Going Live!

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

I am happy to announce that Janus Thinking is now offering its first free webinar. The webinar’s title is, “Are you Really Serious when it Comes to Diamonds?” The webinar is an attempt to put together answers to questions I am constantly asked about. You can have flair of those questions when you visit Janus Thinking’s Facebook page. I was mainly asked to comment on three topics, general knowledge about diamonds, value and prices of diamonds and “blood diamonds”. While I might not cover all the questions I was recently asked I believe that the answers and discussion would be interesting and look at those questions from a novel angle.
The webinar will be of interest to all of you, whether diamonds are your topic or not. We will discuss issues such as marketing, luxury and behavior as well. You can send requests and questions prior to the webinar either by commenting here or to workshop@janusthinking.com.
Here are the details. The free webinar will be held on Tuesday, October 22nd, 20:00-21:00 Paris time, 19:00-20:00 London time, 2 PM- 3 PM New York time. Please register even when you cannot attend so I can send you a link to the webinar’s recording via email.


Please, click here for registering to the free webinar. Don’t forget to invite your friends as well.


Christopher Columbus estimated the globe to be smaller. However, even when we live nowadays in a global village we still did not succeed to cover over the time gap. I had to find a compromise between Europe and the US knowing that the gap of time is five hours or more.


I am looking forward to meeting you in two days.



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God does not employ accountants

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Last week a friend of mine, Cristina de Azevedo Rosa, shared with me a very interesting presentation of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen named “How will you measure your Life”.



Christensen claims that we all look to succeed in our lives. However, the way we measure this success in life is flawed for three reasons. Firstly, we tend to invest in immediate achievements that in many cases stray from our values as humans. Secondly, this measure is quantitative. Since we cannot grasp data in detail we tend to aggregate it. If we run an organization, for example, we cannot grasp the notion of the individual and we refer to people who work for us as “human resource” – we aggregate the data to render it meaningful and manageable for us. Thirdly, we are comparative creatures. We cannot measure in absolute terms but in relative ones. Having more money than the other or controlling more people are some of the indications for success.


However, how useful are these yardsticks for measuring success in life?  Christensen asserts that God does not employ accountants. In other words, when we are going to face God at the end of our lives these measures won’t help us much. Firstly, our short-term achievements will be reviewed for their long-term benefit. Secondly, God does not employ accountants or statisticians for aggregating the data. He is able to address each individual encounter to assess success without losing the overall sight. Last, God measures in the absolute – God is not relative.


Consequently, Christensen suggests us to measure our life along measures that can be used when we will encounter God. Is this going to happen? Using Christensen’s arguments I doubt very much. We tend to cede long-term great goals for short-term perks. Secondly, we are human and cannot grasp large data bases – we need to aggregate them to render them sensible and last, as humans we cannot think in absolute terms – we need to compare and contrast.


Is there another way to live life worth living? How should we measure it? Allow me to suggest two measures, pointing to the trap Christiansen fell into. The first is the pursuing of achievement. The question is whether what we call achievement can be considered as such by Him. Is our myopic, narrow and relativistic view suitable for clearly defining what true achievement means? Jewish sages posit that we will not be measured for what we achieved but for our efforts to get there, regardless to where we arrived to at the end of our life.


The two other flaws that Christiansen point to form my second measure which is a measure of leadership. We tend to measure the degree of leadership using measures of comparing and contrasting. When comparing we check people along their relative hierarchical position. When contrasting, we check people along the type of the issues they deal with. Are they deal with strategies and policies or do they deal with the individual. We tend to see the leader as the one who deal with what we consider important and fundamental issues ceding the mundane ones or delegating them to others. Leadership is grasped as being responsible for other, more important issues.


Fortunately, I was educated differently. My masters who were and are grate leaders never closed their doors to anyone. Many of them created fundamental changes that made the world look differently thereafter but at the same time each individual, being a small child or a public figure found his place by them, got their empathy and care. They did not change the issues they dealt with; they just enlarged their scope of responsibility. We do not need to wait for our meeting with God for finding out how to measure our lives. Having these two measures in mind – investing ceaselessly in progressing toward our goal and being truly responsible can turn our life into something worth living for.

