Cover Story

Once again, Seth Godin’s recent blog post offers good advice on a topic close to my heart – How to read a business book!  In it, Godin expounds his thoughts on how a business book is different from most other categories of books, and hence, needs to be handled differently…

There’s a huge gap between most how-to books (cookbooks, gardening, magic, etc.) and business books, though. The gap is motivation. Gardening books don’t push you to actually do something. Cookbooks don’t spend a lot of time trying to sell you on why making a roast chicken isn’t as risky as you might think.

The stakes are a lot higher when it comes to business…. The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.

Computer books, of course, are nothing but bullet points. Programmers get amazing value because for $30 they are presented with everything they need to program a certain tool. Yet most programmers are not world class, precisely because the bullet points aren’t enough to get them to see things the way the author does, and not enough to get them motivated enough to actually program great code.

Godin also offers some pointers that will help you make the most of your experience with business books:

Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a postit or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it… Effective managers hand books to their team. Not so they can be reminded of high school, but so that next week she can say to them, “are we there yet?”

Tim Sanders also writes about this subject in his book – Love is the Killer App – where he describes his strategy of “cliffing” over several pages, to those willing to learn from it.  800CEORead.com adds to Godin’s post by way of pointers like “Don’t skip the Introduction”, and “Don’t pick and choose parts of the recipe”.

Me? I always buy my own copy, and extensively follow my own variation of cliffing to help retain the key points in the context in which I first encountered them.  I also make an active effort to understand how what I just read applies to an earlier piece of work, and to my work life in general.  Thereon, I try to implement some of the learnings, as best as possible, in my sphere of work.

The most important learning here?  Reading business books is a different kinda ballgame.  If you’re serious about learning from these writings, you’ll need to review your approach towards it.  If all you want is to act informed, head to your favourite “Business Book Summaries” website today!

My First Book!

The wife sent an sms: “The courier has come”.

I’d been ordering books home for a while now, and a courier delivery was not an uncommon occurrence.  But, this particular one was much awaited.  I’d anticipated its arrival for quite a few weeks, in fact.  And the entire process had taken nearly a year to come to this stage… The reason?  This was the delivery of a book authored by me!

Yes, after months of searching, I’d found a publisher for my first work!!!

Thanks to the platform provided by IfIWereABook.com, a few publishers had expressed interest in my manuscript.  And, with one of them – Sanbun – I’d managed to take this to completion.

It was in the making for a few months, after we’d first signed on the dotted line.  After all, there was proof reading and editing, designing the cover, finalizing the content, etc. etc. etc.  Unlike perhaps the works of Penguin or Harper Collins, in this case, I was pretty much doing all of it except the actual printing.

Finally, on 5th March 2008, the delivery was made.

This book reproduces many of my blog posts on the subject of “fatherhood”, in a book-friendly format.  It traces the journey of my experience as a parent, from my first child’s birth to the time she reached about three years of age.

It’s a slender little book, all of 48 pages.  It should be available in select stores in India, soon.  It’s priced at Rs. 100.  And, it’s got its own ISBN code! Of course, the royalty cheques haven’t started pouring yet.  But, it’s a start, isn’t it?

The publishers have promised to make it available to their distribution network, and send out some copies to a few wholesale buyers to guage the market potential.  If the initial response is enthusiastic, more print runs will follow…

And, as much as it fulfills my own dream of “publishing a book one day”, this little project is also a means for me to leave behind a little something for my daughter Pumpkin… The story of her life!  I only hope you enjoy reading it, as much I have enjoyed writing it.

Read More: Bundle of Joy

Cross Word

A new website offered an interesting premise: Publish your book in 10 minutes, free! Naturally, I was intrigued. On further investigation, it turned out that ‘If I Were A Book’ did not actually turn your words into a real book, but the did the next best thing possible. It gave you an opportunity to showcase your work among some well-renowned publishers. The list of partner publishers was impressive…

A new website offered an interesting premise: Publish your book in 10 minutes, free!  Naturally, I was intrigued. 

