The Abundance

Book Title: The Abundance – Narrative Essays Old and New The Abundance

Author: Annie Dillard (http://www.anniedillard.com/)

Publisher: Harper Collins (https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062432971/the-abundance/)

I love spending time in the Library. If I need some fresh thoughts or want to clear my head, walking to the Library is a natural act. It was a Friday afternoon and I had been working on a paper most of the week. I wanted to clear my head and so I went to the University Library. For a change I saw a small well made book in English on the “New Arrivals” shelf. It was “The Abundance” by Annie Dillard. I quickly recognized Annie Dillard from an earlier book I had read  titled “The Writing Life”.

I spent much of my free time over that weekend reading “The Abundance”. It contained essays from her earlier works. Since I had not read any of her earlier works except The Writing Life, the content was new to me. As stated by Geoff Dyer in his foreword, “Dillard can only be enjoyed by a wide-awake reader.”

The essays from the writing life was a nice reiteration of some great tips for writers such as myself – be careful of what you read; be careful of what you learn, non-conformity may be your only hope, the writer ought to know his/her field, you can shape literature only if you know it, and don’t hoard what seems good for a later time or place — the central message is “give it, give it all, give it now”

Though I enjoyed every essay in the book, I especially soaked in the many pieces excerpted from “Teaching a stone to talk” and “Pilgrim at tinker creek”. They provide enough material for reflection on the truths of life. At times it appears to border on the metaphysical but Dillard does such a good job of keeping you firmly grounded.

I could not connect much with the essays from “Holy the firm” and “From an American childhood”, but I am sure they are due to my limited knowledge of the context. Towards the end of the book the essays from “For the time being” nicely sums up the collection. Two sentences from this section particularly drive home the point and will stay with me for a long time:

“All that is really worthwhile is action”

“If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not”

Brilliant is the only word that comes to my mind, though it is not a great expression of the wisdom expressed in this book. I do not have to recommend Annie Dillard as an essayist to people who know her, but for those who don’t, this is a great book into the world of her writings.

It was a great way to spend my weekend absorbed in thought over the wisdom received. I can only thank nature for offering me the solitude and the chance to enjoy such great company.

Daring Greatly

Book Title: Daring Greatly

Author: Brene Brown Daring Greatly Book Cover

This book opened my eyes to the truth about shame and vulnerability. Most of us go through them in life, as Brene Brown says, unconsciously. Being non-cognizant of these emotions gives a temporary relief, but bothers us in the longer term. Therefore it is important to acknowledge them and become mature enough to handle them.

A student of mine told me that something stopped her from speaking out and taking action. She told me that she was worried that people may think of her as silly or stupid and this stopped her. But eventually when she heard someone else being appreciated for an idea that was similar to hers’, she would feel bad. I’m not sure why I asked her to read this book. She did! Nothing happened. I told her to read it again. Nothing happened! I told her to keep at it. About a month back the same girl called back to share that recently she boldly presented her ideas in a certain forum and was pleasantly surprised to see people appreciate her ideas. It was the first time, but the positive response gave her confidence to do it over and over again. In just over a few months she has become confident and changed as a person. I can see the change in this student of mine – she is beaming with confidence! She is also much happier! Isn’t she daring greatly?

While I do not want to tell you how Prof Brown deals with overcoming shame and vulnerability, I wish to share the one section of the book that I particularly loved reading – the “Ten Guideposts to Wholehearted Living”. The most interesting thing about this list is that, the way to achieve a happy life is by “letting go” as many things as we can in life! Surprised!! I was, too! How can you gain happiness by letting go? It gave me hope! I knew I was onto a very different kind of book. I also was tempted to drop this book and pick her earlier book (The gift of imperfections) that espoused the ten guideposts to wholehearted living – but I resisted.

