Problem Framing and choice of adjectives – story of ventilators and sanitizers

Problem Framing is considered a crucial step in the development of a new solution/product or in problem solving.

Yet, we miss spending enough quality time on this step, many a times.

Disclaimer: I will be over-simplifying a few aspects, to drive home the key point so please humor me.

Since early March, as the Corona virus spread to Europe and other countries in Asia/Americas, there was a lot of noise around two things.

Or rather lot of noise around the shortage of two things – hand sanitizers and ventilators.

In India, sanitizers were completely sold-out, thanks to panic buying and stocking up.

The demand for ventilators was projected basis the statistics in Italy and it was obvious that we did not have enough ventilators for the population. Even if one assumed that 1-2% of the infected population would need ventilators, there weren’t enough ventilators.

Not just India, it was the same case in UK, USA and most other countries.

If you read the news, or noticed your Linkedin or Twitter feed, it seemed the problem statement was:

We need more hand sanitizers and ventilators,  fast !

Within a few weeks, there were many solutions popping up.

Hand sanitizers made at home, being made by FMCG companies etc.

For ventilators, multiple paths were being proposed and explored:

Decathlon's 3D printed Scuba mask ventilator
Decathlon’s 3D printed Scuba mask ventilator

I was inspired by the determination by so many, to find a solution to the ventilator scarcity challenge. It was a phase, when I would spend almost 20-30 minutes looking at the new solutions and being amazed by the interesting paths taken by these innovators and tinkerers.

And then I read a Linkedin post that really shook me. (sorry – missed taking a screenshot )

It was from a doc, who asked a simple question to the ventilator innovators – he asked if the innovators would be willing to bet their own lives on an untested ventilator. He went on to say, the problem is not that we need a new design for ventilators, we need a higher supply of reliable/tested ventilators. Ventilators that medical teams are trained to use.

The problem framing for ventilators really was more like:

We need a higher supply of reliable ventilators. Fast.

Reading that post, it was clear that the challenge wasn’t so much about a new, easy-to-manufacture design but more about ensuring a faster supply of reliable ventilators. Reliability was non-negotiable. And most of us missed this in the early phase.

Many who co-created their solutions with medical practitioners, ensured that reliability wasn’t compromised.

This article, talks about it in the context of the UK:

Here, in the U.K., the government rather botched the whole ventilator thing quite royally. Instead of doing what industry leaders had suggested to the government, which was to repurpose factories to make ventilators using existing plans from ventilator manufacturers under license, the U.K. government took a different approach.

Boris Johnson hosted a call with 60 captains of industry from the U.K. — household names like JCB, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Honda — and the focus was on making something from scratch from the bottom up. As has so often been the case with this virus, military metaphors were drawn. It would be a crowning moment in British manufacturing, akin to the Spitfire during the Second World War.

Medical advisors said, “Okay, but we don’t need those basic bag-and-a-bottle pumpjack machines. We need the product to be fit for purpose.” But it soon became apparent that what was being proposed was woefully under-equipped to meet what was needed. Instead of listening to experts, British politicians had felt that they understood the problem better and tasked people with a proven track record in an entirely unrelated field, the job of solving the problem.

The sanitizers on the other hand, didn’t have such bottlenecks. You could make your own at home too.

The key lesson I learnt observing this unfold, was to pay very close attention to adjectives in the problem framing stage.

Key adjectives for the desired solution were slightly different for ventilators vs sanitizers, yet making a world of difference:

  • ventilators : reliable (non-negotiable), low-cost, high-capacity
  • sanitizers : low-cost, high-capacity

So, how do we ensure we have an accurate framing of the problem? Some ideas include:

  • Get the key stakeholders (e.g. medical practitioners in the case of ventilators) involved in the early stages of problem-solving and solution-design. Co-create if possible. They will catch the missing adjectives
  • Define the conditions of satisfaction – again vetted by the user/stakeholder and not just the interpretation of the innovator
  • “Watch” the existing solutions in action. It is one thing to read about what a ventilator is and another to witness it in action in an ICU. One would know the stakes involved.
  • Slow down. As an engineer, I have witnessed the inherent nature of my mind to jump into the solution mode. This adrenaline surge that comes from building something new, or solving a problem, takes us away from spending enough time asking ” do we really know what the problem is

Behavior Elasticity > Demand Elasticity. A quick Coffee Poll

Are you someone who used to drink a coffee (or two) everyday at the barista next to your office? If, yes spare a quick minute to tell us how WFH during COVID has impacted your coffee+work association.