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Happy New Year

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Tomorrow evening we will celebrate the Jewish New Year.  This is a moment of reflection at what we achieved in the past and what our plans for the future are. Looking back to where I was last year I am happy to see how plans start to take form, how fuzzy ideas start to get shape and I am looking toward the coming year with enthusiasm and with hope in the coming weeks we will be able to start participating more using various means, deepen our understanding of us and the world around us.


I wish you happy New Year. Let’s hope that the coming year would bring to all of us health, wealth, prosperity and enjoyment.



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What is your on-going discussion?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

I had an interesting experience last week. We are currently working on a webinar that will help people to shake off their intimidation when dealing with diamonds, that would enhance their confidence and help them dealing with diamonds in a joyful manner. This is pretty interesting concept that we were testing in the last few months. When we finalize the technical details I will share it with you, hoping that you will join me on this webinar.


We didn’t have problems with the concept or with the content of what we offer. We tested it on dozens of people in different group setting and they were pleased with what they got. We knew the reason for the intimidation. In a nutshell, the customer’s concern is an equation with three unknowns. He has to find a product which he totally does not understand about and offer it to someone, suiting her taste, while relying on someone who never met the lady who is going to get the diamond ring. Moreover, even when and if the jeweller finds the right diamond, the customer would propose  the jeweller’s choice of a diamond, not his. It is always a pleasure to speak to people and to see how their eyes lit even when we only empathise with their problems. And you have to see how happy they are when they start to see how they can solve these issues.


However, publicizing the webinars was a challenge. Advertising is joining an on-going, already existing discussion and introducing something new. My basic assumption was that people who come to us did already some research and went through what the industry calls “diamond education”. After all, it is enough to check on Google “how to buy a diamond” only to get over 346 Million entries. Most of this education is about the 4C’s of the diamond (Colour, Clarity, Cut and Carat). I can share with you that knowing the 4C’s won’t take anyone too far. It is like providing a partial list of ingredients instead a full receipt of a dish. Therefore, people were still intimidated and frustrated because they did not know where next to head. They wanted to expose all the ingredients and to learn how these are put together to make the final dish.  My conclusion was that the on-going discussion should be the frustration and the intimidation of the diamond customer.


I was overruled. “You should offer a webinar that explains the 4C’s”, I was told. Of course, during the webinar I could and should go beyond and further explain how to proceed but the on-going discussion of the customer was what the 4C’s were and there where I should start. It sounded strange to me that people would commit to a specific time and pay $25 to listen to an expert when they can get similar information on the internet for free and when they want. However, as I finished the discussion I was asked in one of the forums exactly this: “what are the 4C’s of the diamond?”


Coincidence? I don’t know. Nevertheless, it is clear that in spite of the abundance of information people still go to basics and what the 4C’s are is the on-going discussion. The interesting question is why is it so? Why aren’t they happy with what is available on the Internet? Why isn’t their on-going discussion taking a different shape? I can assume but can you, the potential customer, tell me why did not you move your discussion further?



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We Need a Soul

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

After more than 4 years of manning the US State Department conflict diamond desk, Brad Brooks-Robin stepped down and was interviewed by JCK magazine. Apart from appreciating the very honest answers Brooks-Robin gave, I was left with some questions that I could not find answers to.


Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, established ten years ago, is a structure set up to ensure that diamonds sold internationally do not finance wars or other conflicts. Countries subscribing to the Kimberley Process must put in place regulations requiring diamond dealers to buy diamonds only from known sources. Brooks-Robin considers the scheme to be effective, but believes it does not cover all aspects. Its lack of comprehensiveness was the reason the NGO Global Witness decided to leave the Kimberley Process.


However, the interview fails to address the most fundamental question. Is there any evidence that diamonds finance wars or other conflicts? Was there a raison d’etre for such a huge bureaucratic mechanism to start with? Everyone was mobilized for the scheme – the US government and Senate, the European Union, the Security Council of the UN and even Hollywood. Everyone went forward to protect the market from an evil that never existed.