The reason I bought this book was due to my research interests. I wanted to explore shame and vulnerability among entrepreneurs and see if it influences their ability to identify/discover/develop opportunities. There are some interesting academic papers on this topic. But the reason I read it, like the way college kids read novels, is because of the message and how it is presented. Amazing is the only word to describe the book. If you don’t read this book, you are truly missing an important element of life.

tsundoku

I have always been a great admirer of many things Japanese. Last year I remember readings books about “KonMari” and “Ikigai”. While the former made me think about decluttering my world, the latter influenced me deeply about well being and the well lived long life.

In recent times I have heard about one another Japanese word which seems to connect tsundokuwith me and hopefully many of you who are #book #lovers – “tsundoku” – which refers to the act of acquiring reading materials (books) and letting them pile up without being read. As a bibliophile myself and an equally voracious reader, I can tell you honestly that I always buy more books than I can ever finish reading. This ensures that many books remain on the shelf that I wish I could read, but remain unread.

Are you a tsundoku? or Do you tsundoku? — not sure which one is the right usage, but I am sure you get the meaning 🙂

Creating Great Choices

Title: Creating Great Choices – A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking

Authors: Jennifer Riel and Roger L MartinCGC Book Cover

Life is spent making “Choices”, or at least we believe so. At times we do not make choices and wait until only one option is left in front of us At times we make compromised choices. Rarely people are able to make the much needed “trade-offs” between options. While “making trade-offs” is what makes choosing options difficult, Riel and Martin suggest in this book that there is a third possible way – a method to mix the best of two opposing options and thereby create a third option.

Integrative thinking was introduced by Roger Martin in an earlier work. He suggested that integrative thinking was a useful solution when the trade-offs to be made was painful to make. But his earlier work had given an impression that integrative thinking was an innate skill possessed by a few. Building on Martin’s earlier work on integrative thinking, the authors break this myth by providing a four-stage approach to practising integrative thinking. While the various stages are filled with subjective actions, the overall approach gives a sense of order to an otherwise art-like activity. Part one of the book also provides the theoretical background to the four-stage model being developed in the book. Briefly the authors review design thinking and behavioural decision-making. They also provide some key works that interested individuals can look up if they wish to learn more about these two subjects. They build a case for why three missing components (metacognition; empathy; creativity), if built, can help overcome the inherent limitations in our decision-making. These also are the basis for the four stage approach.

I am a big fan of Martin’s writing. I have reviewed, used and recommended his book “Playing to Win” innumerable people. I think this book does to thinking, what “Playing to Win” did for strategy. The book details the four-stage approach to integrative thinking:

  1. articulating opposing models
  2. examining the models
  3. generating possibilities
  4. assessing prototypes.

The second part of the book details the four stages with clear instructions on the sub-stages involved, tools required and practices to be followed. The book provides numerous templates for practicing the specific sub-stages. There are also number of suggested exercises under the “Try this” feature.

The book has numerous stories of individuals and organisations who have practiced integrative thinking. This gives both credence and inspiration for anyone to try using this approach in their lives. In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, when making trade-offs becomes painful, integrative thinking can be a handy solution.

The Elephant Catchers

Book Title: The Elephant Catchers – Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth

Author: Subroto Bagchi3-d-cover-Elephant-Cathers

Who does not want to scale? Almost every entrepreneur wishes to do what Mindtree (the organisation referred to in this book) did, take their startup through a successful Initial Public Offering (IPO). Since the stories of scaling are told by Subroto Bagchi (co-founder, Mindtree), it adds greater credence. Upon reading the book one can clearly understand why “scaling is not for the faint of heart”. As the author clearly suggests, it is not necessary to scale unless one wants it, the business needs it, and one is comfortable with the idea of magnitude.

The book covers considerable ground regarding the topic of scaling an enterprise. I especially liked the chapters on strategy, leaders, boards and consultants. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur you will first have to get comfortable with the notion of size, understand the variety of factors that contribute to scaling (boards, leaders, strategy, structure, consultants, sales, etc), be ready to learn from others and be willing to ask and take help from the right people. I think it is this idea of identifying, seeking and being ready to receive help on specific matters important to scale that makes all the difference. It is quite evident from the book that the founding team cannot scale all by itself. In one of the evenly laid out short chapters the author clearly highlights why those who start and those who scale have very different mindsets, knowledge, skills and attitudes. While some can learn both, most founders assume they have both. Could this be the reason why we have so many small and medium enterprises in India and very few who scale successfully?

