About Chander Chawla

Chander Chawla

Chander Chawla is the Founder and CEO of Mjedi, a company focused on Mobile Social Commerce. Chander is well established in the wireless industry and is known for his accomplishments, which include growing the T-Mobile WiFi business by 4,000% and accelerating the adoption of 3G in the U.S., among others.

Prior to starting his own company, Chander managed T-Mobile’s $600M International business. During his 5 years at T-Mobile, he held various positions in marketing and regularly consulted with advertising firms such as Publicis, Wongdoody, Avenue A, and Waggener Edstrom to develop marketing strategies for new T-Mobile products and new service launches. He has a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from India and he received his MBA from the University of Miami.


Latest Posts by Chander Chawla

Why Do Women in Copenhagen Do Not Wear Heels?

October 3, 2013 by  

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I have been recently paying more attention to what people choose to wear and why. During my recent visit to Copenhagen, Denmark I observed that most women walking in the city do not wear heels. They dress very well and usually wear colorful sneakers. This behavior is different compared to what women wear in other cities I have visited (Paris is another place where many women do not wear heels or colorful sneakers but that is a different story). I was curious to find out why. I learned that the reason is neither philosophical nor cultural. Women in Copenhagen do not wear heels because of a very practical reason i.e. the walking streets look like this:
Do you want your Louboutin stuck in this?

Most Copenhagen women keep a pair of heels at work and wear them when they are at the office. By the way, the colorful sneakers they wear look really good on them.

Fitness on Your Wrist: The Genesis of a Wearable Device

September 5, 2013 by  

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Four years ago, I took a job where I had a one line job description: create a new $100M business in three years for Personal Mobile Devices.

We developed an innovation methodology that worked really well in deciding in which new technologies to invest. Using that methodology, we selected four technologies to commercialize. One of the four was called SmartSense which was a personal wellness platform that included a bracelet, a mobile app, and cloud computing.

The SmartSense bracelet measured:
1. Physical activity (steps, intensity, miles walked, calories burned)
2. Stress
3. Skin temperature and ambient temperature
4. Heart-rate
5. Sleep pattern
The magic lay in intelligently gathering the data from the body, analyzing it with history, understanding the correlation and causation among various data sets, and making sense of the user’s behavior; then representing the output to the user in a way that changed the user’s behavior. The “cloud” continuously learned from the user and became adapted to the user. It was a very complex undertaking. The cloud software, the smartphone app, and the sensors on the bracelet had to work in sync to break old habits and shape new habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle.
Interconnectedness
We had a holistic idea of fitness which included both physical and mental fitness. Understanding mental fitness is a relatively new phenomenon in the western world. However, more and more people are getting into yoga and meditation. Furthermore, we noticed that fitness is not fun for most people and we were able to make fitness a fun and social activity. People like to have fun and people like social activities.

On the smartphone app, the user created an avatar that effectively communicated to the user the impact of the behavior. For example, if a user did not exercise, the avatar would get fat and if the user got stressed, the avatar’s face would get red.

Additionally, for the average person, fitness is a solo activity. We learned that if we could create a social contract amongst users’ friends to complete a certain task every day (like walk 8 miles) then users were more likely to complete that task. Our app brought that into being beautifully. Friends could set up a joint goal of, let’s say, walking 8 miles a day. They could track each other’s progress, encourage each other, etc. Most people spend their lives doing things based on what others think of them, so social pressure proved to be a good incentive.

Avatar on smartphone app

 

We created an end-to-end, user-centric working product to get real feedback from the market. We did that jointly with a mobile operator. The idea was that a mobile operator can distribute the product, create differentiation for itself, and create a new, monthly recurring revenue stream. The main hypothesis we tested in a field trial was: would consumers would wear a personal wellness device, pay for it upfront and and pay fees on monthly recurring basis just like they do for smartphones? The monthly recurring charge would be for the personal fitness coach service that SmartSense provided. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

We started before there was a defined Quantified Self movement and we were in the market before there were any wearable devices. I am glad to see that new wellness bracelets like Nike+ Fuelband, Jawbone Up, and Fitbit Flex have become available in the past 18 months. However, we are far from realizing my vision.

