The Label Game: The Fashionable Art of Pretense

“They say the clothes make the man,” quipped Mark Twain. Well, if that’s true, then the brands must be making a killing.

Picture this: I’m on the phone with my dad, defending my latest splurge on a high-end branded t-shirt, and he’s schooling me on the merits of a thrifty $5 tee. Oh, the joys of intergenerational fashion debates!

Thanks to globalization, Indian malls have become the United Nations of international brands. Gone are the days when you had to jet-set abroad or have a globe-trotting relative to snag the latest designer threads. Now, you can waltz into your local shopping haven and get bombarded with more labels than you can shake a shopping bag at.

This retail revolution has spawned two distinct species of shoppers: the brand-obsessed trendsetters and the proudly indifferent bargain hunters. Both camps, however, seem equally convinced of their sartorial superiority. As Kanye West once said, “I am the number one human being in music. That means any person that’s living or breathing is number two.”

But really, what’s the appeal of shelling out top dollar for a branded item when a seemingly identical version is readily available at a fraction of the cost? Are we paying for quality, or is it all just smoke and mirrors? As Don Draper from “Mad Men” might say, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” So, is brand loyalty just an elaborate façade in our quest for happiness?

Perhaps, the answer lies in our innate desire to present ourselves in the best light possible. We all judge books by their covers, whether we admit it or not. Our choices in fashion, be they branded or budget-friendly, ultimately express our identity and personal preferences.

But here’s the kicker: the “non-conformist” who shuns designer labels is just as susceptible to branding influence as their label-loving counterpart. Like a well-choreographed dance, businesses have created niche markets to cater to both types of consumers, ensuring that everyone’s wardrobe choices are, in fact, subtly orchestrated. Quiet Luxury is winning.

So, whether you’re all about that Gucci life or prefer the unpretentious charm of a local boutique, one thing’s for sure: you’re still playing the game. As Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada” astutely observed, “Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.” And at the end of the day, whether you don a designer label or a thrift store gem, all that truly matters is how it makes you feel.

In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” So let the battle for wardrobe supremacy continue!


Qualifying vs Discovery

In my early days of running an agency, I thought I had it all figured out – I’d do some qualifying and then jump straight into discovery. Yet, the results were sometimes better than I’d hoped, and I soon realized why. Qualifying and discovery aren’t just two steps in the sales process; they’re two entirely different mindsets. Allow me to explain.

Qualifying is about asking the hard, straightforward questions: Can this prospect afford our solution? Do they have the authority to buy? Is there a real need for what we’re selling? It’s more like a checkbox exercise to ensure we’re not wasting time on prospects that will never close.

On the other hand, discovery is a deep dive into understanding the prospect’s world. It’s where you unpack their challenges, goals, fears, and dreams. It’s not just about the ‘what’ but the ‘why.’

The common mistake many of us make is confusing these two. As a result, we may ask qualifying questions during the discovery phase or vice versa, thereby losing the plot. Or even worse, we see discovery as a task to rush through, aiming to present our solutions as quickly as possible.

Remember, as Rory Sutherland once said, “People are more influenced by the direction they are moving in than the position they find themselves in.” If we rush the discovery phase, we fail to understand that direction.

In the words of Alan Weiss, “The only way to grow a business is to become better known, better thought of, and more often thought of.” This applies beautifully to the sales discovery process too.

By taking the time to understand your prospect’s world, you become ‘better known’ to them, you’re ‘better thought of’ as you show empathy and understanding, and you’re ‘more often thought of’ as a trusted advisor rather than a salesperson.

So, how should one approach qualifying and discovery? During the qualifying phase, focus on the tangible details. Ask questions like:

“Who is involved in the decision-making process?”
“What’s your budget for this kind of solution?”
“When are you planning to implement this?”

Then, once they’re qualified, shift your mindset for the discovery phase. This is about more than rushing to present your solution. It’s about understanding their world, their challenges, their goals. You might ask:

“Help me understand the challenges you’re facing in more detail.”
“What does success look like for you in this project?”
“How does this challenge affect your day-to-day operations?”

Avoid the mistake of rushing discovery or misplacing your qualifying questions. Remember, your role in discovery is to be a helpful guide, not a salesperson. Lead with curiosity and empathy, and you’ll find your conversations become richer and your relationships deeper. That’s where true sales success lies.


