Oct 1, 2016

Artistes, terrorists & aam aadmis

We've recently seen a lot of noisy debate about Pakistani artistes working in India. I feel the quality of debate has been rather low - one set of people saying 'all Pakis are our enemies' and others like Bhai saying 'artistes are not terrorists' - both rather silly ways of looking at things, trying to over-simplify a complex issue and ignoring some basic realities. I offer my two bits here.
Arnab & the patriotic brigade are asking the question 'Why can't people like Fawad Khan make a statement condemning the terror attack on Uri, when they've had so much to say about Peshawar, Paris, Orlando etc.'? I think that's a rhetorical question and the answer is rather obvious. Those attacks were terrorists vs. innocent civilians. Of course, everyone condemns that. In Uri, it was an attack on our soldiers. According to Pakistanis, the attackers are Kashmiri 'freedom fighters', and an attack by them against 'oppressive' Indian forces in Kashmir is perfectly legit. There's just NO WAY any true pakistani is going to condemn it, and it's stupid of us to expect them to.
The other argument is that we Indians condemned the terrorist attack on a school in Pak, and they should reciprocate. Again, that's comparing apples & oranges. That was terrorists vs. school-kids and teachers. But if, say, some Baloch rebels attacked & killed some Pak soldiers (and I'm sure there would've been such instances recently) - how would we Indians feel about that? Would we express sympathy & solidarity with the Pak soldiers? I'm not so sure.
It's also equally stupid for their supporters (especially some of the entitled & selfish bollywood types) to pretend their silence means nothing or offer arguments like 'they can't speak against their govt cos they're worried about the security of their loved one back in Pakistan'. This latter argument assumes that these pakistani artistes agree with us in the first place, and would speak against their govt if they could. I don't believe that is true, and some bollywood types are being too generous with the benefit of doubt, their judgment probably clouded by selfish and/or commercial interests.
Now, I'm not arguing who or what is right or wrong. Ideally - all violence is wrong and we should all condemn it. But things are complicated in the real world & shit happens. We all take sides. Let's just accept the reality that these artistes are, after all, Pakistani, and they have a certain perspective on Kashmir that we disagree with. We're not on the same side on this matter, and the difference isn't going to be reconciled anytime soon.
Once we accept that, we have to address the more pertinent question - what kind of relationship we want to have with them? Are we okay having them sing and star in our movies, and achieve success in adulation in India, knowing where they stand vis-a-vis Kashmir & other bilateral disputes? What kind of relationship do we want to have with Pakistanis in general? Let's debate THIS, and please let's do it realistically.
I, for one, am not for being friendly with Pakistanis. My father was in the Indian Army, and served in Kargil. I grew up in army cantonments. Some nice people I knew got killed for no reason I could find acceptable, and I refuse to get over it. I'm not blaming Fawad Khan. I'm not saying he's a terrorist. But he's a pakistani, and unless he says otherwise - it's fair to assume what he (and pretty much all pakistanis) feel about Kashmir & bilateral disputes with India. Their support to the other side is costing India lives, and I refuse to be friends with, or a fan of such people, and certainly don't care to offer them economic opportunities at our own cost.
Some intellectuals also try to distinguish between the Pakistani state, military and ordinary people. Some even argue for us to think of pakistani artistes or cricketers differently. I think that's mostly nonsense. Yes, all Pakistanis probably don't have the same level of animosity to India or equally dangerous intentions. But when you start discussing serious issues, there isn't much doubt which side they're on. The government is elected after all, and the military enjoys massive popularity. When push comes to shove, nearly all of them would want to hurt us, and most won't hesitate to support action that destroys us. Already, the amount of damage they've caused and continue causing on the border and through terrorist attacks in our cities is at a level a self-respecting country shouldn't tolerate. It isn't going to drop if we keep pretending everything is hunky-dory and going out of our way to be friendly with people who support it at any level.
I accept that this is a rather emotional stand, and can't defend it with purely rational arguments. There are some good liberal arguments against it. But a lot of these rational/liberal arguments would only be valid in an ideal world. We don't live in one.
Many Indians may not agree with me - each of us lies somewhere on the spectrum between idealist/pacifist and extremist/fundamentalist, some leaning one way and some the other - and this too probably varies for different issues and over time. It's ok. In fact, it's a good thing to have forces pulling in opposite directions to ensure we don't ever get carried away too far either way. We shouldn't start believing all pakistanis are bad people and our mortal enemies - that's not true. Fly Emirates often and you're sure to meet some very nice, civilized, helpful ones! We should also avoid war-mongering or any unwarranted/extreme action (especially violence) - we should remember who we are as a nation and why we're proud of it.
The people on Arnab's debates ARE going too far in one direction or the other. Let's restore some sense, please.

