentic Business, by Arthur Schopenhauer, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." If you are an authentic entrepreneur, be prepared to be challenged. You will need not only courage and commitment but also a huge dose of creativity to compete with others while balancing your purpose with profitability. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, provides a good example of an entrepreneur who followed his passion relentlessly for ten years without making a profit. Tim O'Reilly nicely captures this in a quote by Jeff Bezos, "There are a few prerequisites to inventing.... You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to think long term. You have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

Are you courageous, committed, and creative?

6) Open and receptive
I love the quote by Gloria Steinem, "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Authentic leaders are open to feedback - both positive and negative. They are humble enough to acknowledge mistakes and smart enough to recognize that there is much to be learned from them. The other dimension of being open is that they can deal with multiple perspectives and generally have wide-ranging experiences and expertise. This renders to their natural curiosity to learn and innovate.

How open are you to feedback and multiple perspectives?

7) Support teams and networks
Authentic leaders do not work alone but build effective networks by empowering people. Bill George et al describe support teams as necessary to authentic leadership. These should be mutually beneficial collaborations and include personal and professional relationships. Examples of such networks include family members, business groups sharing common purpose, and online network communities. They take years to build and the key to success is creating a platform for people to speak their minds honestly without fear of being judged.

Are you building strong support networks?

8) Enjoy
Last but not least, authentic entrepreneurs enjoy the journey as much as the destination. In fact, another way to know that you are following your inner purpose is by asking the question -

Do you really enjoy what you do?

Crofts, Neil (2005), "Authentic Business: How to Create and Run Your Perfect Business," Capstone

George, Bill, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer (2007), "Discovering Your Authentic Leadership," Harvard Business Review.

Heppner, Whitney L and Michael H. Kernis (2007), "Quiet Ego" Functioning: The Complementary Roles of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Secure High Self-Esteem
Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 1532-7965, Volume 18, Issue 4, 2007, Pages 248 - 251

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Meeting of The Walmarts, The Whole Foods, And The CSA’s Of Academia:Transformative Consumer Research Shapes New Paradigm

TCR: The Health Track
Be Do and Let Go

Driving back from the second Transformative Consumer Research (TCR) Conference at Villanova University, still buzzing with the excitement of a new paradigm that is emerging in marketing academia, I felt that the conference was like a meeting of the Walmarts, the Whole Foods, and the CSA’s of marketing academia. Before I explain what I mean by that I want to commend the leadership behind this conference for stimulating a new vision for consumer research. The conference brought together consumer researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds with the purpose of stimulating research and actions to alleviate the most pressing social and economic problems around the world. The sponsors of the conference, the Halloran Philanthropies and BeDo, posed three questions to the researchers:

1) Where are you now?
2) Where do you want to go?
3) How will you get there?

In the spirit of the questions posed by the sponsors, I am writing my thoughts to provoke readers to reflect on the following questions:

1) Who are you?
2) What impact do you have on this world?
3) What impact would you like to have on this world?
4) How will you have the desired impact on this world?

The purpose of writing this is to inspire self-reflection as researchers and the stimulation of a new marketing paradigm that is consistent with the purpose of TCR and Halloran Philanthropies of building “the world we all want.”

This conference to me was transformational because for the first time it brought together such a diverse group of people to engage in a dialog to better the world. Most marketing conferences are brief one-way presentations of a research project, followed by quick transitions in small clusters to bars for drinking. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against drinking, but I have always missed the two-way dialog between researchers passionate about a project that impacts the world in positive ways. The second unique feature in this conference was the bringing together of people who are doing similar purpose-driven work but would not have met in conventional conference style settings. Please also read what Craig Lefebvre, a colleague at the conference, also wrote to this effect.

Speaking of diversity, I use Walmarts, Whole Foods, and CSAs as metaphors to reflect the diversity among consumer researchers with respect to their purpose, research output, and impact in the real world. I use the metaphor of Walmarts to represent the high turnover but low impact researchers; In the Whole Foods,’ category, I include the academics who have created a balance between turnover and research that is meaningful, but is exclusive and limited to niche areas; And then there are the CSA’s, which metaphorically represents researchers who have high impact through meaningful research and high involvement in the classroom, but low turnover. I do not intend to see these as mutually exclusive categories but allowing for overlaps. There are advantages and disadvantages to each group and the TCR promises a new mindset that integrates the benefits of each group without the limitations. Each of these groups and the integrated paradigm are discussed next.

