Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fairness creams promote racism

When nearly 30% ads on Indian Television are fairness creams, it makes you wonder if we are promoting a certain type of racism in India. That means 1 in 3 ads is promoting fairness as a means of boosting your confidence and making your family/spouse proud of you. How is this short of racism towards dark skinned women?

Now that the ads have done enough about exposing the "bad effects" of melanin and dark pigmentation of skin, they are now gunning for even your underarms. (Really Anushka Sharma? You want to promote fairness of the underarms?). As it is we have matrimonial ads asking for "fair" brides. I won't wonder if they ask for fair underarms in the coming times.

I am not sure who is crazy about the fair ladies alone. Dusky ladies have their own following too. So why doesn't that translate well into our fairness-crazy culture? I can understand ads on reducing wrinkles, dark spots etc. (OK even that to an extent is belittling nature, but who is to stop those who want to look younger forever). But ads that appallingly present a background story where fairness creams can get you that prized job, that handsome groom, the pride of their parents and the attention of the spouse is sad. That too in a world where women are breaking all barriers to rise up in their personal and professional lives - the emphasis on fairness ads is shameful. To top it all, successful beautiful Indian women promoting such products coming from reputed global manufacturing companies, is blasphemous.

Even 17 year old Zooey Deschanel knew better (as she wrote in this letter to Vogue dated 1997. Courtesy: @LettersOfNote)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Building a Fearless India

Fearless India. It almost sounds like a joke, I know. But I have been contemplating on this for the past 2 weeks. That I can conduct deep contemplation in nauseating hospital hallways, came as a surprise to me. What I observed in these last 2 weeks is the cold, blatant apathy among Indians. Ironical that most of that experience is in a hospital - where you would expect sensitiveness more than anything else. 

So after thinking quite a bit I rounded off to three things to start with if you and I were to build a fearless India. This needs minuscule changes - just needs you to speak up and take small, individual actions. Because small actions compounded by the number of people who take them up, is viral. So are you ready to build a fearless India? I certainly am. And I am certainly not waiting for anyone. And please don't be cynical (even before hearing me out)

Teach "core values" at school

I think kids are taught enough garbage in school. Some textbook lessons remain same from my yesteryears (2 decades back). This is ridiculous - lessons on insignificant (so-called) leaders of India who are better known for their scandals than any other achievements, rote learning of historical events in India without emphasizing the essence behind them..

The more educated we are, the more illogical we get. If we are producing high quality graduates who later on their life show no empathy to events happening around them, then we are doing a really bad job of teaching them. You see highly qualified Indians demanding dowry, employing child labor and throwing their elders in old aged homes. What is going wrong with the Indian education system? Are we teaching the right stuff at school?

The answer is (of course)  NO

Kids need to be taught about core values - About humanity. About empathy. About treating people with all fairness, righteousness, integrity, sensitiveness, duty and respect. Indians grow up indifferent and appallingly ignorant about things around them. Because parents, teachers, elders rarely teach them the core values and their importance in everyday life. In fact this should be made a mandatory subject. 

No, not like one of those biblical stories included as textbook chapters, without driving home the moral lesson of the story. It has to be repetitive, incessant and retold again and again till it is hardwired in children - without core values we are nothing. You could be an engineer, doctor, astronaut or physicist but without core values you missed the heart of being a human. 

A lot of our society's chronic problems can be avoided if Indians could decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong and take a stand. Unfortunately this generation has missed learning about a good value system and understanding that it is the foundation of mankind.

So how can we correct it? Unfortunately this will take a long time to show results. To start with, each of us have to take onus of imbibing this in kids. Why kids you ask? Because they will be part of the next generation that will drive this country. As parents, if you go to Parent Teacher Meetups, ask the school authorities what they are doing to drive home the core values. Pressurize them to include this as part of the curriculum. If you are an authority figure in your community, pressure your community to hold such classes or workshops for kids.

Values have to be driven into kids, when they are kids. And there is no right time like NOW.

Say NO to child labor and child abuse

If you have any heart, you will say NO to any incident of child abuse or labor. The most valuable thing you can give a kid is his/her childhood. No one has a right to seize this from them. If you employ a child at home for running errands and do housework, shame on you. If you see a child employed to do the same elsewhere, then shame on you too. You are no less of a perpetrator, if you witness child labor and abuse and stay silent. If it means that you have to stand up against your own parents, you should do it. 

