BBD CEO Summit – Dev Patnaik

Dev Patnaik is from Jump Associates, which apparently sites between McKinsey and IDEO. He is the author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

Dev (pronounced Dave) started with the announcement of the Sony PS2, which Microsoft saw as a genuine threat to the PC, and so launched the Xbox program. This was going to be a culturally difficult thing to do, and so they formed a team and gave them a complete mandate. The team loved to play video games, specifically games aimed at more mature audiences. They were males, loved violent and male dominant oriented games, and so developed the XBox to be able to play these. Their signature game was Halo, which was sold out for weeks.

They adopted the same skunkworks approach to respond to the iPod, and delivered the woeful Zune.

Dev and a team dg into this to discover what differentiated the two programs. The answer was captured in a quote – “The biggest challenge with Zune was trying to figure out who we were building it for. We XBox we knew those guys – hell we were those guys.” The Zune relied on consultant reports and data – and failed.

Patnaik sees three sources of innovation – empathy, creativity and execution, with the latter two pretty well covered by business literature. Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes, and we have that instinctively individually. However we generally lose this when we work in groups.

He uses Harley Davidson as an example company that gets this – with HD motorcycle parking prioritised over cars and other bikes. They refer to their customers as riders, and are riders themselves. (This BMW rider suspects that most US HD riders simply ride to the coffee store and spend most of the time with their bike cleaning and polishing it. But riding is so much better than not riding, and as one HD salesman cleverly said to me once “there’s a Harley Davidson in everyone”)

Nike has a similar approach, with each sport-oriented department decked out in the appropriate attire, the names of the meeting rooms reflect the sort and so on.
The blur the line between outside and inside, think like the people who are their customers. The surround themselves with information from the outside world but are often not great at research or very touchy feelly. (I 100% agree here – its far better to be the customer than to try to understand the customer. On the flip side don’t try to do something you know nothing about – go out and hire and be people who are genuine fans).
Empathetic companies have the intuition to feel a vibe, gut sense to take action, passion to take a leap, courage to stick with it and clarity to make decisions faster.
Delta Airline executives live near their main airport, get their flights booked by an assistant, get driven to the airport through a special hole in the fence and greeted on the plane with a drink. They don’t understand customers as they are not living the same experience. They have to commission expensive reports, endlessly discuss them and so on before realising intellectually (forget about emotionally) that they suck.
Many companies (in the US) have become impersonal, focusing on the powerpoint decks and not on the world around them.
Why not hire customers? Customers have to appeal to multiple types of people, and over time even former customers lose touch, while they will miss the emerging threats. (Entertainingly Harley Davidson is an example of this – and initially got whacked by the Japanese bikes). The Wii was a good example of a product that attacked a part of the video game market that formerly didn’t exist.
To become a empathic company requires that you

  • make it easy (avoid creating extra work),
  • make it experiential (no powerpoint); and
  • make it everyday (a habit).

He uses the example of Jetblue founder getting on flights, sitting with the punters and working with the crew. (Standard practise these days it seems). The best way to lead is to model the behaviour you want. Skip meetings and go outside to be with customers and your products, and conduct meetings outside. Target executives often conduct meetings in their and competitor stores. The office environment is a reflection of the company – so change it and you will change behaviour. Higher ceilings create more formality, lower ceilings less formality and more honesty.

He likened California to New Zealand, similar climate, remote and so forth, but with a created mythology to live to. (Remote, hippies, gold minters, coders). Is this a design challenge for NZ – what is our narrative? He believes we need to actively craft one.

He finished with the payoff – that you’ll realise why it all matters.

A great talk, a great speaker and excellent content – read his book. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

Published by Lance Wiggs


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