Are you having your coffee at the same frequency during lockdown?

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Once Lockdown opens up, do you think you will go back to the same coffee habit

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Read below on why this quick poll….

Behavior elasticity - coffee poll

Let me explain why this quick poll.

There’s a lot of talk about how COVID and the resulting lockdown has resulted in a compression of demand and supply across sectors and across categories.

In most of the articles i read and discussions I am part of , people talk about how demand for most non-essential items will take a long time to pick up and reach the old levels.

No arguments there.

But I think for most non-essential spends, we need to ask what is the elasticity of behavior.

What is behavior elasticity?

I am defining this as the # of days it takes consumers to get back to the old patterns of spending.

Yes, it will vary by the spend-category . Essential and non-essential spends will have very different elasticities.

Hence I have chosen coffee for this poll.

Why Coffee for this poll ?

Few reasons:

  • For many like me, coffee is an essential spend 🙂
  • Its reasonably addictive to nudge consumers to find alternates – espresso machines, other brews etc
  • For years, marketing dollars were spent to leverage the power of association. For regular coffee drinkers, work/productivity may have a strong association with coffee. Is this association broken down easily
  • Lockdown has been in effect for long enough to build new habits .

So the key question is – once offices open, will coffee drinkers be behaving as earlier?

If yes, how soon?

I think demand elasticity (not in the traditional price based elasticity) will follow behavior elasticity. And could be a big component of how fast demand recovers.

E.g. I think for the coffee shops, there may be loss in business due to

  • People losing jobs – say 10-15%
  • People working from homes post opening of lockdown – another 10%
  • People who will be at work but don’t buy coffee anymore – This could be the make or break – hence the poll.

What do you think?

Talpiot – Israel’s super school for military tech – lessons in sustainable innovation

Talpiot – the Super School

I have always wondered how has Israel, given its challenges, managed to position itself as a leader in cutting-edge military tech. And it seems the answer lied in the months and years that followed Yom Kippur War.

Specifically the creation of the Talpiot Program within the IDF.

I just chanced upon Israel’s Edge: The Story of the IDF’s Most Elite Unit – Talpiot on Kindle and I was hooked on to the book from the very first chapter.

So what is the Talpiot Program?

Talpiot is this super elite, highly secretive unit within the Israeli Defence Force which hires geeks – the ones who have an unusual acumen in maths, science and computers. And not just any geeks, geeks who could work together to take on impossible challenges. The ones who have strong leadership skills and the mental and physical ability to endure even a paratroopers course.

And what does a Talpiot graduate do ?

They say each Talpiot graduate can potentially make a 1% contribution to the battle !

Now, that’s a really bold claim by any measure.

But then again, its hard to imagine that the Iron Dome ( and its other avatars – David’s Sling, The Arrow) was first designed and proposed by a group of undergrad students to counter the threat of the incoming rocket attacks on the settlements.

The Program Highlights :

  • The soldiers of Talpiot begin their military service at Hebrew University but are housed separately
  • Study for their bachelor’s of science in physics, mathematics, and computer science,
  • The courses are taught at an accelerated rate, almost 40 % faster
  • Also trained in military strategy and complete an officer’s training course.
  • They spend their summers doing 12 weeks of basic training – the one given to the paratroopers.
  • Talpiot soldiers take special courses rotating with each force of the army: intelligence, navy, and air force – to learn about the weapon systems from the inside. They sit in cockpits of fighter jets and shoot off weaponry to gain a real understanding of its operational and technological needs.
  • During the second year, they devise a project of their own choosing for three months. This is where a lot of early versions of innovative tech has come from. The professors who proposed the Talpiot program insisted that innovation was possible only by young minds !

Talpiot graduates undergo military training alongside their academics, they observe first hand the theater of war, the need for technology to create an edge and how and where they can help.

They master the art of problem solving.