Without demand there is no supply. If we all take a stand about not employing children to work, their parents will be forced to send them to schools (at least to get a free meal at those government run schools). 
Even if this means you tried to tell No, no matter what the outcome, it still holds good. Be relentless. If you have to tell this a 100 times so be it. There is nothing you are going to lose. You have to speak up. This is your chance to get up and speak and save a child. It is no less of a generous gesture to that child. 

It is shameful to see educated people employing kids to work to save a few bucks. How could you? How could you do this to a kid and sleep at nights? How can you ruin a kid's life and be reticent about it? I dare you to do this to your own kids. Every child has the right to a childhood and an education. If you are a perpetrator please stop right now and give them the chance to live life.

Women - learn to stand up for yourselves

To all the Indian women - Quit whining. Quit whining to your fathers, husbands, brothers everywhere. If you cannot stand up for yourself, how do you expect someone else to stand up for you? In fact this applies irrespective of you being a woman or a man.

How many times have you been physically abused by a man in public but stayed silent? Why? Because your parents or your family advised you to stay silent and not 'get into trouble'? Fuck that. You just lost your dignity and self-respect because someone thought he could bang you in public and get away with it.
And you had to just suck it up to them. Blame no one but yourself for this. No excuse taken.

Ever wondered why North Indian women are tougher (in demeanor) than South Indian women in general? When you are in certain surroundings, you need to fight for yourself. Because let me tell you something, it doesn't need brawn (at least not all the time) to say NO to your offender. It needs your heart's courage to say no and stand up for yourself.

Some things you can do - get physically fit. It counts. It raises your confidence. It also keeps you healthy of course. So what have you got to lose? Doesn't mean you have to go spend all your income on a health club. It means you have to eat right, do some form of physical exercise and be mentally strong. Because India has a lot of nasty men who will treat you like you are nothing. And you will face them everywhere - not just on the streets but also in corporate India. You need to be ready. Always. 

Lots of studies show that offenders are surprised when a woman fights tooth and nail - without any signs of giving up. Take self-defense classes if you can. Ask for them at your workplace, schools etc. If you don't have one, take a vacation to a place where they offer. This is as important as driving skills or swimming skills. This is a life skill. Because only you can stand up for you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Bus to Abilene

Sitting in the noisy, crowded and almost nauseating hospital hallway today, I found respite in an audiobook - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop Talking.

Among the several insightful and captivating anecdotes in the book, the following struck an instant chord with me. The Bus to Abilene is a parable about how we tend to follow the first person to speak up in a group - irrespective of whether he is right or wrong in the given context. It is imperative on us to weigh the pros and cons of the initiative and reach an accurate judgement or we risk getting on to The Bus to Abilene (i.e blindly following someone's initiative)

An excerpt from the book illustrates the anecdote (replicated here as best as I could from the audiobook):

The Bus to Abilene. Any army officer can tell you what that means. It's about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day and somebody says, "I am bored. Why don't we go to Abilene?" When they get to Abilene, somebody says, "You know, I didn't really want to go". And the next person says, "I didn't want to go - I thought you wanted to go" and so on.

Whenever you are in an army group and somebody says "I think we are all getting on the bus to Abilene here", that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.

The Bus to Abilene anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate an action - any action.

Sidenote: It is quite amusing how such interesting phrases or lines refer to the state of Texas. One such line is All hat no cattle - meaning a person who is all talk and no substance (an indirect dig at people who wear hats like cowboys but may not exactly have the experience on a ranch)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dear Facebook, here's how you can find revenue

Disclaimer: This post is based off my own views and nothing to do with my employer's.

Hot off the legendary IPO and accompanying hackathon, the $100B question is where is Facebook going to find its revenue? 

Currently Facebook's display ad business is like the yellow pages - cheap, but ineffective - something that doesn't bother the advertisers that much since its negligible spending. However it will be the investors who will be bothered with the relatively negligible revenue numbers (close to $1B in Q1 2012) as against a mammoth $100B valuation of Facebook. Couple that with mounting marketing and sales expenses plus growing advertiser discontent (GM killing its $10M Facebook advertising campaign), Facebook will need lots of good luck managing investor relations.

Or maybe not just good luck. Here's how Facebook can find its revenue.

