Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Journey by APJ Abdul Kalam

MY JOURNEY - Transforming Dreams into Action by APJ Abdul Kalam (2013), Rupa, p 147

It is always a pleasure reading the writings of APJ. These are so inspiring, emotional and straight-from-the-heart type that everybody who reads him can follow and connect oneself with the contents.  

This book is an autobiography of this great man called APJ Abdul Kalam, though it does not follow a traditional structure of an autobiography. The book is designed very nicely and makes a easy and engrossing read, just like any story book. As a believer in journey more than the destination I enjoyed going through it and almost finished it in two long sittings. Though some of the stories I had read through other sources, however it was first time to read about his family through his own words. The life lessons from his journey are touching, relevant and practical in nature. His views on education, on developed India, on meeting deadlines, on dedication, on loyalty, on mutual respect are really worth reading and learning. 

The journey that I followed through this book could be summarised in a small para like this. APJ was born in Rameswaram (Tamilnadu) in 1931. His father (Jainulabdeen) was a boat maker and also ran ferries to earn living. He was a pious soul and taught him through religious teachings. His was a joint family. His cousin, Ahmed Jalaluddin was his first mentor who had lot of trust and faith in APJ and always motivated him to pursue good education. While APJ was 8 years old, he helped Samsuddin (one of his cousins) in selling newspapers and he continued a hectic routine of getting up at 4 am, going for tuition and then to the Railway station for fetching newspapers and then to distribute them in the locality, then an hour of religious teaching and then for school. After school the evening was meant to collect the dues from the households for newspaper and then study. This hectic schedule taught him the value of hard work and the learning from his father's morning walks and newspaper distribution, developed in him a habit of getting up early in the morning which he continues still now. He did his engineering in Aeronautics from Madras Institute of Technology, Madras. Fascinated by the life of birds and the teaching demonstrations by his teachers on the bank of the sea, he developed an interest in flying and wanted to become a pilot but was not selected. However he was selected as the senior scientific officer in the Directorate of Technical Development and Production (Air) under the Ministry of Defence. Later he became a known space scientist and worked with the top scientists of India.  Popularly known as Missile man, APJ rose to the highest position in the country as President of India.  And rest is history.

The book is divided in 12 small chapters, each focusing on his relationship with individuals and few objects like boat making. The lessons learnt from his mentors like cousin Jalaluddin and Mr Vikram Sarabhai and from his father, mother, brother and sister are narrated through an interesting style of story telling.  A chapter is also devoted to the books which shaped his thinking and influenced him most.

The book is full of anecdotes and interfaces of APJ with people who influenced his whole life and as he says, he carries the learning from them still fondly. Once he asked his father, 'why do people come to him (his father) when they have problem and what really he does', the reply of his father always stayed with him which was:
'Whenever human beings find themselves alone, as a natural reaction, they start looking for company. Whenever they are in trouble, they look for someone to help them...Every recurrent anguish, longing and desire finds it own special helper. For the people who come to me in distress, I am but a go-between in their effort to ward off demonic forces with prayers and offerings....One must understand the difference between a fear-ridden vision of destiny and the vision that enables us to seek the enemy of fulfillment within ourselves...When troubles come, try to understand the relevance of your sufferings. Adversity always presents opportunities for introspection' (p 6-7)
For APJ the role of teacher is most important for building a great nation as he says - 'true quality (of education) does not come from a great building or great facilities or great advertisements. It happens when education is imparted with love by great teachers.' (p 36)  The lesson learnt from his teacher, Prof Srinivasan at MIT Madras is still vivid in his memory as he mentioned, what his professor told him when he did not appreciate the model made by APJ - 'I knew I was putting you under immense pressure when I rejected your work the other day. I set an impossible deadline - yet you have met it with work that I can only call outstanding. As your teacher, I had to push you to your limits so that you could recognize your own true potential.' (p 74) The message of meeting the deadlines and never-give-up spirit carried APJ all through in his thinking, actions and decision making at different levels in different institutions. When he was not selected by the Indian Air Force, he was distressed and he visited Swami Sivananda at Haridwar on his way back from Dehradun, who told him -  
'Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to become an air force pilot. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but it is predetermined. Forget this failure, as it was essential to lead you to your destined path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your existence...Surrender yourself to the wish of God.' (p 78)
The journey of a village boy from a remote place called Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi is narrated so modestly and honestly by the person himself that one can not afford to miss reading it if one is interested in knowing and learning the rich heritage of human values of India. Who says hope is fading off in India, you read this small journey, I bet you would believe that it is possible and there are people alive in who still make a difference not just through their words but through their deeds and actions for transforming this great nation into a developed nation as visualised in the last chapter of the book - miles to go.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Outliers - the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell

OUTLIERS - the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008), Penguin Books, p 309.