On further investigation, it turned out that ‘If I Were A Book’ did not actually turn your words into a real book, but the did the next best thing possible.  It gave you an opportunity to showcase your work among some well-renowned publishers.  The list of partner publishers was impressive: RandomHouse, HarperCollins, Jaico, Hachette, etc. etc.

Post content which you feel is book worthy and watch it instantly take the shape of a book!  Get noticed by top international print publishers looking for talent like you… Read pre-printed books and voice your opinion to decide which books get printed…

Could this be true?  Could I really get a shot at a real-world publisher seeing my work and evaluating it on its merits?  Could it possibly work?

Having harboured the desire to write a book someday, I’d always been on the lookout for an opportunity like this.  I’d done my share of research, learning all about self-publishing options like Lulu and BookSurge, and visiting the “Submit your Manuscript” pages of most leading publishers’ websites.  It seemed like there was no downside to trying out this new platform.  After all, the worst case scenario was simply: No one would call.

So, I went ahead and hit the big green button that said “Publish My Book Now!”. 

My first book-concept is entitled “Bundle of Joy” and is intended to be a compilation of my blog posts on Fatherhood, charting the life of my first-born from conception to the time she was three… From the point of view of her father, of course. 

With that submission, the search for a publisher has moved up a notch.  It will help if you folks – the people who like my writing – rate the book on the site (registration required).  So, please take the time.

And, if there’s a author hidden inside any of you, I suggest you rush for that green button, now!

P.S. Interestingly, the past few weeks, I have been reading a fascinating book by Chris Anderson – The Long Tail.  And, this new platform seems to be yet another example of the Long Tail at work!  Must read, if you’re remotely interested in Science, Economics or the New Information Age…

Back to the Future

Bob started talking about the way cinema used to be a socio-cultural event, back in the ol’ days. This was a time when a ticket cost less than 50 pence. But, in exchange for that princely sum, the audience could do so much…Just going to see a movie in the theatre used to be a memorable event in itself! Most of us born on this side of the ’70s would not have dreamt of such a thing, were it not for stories like these handed-down from one generation to the next. So that got me thinking: What else has actually deteriorated in terms of its overall experience, despite modern-day advances? Surely, one could come up with many examples…

A few months ago, I was watching yet another episode of the famous “In The Actor’s Studio” series.  This time, it was an interview with Robert Redford.  Among other things, he was asked about his opinion on the way modern cinema has evolved.  And, the answer left most of his young audience (including me), somewhat dazed.

Bob started talking about the way cinema used to be a socio-cultural event, back in the ol’ days.  This was a time when a ticket cost less than 50 pence.  But, in exchange for that princely sum, the audience could enjoy two cartoon films, two short films, one news cast (usually covering the war), and two main feature films!

Just going to see a movie in the theatre used to be a memorable family event in itself!

Then, slowly and steadily, movie owners and distributors discovered the extra income they could make from adopting an assembly-line approach where you fill a movie-hall with a packed audience, show them a movie show, and get them out as fast as possible, only to fill it up all over again.  The evolution of that thinking, eventually, led to the modern-day “multiplex” phenomenon where four or five screens would do the same thing, in one venue itself.  In fact, these days, the trend has reached new heights with even the snacks and drinks being served to you, in your seat, during the intermission!

Now, most of us born on the younger side of the ’70s would not have dreamt of such a phenomenon, were it not for stories like these handed-down from one generation to the next.  For all its conveniences, I’m sure, many people of Bob’s age would not be too pleased with the way modern cinema has “evolved”.

What a wondrous experience it would be to go see “a movie” in the good ol’ days…

Unsung Melodies

Many of us who go through our entire lives firmly believing that whatever we are today, we are because of our own efforts and hard work.  And then, there are others who believe that all Life is a hand dealt by destiny… or by God.  While I usually subscribe to the notion of hard work and individual effort, I also cannot ignore the contribution that others have made, over the years, in shaping my thoughts and offering me a perspective I did not have to begin with.

Many of us who go through our entire lives firmly believing that whatever we are today, we are because of our own efforts and hard work.  And then, there are others who believe that all Life is a hand dealt by destiny… or by God.  While I usually subscribe to the notion of hard work and individual effort, I also cannot ignore the contribution that others have made, over the years, in shaping my thoughts and offering me a perspective I did not have to begin with.