Some hard wins:

Show relevant ads

Facebook seems to show ad units at 4 distinct places right now - user home page, news feed page, brand page and logout page. Also recently, the real estate for the ads was increased (see how bigger the ads on your news feed pages now look?). But, out of the several ads (or sponsored stories as they are called) I see on my home page or news feed page, less than 5% of them are relevant to me (they seem like keyword matching with my profile page info). Showing relevant ads is an entire subject matter of its own - something that Google was and is continuing to improve on. Ads quality matters. If you really need to pick up your click through rates without hurting user experience, you need to address the issue with ad relevancy and quality.

Launch an alternative ad network

Providing an ad inventory to advertisers and publishers (page owners) is valuable and unique for the same reason that most of the data used to build this inventory lies within the walled gardens of Facebook. Facebook can (and should) in fact establish an ad serving platform and distribution network with partners and large advertisers willing to pay a premium for ads that is ripe with information about real time user activities and interactions with their social circles.

Build social search

One of the toughest calls in advertising is how do you sell to your audience and how do you reach the right audience for your product/service? Google answers these questions for advertisers relatively easy because search is a direct confirmation of user intent. User searches for something and is more likely to click on a relevant ad and advertisers are able to match their products with users who search for them. However in a purely social world, users are less likely to look for ads and more likely to socialize. 

The most important question then becomes - How do you establish user intent in a social world? Either it could be user search driven or content based (where user isn't necessarily searching but might be interested if there's a good deal/sale)

Lets take an ideal scenario where I want to purchase a camera. 

I either go to search engines like Google or to e-commerce sites like Amazon to search for camera reviews. Instead of using a search engine, I might want Facebook to show me search results for a camera based off relevant websites coupled with my friends recommendations and camera brand page (I have liked) activities all at one place. If this isn't user driven, Facebook can show relevant ads in news feed perhaps (like the ones you see currently - daily offers that friends have procured). But this has already cluttered my news feed and to balance ads and stories in my feed is something that Facebook needs to strategize to protect user experience.

Build mobile/tablet strategy

This one is especially tricky. Firstly real estate on mobiles are dramatically less compared to desktops. Secondly, user experience on mobiles present a different set of challenges -  ad placement, ad formats, ad relevance, context/location based ad choices etc. Mobile ads are still in nascent stages due to these challenges and no real innovation. This is a potential opportunity for Facebook to make some headway innovation. To monetize mobile traffic to Facebook requires thinking beyond ads. It can be as simple as showing a ticker of relevant ads, that look less like ads and more like stories. For e.g. walking by Macy's, Facebook can use my location data, activity on Macy's brand page and previous Macy's purchases to elicit a transaction or sale. To be able to do this, Facebook should not act just as an ad serving platform but also as a payments platform. There are probably several such ideas that can be effectively build an overall efficient mobile strategy.

Some easy wins:

Build engaging ads

Building engaging and creative ads will be more beneficial than traditional banner ads (Facebook needs to do more than just show yellow page ads). This will be a big win given that Facebook is the feeding ground for strong customer interactions with brands and social conversations that can be tracked and capitalized on. Hence your ads on Facebook cannot be just the conventional info type ads or rich media ads but instead stories and conversations that build on user participation.

Build advertiser tools

Data means nothing until you drive insights off it. Advertisers want to be in the know, always. They want to know not only the engagement rates, conversion rates and user reach but also user trends, activities and interactions relevant to the advertiser product/service. Analytics like these go a long way in establishing a trust and transparency with advertisers that not only inform them but also empower them to build better, relevant ads. Simple ad creation tools are not enough. Analytics and feedback are even more important for advertisers to fully justify their ad spending. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It ain't about how hard ya hit

Watching your parents wither away in front of you is more painful than you could have imagined. Suddenly, everything else feels or looks trivial. In moments like these, you want to be able to blame someone for it. When the reality is there is no one to blame. You have to just get up on your feet and face it. Because when things spiral out of control, you take a deep breath and make a choice - this is life, love it or hate it. 

Reminds me of the scene from Rocky VI. It all suddenly makes sense now.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what your worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hey India, grow some balls

I am tired.

