Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Transitions in Life

Transitions are like the rainbow which appears after the storm (courtesy of pleem1983)

Everybody goes through transitions every now and then. Some are overjoyed by the experience. Others become truly terrified. These transformative phases molds and metamorphoses one, changing one either in a positive or a negative manner.

Transitions are the rites of passage which marks the end of one stage and the beginning of another. They are the indistinct stages of limbo, where one grapples with issues of identity and self-worth, while gearing up for a new role in life. Like the refining fire of a goldsmith, they can be hot and bothersome. However, they do lead towards a fresh understanding of what one's goals and values are, making one see better in the long road of life.

Transitions can be straightforward and easy. Or they can be muddying, confusing and ill-defined. Sometimes, what may start out as a straight and well-lit path becomes a stroll through a meandering path full of pleasant diversions like wild flowers, singing birds and babbling brooks. However, they are an absolute necessity in one's journey in humanity.

What are some of the transitions in life? They are phases which mark a distinct change in lifestyle - births, marriages, deaths, promotions, new jobs, new homes, new degrees and so on.

Some transitions can be celebratory, like the joyous cheers in a wedding dinner.

Others can seem catastrophic, like the silent sobs of a sole breadwinner losing his livelihood.

Have you experienced a recent transition in your life? How do you manage the changes that it mandates?

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Four Rs of Winning Businesses

Competing in a crowded marketplace requires the 4 Rs (Shinjuku courtesy of William Bullimore)

What are the most important ingredients in any successful business?

Is it the ability to stimulate Recognition deep, far and wide, penetrating into every household (or organisation) in the land?

Is it the ability to foster close and positive Relationships with one's customers?

Is it the ability to create Remarkable products and services with exciting new offerings that captures the imagination?

Or is it the ability to Resolve the headaches and issues that one's customers face?

I believe that the best organisations employ a mixture of all four Rs. Here's why.

The first R seems to be the most obvious in any business. To gain the trust and respect of potential customers, you need to generate some degree of awareness and recognition amongst your target audiences. Your customers need to know who you are, what you stand for, and the quality of your products and services. Of course, not every company needs to have a brand that is as pervasive as say Microsoft or Coca Cola, but you still need to strike some form of connection with your customers in order to get them to loosen their purse strings.

The second R is certainly a key dimension in any business as it is often the heart rather than the head which ultimately makes buying decisions. Clever businesses know that the key to future profitability lies in fostering a close and enriching relationship with one's customers. Maintaining and enhancing customer goodwill will help to generate positive word-of-mouth effect - a key marketing strategy in this day and age of advertising clutter.

The third R is an inevitable necessity in today's hyper-competitive marketplace. With such a wide range of product and service offering available in almost every imaginable category, businesses must constantly rejuvenate their product lines to meet the needs, wants and desires of their customers. Just being good enough isn't sufficient to win this war.

The fourth R is probably the one that promises the greatest returns for businesses who care enough to make their customer's lives easier. Unfortunately, many business transactions impose a major pain on their customers. Just think about how credit cards insist that you provide a photocopy of your payslip after completing a complex form, or of hire purchase agreements that are full of legalese while you fill them up in triplicate copies. Simplifying things for your customers can be a tremendous step in improving repeat business. It would be even better if you can help them to solve their problems in reaching their customers.

When you think about how you can improve your business, consider the 4 Rs - brand Recognition, customer Relationships, Remarkable products, and the Resolution of customer problems.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Avatar is so Awesome

Courtesy of OfficialAvatarMovie

By now, probably half of the world's cinema going geeks would have watched Avatar, James Cameron's latest mega blockbuster featuring blue-skinned 3 m tall aliens battling robot riding humans in a tropical moon. With a huge budget of close to US$500 million, Avatar is one of the most expensive Hollywood productions to date, and initial box office results look promising despite the relentless wintry snowstorms in the Western world. There are many excellent movie reviews available on the web, so I wouldn't bore you with yet another critique of its hits and misses.

Let us look instead at some of the ingredients which Avatar has applied that led to its successful opening and made it such a huge global rave.

1) Be patient as good things do come to those who are willing to wait. It took James Cameron 15 years to produce this blockbuster, from the writing of the script way back in 1994 to the premiering of the movie in December 2009. Rather than compromise on his movie making standards, James waited till the 3D rendering technology was sufficiently developed before filming and developing his movie. This was necessary in order to ensure that the CGI characters employed in the show looked sufficiently realistic to wow the audience.