Some of these “individuals” were responsible for the values and principles I have come to cherish.  Some, helped me in the career choices I had to make at the various turning points in my life.  While others, simply exposed my sensibilities to Art, Literature, Music, Movies and such finer aspects of Life.

But, ever so often, these contributions remain unacknowledged.  No one knows about it, but you.

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge one such contribution from someone who’s singularly responsible for the w-i-d-e variety of Music I have come to love, over the past two decades or so – Vivek Doraiswamy.

Through him, I learned to appreciate artists as diverse as The Righteous Brothers and Dire Straits.  Through him, I was first exposed to the music of John Williams and Sadao Watanabe.  It was he who first introduced me to the BeeGees and to Yanni.  And, it was through him, that I first experienced the melodies of Pat Boone and Pink Floyd.

If you love music as much as I do, you will realize how much his contribution really means.  It is because of the times we shared, back then, that I now enjoy Hindustani Classical as much as Alternative Rock, Contemporary Jazz as much as the Golden Oldies!!!

Thanks, Vivek.  This wouldn’t have been possible without you.

Runaway Success

Do fonts have stories?! I didn’t think so. At least, not until I came across “The Scourge of Arial”…

Do fonts have stories?!  I didn’t think so.  At least, not until I came across “The Scourge of Arial” :

Arial is everywhere. If you don’t know what it is, you don’t use a modern personal computer. It has spread like a virus through the typographic landscape and illustrates the pervasiveness of Microsoft’s influence in the world.

Arial, however, has a rather dubious history and not much character. In fact, Arial is little more than a shameless impostor.

What follows is a rather interesting storyline that details the dominance of Helvetica throughout the typographic world, and traces the evolution of various font styles and of the business empires that popularised them…

An icon of the Swiss school of typography, Helvetica swept through the design world in the ’60s and became synonymous with modern, progressive, cosmopolitan attitudes. With its friendly, cheerful appearance and clean lines, it was universally embraced for a time by both the corporate and design worlds as a nearly perfect typeface to be used for anything and everything. “When in doubt, use Helvetica” was a common rule.

Eventually, you learn about the motivation behind the entire range of ‘me-too’ clones of Helvetica, that attempted to reduce dependence on Adobe PostScript.  Some, like Arial, made the most of the opportunity by creating a “new design” that fit in the old bottle…

Arial appears to be a loose adaptation of Monotype’s venerable Grotesque series, redrawn to match the proportions and weight of Helvetica. At a glance, it looks like Helvetica, but up close it’s different in dozens of seemingly arbitrary ways. Because it matched Helvetica’s proportions, it was possible to automatically substitute Arial when Helvetica was specified in a document printed on a PostScript clone output device.

The situation today is that Arial has displaced Helvetica as the standard font in practically everything done by nonprofessionals in print, on television, and on the Web, where it’s become a standard font, mostly because of Microsoft bundling it with everything—even for Macs, which already come with Helvetica.

In this case, at least, imitation may not have been the sincerest form of flattery!

Does It Matter?

I started this blog inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, who once remarked : “Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.” Sometimes, when I think about those countless hours spent in composing and posting entries to this site, I find myself wondering if it really matters. Is there any body out there, reading what I’m writing about?!

I started this blog inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, who once remarked : “Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Sometimes, when I think about those countless hours spent in composing and posting entries to this site, I find myself wondering if it really matters.  Is there any body out there, reading what I’m writing about?!

Here are some statistics from the logs of my host provider :

158 entries till date (since inception)

201 comments till date (since inception)

102 subscribers (rss feeds)

896 Avg. Unique Visitors/Month (Jan-Dec 2005)

5,402 Avg. Raw Hits/Month (Jan-Dec 2005)

82 visitors (past 24 hours)

293 visitors (past week)

699 visitors (past month)

Glad to see that at least some people are finding it worth their while.

Ticket to Heaven

Mumbai is not on the usual rock circuit, and is quite starved for good concerts. Most international acts give the city a pass, thanks to unfriendly government regulations and taxes. So it was with much surprise and enthusiasm that, yesterday, we witnessed one of the all-time greats of rock – Mark Knopfler – in concert at the MMRDA grounds!