Tired of constant lame articles in Indian media about how modern India has not changed for the better. That we still tolerate issues like poverty, unemployment, sexual harassment, corruption, racism and yada yada. And we have only grown indifferent and aloof of its effects on the society. I have grown sicker of people living in their air-conditioned homes and offices and passing remarks that India will never change and that we are doomed because of the politicians and their scandals and growing corruption. I am frustrated by people being cynical and stifling about any kind of change in India and constantly blaming politicians and government for the state of affairs. 

So you work at multinational companies in the United States and (facebook) "like" a candle light march in Delhi. Let me tell you something - you are no rockstar and made no fcuking attempt to make a change. Please don't give me a piece of your "India will never change" bullshit to me. And for fcuk's sake, stop "liking" and passing smug remarks. They do no good. If you can't make a change, quit talking a load of shit about things you have no understanding about. Zero awareness of the current ground realities in India and your ignorance startles me. Your comment on Indian state of affairs is a joke.

If you want change, you need to act. So really grow some balls.

So I wanted to run today morning. In India, being a female, I will be constantly stared at, peered at, made fun of if I even try to do some brisk walking on a busy street. So let your imagination run wild and guess what happens if I run. Like "speed" run on the road. Because given the stress I am in right now, I need to bust the stress and running is my respite.

You know what. Female foeticide, child sex abuse, harassment of women in public...what worser shenanigans can Indian girls get into? So I thought what's the big deal, give me shit. I will run here. This is my home. I am not going to let my health and happiness to spiral out of control just because some useless men on the road will pass crude gestures at me.

You know what. Bring it on.

So I ran. Till I was soaked wet in the scorching heat. 5:30 am and everyone from the milkmen to paper delivery guy to roadside tramps to servants with dogs jeer at me. Two men on scooter made a pass at me and called "Hey baby".  To which I yelled "What's up bro?". He probably didn't get me but I could easily see the surprise on his ugly, hideous face. Yes. Bring it on. Just because some random street guy "hey babied" me I am not going to go home crying to my parents and then whine about how India needs to change. Next time he stalks me, I will be ready with a dragon kick aimed at his ugly face.

So if you are an Indian female who wants to really run on a street, go figure. Don't give me the stupid excuse that you can't because few men are going to harass you verbally or give you the looks.

No excuses. Don't tolerate the status quo. Crush it. 
Three words to you - Grow some balls.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Chosen One

Life is beautiful. 

The moment you learn to accept that, it becomes very simple. It becomes clear what you want in life. Every time something bad happened in my life, I whined, I cried and complained - "Why me?"

What I didn't understand is - Yes, it is me. It is me, for a reason.

Today, I am facing a similar situation. I am fighting back tears. I am fighting back the urge to curse and whine and panic. And to make this situation simple and beautiful, I ask "What worser could have happened?".  And I hear in reply - "A lot"

A lot worser can happen. Take any misfortune in your life. And look at what happened after that? You treaded over it. Granted the journey was painful. But you excelled. You lived. You swam back and didn't sink. You emerged. You now understand it was in the grand scheme of things for you.

Why is it important then to think about life as beautiful? Because when misfortunes happen, you wished that you had cherished your life enough before the misfortunes happen. Because memories are what will take you far and make you strong.

The moments you are living right now are not ordinary. They are special. They are beautiful.

Stop and notice and thank someone or something today for making your life beautiful. And then guard those amazing moments for the rest of your life.

It takes courage to be happy about everything. And you my friend, are the chosen one.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What is your Prime Directive?

In the Star Trek television series, the captains and their crew were bound by a prime directive:

Do nothing to interfere with the natural course of a new civilization

Prime directive is an important safeguard and a guiding principle to support a mission. Prime directive must be simple (yet profound) to understand. It must empower you to take critical decisions swiftly.  It must encapsulate, in a short pithy sentence, the wisdom to make choices and focus on driving the mission.

Southwest Airlines' prime directive is it is a "low fare airline". This empowers their employees to forgo serving a chicken salad in favor of continuing to offer low fare (without compromising on existing quality)

If your mission is to create great software your prime directive could be reliability and robustness of the software.

If your mission is to become a great leader, your prime directive could be conducting yourself with integrity

If your mission is to generate more traffic to your website, your prime directive could be asking yourself - what value do you bring to your site visitors?

If your mission is to become a valuable employee, your prime directive could be how indispensable are you to your company?

If your mission is to have lasting, meaningful relationships with your customers, your prime directive could be proactively defining their needs and delivering high quality customer service.