Building Human Connections Before Blockchain: An Inside Out Approach to Web3 Companies

Jawaharlal Nehru (Former Prime Minister of India) and Le Corbusier were the OG Web3 founders! Hear me out!

A significant global shift is underway. Businesses worldwide are embracing Web3 technologies – decentralized systems powered by blockchain – and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at a pace that could make your head spin. The promise is a utopia of decentralized, secure, and transparent systems that fundamentally restructure how we live, work and play.

However, based on my interactions and experiences working with them, the focus seems overwhelmingly lopsided toward technology and jargon. In this great leap forward, are we forgetting something equally, if not more, crucial: the human element? Let’s take a page from the experiences of rapidly developing countries for context (hinting at Chandigarh, India, where I grew up).

In a bid to ‘catch up’ with the developed world, developing countries are in a race to build infrastructure and implement the latest technology. India’s Chandigarh, envisioned by the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and executed by famed architect Le Corbusier, is a prime example (I’m a fanboy).

Nehru envisaged Chandigarh to be “unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.” However, juxtaposing modernistic city design with a population still being prepared for it underscores crucial learning: infrastructure and technology do not directly equate to mental or cultural development.

Likewise, Web3 and AI companies, focused on cutting-edge technology and reaping its rewards, can fall into the same trap, forgetting the critical role of the human element.

The People Paradox

As we pioneer into digital-first landscapes, the human element – the very fabric that holds organizations together – risks being relegated. Web3 and AI businesses with remote and often dispersed teams may need to pay more attention to the importance of human-centric leadership, a supportive culture, and strong interpersonal connections. The Harvard Business Review’s landmark study on the “The Neuroscience of Trust” underscores that human connections remain the cornerstone of any successful organization, irrespective of the technology it leverages.

Human Connections: The Heart of the Organization

Gallup’s 2012 “State of the American Workplace” survey demonstrated that employee engagement can significantly boost productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Fueling this engagement are simple human connections and a nurturing culture. The fundamental attribution error theory, a concept from social psychology, highlights our propensity to disregard situational factors when interpreting people’s behaviour. In the context of Web3 and AI companies, it becomes vital to acknowledge the unique challenges and potential isolation of remote work.

Leadership: The Guiding Light

Web3 organizations require robust leadership to navigate the technological frontier successfully. A leader’s role isn’t just to guide and inspire their teams internally; they must also construct a coherent external narrative. (Ask me about perception management offline.) Transformational leadership, where leaders inspire their teams with a shared vision of the future, can play a crucial role, as per James V. Downton’s seminal work.

Consider these four steps when building Web3 and AI Culture

  1. Establishing Clear Roles and Responsibilities: Teams need clarity, whether developing blockchain solutions or creating AI algorithms. Clear roles foster accountability and lead to higher productivity. Or they’ll leave.
  2. Nurturing Trust and Collaboration: Building trust can be challenging, especially for remote teams. However, as Paul J. Zak’s HBR article “The Neuroscience of Trust” emphasizes, trust can be cultivated by fostering social interactions, setting clear expectations, and promoting a culture of respect and transparency. Everyone on the team should know what the other does.
  3. Instilling Top-Down Leadership: Effective leaders set the vision, lead by example, and facilitate a culture that encourages learning and innovation. You see, our mammalian and reptilian brains have yet to be digitally transformed.
  4. Reimagining Onboarding and External Collaborations: Given the nascent nature of this space, onboarding programs need to be more than just a process; they should be an experience that introduces and integrates new members into the organization’s fabric, sparking a sense of belonging right from the start. This includes employees, vendors, contractors and third parties. Begin by facilitating easy knowledge sharing and collaboration, fostering a culture of collective growth. 

We must maintain sight of the human factor as we sprint towards a future dominated by Web3, AI, and other advanced technologies. Striking a balance between technology, leadership, and human connections is vital in building successful companies in this space.

The famed psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “What is most personal is most universal.” Le Corbusier also elegantly articulated that “architecture is about creating a way of life.”

As we transition to a more universal, decentralized, and technologically advanced way of working, let’s remember to keep the personal, the human, at its heart – designing not just sophisticated tech solutions but also a culture that cherishes human connection.