Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gandhi and Churchill: Arthur Herman

`Frankly, if you had to choose the greater man between Gandhi and Churchill, 
there's no contest.'

Two men, born five years and four thousand miles apart, meet once when both are unknown. Then they go their separate ways and become two of the most revered figures of the 20th century. From time to time they pass each other as they pass through history, each bent on his own course. otherwise they find very different destinies. One saves his country and secures victory in the greatest war the world has ever known. The other cajoles a mighty nation into giving up its most prestigious possession and unearths the most populous democracy on earth. That is the usual story of Gandhi and Churchill as portrayed by historians, biographers and even filmmakers.

But it is not the whole story.

Historian Arthur Herman has written a well researched book that achieves an extraordinary balance in weighing two mighty protagonists against each other. It is a dual biography to be more precise. The first one I have read in my life. The lives of the two characters have been interwoven beautifully contrasting their qualities and loyalties. They emerge, from time to time, as large sized and leave a profound impression on you.

On one hand there is a modest Mohandas Gandhi born in rural India, who mastered law in London, fighting for independence of India from British Raj. Whereas his contemporary, political arch-enemy, Churchill’s basic point of view in his imperial capacity was that “India” was an abstraction; without British rule, it was a heterogeneous continent made up of peoples who would otherwise be at each other’s throats. Both led their own crusade to change the world, but history stayed on its steady oblivious course, despite their efforts to propel it towards:
In Gandhi's case, to a world without violence or exploitation.
In Churchill's, to a British Empire blossoming into a robust union of english-speaking peoples.

Still, both men had left a permanent mark on their age and a lasting legacy for future generations. They have inspired millions to shape their own destiny.

Herman has definitely penned down a vivid portrait of the greatest story of the 20th century.

The great ship is sinking in the calm sea.
Winston Churchill, 1946

If India wants her blood bath she shall have it.
Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1946

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Great By Choice: Jim Collins & Morten Hansen

"People write how they became an extremely successful entrepreneur, 
but only Jim Collins can teach you how to become one." 

In "Great By Choice", Jim Collins and Morten Hansen unravel the secret behind becoming "Great". If you are wondering "luck" plays a role in it, then by the time you finish the last chapter you will realize that the secret mantra is actually your "Choice".

The book begins with the story of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott’s attempts to reach the south pole. While Amundsen accomplished his goal, Scott’s attempt ended in a disaster. Collins builds on this story and connects to the readers by unraveling his secret of success. As you read further, you notice that, Amundsen displayed all the attributes of companies that thrive in chaos: "Fanatic Discipline," "Empirical Creativity" and "Productive Paranoia." That's the reason why he wasn't waiting for luck, rather he used to prepare every moment so that when luck knocks at his door - he is ready.Scott, on the other hand left himself unprepared and later on complained in his journal about his bad luck.

This books presents an extensive research done by Collins, which he presents in an interesting way. Taking 2 companies belonging to the same industry, pitched against each other. Where one thrives, the other does not. This book seeks an answer to 'why?'. Probably one of the reasons why subtitle of the book says: “Uncertainty, chaos, and luck why some thrive despite them all.”
The author entirely focuses on figuring out an answer to that single question, backed by tremendous amount of research and analysis, beautifully woven into a page turner. Instead of presenting the data bluntly, the author has figured out certain pragmatic principles which the reader can apply not just in his enterprise, but also his life.

Some of these pragmatic principles or ideas make up very interesting chapters of the Book:

They are the ones we aspire to be one they. Level 5 leaders with fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, productive paranoia. They never blame their luck. Making most out the good ones and learning from the bad ones. They keep striving for success, no matter what comes in thier way.

20-Mile March
This shows us how important in life is consistency. Be it a good day or bad you need to move ahead, marching 20 miles every day on a trip, rather than worrying about the entire distance. This is what drives a 10X company, their consistency to go on and on.

Fire bullets, then cannonballs
This part was my favourite from techno-managerial point of view. The idea is to innovate first with small experiments(bullets) rather than launching big initiatives (cannonballs). This is something close to business calibration  Instead of exposing the cards in your hand, you make calculative moves to rise above your competitors. The role played by innovation is also discussed to point out that, although these 10X companies were usually first among competitors to innovate, it also took much more than pure innovation for them to outperform their peers. The idea is to not only innovate, but also to execute extremely well, as very well stated by Intel's slogan "We Deliver" (although they have an advance R&D Lab).

