Modern Molinism

Quick Read: Want a sure shot ticket down a rabbit hole? Your bet: Choice Design. So much for free will. 

Morioka Shoten Ginza is a book store in Tokyo where you wouldn’t have a problem with deciding which book to buy.

Why?

Because in any given week it sells copies of a single title. Each title is displayed for six days in a row—Tuesday to Sunday—and then swapped out for a new book.

Yoshiyuki Morioka – the founder of this “single room with a single book” concept believes that focusing on a single book would help foster a deeper relationship between a book and its reader and drive up the pleasure of reading to a whole new level.

Additionally, every evening an event is organised to discuss the book and connect its author with readers, while pieces of art that relate to the book are displayed around the store for the readers to soak in and enjoy.

Morioka-Shoten-bookstore

(Morioka Shoten bookstore: Pic Source)

Unsurprisingly this approach of ‘choice design’ combats decision fatigue and stifles crippling indecision that customers tend to face in a conventional book store set up – online or offline.

Result: An invisible hand that influences its customers’ free will, subtly leading them from a cursory browsing mindset to that of a deeper meaningful engagement leading to purchase.

One customer at a time. And one book title at a time

According to Morioka, the store has sold more than 2,000 works since it opened last year and attracted numerous visitors from all over the world. (source)

Meanwhile at the other end of choice spectrum 

A unique adventure beckons you with the promise of debilitating you with mind boggling levels of choice at every turn of the journey.

Sample this.

You’re sitting alone in your apartment minding your own business when, out of nowhere, someone bursts through your front door. So what do you do? 

ClickHole

(Source: Clickventures)

So begins your adventure that starts off on a simple note.

But even before you realise, you will soon find yourself deep down a rabbit hole staring into frustrating levels of complexity and a ridiculous set of choices being thrown at you at each turn.

And surprisingly you find it addictive!

Clickventures, as they’re called, are exercises in absurdist escalation.

Despite the apparent air of triviality around them, each clickventure is an evil design experiment that lies at the intersection of comedy, interactive fiction, game design and behavioural research.

No wonder, brands are not far behind in tapping into this space.

For e.g, Old Spice has created a wild and wacky choose-your-own-adventure social experience on Instagram with Wieden + Kennedy.

The more you click, the further you go and the more wackiness you can experience. Exactly like in the Clickventures. Try out few of them here and see who wins.

Your “free” will? 

A basic tenet of Molinism is that in addition to knowing everything that will happen, God also knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance.

It’s essentially a doctrine which attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will.

Molinism is perhaps still going strong in the 21st century. It’s just that these molinists go by a slightly different name today.

And they subscribe to a doctrine that attempts to reconcile the providence of an invisible hand (also known as the ‘choice designer’) with human free will.

Now, did I just call marketers, the modern day molinists?

(Featured Image: Quote from the cult movie The Matrix)

On Points Of View

Quick Read: Some businesses thrive by driving a singular POV regarding their offering amongst their target audience. And there are some that take pride in celebrating multiple POVs regarding theirs. 

Some elite restaurants in Japan are ichigen-san okotowari (first-time customers not allowed), meaning a regular customer has to introduce you before you can make a reservation.

The genius of this system is that it ensures that you buy yourself into a singular and a specific POV about its food, experience and its clientele if you want to be able to get a reservation at the restaurant.

Almost by definition.

And the story continues. One customer at a time.

It works because the ichigen-san okotowari system ensures that a single consistent POV gets bought into, replicated and passed on.

Meanwhile elsewhere..

A recent print campaign by Shutterstock made it to the shortlist of Clio Awards 2015 under the Print category.

As a purveyor of stock photos, Shutterstock.com wanted to celebrate the fact that an image can potentially fire up your imagiation in multiple ways.

So it brought this idea to life through the following executions.

ShutterStock_Shark

ShutterStock_Broken

ShutterStock_Baby

[Click on the images for a larger view]

Agency: Leo Burnett. Images via: Clio Awards. (HT Bhatnaturally)

A truly insighful execution that celebrates the multiple POVs that an image can inspire. As Mr. Bhat says..

The irony is that this is too close to reality. We’ve all seen how art directors search for inspiring images first and then try and retrofit an idea. Also, a visual idea which was rejected or didn’t make the cut for a pitch in one category can be adapted to a totally unrelated category. This campaign actually puts a positive spin on that.

