Thoughts Scribbled on Paper

Scribbles on Technology, Innovation, and Leadership

Strategy vs. Tactics

leave a comment »

Today someone pointed out to me the not-so-subtle  difference between “Strategy” and “Tactics”—which I found to be very interesting and insightful. That impassioned explanation has set me thinking about a number of things that I do in the framework of “Vision, Strategy, and Tactics.” This post is just my notes, mostly put here for myself.









Strategy is a big-picture perspective of a problem and a rather comprehensive and encompassing view of what it would take to realize our vision over time. Vision is the place where we are heading to in the long term. Tactics, on the other hand, is the set of actions or steps that we take in order to follow the strategy. In the absence of vision, there cannot be a strategy; in the absence of a strategy, there cannot be any coherent tactics.

Tactics is well defined, specific, and sequential for implementing the over-arching strategy. It can vary over time, with circumstances, and in face of adversity or blocking issues; it is adaptive; it is purposeful; and it is collective. Strategy is rather immutable (but not rigid); if well thought out, it does not change either in face of unpopular or popular trends.

The more team members are involved in framing the vision and strategy, the better their definitions and execution are likely to be. It is important that the tacticians—the members who implement, execute, and deploy the sequence of tactical maneuvers—buy into the strategy and are passionate about the vision. They should understand what the strategy is and how their short-term actions align with and enable the long-term strategy.

The long-term objectives of strategy need the means that will help in attaining those objectives. No strategy can be better than its tactical implementation or execution. While strategy refers to the “what and why,” tactics refers to the “how.”

Strategic thinking requires the ability to look at the “big picture”—recognize the competitive landscape and patterns, establish priorities, anticipate issues, predict outcomes, and have alternatives in place should the necessity arise. Tactical is the “hands on” or the “doing it” part of getting the job done to ensure that the strategy works well.

Tactical interaction between two organizations is well-defined and specific, and also bound by certain rules of business engagement. The tactical actions are well understood, and the outcome of actions is clear and can be easily observed; the outcome can be predicted using tools such as game theory. Strategic interaction between two organizations is complex, and defines the rules of business engagement. The outcome of strategic interaction cannot be modeled or predicted based on the strategy itself—the outcome is always measured as payoffs of tactical interactions. However, in the absence of a well-planned strategy in place, the tactical interactions can neither be effective nor result in desired outcomes.

Are you strategic or tactical?


Rita Gunther McGarth and Ian C. Macmillan. MarketBusters: 40 Strategic Moves that Drive Exceptional Business Growth. Harvard Business Press. 2005.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. Strategic Innovation and the Science of Learning. MIT Sloan Management Review. Winter 2004.

Written by Pragyan Mishra

October 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm


leave a comment »

Mobile devices like smart phones, iPhone’s, tablets, and iPad’s, just to name a few, have made it possible to access the web from just about anywhere and anytime. As the web becomes more ubiquitous, so do these devices; people carry them around and access and interact with them often. These devices have become more mobile, interactive, and connected than ever before. iPhone’s and iPad’s exemplify the further shift towards simplicity, mobility, and connectivity of computing platforms.

One of the salient attributes of these devices that makes them so simple to interact with is touch capability. This capability is, in fact, essential for the ease of use and therefore, the utility of these devices while mobile. Touch is not only a compelling input modality for these mobile devices; it also drives new user experiences and engagement through interactivity, responsiveness, and simplicity.

Mobile and connected devices with multi-touch capabilities have become ideal platforms for gaming scenarios and increased interactivity. It has become common for users to play gaming apps on these devices in their spare time, even when they are on the go and have a couple minutes to spare. I often see people playing Fruit Ninja and Tetris in elevators , lobbies, or during lunch breaks, Traffic Rush or Angry Birds while waiting in checkout lines, Solitaire, Peggle, and Sudoku on bus and plane rides. Popular iPhone and Android gaming apps have high engagement, at times short-lived, and heightened interactivity; they are fun and entertaining. Tetris has over 100 million paid downloads, while Angry Birds has over 7 million and Fruit Ninja has over 2 million iPhone paid downloads. It is an easy choice to pay a few bucks for a game that can be taken and played anywhere.

