Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Books and Me: Daily Rituals

Book Title: Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkDaily-Rituals Book Cover

Author: Mason Curry

I am big fan of writings about artists. How they create their work? Where did their inspiration come from? How did they find their domains? Who did they work under? Who moulded them? How did they get their breaks? How did they remain motivated without rewards? And so on. Anything that gets published on creative people, I generally tend to read. Because though I do a lot of my work in writing on strategy and entrepreneurship, I find there is a lot to learn from artists for business owners.

But this book I picked (rather downloaded) to read because it was intended at understanding the daily routines and rituals of artists. I am a big believer in routines. While I am not a big fan of rituals, I was reading the book to view the kind of routines that artists cultivated and sustained through their lives. As I am working towards building my own routines, I thought this book will give me a few perspectives. To be true to the author, I think it has brought together a whole of information about a whole lot of artists in one book. While the details provided for some authors is longer and more detailed than the others, a reading of the book gives us some general understanding on the importance routines for long term productivity. This is an important lesson for all who think they are running marathons rather than sprints, especially because the examples are from the realm of art.

If artists needed routines to ensure their creativity comes out in full throttle, how can routines not be important for all others. The book is simply a collection of facts about identified artists and their routines and rituals, the author does not make any suggestions or learning. The author is clear that this is not a book of scientific research, but a book of inspiration. It is a good example of good curation. The reader can take away numerous lessons from this collection. The author has also cited references and further reading which will be very helpful, as each one of us (readers) can pick the artist who inspires us and read more about them.

The book is an inspiring read if you are interested in the realm of art in any way. I am sure a few sections of the book will inspire you more than the others, but even if one of them can, I think we should be grateful to the author for the work.

In my case I had more than one which inspired me and I am going to pick a few more referred books about those authors and read further.

Overall a light book which can serve as an inspiration to all who gain inspiration from artists of any kind. Since I work a lot with entrepreneurs, the message from such a book for entrepreneurs is that building routines is critical for unleashing their creativity sustainably while also setting the base for institution building.

Happy Reading and Routine Building!


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Books and Me: Thrive

Book Title: ThriveThrive Book Cover

Author: Arianna Huffington

In a fast paced and competitive world there is no one who does not measure himself / herself against each other. People are comparing themselves with everyone possible and either feeling good or feeling bad, both feelings are sadly, temporary. Much of this comparison arises from two factors that have become the widely used measures: money and power. Since these two are measurable, most people end up falling in line to measuring success based on these. Because these are two measures that have fairly standard measures, they also become easy to compare and fall prey to feelings.

According to the author (who is successful and popular across both measures) the inevitable problem with living based on the above measures is that the individual is lost in the process of seeking worldly success. No please don’t stop reading – she is not against worldly success, but she provides a view to how we can truly be successful in our own eyes. Now, this is really difficult, because when the game is over, we are almost left with only ourselves and it is then that the real question of success comes up. When this happens, most successful people have regretted their choices to be successful in the currently understood way. The author quotes her own experience of having hit this ceiling, thankfully early in life, to make corrections.

The book defines a third metric apart from the above two, which happens to be the title of the book: Thrive. This is the third metric and it contains four components that make it up:

  • Our well being
  • Our ability to draw on our inner intuition and wisdom
  • Our sense of wonder
  • Our capacity for compassion and giving

The book is sprinkled with enough interesting anecdotes from the author’s life and the lives of other interesting personalities. The one I liked the most was her mother, who seems to have had a huge impact on the author’s life. I was very touched by her mother’s approach to life, especially towards the end of her life. I loved reading the portion of the book that speaks about ‘Death’ as it is a concept that is close to my heart. The book is not any emotional treatise on how to die or how to live better by sleeping for hours a day – it is filled with enough references to scientific studies from respected journals. While I loved every section of the book, I enjoyed the section on ‘walking’, ‘death’, and ‘giving’ more than the others.

Routines in life are important and they should be set by us based on our priorities. We must ensure our life is balanced so as to have no regrets in life. Many of the practices suggested in the book seem to help in bringing some order to today’s chaotic and turbulent lifestyle. I think every young person must read this book and benefit from it. If we can take away even one or two ideas and put it to practice in our lives, we will see phenomenal difference to the way we lead our lives. Even though the book refers to woman to a larger extent than men, the advice applies to all equally.

I must thank the author to reveal so much about her mom’s life as it has inspired me to re-look at my own and has also reinforced my study of philosophy.

