Know and Say “No”

When Leicester City went into the 2016 New Year, top of the English Premier League table, it surprised everyone, including the longtime Foxes fans, its management, the owners and some new fans like me. Leicester was almost relegated the previous season and had miraculously pulled up a “Great Escape” in their last 10 games under then Manager Nigel Pearson.

The next season, Leicester played passionate football under their new Manager Claudio Ranieri (considered to be a surprise appointment then), pulled up several upsets to climb up to the top of the Premier League, breaking all expectations, betting odds, and challenging the status quo. But as they ended 2015 on top of the league table, journalists kept on asking Ranieri whether Leicester were going for the kill, and win the league. Ranieri, with his picture perfect composure, came up with the same answer time and again. He said that he did not want him and the players to think about the Premier League title which was anyway 6 months away. He wanted to focus on getting to 40 points, which would ensure that the team is safe from relegation. He said that they never talked about winning the title, which was less important than winning the next game. Although the journalists and tabloid reporters were frustrated (and annoyed) after getting the same response over and over again, Ranieri remained calm and composed. He was perfectly aware of the significance of the feat that his team, which barely survived the drop the previous season, would achieve if they won the Premier League. He was aware that this would embellish his CV as a manager, and restore his reputation which suffered a setback a few months earlier when he was sacked from coaching the Greece national team after only 4 games in charge. Yet, Ranieri was also perfectly aware of the shortcomings of his team. He knew that the path to glory lay in getting points from every game Leicester played. So the focus had to be on the next game and not the ultimate prize. He knew how to SAY NO to what the journalists wanted him to say. He knew how to SAY NO to his inner desires, and I am sure, that of many players, the management and the fans. He could do that because he KNEW LEICESTER’S LIMITS. Long story short, this worked! Leicester beat 5000-to-1 betting odds to become the champions of the English Premier League. Although Ranieri was gone soon after, the team hasn’t looked back since.

Apart from rejoicing in Leicester’s unlikely success, I had learned a lot then from all those press conferences by Ranieri, which later helped when I took the plunge, left my academic job, to start Immersive Trails in 2017 (then known as Heritage Walk Calcutta). I learned the importance of knowing the limits of ones company, before doing business. I learned to be aware that while you may try to build a service or a product for EVERYONE, it is almost impossible that everyone out there will like your service or product. So trying to build something for EVERYONE is actually a distraction. So at Immersive Trails, my wife and I and our fledgeling team focused on figuring out who our product is for. Who would like to go on a deeply researched, ethical and immersive walking tour? Why would someone like to do that? In what circumstances and price points? Who would care about our service, when there are other, long existing companies offering walking tours in the city? This took a lot of our initial days as we pored over the data (and a lot of coffee supplied by 8th Day Cafe) to understand who we are building Immersive Trails for? It was for us of course, but if that was the only reason, there was no point doing it. We needed to know who’s lives we are going to touch with what we were doing. We made mistakes along the way, and learned from them, went back to the drawing board, and redesigned our services. We listened to the feedback of those who came on our experiences, went back to the drawing board again. Most importantly, once we knew the user of experiences, we started saying NO to a lot of, often potentially lucrative business deals. For example, we knew our explorers (that is what we call our customers) love to explore with us because of smaller group sizes, and the instant camaraderie and sense of community it engenders. So we started saying NO to larger groups (of more than 20; even 20 is a lot). We said NO because we knew that even though this would mean more revenue for us, we would be stretching our resources and expertise beyond our abilities. We wouldn’t be able to give everyone in a large group the experience they deserve, and the experience they invested their time and money for. We knew our limits, and we often passed those leads on to a more experienced competition capable of handling large groups. At Immersive Trails, we would rather under-promise and over-deliver, and not the other way round, specifically because we are always introspecting, and we KNOW our abilities and limitations and we know when to SAY “NO”.

Photo: Scroll.com

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Tathagata Neogi

Dr Tathagata Neogi is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Leader of Immersive Trails, a purpose-driven company based out of Kolkata, India that converts ethical, in-depth research into immersive experiences. Tathagata is a vocal advocate of empathic, ethical, community focused business practices.

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