A common theme emerging across multiple graduates that the book interviewed, is that the graduates learnt to take on the impossible projects. That they got trained to not be afraid.

Another Talpiot innovation came from Amir Beker, who turned down medical school to attend the program. During his military service under Talpiot in the late 1980s, Mr. Beker learned that Israeli helicopter pilots were suffering from severe back pain from vibrations during flight. To build a better seat, he first had to determine how to measure the effect of vibrations on the human vertebrae.

Together with a Talpiot classmate, Mr. Beker led a team that installed a custom seat in a helicopter simulator, cutting a hole in its backrest. Training a pen on a pilot’s back, the team used a high- speed camera to photograph the marks caused by a range of vibrations. The researchers analyzed the computerized data to come up with a way to redesign the seats.

Why I am so impressed by the Talpiot program

  1. The story behind its creation – Post the debacle of the Yom Kippur war, it wasn’t just witch-hunting that happened, there was serious soul searching. And it was two profs who articulated what was needed – Israel needed to establish itself as the leader in advanced weaponry.
  2. The clarity of purpose – The Founding profs were clear, that the tech supremacy is not restricted to what weapons their traditional enemy forces have, but what they could get from the super powers. The USSR supplied weapons had led to significant tank losses for the IDF in the crucial war. Till then Israel had considered itself to be highly superior to the Arab armour. The conclusion was that Israel simply have to be better equipped with technology, better than anything else in the world.
  3. Willingness to experiment – Can you imagine two profs walking into a meeting with the defence minister of army chief and suggesting why they should hire geeks and create a new unit? In most countries the defence organization wouldn’t take them seriously. Not so in this case.
  4. Following through with the commitment to support the experiment – Getting access to the best talent was difficult in the early days of Talpiot, since no one knew about it. The young minds obviously wanted to go other elite units wherein the possibility of post army career benefits are much higher. The IDF stood by their commitment to see the program get what it needed – the best minds with most promising leadership skills
  5. Letting the program evolve – As with most new initiatives, the first version is just a rough template for the subsequent ones to follow. The Talpiot program also evolved on multiple fronts – what attributes to look for, how to structure the course, who the instructors should be (most courses now have ex Talpiot graduates mentoring the batch)
  6. Balancing military’s process-discipline with flexibility for nurturing innovation – The course does not prescribe missions or objectives for its graduates. They have the flexibility of choosing what appeals to them. Given that the course exposes them to the realities of each wing of the military, the graduates are able to identify problems on their own. This is probably how you stoke the passion of a young genius. Choose your own problem worth solving.
  7. Flexible career paths – the graduates are free to choose active combat roles or pursue PHDs specializing in their chosen fields or even venture out in the business world. This wide choice of career paths post the extensive Talpiot program ensures that the talent pool is out there creating multiple down-stream ripples. There are some who joined the Air Force and now teach dog-fights to pilots. There are others who have founded billion dollar worth ventures around security/cyber tech and many more went into research.
  8. Development of a feeder eco-system – As the Talpiot program grew in popularity many schools started focusing on training their students to qualify the rough entrance test. This is exactly how IIT coaching evolved, and creates a larger talent pool to tap into.

With so many bschools, governments and companies focused on innovation, am sure there is a lesson or two to be learnt from the Talpiot story.

Varying rates of digital adoption across send and receive-sides impact payment-flows

Very simplistically put, payment is the movement of money from A to B.

And the world is becoming increasingly comfortable with money flow going digital. Whether its a consumer paying another consumer (P2P) or consumer paying a merchant (P2M) or business paying its vendors/suppliers (B2B) – the levels of digitization of these use-cases is very impressive.

But, what happens when the speed of digital adoption is very different at point A vs point B.

What does that mean for the digitization opportunities, challenges and product related nuances for the send and the receive side.

Let’s take domestic remittances as an example. In most of S Asia be it India, Bangladesh, Nepal – many blue collared workers send their monthly wages/salaries back home to their families/dependents.

These blue-collared workers are typically operating in urban or semi-urban areas and hence are exposed to an inherently more digitally savvy ecosystem. These workers have access to affordable smartphones, low cost reliable data-connectivity and also have multiple opportunities for assisted-on-boarding for any digital solution. Think of 4-5 workers staying in a house and one young digitally savvy showing others how to use the smartphone for voice or video chatting.