Dec 14, 2013

About Brand Value

Lately, I've been involved in a lot of shopping. That's made me think hard about brands and brand value. In this piece, I write down my thoughts and opinions on the subject, based on my own experiences as a marketer as well as a customer. People have written entire books on the subject, so this may be a long post!

Like all good consultants, I've come up with my own framework to analyze brand value. And in keeping with marketing tradition, I use 4 P's


Product
The word 'brand' derives from the Old Norse "brandr" meaning "to burn". Originally, a brand was just a mark used to denote who the product was made by. It translated into an origin, and associations of quality and specific attributes. This remains true even today - a bar of soap branded Dove contains moisturiser, is gentle on the skin and is made by Unilever.

These associations are built over time, and are based on the characteristics of the product and its performance. These, in turn, can usually be attributed to materials used & specifications, and knowledge & skill of the producer. This is always true of both goods and services to various degrees. A good TV uses high quality components to deliver good picture & sound quality, and you need designers with good understanding of user needs and available technology to deliver a product that has popular features, and good manufacturing processes to ensure it works well for many years. I buy certain brands of shirts because I know they use high-quality cotton, don't fade after a few washes and retain the stiffness & shape of the collars, cuffs etc. because they use high grade materials. Restaurants are a service business, but even in this case you need good, fresh meat/produce and skilled chefs, friendly waiters etc. to succeed. 

Any compromise or gap in materials/specs and/or producer knowledge/skills directly affects product performance and eventually brand reputation. Marketers sometimes lose sight of this and focus all their energies on building brand image, running campaigns, communication etc. - and don't pay enough attention to the product itself. This is a recipe for failure in the long run.

As an example, I had considered the Asus 'Transformer' line when I was buying my first tablet, and again recently when I was looking to upgrade. On both occasions, their products had great specs - processor, RAM, screen resolution etc. - and offered a few unique features at a very competitive price, which was enough to get into the consideration set. However, both times, I read several buyers complaints about defective units, dead pixels, light 'bleed' at the edges of the screen. Clearly, their manufacturing process isn't as reliable as Apple's or Samsung's, and their quality control is also weak. No matter what the marketer does now, I'm not buying. They need to fix the product quality first.

Another example I'll quote is Energy Drinks. I love and admire the brand Red Bull. But when I'm in the UK, Relentless is available to me. With its 50% juice composition, it just tastes far, far better than Red Bull - and is healthier too. No matter how many F1 championships Sebastian Vettel and Adrian Newey win, I will drink Relentless because it tastes much better. The superior product wins.

Pleasure
In this day and age, we have greater production capacity than demand for most products. Consumers are spoilt for choice, and they demand - justifiably - a good end-to-end experience all the way from seeking information about a product (websites etc.), to buying it, using it and getting it repaired when something breaks down, and disposing of it when the time comes. Apple's products succeed because the whole experience is a pleasure at every stage.

When you think about resellers like Croma or cleartrip.com, the product you're buying is the same (an appliance or an air ticket) but you prefer buying it through these stores/sites because it is an enjoyable experience. Needless to say, brands that aren't present where you prefer to shop risk losing out on a potential sale. I book my movie tickets through a 3rd party website which offers me discounts. The same with travel. Cinemas or hotels or airlines that aren't listed on my preferred website mostly lose my business, regardless of what else they've done right.

Marketers must realize their job doesn't end with creation of demand and shipping volumes out the door. They must engage with the customer at every stage of the brand's life. They must have web-sites or catalogues where customers can get information about their products when they're evaluating purchase decisions. The product must be available on the shelf (or site). Using the product must be a good experience. I want to be wowed by performance, durability, features I didn't previously know about, and by prompt service whenever I have a problem. Makemytrip.com has almost displaced cleartrip.com as my favorite travel booking service by sending discount coupons for airport transfers when I book a flight through them. And Google are masters of the 'pleasant surprise' with things like Google Now. On the other hand, I am unlikely to buy Sennheiser products again because a set of earphones I had broke a few days after the one-year warranty ran out, and I didn't find their customer service very helpful. I will avoid such experiences in future, and those brands have negative associations in my mind now.

