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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Debating Team Work

There is an old saying that sometimes you have to take one of the team, what do we really mean and understand by this expression that has been said repeatedly by millions over the decades? This expression has been used in every day life ranging from school life to professional life to the field of competitive sports. It implies that at times, in order for the good or even benefit of your team sometimes you have to make sacrifices, be it big or small. I am guessing this is where this expression comes from, where being patient and making the odd compromise for the team so that the team benefits. In sports, be it cricket, baseball or football, we often see players for the sake of their teams indulge in selfless acts to prove that they are team players as opposed to individualistic super stars.

In sports like football or basketball, the most famous sports persons are always those that have a lot to show for through their individual effort. This comes in the form of goals scored in football and slam dunks (I do hope this is the correct expression) in basketball, where the star players are those with the highest of these in their respective sport. Attention of the same magnitude is hardly given to those individuals within the same team who make the extra ordinary effort of those individuals possible. The top goal scorers in football or point scorers in basketball would not be able to make their effort possible without the support of the entire team and its effort, it all begins with the first person with possession passing the ball, which eventually heads to the star player that eventually makes the goal or the slam dunk.

Collective team work is is also very evident in the sub continent's most famous sport 'Cricket', where champion batsmen and bowlers who have records to brag about, would not be in the record books without support from the other end. For example, batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would not have been able to stack up all these runs if batsmen on the other end kept faltering and not supporting them in partnerships, same goes for bowlers like Brett Lee and Wasim Akram, who had reliable opening ball partners who kept the runs dry while they brought down the opposition wickets. Every weak and strong link contributes to team and individual effort, they are there to compliment one another one. These star cricketers would not have been able to compile records if other team members decided to be selfish and pursue their own agenda, their own targets, goals etc. A bowler who doesn't take many wickets or batsmen that do not score a lot of runs are still making a contribution to make the star performers get what they want. Some are playing under injury or poor physical form just to be there with their team mates and make a difference even with their minimal contributions.

So this tempts us to come back to the original question, does it really merit making sacrifices and taking one for the team, for the time being, this question remains inconclusive and worthy of further debate.

Collectivism and Individualism in Group Dynamics

It seems academics in the field of management sciences are obsessed with the study of culture, particularly the aspects of individualism and collectivism. Both these variables vary significantly over different cultures, some cultures are regarded as very individualistic in nature such as European cultures particular low context European cultures such as Britain and Germany, on the other hand Asian cultures such as that of Japan and Korea are regarded as cultures that are very collective in nature. Individualism in a culture implies focus on individual achievements, ambitions self and possessions, while collectivism as seen in Asian cultures implies that the combined welfare of a group, a team or a community is more important than the singular individuals in the group, and in most cases, the welfare is extended to include everyone in the group. From Consumer behavior in marketing to Human Resource Management, it seems everyone wants to understand this mechanism to get an idea of how we as human beings behave, and whether our exposure to individualism or collectivism affects us, and also our ability to adapt coming from one culture as opposed to another.
Individualism may have brought significant prosperity to the world, but had collectivism been a redundant concept it would have long died out. It's importance is still very prominent in today's world as without the pursuit of greater good, it is due to the understood importance of collectivism that even in cultures known for their individualism, human beings are put in situations where they have to work as a team or as a group collectively. Be it working in a group assignment at university level or be it in the practical world.
The purpose of putting individual human beings in a group or a team as opposed to pushing individual work is to encourage collectivism and stimulate group dynamics. In all its essence, when human beings are put together in a team, their expected to show some degree of collectivism, team work and emotional empathy towards other members of the group. Part of the purpose is to balance out the human drive towards individualism and apathy that exists in some cultures. In other words, when members of a group resort to individualism and lack of emotional empathy instead of following a collective approach, it not only serves to kill the purpose behind group work, but can result in a break down of collective effort and communication.
Breakdown in communication among groups and teams is not uncommon and has been occurring since the concept of team work dawned on the human civilization. In theory when people work in teams and groups, their differing personalities and approaches are meant to serve to compliment one another as opposed to create friction, but in reality that is not always the case. Individual goals, ambitions, targets and efforts can distort one's reality of working in a group and collectivism starts gradually diminishing. Each team has its strong and weak links, and it is collectivism within the group if approached properly that manages to make the strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, which otherwise would be nothing more than a source of friction. To create synergy within the group, a start to every collective effort would begin with understanding of what real collectivism is, and how it distinguishes itself from individualism in a team setting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Imperial Beginning

To me it feels like just yesterday, that I arrived at the South Kensington campus of Imperial College London for what was for me the start of not just a new academic year but an opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to be part of the Imperial College experience. I was to be once again in life a Post graduate student, but a first time Postgraduate student at Imperial College London. The day at Imperial for me began with a welcome talk for new Post graduate students that was conducted in the great hall, where new as well as continuing Post graduate students from the UK as well as overseas got together to mark the start of their time at Imperial.