Their families (the receive side of this payment flow) on the other hand, may not have a similar eco-system. The data connectivity may be poor, opportunities for learning from others may not exist etc etc.

It might be safe to assume, that the digital adoption by the send side is expected to be much faster than the receive side.

And if that really happens, what does it mean?

Historically, domestic remittances was an agent assisted business. Remittance providers had extensive agent networks for cash-in and cash-out. Because the old flow has been :

  1. Worker gets the salary (most probably in cash)
  2. Goes to the remittance point (an agent outlet)
  3. Shares details of the recipient, validates himself and pays the amount (in cash)
  4. The recipient gets notified (usually on SMS) and
  5. Goes to a nearest cash-out-point for withdrawing cash. Or if it was a transfer to her bank account, would go to an ATM/branch for cash withdrawal.

Let’s look at what all is changing:

  • Many workers will start getting salaries into accounts/wallets/prepaid cards
  • Workers are digitally savvy now, comfortable doing transactions on mobile.
  • Some may start using their mobile wallets, cards for merchant payments – because in their locations (urban mostly) there are merchants accepting digital payments.
  • Many will not want to stand in line or physically visit an outlet to send money.

And this will mean that many mobile-originated un-assisted remittance origination services will flourish. All vying for this big base of consumers who are just becoming digitally savvy, just becoming comfortable enough to send their hard earned money digitally.

On the other hand, the receive side looks much the same as older times:

  • Even if the family in the village gets money digitally, they cannot spend it digitally.
  • ATMs may not be efficient for banks, so local shopkeepers are best way to withdraw cash.
  • And since this shopkeeper has been the usual cash-out point, one may see little value in changing how the remitted money comes in

Again, to make things really simple, lets assume that there are two distinct profiles on either side.

  • Send side – 1. Cash-first, feature phone user and 2. Digital first smart phone user
  • Receive side – A. Cash heavy spender and B. Digital spender.

And let’s assume that digital adoption is process of migration from the first profile to latter of a large enough pool of consumers. This would give us the usual 2X2 matrix. Here’s a quick visual model of what all this means –

Varying pace of digital adoption in the remittance use-case
Domestic Remittance : Varying pace of digital adoption

While this may be an oversimplified assessment, the bigger point I am making is the following:

  • For most transactions (not just in payments) , its a human at either ends. These individuals may have different environments, motivations, behavior and hence
  • The rate of digital adoption at both the ends may vary drastically
  • And this opens up a world of interesting opportunities as the use-case undergoes a fundamental change – bottlenecks will shift, old assumptions fail, new business models will need to emerge
  • And it in in these times that disruption works best. The incumbents may be too committed to the old model and the new players may have just timed it right.

Find what’s really broken before fixing it

I enjoy coding.

While I have a long way to go as a programmer, coding does put me in a zen kind of a state. The mix of learning and building something new, is almost magical.

It does fuel and inspire the problem solver in me. And it is a great teacher too.

I just learnt that ….

Finding out what is really broken, usually takes more time than fixing it !

Last week, I was trying to fix a bug on a piece of code that was first written few years back. The software itself has undergone multiple iterations and grown in its features and inherent complexity.

I spent almost the whole day digging deeper, going step by step to identify where the error was coming from. This meant tracing the code flow and checking the data integrity at each stage.

Once the exact source of the error was identified, the solution itself was just 2 minutes of code-writing. And then came the critical step of testing the updated code for all the test-cases, before moving it into production.

And as I ended my day and looked back on how my time was spent, it was an eye-opener to problem-solving.

Same is true for medicine also. The doc will suggest a few tests and look at the results to ascertain what really is wrong before suggesting any line of treatment.

SlashEMI’s debt reduction plan infact generates a detailed EMI fitness report, before starting any recommendations.

Note to self – Invest the time to be very sure about what needs fixing. (Problem framing is critical). Focus on fixing what is broken.

Sounds logical and intuitive right?

But do ask yourself how many times have we jumped into the solutioning mode without being sure about the real cause of the problem.