Well, I would not say that it never existed. When the UNITA wanted to finance its war against the government, they sold diamonds on the open market, but that was a different story. Financing a body the size of UNITA means that they had to sell a lot of diamonds. Actually, the size of the smallest parcel they sold was over $1 million and the goods were openly traded. It would have been quite easy to stop such a trade, had those who were interested been willing to do so; however it seems they were not since they used the money to sell arms, which have the nasty nature of killing and maiming people.


The reasons behind creating this huge scheme were in reality different, but that is another story. Ten years later we now have a mechanism that works smoothly, though aimlessly, and everyone is happy. We have a car with an excellent motor but without a gearbox allowing us to drive it to our destination. We have a set of rules that is followed to the letter of the law, but no one cares whether they achieve anything at all.


The rules on the regulation of the Kimberley Process were doomed to be unsuitable for the needs of the diamond industry to start with. After all, how can rules dictated by someone who does not even know the industry — its strengths and weaknesses, its ethical code and its motivators — dictate rules? Listen to what Brooks-Robin says:


“I don’t understand why KP meetings don’t have a session on the state of the industry. There are too many diplomats and bureaucrats who come into the KP and know zero about the industry. […] There are too many people who come into the industry like me and don’t know anything about it, and KP meetings don’t give you much of an opportunity to learn about it.”


Well, this is hardly news. In early 2000, based on advice from Bain and Co. consulting firm, De Beers decided that the industry needs brands. Nobody really knew what brands meant or how to create them or whether diamonds can be branded at all. Brand was in the air and as De Beers said, we don’t know what this drive means either or how it will revive the industry, but we will learn together with you. According to Varda Shein, the general manager of the Diamond Trading Company – the marketing arm of De beers – about $5 billion in cash went up in smoke without selling one single diamond.


How well did Bain and Co. know the industry? These consulting firms have tools for analyzing corporations, however when dealing with an industry that is exclusively entrepreneurial, one needs different tools and rules, that are not taught in business school. I personally witnessed this when I was in business school, when I realized that I need a very healthy measure of creativity and commitment to apply what I learned to my business. At least if there is a positive lesson to learn from the branding fiasco, it is that the diamond industry is quite flexible and ready to adapt to any trend or move. Well, one cannot expect less from entrepreneurs.


The diamond industry is clinically dead. The mechanism works and its body is supported by life-support machines, but its soul – the personal responsibility for its actions – went away a long time ago. How long will it take before a true leader brings life back to this beautiful industry?

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Do you really want to see a change?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

This is the second part of my previous blog and proposes a strategic marketing approach for the diamond industry.


As in 2008, I was approached with an important question. It is easy to criticize, but are there suggestions you can share with the diamond industry about what steps it should take to pull itself out of its misery? This is an honest question and while I cannot outline a full plan here, I will draw people’s attention to some basic ideas that I think they should follow if they are really concerned with the diamond industry’s future. Actually, these ideas are basic to any marketing strategy in any industry with any offer.


  • Know your customer

Sounds simple? You’d be surprised to learn how many companies do not know their customers. Decisions are made high in the supply chain while the customer is at the end. How many executives really bother to go out and meet their customers, to talk to them and learn what’s on their minds? How many know how to ask the right questions? The old marketing adage says that we buy by our emotions, but justify the purchase with logical arguments. How many know what the emotional motives behind a purchase are? How many know how to identify those motives? How can we make a marketing decision when we do not know what motivates the customer and how we can satisfy the customer with our offer? Know your customer, figure out his emotional needs and see how you can answer them with your offer.


  •  Map your offer

This is the other side of the marketing coin. In 1938 De Beers understood that it had to create demand for its diamonds and invented the market for diamond engagement rings.  The diamonds used were relatively large and were suitable for solitaire rings. However, with the discovery of the small Russian diamonds which did not fit the engagement offer, De Beers developed the idea of the anniversary ring which used those tiny diamonds. The anniversary ring was a derivative of the original offer of the diamond engagement ring and those tiny diamonds were found to satisfy the needs typical for a couple a few years into marriage.


