Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship

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Books and Me: 9 Things Successful People Do Differently

Book Title: 9 Things Successful People Do Differently

Author(s): Heidi Grant HalvorsonNine Things Successful People Do_Book Cover

Every one wants to be successful. While this little book distills 9 things that one can do to be successful, there are lists of varying lengths suggesting success. I have not come across too many people who have read their way to success. It is like reading writing guides to start writing – it rarely happens. But there are few reasons you may want to read this book:

  • it is short (really short)
  • it is easy to hold in your hand (less than A5 size i believe)
  • you can complete it in a couple of hours (maximum)
  • it is well written and to the point
  • written with authority for the busy professional
  • tips and suggestions for practice

Don’t expect anything that you don’t know in this book. This in my opinion makes the book useful. Of the nine things (listed below) the first is my favourite:

  1. Get specific goals
  2. Seize the moment to act on your goals
  3. Know exactly how far you have left to go
  4. Be a realistic optimist
  5. Focus on getting better rather than being good
  6. Have grit
  7. Build your willpower muscle
  8. Don’t tempt fate
  9. Focus on what you will do and not what you won’t do

I love the first one simply because all the others make no sense if it is not fixed. The problem that I have seen with most people is that nobody wants to fix the first thing. Most people feel that by fixing one thing they are letting go of a lot of things. Misunderstanding!! Think about it.

I am sure you will learn something from this book that can make you more successful than what you are. The reason I say ‘can’ and not ‘will’ is because you need to act on something to make success happen. So if you are ready to get off that chair or bed or whichever you are sitting on and get to doing something, this book can give you suggestions to sharpen it. The one thing that this book does not touch upon is – what is success? It is left to you the reader to decide that first. It makes sense to put the tools to use when you know what you want to achieve, else as they say, you may be simply climbing quickly the wrong wall. Think about it.

Happy Reading!


Happy Children’s Day 2015

Factual Details: 14th November every year is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. It is because 14th November is the birthday of India’s First Prime Minister – Jawaharlal Nehru. He loved children and insisted that they be given love and affection, because they were the future of his beloved motherland.

But what we miss is that there is a child inside every one of us. And it is the grown-up in us who stops the child inside us from manifestation. While all of this may seem abstract and philosophical, ask anyone who is towards the end of their life and he or she is bound to speak about the innumerable things they wanted to do, but never did. Why? Because they let the grown-up voice in them get the better of themselves.

The only way to truly live life is to live like a child, with that childlike attitude. It is a life of curiosity, joy, experimentation, and fun. A life without inhibitions, without prejudice, without fear of failure and without a need to comply to others beliefs. I strive hard as a teacher to embed this lesson into every class I teach and at every level. Let us allow the child in us to live all through life.

Happy Children’s Day!

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Books and Me: Strategy Rules – Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs

Book Title: Strategy Rules – Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs

Strategy Rules Book Cover

Strategy Rules Book Cover

Author: David B Yoffie and Michael A Cusumano

‘How To’ books in management are aplenty! Over time one tends to grow tired reading them. Rightly so – but this book may be an exception. There are many reasons for this:

  • Because you are a fan of either of the three CEOs mentioned in the title
  • Because you believe strategic thinking as a skill can be learned
  • Because you are a fan of strategy as a subject

Whatever be the reason, you are bound to find something of interest. While the five lessons (timeless according to the authors) may seem obvious, the better part of the book is how they link it to specific actions one can take to strengthen them. The five lessons are:

  1. Look forward, reason back
  2. Make big bets without betting your company
  3. Build ecosystems and platforms – not just products
  4. Exploit leverage and power – play judo and sumo
  5. Shape the organisation around your personal anchor

Every lesson has a dedicated chapter that provides number of examples from the lives of these master strategists. It then distills them into four principles each (20 principles in all) that one can ‘learn’ and ‘practice’. The authors’ having tracked these CEOs and their companies over time have an advantage in presenting this subject. It is also very different from the usual books on strategy that makes everything look so abstract. The book is good reading for entrepreneurs and business owners. Aspiring leaders will find number of tips and techniques to practice strategic decision making skills.

Overall an easy to read book, with simple to understand and easy to learn principles (distilled) which can help every one of us to learn and practice strategy. While it does look easy, on close study, one is bound to find contradictory lessons and practices. It is in digesting them that one can become a good strategist. The easy looking lessons have simple yet profound principles to learn and practice. It requires the same amount of courage, presence of mind, perseverance, and passion like the CEOs studied.