Why did we decide to invest in a personal wellness platform? The developed world, for the most part, has moved from the industrial age to the information age. Until we got to the information age, most people did physical labor and there were not many choices for unhealthy food. If you go further back in history, most people were poor with not enough to eat. So, it follows that obesity is a relatively new phenomenon; mainly the result of new lifestyle – sit eight hours at work, sit almost five hours a day at home and watch TV, lie down and sleep eight hours a day, sit and drive anytime you step outside the house. And on top of that, eat over-sized portions of meals; which are made with who knows what, every day. In addition, we spend our lives worrying about how we get more stuff and do more of the same. This worrying causes a lot of stress. Forget about focusing on the mind and mental health. There are ways to make your brain obese too. You don’t become obese in a day. It is a slow process. The best analogy to describe how one may become obese is by my hero, Charlie Munger, “A frog tossed into very hot water would jump out, but that the same frog would end up dying if placed in room-temperature water that was later heated at very slow rate.” Obesity happens the same way. A big issue is awareness i.e. people don’t realize that they are not doing any physical activity.
The healthcare system we have is designed for cure and treatment, not for prevention. Vaccinations provide prevention against some known dangerous diseases. However, the responsibility of staying fit and taking care of oneself has always lain with the individual. The individual is lazy by nature and likes to eat large amounts of fast food. You don’t go to the doctor because you are not working out. You go to the doctor when that lack of physical activity causes a bigger problem like heart disease. And we can’t really quantify what the healthcare costs are for a high-stress lifestyle. The current spend on healthcare in the US is more than 17% of GDP and it is expected to rise to ~33% of GDP by 2040. Isn’t that unbelievable? Unfortunately, the solutions to the healthcare problem are again related to cure and not prevention. No one wants to die. If we make people aware that their lack of physical activity is getting them closer to death and provide social support around doing physical activity and reducing stress in their lives then people may change their habits. Needless to say, the opportunity for personal wellness devices is huge.
There are a lot of challenges when you are creating something that has elements of identity, fashion, changing habits, hardware, software, design, big-data, wireless connectivity, battery life, etc. After making the decision to apply mobile technologies to healthcare, the driving force for the product development was an awesome User-Experience (UX) that changes user-behavior. I faced the following challenges in bringing the product to market:
1. Wellness Device vs Medical Device: A simple distinction is that a device requires FDA approval (in the US) is a medical device and a device that does not require FDA approval to sell is a wellness or fitness device. It is a actually a lower risk investment proposition to make a medical device because they are usually single-purpose like a blood-pressure monitor, diabetes monitor, etc. and there is an already-built ecosystem of doctors and pharmacies. Furthermore, people who want to use medical devices have a known disease/problem for which they are actively looking for a solution. The downside: FDA approval can take years. Wellness devices, on the other hand, require people to change behavior which is incredibly difficult, particularly when most people don’t acknowledge that they have a problem.
We chose wellness devices because of the market potential and fast time to market.
2. Form Factor: We could have made almost anything we wanted since a 3-axis accelerometer (sensor) can detect physical activity from anywhere on the body. And, there are trade-offs with other sensors. Heart-rate is easier to detect closer to the heart. Outside temperature is better measured with exposure to the environment. Actually, an accelerometer will give better step count closer to the foot. So, with any form factor you chose, you are making a trade-off. I leveraged the Stanford Design School in need-finding.
We went with the bracelet because:
i) The idea was to make SmartSense a social product so it had to be visible to others. The user had to like wearing it and sharing it with others. Innovation spreads faster if it is observable.
ii) Most younger people don’t wear a watch and are happy to wear a bracelet as a fashion accessory. Even if you do wear a watch, the other wrist is available for a bracelet.
iii) The device had to be visible to the user as a constant reminder to be fit and as a visual communication of the achievement of daily fitness goals.
3. Design: Now we know that it is a bracelet. What does it look like? Is it a fashion accessory or is it a sports accessory or is it a watch? Do we create separate ones for men and women? What is it made of? Is it easy to wear? How does it feel on the skin? Does it have a display? How big is it? How much does it weigh? How tightly does it have to be worn on the wrist?

Z axis is the height

 

I learned a lot about fashion and human behavior during the design research. People are very particular about what they wear on their bodies. I met with Dior, D&G, and other fashion houses just to learn how they make these decisions. A big x-y axis size for a bracelet does not bother wearers but a long z-axis does. SmartSense was simple, visible, cool. At the time the idea was to make the bracelet like the LIVESTRONG wristband which was bought by 80M people before Lance Armstrong’s image was tarnished by doping charges. The unit we took to the field trial was eventually going to be reduced to one-fourth of its size in mass production.

As an aside, another big learning was how to work with design agencies. If you thought that creative people in ad agencies are sensitive about their work, try working with the designers!

4. Wellness Bracelet or Smartphone Accessory: Is the bracelet solely dedicated to fitness or can I also use it as a second screen to my Smartphone? Can I get notification on the bracelet when I get an email/SMS? Can I read a text message on the bracelet? Can it tell me who is calling so that I don’t have to take the phone out of my pocket? Why can’t it be both a wellness bracelet and a Smartphone accessory?
All decisions are trade-offs. I decided that it was complex enough to make a wellness device with multiple sensors. Adding the additional complexity of making SmartSense a second screen would make it a watch, and that may limit the market to technophiles. We wanted SmartSense to have global appeal. Due to that, all electronics had to be hidden. In merely looking at the bracelet, the casual observer should not be able tell what the bracelet is for.
5. Architecture: This required a synthetic view of how a combination of cloud, smartphone, and sensors would work with UX being the primary focus. How is sensor data transferred from SmartSense, to the smartphone, to the cloud? How do you prolong the battery life of SmartSense and not drain the battery of the smartphone? How do you lay out the PCB so that the SNR is maximized? What is the memory size for SmartSense? Does SmartSense sync automatically with the smartphone or do you press a button? Who initiates the sync? What happens in the cloud? How is the data secured? Do you open APIs for developers so that they can develop new applications? Do you let people use Facebook as their social network for SmartSense?
We made the cloud, the smartphone, and SmartSense work in harmony. Most of the data processing and storage was in the cloud. On SmartSense, we included an ARM Cortex M0 for some basic processing. SmartSense synched automatically with the smartphone every few minutes i.e. without ever touching a button, a user had feedback on his physical and mental activity at any given time. Of course, the APIs were going to be open. Very basic information like low battery, reset, full battery, sync in progress was communicated through LEDs on SmartSense. Everything else was on the smartphone app. People look at their Smartphones 100+ times a day anyway. We also had to think about the new habits we wanted the user to adopt related to device usage. Given the state of Bluetooth at the time, we wanted people to charge their SmartSense every night like they do their Smartphone. However, the battery life was more than enough for a weekend camping trip.
6. Features: The goal of the device was to keep people fit by making them aware of their physical activity and stress levels and prompting action with commitment, visible to the social group. How does the device communicate with the Smartphone? Or should it directly communicate with the “cloud”? Does it have a display? What kind of display? How do you measure stress? What sensors are included? How long of a battery life is needed? Is the bracelet waterproof?
The architecture and features are highly interdependent. The sensors we chose to be included in SmartSense were based on function, cost, size, and power consumption. We stayed away from the common mistake of jamming in as many features as possible. Our focus was UX.

