Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Books and Me: Zen in the art of writing

Book Title: Zen in the art of writingzenintheartofwriting

Author: Ray Bradbury

Here are some of the reasons on why I bought this book

  1. The word Zen in the title
  2. It’s about the art of writing
  3. The tag line read ‘Releasing the creative genius within you’
  4. It’s a book about celebration, inspiration and passion for writing

The first time I picked the book to read, I put it back even before finishing a few pages. Just like everybody else I had built my expectation. The style of writing was far from what I normally read and what I normally write.  Because of these reasons and many such others, the book sat on my table for a few weeks.  On one of those days when I decided to read a book in full, I picked this once again. I think the lure was its size but this time I was totally engaged.

A person who writes short stories, fiction etc in all likeliness will enjoy and relate to the book, while also taking away tips and tricks. Being a writer in the space of strategy and entrepreneurship, I did not really find many tips and tricks to take away. But as a writer, thinker and as an aspiring artist I took away one solid learning – Inspiration! And for that alone this book becomes invaluable.

The book is a clarion call to be an artist.  What seems on the face of it as ramblings, has inside it a soul stirring effect as you keep delving deep and moving towards the end of the book. While there are beautiful anecdotes, quotes and stories what I think is the deepest and subtlest lesson is this aspect of “Work – Relaxation – Don’t Think – Further-Relaxation…” . This aspect of getting lost in work or practicing “Wise Passiveness” creates what the author calls as a new definition for work: “Love”

I am terribly inspired by the call of the author to listen to that inner voice and to live that artist life.  Thank you Ray Bradbury for doing this!


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What does it take to get inspired?

Inspiration is not in the object that you see. Inspiration is not in the nature that you observe. Inspiration is not in theinspired book that you read. Inspiration is not in the music that you listen to. Inspiration is what happens when you come in contact with the above. That is why Ruskin Bond writes so much after looking at a tree and a cat, while many of us will dismiss them as just another tree and a cat.  What inspired him in the tree and the cat that did not inspire others?  It falls to logic that it is then not in the tree and the cat.

This leads us to the question, what does it take to be inspired? Inspiration is what it takes to be inspired. Inspiration is what makes you see the same thing differently than most others. Inspiration is what makes you do things that most others don’t do. Inspiration is inside you and me. They are different in you and me. What inspires you may not inspire me and vice versa. But there is something that will inspire you and inspire me. The sad part is that we don’t figure the source of this inspiration in us.  A little bit of self understanding will start taking you closer to this. The moment you find it inside yourself, everything around you will become a source of inspiration (triggers).  Once this happens every day of your life will be inspiration. And every moment of your life you will be inspired to live that inspiration. This can be seen in the lives of a Mahatma Gandhi as much as in the life of Adolf Hitler. They individually believed in their ideologies so much that even when death came their way they remained true to themselves. That in my opinion is being inspired.


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The man who amazes and inspires me!

I am a fan of Seth Godin. I am a regular reader of his blog. But you might just hear both of these from thousands of people. To me he serves as an inspiration too!

I am inspired by his consistency!Seth godin

I am inspired by his persistence!

I am inspired by his provocative thoughts!

I am inspired by his approach!

I am inspired by his blog posts!

I am inspired by his ebooks!

I am inspired by his printed book (that adorn my shelf)!

I am inspired by his videos!

I am inspired by everything he does…..

But the most inspiring thing is his call for action and his repeated insistence that you are the one can call yourself to action. Though all this has been on my  mind ever since I came in contact with him and his thoughts virtually, this post was triggered by his 5000th post! http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/06/the-5000th-post.html

The only thing that comes to my mind is “Oh My God!!”  I am so inspired – and gladly so!


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My take on the Rajat Gupta Story

Rajat Gupta’s is yet another story of great learning for every one of us. It has every aspect of a typical movie script worked out to the last detail in real life. He was also the typical example for the American Dream. He was also the embodiment for young indians (asians) dreaming of going to the west and reaching great heights in the global arena. Undeniably he was a spoken of example worthy of emulation – until recently! The one securities exchange fraud (of which Mr Gupta claims innocence in terms of personal gains) was enough to destroy the reputation, hard work, success, riches and stardom that took a life long journey to achieve.

What makes one who has reached the so called pinnacle of achievement (which is itself reached by a very few) want more? Why can’t people become contented at some stage in their life? Why is the so called contentment only an external statement, not something that comes out of self understanding? What makes these temptations irresistible even for people who have had enough?

Many times it is almost impossible to define the terms: ‘more’ and ‘enough’! Understanding them makes a world of difference. What will happen if we all understand these two terms and begin using them consciously. When i read the various news reports of Rajat Gupta and the related stories around the securities fraud – i could not but hold to point out this one thing: lets not write off the man for the slip alone, his earlier story is still worth emulation.