Thank you Ms Arianna Huffington for sharing such a wonderful book with us!

Happy Reading!


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Books and Me: The Valmiki Syndrome

Book Title: The Valmiki Syndrome

Author: Ashok K BankerThe Valmiki Syndrome Book Cover

I picked the book up because of its title. I have been interested in knowing how sages like Valmiki transformed themselves into who they became. If you know the transformative story of ‘Bandit Ratnakaran’ becoming ‘Sage Valmiki’ and you want to know how this transformation happened, you will also pick the book up just like how I did. But to be true this story is only a fourth of the book. The book has three other stories that run in parallel – that of Suhasini, Sara and Ravi. No, they are not stories from the Puranas like that of Valmiki, but from today’s world and based on lives like ours (possibly).

While there are number of books written on the mythological and Puranic stories by the author Ashok Banker and so many others, writing a non-fiction book based on them is truly a challenge. The author has made a great attempt to present some solutions to living life more peacefully and happily. The stories (that of Suhasini, Sara and Ravi) provide us with enough variations of what most of us go through in life. Hence it is likely that you will relate to or extrapolate from these stories some situations that you have been through in life. This provides a connect to the reader and creates the hope that he or she will receive some answers as well. But somehow towards the end of the book, I felt let down. I am not sure if it has any reflection of the author’s ability because one must acknowledge the fact that writing non-fiction based on our historic literature is everybody’s dream – but difficult as well. Valmiki’s story in my humble understanding has nothing to do with balancing personal and professional priorities in life. While the other stories do bring out the importance of building work-life balance they stand starkly different from Valmiki’s story.

While there is a lot I learned about Valmiki through this book, it was not in line with my expectations. I kind of tried to speed through the remaining stories as they seemed to reflect more about balancing various aspects of life rather than finding what one needs to do in life. In my opinion Valmiki’s life and that of so many others from the Puranas has to do with how they found their principal vocation in life. How did they make that happen? What did they do that led them to their identification of their vocation? How did finding this lead them to self realization? All of these need deeper thinking and personal reflection. I am also beginning to realize that these are not to be sought in books and as tips from others – somehow that is not the way it seems to have been gained by others in history.

While there are brilliant works in our ancient historic literature that can point the way and serve as guideposts, it is up to each one of us to figure it out ourselves. So it is a long and tough journey which only the fearless and single pointed can take. Keep searching for you may land yourself on that path as well.

One thing that this book has also inspired me to do is put ‘Reading the Ramayana’ in detail on my reading list (or should I say study list?). If possible in Sanskrit with transliteration because many quotes and references in the book to the Ramayana gave me a glimpse of the breadth of the knowledge embedded in that story.

Thanks to Ashok Banker for providing a book that inspires us to bring balance to life’s priorities while also showing us the direction to the Ramayana – a treasure trove of wisdom from the realized sage Valmiki.


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Books and Me: The Laptop Millionaire

Book Title: The Laptop Millionaire

Author: Mark AnastasiThe Laptop Millionaire Book Cover

I love reading about entrepreneurs. Since entrepreneurs constantly find new ways to create value for their potential audience and for themselves, I learn so much from their activities. I picked this book up as part of my reading especially to know more about entrepreneurs who make a living in the virtual world. While my idea of a laptop entrepreneur was someone who sits at a cafe and builds a cloud based product or service, Mark, the author of this book proposes a totally different model. While it seems like plausible, I would also like to lean more on the school of micro entrepreneurs who create enterprises without too many resources. Why am I then writing about this book? For more than one reason – read on!

I am not too sure if I belong to the school of thought proposed in this book. But, I must accept the fact that I was bowled over by the writing style of the author. His storytelling ability keeps you gripped to the book. The better part of the writing is the strong push it gives the reader to get off the chair or cot and try something online. A well written book needs to be read and especially one that drives you into action. While I don’t intend to apply a lot of the principles in the book as they are suggested, I did learn more about how the online world works. I am sure some entrepreneurial minds who see the world as a global village will find some business ideas.

The tone of the writing and the numerous examples provided make the book an interesting read as well. The author provides short cases of people who have used his methods and made considerable sums of money. In fact more than once while reading the book, I thought I should go down the suggested route, but the principles of my school of thought remain too strong to allow me to use them. But nevertheless I am sure it would work for some who believe in them. So the best way to know about them is to read the book.