It did not really make sense to make SmartSense a “standalone” device i.e. it talks directly to the “cloud” given that most people have a Smartphone in their pocket. So, we chose wireless sync between the smartphone and SmartSense using Bluetooth. A large display on the device is an expensive proposition and it conflicts with the perception of SmartSense being a cool thing to wear. SmartSense had an LED display and ~72 hours of battery life (you could spend the weekend in the wild with SmartSense without charging it). The main drain on the battery was automatic syncing every few minutes. We could have made the battery-life exponentially longer by varying the time between automatic sync. By the way, at that time there was no BLE on any smartphone in the market. The stress level was measured using GSR. There is no scale for GSR, so we created a scale that showed deviation from “normal” levels. We could have made SmartSense waterproof but at that stage water-resistant was enough.

7. App: Data visualization is a big challenge on a small screen. However, the user should have access to all of the user’s mental and physical fitness history in the palm of the user’s hand. How do you present the data in a way that creates awareness, understanding and prompts action? What is the sequence of screens? How many clicks before the user gets to what the user wants to see? How do you show correlation between different data points? How do you interact with friends? Do you see all your friends’ data points? Is there such a thing as overall fitness level (physical + mental)? How do you create an inspiring UX?
We wanted to make fitness fun and social. On our app you picked an avatar that represented you and it would get fat if you didn’t have enough physical activity. Its face would get red if you got stressed. This was a very effective way of projecting the results of current behavior into the future and prompting change. People are more likely to break habits if they make a commitment to themselves and to their social group. So gaming, competitive, and collaborative components were an integral part of the app. Since we had open APIs, the plan was to collaborate with the developer community for evolution of the device and the app.

A big achievement was that we created a personal relationship between the user and the avatar.

8. Calories: How do you measure the calories someone consumes? The wellness device can only measure the calories burned. Do you carve out a section in the app that allows people to input every calorie they consume? We are always burning calories. Even breathing burns calories. This “automatic” calorie burn is commonly referred as passive calorie burn. What calorie output do you display – the calories burned by physical activity (active) or a sum of active and passive or show both active and passive separately?
Who is counting the calories?

 

A lot of the fitness enthusiasts and Quantified Self participants were already tracking their calories in some way. And, given the constraints, we did not develop anything that would help them import historical calorie consumption data to our app. And, our app did not have a calorie input ability. It would have taken the fun out of the app. We displayed total calories burned (active + passive) to keep things simple.
9. Business Model: How do you create awareness about the device? What distribution channel do you use? How do you charge people for the device? Is it a one time sale like buying a TV? Or can you create a recurring revenue model? Where do you sell it? Health insurance companies? Health Clubs? Enterprises?
When we partnered with a global wireless operator to develop the device, the idea was not only to reduce investment risk but also to have a distribution model for the device. The wireless operators have been going through a tough time for the last few years. They are looking for new revenue opportunities and sustained differentiation. On the positive side, they have the marketing muscle and retail distribution network. SmartSense was to be distributed just like smartphones are distributed through the wireless operators – with a subsidy and with a monthly recurring fee for the service (albeit the subsidies and the monthly recurring fees are much smaller than those for smartphones). This not only creates a new revenue stream for the wireless operator but also reduces churn (increases the switching cost for the people to leave the operator).
10. Coaching: Should there be a coaching element in a user’s interaction with the SmartSense app? Isn’t making people aware of their fitness level enough? And, then there is the pressure from the social group to take action to keep fit. Would people still want to be told what to do? Will people pay for such a service?

A personal Coach helps…

 