However, when Indians proved that they could polish diamonds that were previously considered unpolishable, nobody came up with a suitable marketing offer. The diamond customer today has a variety of emotional needs that need to be mapped. Next, the diamond stock needs to be mapped as well. Different diamonds are suitable for different emotional needs. We know about two types: the relatively larger diamonds, mainly solitaires for diamond engagement rings, and the smaller ones suitable for anniversary rings. However, we need to map the diamond stock more carefully and in detail so as to get a clear picture of what diamond is suitable for satisfying which particular emotional need. Are we sure that any polished diamond is actually a diamond that can be offered as one, once we take into account the emotional needs of the customer? Can any polished crystalized carbon be used in jewellery?


I should point out that in general, marketing offers like I’m describing are not common in the diamond industry. A marketing offer reflects the answer in the market found to the emotional needs of the customer. Answering these needs creates a “pull” effect, or true demand. By comparison, when the diamond market became totally unaware of the emotional needs of its customers and was concerned merely with disposing its wares, it created a “push” effect. The reason behind this practice is financial – pleasing the bankers and competing on supply. The sad result is that nobody pays attention to whether the customer really wants the product in the first place.


  • Know yourself

Do we have a loyal diamond customer? Most customers are excursionists who go to the jeweller for their engagement rings and disappear from the horizon for the rest of their lives.  Even when we bring them to purchase again, it takes a few years. Most jewellers act as supermarkets as opposed to carving out a niche for themselves. They sell an engagement ring today, tomorrow another piece of cheap fancy jewellery and will even replace a watch battery. However, in acting as supermarkets, they become supermarkets – providing no personal attention, no brand identity or affinity, with shelves packed with indistinguishable offers and cashiers at the end waiting only for the customer’s money.


Has anyone asked himself what he really wants to do? What market he wants to concentrate on? Many years ago I was sitting at a panel with the London jeweller Theo Fennell. Theo argued that he does not want to cater to the engagement ring market since the emotional, social and financial burden that lies on the man’s shoulder is so enormous. A representative of De Beers stood up and claimed that this approach is insane since statistics show that the market for engagement rings is the most important by far. To this Theo very gallantly offered that this woman shove her statistics up somewhere, since he was dealing with real people and not with numbers.  Theo had a clear idea of who he is and who he would like to meet. Occasionally he would sell a diamond engagement ring but this was clearly not his market. He does not replace watch batteries either.



To sum up, if we are really concerned with the future of the diamond market, we have to take three strategic steps, by answering these very fundamental questions.


Firstly, we need to ask whether there is a market out there for our product or if we can we create one. Are there any emotional needs that are worth pursuing and providing an answer to? De Beers realized in 1932 that there was no diamond market and went about creating one.


Secondly, can we satisfy these emotional needs with our products and how? Is it a single need that we need to satisfy, an entire range of needs or maybe a single need that keeps on changing its face according to socio-demographic concerns? Which of our products are appropriate for which emotional needs? What products do we still need to search for the need that it will be the answer to?


Finally, are we looking to satisfy the entire range of desires or are we interested in carving our own niche? What would this niche look alike? What do we have to know? What supply channels do we need to secure? Most importantly, how can we communicate our existence to our customer of choice?


If the diamond industry or any other industry would follow these guidelines, I think they would succeed. One of the people who inspired me most was Steve Jobs who had a clear vision and could answer these three elements of proper marketing fully. Unfortunately, it seems that Steve Jobs took his vision with him and did not leave his legacy in Apple. This does not mean that we cannot turn the diamond industry or any other industry around. After all, what I describe here is what I call luxury marketing.


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When will they ever learn?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

I was at the JCK show in Las Vegas last week. The JCK show is one of the largest diamond and jewelry shows in the world and almost everyone in the diamond industry attended either as a presenter or as a visitor. One of the highlights of the show is Martin Rapaport’s review of the diamond industry. Rapaport’s speech recalled for me the immortal Pete Seger song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” because it seems that the industry has not changed its practice despite reality continuing to slap it in the face.