Mumbai is not on the usual rock circuit, and is quite starved for good concerts.  Most international acts give the city a pass, thanks to unfriendly government regulations and taxes. So it was with much surprise and enthusiasm that, yesterday, we witnessed one of the all-time greats of rock – Mark Knopfler – in concert at the MMRDA grounds! 

A long time ago came a man on a track
walking thirty miles with a pack on his back
and he put down his load where he thought it was the best
made a home in the wilderness

Dire Straits – the band Knopfler founded way back in 1978 – has always been the ultimate source of joy for me.  And it has been a lifelong dream to attend a live concert of Mark Knopfler.  Can you imagine Knopfler on a stage, some rows ahead, playing for you ?!

Here I am again in this mean old town
And you’re so far away from me
And where are you when the sun goes down
You’re so far away from me

So when I learned that he was to perform in Mumbai on 5th March 2005, I couldn’t believe it.  More so because I was scheduled to be on a plane out of India the same day – the one day that I didn’t want to be anywhere else but here!  As luck would have it, just three days before the show, my trip got postponed.  And, it seemed like I was finally going to make it to the show…

how long, how long baby
how long has it been
how long you gonna keep me wondering
how long before you see
stallin’ me was wrong – how long

It was every thing I’d dreamed of, and more.  The arrangements were well coordinated, the audience was well behaved, the sound quality was superb and the music… the music was sheer bliss.

I got my ticket to heaven
and everlasting life
I got a ride all the way to paradise

The Sultan of Swing performed live last night, and I was just a couple of rows away from him!!!

Black, No Equal

India makes more movies each year than any other country in the world. Yet, if I had to choose one movie from all the ones made in Bollywood, past or present, it would have to be Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’.

India makes more movies each year than any other country in the world.  Yet, if I had to choose one movie from all the ones made in Bollywood, past or present, it would have to be Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’.

‘Black’ is the story of a deaf-blind-mute child who’s on the verge of going insane because she cannot communicate with any one.  Then, an ageing, alcoholic teacher comes into her life.  And, he starts working with her, painstakingly and patiently teaching her words and their meanings… one word at a time.  

If you’ve ever known a physically- or mentally- challenged child at close quarters, you probably would have glimpsed how difficult the simplest task can become. But to overcome obstacles, and grow beyond the limitations that our circumstances impose on us, is the greatest achievement that man is capable.

This is not a subject that Bollywood often addresses. ‘Black’ does not have the usual song-and-dance routines found commonly in typical Indian films – in fact, the entire movie has not even a single song in it!  (And this, coming from a director whose last film (Devdas) was the most expensive Indian film ever made, with a production cost of 500 million!!!)  But, Black has a lot to offer in terms of international quality cinema : Award-worthy performances by almost the entire cast (75% of the movie is actually in English!), cinematography and production quality par excellence, and integrity.

Above all, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has integrity.  If the story requires glitz and glamour, it will have it.  If the story cannot accomodate a song, it won’t.  Whatever the story needs is of utmost importance… No more, no less.

‘Black’ is an exceptional film. Go see it.

What’s The Point?

Sometimes, I think I’m becoming more and more cynical in life. Every where I see, there are only more examples of “all-talk-no-action”…

Sometimes, I think I’m becoming more and more cynical in life. 

Every where I see, there are only more examples of “all-talk-no-action”.  On TV, I catch a segment of a talk show featuring a heated debate among some citizens and some politicians.  I can’t help but wonder, what’s the point?  Tomorrow it will all be forgotten, and nothing good will come of it.  In a group discussion, I overhear people cribbing about the pathetic state of affairs and blaming the government for all their ills.  And I think to myself, what’s the point?  No one will take the time out to do any thing about it.  All they want to do is let out some steam, find someone to blame, and go right back to their jobs and their parties…

It’s not just others.  After all, what have I done that’s so different from them?  This blog?  Is that really going to make a difference?

And then, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. :

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I’d like to believe that that must count for something.  Maybe, some day, I will be able to put these words – these feelings – to constructive use.