The question as to what is that which makes people successful keeps coming to our mind as we keep reading about great people and come across their journey. I have been trying to find out that formula which can help me understand the basics for becoming a successful person. Shakespearean belief that Some are born Great, Some achieve Greatness and on some Greatness is thrust upon caught my attention while I started relating Greatness with Success and later realized that there is a difference in being Successful and in being Great. While reading about different research works and books I came across this book titled OUTLIERS by one of my favorite authors Malcolm Gladwell (MG) and having gone through 'Blink' and 'The Tipping Point', I thought that my familiarity with the writing style of MG might solve the puzzle that I have been facing all this while.

MG successfully traces the background of successful individuals and develops a story around it focusing on finding out the antecedents. Biological and biographical characteristics of individuals determine a kind of behavior individuals follow. Key success factors of individuals are determined by the culture, background, growing up, geography (location), prevailing political-social-economical-technological conditions, etc. This book starts a story interwoven with various researches by educationists, psychologists and sociologists to defend so succinctly the argument and convinces the reader chapter after chapter what the author wants to convey, the constituents of being successful. The reasoning given in the book is at times never ever thought of but he is able to win through his in depth study and linking the condition with the outcome.

The cause of maintaining better cardiological standards is explained through the research done by Bruhn and Wolf which is able to keep the reader engrossed and curious to further learn about other stories. Community living through providing a strong support system with ‘a thinking beyond the individual’ was found to be the main reason unlike their biological and geographical background. MG writes - I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.

The book is divided in two parts - Opportunity and Legacy. The author seems to be convinced that there are these two great differentiators which make people successful or otherwise. Coincidental yet providing a defense for being successful hockey player as they were born in a given month makes it really interesting and the as the argument seems making sense, one realizes that it is just because in order to have admission into Hockey Academy one has to be of certain age and many a times it is manipulated.  The point is the available opportunity to these players who join the academy and who are not able to join, makes all the difference, though at the end of the day it is genuine performance which matters. The opportunity which was capitalized by Bill Gates or the people of his tribe makes the case of being successful through the presence of opportunity more than the talent. It really does make sense and we have seen it all around us. Many talented individuals could not achieve greater heights in their career just because they did not get the opportunity or they just could not have that talent which could convert the opportunity into targeted performance. In case of technological transformation (especially in connection with computers), people who were born in 50s could avail the opportunity in 70s. It was just in time for them.

Growing up with a statement – practice makes the man perfect, I realize that outliers also possess patience and get an opportunity for seriously practicing for their passion, their focus, their target and resultantly achieve it. As portrayed by MG in this book through the example of The 10,000-Hour Rule, and illustrated through the success of Beatles, Bill Gates, Bill Joy and others in the same club.     

A lot depends on the growing up of individuals and what they learn from their growing up. The prevalent conditions and situation and the art of successfully dealing with it in one’s advantage is what becomes a contributing factor for having an attitude to learn and work hard (or otherwise).  The culture of honor determines one’s cognitive faculties through an attitude, perception, and personality. Depending on whether one has grown as farmer or herdsman, in the bordering town or mainstream city, one carries oneself and forms a certain kind of behaviour. This is Legacy and MG believes that it plays an important role in distinguishing successful individuals from not-so-successful ones. Extrinsic factors apart from biological characteristics of an individual determine the scale of success (or otherwise) for them.

The case of crash of Korean Air plane is explained, reasoned and corroborated in such an excellent way which displays MG’s brilliance in putting the threads together and weaving an excellent story with it, leaving behind so much of bulleted learning. For the students of behaviour and management it makes an important read. The conditions in which one grows up drives him/her to develop a certain kind of behaviour which results in an attitude to perform one’s best and to be assertive about one’s position which is part of a legacy an individual carries forward with. Number of days and hours of effective schooling in a year and day in eastern world as compared to western world is relatively more.  The school year in the US is, on average, 180 days long, in South Korea it is 220 days, and in Japan it is 243 days long. This develops an attitude of hardworking in a child from the very beginning which is driven by the fact that one needs to put more efforts. The example of rising before dawn 360 days a year makes sense for the case of having more effective working time. Knowledge Is Power Program in New York City is the result of this learning in order to get prepared to compete with their eastern counterparts.

