The need of the hour

I have heard a story about a person having a conversation with a friend who has a background in the software industry. He was talking about his company transitioning to a new platform and how it would take him 6 months to get up-to-speed with the transition and how this platform would again transition in the next 2 years. Even though the underlying concepts remain the same, one needs to keep learning and reinventing himself.
Hasn’t the photography industry reinvented itself too? From bromide to digital exposures and now mirrorless! Technology kept evolving and you had to keep learning. Those who used to wash photo trays in darkrooms had to start learning photoshop to sustain their business. Those who didn’t adapt to this change went out of business.
All of us know many people, who worked at the bank, but could not reinvent themselves when the banks introduced online core banking services and had to take forced retirement.
Set designers were once idolized in Bollywood. They are still commended for their work but the emergence of VFX has changed the game. A movie like Bahubali is mostly shot in green rooms.
It is the need of the hour to reinvent yourself. Those who try to resist change will fall behind the curve and their work will become irrelevant.
I have heard there are software’s you can use even for legal counsel. We could even see software to give preliminary diagnosis, who knows? All the people with engineering degrees may have to study every day. Technology has the power to affect everybody’s lives. Even teachers and educational institutions would need to adapt to this digital trend. 
Many people may feel today that a third world country like India is not impacted by technology. But this is not true. Companies like Google are working on this day and night. We have already started seeing kids going to school carrying tablets. 
Harsha Bhogle had once asked Sundar Pichai (Google CEO) a wonderful question. “It is easier to be number one but harder to stay number one for too long because every business wants to be the next google. How do you manage this?”. “Because we keep reinventing ourselves and create a work environment that promotes new ideas and innovations” replied Sundar.
I suddenly remembered a mail which I had received few years back which makes huge sense even today.
Who sells the largest number of cameras in India?
Your guess is likely to be Sony, Canon or Nikon. Answer is none of the above. The winner could be Samsung or Chinese cell phones whose main line of business in India is not cameras at all. Reason being cameras bundled with cell phones are outselling stand alone cameras. Now, what prevents the cell phone from replacing the camera outright? Nothing at all. It’s only a matter of time.
Try this. Who is the biggest in music business in India? You think it is HMV Sa-Re-Ga-Ma? Sorry. The answer could be Jio, Vodafone or Airtel. By selling caller tunes (that play for 30 seconds), they make more than what music companies make by selling music albums (that run for hours). Incidentally these companies are not in music business. They are mobile service provider with the huge subscriber base in India. That sort of competitor is difficult to detect, even more difficult to beat (by the time you have identified him he has already gone past you).
Nokia missed the smartphone bus. At one point they had more 70% market share in India but underestimated Apple's Iphone and Google's Android big time and suffered heavily. But you never thought Google was a mobile company, did you? If these illustrations mean anything, there is a bigger game unfolding.
The "Mahabharat" is about "what is tomorrow's personal digital device"? Will it be a souped up mobile or a palmtop with a telephone? All these are little wars that add up to that big battle. Hiding behind all these wars is a gem of a question – "who is my competitor?"
One of the intriguing question is to explain "What Apple did to Sony, Sony did to Kodak?" Sony defined its market as audio (music from the walkman). They never expected an IT company like Apple to encroach into their audio domain. Come to think of it, is it really surprising? Apple as a computer maker has both audio and video capabilities. So what made Sony think he won't compete on pure audio? "Elementary Watson". So also Kodak defined its business as film cameras, Sony defines its businesses as "digital."
In digital camera the two markets perfectly meshed. Kodak was torn between going digital and sacrificing money on camera film or staying with films and getting left behind in digital technology. Left undecided it lost in both. It had to. It did not ask the question "who is my competitor for tomorrow?" The same was true for IBM whose mainframe revenue prevented it from seeing the PC. The same was true of Bill Gates who had declared "internet is a fad" and then turned around to bundle the browser with windows to bury Netscape. The point is not who is today's competitor. Today's competitor is obvious. Tomorrow's is not.
Remember, if there is one place where Newton's law of gravity is applicable besides physics it is in electronic hardware. Between 1977 and 1991 the prices of the now dead VCR crashed to one-third of its original level in India. PC's price dropped from hundreds of thousands of rupees to tens of thousands. 
India has two passions. Films and cricket. The two markets were distinctly different. So were the icons. The cricket gods were Sachin, Sehwag & co. The filmi gods were the Khans (Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan et el). That was, when cricket was fundamentally test cricket or at best 50 over cricket. Then came IPL and the two markets collapsed into one. IPL brought cricket down to 20 overs. Suddenly an IPL match was reduced to the length of a 3 hour movie. Cricket became film's competitor. On the eve of IPL matches movie halls ran empty. Desperate multiplex owners requisitioned the rights for screening IPL matches at movie halls to hang on to the audience. Since IPL has become the mainstay of cricket, films have to sequence their releases so as not clash with IPL matches. As far as the audience is concerned both are what in India are called 3 hour "tamasha" (entertainment). Cricket season might push films out of the market.
Look at the products that vanished from India in the last 20 years. When did you last see a black and white movie? When did you last use a fountain pen? When did you last type on a typewriter? The answer for all the above is "I don't remember!" For some time there was a mild substitute for the typewriter called electronic typewriter that had limited memory. Then came the computer and mowed them all. Today most technologically challenged guys like me use the computer as an upgraded typewriter. Typewriters per se are nowhere to be seen.
One last illustration. 20 years back what were Indians using to wake them up in the morning? The answer is "alarm clock." The alarm clock was a monster made of mechanical springs. It had to be physically keyed every day to keep it running. It made so much noise by way of alarm, that it woke you up and the rest of the colony. Then came quartz clocks which were sleeker. They were much more gentle though still quaintly called "alarms." What do we use today for waking up in the morning? Cellphone! An entire industry of clocks disappeared without warning thanks to cell phones. Big watch companies were the losers. You never know in which bush your competitor is hiding!
On a lighter vein, who are the competitors for authors? Joke spewing machines Or will the competition be story-telling robots? Future is scary!
The boss of an IT company once said something interesting about the animal called competition. He said "Have breakfast …or…. be breakfast"!
That sums it up rather neatly.

If you are not re-inventing yourself, you will soon start fighting a losing battle.
@ Yeshwant Marathe 

Leave a comment

Abhay Patwardhan

3 years ago

100% true Yeshwant !
Very nice & well researched article.
I think people of our age should watch the saga of fast changing technology & be spectators than being participants.


3 years ago

V true. Unfortunately, people start loosing without realising it. Only visioner can think about it. Others have to adapt.

Jayant Sathe

3 years ago

Yeahwant, this is one of the best pieces you have written to date.
I agree that each company needs to look at where they want to go and who their competition is. I take it one step ahead and say that each person needs to see where the world is going next and how do I prepare myself for that future world. What new skills do I need to acquire to stay ahead of the technology curve.
Great job, my friend.


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