We also must recognize the importance of shared experiences these days. People have always talked about products they've owned with a few others, but now social media have taken this to another level. In my earlier example of Asus Transformer, I made a decision based on reviews posted on Amazon.com by people I have no direct link with. For almost every significant purchase decision these days, I check the web for customer reviews first. I see how many people have bought the product, what is the average score, the proportion of unhappy buyers and read the 'most helpful' (based on other readers' votes) reviews - both positive and negative. Buyers can be very well-informed these days, and if you don't keep them happy, they will hurt your brand and your business. Conversely, happy customers will sway others towards you. Brand loyalty (experience) is no longer the holy grail, you want to achieve brand advocacy (pleasure).

Pricing
I believe pricing must be rational and fair to everyone involved - the buyer, the business owner/investor, and all their employees.

You must have heard the adage - quality comes at a price. As I mentioned earlier, a good product requires good ingredients and skills to produce. Good distribution and service networks, committed staff etc. that provide the pleasure also cost the provider money.

A product's price must be such that it covers the costs incurred to produce, distribute and service it, and the employees committed to producing good quality, innovation, customer satisfaction etc. must be able to pay their bills and lead happy lives. In the West, a lot of people don't buy cheap items produced in sweatshops by exploiting poor workers in less developed countries - and I agree with this. Finally, business isn't charity - the investors/shareholders are in it for profit, and they deserve good returns on their investment if they're helping you meet a need. If I'm happy with a product, I should be willing to pay the fair price.

This is one of the reasons why I don't generally support duplicates/knock-offs. If P&G spent money on research to come up with the optimal formula for detergents, and a retail chain copies the formula and sells a similar 'private label' product at a 20% discount, I wouldn't buy it. It's not fair, and if P&G stops investing in R&D, we will not get better products in future. The same logic holds for premiums charged by talented designers for clothes etc.

However, the producer must try and achieve efficiency for their costs, and not waste any of the money they get from their buyers. I don't generally buy products from Indian PSUs because I know most of their employees don't work as hard as their counterparts in the private sector, and tax-payers money is wasted to subsidize both the employees and the customers. It is not fair to expect the buyer or the government to pay the price for your inefficiency. You must get a grip on your cost structure.

Also, some brands command premiums that are just plain ridiculous, and they do this to maximize earnings for a few wealthy investors. Sometimes, these decisions are driven by greed, and sometimes by conceit and an over-developed sense of their worth. E.g., I recently saw a leather belt in a Gucci store that carried a price tag of Rs. 29,000 ($450). I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I carefully counted the zeros again because I wasn't sure I had read it right the first time. Now, I can get a similar belt in the adjacent Louis Phillipe store for about 1/10th the price. Whatever Gucci is doing - maybe they're using higher-quality leather, investing more in design (although this was just a strip of leather with a plain buckle, so I don't really see the value-add, but maybe there was something there a more discerning eye would see), maybe they're providing a better store experience, some prestige (more on this below) - it can be worth some premium, but this is crazy. The fact that some people have the disposable income to pay such an amount for the product, and the amount adds a bit more to the obnoxious wealth of a talented designer - for me just drives home the realization that we live in a world that is far from fair and where a lot of things just don't make any sense.

Thankfully, in most cases, pricing needs to make sense. In a south-east Asian country, we've seen a brand of cola drop from near-monopolistic leadership to a distant 3rd position in terms of market share in less than a decade. People still love the brand, but in times when the economy is tight, they drink others that they feel offer much better value for their money.

Pricing can also lose you a lot of business. When I bought my last TV, I had planned to buy Samsung. I expected the price to be a bit lower than a comparable Sony, but was surprised to find it ~25% higher. Sure, Samsung had introduced voice and gesture based controls and a few other gimmicky features - but in my mind, the Sony was better value for money and I bought that. I will keep this in mind when I'm considering a Samsung product in future and not just assume they're reasonably priced.

In short, the marketer should consider the alternatives available to the buyer and their prices. So should the buyers!