The dedication of the book to Daisy, the grandmother of MG is very apt and the reason has been explained by him towards the end of the book. This in fact makes Daisy as well as MG and MG’s mother an Outlier. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who believes in the pursuit towards excellence and in the quest of knowing the rationale.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The East India Company - the world's most powerful corporation by Tirthankar Roy

THE EAST INDIA COMPANY - the world's most powerful corporation by Tirthankar Roy (2012) Allen Pane - an imprint of Penguin Books, p 237.

While doing graduation we had a paper entitled 'Economic Resources' and the teacher (Dr KC Jaiswal) who taught us that course was an alumnus of Allahabad University and Lucknow University, and student of Prof JK Mehta (of Allahabad Univ). I have no hesitation in admitting that it was he who pushed me into teaching profession. I never thought that I would lead a career in teaching. Anyways, he used to tell us 'India is a rich country but its residents are poor'. We grew up with this thinking that India was a country which had surplus milk production, huge exporting country for textiles and spices, and strong mineral bases apart from rich cultural heritage. It is true that during the middle of the 17th century India contributed to around one fourth of world manufacturing output which went down to around 3 percent by middle of 19th century. These two hundred years contributed to the fall of India as a manufacturing hub as well as destroyed the institutions. We all know that the major role was played by the erstwhile known as the world's most powerful corporation - The East India Company. We have grown with very many stories about The East India Company (EIC).  

In the series of The Story of Indian Business, an acclaimed scholar of the business history at London School of Economics, Tirthankar Roy brings this book with rich historical narrative, telling the tale of the rise and fall of EIC and its role in controlling the resources available on the soil of Indian subcontinent.

The EIC was formed in 1600 in London by a group of merchants, mariners, explorers and politicians to finance the trading voyages to India, China and Southeast Asia. It is quite evident from the book that the author has gone through the documentation of several voyages of this company into the Indian subcontinent and cross verified them through the literature available, both in highly acclaimed academic journals as well as popular writings of the time.  The journey of the company (from a trader to an empire builder), its patronage by the British royalty (the Crown) through assent by charter, its profiteering endeavors, internal quarrels, its selfish relationships with the local rulers in India have been very well narrated in the book which makes it an authentic tribute to the business history of India.  

The author mentions in the introduction part of the book:

In this short history of the Company, the well-known story is retold, but by using an angle of vision somewhat unusual in the historical scholarship on the subject (p 29)…In this book by contrast, the Company is in the main a window into the distinctive globalization that occurred in the Indian subcontinent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The story suggests that any attempt to deal with Indian business history during this time needs to refer to Europe’s own expansion overseas, show how the concept of a firm changed, connect traditional modes of doing business with the modern, Britain with India, India with China, politics with economics, and one empire with another (p 30)… The story begins with the combination of enterprise and exploration for which Elizabethan London has earned a unique place in global history. (p31)
The EIC made its entry into the Indian subcontinent through the coastal towns in the earlier part of the sixteenth century when major part of India was ruled by the moghuls. …the first fifteen years were not smooth sailing for the EIC. The working of this company and its relationship with the rulers, especially in the coastal towns like Surat, Coromandel, Hooghly, and the exchange of resources between China (Tea) and India (Cotton and Opium) are explained with evident authority and utmost care in the book.   The emergence of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta as prominent business centers apart from being the power centers has been elaborated (with historical facts related to individuals) very nicely in the book. For example at page 86 the author writes:

The most experienced Company officer in Bengal at the time was Job Charnock (1630-93).  Charnock had served the Company in India for thirty years. He started his career in Hajipur and Patna, where he procured saltpetre, needed in England as raw material for gunpowder. In Patna, Charnock married an Indian widow said to have been rescued from burning herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and had three children by her. While in Patna, he began to dress in Indian costumes, a habit that lasted lifelong, and learnt to speak fluent Persian and Hindustani.  In 1669, he moved to the Bengal establishment in Hooghly where he was the fifth in the hierarchy of factors.  In 1685, he became the second in command in Bengal.
The book is full of such stories of the officers, factors, and staffers who played important role in the EIC. It was a learning experience through the book that the EIC had allowed its employees to run their business individually apart from working with the company. At times it raised suspicion over the integrity of employees. There were cases where the individuals benefited much more than the company. With this legacy we also witness at present some of the employees of the companies in India following this trend at the cost of loss to their pay masters. As the communication with the Crown was not very fast, much of the things were not reported and at many times the factors (employees) used to make their own empire at the cost of the EIC. 

Europe had a good market for the Eastern Spices, Chinese Tea, and Indian Cotton, which was capitalized by the EIC into its advantage primarily. The objective of the company was never to rule this part of the world, however during the course of doing business and exploiting their relationships with the rulers and enjoying a strong patronage of the British government, it realized that it was possible for them to spread their wings and through initiatives of expansion beyond the coastal towns and into the courts of the kings and markets of the mainstream India of that time, it started actively learning the nuances of controlling power through a back door.

From 1833, the Company ceased to exist as a trading body. It existed as an administrator of India in partnership with the Crown (p 200). It was in 1858 when British government assumed direct control of India. There were instances when the Crown was not happy with the functioning of the EIC and there were cases when many of the officers were called and punished in different ways. As the book is written on the EIC, it does not go further from here. 

As Tirthankar also writes in the book, though there are many people who have written on the business history of India and the functioning of East India Company, there is much little literature on the contribution of the EIC in the thinking of organization and institution building, my understanding is also on the same line. The organizational practices as to hierarchy, delegation, division of work, communication, inter-personal and inter-group relationship, etc have not been explored. I have reasons to believe that the practices followed by the EIC must have impacted the functioning of other organizations operating at that time as well as the ones which were established in the later years.  This is still required to be explored with evident authenticity.

The book is divided in 10 chapters and there are some historic pictures and maps which help the reader to refer and preempt the prevailing conditions during that period. A detailed foreword by Gurcharan Das makes the book more important and authoritative. Timeline is put towards the end of the book which provides a chronology of events which took place during the working of the EIC in India. A detailed bibliography provides a rich source of references. The book is written in a story telling style which keeps the reader attentive and inquisitive towards the next part of the book. I strongly recommend this title for the minds which are interested in learning Indian business history and the functioning of one of the world’s most powerful corporation.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

F?@K Knows by Shailendra Singh

F?@K KNOWS by Shailendra Singh (2013), Rupa, p 234

Last month I was reading a business magazine and found this book reviewed.  First the title caught my attention and as I read the brief review. I got inclined to buy this title and read it. So that's how I got this book. I knew about Percept and its foray into advertising and people management. I admired this company and gave its example many times to my students in the class. But I did not know Shailendra Singh as a person.   

After having gone through this book, I can really admire the individual as well for his guts and grain to have penned down his experiences and the journey so wisely traveled. Many of the lessons are quite similar to my personal growth as more or less we belong to same generation, which has witnessed the growth (economic) of India and the upsurge of organisations resulting in huge shift in work behaviour of people involved in managing the resources of the organisation.

Jack Welch's Straight from the Gut taught four key lessons, It's nice to be small, however big you become, it's all about people, boundaryless organisations, efficiency over quality. I somehow learnt these lessons through this very unconventional and crude title F?@k Knows. Personally I have strong belief in what Shailendra mentions - Journey is more important than the destination. We need to focus on journey and enjoy every bit of it and rest assured you are going to go places, you are going to reach to a perfect destination. If one is destination driven, one misses on enjoying the journey. I have been sharing my views on happiness at many formal as well as informal fora and in that sequence this title adds some more value to my learning so I have something more to share with the defense of F?@k Knows. Interestingly this book seems to be the target of the the author and as he mentions at many places in the book, he has been wanting to write the book.  I wonder was it his ambition or he wanted to honestly motivate people through his life lessons.

I really liked two of his chapters which directly focus on having opposing view on Robin Sharma, as Shailendra suggests, one does not need to sell one's ferrari in order to lead a happy life (the monk who sold his ferrari) and I'd rather have them laugh with me while I'm alive, than cry for me when I die (who will cry when you die). The logic is convincing. It shows the originality in this title as one flips through chapters after chapters, though the author suggests that one should read one chapter at one time.  