Let’s start with a bit of history. Before the big discoveries in 1882 there was not a diamond industry to speak of. Upon the discovery of the large mines in South Africa, Ernest Oppenheimer and Sir Cecil Rhodes established De Beers. Their major fear was that there might be a surge in diamond supply that the world wouldn’t be able to absorb. So they offered to buy the entire world supply, and act as a buffer, releasing diamonds according to need. Of course, De Beers wanted to profit from their position but they never withheld diamonds just to create artificial demand in a typical monopolistic manner. Following the Great Depression in 1932, De Beers risked becoming insolvent when it could not sell a single diamond while, on the other hand, could not raise enough money to honour its obligation to purchase the diamond production any further.


Fortunately De Beers survived and realized that its responsibility was to create a diamond market, or to create the consumer demand for diamonds.  In 1938 Harry Oppenheimer, Ernest’s son, hired N.W. Ayer to help De Beers market diamonds. This move proved to be a tremendous success and the “A Diamond is Forever” slogan was coined, which is arguably considered one of the best marketing slogans ever.  De Beers grew based on its ability to control the diamond rough market and to sell the production according to the real demand, taking care not to clog the industry’s arteries. In the 1950’s when the Russians started to sell their diamond production to De Beers, it presented a problem since the Russian production was of much smaller diamonds. Nevertheless, De Beers successfully started to market the anniversary ring as a means for marketing these small diamonds. Prices went up gradually, but in a sensitive way that reflected real consumer demand.


Things started to change in the late 1970’s. There were many factors involved. The introduction of grading reports (or “certificates” as they are known in the industry) increased the categories diamonds were divided into tenfold. Instead of ten categories the industry now had a hundred, and each had to be priced differently just to justify the grade. In no time, prices increased dramatically, but this time the reason was different. The increase in price was no longer geared by true demand but by internal market forces. People started to speculate and with the help of the bankers the industry bought rough with the hope of selling it later at higher prices. De Beers did not want to see a diamond stockpile grow outside their control and in August 1980 they managed to cut this speculative trend abruptly. As a result, the market came to a halt and started to build itself back slowly. Manufacturing of rough, on the other hand, did not stop and De Beers found itself in a position where it had to buy diamonds without clients to sell to.


Into this scene, Nicky Oppenheimer, the third generation, entered. Unfortunately, Nicky did not have the view of his ancestors who knew that the success of De Beers depended on the success of its market of true consumers in which they had invested money and energy to develop. Instead of building a healthy consumption that would eventually benefit De Beers, Nicky Oppenheimer was concerned with his company’s success – he wanted to make money. Looking at his stockpile, Nicky realized that the lion’s share of the value of it came from a very thin sliver of the goods – the better quality. Well, De Beers could survive by creaming its stockpile and hoping for better times to sell the rest.  De Beers embarked on faulty market research that created the infamous 4C’s, promoting larger and more expensive diamonds.


Shortly before the 1980 crash, the Indian polishing centre started to grow. The Indians found ways to polish diamonds which only a few years earlier were considered unpalatable. However, De Beers effectively stopped looking for solutions for the diamonds polished from its rough. No marketing idea was introduced to promote the cheap Indian polished diamonds. This revealed the lack of basic marketing thinking in the diamond industry, which is about understanding the unique link between the consumer and its supplier. Local or international, the consumer needs to see what unique offer he gets at the retailer. However, by writing off the consumer, the focus switched to the retailer, and suppliers wondered how they could build loyalty.


Especially with the cheap Indian goods it was difficult to differentiate between supplying offers: they all looked the same and there was an exit barrier and no loyalty. These diamonds were approached as commodities where the cheaper offers won. To offset this problem, programs were created with the aim of tying up the retailer long-term, forcing them to buy goods that reflected the production needs of the supplier, but which were not relevant to the market situation. Instead of appealing to customers’ emotional needs, retailers followed typical push tactics by offering discounts and promoting sales similar to other retail sectors. With the help of De Beers, the suppliers helped those retailers promote these programs. As a result, the bigger the retail account, the more support they got as they had the ability to push more goods down the supply chain, at least theoretically.