Wal-Mart Goes Green

The TCR conference drew many consumer researchers with impressive resumes including a long list of articles published in top marketing journals. This group of researchers comprised well-trained researchers trained by other well-trained researchers who have learned the skills and procedures for turning around research articles expeditiously, mostly using experimental design. Are these research articles read by anyone other than the elite circle of researchers themselves and whether they impact the world in any way are questions that may not be of interest to this group, as I discovered in my conversations with some of them. And if their work is not guided by the desire to make a difference, I wondered about their motivation to be at the conference. My conversations with some of my colleagues in this group reminded me of Wal-Mart’s growing interest in green and organic product lines. Certainly, when a retailer as big as Wal-Mart turns its attention to green and organic offerings, it has wide spread implications. This will force many big suppliers’ like Kellogg to create new organic lines and it will also bring down prices because of the economies in production and distribution afforded by Wal-Mart. Yet, as pointed out in a New York Times article, some organic food advocates fear that Wal-Mart is adopting organic product lines without embracing the principles underlying organic foods, which can have negative repercussions in the long run. For example, large-scale organic farmers will not use the crop-rotation practices of the small farms, hurting the fields and reducing the health benefits of organic food. Similarly, how the entry of consumer researchers into transformative research areas will impact academia and the world it seeks to change, without a change in their inner purpose and philosophical underpinnings of research and their role as academics, is something left to speculation.

Whole Foods No Longer Unique

With Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic array, Whole Foods is losing its unique positioning as a retailer of organic foods. Especially, in a recession Wal-Mart’s price advantage makes it more attractive. Whole Foods has been retaliating with cost-cutting initiatives and changing people’s perceptions that the store’s nickname shouldn’t be “whole check” (Business Week 2009). This phenomenon can be transferred to consumer research metaphorically to reflect an increasing focus in areas of research that are beneficial to society and are no longer niche areas. This has drawn more good researchers into public policy areas, which has improved the standards of research as reflected in journals like Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. So far policy researchers had been doing a good job of creating a balance between research that is meaningful and the quality of work, but with more people entering this area, there are more people with higher research standards and how the traditional policy researchers will defend their area of expertise remains to be seen.

What is a CSA anyway?

CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Over the last 20 years, CSA has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. It typically involves an arrangement in which consumers pay the farmer in advance for their share in the produce which is harvested once a week for pick up during the season. A recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune (2009) cites food activist Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, as saying, “We need more highly skilled small farmers in more places all across America - not as a matter of nostalgia for the agrarian past, but as a matter of national security.” I see a need for more consumer researchers passionate about making a difference in the world. Like CSA’s, these researchers work in complete harmony with their values, which are consistent and fully integrated with who they are. Their work is an outer manifestation of who are inside. They use a mindful approach, which is an authentic expression of who they are and not a strategy to get publications, and as such reflects in all aspects of their life. A potential shortcoming of this approach is that such researchers often work alone because it was hard to find other researchers who are equally impassioned by the same social cause. In the past, these researchers have encountered more challenges in publishing in the main marketing journals, because of they lack managerial implications, but this is changing rapidly.

Transformative Consumer Research: A New Paradigm in Marketing Academia

I believe this is a good time in history to stop and look at ourselves as academics – are you a Wal-Mart, a Whole Foods, or a CSA? As a Wal-Mart you have a lot to be proud of in terms of the sophistication and skills acquired to carry out research efficiently. But can these be used effectively to create the world we want without changing our inner worlds? As a CSA, your inner worlds are in complete alignment with the vision of a new equitable world, but alone it is hard to make a difference at the level we want. As a Whole Food you can only push your boundaries so far in doing research that is meaningful but in niche areas that cannot change the world at large. Each one of these groups has unique strengths and limitations.

What is needed is a new paradigm that combines the strengths of each group and this is possible through innovative thinking and a new mindset. A good example in the real world is that of Equal Exchange which has revolutionized the way coffee is traded. It has demonstrated through effective partnerships with farmer cooperatives that business can be profitable, equitable, and sustainable. The TCR initiative is a step in the right direction in that it has brought together the Wal-Marts, the Whole Foods, and the CSA’s to collaborate in ways that were not imagined earlier. Through dialog, common ground was shaped to take the first steps in using research skills and strengths of each group to move forward together towards a more equitable world for all.

My vision of transformative consumer research involves effective collaborations of diverse groups of researchers and non-researchers who are inspired to change the world. Such collaborative work will change the world through innovative research, education to spark wisdom and not mere knowledge (Also see David Mick), and effective implementation of the research in the real world. The new paradigm will be defined by passion, purpose, transparency, and innovation.

What is your vision of transformative consumer research?

Please take a few seconds to answer the poll questions who are you today and who would you like to be in the future. A quick reminder, Wal-Marts are those aspiring high turnover in good journals and not interested in impact; Whole Foods aspire a balance between turnover and meaningful research; CSAs have impact on society and meaningful research as the highest priority.
The poll can be found on the right side of the page when you scroll up to the title.