This was a key learning from the trial. People want a personal coach who tells them what to do every day in terms of keeping fit mentally and physically. And, they are willing to pay a monthly recurring fee for this coaching. The personal coach idea is very similar to a personal trainer, which people pay for at health clubs.
I have captured the main decisions and challenges we had to face during the development process. Of course, there were many more challenges. And, for the trial, the heart rate and sleep monitoring features were disabled. The open APIs were not ready. The biggest learning for me was how to align people with very diverse backgrounds – firmware development, app development, algorithm development, cloud software, industrial design, manufacturing, system architecture, semiconductor design, market research, product development, marketing, legal, business development, etc. – in two very different organizations, to work together toward a shared vision which was not to be compromised with aggressive deadlines and budget constraints. There were scores of people, in five countries and eight locations, who worked together to bring SmartSense to market. This exceptional team and was the most critical success factor.
Where do go from here?
The hardware costs will continue to drop with scale. The accuracy for readings will continue to increase with more usage. Data visualization will continue to get more effective. The number of sensors on the device will continue to increase. Not all the current players will survive. If Apple enters the game, it may exponentially increase the adoption of wellness/wearable devices. We are still at the early stages of this new market category. Following are the things I would like to see happen:
1. Community and New Habits: To date no one has figured out how to leverage a user’s social group to prompt action towards changing behavior. The interaction amongst friends on most apps for fitness devices is close to pathetic. The current focus from major players like Nike seems to be selling more and more devices without much attention to creating a community that prompts action. I am afraid that without the element of community, commitment, and fun, people will lose interest in the devices. Wearing a fitness device has to become a new habit just like wearing clothes is.
2. Integration with the Healthcare System: When I go and see a doctor, she should be able to see years of my historical fitness data and make a more informed decision about diagnosing the problem I may have. Furthermore, she should be able to make suggestions for changing my fitness routine based on the diagnostics. This integration will be most beneficial to society as a whole. However, alignment of the personal, medical, and insurance spheres is extremely complex and may take a long time.
3. Adaptive Algorithms and Context-Awareness: Can you adapt without being context-aware? The algorithms should continue to learn from my behavior and adapt to me. For example, if I walk every morning with coffee in my hand, the steps should not be shown as zero because my hand was not moving (sadly, this is how many devices record activity today. The devices don’t measure spinning either). The device has to adapt to me and not the other way around. Given the history, along with the specific motion of my hand while I am drinking coffee, the movement should be detected as walking. In the early stages, the app can even ask me for feedback, that is, was I walking between 7AM and 8AM? The algorithms should also correlate outside data to provide coaching. For example, if I am in my car every morning between 8AM and 9AM and the stress reading goes up then the algorithms should suggest that I listen to calming music. The algorithms have to become context-aware and the learning should be continuous. After a while the device should be an integral part of me. It should understand me better than anyone else.
4. Standards: Let’s say I spend two years with the Nike+ Fuelband and then Apple comes out with a much better product. Should I let go of my two year history and start afresh? There should be standards around how the data is captured and stored and how it is migrated from one system to another. Without standards, one system cannot read the data from another system. I am not sure if this will happen because companies tend to do things to lock you in their platform/ecosystem. There are companies like Myfitnesspal which let you get data from multiple devices into one app but I am not sure of their standards and migration policies.

I wish the smartphone told me the calories too…

 

5. Calorie Intake: The way optical recognition and cloud computing are going, it maybe be possible that one day our phone camera can tell the number of calories in the food we are about to eat and what the ingredients are. This will enable a complete solution to the fitness problem. The current devices focus on calorie burn and capturing intake is a very tedious process.
6. Low-income people: Ironically, fitness is a bigger issue for people with restricted resources who cannot afford healthy food or wearable fitness devices. They may not be educated about the importance of good mental and physical health.  With Obamacare, they maybe able to get healthcare insurance but how are they going to buy these new cool gadgets? Does it make sense for healthcare insurance companies to provide them with these devices? Do you create a low-cost version of the device?
Note: I have used fitness, wellness, and wearable devices interchangeably in the article. Products like Google Glass are often referred to as wearable devices as well. It is true that both Google Glass and wellness bracelets are worn on the body but lumping Google Glass and wellness bracelets together is not a good idea. They serve two completely different purposes and the design, architecture, electronics are very different. Calling these devices wearable computers is a misnomer because most of the computing occurs in the cloud or on the smartphone.

I am delighted that I had the opportunity to work with a great team to bring mobility to preventative healthcare. We created something new. It was a thrilling experience! Every time I see someone wearing a wellness bracelet, I feel proud.

The Best of TED Global 2013 in Edinburgh Scotland

August 7, 2013 by  

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Last month, I attended the Technology Entertainment and Design Global Conference (TED) in Edinburgh, Scotland. 
This internationally attended conference brings together leaders, experts and innovators from diverse disciplines to share new ideas making it exceptionally unique and difficult to attend. Participants must complete a long application which is reviewed by a committee and that is how you are invited to attend. It is somewhat like applying for college. 

For nearly 15 years I have been attending conferences all over the world that have focused on technologies and business; how to bring these two together to increase a company’s bottom line; capture dedicated customers and move towards a global market place; what are the major industry trends and how they may change the business. TED is truly about new ideas worth spreading that make the world a better place. 

What I experienced in Scotland was a conference that truly created an environment that encouraged collaboration and engagement among its  800+ global participants.  
This year’s conference focused on Think Again. The world is connected, the disciplines are merging and cross-pollinating, technology is intruding biology and society. The theme was to pause and rethink about identity, society, business, and nature.  I found the sharing of ideas was vigorous and enthusiastic,  regardless of one’s culture, professional status, industry expertise or familiarity with specific topics; which ranged from understanding beauty to challenging democracy as the accepted system of governance. 


A day at TED includes listening to a diverse set of talks; having lunch with the speakers; conversations about the talks during breaks; dinner at a unique and cool place, and then drinks and conversations that go into the wee hours of the morning. If you are a first time TED attendee then someone like Juan Enriques, who has given the most number of TED talks,  will introduce you to new people. By the way, he was one of the most interesting people I met at TED. The diversity of talks and participants combined with culture of open discussions is a creative conference format that TED has mastered. 