The family wisdom that he conveys through his relationship with his father, brother, wife and mother makes the book quite grasping and honest. I am sure many of us also find ourselves somewhere in the book, though he keeps addressing the younger generation at many places in the book. The language is crude at times and gives a very different feel (may be that is what Shailendra is known for, so his original style), yet I think it makes sense as it is coming through the heart of the author and at that he scores points for being blunt and bizarre in some chapters.

It makes a good read and I assure, though it may not have a capacity to become a bestseller, it would not disappoint the reader. Time spent on reading this book is worth and it does teach many things in simple and practical way. Thanks Shailendra for having shared your journey.

>>>Some Lessons<<<
Make a 'to do' list
Enjoy every bit of life
Stop thinking, start doing
Give 100 percent
There is nothing which is right, or which is wrong
Being wealthy rather than being Rich
Being Healthy rather than being fit
Replace 'have to' with 'want to'
Smile increases your face value
Your body is your temple

Friday, July 19, 2013

Impatient Optimist - Bill Gates in his own words

IMPATIENT OPTIMIST: BILL GATES IN HIS OWN WORDS (2012) edited by Lisa Rogak, Collins Business - an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, India, p 184

While I was in Hongkong attending a conference few years back, I planned to visit IFC mall with some of the friends. A big board displayed in the mall read as - Whoever said money cant buy you happiness, did not know where to go shopping. I always believed that Happiness can never be bought with money.  Thoroughly convinced about Easterlin Paradox on Money and Happiness. However when I read about Bill Gates and went through the collection of his quotes by Lisa Rogak, I started believing, yes one does buy happiness with money. There is a person who is proving this.  And that person is Bill Gates. Having tasted the money, which is sweeter than honey, he has reached to a level where the fifth position of Maslow's need hierarchy in the form of self-actualisation is achieved through the good deeds of charity and looking at the projects contributing to the welfare of society for different causes. He seems to be enjoying and really feeling happy through making others happy. A classic case of teaching the whole world The Art of Giving. Apart from money one requires a big heart to think like that. And that is where Bill Gates shows his concern and commitment. I am sure he would be remembered by many generations later, may be even after 300-400 years to have contributed to the eradication of HIV AIDS, eradication of many such cancerous diseases and to have respected human lives.

This book is a collection of statements made by Bill Gates throughout his career. The collection of the statements by Lisa is really remarkable and they are not really put in chronological order, rather she has chosen theme based alphabetical order which makes it easier to the reader to find related statement. If one has not read the biography of Bill Gates, after going through this book, much of his life become clear and in that effort Lisa really deserves appreciation. After reading the whole book I felt as if I read a story about a great person, about a person who dropped from his college, went on to take risk through his entrepreneurial venture, and after achieving greater heights in life through developing excellent products and creating blue oceans, comes back to his college and collects the degree (honoris causa). The journey of this great person is portrayed through the words borrowed from many of his speeches, few books and write ups. I really liked the milestones section very much where the chronologically his achievements are reported.

It really makes a good book for collection and reference for students to whom he really inspires through his deeds. It makes a good as well as a simple read. Really the title is very catching, impatient optimist, who does not want to be one. However if one is looking for some serious stuff on Bill Gates, one can very well ignore this title.
I think short of the transporter, most things you see in science fiction are, in the next decade, the kinds of things you'll see. The virtual presence, the virtual worlds that both represent what's going on in the real world and represent whatever people are interested in.  This movement in space as a way of interacting with the machine.  I think the deep investments that have been made at the research level will pay off with these things in the next ten years.
 -D5: All Things Digital Conference, 30 May 2007. (Impatient Optimist: p. 57)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman (2011), Allen Lane - an imprint of Penguin Books, p 499

Last week while my wife was shopping from a small departmental store at Shillong, she observed one of the vendor (from Hindustan Unilever) talking to the shopkeeper and insisting on keeping Ponds Talcum powder on the shelf, the shopkeeper responded by showing the old stock.  The shopkeeper was telling him the feedback of the customers - 'the customers these days want deo, not talcum powder'. His response was driven by the fact that there is a shift in the customer choice driven by the change in the time, expectations, competitor's response, etc etc.  