If your mission is to become the best parent, your prime directive could be becoming your child's best friend.

So define your prime directive today and every time you pursue your mission, ask yourself if it aligns/distorts your prime directive.

So what is your prime directive?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

How to find your passion

My straightforward answer to this is - Step out of your comfort zone.

Check this definition of comfort zone on Wikipedia. It is simply defined as an anxiety-neutral condition. Really, is it that simple?

"It's possible to be excellent at anything, but nothing valuable comes easy and discomfort is part of growth." - Tony Schwartz

The moment you make up your mind to switch it a bit and step out of your comfort zone, that moment will be the most anxious and also the most challenging moment of your life. Anybody can operate within their comfort zone. In your comfort zone, you aren't flexing yourself enough. You are entering into a routine. You are safe, secure and not in the spotlight.

The moment you switch outside your comfort zone, hell breaks loose. You curse, you regret, you wallow in anxiety. What is going wrong? Your resistance kicks in. Your body revolts against everything as if there were signs of threat. Your amygdala is reacting. You immediately enter into a fight or flight zone.

So what is really the problem here?

This simply means you are scared. Scared of uncertainty and change. And yet time and again, it has been proven that you achieve greatness by plunging into uncertainty and embracing change. Your ability to adapt to this change will brand you as a game changer. There is no winning or losing in this scenario. There is only experiencing. 

What you experience and what lessons you learn shape your personality. You are learning about yourself.

You cannot be passionate about something, unless you try something and learn about yourself in that process. Life is exciting when it is challenging. Step out of your comfort zone, as often as possible and you will see what sort of a superstar you are. (Of course, expect a lot of failures too, but that will only help you to narrow down your list and scratch things off that you aren't passionate about!) 
Believe me there is true value in this. This is the first step (a lonely one though) towards finding your passion.

And what led me to write about this topic?

This week I had a class to attend. (See the negative connotation I use? "had to attend")
This class was about how to be best at facilitating/training people in a classroom setting. Hardly the kind of subject that interests me. To be honest I went in with the attitude of learning nothing. In fact, a couple of us mocked the subject of this class - "This class is training about training, huh!"

However, the instructor surprised us with this question at the beginning -

"How many of you are here because you are a prisoner or a vacationer?"

Prisoner - because you were forced to attend this class by your manager
Vactioner - because you just wanted to get a break from your desk work

Of course, I didn't answer this one (I want to be in the comfort zone, my mind screams). I thought I was somewhere between the two. Partly prisoner and partly vacationer. I was surprised though, by the unexpectedness of this question.

To make stuff even more unexpected, the instructor had clandestinely planted random post-it notes under the tables that read "Lucky You". Towards the second half of the class, she asked us to stick our fingers under the tables and find it. And who else but me was the first "lucky one". 

(Now that I think about it, I was lucky :-) Hardly what I thought at the moment though. Let me explain.)

So as the "lucky one", I was supposed to think of a topic I can speak about in 4 mins (yes, she timed us) and then deliver it in a 1 minute timeframe. 

4 mins? She must be kidding me, right? What can someone concoct in 4 mins time? Plus, I am not comfortable about public speaking - In a class of about 20 people, most of whom are my seniors, no way. I prepared myself for the ultimate doom. This is going to be embarrassing. My mind went into the fight or flight mode. By the time I could suppress these thoughts, 4 mins was up. I am in deep shit, I thought.

So I just walked up to the front with the most pretentious smile ever. The instructor was also recording me on my phone (right, keep a record of my own embarrassing moment. How thoughtful of you, I thought)

The next 1 min felt like I was being pricked by needles, like some sort of acupuncture, but not in a relaxed way. I was being "watched" by some of the best authoritative and charming speakers at work. (Believe me, I am always in awe when my manager speaks. She's like the Lady Steve Jobs).

My reflexes kicked in and then 10 seconds along the way, I thought - This is ridiculous. I work with some of these people. Hardly anything to be intimidated about. This isn't a "deliver the best speech or you will die" kind of a situation. And so I quickly conjured up something to talk about while talking! 

And then it was feedback time. I was on the "hot seat". Mostly encouraging and constructive criticism from all corners. "See it wasn't that tough", I thought.

