Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Purple Cow - Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

Author:       Seth Godin
Published:   2002
Publisher:    Penguin Group
Hardcover: 144 pages

More than a year after being disappointed with the author Seth Godin's book Tribes (See my review of this book in an earlier post ), I decided to give his books another try as I picked up and borrowed  this book Purple Cow , from the library since it seemed interesting in the first browse.
Well in my view this is a much better book than Tribes though they deal with different themes. This one is about niche marketing, whereas Tribes is  about network leadership.

Seth Godin offers rather a common sense insight into niche marketing in a very simple and conversational style. Nothing new or profound here. It may have been so when this book was first published in 2002, though I am not sure about it.

In this book also he sounds rather repetitive and keeps flogging the same horse, but the tone is less evangelistic, more subtle and thereby more tolerable as compared to his Tribes (which is comparatively his more recent book. Deteriorating Quality  over the years ??/!!)

A plus point of this book is this. Nearly 20 case studies and examples drawn from more than 250 brands/companies packed in this small book (less than 150 pages) to illustrate the Purple Cow Concept. 

Here is my take on Seth Godin's books, now having read two of them. 
They are OK for a quick, light read to pass time if you don't have anything better in hands. 
I would rather Beg, Borrow or Steal his Books rather than buying them. But of course he has a considerable fan following which keeps him going.

I have also decided to pay him a tribute by posting this blog in Purple Color Font in Bold !

Purple Cow Concept - Key Points 

  • The conventional marketing wisdom is to play safe by creating ordinary products (or services) and advertise to the masses. However these are the days of information-overload and plethora of choices.
  • Your prospects are too busy to pay attention to mass advertisements. They have too many options, but there is less and less time to understand them and go out of way to spread the word.
  • Therefore your product or service must be truly exceptional, remarkable and unusual like a mythical Purple Cow which will stand out among the mundane brown & white colored cows. Only then it will garner enough attention, spread through word of mouth and bring in profits.
  • Purple Cow approach is to create remarkable products by building marketing element into its creation process vs the traditional approach of add-on marketing after an average product has been created.
  • Such a remarkable product should be created first for a small under-served niche market in which there exist an otaku (an overwhelming desire that gets someone to go out of way to try out new things that interest them). It will be much easier to sell something that people are already in the mood to buy.
  • You need to discover the limits that make the product remarkable. Try to be the cheapest/costliest, the fastest/ slowest, biggest/smallest (in other words the most…) in a given market. Don’t play safe. Safe is Boring & Risky in long term.
  • Purple Cow products (i.e Remarkable products) are created by the ones who can get inside the heads of the people who do care deeply about this product and making them something they will love and want to share.
  • The product you design should be remarkable enough to attract the early adopters – but also be  flexible enough and attractive enough for these adopters to easily spread the idea to the majority.
  • Differentiate your customers. Find the group that is most profitable. Find the group that is most likely to sneeze (spread the word). Figure out how to develop/advertise/reward either group. Ignore the rest.
  • Your ads (and your products!) should not cater to the masses. Your ads (and your products) should cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers. Your slogan or positioning statement must be concise, true, consistent and worth passing on.
  • Get permission from people you impressed the first time to alert them next time when you create another Purple Cow product or service for them.
  • Once you create a Purple Cow, milk the Cow for everything it’s worth. Figure out how to extend it and profit from it for as long as possible. Once the Purple Cow evolves into a Safe and run-of-the-mill product REINVEST! Launch another Purple Cow (to the same audience). Assume that what was remarkable last time won’t be remarkable this time. Build a discipline of repeatedly launching products, watching, measuring, learning and doing it again.
  • The Purple Cow is just part of the product lifecycle. You can’t live it all the time (too risky, too expensive, too tiring), but when you need to grow or need to introduce something new, it is your best shot.
  • You don’t need passion to create a Purple Cow. Nor do you need an awful lot of creativity. What you need is the insight to realize that you have no other choice but to grow your business or launch your product with Purple Cow thinking.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Discipline for Software Engineering

Author:      Watts S. Humphrey
Published:   1995
Publisher:    Pearson Education, Inc.
Paperback: 816 Pages
Readers in India:

The author Watts Humphrey needs no introduction to the software engineering community. He was a real "process innovator" whose pioneering work led to the development of the widely known and implemented Capability Maturity Model (CMM/ CMMI). While this model helped in instilling some discipline to the chaotic way of developing software  which existed in the organizations, Watts Humphrey believed in catching the software engineers young in their schools itself  and  teach them a disciplined  way of developing software.
Thus Personal Software Process (PSP) was born and this book is a complete guide to this process.
In Watts Humphrey's own words in the preface to this book:
"The principal goal of this book is to guide you in developing personal software engineering skills that you will need for large-scale software work. You will learn how to make accurate plans, how to estimate the accuracy of these plans, and how to track your performance against them. You will use defect management, design and code reviews, design templates and process analysis. You will do this with a defined and measured personal software process. These measurement and analysis disciplines will then help you to evaluate your performance, to understand your strengths, and to see where you should try to improve. From all of this you will develop the tools to continue your personal improvement throughout your professional career"