My guess is a little too many times.

A tale of two cards

“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.” â€”Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last

And I believe the alignment needs to show not in meetings but on the ground – in customer interactions, in every process and the decision making across all levels.

A recent experience drove home the point very clearly.

Background: Over the years, I have consolidated all my credit cards to just two – one from HDFC and another from a MNC bank. And yes both are Visa !

I have also been using my HDFC Credit card as the primary one, with reasonably high and regular monthly spends. And the bank’s team has followed up with me to increase my credit limit. But I didn’t as I didnt feel the need.

For those who of you who are not from the payments industry – a line increase is a key action to get a higher share of a customer’s spends while balancing the associated risks.

On my other card, I just have a standing instruction where a small amount is billed every month. That card has rarely been used beyond this singular, recurring transaction. And almost 90% of the available limit goes un-utilized each cycle.

Strategy Vs Execution - A tale of two cards

The story : Last month, I had to make a big payment and I was looking to split it across the two credit cards.

I used my other card first thinking that it has a significant limit available. My transaction got declined because I remembered my limit inaccurately and had attempted a transaction above the available limit.

I then checked my available limit on my HDFC card (in the last SMS notification) and decided to split my transaction on my HDFC card into two separate transactions – trying to avoid any risk-based decline.

Immediately got a call from the risk call-center of the bank – to confirm if these were genuine transactions. And post my confirmation, the lady at the other end mentioned that I have now exhausted almost 95% of my limit. She also asked if I wanted to double my limit in the next 1 minute – on the same call.

Given this is my primary credit card – I said yes and after responding to a few questions to verify/validate my identity my limit was doubled. Right there in the call.

I loved the contrast in the experience across the two banks:

  • Revenue focus – HDFC converted a cost center unit (the high value transaction confirmation call center) into a portfolio intervention team that helps drive positive revenue impact
  • Understanding consumer journey and needs – HDFC team knew that for a highly active card, a 95% limit utilization is probably when a customer needs line increase. One may argue that number of customers who may go through such a scenario is very low. But look at the efficiency and the high levels of conversion. Do you want to keep investing in emailers and calls/SMS for line enhancement but not look at specific instances in a customer’s journey where the conversion probability is highest. And friction is the least.
  • Lost Opportunity – The MNC bank missed a huge opportunity. For a customer who is not regular, it is tough to remember the total limit or track available limit. And here was a big ticket transaction attempt. A call-back/notification to confirm the limits, may have gotten them the transaction and may be higher spends in future.

These are the customer interactions that decide the winner in the hyper competitive world we operate in – how organizations understand and respond therein.

Factory and Lab mindsets in product management teams

Factories and laboratories evoke very different images.

With a factory – I am usually thinking the industrial revolution in all its glory – machines, assembly lines, robots, workers, all working in a disciplined and predictable manner – churning out products that are all identical and meet the claimed specifications. Low room for error. Designed for scale.

On the other hand, when I think of a lab – I usually come up with a white coat wearing team of specialists pouring over data. Going deeper into a topic. Asking fundamental questions. Pushing boundaries. New ideas being discussed and prototyped.

While I know these are extremely simplified and probably exaggerated views, they are helpful in defining what I call as the Factory Mindset and the Lab Mindset. So bear with me.

The Factory and Lab Mindset

The Factory mindset or culture is where the blueprint has been validated and chosen for at scale business. Think of this as the mindset needed to to do more of the same thing at the right cost, quality – a highly process oriented approach.

And this is relevant in the service sector too. Think of a bank branch, or the claims underwriting team of an insurance co. The rule book, processes, roles and responsibilities are all clearly laid out. Thereby ensuring that customer after customer can be duly served.

The Lab mindset is what triggers change and innovation. It requires the ability to challenge the status quo. To ask fundamental questions, build hypotheses. Be bold enough to experiment with some of those hypotheses. And be ready to fail.

Need for both mindsets to co-exist

In today’s fast changing business environment, its imperative to nurture both these mindsets/cultures concurrently. More so within the product team(s) at consumer/enterprise technology companies.

And it’s tough !