The book presents number of interesting philosophical ideas for reflection. I loved some of the references to philosophers and books, especially the one from Khalil Gibran: “You children are not your children… They come through you but not from you… And though they are with you they belong not to you…” I think this extract from Gibran is particularly useful for entrepreneurs. Not understanding this is probably one reason they don’t allow their enterprises to blossom to potential. I also loved reading the four clusters of attributes that leaders ought to have when an organisation scales: Ninja; Coach; Thought Leader; and Rain-maker. The other interesting idea that caught my attention was the thoughts that Shombit Sengupta shared with Subroto Bagchi. I will leave it to you to delve into the book and figure these out for yourself.

In recent times I have been reading books written by researchers. To give myself a little break I chose to read a practitioners account. I think it was time well spent. If you are an entrepreneur / business owner (either attempting scale or scaled successfully or failed to scale) you will most likely resonate with the ideas in the book. I am sure it will make you stop and think. The book stops short of making suggestions on how you can use these learnings in your scaling endeavours – but that I think is best left to the reader to identify. The inspiration lies hidden, subtly, within the text.

As shared with you a little earlier I am presently teaching a new course titled “Designing and Leading the Entrepreneurial Organisation” for a group of second generation family business owners at The Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII). Since much of the course hovers around discussions on scale, I thought it would be appropriate to explore the views / opinions / learnings of someone who has successfully scaled from India. This will help me enrich the class with close to home examples and personal anecdotes of a seasoned entrepreneur. I look forward to sharing these interesting thoughts with my students in the coming classes.

If you wish to know more about this prolific practitioner-writer, check this out: http://subrotobagchi.mindtree.com/the-elephant-catchers/

Discarding before starting again

Before planning new projects (something that gets done during this time of the year) it is important to clear up the table (physical, electronic, and mental) before starting anything new.

A good way to do it is to “tidy up” your place – keep what’s useful; give away what you may not need any longer (but someone else may); and discard what is useless.

I tried doing this over the last weekend and I was surprised !!

Never realised how so many things got accumulated. So many papers, books, stationary, clothes and other things which I had not even looked up for months on end lay right there on my shelf and around my room. Removing them needed time as I had to look at each of them and decide if I would use it going further (in the next year). Honestly, a difficult question to answer. I felt like keeping every single one of them (telling myself how important it was). Thank God I had recently read a little book called “The art of discarding” by Nagisa Tatsumi (‘Suteru Gijyutsu’ in Japanese) and this helped me happily reason to myself and become freer in life.

Interestingly a day after the tidying project I find myself immensely productive. So if you are wondering how to spend your last week of the year – “decluttering your home or office” by discarding what may be unnecessary could be a great way to finish the year — and an even greater way to enter 2018. It might help you find a lot of things that could be more useful to others.

Think about it!

Searching for books to read?

I am sure many of us listen to TED Talks very often and struggle to note down the titles that the speakers refer to. Here is an amazing list put together based on various talks and speaker recommendations. I loved the variety in the list – it lives up to the statement: ‘there is something for every one here’.

I picked a few which I liked and then realised that they would be the ones I would have anyways picked. So went back to the list and picked a couple that I normally would have never picked up to read. I think its a way of opening up your mind to new possibilities.

Try it! Happy Searching and Happy Reading too!!

 

A huge list of TED speaker-recommended books, with all the diversity of titles and topics you might expect — we’ve got you covered for every mood, preference and occasion. When you’re lying in the sun Any book by Isaac Asimov I have stacks of collections of science-fiction short stories. I grab these before getting on…

via 101 books to dive into this summer: a massive reading list — ideas.ted.com