Leading above the death line
We are introduced to the concept of "productive paranoia" which exists in the 10Xers. The are prepared for all situations with backup plans to ensure that they survive no matter what. You may call it fear, but this fear gives an impetus to ensure their business remains well above the death line.

Develop a specific, methodical, and consistent recipe, and relentlessly execute it. it minimizes mistakes that can amplify bad luck events. It helps in hindering bad luck to disrupt your plans.

The authors deliver the most inspiring passage in the Epilogue:
"The best leaders we've studied maintain a paradoxical relationship to luck. On one hand, they credit good luck in retrospect for having played a role in their achievements, despite the undeniable fact that others were just as lucky. On the other hand, they don't blame bad luck for failures, and they hold only themselves responsible if they fail to turn their luck into great results..."

Overall, this book is not good, but great. Do catch it out!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Strolling down the memory lane

May 2010, Hall 5, Kanpur

I am lying half-naked on my hostel bed. It's just another sweltering summer day.
Exams are over and there is ample time to kick-start my SnT Summer Project. I have no clue how would I go about it. But more than that what is bothering me is an year I had spent in this place. Met some cool guys, some strange; mostly with spectacles, but not even a single one who could replace the Tanki ke topes from my life. 
I unfolded a torn sheet of paper, having equations scribbled all over it. 
Took a picture of it. Posted it on Facebook. Tagged them.
And then silently slipped down the memory lane.

January 2009, Prerna Towers, Jamshedpur

"Abey JD humko corner wala seat mein aaj baithna hai." 
"Kahe bey? Hum nahi hatenge. Humko Raj ke saath baithana hai. Tum bahut KC karta hai. Doosare taraf jao."
Panda, Raj, Ra'ul and Adi started laughing, each one giving JD a high-five.
"Tumlog kis baat pe hass rahe ho? Did I miss anything?" - Manoj
"Nahi rey Manoj, tum continue karo. JEE aane wala hai aur tumko Osama ke saath baithkar RMO ka sawaal banane se fursat mile tab na."
 And again we started laughing.
JD turned his head to the right.
Saw something. 
Turned back with an increase in excitement with decreasing theta.
"Oo Mato, ab samjhe. Beta mere us taraf purple jacket mein baithi hui hai woh ladki is liye tumko baithana hai. Kya naam hai bey uska?"
"Kaun ladki! Kaun Ladki!" - Raj 
"Woh dekh woh jo purple jacket mein hai." - JD
"Abey woh purple nahi pink hai. Uska naam kya tha? Humko yaad nahi aa raha hai" - Raj
"Advaita" - I interrupted.
"Abey bahut patli hai woh." - JD
"Aur tum bahut mota hai mota." I quickly replied.
Another round of laughter, after which Adi went back to his usual activity of sharing sms with some chick from his school. 

Saurabh Sir entered the classroom. The classroom automatically silenced. Except Namrata who was still chattering with some Loyolean folks four rows back. He projected the first set of questions.
"Yaar aaj phir khali sum banayenge humlog." I mumbled.
"Yup." - Raj was already occupied with the first question finding the number of diagonals of the polygon whose no three diagonals were concurrent and the total number of points of intersection of diagonals interior to the polygon was 70.

By the time the class ended we had already solved 4 such sets with the fifth one bestowed upon us as homework. People started pouring out of the class.
"Yaar, yeh set toh solve nahi hoga merese." - I remarked
"Ho jayega bey. Arihant mein aisa ek do sawaal hum dekhe hai. Aaj raat ko karne baithenge. Yaar Inorganic chemistry bhi padhna hai. BK Pandey physical chemistry karata raha pura 2 saal aur Mishra ji toh Mr.G naam ka character ke peeche haath dhokar padh gaye Organic padhate samay."
We all agreed with what Ra'ul said.