Over time and especially when the Internet became an integral part of the business, sellers of larger and more expensive goods followed suit, turning the entire diamond market from luxury into commodity. People started to trade “paper” or “certificates” and nobody bothered to use a loupe and tweezers, the tools of the industry. To counter the price erosion, more and more programs were created. Suppliers were ready to act as bankers and extended lavish credits without knowing what they were doing, with the hope that they would manage to tie up their retail customers who would eventually sell their goods and send the money upstream. Instead of focusing on the diamond consumer, the industry looked the other way, trying to please its bankers.


Toward the beginning of the 1990’s I started to gain interest in the diamond consumer market, realizing that the reasons behind people purchasing diamonds are totally different from what the industry that trades and sells their production believes. I could not find answers to why people really buy diamonds within the industry. Nobody knew or even cared to know. The diamond industry totally lost contact with the diamond consumer.


Meanwhile, De Beers went into strategic review and came up with two results. Firstly, its $5 billion unsellable stockpile was worth nothing and secondly, it officially ceased to be the custodian for the industry. The industry which fully relied on De Beers to create its consumer market found that the captain had abdicated the ship.


Nobody seemed to care. As early as 1998 I warned whoever wanted to listen that the industry was heading toward insolvency but nobody really listened. Without much understanding of what they were doing and with the encouragement of De Beers, the industry went into branding itself just to see how $5 billion in cash and bank money, or a third of the industry capitalization, can evaporate within three years without selling one extra diamond to make up for the loss.


Meanwhile, De Beers tried to push its dead stockpile down the industry’s throat. Abdicating its role as the industry marketer, De Beers’ relationship with the market took a new turn. Companies were put into competition based on who could better please De Beers’ bottom line. Which customer had the financial muscles to purchase more diamonds long-term? Companies were not required to show that they could sell but that they could buy from De Beers on a steady basis. Most of the goods were the cheap Indian type and with bank generosity, Indians bought the entire stockpile, polishing it and creating a new unsold stockpile, this time of polished diamonds. The industry was operating completely in reverse — instead of focusing on the end of the supply chain, it was trying to please the beginning.


The industry was now at the mercy both of its bankers and De Beers, totally disregarding the diamond consumer and his needs. With the financial meltdown in 2008, banks were at a very shaky point and needed to justify the credit they extended to the diamond industry, which they could not do, and the industry started to panic and called for an emergency meeting which I attended. I must admit that I was wrong as eventually the industry survived, again with the help of its bankers.


However, five years later things haven’t changed. The industry owes $15 billion to the banks, or more than the annual cost of rough. From another perspective it owes 65% of its polished diamonds’ value to the banks and still it hasn’t realized that there is only one way to do business – by satisfying the consumer’s needs. Visiting the JCK show tells the story. On one part of the show floor you find the manufacturers, dealers and distributors – the diamond industry insiders who keep on dealing among themselves and complaining that they do not make any profit, as if living in a bubble and totally disregarding the retailers. The retailers are found on the other side of the floor, checking new packaging, software and other materials for their stores. These two parts of the supply chain do not meet.


And as for marketing, in his last slide, Rapaport had two important lines. The first was “We need marketing,” and the last one was “He who owns the customer owns the industry.” Well, Mr. Rapaport and my dear colleagues in the diamond industry, you have no marketing and it seems that you don’t care about it at all. Consequently, you do not own the customer and, according to Rapaport you don’t own your own industry.

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Why is my site unidirectional?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Dozens of people visit my blog every day. Thousands of them every month and many of them are new visitors. I know I attract the interest of many of you, even when I don’t know who you are. Sporadically, I meet people who tell me that they are faithful readers of my blog but almost not one single person cares to comment, to argue or to question.

Why should it be this way? I know that I sometime raise provocative ideas but do they need to be even more so to cause you to react? Janus Thinking has its twitter account @janusthinking and its Facebook account – https://www.facebook.com/#!/JanusThinking. I explicitly asked people to “like” the page simply to be able to get the statistics I need (I need 30 “likes”) but did not get there so far.