You do learn new things at TED. For example, I had no idea that the decline in population of bees is affecting the food chain or the amount of energy the brain consumer everyday.  Furthermore, most speakers stay for the entire conference and you have a chance to meet them and have real conversations. Didier Sornette who gave a talk on predicting financial crises met me for lunch during his visit to Stanford last week. Raffaello D’Andrea, who talked about quadcopters, was one of my favorite speakers and a pleasure to spend time with. 


Following are my random and brief notes from the conference and selected talks: 

1. There are 2B people in the middle class today and by 2050 there will be 5B people in the middle class. In 1950 there were 12 cities with more than 1M people and by 2050 there will be 500 cities with more than 1M people.

2. By 2020, Ikea will be energy positive i.e. it will output energy than it consumes. 

3. A very heartwarming talk – Joseph Kim’s story of survival and hope:



4. Drones can be used for the good of mankind. MAJA drones are being used for forest/wildlife conversation in Indonesia. To see how drones are used around the world for conversation, see http://conservationdrones.org/.

5. Sentry guns are currently deployed by South Koreans at North/South Korean border.

6. 70% of under-35-year-old’s people are unemployed in South Africa.

7. There are 20k species of bees. Honeybees are most populous among the bees. Beehives act as super-organisms. In 1945 there were 4.5M managed beehives in the US and in 2007, there were only 2M. The declining bee population will have disastrous consequences on our food supply.

8. A chimp and a cow have the same sized brains. The human brain is three times bigger than a gorilla’s brainThe cerebral cortex is more important than brain size in making an animal smart.

9. The human brain comprises 2% of body weight (~1.5kg) but uses 25% of daily energy.The human brain has 86B neurons and 16B are in cerebral cortex. Each neuron consumes 6kcal per day. Hence, the brain consumes 516Kcal per day (86B x 6 kcal) i.e. ~25% of 2000kcal energy intake.

10. Eric Li argues that democracy may not the best model of governance (the most controversial talk at TED Global 2013):



11. The sexual organs in animals are only 500M-year old and they came about so that DNA can be transferred more easily. 

12. Penile diversity in the animal kingdom is quite diverse. The paper nautilus has a detachable flying penis. For sex, see the summary of Carol Bonder’s talk.

13. We are all taught to visualize data and information to communicate it more effectively. Bernie Krause argues that the natural world says more with sound than with visuals:

 

TED organizes two conferences every year TED and TED Global. TEDx conferences you may have attended in your community are licensees of TED and are organized by the local organizations or individuals. TEDx’s are usually a day long and TED and TED Global are a week long. However, format is the same i.e. all talks are 12-18 minutes long and usually focus on one idea. TEDGlobal 2013 had 70+ talks over the course of a week.  

Reflecting on Beethoven as The Innovator

March 30, 2013 by  

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Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) was one of the most innovative figures in the music history. I recently finished taking a class on Beethoven at Stanford taught by a brilliant music scholar, Stephen Hinton. The class was a fascinating journey into Beethoven’s nine symphonies and into his life.
Beethoven played a key role in evolution of symphonies from classical period (1760 – 1820) to Romantic period (1820 – 1918). Following are a few key innovations he was responsible for:
1. Movements: A classical period symphony has three or four movements. They are usually in the sequence of Fast -> Medium -> Dance -> Fast tempo. The three-movement classical period symphonies follow Fast -> Medium -> Fast tempo. Beethoven experimented with and popularized the following in the Romantic period:
i) Changing the order of movements. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an example
ii) Expand the number of movements. Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony is an example
iii) Merge movements together. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is an example.
Beethoven created new movement sequences and gave the composer more freedom. 
2. Symphony length: In the classical period most symphonies were around 30-minute long. There was a big uproar in the music world when Beethoven performed his Third Symphony which is 50-minute long. People thought that it was too long. And, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is 64.5-minute long [there are variations of this score which are longer]. In the romantic period most symphonies were 45-60-minute long.
Beethoven changed the idea of how long a symphony should be. 

3. Relationship of movements: I was surprised to learn that up to the classical period, the symphony was not performed as one piece of music. Symphonies were performed more like a variety show. After every movement there was another act like singing or juggling or some other form of entertainment. There was almost no relationship between different movements.
Each movement was considered a separate “state of the soul”. Beethoven led the change in romantic period when he started performing the entire symphony as piece of music and separation of movements became uncommon. Furthermore, there was a narrative across movements in Beethoven later symphonies.
Beethoven changed the relationship between movements of a symphony. 
4. Meaning of symphony: In the classical period, the meaning of a symphony was not specified. The prevailing idea at the time was “leave it to the listener” so it won’t fetter response. Symphonies did not have titles in the classical period. I think it would have been tough to assign meaning to a piece of music that is not performed as one piece and was interrupted by juggling etc. Beethoven often gave his symphonies descriptive titles and there was a “story” associated with symphonies in the romantic era. For example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is titled Ode to Joy and Fifth Symphony is titled Fate and Third Symphony is titled Eroica.
Beethoven gave meaning to symphony. 
5. Size of orchestra: In classical period, the orchestra size was ~40. Led by Beethoven, in romantic period, it grew to ~80-100.
Beethoven doubled the orchestra size allowing the composer for more creative expression. 