One of the trickiest cases is Pharma. While I agree that they must be compensated for their R&D expenses for inventing break-though drugs and avoid buying generics, the duration for which they try to hold on to patents, the tricks they use to block competition, and the way they try and squeeze dying patients for every penny they're worth and sometimes more - appears to cross the line and smack of greed. I feel this subject needs needs more critical discussion to arrive at a solution that's fair to everyone.

Prestige
There is no getting away from the fact that the brands you are seen with reflect on you, and people make judgments based on that. As a Punjabi, I understand this all too well!

A lot of the time such associations can be positive. I have my wedding coming up soon, and I'd like to buy Tanishq products after seeing their two recent ads - one where they show a dusky bride re-marrying, and one where they support LGBT rights. In these cases, it's not just about the products - the brand is helping me express something I believe in, and I'm willing to pay a premium for that.

There is some prestige associated with most premium products that usually stems from a tradition of high quality, good service, innovation or uniqueness - among other things. People are proud to own Apple products these days, because they represent innovation and the very top of the pyramid in terms of elegant design and user-friendly interfaces. Others can't necessarily achieve this by matching their products or pricing, and this enhances Apple's brand value. Creators/managers of brands must keep this in mind.

While low price is a good strategy when you're dealing in a commodity or aiming for volume leadership, keep in mind that it limits your profitability and also your future profit growth potential. Even if Micromax launched a smartphone tomorrow that matched a Samsung Galaxy in every way at a lower price, a lot of people still may not buy it because the brand is considered cheap, associated with lower-grade components, imitation of other's innovative features and its prestige value is negative in this category.

On the other hand, I'm sure the buyer of the Gucci belt feels some pride about owning a Gucci product, and I'm sure Gucci is reaping the benefits of the prestige associated with their brand. However, I feel the price premium in this case crosses the line from prestige into obnoxious vanity, which can hurt a brand in the eyes of many potential customers.

A case in point would be imported goods with high customs duties, such as cars and perfumes in India. If you want to spend good money of Davidoff perfumes because you just love their unique scent, I think that's fine. However, keep in mind that a bottle typically costs ~Rs 2,000 if purchased overseas or Duty-free at the airport. The appropriate prestige value is already factored in. Now, if you buy it in a mall for Rs 4,000 - the extra money doesn't go to Davidoff, but to the government which will waste most of it on hare-brained and inefficient schemes and line the pockets of some corrupt leaders. Sure, such a purchase allows you to show off your high disposable income - which may be your objective - but I would not include that in my definition of prestige. The world would be a better place without this phenomenon.

In an ideal world, there would be free trade and I'd have the choice to buy a good German car at the same price the Germans can. While the price would be somewhat premium compared to domestic brands, it would be justified by product superiority, pleasure of use and prestige derived from the brand's history. But paying high customs duties today is only a means of displaying wealth in an obnoxious manner.

Prestige is an important component of brand value, and it must be a priority for the brand manager, but it is co-created by the users/customers. So, in this case, I feel the responsibility for keeping things rational and keeping the producers in line lies with us. We need to be sensible about how much of our disposable income is spent on brand prestige versus perhaps more important things.

An example
When anyone I know asks me for suggestions for electronics/appliances, the budget is finite and no one has the time to do much research, I recommend they buy the best Samsung product available within their budget.
Product: Will be close to best-in-class, or just a notch below. Good enough for most people.
Pricing: They're not too expensive, and you're unlikely to easily get something much better at the same/lower price.
Pleasure: I've NEVER had a problem with a Samsung product, and I've used a few. LG matches them on product/price usually, but I've had problems once or twice with the units I got.
Prestige: While it won't be a source of great pride, it's certainly not an embarrassment. And I feel they have a better reputation than LG or others in the same price bracket.
I would consider this a success for brand Samsung.

Closure
One can look at brand value in two ways, and I think they're inter-linked. To the buyer, it is what they'd be willing to pay to meet a need and derive certain benefits. To the producer, it is a measure of what they can charge customers for their products/services and grow a profitable business. For things to work well for both sides in the long run, the two must be in balance. The above framework should help both brand managers and users to think about brand value in a structured manner and achieve such a balance.

