From the discomfort Zone: Shake shake scale

Their ability to simplify, to sell an idea differently while understanding the competitive environment have helped Americans scale up business.

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published:September 7, 2014 12:32 am
american-m The attitude of egging on people to become big and global, to smile, talk and share with strangers is a very North American trait. (Source: Reuters photo)

Growthmania, the need to scale up, is the American spirit of blossoming. From business, entertainment, living style to science and research, Americans always see everything big. I learnt how important it is to design products for mass-scale production from them.
When Europeans arrived in this gigantic island since the 15th century, they got wealthy very fast. Land was free, vast forests gave them animals to hunt, wood for home building; there were many kinds of minerals such as coal and oil to extract. They overpowered the native population and became the first industrialised capitalistic society. It’s possible that because the large immigrant population combined to form one continent-like country speaking one language, the feeling of scale is embedded in Americans. For six centuries now, the world recognises ‘bigness’ to be their culture.

I was recently watching Michael Jackson’s last rehearsals for his comeback concerts in London in 2007. After his shocking death, the rehearsals became a famous documentary film called This Is It. The enormity of the rehearsal preparation is unbelievable. He had advertised for and auditioned the best dancers from across the globe, then invited the rapturous chosen ones to join him for the performance. The large scale and global dimension of this rehearsal, its high-quality routines, maintenance of clockwork discipline, hundreds of people controlling the stage lights and settings, and Jackson’s passion for perfection, are great entertainment by itself. The public would never have seen this in the actual performance. Only those present as participants during rehearsals would have enjoyed this phenomenon of the King of Pop’s gigantic practice sessions.

Another American example is of a Xerox corporation salesperson, the first from a poor Jewish family to go to college who then joined a Swedish drip coffee maker manufacturer called Hammerplast. In 1981, he was curious to know why a fledgling whole bean coffee shop in Seattle had ordered so many plastic cone filters from Hammerplast. Impressed with this client’s passion and knowledge of coffee, he joined them as marketing director the next year. On a business trip to Italy’s Milan he noted that almost every street or public square had espresso coffee cafes that people frequented for social or official meetings. Italy boasted of some 2,00,000 such cafes. Returning to Seattle, he tried persuading his employers to adopt the cafe concept, but they were not interested. Fired by the coffee retail business he totally believed in, he took a gamble to become an entrepreneur. His enthusiasm was such that even his previous employer gave him $100,000 to start business. By 1986, he raised $400,000 to open his first store and two years later bought his previous employer’s coffee shop and brand name for $3.8 million. This big dreamer is Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. He aggressively grew and expanded Starbucks from the US to 40 countries.

Just imagine how the big idea made Schultz to throw up his job to chase his conviction. Also, think of the big gesture of his previous employers to back his adventure towards global success. Is it hallucinating that made him learn this spirit of scaling up?
Now American ways have spread so far and wide that even their distance from India’s heterogeneous society is reduced. Around the corner, if you live in a metro city, is McDonald’s where, after a client meeting recently, my colleagues and I dropped in for a quick lunch. As I was biting into my Big Mac (even the name has the word Big in it!), I saw one of our team members return to the counter with the French fries I got her, and come back shaking a paper bag. That’s when I discovered McDonald’s incredible marketing localisation.

They’ve created a special “shake shake bag” for customised spicing of potato chips. A special piri piri, which means chilli in Africa, spice mix sachet and paper bag are available at the counter for Rs 15. My colleague put her potato chips, a certain quantity of the piri piri mix into the “shake shake bag”.  When she emptied the bag of chips on her tray, we saw coloured, spicy, Indian French fries. This incredibly simple localisation attracts even vegetarian Indians to enjoy American cultural offerings while creating their own spice levels. She said in Indian food outlets, they give her what they cook, but here she can adjust her spice and sauce levels the way she wants to and in a hygienic way. Isn’t this a great way to scale up by connecting with the local spirit?

Personally, with my teams from France and India I’ve been to the US several times for different works, including consumer research for farm machines to FMCG products and pharmaceutical products. After the research we’ve had consumers encouraging us, saying our work will certainly help our clients increase their business. This attitude of egging on people to become big and global, to smile, talk and share with strangers is a very North American trait. Their ability to simplify, to sell an idea differently while understanding the competitive environment have helped Americans scale up business.

Another advantage I’ve observed in the US is that people often shift residence from one state to another with no regrets of having left a home state. They seem to have no root or attachment to any state and consider one another, and any neighbour, as American. This ability to adopt the whole country as their own certainly helps as a scaling-up metaphor for business. American knowhow is to simplify any grand complex: they have outstanding customer centricity and the bigness of mind to appreciate others in the competitive world. My learning here has been that simplification and an open-mindness to bench mark with the beats enable business to scale up.

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

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