6. Kinds of instruments: Main instruments during the classical period were gut strings, natural horns, classical woodwinds, and limited percussion. Beethoven introduced modern versions of the old instruments. For example, horns with valves. And, he introduced voices. Beethoven Ninth Symphony was the first popular symphony to include human voice. Hence, popularizing the music genre Choral Symphony. [Hector Berlioz was the first to use vocals in a symphony. Any French person would point it out to you]
Beethoven introduced new musical instruments to the symphony. 

7. Silence during performance: Prior to Beethoven it was common for people to talk during the performance of a symphony. Maybe because it was more of variety show. Beethoven required the audience to be silent and get immersed in the music and he raised the profile of the conductor. Before Beethoven it was not uncommon for the symphonies to be performed without a conductor.
Beethoven changed the audience experience during the performance of a symphony. 

There were other technical innovations Beethoven was responsible for related to measure numbers, music sections like codas which I did not understand enough to describe. I think I need to take Music 101 again.
There are more interesting things about Beethoven and his symphonies. See:
Beethoven started going deaf at the ago of 26, by the time he composed his Fifth Symphony he was partially deaf and when he composed his Ninth Symphony he was completely deaf. Critics say that he was composing music by visualizing it and hence it is difficult to perform the Ninth Symphony in the original measure numbers and tempos. That is why you see the Ninth Symphony performance can vary from 65 minutes to 79 minutes.
When the development of audio CD was being led by Sony and Philips, the Sony executive, Norio Ohga, determined that a single CD should be able to play London Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety. Hence, the length of the first audio CDs was ~74 minutes.
Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It is a Japanse tradition to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony during New Year Eve celebrations.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the European Union’s anthem.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony opened the London Olympics.
I think the classical music world was under the spell of Beethoven until Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was performed on May 29th, 1913 at Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. 
Photo credit: algemeiner.com

On Leadership: Developing World Versus Not…

August 9, 2012 by  

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Recently, I bought some JP Morgan stock [NYSE: JPM]. Following my hero, Charlie Munger’s advice, I did do my homework before purchasing the equity. Part of my homework was to read Jamie Dimon’s letter to JPM shareholders. It is a very interesting read. I was impressed with the clarity and detail Mr. Dimon outlined how he thinks about developing leaders for a multinational corporation. I practically agree with everything he said in the letter. Following is the edited version of Mr. Dimon’s thoughts on leadership:

Leadership is an honor, a privilege and a deep obligation. When leaders make mistakes, a lot of people can get hurt. Being true to oneself and avoiding self-deception are as important to a leader as having people to turn to for thoughtful, unbiased advice. Emotional Quotient [EQ] matters in management. EQ can include empathy, clarity of thought, compassion and strength of character.
Good people want to work for good leaders. Bad leaders can drive out almost anyone who’s good because they are corrosive to an organization; and since many are manipulative and deceptive, it often is a challenge to find them and root them out.
Below are some essential hallmarks of a good leader. While we can not be great at all of these traits, to be successful, a leader needs to get most of them right.
1. Discipline: This means holding regular business reviews, talent reviews and team meetings and constantly striving for improvement – from having a strong work ethic to making lists and doing real, detailed follow-up. Leadership is like exercise; the effect has to be sustained for it to do any good.
2. Fortitude: This attribute is often missing in leaders: They need to have a fierce resolve to act. It means driving change, fighting bureaucracy and politices and taking ownership and responsibility.
3. High Standards: Abraham Lincoln said, “Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.” Leaders must set high standards of performance all the time, at a detailed level and with a real sense of urgency. Leaders must compare themselves with the best. Huge institutions have a tendency toward slowing things down, which demands that leaders push forward constantly. Ture leaders must set the highest standards of integrity- those standards are not embedded in the business but require conscious choices.
4. Ability to face facts: In a cold-blooded honest way, leaders emphasize the negatives at management meetings and focus on what can be improved.
5. Openness: Sharing information all the time is vital – we should debate the issues and alternative approaches, not the facts. The best leaders kill bureaucracy – it can cripple an organization – and watch for signs of politics, like sidebar meetings after the real meeting because people wouldn’t speak their mind at the right time.
6. Setup for success: An effective leader makes sure all the right people are in the room – from Legal, Systems and Operations to Human Resources, Finance and Risk. It’s necessary to set up the right structure. When tri-heads report to co-heads, all decisions become political – a setup for failure, not success.
7. Morale-building: High morale is developed through fixing problems, dealing directly and honestly with issues, earning respect and winning. It does not come from overpaying people or delivering sweet talk, which permits the avoidance of hard decision making and fosters passive-aggressive behaviors.
8. Loyalty, meritocracy and teamwork: Loyalty should be to the principles for which someone stands and to the institution: Loyalty to an individual frequently is another form of cronyism. Leaders demand a lot from their employees and should be loyal to them – but loyalty and mutual respect are two-way streets. Loyalty to employees does not mean that a manager owes them a particular job. Loyalty to employees means building a healthy, vibrant company; telling them the truth; and giving them meaningful work, training and opportunities. If employees fall down, we should get them the help they need.
Meritocracy and teamwork are also critical but frequently misunderstood. Meritocracy means putting the best person in the job, which promotes a sense of justice in the organization rather than appearance of cynicism: “Here we go again, taking care of their friends.” Teamwork is important and often code for “getting along,” equally important is an individual’s ability to have the courage to stand alone and do the right thing.
9. Fair treatment: The best leaders treat all people properly and respectfully, from clerks to CEOs. Everyone needs to help everyone else at the company because everyone’s collective purpose is to serve clients.
10. Humility: Leaders need to acknowledge those who came before them and helped shape the enterprise – it’s not all their own doing. There ‘s a lot of luck involved in anyone’s success, and a little humility is important. The overall goal must be to build a great company – then we can do more for our employees, our customers, and our communities.
The grey area of leadership
There are many aspects of the leadership process that are open for interpretation. This grey area contributes to the complexity of the challenges and leaders – and those who govern them – face.
1. Successful leaders are hard to find
While there are possibly innate and genetic parts of leadership (perhaps broad intelligence and natural energy), other parts ar deeply embedded in internal values of an individual; for example, work ethic, integrity, knowledge and good judgement. Many leaders have worked their entire lives to get where they are, and while perhaps some achieved their stature through accident or politics, that is not true for most. Anyone on a team knows when he or she encounters the rare combination of emotional skill, integrity and knowledge that makes a leader.
2. Successful leaders are working to build something 
Leaders want to build something of which they can be proud. They usually work hard, not because they must but because they want to do so; they set high standards because as long as leaders are going to do something  they are going to do the best they can. Leaders believe in things larger than themselves, and the highest obligation is to the team or the organization. Leaders demand loyalty, not to themselves but to the cause for which they stand.
3. Compensation matters
Money should not be the primary motivation for leaders but it is not realistic to say that compensation should not count at any level. People have responsibilities to themselves and to their families. They also have a deep sense of “compensation justice,” which means they often are upset when they feel they are not fairly compensated against peers both within and outside the company. There are markets for talent just like products, and a company must pay a reasonable price to compete.
4. Big business needs entrepreneurs, too
Free enterprise, entrepreneurship and pursuit of happiness also exist in most large enterprises. Without the capacity to innovate, respond to new and rapidly changing markets, and anticipate enormous challenges, large companies would cease to exist. The people who achieve these objectes want to be compensated fairly, just as they would be if they had built a successful startup.
5. Performance isn’t always easy to judge
Managers responsible for businesses must necessarily evaluate individuals along a spectrum of factors. Did these individuals act with integrity? Did they hire and train good people? Did they build the systems and products that will strengthen the company, not just in the current year but in future years? Did they develop real management teams? In essence, are they building something with sustainable long-term value? Making these determinations requires courage and judgement.
6. Sometimes leaders should be supported and paid even when a unit does poorly
If a company’s largest, and perhaps most important, business unit is under enormous stress and strain, unlikely to make earn money regardless of who is running it, a manager might ask his best leader to take on the job. This may be toughest job in the company, one that will take years to work through before the ship has been rightened. When the manager asks a leader to take on the responsibility, she quite appropriately will want to know whether she will be supported in the toughest of times: “Will you make sure the organization doesn’t desert me?” “Will you stop the politics of people using my unit’s poor performance against me?” “Will you compensate me fairly?” The answer to all these questions should be yes. And, as long as she was doing a good job, she should be paid like the best leaders in the organization, profits aside. Conversely, we all know that a rising tide lifts all boats. When that’s the case, paying that leader too much is possibly the worst thing one can do – because it teaches people the wrong lesson.

Foie Gras in California No More

July 1, 2012 by  

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Yesterday was the last day to legally buy and sell foie gras in California. Will the French stop visiting California? 

10 Deep Dive Explanations & Building Blocks of Culture

June 28, 2012 by  

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Cultures fascinate me. How do they develop? How do they change? How the meaning of an action is different in different cultures? Why people are not very good at seeing things from another perspective (influenced by another culture)?

To continue learning about cultures, I just finished reading a book - Figuring Foreigners Out-which gives very pragmatic advice on understanding and adapting to new cultures. Thanks to my teacher, Donna Stringer, for recommending the book. Following are some edited excepts that explain fundamentals of culture:
1. Culture. What is it exactly? Culture is describes as the shared assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people which result in characteristic behaviors. And, cultural generalizations are necessarily statements of likelihood and potential, not of certainty.
2. Behavior: An instance of behavior has no particular meaning other than what the people who witness that behavior assign to it. Behavior means what we decide it means – very often it means nothing at all.
3. Polar Opposites: If all human behavior were put on a continuem, the part related to culture would fall in the middle, between universal at one extreme and personal at the other.
4. Building Blocks: there are four building blocks for culture:
  • Concept of self: individualist and collectivist
  • Personal vs societal responsibility: universalist and particularist
  • Concept of time: monochronic and polychornic
  • Locus of control: internal and external
  • Let’s look at these blocks one by one.
5. Self:
  • Individualist: The smallest unit of survival is the individual. People identify primarily with self, and the needs of the individual are satisfied before those of the group. Looking after and taking care of oneself, being self-sufficient, guarantees the well-being of the group. Independence and self-reliance are stressed and greatly valued, personal freedom is highly desired. In general, there is more psychological distance from others. One may choose to join groups, but group membership is not essential to one’s identity, survival or success.
  • US is a good example of an Individualist culture.
  • Collectivist: The primary group, usually the immediate family, is the smallest unit of survival. One’s identity is in large part a function of one’s membership and role in a group (e.g., the family, the work team). The survival and success of the group ensures the well-being of the individual, so that by considering the needs and feelings of others, one protects oneself. Harmony and interdependence of group members are stressed and valued. There is relatively little psychological or emotional distance between group members, though there is more distance between group (ingroup)and non-group members (outgroup).
China is a good example of a Collectivist culture.

