September 01, 2012

Book Review : Velocity By Ajaz Ahmed & Stefan Olander

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-06-2012)

As Seth Godin says, a trapeze artist can never succeed if he cannot let go his rope to get to the next one. Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander carry forward this idea in Velocity. Ahmed is the founder of AKQA, an award-winning creative agency, and Olander is the vice-president of digital sport at Nike, and they come together to translate their extensive experience in the digital world into seven laws for any organisation to be successful. Written as a conversation between the two, this book would help any entrepreneur, decision-maker or innovator in streamlining their thought processes.

The central premise rests on the adage: "If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got." The authors present why innovation is important in today's rapidly changing and challenging business ecosystem and how it is mandatory for survival. Richard Branson, in his introduction, says that change is often seen as a threat, but to an entrepreneur it is oxygen. Ahmed states how AKQA embodied this spirit and transformed  into a big company with a clientele that includes Nike, Heineken, Volkswagen, Fiat, Audi, XBox and Virgin.

The book cites many product successes and failures to demonstrate the importance of innovation, vision and perseverance for an engaging customer experience. Though the laws might sound axiomatic, the authors cite several instances where organisations have gone wrong in taking calculated risks. Examples include firms such as Borders, which missed the digital revolution and ended up filing for bankruptcy, or Segway, which tried to be the harbinger of the next revolution in personal transportation and failed. Emphasising on doing rather than on just thinking about an idea, Ahmed casually remarks, "Don't tell me you are funny, tell me a joke".

Marketing and advertising also figure prominently in the book. The authors emphasise that "being cool" comes with offering well-designed, interesting and indispensable solutions. Technology is only an enabler, and it helps aid imagination in offering customers simple and intuitive solutions. The many channels of customer engagement should not interrupt customers, but offer them a nice memory of the product.

No book on innovation can exclude Apple. The authors do discuss the indefatigable spirit of Steve Jobs and Apple's employees who have always offered great customer experiences. They discuss how ‘convenience' does not feature in the vocabulary of Apple and beauty and simplicity are a standard.

This book can also be called a successor to Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, with a lesser intensity. Though it is noteworthy that Gladwell is probably the best storyteller of our generation, Ahmed and Olander have done a good job of keeping the reader tuned in and sharing their insights, observations and enthusiasm for the digital world in a jargon free language.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-06-2012. This review and other book reviews for BusinessWorld Magazine by me can be accessed here.)



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