PSP is taught in this book through a series of 10 programming exercises, requiring progressively higher levels of process discipline. All the required forms, templates,checklists, process scripts  for this purpose are made available in the appendices (which forms almost 40 % of the book's bulk !).

This book is almost a text book and definitely not for light reading. At the same time it is not too difficult to grasp for any software engineer.

In my view this book should form a mandatory part of  any software engineering curriculum. 
A must read for all software engineers and proponents of Agile  too (since I could sense the principles of  agile development throughout the process) !

However it  needs to be revisited and overhauled to fit  the current scenario of software development (this book was written 1995 !). It requires too much of a discipline which while is nice to have is rather difficult to inculcate for e.g. 
a) the recommended practice of reviewing the code before compiling (Temptation to compile first is impossible to curb !).
b) recording time to the accuracy of 1 minute (Going back to Time and Motion studies of Taylorian era ! In my view an accuracy of  5-15 minutes is quite acceptable. )
c) rigorous statistical analysis (Good to do; but a software engineer should focus more on the requirements, architecture, implementation. Statistical analysis can be delegated to a specialist or to an appropriate tool)

But all said and done hats off to Watts Humphrey for such a pioneering work. 

May his soul rest in peace.
(He passed away this year (2010) in October).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Divine World of the Alvars

Author: Pravrajika Shuddhatmamata (Cecile Guenther)
Published: 2003
Paperback:  128 Pages

Between sixth and ninth centuries there lived in South India ,Vaishnava saints known as Alvars. They were well known for their deep devotion and ecstatic love towards the God Vishnu and composed several songs expressing the same. These songs are still sung as an integral part of the prayers and worship in many Vaishnavite homes.  Andal's composition Thiruppavai is one such example.
This book  consists of  twelve short, well-researched and well-written biographies of  Poygai-Alvar, Pudatt-Alvar, Pey-Alvar, Tirumalisai Alvar, Nammalvar, Madhurakavi Alvar, Periyalvar, Andal, Tiruppan Alvar, Tondaraippodi Alvar, Kulasekhara Alvar and Tirumangai Alvar.
It also has extracts from their compositions which very well convey  the essence of their devotional outpourings.
A good read for those interested in spiritual/ religious literature.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Kalam Effect: My Years with the President

Author:        P.M. Nair
Published:    2008
Publisher:    HarperCollins Publishers India
Hardcover:  180 pages
Readers in India

Dr. A.P.J. Kalam,  is one living personality whom I admire the most and would like to  meet personally (though I have been lucky enough to hear him speak a couple of times in large gatherings). He was probably  the best president  India had ever had. 
The author P.M. Nair narrates his experience as a Secretary to Dr. Kalam during his presidential years. It is a reverential yet  frank and objective account written without being overawed by the personality of Dr.Kalam. As a result the picture that emerges of Dr Kalam as a President is that of a  good human being -  with many positives, but with a few weaknesses as well - rather than that of a demi-god. 
The book has 34 short chapters, each bringing out a facet of Dr.Kalam's personality and his way of working.
A couple of  Dr. Kalam's admirable traits described in this book :
1. Not Misusing his  Position and Status Dr Kalam paid Rs.3.5 lacs out of his pocket for all the expenses (even for a cup of tea) incurred on the stay of his relatives at Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He did not use the official car for their sightseeing trips. (Politicians, Please Note and Emulate!)
2. Treating everyone with considerationHe personally received the author's mother when she visited him and gifted her a shawl. He took lot of care to ensure that every visitor to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan was treated well. He never disturbed his staff during holidays barring unavoidable circumstances.
However we also come to know about Dr. Kalam's lack of punctuality and his not adhering to schedules (morning meeting with his staff at 3 P.M. !) and his insistence of reading and answering every mail/communication (even those of little consequence!). Time management was clearly not his strength.
One amusing incident described in this book is about how Dr. Kalam diplomatically and effectively  prevented Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf from raising the Kashmir issue, by giving him a presentation on PURA (Providing Urban Facilities in Rural Areas) which consumed 26 minutes of the alloted half-an-hour of meeting !
A highly readable book having a very simple yet powerful narrative. A MUST for all Kalam admirers!