2) Focus on the few things that matter. Unlike other more prolific film makers, James Cameron was only known for a few big movies like Terminators 1 and 2, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic. With the exception of True Lies, the other movies were all huge hits, and lesser film makers were unable to repeat his success formula when helming the franchise films like Aliens and Terminator.

3) Be a perfectionist and never settle for anything less than the best. As a stickler to detail and a self-proclaimed "control freak", James Cameron is probably one who never let a hair (or spine, in the case of the alien monsters) fall out of place. He was relentless in ensuring that every step of the movie making process fell into place, and that every scene is memorable. Such zealousness helped to ensure that there is coherence in both the huge things and the small, itty bitty details.

4) Never neglect the art and science of storytelling. What I like especially about James Cameron's movies is his attention to the plot. Unlike other film makers who go so overboard on special effects that they neglect the main premise of a visual tale, Cameron puts in sufficient story elements to grip the attention of movie-goers who are after more than just a non-stop slugfest.

5) Use your imagination - to the helm! Few people can argue that Cameron's Pandora is one of the most well developed alien worlds modern cinema has ever seen. Paying close attention to every detail - from the colour and shades of the alien beasts, right down to the foliage of the vegetation - the make believe world was painstakingly rendered every step of the way.

6) Believe in your ideals and don't be afraid to be moralistic. I know that there were several critics who chastised Cameron for his overly simplistic way of portraying environmental degradation in the movie, or the values of its holier-than-thou heroes. While being ambiguous about the moral direction of a movie may win critical acclaim from the "auteur" class critics, the man-in-the-street may actually prefer to root for the side which he is most familiar with. Cameron's depicting of a handicapped hero is also laudable as it shows how one can triumph against the odds despite facing significant difficulties in life.

7)Invest in an avalanche of marketing! I think this is probably the most evident "secret" in Cameron's arsenal. With a whole army of marketers and publicists doing an entire barrage of marketing strategies and tactics - previews, reviews, script leaks, stills, trailers, advertisements in all channels, blog posts, forums, distribution channels etc - Cameron has it made in cornering the market. Naturally, one must have deep enough pockets to do so, and obviously he managed to find the investors who believed enough to splurge.

Are there other secrets to Avatar's success?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

6 Ways to Strike Gold at Sovereign Hill

One of the great things about the award winning outdoor museum Sovereign Hill at Ballarat is the amount of activities that one can participate in. You can either dig for gold, pan for gold in the river, ogle bars of gold in sheltered comfort, experience how miners lived, or frolick amongst "denizens" of a former gold-mining town in the 19th century. While not all that glitters is real gold - for obvious security reasons - one can be fairly assured of having a glowing and goldilicious good time here!

Our first stop at the Gold Museum brings us face to face with the 4.4 kg, $250,000 Goldasaurus, a huge nugget of pure gold.

The many uses of gold beyond jewellery and coins.

The famous story of King Midas immortalised in a diorama at the Gold Museum.

Wonder how they made those huge bars of gold? Well, you can visit the gold smelting works here.

See that red hot cup heated by the furnace? The man just poured out liquid gold onto a block below.

Lucky girl! (too bad she can't bring it home though)

Where there's money to be made, us Chinese will naturally gravitate towards them. This Chinese settlement shows how East Asians have settled as far away as Ballarat way back in the 1850s to participate in the gold rush.

A Chinese temple was the place to ask for blessings from the gods and deities prior to one's dig.

A little shop selling dried foodstuffs in a gold mining settlement.

After all that viewing, one can get into some action and start panning for gold.

These tourists are all hoping for a free ride home. I can't help noticing how a large majority of them were Asians. :)

Onwards to more exciting Indiana Jones adventures at the Red Hill Mine!

Our host explaining to us the history behind shaft mining as well as its dangers.

After climbing down a few flights of stairs, we were greeted by these "miners" (done through Pepper's ghost effect) excited about discovering a huge vein of gold.

The final stop is at the gold mine tour which was a fascinating 45 minute experience down under.

This began with a descend into the inky darkness of a mine through a "mining car".

As we trudged through the dark, we spotted these outcrops of gold.

Our guide explaining how this gun-like drill helped to remove quartz with flecks of gold, which resulted in many miners inhaling tonnes of that unhealthy stuff in their lungs. The sound was also deafening. A miner's life (which was often short) sure was hard!

A final ride on a mining train which felt a little like the Indiana Jones theme park ride at Disney, albeit without the animatronics!

This wood-fired engine powered by golden flames help to drive, moving the huge pistons and turbines through superheated steam.