N. Chandramouli, CEO, Comniscient Group is a Chemical Engineer turned Communicator who began his entrepreneurial journey straight after his engineering in 1990. His business experience began with chemicals & went on to stock-broking, banking and exports. His engagement with communication began in 1998 - a business that has obsessively consumed him since then. In the last decade of his career he has promoted 6 different communication companies under the Comniscient Group umbrella. Of these, two are PR agencies. The others include Bluebytes, a news research and analysis company, and Trust Research Advisory, a business efficiency advisory. The unique combination of his engineering background, communication business experience, and his other entrepreneurial exposures, brings an inimitable perspective to communication. Chandramouli lectures in several communication colleges and is also the author of The Brand Trust Report, India Study (2011 and 2012), and Decoding Communication.
Decoding Communication is a fascinating journey that turns everyday experiences into revelations, and demonstrates how communication can help make best use of opportunities. Communication is a universal remedy. It helps bridge relationships, sustain knowledge and also makes chance more predictable. Communication builds a nourishing environment for organizations, brands and individuals to grow. In today's environment of information overload, it is imperative that anyone interested in understanding, influencing and managing communication, has full knowledge of the subject and Decoding Communication is a book that helps in decipher this complex subject through its fluid and anecdotal writing.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, N. Chandramouli says, “Mahatma Gandhi summarized this Brand tenet succinctly in his statement "Be the change you want to see." In communication terms this can be restated as "Be as you want to be seen.”
Engineering and communication don’t usually go hand in hand. How did you marry the two?
Though the two streams are as different milk and butter, there are surprising commonalities between Engineering and Communication. Both are foundation subjects that can be applied to several other subjects. But the 'marriage' of the two in my case was more by chance than by design. I had been an entrepreneur in different fields for 12 years before I came across communication as a discipline and set up the first firm in it. Surprisingly, the growth in the communication has resulted due to my engineering background. We were able to dissect communication into its sub-parts and able to define it more sharply - giving better results to our clients. This understanding of cross discipline fitment led me to write the book where one could approach communication more methodically.
What got you interested in the communication business? It may not have been a flourishing business when you may have decided to take the plunge?
When I entered communication a decade ago through a business called Blue Lotus, there was plenty of competition with very few differentiators between businesses. I was even advised by friends to stay away from this field. This lack of differentiation became our opportunity and we were able to create proprietary knowledge matrices on Brand Trust, Brand Appeal and Leadership and give a great benefit to our clients using these matrices. These were developed and now have become a part of my book Decoding Communication.
What role does language play in communication? You can be grammatically correct but still lose the message.
Language gives structure to communication much like traffic rules allow better management of traffic. Grammar is the rule set that allows correct interpretation of messages. Incorrect grammar can turn a crooked line that is a question mark, into its straight version that is an exclamation mark. The amount of distortion of message through incorrect grammar is dependent on how deep the distortion is. Grammar assists in understanding the message, but is not the meaning itself.
Tell us about the Comniscient Group. Who are your main clients?
The Comniscient Group is a group of 6 non-advertising communication businesses. Among the group companies are Trust Research Advisory, Blue Lotus Communications, i9 Communications, and bluebytes News. Our group's clients are among India's top 300 brands and we also service the exploding small and medium segment. Some clients include Dun & Bradstreet, DBS Bank, Metropolis, Henkel among many others.
Your financials? What is the outlook?
The Comniscient group and its companies are in niche businesses which are extremely fast growing. Trust Research Advisory is a company that advises brands on trust and has no other competition and we expect to grow at over 150% for the five years. blue bytes is a news research agency that is growing at 60+% year-on-year and Blue Lotus Communication, is an awarded Public Relations agency growing at 30%.
You also undertook some entrepreneurial exposures.
My entrepreneurial ventures were quite different from the field of communication, and I have had long stints in chemicals, stock-broking, exports, and banking. Being an entrepreneur is the most fun thing anyone can do – it’s like being a painter - where your hobby is your job. And having a wide exposure in different fields gives me of how businesses think and how they may want to be perceived. This is the unique experience that has been captured in my book, Decoding Communication.
