05 Sep 2017 19:59 IST

Managers need to be curious about a consumer's life: Harish Bhat

Tata Sons’ Brand Custodian, addressing students at SPJIMR, says research, data cannot replace curiosity

Managers in a corporate set-up are required to do qualitative and quantitative analytics all the time, sifting through mounds of data, apart from sitting in on focus groups and undertaking intense surveys. But neither data nor research is a substitute for curiosity about a consumer’s life.

“I always maintained that the best consumer insight is obtained by keeping the consumer in sight and not merely through research and data. So, as managers, you need to become more curious,” said Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of the book The Curious Marketer.

Bhat was addressing students of the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research in Mumbai last weekend before commencement of the semi-finals of the BLoC Boardroom Challenge held on the B-school’s premises. Participants from eight B-schools were present for the Mumbai leg of the semi-finals.

He said marketers and managers, in general, should be curious as curiosity is important both in their careers and life. He talked about Steve Jobs’ innate curiosity which drove him to a calligraphy class, though at that time he did not know how he would use it later in life. Years later, when he was designing the Mac, he instinctively recalled all that he had learnt in class and brought that learning to bear on the design of the fonts for the Apple range of products. Bhat emphasised that Jobs’ curiosity helped him leverage what he had observed and learnt.

Staying up to date

He also referred to the innate curiosity of Titan’s founding Managing Director Xerxes Desai, who discovered that a piece of laboratory equipment, a spectroscope, could be used to measure the caratage of gold and later proved transformational for its Tanishq brand. Branded the ‘karat meter’, the device created quite the market disruption as gold buyers could measure how pure their gold was.

Bhat said managers could develop their curiosity quotient through four or five simple methods: the first thing that is important is that you have to understand that you don’t know it all. “Particularly as you grow more senior in your profession, you may think you know everything. Eighty per cent of data available today has been found only in the past two years, so if you have not refreshed yourself in the last two years, it means you are falling out of date,” he explained.

Second, people have to seek new experiences all the time; one can’t keeping meeting the same 20-30 people every day or the same universe of relatives and friends. “How often do you go out and experience something unexpected. Go and visit museums; go out of urban centres and go to small towns, seek the unexpected to enhance your curiosity,” he elaborated.

Reading, listening

Third, managers have to read a lot as the best ideas and concepts come from what one reads; some of the best ideas may come from literature, how people have responded to situations and acted. He advised the students to read widely, from business books to fashion magazines as ideas can come from anywhere.

Lastly, he said that managers have to listen with an open mind. A paper in the Harvard Business Review, he pointed out, said that if you have to develop new ideas through curiosity, your listen-to-talk ratio should be 10:1; you should be listening 10 times as much as you talk and then there’s the opportunity to learn something. “Listen openly when others are speaking,” he emphasised.