Whenever i am called to speak and / or conduct workshops at corporates, executive education programs, management courses, faculty development initiatives and entrepreneurship development courses, participants incessantly ask for real life examples. Here i thought was one such brilliant example worthy of serious study. When we look at Mr Rajat Gupta’s life we should not look only at his indulgence in a fraudulent action but take all possible lessons.

One thing that i am convinced of after seeing his life story is that the so called ‘law of karma’ works with tremendous precision – it rewards and punishes without differentiation. My learnings are:

1. Be aware and conscious in every action.
2. Act with a conscience.
3. Understand the true meaning of the words: ‘more’ and ‘enough’.
4. Honest, hard work will yield results.
5. Doing good is not an antidote to doing bad.
6. In the overall scheme of things – nothing will go un-noticed.

Read the story of his life to the detail possible and take home as many lessons as you can! Happy Learning!


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The irony of accessing entrepreneurs

When you ask people where inspiration comes from, they usually point to some phenomenal doers.  There is nothing wrong about it. Infact it is people who act by giving themselves fully to the action who end up breaking down barriers. It is these people, their success, their courage, their persistence, their actions, their valour, their attributes, their choices and many more that serve as inspiration.  The beauty with each of the attributes mentioned above is that they are all relative, and so it depends a lot on the person who is viewing.

A poor man’s son can draw inspiration from a wealthy person. A weak person can draw inspiration from one who is stronger. In a similar fashion an aspiring entrepreneur can draw inspiration from an existing entrepreneur.  Among the list of successful entrepreneurs, the ones who seem to be inspiration for most people include the same small group of names who have visibly achieved great heights and have been celebrated in public.  However, because of their success and stardom, they remain difficult to access, for most aspiring entrepreneurs.

While this small group remains inaccessible, a much larger group of fairly successful entrepreneurs who have definitely gone well beyond the current state of the aspiring entrepreneur  – don’t seem to inspire as much. Infact much of the difficulties faced (if not more) by the aspiring entrepreneur would lie with these people and surprisingly these people are also much more easily accessible.

While the willingness to help may be the same across the group of phenomenal achievers and understated local successes, the time to give, share experience and advice maybe more with these lesser celebrated-moderately successful-closer to home-local entrepreneurs.

The reasons why this gold mine is untapped are a plenty,  but that it is a gold mine is irrefutable.  As in the case of any mining activity the effort to sieve through and find the metal may be tough but is always a worthwhile possibility.  I hope the smart gen-next entrepreneurs of today start accessing this vast pool of rich experienced persons and draw inspiration from them, to not only kick-start ventures but to catalyze their growth.


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STOP MOTIVATING!!! START INSPIRING!!!

Over the last fifteen days  I have been having frequent and intense interactions with the group that I love spending time most – students.  I interacted, discussed and debated over these days with them on a variety of topics around entrepreneurship. What impressed me was the high degree of enthusiasm, interest and fire to achieve something beyond the ordinary. Most of them had great ideas and a large group of them had also started piloting their ideas as ventures on campus. 

When I participated in a panel discussion on the same subject the questions posed by these young minds were pointed and deep. Even during my intense two day workshop on business design the sustained level of motivation of students even towards the end of the second day surprised me. 

Why then is there so much discussion amongst the teaching and mentoring community about the need to motivate these students? What greater than this intrinsic motivation can we feed to this Gen-Y?

However it is also true that somewhere this enthusiasm in entrepreneurship is not getting translated into real action. What then is stopping this group from taking that bold step in becoming entrepreneurs? While a number of reasons such as lack of funds, experience etc.  can be readily sighted, I disagree by categorising the above as plain vanilla excuses.  Let me expound this further.

Anyone watching these youngsters will agree on one thing that this Gen-Y are not characterised by inaction.  Very often we have seen them go on to garner resources, support, funds, friends and tools that we thought were far beyond their reach. They have broken many of our accepted limits of performance and possibilities. They are innovative, motivated and result driven – however only on those things where they are convinced. When they decide the end is worth it – they have the drive to figure the means.

Today when you notice the effort in the ecosystem to expose the young minds to entrepreneurship – the energy we are expending is directed primarily at motivating and energizing them. The thrill of the journey is spoken more than the end result (achievement, contribution, wealth creation, recognition etc). Except for making feeble attempt at appealing to their emotions; we are not providing them with a strong enough case to pursue entrepreneurship.  This is where the weakness is.

In my view, the singular factor that can catalyze their jump to entrepreneurship is inspiration.  