Does your brand – and by extension its strategy and execution –  thrive on driving and sustaining a singular POV or does it celebrate multiple POVs? 

[Bonus Link: Speaking of POVs, you should check out Hardcore – the world’s first action POV film that got premiered in the latest Toronto International Film Festival to critical acclaim.  The entire movie is shot from a single POV and boy is it intense!]

(Featured Image: Shutterstock Print Execution. Source)

Convenience – With Capital ‘C’

Quick Read: Recent innovations across sectors underscore how Convenience is at the core of their offering to the consumers who are happy to pay a premium for the same. While these could have disruptive implications to traditional business formats, they too are not far behind in figuring out the new playing field – otherwise called Convenience with a Capital ‘C’.  

Convenience as a core value proposition is getting all pervasive.

And for proof of this, one needs to just look at the vending machines in Japan or the jidohanbaiki as the Japanese call them.

Japan, they say, is like the spiritual hub of the vending machines. In fact according to this CNN report, there are currently around 5.5 million vending machines in Japan, which is one vending machine for every 23 people in the country! You have them across categories spanning every conceivable kind of location.

You have vending machines at street corners, restaurants, coffee shops, toilets, even in trams and on mountain tops selling everything from canned drinks to drinks that are supposed to be a surprise till you buy them, from hallucinogenic herbs to charms, from books peddling porn and erotica to those listing test questions for exams, from footwear to bras and panties. Almost everything and everywhere!

Regardless of the amusement that these jidohanbaiki or the vending machines in Japan evoke from people around the world, the simple grain of human truth that seems to emerge out of all this is the fact that people tend to value convenience over price on many an occasion –  irrespective of the category and location. And more so in the recent past.

More recently a Japanese food company Kagome has installed vending machines at the start/finish lines of one of the city’s major running routes to sell fresh red tomatoes to the exhausted runners. The tomatoes are priced at a 280-gram bag for 400 yen ($3.80) and a 180-gram bag for 300 yen ($2.80) which is nearly 270% higher than the price at which you would have gotten it at a supermarket in Tokyo. (as per Tokyo market prices at the time of writing this article). Despite the price premium, reports suggest that these tomatoes are selling well, given that these vending machines are said to be replenished every day.

Kagome(Kagome Tomato Vending Machine. Source)

What does the consumer value here? Kagome – it appears – is not actually selling tomatoes through their vending machines, but a natural alternative to energy drinks and bars delivered at your convenience.

Let’s Take Pharmacy

Disrupting the equation that patients traditionally had with their doctors, insurance agents and drug stores, IDEO has recently worked with a startup to design PillPack. This short video explains the concept neatly.

As this FastCompany article says, PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don’t have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, refills, insurance, co-pay, ad hoc doctors’ prescriptions etc; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what’s inside when it tells you to.

Costing $20 per month for the user, PillPack’s service is an interesting example of how – despite several regulatory, legal and FDA challenges that govern drug/drug delivery –  selling healthcare in a convenient package could indeed be big business. In fact, the company has now successfully raised $4M in funding from investors and is boldly stepping up its bid to become the top mail-order pharmacy disrupting all existing players in the traditional value chain.

PillPack

Again, which business is PillPack in? Drug delivery? Or is it Convenience in medication?   

Fashion Retailing

Lamoda is an online fashion retailer in Russia. Albeit with a twist. Not only does Lamoda’s uniformed deliveryman bring the clothes that a customer orders, but he also waits for her to try them on, offers fashion advice, takes returns, and processes her payment on the spot.

Lamoda(Delivering the experience of your local store at your door step, Lamoda. Picture source)

As per this Businessweek report, Lamoda currently employs about 700 couriers and services 1.5 million active users in Russia with sales of more than 6 billion rubles in 2013 despite the logistical challenge of having had to deliver mail orders to the world’s most sprawling nation, spanning nine time zones with an extremely unreliable postal service. The fact that Lamoda looks at it as a serious bet on the business of offering convenience to its customers becomes apparent when you look at its underlying cost structure.

Reports say that despite the cost of delivery for Lamoda accounting for as much as 25 percent of an order totaling less than $1oo, the company doesn’t charge for shipping and keeps prices at the same level as in stores. As a result, its 2013 annual expenses were expected to have exceeded its annual sales. And the interesting part is this. These current losses haven’t stopped investors from betting big on Lamoda’s potential. Over the past two years, Lamoda has raised more than $200 million from billionaire Len Blavatnik, JPMorgan Chase, Kering etc.

