Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupational Hazards

Used under CCL from kuminiac's album
Like the fire eater pictured here, EVERY profession - without exception - has its own occupational hazards. Some are just more visible and some have a greater element of physical danger, but it's always there. 

Often, some professions are romanticized by society and the media (e.g., software engineering in India) or are vilified by its own circumstances, actions and then some more by society and the media (e.g., police forces). To a point that its occupational hazards are completely obfuscated.

Over the years, I have been struck by a different perspective of "occupational hazard" - viz., how the core soft skills (separate from the job-related competencies) exercised in one's profession tend to unwittingly and inadvertently define the individual.

The following are examples (in no particular order) that I have encountered in my personal life - examples where I have seen professionals excel at their core skills and outperform their colleagues and then seen that very skill reflecting in their personal lives in ways that they may not have always wanted and in ways they may not even realize

Profession Key soft skills Observed Impact
Doctors Fine blend of compassion and detachment: Compassion to connect with the patient's pain, illness and suffering; detachment to ensure that the doctor can be part of the solution and not become part of the problem. This helps them deal with misery - and often, death - that they must bravely come face-to-face with every single day. Convey an image of being hardened when  they talk about pain, misery and death (and the circumstances that bring these on) with  detachment. The very detachment that makes them excel at their profession.
Sales* - Eloquence & Confidence
- Optimism without being foolish
- Zero fear of rejection without being shameless
Elan even in the absence of sufficient data and greater tolerance for white lies.
Accounts & Finance - Drive "accountability" down to the penny(/cent/paisa)
- Draw confidence and comfort from a balanced ledger
- Keen financial impact analysis ability
Tendency to seek greater comfort in arithmetic than in math - i.e., have trouble seeing the larger picture and putting things in perspective.
Software Engineers* - Syntactic and computational precision
- Top-down, divide & conquer problem-solving approach
Have a black & white perspective of life - often ignoring or failing to comprehend the hues & colors of the human touch. Often sacrificing semantic appreciation for syntactic precision*

* I am a software engineer by profession and my "recent" transition to a technical pre-sales role required a little bit of transformation. Kind of an "upgrade to color". I must admit therefore that I am called upon to practice a combination of skills of these two professions and consequently, am equally prone to a combination of their impact.

Of course, the foregoing is not intended to ridicule any profession or professional - true professionals are ones to be saluted and admired in any field. Like I have pointed out before, the emphasis is on "ways that they may not have always wanted" and "ways they may not even realize.".

The foregoing is just a conclusion I have drawn that leaves me bemused. It has made me realize that there are more occupational "hazards" and more perspectives to these "hazards" than meet the eye. And most importantly, it has served as an eye-opener for me and led me to some serious introspection. 

Monday, October 03, 2011

Naming Ceremony: What's in a Name?

"A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet"
                                                              - William Shakespeare

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"*
                              - Gertrude Stein

Last week, I got involved in helping someone find a name for his new venture. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot talk about the venture nor the name that we closed out on, but the process was an interesting and intriguing one.

My last - and perhaps, my only other - really serious project at identifying a name was when my wife was carrying our baby. While my wife and I sifted through many names, the "framework" was simple and the decision-making straightforward. The framework/parameters were that we both wanted a name that was easy to pronounce and easy across cultures, had a meaning that we would be proud to have our child live up to and was not a “retro” name. The decision-making was simple: we had to both like it.

With the business venture, though I had not expected it to be all too easy, it was a trifle more challenging than I had imagined. Whatever the approach to coming up with a list of names, it had to have a corresponding or phonetically similar domain name available, should not already have been trademarked/copyrighted and had to be "culturally scalable".

While my friend went with right-brain gut, I resorted to left-brain structure to compensate for my handicap in creativity. I came up with a table that looked roughly like this:

·         Domain not available
·         Domain parked – may be available
·         Domain available
One word

Two words



Within the table, all names considered were listed and color-coded to indicate availability of the corresponding domain name. The X-axis helped profile the name based on its meaning – or lack of it – while the Y-axis helped identify names of different compositions.   

I originally started out with just "Descriptive" and "Non-descriptive" on the X-axis but the Wikipedia page on "Product Naming" helped me put more structure around it.

Eventually, we went with a name that my friend pulled out of his hat, but the table above did help me "brainstorm with myself" and generate a bunch of names.

Like I said, I found the process very interesting and am wondering how one would come up with a name if you didn't want to engage a pricey branding/marketing organization and if your creative juices weren’t flowing. Would be happy to get inputs from my readers.

Of course, once you build the brand even “fanciful" and "arbitrary" names will sound nice and even logical – Google, Twitter, Cisco, Apple are all excellent examples. These are neither descriptive nor associated with the founder’s name – e.g., Tata, Ferrari, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, etc. – and yet, have built a powerful image and perception around the brand.

Last but not the least – and the real motivation for this post – is that I began reflecting upon a few Indian logos/brand names that we grew up with as children. I marvel at how these brands acquired mindshare without the benefit of extensive market research, without mass marketing and without social media. All of these brands are brands that were descriptive as well as suggestive as well as fanciful as well as rich in the meaning they conveyed. All but one – at least in my eyes – were also rich in the quality they delivered (and there will be no prizes for guessing which one I think, did not deliver that quality).

The next time I see or hear a name that makes me wonder what it means or why someone chose that name, I am sure I will spare a little empathy for the person who had to make the decision.

After all, even though I Google for something I want to find and tweet something I want to announce, and Like something I like and even though I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and drinking Rasna, left to me, I would never have come up with these names. Names that resonate in so many hearts and minds across the world.

Even though a rose would smell as sweet by any name called, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose*.

*I have of course, twisted the interpretation of this slightly, for effect