Inspiration cannot be drawn only from the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They need to be shown Indian success stories of the likes of Narayana Murthy, Dhirubhai Ambani, Karsenbhai patel etc. But even more importantly they need to be exposed to the regional-local stories which may not yet be popular; but with whom the students would find easier to relate.

 Since these local entrepreneurs would have started and grown their enterprise amidst the same conditions and constraints – it will provide inspiration of the highest order.  When the students constantly listen to only examples from west and exceptions from India, their logical minds start weighing the possibility of success.

If one can inspire them with the thought that while it is fine for all to aspire to become Narayana Murthy, there are many business owners who have created profitable and sustainable socio-economic ecosystem – supporting multiple families, creating and sharing wealth in many planes right from their locality, who they can also become. All these examples are not for pure emulation – but to provide the needed inspiration at multiple levels. Inspiration then also needs to be sustained by constant interactions with such entrepreneurial minds. And this will be extremely powerful once again if they are local!

Once these young minds are inspired by the larger end – I am confident that they will work out the means to achieve it.

All our hopes for a stronger and younger entrepreneurial India can come ONLY if we start inspiring our already motivated Gen-Y. Do we actually have another choice?


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A Gift to my Children by Jim Rogers

Book Cover

Lessons from Dad

Ask many children / teenagers (especially youth) and they will tell you how they detest advice. Repeat the same exercise when they reach past 50 years of age and they will reverse their statement!

Jim Rogers has some advice for his son through his book “A Gift to my Children”. And one special passage he has written stuck me hard. I quote it verbatim:

“While I was driving around the word with your mother, my father’s cancer deteriorated and he eventually passed away. But I did not stop our journey to return to my father’s side. That might sound selfish or coldhearted. And so I want you to know why I made this choice. For me to go on a round-the-world trip was my father’s dream as well as mine. He insisted that I not cut the trip short for his sake. When his condition worsened, it was important to me to tell him how proud of him I was and how much I loved him. I phoned dad frequently and wrote him numerous letters. But I did not return to the United states. I still cry about it when I remember those days and his wishes.

I want you to fulfill your dreams. That is my dream too. As your father, I wish for you a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment. I want you to pursue, without pause, whatever it is that stirs your passion. Keep working toward your dream, not someone else’s and not mine, either. A lot of people try to live for others-their children, their spouses, their parents, their friends-and in doing so twist themselves into knots attempting to meet their often outsized and/or unrealistic expectations. That leaves little space for personal growth and progress, and creates resentment for lost opportunities.”

What a wonderful advice to Entrepreneurs and all those driven by a dream but torn by the self-imposed chains of expectation! How often have we stood at the cross roads – guilt ridden, looking back with remorse at the balance between expectation, reality and aspiration. The above advice is probably the most difficult to practice – but then can there be any other way for someone who is consumed by a dream?

Reading “A Gift to my children” made me feel nostalgic about some of my conversations with my dad during my early years. Of late our (me & dad) periodicity of conversations / discussions have come down, but intensity and depth have increased. I feel today I need to increase the periodicity too! Past experience when superimposed on current challenges has immense take-a-ways!

The aspects covered in Roger’s book can be split into 3 buckets namely: advice on investing, advice on living, and advice on growing. Advice on living is similar to what most other parents wish for their children with some additional nuggets from Roger’s additional exposure. Advice on investing had some cool stuff, especially for long term investors. Advice on growing that too the professional side of it, was in my purview the real value.

Some of these actually triggered my thinking and here are some of the thoughts that I have been able to derive for self:

  • Learn the art of recognizing trends
  • Read extensively especially history, philosophy & economics
  • Learn languages especially Mandarin
  • When you have nothing to do, dust the shelves
  • When everyone is thinking the same thing, someone is not thinking – Patton
  • Future is going to be driven by the BRIC nations
  • Learn to be a global or world citizen
  • Truth is usually the first casualty of war, so stay away from war / enmity
  • Train yourself to think both ways: induction (by observation) & deduction (by logic)
  • Accept mistakes gracefully for only this can take you higher
  • Re-read, understand and apply the basic theory of demand-supply – No one defied this and survived!
  • Acknowledge that women are more active in society Understand and learn to work along with them

He also offers some futuristic guesses that only time can validate:

  • 21st century is that of China; don’t ignore!
  • In 100 years there will be more than 300 -400 soveriegn nations in the world!

Interesting!!!!

I am sure some of you are wondering if this is a book review. I am not sure if this can be classified as one as I have not touched many of the aspects that one would touch in a book review, and definitely that was not the intent either when I sat down to write these thoughts.

Reading this book had an impact on me as an Entrepreneur  – psychologically and business wise. It got me thinking, got me curious and as always I am here sharing it with you!!

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