The Orange and the Brand of You

A story which I heard about a few weeks back stuck with me and I have pondered on it on and off along with its implications in this past few weeks.

As the story goes, back in the day – in the late 19th to early 20th century, oranges grown by different Florida planters were sent up north by train to be sold. Obviously each planter wanted to reap a nice profit for all the labor and resources put into growing oranges. But with time it was discovered that since oranges are a very homogeneous product, customers did not really care who they bought oranges from.

Some planers made a decent profit while other made little and no predictability in regards to who got the most customers existed. To overcome this, planters began  packing their oranges in crates which had art on them. With time, a dehomogenizing effect began occurring and customers began buying more into the art rather than the oranges themselves. Thus, those with the best art tended to attract the most customers. Obviously, this set off competition among the orange sellers to see who could come up with the best art.

This story has a lot of lessons and implications when looked at from a branding perspective of how sellers vie for customer attention and loyalty. But on an individual human level,  lessons exist which can key in discovering our innate talents and abilities.

As humans- for the most part – after being socialized into an environment/society for a while our character attributes tend to move towards the norm of the environment.

The biggest take away from the orange story is that people must strive to stand out. People must strive to discover their unique gifts and talents which make them stand out and which are hard for others to replicate.

Even though many people tend to attach negative connotations to the idea, each individual is a brand. The most basic branding we have are our names.  But each individuals must go beyond that and work on the brand of themselves and cultivate those positive attributes and strengths which would make them stand out and be irreplacable.

Its in doing so that we will reach our true potential and serve others and society in the process. Just like the Florida orange planters who had hard times selling oranges, our individual breakthroughs might come by when we begin working on creating our distinct brands which are hard to copy.




Self-Development and Freedom

I have no idea who you are or who will read this blog post or even come across it. But for sure you do have your challenges. They might be small or they might be big. You also also might have issues here and there with your perceived self image which you project and try to fit in and act according to expected social molds. For the second one, some might have no issues at all with that while for the first everyone to some degree or the other has to tackle. These challenges are what makes us human and part of the human experience.

I’m totally convinced that everyone – all 7 billion people or so on earth – has a some hidden talent. Yes, no two talent are equal or even need comparison; some talent might be more phenomenal than others.  But sadly, only a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction will ever true reach their peak potential and discover their talents.

I believe that too many will never reach their potential because they are too preoccupied with acting out expected social fads and norms while ignoring themselves. Time spent trying to fit social molds is time not spent trying to truly understand who you are and working on your gifts and talents.

Everything from for social expectations to  mass and popular culture to the media and even the educational system is geared towards distracting people from stopping for a second to try discover who they truly are and what they are capable of.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that we are social beings and we all find ourselves in social settings in which we must interact with a larger body which has it norms. In fact, interacting with a larger social body is critical to discovering who we truly are. For example, even if an individual discovers  they have a proclivity towards playing musical instruments, it takes time to become professional. A quick route to becoming professional is by interacting with larger groups or individuals who are better at such and can give guidance and training.

Furthermore, trying to fit into expected social molds can be more a drain on your energy than attempting to discover your hidden talent. For one, bothering about what is expected of one at times involves being a first rate mind reader. Its not that hard to see that it takes less time and energy to read your own mind than other peoples minds.

Putting more focus on on who you are and what you are capable of truly frees and makes you a free person. It frees your from being preoccupied with the burden of thinking of what others think of you. It frees your actions from becoming robotic and reactive. It frees you from unneeded drama and trouble in your life.

Ultimately, to truly discover who you are and what you can contribute to the world, you must be free. For its only in freedom that people have the fullest arena and scope to act and try new things which would allow them to fully discover what they are capable of so they can fully flourish and reach their God-given potential.



Paying For Networks

The networks we belong to can bring a lot of benefits and change the course of lives and reduce unnecessary hurdles when trying to achieve different goals. Furthermore, networks can be of great help in times of distress and need as one can tap into such rapidly in order to get relief.

By the nature of networks, networks tend to grow faster as they expand; the bigger your network is, the bigger potential it has for growth. But to expand and fully utilize networks, it takes very conscious and persistent curation.

For as long as has been recorded, networks have played a decisive role in society and are nothing new. But in modern times – especially with the rise of the internet and its powerful networks effects – networks have taken on a new dimension. No longer are networks predominantly  constrained by geography; such barriers virtually don’t exist anymore.

For example, with the help of a Facebook group or any other platform-based group driven by the internet its networks effects, networking and collaborating with people on the other side of the globe on very complex projects is now common place. Furthermore, people, have the ability in some cases to fine-tune their network preferences using algorithms.

But one aspect of networking exist which some people might not be comfortable with but which has brought massive benefits into my life. That is paying to get into networks!

In a way this might sound like paying for friends. But its not, especially when such networks are used as leverage to reach professional goals. Such networks are usually win-win for everyone. Just as much as I have met a lot of people who have helped me out, I have also been of help with people and in many cases given them references which have been of help to them.