Every entrepreneur will find some definite take aways from this book. The last chapter also highlights that while all of the CEOs were strategic and successful, each of them had their own method. Their strength was in finding out their method early and aligning everything else to it. It is probably the biggest lesson every entrepreneur must learn and do: Find who you really are? Find what your method to business is? Find what your method to leadership is? Align all your activities around it. Then you will find success and happiness!

Isn’t that what people aspire for, eventually! Entrepreneurship is after all living your dreams. Try it. I am sure reading this book will inspire finding yourself, at the very least.

Happy Reading!


Brand or Business – which one first?

During a recent conversation with an entrepreneur in the food sector – I was intrigued by the entrepreneur’s firm belief in what he was trying to do. Just like all other entrepreneurs he seemed to have his undeniable logic in place. Here is the essence of it.

Food businesses probably experience the largest failure rate. While all of them had a strong economic sense underlying the business, most did not build a brand. He felt that this could be a primary reason for failure. If people don’t recognise the brand and return to enjoy the food, there can be no business. Hence economics of making surplus should come only after having established a trusted brand. He felt that this was important. So, he has gone about building the brand first – a fairly well recognized name in the local market. He is about two years in the business and is approaching break-even only now. But because his brand is fairly well recognised and has a high return rate amongst customers – he feels its only a question of time before he starts reaping the fruits of his efforts and belief. In fact he is almost on the verge of raising money as well. He hopes to use the money to expand his small but well recognised brand.

While his logic seemed in place, what got me thinking was his strong message that food businesses must build a brand before building the business. Is this really true? What did he mean by the brand? He said – a promise. He said – consistent delivery of services. He said – trust. He said – great experience. I think they are all right. His logic therefore seems very well placed. He said, ‘If I can win customers first and keep them coming back for my food, it is fairly easy to start making money. But if I focus on making profits and breaking even quickly – sustaining the food business seems an unsurmountable challenge.’

The reason for sharing this message here is because many times when we teach entrepreneurship in class, we attempt to make building enterprises a rational process. Probably this is yet another example of why it may not be true. But the entrepreneur was also humble enough to accept that learning the tools and techniques from books and classes is what gave him the confidence and kept him sane through the tough times. His key to sustaining and thriving is – read one hour everyday.

Knowledge is important. How you acquire it is immaterial. Isn’t that wisdom?

Happy Thinking!

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Books and Me: Brick by Red Brick – Ravi Matthai and the making of IIM Ahmedabad

Book Title: Brick by Red Brick – Ravi Matthai and the making of IIM Ahmedabad

Brick by red brick

Author: T T Ram Mohan

Books on leadership are dime a dozen. While many of them preach the virtues of leadership, most of the remaining discuss the ‘how-to’. Rarely does one comes across a book which discusses threadbare institution building and the role of the leader in such detail. This book is one of those rare ones.

Entrepreneurship brings firms into existence. But it is Leadership that turns them into institutions. This book is one such brilliant exposition of institution building. It is a double whammy because the leader in this story (Ravi Matthai) was entrepreneurial too. As the first full time Director of the now famous Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), he exemplified both organisational entrepreneurship and leadership.

This book is a must read for every leader. In a country like India where the education sector is looking for reform, we need more leaders like Ravi Matthai. We do not want imitators but people who can draw lessons from his illustrious life and adapt them to their respective contexts.

The book clearly displays the deep interest and research that the author has put in to produce such a non-hagiographic account. Without deifying, the author highlights why Ravi Matthai may have been an exception in the education sector in India. The author brings out a balanced view of his personality making the story both inspiring and insightful. Leaders (current and future) in the education sector must read it for the sake of the future of this country. Faculty have innumerable lessons to draw from the book.

Though this book had been suggested to me earlier, it was only this week that I actually picked it up. It was in response to my search for something light after all the heavy reading and writing I had engaged in. But what began as a slow start in the evening ended up consuming much of the night and early part of next day. I wanted to get to the end. I wanted to know it all. The writing kept my interest alive and left me wanting to know more about the protagonist. I learned how one can lead a complete life, a passionate one and be consumed by it, till the very end. I finished the book inspired and will definitely make it to the Vikram Sarabhai Library soon to read more – works about and by Ravi Matthai.

Leadership is a big challenge today across the world. Our institutions need entrepreneurial leaders, most chronically needed (probably) in educational institutions. The system is crying for renewal. Many more visionary leaders such as Ravi Matthai are needed to resurrect the prized Indian Education system. It is urgently needed considering the fact that we would be educating the maximum number of youth over the next few decades. Who will be their inspiration?