Trying to invent myself is difficult. Please use any platform, my site, Twitter or Facebook account to comment, ask, question or just express your opinion. I need your reaction.

I know that I am not alone. I have a friend who knows a thing or two about social media but complains that he does not get much of a reaction from his readers. Well, many of his customers are from the ultra orthodox Jewish community who wish not to expose themselves on social media. Maybe this is the reason by him but I know from others who have thousands of people following them but never comment.

Here is a question: what would make you comment? You can choose any means you wish. You can send me a private message asking for anonymity which I am going to respect or you can show me examples of what works and what not in social media, explaining what makes social media powerful in your opinion. Can we turn Janus Thinking into an interactive discussion place or should I use my screen as a crystal ball trying to figure out what is on your mind?

Thank you.

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Isaac Mostovicz writes...

I would like to introduce you to one of my clients, Groopex (http://groopex.com). Groopex is a start-up high-tech company which provides integration solutions between third party software and Web Conferencing platforms such as Cisco WebEx and Citix GoToMeeting. Did you understand that definition? Well, I did not, since Groopex’s language is technical, suiting only the technical people in the organisations. So, when I was approached by Groopex, the first thing I needed was a better layman-style definition of the product.

You are most probably familiar with distance learning. Most of my studies were conducted in this manner, utilizing emails, websites and some older technology such as snail-mail, video and audio cassettes (which were considered really innovative at the time). Nowadays you can find many recorded classes online, yet there is still no alternative to a live interactive class where you can ask questions and provide comments, and where the teacher can moderate the class according to its ad-hoc needs. Here came Groopex, enabling one, with a mere click, to participate in a live class from any location to enjoy a class experience practically identical to a regular live class.

While the technology had been created and was running well, Groopex was still struggling with its marketing. I inquired who the company thought the classical client would be, and got a wide range of answers. Even with the working assumption that the product should suit universities, interested in reaching students even remotely, Groopex could not pinpoint whom to approach in the universities. Should they approach the technical staff that would understand and appreciate the technology, or should they approach faculty members who can see the potential in teaching? Perhaps the best ones to approach would be the management who could see the financial opportunity and the benefit to the institution’s prestige in this solution?

Reviewing the history of Groopex, I discovered that the company’s idea was based on one of the founders’ successful website, WebYeshiva (www.webyeshiva.org) which offers on-line classes in an elaborate way. Surprisingly, I found that the ideal class size in WebYeshiva should be no larger than 25 students, a size which allows the class to be fully interactive. WebYeshiva didn’t offer an asynchronous video of a class; rather it offered an interactive class where the teaching experience is a multi-layer one. WebYeshiva didn’t offer a second-class solution to those faraway who could not attend a regular class; rather it offered a first-class solution for studying regardless of distance.

High education nowadays has a serious problem. Students keep on pushing for easy solutions. Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University Business School related to me over five years ago that MBA students stopped reading; a must when I studied and was required to read a lot. He sounded desperate looking for solutions such as creating videos, realising that the more passive the students, the less they absorb.

I helped Groopex realize that they actually have created an in-situ solution that could be an answer to the laziness and passiveness of modern education. Instead of the failing old system of lecture, reading and some questions in class, Groopex can offer a much richer experience. Each class can be consisted of a lecture, exercises, highlighting of relevant text, using rich technology tools for exhibiting material as well as enhanced Q&A. For example, a typical MBA class at a good university can have up to seventy students. Good lecturers could interact with each student three times during a semester at the best. Further, consider those students who fret about interactivity due to shyness or fear from answering incorrectly and losing face. Using Groopex’s technology, the lecturer can broadcast the question to several students in advance to their computer screen and get several answers, some of which might be similar and some different. The students can keep their anonymity and have time to prepare their answer. Why should a student have only three chances during a semester instead three chances during each class?

This is but the tip of the iceberg, and those interested can approach Groopex directly and experience the approach that Groopex enables. However, you may ask what the connection between all this and luxury?