The other reason I liked the book is because the author bares all the tools he has used to make money online. He not only provides the secret sauce of how it has worked for him, but also the tools that he has used along the way. In fact he applies some of the suggestions as he writes the book because he asks you to subscribe / buy some of the tools for better results. I am sure he or his affiliates will make some money out of it. But isn’t that you also want when you trade your products and services – that people pay for the value that they receive! After all don’t we all know that there is no free lunch in the world?

I also learned a lot about the number of tools, services and approaches that people have used online to generate wealth for themselves. I was simply amazed at the way simple and freely available tools such as Facebook and YouTube can be leveraged for wealth generation. But behind all of these tools and techniques was the constant reiteration to find and solve a problem or challenge that someone in the world faces. Additionally the author also strives to focus on making profits through collaborations.

“Collaborating to create value for others is the way to make value for oneself.” This is my strong message from the book. I still will continue to work along my way based on the principles of my school of thinking. But the book will remain an interesting read and will also encourage some of its readers to make money as well.

Happy Reading!


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Books and Me: Dhandha

Book Title: Dhandha – How Gujaratis do Business

Author: Shobha Bondre (Translated by Shalaka Walimbe)Dhandha Book Cover

‘Dhandha’ is another inspiring read for entrepreneurial minds. It is a given that Gujaratis are born business people. Gujaratis are referred to as a benchmark for reference when it comes to business sense. But most of what people speak about Gujarati businessmen (women included) is hearsay. There is very little that is written about of the Gujarati way of doing business, at least in English. Hence a lot of the business students and aspiring entrepreneurs outside of regional literature like Gujarati and Marathi have not had privy to this knowledge. Shobha Bondre’s works in Marathi seemed to have had a wide readership. But the non Marathi speaking population will now have access to her works – thanks to Shalaka Walimbe’s interesting translation.

The book describes the journey of five Gujarati business persons (one woman as well). Each of their stories are truly entrepreneurial. They are typical of how many of the Gujarati business persons have grown and built their own communities. The book is first and foremost, very inspiring. Every story traces the growth of an entrepreneur from rags (almost in some cases) to riches. The stories also highlight the fact that they were ordinary people like all of us. One can easily relate to these people since the stories are so intertwined with their personal lives. This makes the reading very human and realistic. It is not that they have not had problems or that they did not have set backs, but every story is about determination to be in business, to be successful and to be fair to their lives. They have taken tremendous risks as well. The success and the ongoing challenges of some of their lives are useful lessons for teaching entrepreneurship.

Every class that I teach on entrepreneurship rarely goes without a remark about Gujarati business acumen. But instead of accepting their natural inclination towards business and speaking at the macro level, we can now bring at least five real stories to class: Bhimjibhai Patel (Diamonds are forever), Mohanbhai Patel (The Circle of Life), Dalpatbhai Patel (Motelier becomes Mayor), Jaydev Patel (Life of a Salesman) and Hasu & Hersha Shah (Not Only Potels).

The book is an easy read for anyone. One of the highlights of the book is the absence of smart statements and prophetic advices. The suggestions are all about being honest to the profession, thinking long term, working hard, building strong relationships, etc – all of which are so simple, that it may be exciting. But it is this simple advice that has created generation after generation of Gujarati businessmen and women. A lot of learning for entrepreneurs lies subtly embedded in the stories and that is what makes story telling interesting. Lessons can be milked out by the reader based on their level of extraction. Overall a good read which goes beyond inspiration. With a foreword by the chief minister of Gujarat (Narendra Modi) and an introduction by the state’s brand ambassador (Amitabh Bachchan) – the book has received a generous introduction.


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Books and Me: Bird by Bird

Book Title: Bird by Bird – Some instructions on writing and life

Author: Anne LamottBird by Bird Book Cover

As one who is keen on keeping my writing spirits high, I love to read books that speak about the art and craft of writing. Though I have begun to see redundancy in the inputs provided by the self-help variety even in this segment, I still enjoy reading them. Amongst this genre I truly enjoy books that strike a chord at the philosophical level. Since most of the ‘to-do’ aspects of this genre is repetitive and becomes an excuse from actual practice, the philosophical intent needs tremendous reiteration to develop and retain the right attitude.