Read the book. Be inspired. Inspire.

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India’s Demographic ____________ (what)?

Indians have a fascination for records. We seem to do anything to become record holders! Let me not say more. But last week there was news that we have created a record which is very difficult to beat – Only 1 in every 6250 can get to be a peon!

23 Lakh young (mostly) Indians applied for 368 ‘peon’ positions in a state government. Representative News Link: http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/255-phd-holders-among-23-lakh-lining-for-peon-s-job-in-up-115091600880_1.html (So many newspapers and periodicals have news items on this). Please read.

RECORD: 6250 applicants for every peon position. This includes graduates, post graduates and PhD holders! Embarrassing?

Why is this happening in India? Why is everyone blaming everyone else? Whose job is it to create jobs? I’m surprised we still think the Government can create all the jobs! If we don’t allow our industries to grow, there are never going to be enough jobs ever. I will be surprised if the common man does not understand this.

We keep hearing “Demographic Dividend” – I hope this above record provides a clarion call to everyone in this Nation that if we do not do something about the youth, there is going to be chaos and social instability. We will become a sick society and this so called “Demographic Dividend” will turn into “Demographic Liability”. So if we have to do something about this, at least two things come to my mind:

A) Make it easier for entrepreneurship

We have been doing pretty badly in most world ranking with regards to doing business. Be it the ‘Doing Business’ reports or the ‘World Innovation’ rankings or any ranking. While Indians do very well as entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs outside the country, why are they not able to perform within the boundaries of our nation? Lets do something about it.

We need more entrepreneurs. We need more of our youth turning into job creators. Even if they provide employment for 10 people each I think they need to be celebrated, because there will be trickling down of wealth. Lets make it easier to be entrepreneurs in this country.

B) Make education more responsible

While many people are not even getting educated, the ones who do, are not learning much as they pass through the education system. Our Universities and Institutions are slowly becoming ‘degree-holder’ manufacturers. Our universities themselves need entrepreneurship. They need innovation. They need entrepreneurial academics. Lets become them if we can, else move aside and let the ones who can do it, do it.

The time has come to make education responsible. People need to be told that if they cannot display certain basic skills they will not get their degrees. They must be encouraged to experiment. They must be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Teachers must inspire innovative ideas and initiatives and not kill them as they arise. This is not just the responsibility of the student alone, but the teacher, the administrators, the policy makers, the politicians and the entire ecosystem.

There is need for entrepreneurship in every sphere of Indian society. Be it the Government, the University, the Professions, etc. Lets breed entrepreneurship. As a teacher I encourage every student I meet to try their hands at entrepreneurship. I am happy some of my students have turned entrepreneurs and created jobs.

Think how you can encourage entrepreneurship in your role (parent, teacher, boss, policy maker, administrator, etc). Do whatever it takes!

Only ideas have changed the world. What is your idea? Make it see the light of day. Change the world.

A small wee bit!


It’s Monday, not Sunday! So what?

In recent times I have been infrequent in my posting on the blog. Its not that interesting things are not happening in life, but just that excuses seem to have taken greater control. Hence I decided that I will write from last Sunday (yesterday). But for some reason, I had enough excuses to not pick the computer and type those words. As I was reflecting over this, I told myself “Since you have decided to write every Sunday, let me start next Sunday.” But on closer objective viewing I soon realised that it has been the same excuse which has kept me from writing over the last few weeks / months.

So, I decided to fight over this excuse inside me. I told myself I will start today, even though it is Monday and not Sunday. I can always go back to Sunday from the coming weekend. At least I would have started and hopefully this will bring back the old discipline and routine to writing.

I see this in almost every individual I meet. Even the so called successful ones fight this problem almost every day. They win over their excuses and make things happen. And that seems to make the difference between those who do and the ones don’t. So, my urge to every entrepreneur and/or entrepreneurial individual I meet is – win over your excuses to doing. There will be a hundred forces which stop you along the way, but don’t be stopped. Just thrive. Just push that little bit. That is all it takes to be happy. The fact that you tried.

There is nothing greater than trying. The sports season is at its peak on the campus I stay – so in true sportsman spirit – lets play for playing is the only thing.

Lets not try to be perfect for there is no such thing in the world. Think about it. But more importantly start actioning your thoughts.

Lets start!


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