And now I know what things I suck at. I have always known that I am good at storytelling, in writing and not while speaking. My speech delivery has a lot of inflection points and my body language is awkward at times (I shift a lot while talking, but that is because I want to energize myself while talking). 

This is amazing, how much I learnt about myself. Giving speeches might not be my passion. But storytelling, definitely is. 

I have a choice. I can just slip the whole experience under the rug or feel disgusted about this and do something. And just the thought of being intimidated by public speaking is very disconcerting to me. I am going to get over it. Speak more often, and improve each time. Who knows, I might be the next best storyteller, in speech :-)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Difference between the Janitor and the Vice-President

Came across this article on Fortune Tech on How Apple works. I continue to be awed by the stories written on Steve Jobs. Amazing how one personality can set the culture for not just a billion dollar company but also for commoners like us. This story (published as part of the article) is so insanely simple but profound in its message - Being responsible for something is not just owning it but being accountable for it and never having to make excuses.

So exalted is Steve Jobs that often he is compared, metaphorically at least, to Jesus Christ. (Exhibit A: Alan Deutschman's revealing 11-year-old book, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs.) True to form, the shepherd to his Apple flock often teaches in parables. One such lesson could be called the "Difference Between the Janitor and the Vice President," and it's a sermon Jobs delivers every time an executive reaches the VP level. Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn't have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. "When you're the janitor," Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, "reasons matter." He continues: "Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering." That "Rubicon," he has said, "is crossed when you become a VP."

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Story behind Gatorade

Half way through the book Reverse Innovation and I am so tempted to continue reading. Except, there is a such a world where reading is not all what you do :-)

This book has got me hooked primarily since the author speaks on a theme that I completely believe in. That is, innovation is not bound to happen in only rich economies but in fact, it flows uphill from the developing to the developed world. Either organizations are blind or they simply don't want to take risk, if they disagree with this concept. And that is why it is so important that such a well-researched book built on real world case studies and practical strategies to leverage this trend, should and must be one of the books in a CEO's arsenal.

Right from Mohammad Yunus's Microfinance concept to Mahindra & Mahindra establishing themselves as world leaders in tractor manufacturing manifest this serious belief. 

And an interesting excerpt about how Gatorade came to be because of a discovery that took place in Bangladesh, is eye-opening.

Excerpt from the book:

Gatorade. It is as American as baseball and apple pie.

Its 1960s roots can be traced back to the sun-scorched University of Florida and its football team - the Gators. Oppressive heat and humidity led the team's trainers to seek better ways than water alone to quickly rehydrate players. They turned to the school's research labs, which came back with a concoction of water, glucose, sodium, potassium, and flavorings. The tasty cocktail sped the replenishment of the electrolytes and carbohydrates that players lost through sweat and exertion.

Even before it became an actual brand, Gatorade got a nice marketing boost from the coach of Georgia Tech. Asked how the team had lost to Florida in the 1967 Orange Bowl, he lamented, "We didn't have Gatorade."

It is a great story, and it is wonderfully fitting for an American icon. But there is an interesting missing link, one that leads back to events far from Gainesville, Florida.

Earlier in the 1960s, there were epidemic outbreaks of cholera in Bangladesh and elsewhere in South Asia. The key to keeping cholera patients alive was simple: keep them hydrated.

According to Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer of PepsiCo (which bought Gatorade in 2001), Western doctors who went to Bangladesh and elsewhere to help stem the epidemic were surprised to discover a centuries-old treatment for the severe diarrhea caused by cholera. The concoction included ingredients such as coconut water, carrot juice, rice water, carob flour, and dehydrated bananas. At the time, Western medical opinion held that putting carbohydrates in the stomachs of patients suffering from diarrhea would cause cholera bacteria to multiply and the disease to worsen. "Yet for thousands of years, this was the normal treatment used in Ayurvedic medicine", says Khan. "By giving carbohydrates and sugar in the solution with salt, uptake was quicker, and patients rehydrated faster."

The success of the treatment was covered in the British medical journal Lancet and made its way to a doctor at the University of Florida. The doctor saw a common problem in the need for rapid rehydration. If such a treatment worked well for cholera patients, it would surely work for healthy football players. 

The Gatorade story was unusual for its era. It ran counter to the dominant innovation pattern. Innovations typically originated in rich countries and later flowed downhill to the developing world. Gatorade, by contrast, swam against the tide. It was a reverse innovation.