Anne Lamott’s beautifully titled book speaks about the only way to making big projects happen, including big writing projects. In fact it is the only way to make any project happen. How does one finish a 800 page text book project – in Anne Lamott’s language: ‘bird by bird’. This little piece of advice is all that one needs to imbibe before getting down to work. If one learns to look at all the writing tips provided in the book from this overarching idea, it seems simple. But the biggest challenges for a writer trying to put the ‘bird by bird’ philosophy to work are:

  • Being disciplined and committed to the art called writing
  • Understanding the vocation called writing in spirit

As a thinker and writer I loved the philosophical underpinnings of the author. I am sure many other readers could have found the book a little preachy and spiritual. Many readers could have been disappointed from the book as it provides very less inputs on what to do to improve the writing. There are many other books for that – but something that every artist needs to understand and internalize is that writing itself is the reward for writing. Every artist needs to internalize this subtle piece of knowledge and remain immersed in it as we produce, rather attempt to produce one more piece of creative work.

The book contains some interesting anecdotes, personal experiences of the author, number of beautiful and deeply influential quotes, and further references for reading. At some portions of my reading I found the author bordering on strong philosophical concepts. As a student of Vedanta, I found this an interesting extension of philosophy in practice. Overall I enjoyed the book and convinced myself that I must continue to write for writing’s sake. The book also has induced in me a strong thought to re-look at my priorities with respect to writing and everything else I do in life. At many points in the book one is bound to stop, put down the book and delve into contemplation. This deep reflection and thinking is essential to all creative pursuits and many times even to live life at large. The book is a strong trigger of passive passion and I am sure it will make you ponder on the innermost purpose of life. While most of the discussions in the book are from a writer’s perspective, it will not be too difficult to extend the learning to other spheres of activities as well.

Happy Reading and hopefully happy writing as well!


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Books and Me: BRAG – The art of tooting your own horn without blowing it

Book Title: BRAG – The art of tooting your own horn without blowing it!

Author: Peggy KlausBRAG Book Cover

When you give a man a horn, he will blow it or toot it! Whether it sounds like cacophony or music will depend on how he does it? If the “horn” meant talking about yourself, then you must ensure the resultant sound is like music to listeners.

Peggy Klaus is a definitive communicator. She gives her message to the reader loud and clear. Her book “BRAG” is a recommended read in today’s hyper competitive world and attention deficit community. She clearly elucidates the need for self promotion and also the negative meaning attached to the phrase. At times to someone who realizes the need for the skill at self-promotion, the repetition of reasons against or obstacles may seem redundant.

The book details a lot on the excuses people give themselves for not tooting their own horn and why one needs to convince themselves about the need for doing it. Another thing is also to ensure that doing it anyhow is dangerous and can seriously backfire. If not done correctly it can also assume wrong connotations.

Preparation as the key (using the take-12 questionnaire) has been rightly given its due place. Especially in the case of such a sensitive skill, preparation and practice can help avoid embarrassing moments and failure in self-promotion.

The book elucidates numerous instances where self-promotion is much needed. The detailing using examples makes it amply clear “how-to” and “how-not-to” –toot your own horn in all of these situations.

Amongst the many situations where the bragging skills can be applied, I found “When you’re out on your own” chapter to be the most relevant for an entrepreneur. In my role as a researcher, teacher, author, writer and entrepreneur I think this skill is much needed. All entrepreneurs will need to perfect the art. The book’s inherent message that self-promotion is not bad when done right is a basic input to all entrepreneurs. Selling is an inherent part of entrepreneurship and the salesman / saleswoman (entrepreneur in this case) is the most important in the sales process. But most entrepreneurs never learn this skill – they try to hard sell their way or don’t sell at all. While it may come as a surprise to many, it remains the reality. One of the reasons why entrepreneurs (especially in India) don’t naturally tend towards selling is their cultural upbringing of being advised not to ‘brag’ about oneself. While the intent of the advice is noble, its practice requires skill. If one learns the art of ‘tooting’ one’s own horn without sounding like ‘bragging’ – it could bring attention and eventually open the potential for future sales.

The best parts of the book include take-12, brag-nags and the chapter on bragging for the self-employed or entrepreneurial variety. This topic was / is and will be very important. In today’s attention deficit world, the art of subtly promoting oneself is very important and is slowly becoming a necessity. This book is important for entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to establish oneself in a group. The book is an easy read, easy to carry around, has excellent binding, printing and is almost devoid of any English error. It does not have distractions except for the often-repeated reason of why one should not detest tooting. For more information on the book you can look up at www.bragbetter.com

Happy Reading!

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