Meet the SHEROES - Sonia Manchanda

Last updated 14 Oct 2015 . 8 min read

“Use your imagination. It can take you very far” – that’s what Sonia Manchanda, the Creative Chief, at SPREAD  tells us today. She talks to us about her venture and shares her thoughts on entrepreneurship and her undying love for design.

Tell us a little about yourself

My parents both retired as Major Generals from the Indian army, which essentially means that my sister and I grew up across the country, shifting schools, making new friends, learning about the country. Growing up the way I did made me deeply nationlistic, unafraid of change and disciplined, even in my creative explorations and endeavours. My mother is my hero, as she came from a small town in Punjab and made it, in her time, where very few women have. That…gave me ‘unlimited courage’ to always make my own path, always hold my own.

My father’s family had moved to India from Pakistan, leaving behind its fortunes, during partition and being the eldest son, he had to start working at an early age. His dream for me was that I become a doctor and study all my life. So, there was a picture of AIIMS(All India Institute Of Medical Science) on my softboard. However, on another wall, there was a powerful poster with a beautiful illustration which said ‘do not follow where the path leads. Go where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Corny perhaps but true in retrospect. Especially since, I had the entrance exam for both NID (National Institute of Design) and AIIMS on the same day and I had to sheepishly tell my father that I had my heart set on NID, although I had been a good science student.

Although I started working in Delhi, working with prominent channels, designing programs and sets for television…I was happy to move to Bangalore when I got the opportunity. I am glad I made the choice to move to Bangalore where I have been able to create new knowledge, working at the forefront of design thinking and practice - Pretty much in step and sometimes even ahead of our global peers. The ‘entrepreneurship party’ in Bangalore combines knowledge with capital in brave new ways, ideas finally have capital following them, making it the most exciting city in India. At a fundamental level, Bangalore worked for me and let me create my own path. I live on a design farm and do pathbreaking projects with an amazing quality of partners and an exceptionally talented and comitted team.

Which ventures have you previously started, why?

All design ventures! Everything to do with spreading design as a way of thinking and doing things. I was involved with setting up, along with other cofounders, friends and mentors; and being the design lead of Idiom, India’s most progressive and vibrant design enterprise. Which was a merger of two firms, one my indepenedent strategic, branding and communication firm, another that was one of Bangalore’s and India’s early design firms, dabbling in retail, furniture and product design. To create a firm that would define the Indian Idiom of Design.

With my original design firm, Esign, that was mostly a garage studio with dogs, lots of food, friends and comradrie, we used to say, we are a small place that does big things. We had the opportunity to create India’s first public private initiative Bangalore Forward, working with the CM and city leaders and stakeholders. We also got to know Mr Kishore Biyani and spent many thinking sessions, creating Central, Big Bazaar and some of the other retail formats. Also developed the idea of Manipal as a brand. We did exciting work across the country and wore hoodies that said on the rim of the hood – ‘Thinking design’. My husband kept trying to convince us that that seemed like bad English, I didn’t care, because that worked for us. We brought thought first into our design.

With Idiom, the opportunites multiplied, it was a large pace with massive challenges. There were many significant projects there that I personally led. Remarkable ones are the design of the identity and look of the 19th Commonwaealth Games in Delhi. Their team and ours did a remarkable job. (The controvery was a pity). I have been part of creating Identity for Kochi Metro, more recently Kochi Airport, thought and design for most Future Group formats and even the soney ki chidiya/identity for the Future Group.

Can you tell us about SPREAD.                    

We live in an environment where sudden shifts - social, cultural and business, and a general sense of uncertainty are becoming the norm. Legacy organizations, thus will struggle to be responsive in a dynamic environment. Limited resources, especially time, along with digital disruption will continue to affect everything from individual behavior to whole markets.

In the organizational context, we will have to carefully construct a cultural shift towards an empowered digitally driven workforce thriving in a creative workplace. Delivering value-added experiences to customer and services. Creating new ways of thinking, sharing, responding, doing things and creating exponential value while integrating the real and the virtual worlds.

Spread creates learning experiences to expand the mind. Enabling individuals at every level and organizations to tap into their own latent creativity, developing creative mindsets and new age skillsets.

The tools, methodologies and knowledge at Spread are informed by cutting edge business and design practice.

We believe that we have only one infinite and unlimited resource on this planet, the human imagination. Our mission is to empower individuals and teams to respond creatively to challenges in just about any context.

Creative empowerment

Next generation skill sets

Strategic creativity

Our approach

We are curious. We listen, we feel, we think and we respond. With systems developed and designed meticulously, tested and honed. To approach any problem, to respond to any opportunity, with a great degree of depth, while yet with simplicity, creativity and speed. Our learning experiences are transformative, as they take an inside out reflective approach. While a great individual experience is the goal, the team experience is also designed carefully to shift strategically from collaborative to competitive. And to demonstrate that big things can be achieved by small teams with skill, speed and imagination.

The Spread matrix: From source to leadership, shifting mindsets, building skillsets, our mission is to empower with creativity.

What are the challenges you face in this field of work?

That it is intangible and true cultural shift can only be measured over a period of time. We are talking behavioural change here, which is not easy. Design systems is the big challenge – however, it’s a beautiful challenge that as an experienced designer, I quite enjoy.

What is a typical day at work like for you?

My super early mornings, atleast two days in a week are reseved for fresh thnking and writing/creating. The other mornings, pottering around, picking stuff that I can throw into a bowl, as a salad or into meals in general. My day is spent guiding – both interally and externally. Coaching, nudging, sharing. On my birthday, a friend told me that she thought of me as someone who nurtures, plants, people, ideas…and it was sort of, a relevant observation as the only thing I really wanted for myself this year, was a lovely bird bath and feeder. I love to create and love to see things grow. I am fortunate to have that both in my work and in my life. My best time is that spent with my daughter and nephew, on weekend picnics and cycling trips that I hope to do more of.  

In the world of start-ups, what should aspiring women entrepreneurs keep in mind?

It is a level playing field. Everyone has the same challenges and opportunities. My mother is a good example of someone who thrived in a man’s world without giving up her feminity. Creativity comes naturally to women, so perhaps I have done nothing new. However, I urge all women to Think Big – it something I proposed to a women’s forum and its something I would stick with here. Cross the middle stage of growth with ingenuity, because when you think big and grow big, you can do things, once again on your own terms. And have the freedom you so badly need to do the many things you do so well. Besides being the boss. Take it in your stride, don’t lose your soft side – that’s yor greatest strength. Women who let power get to their head are far more dangerous than powerful men. Politics is a great reminder of that truth

Be mindful of your emotionl intelligence and trust it more than anything else. That’s what men call ‘gut’ that we have in abundance. However, don’t let anyone walk all oer you – be sensitive but don’t be sentimental.

What future plans do you have professionally for yourself / SPREAD?

Create a global entity with Indian thought and ingenuity. Make a name for India when people speak of design and design thought. Create new benchmarks in the emerging markets space. By designing systems, ideas, cultures. Indirectly and directly, through our knwoledge systems and our practice.

Can you leave our readers with a few thoughts?

Use your imagination. It can take you very far. Don’t be afraid of the idea of creative destruction, of destruction, renewal and creation. Don’t get too attached to your creation! But create! Ideas! New business! Innovation! Whatever works in your context. Make it sophisticated, simple and meaningful. Success will naturally follow, it has no choice!

Sonia Manchanda, Founder, SPREAD_Image 2
Paroma Sen
Paroma Sen is a professional content and creative writer.

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