Also, most internet based networks on say Facebook tend to have a cluttered feel which makes it hard to efficiently keep up with whats going on in such groups. But the most exclusive a group is, the easier it tends to be to communicate with every one in the group and keep up with everything going on.  Furthermore, such groups tend to be able to classify its members according to their interest and needs with sub groups.

In deciding if such an approach is for you or not, a number of things have to be considered.

Think about the value which would be gotten from a network over a period of say one year, two years, five years, or ten years.  Then think about how much you spend each month on things like Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks each month and compare that to what you pay to be such networks each month and also the value you get from a network over a defined time period.  Coming up with a monetary tag value is not an exact science and different people would use different metrics but such values are only meant to be ball park estimates and act as a guide. Furthermore, try and estimate how much the network is worth. Then compare all these values to how much you pay to be in that network. I can assure you that if used efficiently, value extracted from such a network will far outweigh cost by a lop-sided margin.

We live in a time of unparalleled connectivity which could act as a catalyst for unparalleled human flourishing.  But human flourishing starts with each individual trying to reach their potential by serving others. In order for each person to reach their potential and serve others, they need to grow and nurture their networks on which they would coast towards their goals.




Understanding the Goose Which Lays Your Golden Egg

Last December I was speaking to a classmate from college who works for a large aerospace company here in the southeast.  As expected, we discussed what we are currently up to life. He inquired more about what iTruck is and how things were coming along with iTruck at the time.

The very fact that I am trying to create something and working an idea impressed him. But in that exchange he made a curious statement which stayed with me and which I have pondered on and off in the past few months. He said I am probably the only person he knows who is trying to build something and who did not follow the conventional college-work route.

Last month,I attended a community service session with an organization which works with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in a part of Orlando. Part of the program involves  teaching the kids how to make business ideas reality. At the end of the session, I stayed back and had a chat with the management and those who put the program together. One of the ladies involved made another curious comment which stuck with me and even had a greater impact. She said that as someone who grew up in the suburbs you would think the concepts of business ideas curation/formation should not be strange to her. She then went on to say it was through working in such a setting that she really got any first exposure to such.

The picture given by the media and popular culture is one of millennial’s (think shows like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and “The Social Network”) who are risk taking and entrepreneurial. But the story which is seldom told is that compared to other generations this simply is not so. Factors ranging from skyrocketing students loans which force many to put off  taking such risk so they can pay down their debt,  to the ludicrous and immoral occupational licencing laws which protect industry incumbents from new entrants, to even changes in the the culture in regards to risk taking and commerce among wide swats of millennial’s all come to play.

Yes, not everyone will be an entrepreneur or cares about business. But its in society’s self-interest to maximize the number of people who can be entrepreneurs by removing all barriers. After all, the bulk of new job creating and innovations and technical advances come from entrepreneurs and startups.  One does not really need to think hard about what the future hold for a society which is not creating opportunities fast enough to meet the hopes and expectations of the population. In fact, one only needs to pay very close attentions to a lot of out big cities to see that this dynamics is already playing itself out.

Furthermore, when society is less exposed to people who create opportunities and lack any understanding of what it takes,  it creates the potential for social instability.  Such opens the door for demagogues and opportunist to portray the actions of a few bad apples as the norm.



Means Towards an End

Working in the tech space, I come across a lot of  ideas for using technology to solve issues which I feel overshoot and miss a point of the role of technology. Two examples off such which come to mind are proposals I have seen for using technology to solve housing shortages in some American cities and using technology to solve public sector corruption in some developing nations.

Tech startups and technology companies are no different from all businesses which have been formed in the past 2000 years. They all aim to serve some pressing consumer and social need and do this by figuring out how to use whatever resources are available at the time. Towards this end, understanding the target consumer market and bidding for the resources to create value for them is key .

Tech startups and technology companies are no different in this fundamental regard. Their success depends on their ability to identify a need, identify who their customers are and validate or invalidate all their assumptions,  and bid for and deploy societies scarce resources in meeting these needs.

But all that differs with tech startups and technology companies is the means used to meet these ends. In their case, they use cutting edge contemporary technology to meet such needs. The fact that they use advanced technology does not relieve them of the task of understanding who their customers are and figuring out how best to serve them.

Technology does not magically create market demand or conjur up consumers!

Statistically,  tech startup failure is in the 90% range. Yes, many of these ideas are more high risk than tested and known ideas and industries. Thus, a high level of failure is part of the game. But  a lot of this failure might have a lot to do with a lack of not appreciating that technology is only means towards and end.

An appreciation of this insight would help in reducing waste of resources which have alternative uses.  For example rather than investing millions of dollars into using technology to reduce housing shortages in some American cities, the solution could be as simply as repealing zoning and land use laws in some of those cities. And rather than doing the same to tackle chronic public sector corruption in developing nations, the solution could be as simple as massively reducing the size of the public sector.