Is Lamoda selling clothes? Or Convenience? It appears to be a moot question again.

Retailers not far behind in the new game

Interestingly the underlying theme common in all these 3 examples – Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines, mail order pharmacy business model of PillPack and Lamoda‘s clothing courier with a twist of convenience – is unmissable. The brick and mortar store as it stands today is at threat.

But it appears they are not far behind. For the first time in decades US cities are said to be growing faster than suburbs with customers seeking convenience more than anything else. So, stores like Target and Walmart are embarking on major experiments in scaling down, finding the right locations while ensuring the right formats in order to cater to this convenience seeking urban dweller.

With emerging markets rapidly catching up in spending power, with money value of time increasing for average consumers and an infinite ocean of choice to choose from in virtually every single category, convenience has already become a key differentiating factor.

Probably in a very near future, most products and services will have offerings that sell convenience as their core value proposition. Otherwise they are perhaps in the fitness industry.

(Featured Image: Vending Machine atop Mt Fuji, Japan. Source)

The Wabi Sabi Edge

The Ise Grand Shrine – a Shinto Shrine – in Ise, Mie prefecture in Japan has been preserved exactly like it was around 2,000 years ago. Despite such a rich legacy, the UNESCO has refused to list the shrine in its list of historic places.

Why?

Shinto Shrine

(Shinto priests walking beside the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan. Source)

This is because the shrine is not built of a ‘permanent structure’. The ISe Grand Shrine is built of wood and hence it  gradually loses its structural integrity over years. So the Shinto priests have a solution;  every 20 years they tear down the structure and rebuild another – in an adjacent plot –  in exactly the same specifications as the original using the wood from the same forest that the original structure was built from. Result: the shrine  is  forever new,  ancient and original! The present structure, dating from 1993, is the 61st iteration to date and is scheduled for rebuilding in 2013!

A centuries old Shinto belief of death and renewal of nature and the transience  of all things called Wabi- Sabi underscores the philosophical and artistic significance of this shrine. To quote the wiki  page ….

Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Burning Man

Further to the west, in northern Nevada US is the Black Rock Desert –  an open swathe of desert land where a week long annual cultural festival called Burning Man is held every August/September. This iconic event is described as an annual experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance – a week long celebration of extreme creativity, art, spirituality and innovation. Often compared to TED for its potential to provoke, inspire, connect, indulge or just ‘let be’, Burning Man regularly attracts stalwarts like the Google founders, Eric Schmidt, Chip Conley among many many others. But what makes Burning Man stand out as an exceptional event is the fact that it is transient by nature. The whole venue, the structures and the shelters for the event are practically built from scratch and again torn to dust without leaving a trace at the end of the week!

See below the time lapse video of 2011 Burning Man to appreciate the ‘dust to dust’ cycle typical of the Burning Man.

As Business Strategy

Transience as a method, an approach or a strategy is not just  an expressionist arts style or some exotic charm of a shrine.  It also has far reaching implications on contemporary business strategy. The June 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Rita Gunther McGrath on what she calls as Transient Advantage. She argues that  in a world where competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year, companies can’t afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. She introduces what she calls as The Wave of Transient Advantage and explains its ‘curve’ (below). Companies possessing this edge constantly start new strategic initiatives, build, exploit, re configure and if need be even actively disengage from an initiative as a means to reprioritise, reinvent and renew their approach to growth.

Transient Advantage

(Wave of Transient Advantage, Source)

She posits that the thinking in this field “has reached an inflection point” leading to an acknowledgment from a multitude of strategy practitioners that “Sustainable competitive advantage is now the exception, not the rule. Transient advantage is the new normal.”

The latest post in the Gaping Void newsletter by Hugh Mac­Leod pays an artistic tribute to this concept through this delightful piece of ‘office art’.

permanent_state

(You must subscribe to his newsletter, sure to make your day!)

Essentially from which ever perspective you look at it – artistic, personal, emotional, professional or even strategic, the ability to accept transience as the new normal, the ability to let go of the status quo to rethink, re-invent and renew our  approach forms the bedrock of the new competitive edge – The Wabi Sabi Edge.