While she shared her experience with me, I was also thinking that with the emergence of new products the old ones are fading off. The choices which the customer is making in the market is also the effect of aggressive advertising and increase in the purchasing power.  It was sheer a coincidence that I was going through this book entitled 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman. This book was able to answer some such questions.  How the decisions are taken? Which is a better choice? Why do people think what they think? Why things/people are not as they look? There were many such questions which kept pondering over my head and I began to connect them with the contents of the book.

I heard and learnt about Daniel Kahneman only through the accolades that he received after getting the Nobel Prize in the area of economic sciences in 2002. It was precisely the year when I started teaching organizational behaviour though it had been a subject very close to my heart and I have been reading related literature. There was a time (some 25 years back) when I developed interest in Psychology during the period I was doing masters (commerce), I wish we had Psychology as a subject in our college.

Later while in teaching profession, I went through some papers of Kahneman and could always share the learning with students and colleagues whenever I got chance.  When I read the review of this book after its release, I acquired a copy and started reading it. I should not say just reading it, rather studying it, which included, lot of breaks in between as I wanted to read some of the cited works in the book, so honestly it took much more than an usual time which I take to complete reading a book. I think if I recollect, I might not have taken this much time of reading a book as I took for this title. The experience of going through this book made me so rich through innumerable downloads of related material, scanning through some of the experiments available on the web, buying some of the books, and going through cited work in depth in few cases.

As the title suggests, the whole book classifies the thinking process through two systems, System 1 (thinking fast), and System 2 (thinking slow). System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control, and System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.  The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration (p 20-21).  As mentioned in the book System 1 and System 2 as terms were first used by Keith Stanovich and Richard West, who call it now Type 1 and Type 2. Kahneman uses the original version. With numerous experiments and illustrations he establishes the practicality of these two systems which invariably operate while we make choices, decisions, judgments and calculations. The use (and also the conflict) of these two systems by an individual in different circumstances portray mental conditioning and preferences. System 2 is primarily used to overcome the impulses of System 1, which is in charge of self control.

Many times we suffer from bias, using system 1 and falling prey to mis-judge the outcome. Many times the illusory sense dominates over the factual existence of the object as projected through Muller-Lyer illusion. The bat and ball puzzle (originally devised by Shane Frederick) is so apt that one makes judgment without using System 2 and over estimating the conformity through System 1. While I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's BLINK, it made lot of sense to believe on the gut feel, which is based on System 1, though the decision or judgment not always leading to the correct view.  As one keeps turning the pages of the book it becomes more and more convincing that one needs to take time in decision making and not necessarily that one has to go by the gut always, which increases the degree of risk one bears on making choices based on System 1.  

As known, Kahneman and Amos Tversky had questioned the belief that by nature human being are rational and in case of emotions as fear, anger, hatred, affection, people depart from rationality. This book discusses and defends their stand through applied psychological frameworks, findings of various experiments and works of many researchers. Divided in five parts comprising of 38 different chapters, with the ‘speaking of …’ statements at the end of each chapter, the book strongly narrates the causation factor of decisions, making choices out of different alternatives, the follies of statistics, risk policies, etc. 

I remember vividly about the media reports on Kahneman’s Nobel achievement which highlighted Irrationality of stock investors, however what he emphasizes is no rationality.  The argument of irrationality not being opposite of rationality is quite firm and convincing. This is where Dan Ariely's contribution becomes more relevant. Kahneman's acceptance of Dan's work is well placed in this context. The learning through the book is immense. At many instances where I was to use System 1, I chose System 2, which took little more time.  

Richard Layard, dedicated his book - Happiness, lessons from a new science, to Daniel Kahneman. Richard mentions in his book that it was Kahneman who opined that happiness can be measured. Kahneman developed a tool named as Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) based on remembering self and experiencing self which reports on the feelings of individuals. DRM is used by many researchers in different geographies to measure the satisfaction level which is used as a proxy of well-being.  

The book conveys vehemently the basic premise that it is easier to recognize other people's mistakes than our own (p 28), whether we think fast using system 1 or we think slow using system 2.  The book is strongly recommended for the students of contemporary psychology.