A classmate of mine had organised an informal get together of us future classmates at the East Side Union bar which was to take place as soon as the Welcome talk concluded. Even though everyone from class could not make it to University on the first of October, for those of us who did, it was a great opportunity to get to break the ice and get to know each other in real life before our first official day of classes. Most of us were not complete strangers to each other, as our faculty, the Imperial College Business School had set up a personalised and private Facebook group for those who were confirmed offer holders for the Masters of Strategic Marketing Program. That group was really helpful and infact the real ice breaker, as that element of slight shyness and discomfort that one feels around complete strangers, ceased to be, for us it was almost like we all knew each other very well. 

Soon after, came the big day on Monday October the 3rd, our first official day at Imperial, our first day as graduate students of the highly prestigous business school. Our first day as Graduate students of the Imperial business school would be something all of us would probably remember for the rest of our lives. It was unlike any other start to the new academic year at University. Apart from the usual getting to meet our teaching faculty and getting our student ID Cards, we had a big surprise instore for all of us. It is not uncommon for universities to give their post graduate students a little gift or a souvenier to start off the year, my classmate sitting next to me was eagerly expectation some stationary, but to our surprise we got Apple Ipad 2's, all of us got one Ipad2 each. I still remember the look of uncontrolled joy and happiness on everyone's face that morning. What made us even more proud was that we were the only course in the entire faculty to receive Ipads as start of the semester gifts from the University. It really made us feel special, and made the other business school students feel extra jealous. Especially the MBA students. 

As the week progressed, a lot of energy and excitment was there on campus. The freshers week gave all of us an opportunity to learn about social and extra cirricular activities as part of the university experience catering to the wide variety of tastes and hobbies of Imperial students. This was followed by the business school drinks get together on Friday, where we met students from other degrees in the faculty, and the eagerly awaited Post graduate mingle on Saturday, which was a proper evening time party organized by the student union to cap up what was a pretty spectaculor start to the academic year. A promising and exiciting start is usually a good sign of things to come, and with that optimism, we Imperial Postgraduate students at the business school look forward to a great year ahead, a year which will academically challenge us, stimulate us intellectually and a year where in the process we all manage to have some fun as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So a Brand is Growing, what Next ?

The concept of the product life cycle can also be applied to individual brands themselves and just like the products brands themselves also make the move on from the launch phase to the growth stage of their respective cycles. The growth stage for a brand implies that it has started receiving mostly positive widespread public appeal and the brand along with its respective product is generating sales and profitability for the organization or the entrepreneurs behind it.
The widespread belief amongst most marketing practitioners and brand managers is that most organizations should adopt a cautious and calculated approach with their regards to the marketing activities that they have planned for the brand. Be it branding, public relations or integrated marketing communications, most experts recommend playing it safe especially during the early days of the brand’s growth. This is particularly relevant for brands and products that are new to the market or have just started achieving some sort of prominent growth with respect to sales and market share. In other words, they have started catching up with the competition, indicating that there is a reasonable level of brand awareness now which is triggering response from the market.
The argument given by most experts is that new and emerging brands are not able to command the same pulling power towards their products and services as that by their more established competitors. Before brands are comfortably able to take a proactive approach to their branding, marketing and public relations activities, they are required to develop their brand equity. By doing that, the brand, the product as well as the company behind it is establishing a sort of a relationship of mutual trust with their customers. Developing customer trust is an ongoing exercise, as trust needs to be maintained and fostered over the years to take the brand to the place, where it becomes a brand of choice for its desired audience. This is where emerging brands should understand the difference between and their competitors and focus on a combination of push and pull marketing strategies as opposed to being overly reliant on the pull of their products. Depending on the company’s or entrepreneur’s brand specific marketing strategy, there might be some room for flexibility and proactive measures in branding, public relations and integrated marketing communication activities can be implemented. The most effective of which would be a pro active public relations campaign, which many emerging and established brands are able to execute successfully by engaging their relevant audiences. Many brands, both emerging and established have become success stories through public relations initiatives which have contributed a great deal towards their brand equity. However a poorly executed strategy can really erode the brand value and can result in a premature decline of the brand. What companies should not forget is the importance of segmentation, targeting and positioning depending on what their brand offers. A particular brand or many brands of the some company will not appeal to each and every demographic or consumer out there in the market.
Some might argue that we must follow the market leader and its example; however brands that are already well established and have been around in the market for sometime are excluded from this approach as the markets response to newer brands or new market entrants differs from its response towards established brands and products. Established brands have strong brand equity and a positive perceived image as a result of which they sell themselves with relatively lesser effort.
Regardless of what experts might argue about emerging brands or those that are already well established, there are no hard and fast rules to branding and marketing activities and it is dependent on other variables as well. What needs to be considered are the nature of the product behind the brand as well as the nature of the market. Most markets and economies today are very consumer oriented and as a result of which most consumers have an abundant variety of choices, especially with regards to consumer goods. With the advent of private label brands, a trend now widespread globally, consumers today are truly spoiled for choices and the cost of switching brands and products has been driven down significantly. It is important that consideration be given to the socio-economic climate where the brand and its product or service offering is being made. The purchasing power of consumers in that market place will play a role in determining the success of the brand particularly if it is not a necessity and a luxury good. For example in developing economies, mid level consumer income might be significantly lower to mid income level consumers in the developed world, and what might be seen as everyday goods in a developed economy might be seen as lavish luxury goods.