Touch interactivity and the added bonus of portability on a device that is already used for making and receiving calls will make these games more popular on mobile phones than on handheld gaming devices. Can you slip your PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS into your pant or coat pocket? If you really wish to carry your Sony or Nintendo handheld on you for ‘gaming-on-the-go’, you should perhaps consider getting yourself an utilikilt? But, wait — are there any limitations of touch on these mobile devices?

One of the problems, and therefore an opportunity, with touch interaction on mobile devices is the imprecise or approximate nature of the input modality. The so-called `fat finger problem’ extends beyond the problems of fingers being too wide to hit the desired contact point and users not being able to see what they are working on while touching the screen; consumer touch sensors lack the fidelity necessary to pick fingertip details at the contact point to increase precision of input. Combining the keyboard and screen has brought attention to this problem; however, the minuteness of display and imprecision of touch applies to all forms of input modalities–keyboards, icons, strokes, and movements.

Google recently acquired BlindType that allows users to simply start typing anywhere and their fingertip movements are recognized and typed into text. This enables users to type without having to look at the screens of their handhelds. Swype (founded by Cliff Kushler of T9 text-completion fame) uses a similar method of dragging the fingertip to each letter on the touch-screen keyboard instead of pecking each letter out to enter text. This process of registering strokes and movements of finger tips for multi-touch devices opens up a completely new form of interaction and feedback for user experience. Touch brings in a marked change in interaction design as it actively solicits feedback.

All natural interactions require learning. If movements, either in the form of touch or gestures, can be understood using machine learning and used for manipulating inputs and results, users can express themselves interactively and progressively refine what they are looking for. This two-way learning process, whereby the interface understands the user better and the user learns to interact with the interface more efficiently, becomes a natural and yet very powerful mode of communication; any data or information can be interactively molded to fit a perceptual model that best suits the user. This interactive process will increase ‘stickiness’ because user interactions are better modeled and understood over time and in effect, users will feel much `more connected’ to the device. The process, moreover, can be made fun and engaging as in most gaming apps. Touch happens to be one of the most powerful modalities of interaction as it transcends the spatially and temporally discrete nature of the keyboard and the spatial locality of the mouse.

How can we design products and services that will engage and encourage people to maximize their productivity though experiences that are tactile, kinesthetic, and interactive?

What do you say — “touché” or “pas de touché”?

Written by Pragyan Mishra

October 2, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Design, Technology

Tagged with , , , , , ,

The Social Nature of Image Interpretation

leave a comment »

Current online image search technologies use keyword queries to fetch results from large corpus of crawled images that are primarily indexed by textual data. Text surrounding images on webpages, tags or annotations, captions are used for indexing the content in the image. This severely limits the scope of what images can be searched; images that do not have sufficient text associated with them or are not accurately described by the associated text are not indexed appropriately. This limitation, in turn, affects the quality and relevance of image search results. Try searching for a ‘striped brooks brothers shirt‘ on Google or Bing image search, or even worse a ‘green squirtle‘ which happens to be a specific Pokémon character. In fact, one can argue that the more the specificity of the text description for querying images, the worse are its results.

The problem that I am describing here is more fundamental in nature—Google, Bing, and Yahoo! search for visual data such as images using a text description or set of keywords. The underlying assumption is that the mapping from text or keywords to images is both known and accurate. This assumption, albeit a statistically significant one (text surrounding an image usually has some relationship to the content of the image), may not always hold true as observed. Tags and annotations, primarily from user-generated or annotated data, can alleviate this problem to a great extent; however, this approach is not practical and often subjective due to the disparity in user-generated tags and annotations.