How would you define communication? What is the most missing element you find in most communication?
The first fundamental of communication is action; its second fundamental is its transmission by way of messages. This implies that the message is what the action is and everything else is secondary. Unfortunately, this very fundamental principle is missing from all 'communication' today and every brand wants to be like something else - they want to imitate the best of everyone else's successes. This however is not possible. Brands are what they do - and they must never to be something else. Mahatma Gandhi summarized this Brand tenet succinctly in his statement "Be the change you want to see." In communication terms this can be restated as "Be as you want to be seen".
How did ‘Decoding Communication’ come about? What issues have you tried to address through this book?
Decoding Communication is a result of my effort to understand communication better. Being an engineer I wanted to see a structure in the communication process which was often not there to find. Quite early I recognized the importance of theory - a process intended to set a firm grounding for a systematic approach to any subject. Its deficiency in communication causes a significant transactional gap between teaching and doing, leading to a massive waste of communication effort and business opportunity. Decoding Communication is the cumulative result of my various research endeavours to understand and bridge this gap.
Around 2008 I started a lecture series on the subject titled ‘Communication 101: Foundation Science'. Everyone was welcome. The questions and perspectives that hundreds of students, clients, colleagues and peers put forth have served as an impetus to this book. Through this book, I hope to help make communication more efficient and relevant. Presented are some concepts that may have gone into disuse but have been reenergized here for modern application, and some new models have been introduced, which, I hope, will bring a radical change in the way communication is transmitted and received.
Who is your target audience for this book?
Decoding Communication is meant for anyone interested in understanding, influencing and managing communication. It has applied knowledge for the practitioner and theory for the student alike.
Earlier, you have also done The Brand Trust Report, India Study 2011 and 2012. What are some of the key findings?
The publishing of The Brand Trust Report, India Study, 2011 and 2012 is a primary research that helps rank Brands on the Trust it emanates. The essential insight us that there was a huge gap in the market for such a primary research with a strong theoretical and applied backing. Brand Trust is dynamic and a constantly changing parameter.
Any anecdotes you would like to share based on your interactions with people?
I can share a anecdote about a friend who showed me the deep-rooted relevance of communication. A keen movie watcher, one evening he invited a few friends to watch a movie at his home – a regular over-the-top Bollywood masala. We watched the movie like friends do - opining on every aspect using our half-baked knowledge of the movie-world. Throughout the movie, my friend stayed glued to the screen, and, he was crying unabashedly at every emotional scene. We joked about it, but he completely ignored us. The movie over, he was immediately transformed back to his former self - funny, and yet without much sign of emotion.
Much later, his father, who he loved dearly, passed away. Though we knew he felt the pain, my friend did not exhibit any emotion. A few weeks later, I queried him comparing the two situations; on why he did not express any emotion at his father's demise, while the movie had made him cry uncontrollably. He said quite spontaneously, “Because life does not have background music.” Movies ‘allowed’ him to be himself, he added.
To cope with different situations and relationships, we are often forced to mask our real selves. And it takes the background score of communication to help us ‘see’ our true selves. The embellishments of communication become necessary to transport the audience to an experience of the self. More than anything, good communication helps one communicate with oneself.
What else do you enjoy doing?
I am a keen urban cycling enthusiast and ride about 100 kilometers on weekends. Cycling to me is like meditation when you have to lose yourself and yet be in active control and this sport has changed my perspective of life.
In your childhood what were you keen on? Who are some of the people who inspired you especially in the communications field?
I liked to read a lot when I was small and the subjects would be as varied as you can imagine. I never stuck to any one thing - and I think that has helped me the most today. In communication, I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest communicators that India has produced.
Tell us about your family. Anything else you would like to add? What are your upcoming books?
I have two sisters, one in Delhi and the other in Wisconsin, living with their families. Being single gives me the advantage of devoting much of my spare time to writing. Of the few books that I have half written, I am keen on finishing a book called The Peacock Man, a book about a 70-year-old Aurovillian and his way of life.