In any multi-product organization, chances are that the products are at various stages of their lifecycle. Some might be in a MVP or Pre-commercialization stage, while (hopefully) most are on a scale-up path in the commercialization stage and few others may be close to the end of their life cycle.

Sarah is a product manager focused on an early stage product. She needs to be like a scientist – doing experiments, tracking whats working and what’s not and getting the product to evolve rapidly. More importantly her manager needs to guide, motivate and evaluate like a senior scientist would. The Lab mindset needs to prevail.

Contrast this with Peter, who’s product contributes to almost 15% of all revenues. A big part of his job is to keep the commercialization machinery humming. From updating pitch decks, to reviewing the pricing model, understanding the sales pipeline – its a very different role he plays. He also does some of what Sarah does full-time. Peter needs to have a close pulse of the market – understand the current pain-points, evolving consumer needs and build or modify features/functionalities to keep the product relevant.

This ability to toggle across the Factory and the Lab mindsets is critical for organizations and individuals to keep innovating, evolving and staying relevant while still growing.

Do you agree?

If you do, how do you think organizations should be designed to nurture this co-existence of seemingly different cultures and mindsets? Share how your organization does it well already. Because I feel this is more fundamental than just having different kinds of performance metrics depending on the stage of the product.

If you have found a way to do this well at your individual level please do share.

Going back to the earlier visualizations, isn’t it hard to imagine a lab-coat wearing nerdie walking around the factory floor? I remember from my engineering summer internship – the R&D deptt was in an air-conditioned separate section of the plant. The deptt infact had its own assembly line to make shock-absorbers!

Quest for Friction Less Experiences

Yesterday, I got to experience the WhatsApp payment flows. It surely felt like a neat friction-less experience both for adding/mapping bank accounts and for in-chat payments.

And in my excitement I forwarded it to a friend who didn’t have any UPI handle so far. And I was surprised by the reaction.

How does WhatsApp know my bank account ??!! 

Payment friction

And frankly I had looked at it the other way round – they are showing me the specific account that I want to associate here.

And this got me thinking about friction in digital consumer experiences.

I remembered my Amazon experience.

I have recently changed my laptop and phone and each time I logged into my Amazon account from a new device/browser I got a security challenge. I had to enter a security code that was sent on my email.

Friction during logging in

This is inspite of me authenticating myself using my Amazon credentials –  login id & password.

So why the additional step?  Why add to the friction of logging in?

  • Its a friction-less way of doing XYZ !
  • We have drastically reduced the friction in each transaction
  • Our platform provides the most friction less experience for ABC

Am sure like me, you keep hearing how every venture and corporate is focused on reducing friction and there by making it a significantly better experience for their consumers/stakeholders etc.

And I get it.

If I almost always use an offers platform to look for offers near me on a mobile app, it should not ask me to choose a city, then location etc – it should just pick my location and show me the offers. I get it.

Similarly, if my online or in-app payment process need an OTP and there is a way to automatically read the OTP rather than needing me to toggle from the merchant app to the messaging app and back. It is definitely so much cooler and easier.


What I don’t get is how suddenly friction has become such a bad thing.

Way back in my school days, we were taught in Physics that while friction caused wear and tear, it also was the main reason wheels work – friction prevents slippage and aids rotation. Snow chains for tyres – aid driver confidence by increased traction (apart from helping break the top ice layer).

My current thinking on friction less experiences is as follows:

  • All consumers are not same. What is a great experience for some may be a concern for others (elevators vs escalators) . Hence it may be best to have varying levels of friction available for consumers.
  • Friction can help build consumer confidence – esp amongst users concerned about security
  • It may be useful in the on-boarding or early days of consumer-product relationship. As confidence builds, some more steps can be reduced. Like this recent experience where my Credit Card limit enhancement was pitched and delivered at the optimal moment.
  • Friction is also an industry level phenomenon. As an industry matures and consumer confidence builds, need for a faster, smoother way to do the same old task would become stronger.

What do you think?

Why so serious ! Need for humor at work

This happened yesterday – We settled down for a discussion first thing in the morning and a colleague says- smile guys, its a good day!

But, it was a spirited discussion . And the smiles quickly vanished.

We shared our views and debated. And I realised I was talking with a lot of emotional energy.