Talking about subjectivity of content in images–I was recently referred to a few social bookmarking services for images such as Image Spark, Visualize Us, FFFFound!, and Picture For Me. The theme for all these websites (as eloquently stated by ImageSpark) is “Discover, share, tag, and converge images that inspire you and your work.” If you browse through the collections you will find two distinct categories of popular tags — the first category is fairly objective and content specific while the second is subjective and abstract–that depends more on the eyes of the beholder. Tags such as ‘female’, ‘painting’, ‘nature’, ‘black and white’, ‘portrait’, and ‘illustration’ belong to the first category. The second category, which is as significant and comparable in size as the first, has tags like ‘beautiful’, ‘beauty’, ‘love’, ‘funny’, ‘cute’, ‘romantic’, and ‘inspiration’ — all of which are very subjective. If you are anything like me, most of these tags will depend on your mood and to a lesser degree, on the content of an image. While the first category of tags can be ‘learned’ by machine-learning algorithms, the second category has to account for the user’s ‘mood’ or the ‘beholder’s eye’ in addition to the content of the image. This brings in the social or community facet to the interpretation and querying of images. We can build learning algorithms that will drive how we search for images based on how and what we see in images and this of course, can be learned from the likes and dislikes of the ‘birds of the same feather’ as us–the networks we belong to.

How do we make accessing image content simpler and yet more precise? How can we precisely annotate the content of an image precisely for what it will be searched for (or for what it is worth)?

To answer these questions we must first answer this —

What are our peeps looking at?

Written by Pragyan Mishra

September 4, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Five Actions of Leadership

leave a comment »

I often wonder what it takes to lead. What are the actions of great leaders? What do great leaders do on a daily basis to influence themselves and others in a positive way? I am referring to ‘actions’ as opposed to traits, characteristics, or ‘acts’ of leadership. I believe ‘actions’ instill the core of leadership and therefore, are the cause while ‘acts’ the effect.

Classes, seminars, talks, and training sessions on leadership that I have come across focus primarily on what it takes to be a good manager and not a solid leader. Most leadership gurus that I have encountered so far confuse the term `leader’ with that of `manager’. You can become a good manager by sufficient training and developing proper soft skills. You become a good leader by focusing on a few deep and intrinsic values and facing adversity and circumstances that put those values to test. Only life experiences can train you on how to lead. There are no books, blogs (including this one), talks, or training that can infuse you with leadership; they can infuse you with hope and motivation, however.

I did not come up with some 4 P’s, 5 C’s, or an acronym of actions, primarily because I am still developing the poetic skills of a rapper. Instead, I have identified five simple (or not-so-simple) actions that I can incorporate into my daily routine to help me develop the core of a steadfast leader.

Introspect – Look within to find your strengths and live with purpose. Inquire and think deep.

Energize – Motivate and excite yourself and people around you. Be positive. Inspire by example.

Connect – Build a strong sense of community and camaraderie. Communicate and relate.

Envision – Have a vision for the future. Imagine, dream, and aspire.

Pursue – Seek truth, knowledge, and insight. Learn and understand new ideas and paradigms.











In the process of thinking of these actions I realized that each action feeds another; there is a cycle of positive feedback within these five actions. This feedback works well because each action re-enforces another and over time these actions can only become habits.

When you identify your inner strengths, you are excited about yourself and your purpose in life. This positivity and energy permeates through people around you. You inspire by example and motivate people to find their own purpose and strengths. This, in turn, helps you connect with others; you succeed in forming a community through camaraderie and communication. You envision a future that is much greater than your own self and your personal aspirations. Your dreams when realized will perhaps leave footprints much bigger than those of your own feet in the sands of time.  In pursuing your dreams, you are able to open up your mind to new ideas and paradigms. Your quest for innate and intrinsic values–either in your own or new ideas, either through your own or new paradigms–helps you to seek more knowledge and insight into things. You enjoy the process of learning and applying new concepts and knowledge to solve problems. Some of the best solutions to complex problems, as I have found, are simple, in fact, extremely simple.  Pursing insight, knowledge, and the best solutions forces you to think deep and hard. You often end up looking into yourself to find your strengths and purpose; it is back to the action of honest introspection and self-realization. The actions complete a full circle, and this is what I mean by positive feedback of the five actions.

Only time and circumstances will test the efficacy of these actions.

What are your actions?

Written by Pragyan Mishra

August 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

Posted in Leadership