Monday, May 20, 2013


BREAKOUT NATIONS - In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles (2012) by Ruchir Sharma, Allen Pane - Penguin India, p 307

At a time when two fastest growing economies of the world find place in Asia and the first world keeps eyeing on the huge opportunities available in these two economies because of its size and scope (potential) Ruchir Sharma (head of Emerging Market Equities and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management) brings this book concentrating on the emerging markets in the title of ‘Breakout Nations'. As visible, Indian economy is facing a tough time from the point of view of the perception of foreign investors and the climate that is created by policy makers; this book makes a mark through identifying eleven developing economies of the world and tracing their development path. These eleven economies include Mexico (from Latin America), Hungary and Poland (from Eastern Europe), Egypt and South Africa (from Middle East & Africa), and India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka (from Asia). As discussed in the book these countries are going to break out and are going to play an important role in the world economies. 

These emerging economies are filtered out from the universe of around 50 nations of different continents.  The author presents the cases very lucidly with the support of narratives and strong data in order to make a convincing defense. The problems of business operations in these economies are spelled out through many examples based on the practices and experiences of the author himself as he ‘generally spends one week per month in a developing country somewhere in the world’. This book is basically an Economic Travelogue which takes the reader along with the author to visit the emerging places so far as economic development is concerned.  Ruchir feels that the views of the west about Goldman Sach's developed acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as BRICS is an exaggeration as  except in case of China, other countries have very little trade with each other. 

The warning signals and the problems as to crony capitalism, entry barriers, concentration on city based development (urban centric), political interference, perceptual mapping etc are nicely put forth by the author in the book.  Until these nations put their houses in order it might be really difficult for them to positively derive benefits from such capital movement. 

The book is written in a very engaging and authoritative style.  I have no hesitation in saying that it is an unprecedented account of the developing economies supported with excellent experiences, narratives and thoughtful comparisons based on growth parameters.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

101 Myths & Realities @ the office by UTKARSH RAI

101 MYTHS & REALITIES @ THE OFFICE - how to get the best out of yourself and your team, by UTKARSH RAI (2012) Portfolio, Penguin Books, India p 283

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a German sociologist, Max Weber, among few scholars, initiated thinking on the development of efficient systems for organizational administration.  He developed the basic principles of Bureaucracy which surrounded on position, authority, performance, social standing (personal contacts), role clarity, task responsibilities, hierarchy, rules, standard operating systems, procedures, norms, behaviour etc.  More or less during the same timeline (1916), Henry Fayol (the CEO of Comambault Mining), a French mining engineer, identified 14 Principles of Management for general administration.     As Weber's principles, these principles also provided a general guide for work efficiency and called for developing proper systems in order to manage the resources of an organisation more efficiently.  In the literature on management primarily this was the beginning point when general administration was discussed at such a length and both academia as well as the practitioners were realising the importance of systems and structure for office work-flow.

Hundred years down the line, the principles of work behaviour for efficient use of resources are reiterated in changing business environment.  The relationship between boss and subordinates, management and employees, business and society has been under scan in last 30-40 years and there is evidence that it is very difficult to find a universal approach and timeless practice which can lead to best possible results as outcome from the workforce.

In these times a book by Utkarsh Rai on looking at the prevalent myths at the workplace as against the realities make a strong case for its practice and follow up.  The author successfully draws 101 myths and counters them with the realities and provides prescriptions for management as well as the employee to get prepared and to get away with the general thinking which is in many cases wrongly perceived and placed.  The book covers almost all parts of the general principles of management starting with promotion and taking along other intrinsic and extrinsic factors of work, like salary, career, working relationship, colleagues, subordinates, appraisal etc.  The foreword written by Nandan Nilekani and the praise by Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Som Mittal positions the book before its readers with conviction and clarity.  This might initially be a strategic decision of the author, however after reading the book I too felt attached to their views on appreciating the author for clearly explaining the myths and posing it with the prevalent reality and the way as to how to face it.

The style of its presentation is simple and very much reader friendly as it is positioned as a guide for all employees at different levels of management.  I get reminded of the management challenges that Peter Drucker [Management Challenges in the 21st Century, 1999, Butterworth-Heinemann, USA] talked about in his book through assumptions and realities whether on the role of management, or the approaches to deal with employees. 

