Watching the Nano launch on TV yesterday and going through the news coverage in the papers today, I was struck by how this was a very clear example of the difference between ‘Response’ and ‘Reaction’, as experientially defined through the “CorporateTheatre” methodology. Standing quite unassumingly on the stage among the cars, Mr. Tata spoke very softly. He did not need to bring in any style or glamour or showmanship. The car said it all. He explained how he had wanted to give the Indian people who rode with their families on two wheelers, exposed to the weather and slippery road conditions, a car that would be safe, protect them from uncomfortable weather conditions, and which they would be able to afford. Today’s papers had interviews with auto drivers, vegetable vendors, and bus conductors who said they would like to buy the car. One person said he could take his family to church in the car. Another elderly person said he would like to buy one for his daughter so that she could drive to college more safely than on a two wheeler.
The papers also featured interviews with other well known car manufacturers. On being asked what is their strategy to compete with the Nano, one of the major players said that they would wait and see how the market reacts to the Nano and then plan their strategy.
Two very distinct attitudes are reflected here. Tata sensed a certain need. The aspiration of the ordinary man who does not earn much, who can ill afford a car, riding with his family of 4 or even 5 precariously perched on a bike or scooter, exposed to the sun or getting drenched in the rain. He would have seen, as we all have, how, when they have stopped at a traffic signal next to a car, one of the children look into the car and see a child like him or her, sitting comfortably inside air-conditioned comfort. I have experienced this in the days before I could afford a car, and known the pain when I saw my child gazing into a car and then looking away. She did not say anything. But I could sense how she too would have liked to enjoy the same comfort. Though Tata would probably not have directly experienced something like this, I am sure from the way he spoke, that he was sensitive enough to understand and caring enough to do something about it. He responded. There was a need. The need dictated a solution. He became the instrument through which the solution found its expression. A brilliant example of the well known Zen dictum of the “arrow shooting itself”. There is a target. There is a bow and arrow. The archer is merely the medium through which the arrow finds its target. Ratan Tata looked outward, saw the need, sensed the solution and went about making it a reality. And in that response there was unparalleled creativity.
(It is also to be noted here that the engineering and design competence was an essential platform for that creativity to manifest itself. Unless the archer is adept at archery, the arrow will not find the target. It is only a singer who has mastered her art that can evolve a new genre of music. It is only a painter who has mastered painting who can evolve a new style.)
In contrast, the other auto manufacturer is reacting. He is not concerned with the need. He is not looking outward. His concern is not ‘how can my product or strategy offer a better solution to the need of the end user’. It is more to do with ‘what would be the best way to make a game plan that would help me to retain market shares and profitability, or better still, improve it’, in the light of the new market dynamics and customer expectations created by the Nano launch.
Something tells me that in the long run, Tata’s large-hearted responsiveness will generate far more profitability, value, and success than the narrow self-seeking reaction of his competitor.