The answer, I believe, is simple. Luxury’s role is the enhancement of self-esteem. While Groopex would never be able to turn a bad teacher into a good one, it would definitely provide the good teacher with a modern tool-kit that will permit him to express himself in a much richer way to his students. Moreover, the students come out of this new educational experience with a feeling of enhancement and fulfilment. With Groopex we can bring back the playing experience that is so essential to learning. Students are no longer suffering but feel stronger and trust themselves much more.

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Where is the Money?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Almost a year ago I published an article titled “Value for Money?” (http://www.janusthinking.com/2012/07/value-for-money/), questioning the logic of this economic axiom. I proposed instead that we should examine an offer either along its money (cost) parameter or along its value one. This basic approach (value or money) is not only mine.

Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler, the Nobel laureates in economic sciences in 2002, already questioned the microeconomic theory that people can relate interchangeably to an item or to its monetary value. They demonstrated that the perceived value of an item actually changes. Specifically, Kahneman and Thaler, among others, empirically proved that ownership has a tremendous effect on an item’s perceived value. Observation of a myriad of domains, ranging from everyday items such as coffee beans and mugs to nonmarket items such as air quality, has shown that people value more those items they already own. Hence, when they want to buy they will pay less than what they would charge when selling the same item.

The reason behind this discrepancy is psychological. People are loss-averse, meaning that they put more weight on losses that they do on equivalent amount of gain. Correspondingly, people focus on different parameters when buying versus selling. In short, economic exchanges are not about trading money for a particular value, but about the psychology of the buyer and seller.

This modern behavioural economic view is not new. The Talmud distinguishes between money, which is used to purchase, and the item purchased, which the Talmud coins “fruit”. This view leads to interesting discussions. For example, when we borrow money, we have to pay attention to the currency we borrow in. If, in America, we borrow 10K€ Euros that we then exchange for $10K dollars, did we borrow money or did we borrow a kind of item/value that we then exchanged for money? This specifically becomes an issue when returning the loan. What if the Euro dropped relative to the dollar during the course of the loan and now the 10K€ loan is only worth $9K?
If we consider the American dollars we received in exchange for the Euros to be the money, and the Euro to be some sort of value – we only have to return $9K – which is currently equivalent to the value we originally borrowed. But if we relate to the Euros as money that we borrowed, we would have to return €10K.
Introducing the term “value” adds a new dimension, which is discussed in the Talmud as well. An item might be of a certain value to one person and of a different value to another. Hence, we always discuss a chain of value-item-money which has a different meaning to different people.

Recently, I reflected on these ideas when the new Israeli finance minister announced his initiatives for the forthcoming annual budget. One of Mr Lapid’s questions during the election was, “Where is the money?” reflecting on the enormous deficit of over $10 billion in Israel’s budget. As we read now, Mr. Lapid’s initiative is to fill the gap by cutting the budget, raising taxes or getting the money somehow. It seems that Mr. Lapid really doesn’t care where the money is going to come from as long as he can fill up the deficit. It is a power struggle and the budget cuts are based on skirting the people resisting them or not stepping on those with a popular cause. But is this the right way to go?

Having a balanced budget is important but, as we discussed, what counts are the values we seek. Mr. Lapid needs an agenda that he is building toward – even if it is simply economic growth. With a limited budget in one hand and clear values in the other hand, we can start looking for the “fruits,” or items we should spend on so as to fulfil our values’ needs.

As a leader, the task is especially difficult. Israeli society is far from being homogenous and many sub-groups have different and even opposing agendas. Nevertheless, a leader must find a goal, a flag to unify the nation behind. It is not always possible to find one common denominator, although it is possible, as we have witnessed, when going to war. However, we don’t need war to find one big goal, deeply rooted in life values, that seems worthy to pursue. Such a goal is based on values defined by Milton Rokeach as long-held, difficult-to-change beliefs. These are the kind of beliefs, which when looking back we leave this world, make us feel that our presence on earth was worthy despite all difficulties. This kind of goal provides hope and stimulates the entire nation.
I keep searching for a goal like this in Mr. Lapid’s financial program. Unfortunately, his agenda seems purely money-oriented. I do not find in it any larger goals or values. Yair Lapid, where are your values?

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