The simple language of the book through the practical examples and day-to-day events make it engrossing, relevant and convincing.  It is written in a format which suits self-help books but is packaged quite differently as one can jump from one myth to another one very easily without being caught in missing the continuity. The conversations at the office cafeterias could be observed and one can easily find the scenarios wherein the book fits well and provides a simple prescription as to how to deal with the situation at hand whether you are an employee or a manager.  The prescriptions are more suggestive in nature and the perspective is very positive which come very handy while one encounters a dilemma as to how to deal in such a situation.   

As I was reading through the book and looking at the myths and realities I often got reminded of a concerned theory from management, leadership, or/and motivation literature.  Though the book does not really cite any theory but it is quite aptly seem to be applied which looks coincidental.  This is where and how theories and practice bridge the gap and this is what for I like this book.  I wished some more myths in the categories of work-life balance, stress, time management, organizational conflict, mindset mapping, challenges, training and learning, etc.  Though in most of the cases both the perspective have been taken, however at some places, e.g., Myth - communicating in the native language will help the project, Reality – it might hinder team relationships for those who do not understand the language, (p 256) the prescription for employee is missing which could have been done.

The work experience of the author is well reflected all through the book at different levels of management and certain practices of an ideal versus practical life are nicely related and juxtaposed in the text of the book which even a layman can follow. Just to mention an example of this is myth - my colleague is my best friend, as against the reality: the real check of friendship is when one is promoted over other.  This is so practical that one faces it day in and day out at the workplace.  Such myths make the book practical as one relates with the book and finds oneself in one or the other myth.  After going through all the myths and realities one tends to discover the dominance of the great power of soft skills over the technical knowledge of one’s specialisation or one’s core area.  In most of the cases I found that the role of interpersonal relationship is dominating and having a clear conscience with positive bent of mind solves almost all the problems that one faces at the work place.

The organizational priorities, manager’s choice (based on logic and rationale and not favouritism), employee’s attitude and aspirations, social pressure, etc are elaborated through the myths and realities which make the book rich, reflective and reiterative at many places. The author deserves all the kudos for this effort. Though much has been written on principles of management in the last century, many have researched the 14 principles from the angle of their applicability in the present context [e.g. Rodrigues (2001) Fayol’s 14 Principles of Management then and now: a framework for managing today’s organizations effectively, Management Decision, 39(10) 880-889], many have questioned timelessness of those principles, yet those principles find their relevance as they are the academic reference points in the management literature. This book provides a practical outlook to the theoretical principles in the modern day organizations and suggests a well charted path for how to get best out of yourself and your team. For employees of today this book provides a hope for tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Code name God by Mani Bhaumik

CODE NAME GOD - The Spiritual Odyssey of a Man of Science by Mani Bhaumik (2005) Penguin Books, India p 224

I have been searching a book for the logical defense of God and got a suggestion to read this title. Authored by a laser scientist (physicist) settled in the USA, an Indian by birth Mani Bhaumik, the book is very much engaging.  He is the co inventor of LASIK – a surgical procedure for eye surgery. The first half of the book is more autobiographical however the later half tries to answer on the existence of the super power which we generally call as ‘God’.  The role of his parents in his bringing up seems to have played an important role in developing an inquisitive mind and the quest for queries.  His interactions with Gandhi and some of the great scientists of the time are seemed to have enthused a great sense of spiritualism in him.  The story of rags to riches is quite aptly suited with the personality of Mani as he came from a poor rural background.

The journey of Mani as narrated in the book is quite interesting and engaging as he is born in a family which lived in rural Bengal and took very active part in India’s independence.  The interactions and experiences of his family with Gandhi and other freedom fighters is quite inspiring.  The spiritual odyssey as narrated by the author through the book makes a good case of an existence of a super power.  This super power is named as God by many.  The experiments in the physics lab and the study of star galaxies and their movements do leave one with astonishment and an amazing sense as to the miracles of nature.  The colors of flowers and insects, the habits of animals and plants, the chirping of the birds, the shifting of climate, blowing of wind, flow of river, etc etc are similar such existences which really gives me an elated sensation that there is nature.  This was a motivation for finding out the reason as to the existence of God with a strong belief in Nature.

The scientific defense is well made in the book with full dose of Quantum Physics, which is quite alien to me as a student who does not understand the wonders of science specially the theories behind.

The book is a good read for all and specially for those who are interested to link science with God in whatever avatar he is worshipped and revered.