I haven't tried too hard to isolate these dimensions or define everything formally because these 4Ps are inextricably linked with each other. Product quality & performance affect reputation, which in turn affects price, provides prestige and pleasure. Conversely, pleasure, pricing and brand prestige must be kept in mind while designing products. Also, not all brands have the same goals - some aim at economy for the masses, while others try to be premium and differentiated to please the discerning - so there is no 'ideal' position on any P, and every brand could have its own sweet spot within its category. One must think of brand value in a holistic manner. Hopefully, the above discussion and examples help.

Do feel free to chime in with your thoughts. I'd love to discuss various brands and adapt the framework as necessary.

Request: Do not quote/copy any of the above ideas or content without reference to this post.

Aug 3, 2013

A Life worth living. Part Tr3s.

Lately, I've seen a lot of my friends share articles about work-life balance and the 'busy trap'. Everyone seems to agree that we're all too busy these days, and it isn't quite right. Most articles are written by people who devoted most of their younger years to work, and came to regret it later and now extol the importance of work-life balance. They tend to swing to the other extreme, and don't offer too many suggestions on how one should fix the issue. I'll attempt to do that here.

This post might appear a bit preachy, and I offer two arguments to defend that:
1. Most of this is things I've learnt by reading recognized experts, whose ideas appealed to me and many others too.
2. I have a better work-life balance than most and - more importantly - I'm happy with it. That's not something a lot of people can honestly say these days.
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Most of us have heard the story about how Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and discovered gravity, and how this led to the birth of modern physics. But what was he doing at that moment? Enjoying a leisurely afternoon cuppa of tea in an orchard with a friend.

Penicillin is regarded as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of medicine. You may have read that it was discovered by accident - Sir Alexander Fleming had left an open petri-dish unattended for a while and a mould had grown on it. Why was it unattended for a while? He'd been away on vacation with family for a couple of weeks.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar claims that the Sudarshan Kriya was revealed to him while he was observing 10 days of silent introspection alongside the Bhadra river. He's built the whole Art of Living empire around it.

NN Taleb, in his book Black Swan, contends that history moves forward in irregular leaps through serendipitous discoveries made by maverick thinkers, not the endless labours of busy suits and lab coats.

If you want to come up with the next big idea or great discovery, and leave your mark on history, you're much more likely to do so in times of idle introspection. That's when you find moments of inspiration and have epiphanies. Make time, and give life a chance to positively surprise you!
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Most people will counter that they just have to much to do. Their work and other things they have to do just fill up all their days. Stephen Covey, in 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' tells us to always begin with an end in mind. Think about who you want to become and where you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years time. Define your main goals and figure out what will make you truly happy. Sort out your priorities. Then evaluate all the things you're doing today. Which ones are taking you in the desired direction, and which ones are simply drains on your time and energy? Identify the latter, start cutting your losses, and making more time for things that will matter in the long run.

It also helps to apply the 80/20 principle and the law of diminishing returns. Most people can accomplish most of their important targets with a few hours' work. Then there are activities that also deserve a good amount of time. Finally, there's the things that take up a lot of time and energy, but the pay-off simply isn't worth it. Find ways to cut these out.

The same applies to goal-setting. It's good to have ambitious targets at work that challenge you and provide you a considerable sense of achievement and pride, but one must be realistic and identify the point of diminishing returns. Hitting 50% of your target is usually a walk in the park. Exceeding it by a bit takes considerable time and effort. Trying to exceed it by more than 20% will usually sap the joy out of your life and badly affect all other aspects of it.

Covey also suggests a grid - with urgency as one axis and importance as the other. Most of us tend to deal with the urgent on a priority basis and it gives us a buzz. We tend to defer the things that are important but not so urgent. He was talking mainly about building professional capabilities in this quadrant, but the concept applies equally well to life in general.

To me, it is important to read about a variety of subjects and articulate my own thoughts on this blog. It is also important to read/watch something intelligent and witty everyday because it keeps me mentally sharp. These things make me happy and help me become better-informed and more versatile - which also greatly helps my productivity & success at work, and makes me better company. Everyone needs to find things like these to unwind, recharge and grow, and make time for them. We've all heard the saying 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' early in our lives, but seem to have forgotten it along the way.

I'm going to talk a bit about relationships here - because they are very important and tend to be affected most directly and seriously by our time-allocation choices. We're designed to be social and our joy increases when we have special people in our lives to share them with. We also need support systems when things get tough. But meaningful relationships need time investment and nurture.