A lot of cultures fall between the continuem where individualist and collectivist are the opposite poles.
6. Responsibility:
  • Universalism: There are certain absolutes that apply across the board, regardless of circumstances or the particular situation. What is right is always right. Wherever possible, one should try to apply the same rules to everyone in like situations. To be fair is to treat everyone alike and not make exceptions for family, friends, or members of one’s ingroup. In general, ingroup/outgroup distinctions are minimized. Where possible, one should lay one’s personal feelings aside and look at situations objectively. Where life isn’t fair, one can make it more fair by treating everyone the same.

Germany is a good example of a Universalist culture.

  • Particularism: How you behave in a given situation depends on circumstances. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. You treat family, friends, and your ingroups the best you can, and you let the rest of the world take care of itself. (Their ingroups will protect them.) One’s ingroups and outgroups are clearly distinguished. There will always be exceptions made for certain people. To be fair is to treat everyone as unique. In any case, on one expects life to be fair. Personal feelings should not be laid aside but rather relied upon.
Certain parts of Africa is a good example of a Particularist culture.

A lot of cultures fall between the continuem where Universalist and Particularist are the opposite poles.
7. Time:
  • Monochronic: Time is a commodity; it is quantifiable and and there is limited amount of it. Therefore, it is necessary to use time wisely and not waste it. There is a premium on efficiency, hence a sense of urgency in may matters. Time is the given and people are variable; the needs of people are adjusted to suit the demands of time (schedules, deadlines, etc.). It is considered most efficient to do one thing at a time or wait on one person at a time. As far as possibile, you shouldn’t let circumstances, unforeseen events, interfere with your plans. Interruptions are a nuisance.
US is a good example of a Monochronic culture.

  • Polychronic: Time is limitless and not quantifiable. There is always more time, and people are never too busy. Time is the servant and tool of people and is adjusted to suit the needs of people. Schedules and deadlines often get changed. People may may have to do several things simultaneously, as required by circumstances. It’s not necessary to finish one thing before starting another, nor to finish your business with one person before starting in with another. One always has to take circumstances into account and make adjustments. Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as an interruption.
Mexico is a good example of a Polychronic culture.

A lot of cultures fall between the continuem where Monochronic and Polychronic are the opposite poles.
8. Control:
  • Internal: The locus of control is largely internal, within the individual. There are very few givens in life, few things or circumstances which have to be accepted as they are and cannot be changed. There are no limits on what you can do or become, so long as you set your mind to it and make the necessary effort. Your success is your own achievement. You are responsible for what happens to you. Life is what you do; hence, these represent more activist cultures.
  • US is a good example of an Internal culture.
  • External: The locus of control is largely external to the individual. Some things in life are predetermined, built into the nature of things. There are limits beyond which one cannot go and certain givens that cannot be changed and must he accepted. (“That’s just the way things are.”) Your success is a combination of your effort and your good fortune. Life is in large part what happens to you; thus, these represent more fatalist cultures.
  • Middle East is a good example of an External culture.
A lot of cultures fall between the continuem where Internal and External are the opposite poles.
In cross-cultural communication, whether the message you send is the one that gets received and whether the message you receive is the one that was sent are no longer forgone conclusions.
9. Communication:
How does one communicate effectively in cross-cultural environment? The differences between the directness and indirectness, probably account for more cross-cultural misunderstanding than any other single factor. The directness and indirectness are described below:
  • Indirect (High Context): People in these cultures tend to infer, suggest, and imply rather than say things directly. At least that is how they appear to people from more direct cultures – though not, of course, to each other. These cultures tend to be collectivist, where harmony and saving face are the greatest goods.; hence, there is a natural tendency toward indirectness and away from confrontation. In collectivist cultures, ingroups are well established and members have an intuitive understanding of each other, in part because of shared experiences. This means that as a rule people don’t need to spell things out or say very much to get their message across. This intuitive understanding is known as context (in this context:-)) , and in high-context cultures messages often don’t even need words to be expressed; non-verbal communication may be enough, or the message may be expressed in terms of what is not said or done. The goal of most communication exchanges is preserving and strengthening the relationship with the other person.

Japan is a good example of an Indirect communication culture.

  • Direct (Low Context): Direct cultures tend to be less collectivist and more individualist than indirect cultures, with less well-developed ingroups. People lead more independent lives and have fewer shared experiences; hence, there is less instinctive understanding of others. People need to spell things out and be more explicit, to say exactly what they mean rather than merely suggest of imply. There is less context, less that can be taken for granted. The spoken word carries most of the meaning; you should not read anything into what is not said or done. The goal of most communication exchanges is getting or giving information.
Germany is a good example of a Direct communication culture.

A lot of cultures fall between the continuem where Indirect and Direct communication styles are the opposite poles.
10. The Whole Living Self: to realize it takes all sorts to make a world, one must have seen a certain numbers of the sorts with one’s own eyes. There is all the difference in the world between believing academically, with the intellect, and believing personally, with the whole living self. – Aldous Huxley

Vegan Dog Food – OH SO California

May 14, 2012 by  

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