A reader’s gift

From wherever in the world I’d happened to be for my work,I never did betray you,my valued readers,by being absent on this column

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published:October 7, 2012 2:46 am

From wherever in the world I’d happened to be for my work,I never did betray you,my valued readers,by being absent on this column. Thank you for encouraging healthy debates as I enter my 4th year today of continuous writing for you. You’ve endorsed my belief in the sustaining factor; you’ve excited me with your positive criticism,throwing new ideas,contradicting or approving my writing,and narrating your experiences in letters to me. In appreciation,merci infiniment (I’m infinitely grateful).

A reader once wrote that he looks forward to Sundays. He said he and his sons read DZ which makes the paper worth preserving. You can’t imagine the emotion he stirred up in me; he actually named my column DZ! Being a creator of brands,here was my reader gifting me a branding proposition by calling my column DZ. What more can a professional designer ask for?

Around the time I wrote on the importance of self confidence in http://www.indianexpress.com/news/lack-of-confidence-can-make-you-a-fossil/880889/0,Subroto Bagchi,Chairman of Mindtree,had interviewed me in Forbes India (http://forbesindia.com/article/zen-garden/artist-shombit-senguptas-insights-on-branding/28852/0) where I’d spoken of those of us from an underprivileged background having the stark choice of self confidence or nothing. I was luckier than most as my brush,palette,colours and canvas never let me down. Among several touching responses I received on my self confidence piece,let me narrate how one reader just couldn’t eject himself from his salaried chair. He said he’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur but superb performance at his job catapulted his career much ahead of his peers. As a recognised leader,he took hard decisions and accomplished risky moves at work. Whenever he considered quitting to start his own venture,he’d experience a quick flow of adrenalin,dream big,but somehow taking a simple risk in his own life escaped his willpower. This lack of self confidence to resign gnawed at him inside,he secretly felt a coward,but publicly he was that super fast-tracker others emulated. His point was that being successful under a secure monthly salary is the killer that deters his independent entrepreneur ambition. Looking himself in the eye,his yes/no hesitations flummoxed him. He blamed our social system for his undisclosed misery,saying that nobody,not the family,his best friends,nor well-wishers,allowed him to take this risk. That echoed the Bengali phrase,“sukehe thakte bhute killai” meaning when you’re economically comfortable,why provoke a slap from the ghost? Life in the comfort zone is what the establishment encourages,he concluded,making compromise after compromise,even as your dream falls by the wayside.

From earning 500 francs gratuity every month as a sweeper instead of the French government regulated minimum salary of 3,500 francs,I got a creative break in 1976. Then life changed quickly. I changed several jobs to reach the top creative director position in 1983 in my domain’s most reputed firm in Paris. My remuneration became incredible but my dream was to be an entrepreneur living in Europe. I was lucky again to get wonderful support and confidence from erstwhile colleagues like Gérard Godard,Jose Ruiz,my favourite photographer Bernard Binette,Isabel Monod,a client from a brewery company whom we’ve unfortunately lost to cancer. In the first six months of starting my company,I divided my take-home salary by four,even though most clients paid me in advance. Self-made entrepreneurs I’d studied as role models always thrived with discomfort. Self confidence was strengthened when my company made good profit in year one,1984. In my case entrepreneurial confidence grew severely thereafter.

From personal experience I realised that confidence comes from discomfort. I’ve kept colours,brush,palate and canvas intact in my chosen consulting profession because when you bring newness into an enterprise,it’s like working on a vacant canvas. Irrespective of the country,there’s invariably resistance to giving a new stroke in the corporate canvas. My team and I often inject huge discomfort in client enterprises,and they’ve been rewarded with great business results thereafter. Sharing the discomfort process is a fabulous journey I wrote about in my book,Jalebi Management. The best part is having people in an enterprise collectively experience discomfort. Their subsequent confident leaps in initiatives take forward the subject to success.

Of course we sometimes face roadblocks. Recently an Indian client continuously pushed us to change our recommended marketing platform and design work for a certain product category they were entering into. We’d arrived at the recommendation after incorporating tremendous consumer understanding,going from city to small towns,door to door. The client had no experience in this category,yet wanted to have their way. We had to take a strong stand to not compromise,and refused to work further. We knew we’d created discomfort for them,but were confident it was the right direction for them and highly necessary to create a market rupture for getting business from a new market. After sometime the client launched our exact recommendation. Today the product is booming with commercial success,and the design got them kudos in the market. I have to appreciatively recognise that both the CEO and Chairman wrote to thank me.

This example says that when you love your profession with passion,use very rational and aspirational methods to first ignite discomfort in your team,then work with sincere market understanding,without messing about with intuition and gut feel. The client will eventually buy into the discomfort zone where the product has to bring business wins. At both individual and collective levels in Indian enterprises,people have to enter the discomfort zone to stand up to global competition by using confidence as the controlling reins. Being poor or rich does not matter here,self discomfort will show the green horizon at the tunnel’s end.

So,my dear reader,let me invite your reciprocation as I continue to consistently share new discomfort ideas with you in this DZ journey every week in the coming years.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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