"Haan laundo toh jaisa ki aaj decide hua tha. Class khatam hone ke baad Raj chalo mereko Simple Harmonic Motion padhao. Kuch samajh nahi aa raha hai. Phase.. velocity .. frequency .. jo toh ho raha hai."
I took out my notebook and tore a sheet.
Adi and Ra'ul joined me," Humlog ko bhi SHM samajhna hai. Concept clear nahi hai."
"Abey SHM asaan hai yaar. Rotation jyada mushkil hai." - Manoj
Osama nodded his head in agreement.
"Abey, batoli mat do tum dono. Mera madad karo tab inlog ko padhane mein." - Raj
Half an hour passed and we continued scribbling on that sheet unearthing SHM spring-by-spring.
"Oye woh relative velocity leke jo sum banate hai woh samjha na."
"Yaar woh toh mera bhi clear nahi hai." - Raj
"Abey humko aata hai woh accha se. Us samay hum SMS nahi kar rahe the aur sir jo bole humko samajh aa raha tha kuch kuch." - Adi
So the role was reversed. Sheet turned. And the concepts started pouring it yet again.
Half an hour passed even faster this time.
"Toh sabka concept clear ho gaya hai." - Adi
"Haan bhai aaj toh maja aa gaya. SHM ka feel aa gaya. Ab toh SHM padhne ka bhi jaroorat nahi." I was over-excited.
"Itna jyada confidence nahi hota agar tum FITJEE ka AITS ka SHM wala sawaal dekh lete toh. Dekho is saal JEE mein kya poochta hai SHM se." - Manoj
"Hmm.. ab toh exams aane wala hai. Kaafi masti kar liye humlog. Pata nahi aage kaun kahan hoga. Naya groups ban jayega sabka. Mil bhi payenge ki nahi. Kisko kaun yaad rakhega. Sab apne apne life mein busy ho jayenge."

November 2012, Hall 1, Kanpur

I am lying double-coated on my hostel bed. It's just another cold winter day.
The penultimate semester just got over a few days back.
My eyes fell on the black purse lying in one corner of my desk.
I picked it up. Pulled out something tucked behind the coin pocket.

I unfolded a torn sheet of paper, having equations scribbled all over it. 
I silently smiled.
"I was so wrong. You guys are irreplaceable," I said in a muffled voice.

Took a picture of the other side. Posted it on Facebook. Tagged them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Bankster

In Angola, a covert CIA agent is about to exchange weapons for blood diamond.
In Kerala, an elderly man will do whatever it takes to fulfil a promise made to a dying son.
In Mumbai, an international bank is stunned by the mysterious deaths of its key employees.
These three lines written on the back cover were sufficient to raise my curiosity in 'The Bankster' written by Ravi Subramanian.

It is a fast paced thriller with interwoven stories involving some of the most intricate characters. The primary setting is The Greater Boston Global Bank (GB2) of Mumbai which is shaken when it employees are found dead under strange circumstances. On the surface it appears as if it is an accident or a suicide, but on delving deeper we realise that these are gruesome homicides. The police is clueless and the motive appears unclear.
Who is to blame?
Who is driving these intriguing and bone chilling murders?

In the same office a young and pretty RM, Zinaida, is climbing up the corporate ladder. Beating targets by fetching several high portfolio clients.
Is it just merit or something else is cooking up in GB2?
When Karan Panjabi tries to unfold this case he realizes the case isn't just about a few murders, but it is a global conspiracy with far reaching implications - a secret that could destroy not only the bank but cast a shadow on the entire nation. He is running out of time and trusts only Kavya while he uncovers the truth and a connection you couldn't even imagine.

In Devikulam, Krishna Menon is fighting against the government nuclear project TNPP. He claims it is unsafe and wants the government to take proper measures. Jaya comes to his aid and along with him comes both financial and scientific backing which helps Krishna in his fight for a cause. But soon this fight turns ugly which pushes Krishna into dilemma through which there is just a single way to escape.

The style is simply gripping and filled with plenty of twists and turns which will keep you hooked till the end. Ravi Subramanian has surely justified what the Wall Street Journal said - 'Meet the John Grisham of banking.' His portrayal of the banking system and the employees, hits the bull's eye. The dark mystery surrounding the global organisation is evident throughout the tale.

Totally worth a read if you love a thriller based on Indian setting!
Thankyou Blogadda!
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!