I don't have siblings and have been living on my own for almost 15 years now. I depend on a few close friends as my support system. Right now, one of them is going through a painful divorce, another one is evaluating investments offers for his business, and a third is coping with a new life in the USA. I'm happy to be there for them at these times, and they're there for me when I need them. You can't achieve this by scheduling them into the 3rd Saturday of every month, for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I don't have a family yet, but I'm sure being a good partner or parent works the same way.
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Urgency, on the other hand, is often artificial and created by ourselves by either trying to do too much, or having our purpose & priorities messed up. I lived that kind of life for a few years. My day started with paranoia about discovering a bomb in the inbox (an error in recently submitted analysis, or an unhappy client), followed by about 12 hours in the office, and ending with anxiety about the next day. There was always more to be done, fires to be fought and something to be frustrated with. It affected my lifestyle and started taking a toll on my health and general well-being. I took some time off and decided to draw some lines in the sand, and am much happier today.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of my peers already having trouble keeping their lives straight. Some have had serious health issues and surgeries, some have had their marriages break down, and some others have just become jaded and cynical pale shadows of their former selves. We're just one decade out of college, and have about 3 more to go, and responsibilities are only going to increase both at work and at home. It's way too early for people to start burning out.

Being busy is an unhealthy addiction. It gives you a buzz and makes you feel wanted and purposeful, but in most cases that is due to blinkered vision. Just think back 5 years. Most of what kept you busy then probably appeared crucial, but will likely seem almost trivial now. The same will probably be true when you look back 5 years from now.

Think about the managers you've had. Some must be busy bodies, always on their toes, always buzzing and usually quite successful. People respect them and admire their energy, but most wouldn't want to be them. On the other hand, there are the leaders who always have a calm demeanour, never get ruffled, are equally successful or more, and always leave the office in time to spend quality time with their families or pursuing other interests. These are the guys who really inspire others and get farther in life. Which one would you rather be?

We are designed to appreciate outcomes and rewards obtained by others, not their efforts. In college and at work, the hard-workers were pejoratively labelled 'fighters' and the lazy versatile geniuses were labelled 'studs'. It's because the latter found ways to achieve good results more efficiently - with lesser time and effort, and had time for a greater variety of activities and all-round development. Most people can do that by using some of the principles outlined earlier.

I feel American culture is partly to blame for the current state of affairs. Americans make their jobs their lives, and tend to equate what they do with who they are - and seem to be missing the bigger picture. We Asians are worse because we have it upside-down. Our cultures tend to measure and reward effort as much or more than outcomes. It's even a central tenet of Hindu philosophy! I personally admire European and Australian societies because of the emphasis on culture and sport respectively, and I feel that's a more holistic perspective.
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Another negative effect of always being busy is people have little time to think. I work in the analytics industry and we bill our clients based on man-hours utilized for each project, so there is a perverse incentive to always try to do more. But our real job is not to present clients with more and more information, but to help them make better decisions. Whenever I'm involved in a project, I urge the team to try and find out what decisions our analyses will inform, and try and streamline the output to help our clients make better decisions. There is no point providing more information than needed, or analysis results that are confusing or inconclusive. We should always try and do less but do it right. And then go home, play video games, chat with friends or enjoy a cold beer. I'm sure the situation and challenges are similar in most professions. People are doing too much, but a lot of it is a waste of time. They need to do less, think more and make time to live happier lives.

This brings me to the subject of smartphones and instant email. Sure, the IT revolution has made our lives better in many ways, but most of these are outside of work and related to our personal/social lives. I'm not sure businesses in general have become much more successful or better at decision-making with the advent of instant messaging. It has made all of us a lot busier, but not much richer intellectually or epistemologically (Ha, really wanted to use that big word!)

Personally, I was thrilled when I got my first company-paid Blackberry device. It was a status symbol of sorts, and I felt I had arrived. But I soon realized it was an instrument of corporate slavery. The emails followed me wherever I went all the time, immediate responses were expected, and it wasn't such a good thing at all. I still use such devices, but I don't let them control my life any more. I only check email a few times outside the office, and I ask myself 'Do I have to answer this right now, or can it wait till tomorrow morning?' Usually, the answer is that it can wait, and I put the device down and return to the TV. Life is much better this way.