I told myself, its ok  – because I am committed and passionate about this. But there was clearly another voice telling me – its not ok.

And then something interesting happened later in the evening.

I was reading Pegasus Bridge  June 6 1944 – By Stephen Ambrose and came across a section where it talked about the front in North Africa.

pegasus bridge

In particular the book was introducing Hans von Luck – a protege of Rommel – who agreed with his British counterpart to fight a civilised war.

Every evening at 5 p.m. the war would stop. The Brits would break for tea and the Germans for coffee. They would then get on the radio and share the details of captured personnel and any messages these POWs may have for their families – usually messages confirming that they were ok.

In one particular instance, the Germans learnt that the Brits had got a fresh supply of cigarettes. Von Luck offered to trade a captured British officer for a million cigarettes. The British countered with 600K. And a deal was stuck.

But the prisoner refused to be exchanged because he insisted he was worth the million initially asked for !!

I was shocked !

These are men at war. They are willing to kill and die. Yet they manage to keep humour and civility intact.

I am lucky to have read about this incident the same evening I was telling myself its ok to lose my cool. It has helped put things in perspective.

I went back to my colleague and shared this story. Thanked him for opening the meeting with a request to smile.

He has decided to make sure that every meeting he attends, he would put smile(s) as the first agenda item.

And I am inspired to go a step further. To keep humor intact at the workplace – the place where we spend most of our waking hours does not need to be such a serious place.

Migrating away from cash is intimidating – Stickiness of Cash Part 2

Ask any payment professional, and while they might disagree on what’s the best payment experience, they would all agree that Cash is sticky.

And one of the core reasons for the stickiness of cash is that the migration journey is intimidating for most cash-heavy users.

Too many choices

Here are some of the many questions the cash users who want to migrate away from cash, grapple with:

  • Is it safe to use a card for payments
  • Should I use a separate card for ATM withdrawals and purchases
  • What should I start using – prepaid, debit, credit , mobile wallets
  • If it’s a card, should I go for a basic, gold, platinum or some other variant
  • Should I get a product with shopping benefits or one with fuel? or the one with air-miles
  • Should I take a Visa or a MasterCard or a Rupay
  • I have accounts with multiple banks, whose product do I begin with
  • How do I apply for the card? Can I apply online, or do I go to the bank branch?
  • What is a UPI or IMPS payment? How do I do that? What is the fees on the transactions?

…….And it goes on and on.

The simple fact is that there are way too many products with different features, brands, offers,benefits and form-factors. It is a tough choice to make.

And post demonetization, most banks are  show-casing ALL their products in each of their ads. Leaving it to the consumer to pick and choose.

I have seen Mumbai buses covered with ads, that have all the digital payment instruments from that bank. Not sure if most consumers even know what those mean.


The famous Malcolm Gladwell research on choices, happiness and spaghetti sauce also harps on the risk of too many choices.

The migration away from cash, has to be made easier with fewer choices or a recommended path to walk on (recommendation itself coming from a trusted partner).

In the absence of this, most consumers prefer a wait-and-watch stance. And the product(s) with simpler choices and/or more brand-ambassadors will see higher adoption. No wonder, many a millennial adopted the mobile wallets. There were no variants of PayTM, Mobikwik etc.

And this brings us to the other point.

Hurdles in the migration

Ok, so you have a cash-user who is convinced about that one digital payment from your bank. How does she go about getting started?

Do you remember the forms you filled to get your first credit card.

I remember that during my Deal4Loans days, the card application forms used to have almost 50+ fields across some 4-5 stages of the online application for most banks.

While the consumer on-boarding has come a long way in the digital era, it still is complicated for many products/banks. Unless the consumer is really convinced about this migration, why would they jump through so many hoops to get the product.

The access and on-boarding has to be simpler. A convinced consumer should be active on Day 0 if not within Hour 1.

In my opinion, if we are serious about displacing cash, we need to make the transition a simpler choice for the consumers.

What do you think?

This is part 2 in a series of posts where I try to understand why Cash is sticky? What are the some of the obvious things, we may have overlooked in our zeal to digitize payments.

Here’s part 1 , where my humble submission is that Cash is not really the enemy. Atleast not in the eyes of the consumers.