Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship

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Books and Me: Creative Confidence

Book Title: Creative ConfidenceCreative Confidence Book Cover

Authors: David Kelley and Tom Kelley

I think that every single person on earth wants to live a full life. A full life which will enable them go to the grave empty. This means they should have used their talents to the fullest. But almost every one of us, feels bad that we could not really live to our fullest potential. We could not utilise out immense creative potential. After blaming all the external factors for not allowing us to live a creative life, we finally blame it on ourselves – saying we are not creative enough to live it!

The Kelley brothers have produced a very inspiring book for all those who want to lead an entrepreneurial life. They dispel the myth that creativity is for the few. They give enough examples from their extremely creative and entrepreneurial life to showcase how creativity can be learned and developed as we go along with life. There does not seem to be an age to start as they share stories of people who came into their workshops pretty late in their careers and blossomed their inner creativity. The brother dispel this misunderstanding using examples from their lives, their client work at IDEO, and their experiments with the d.school.

The brothers then go on to clarify how to develop and bring these creative abilities within us to life. They provide specific tools, techniques and methods. These are all based on their human centred design courses that they run at the d.school. These are the same methods they use at their famous design firm IDEO to solve some of the enterprise challenges creatively. They also inspire us to live our lives where our interests lie. They constantly remind us that it is not worth looking back at life wondering why the most personal interests could never be pursued.

They draw on existing literature pretty generously for all related reading. The references provided to various books, academic literature and trade articles give us enough further reading. Cases provided show us how the techniques are applied in practice.  The last chapter gives us access to various exercises that can be used by us within our firms and workshops. The exercises are provided with details of how to run them too which makes it usable directly.

We have to thank the Kelley brothers (authors of the book) for their generosity in sharing their learnings from life so elaborately so that many of us who may not have access to them or their courses can also draw from their experiences. Thanks for that.

Creativity is an important aspect of a life lived well. This book is definitely one that will urge us to keep the faculty alive, have courage to take steps to put it to use, apart from giving the approaches of how to channelise this faculty / energy for optimum use.

Happy Reading!

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Books and Me: David and Goliath

Book Title: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of battling giantsDavid-Goliath Book Cover

Author:Malcolm Gladwell

Somehow this book of Malcolm Gladwell did not keep me as gripped as the earlier ones. That does not mean the book is not good. This is the problem that an author creates for himself or herself: raising the bar / expectations by producing great work. I think the problem is that the book seems predictable very quickly – because it has the usual Gladwell style. It has interesting stories, interesting insights into older stories that we might already know and many new ones dug out from literature. The book also refers enough to scholarly research as much as to examples. Overall an interesting book.

It will help people who feel disadvantaged about how they can work themselves against difficulties. The stories are themselves so beautifully integrated with scholarly research supporting it. I wondered many times how Gladwell finds the right reference from such a large body of academic writing.

Some key observations from the book that one can take away:

  • We need to change the way we see advantages and disadvantages
  • More of something does not necessarily mean better (more money, smaller class size, more power and authority, etc)
  • Disadvantages can also drive people to success (Dyslexia, Trauma victims, underdog groups, etc)
  • And many such interesting stories

But somehow through the book we find ourselves moving across too many topics and trying to make connections that seem too difficult to make, even though Gladwell helps us. I enjoyed reading the book, but towards the second half of the book, lost interest. I felt that we were trying to make too many stretched connections to make points. It is good to see patterns, but patterns for the sake of patterns seem quite unpleasing even to our minds.

Though Gladwell has the capacity to bring together stories and research and help see connections that are contrarian to what we commonly believe, I think we have seen and heard that enough now. It is time to see some new and different writing from this interesting author. I am still a big fan of Gladwell’s writings and definitely look forward to seeing his next book.

I am also very sure if someone were to study entrepreneurs who have made it big, there will be interesting backgrounds that we will unearth. Would their disadvantages have made them successful entrepreneurs or would it have been their tragic childhood days that brought them unimaginable success? But while exceptions give us amazing stories and inspire us, can be for the majority of us to emulate – requires more thinking!

While all of us involved in entrepreneurship think about this, you can learn a lot about psychology from this book. I am sure it will lead you to interesting academic papers while also providing interesting anecdotes for you to talk about.

Happy Reading!

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Books and Me: Where the reason to live is books

For a change this time around I am not reviewing a book under the category “Books and Me” on this blog. I came across this interesting article about books in general and book towns in general and was excited that I spent a lot of time re-reading this short article while also browsing through the photographs multiple times. As a lover of books, a bibliophile, a regular book shop visitor and a voracious reader, I could not help but speak about this and share with all of you.

Have you heard of towns that literally are filled only with books, especially second hand books. These are little towns huddled in remote locations around the world where the residents seemingly earn a living selling second hand books. While the trade is seeing a steady downtown, the towns are providing people, especially book lovers, a chance to spend time browsing thousands of books, pick a few and spend time reading them in the quiet neighbourhood. I can’t even imagine what a lovely vacation that would make for book lovers such as myself. The article and the links that it provides for further reading have even made me, a person who does not take breaks, to wonder about taking a vacation to one of these lovely little towns. What a lovely vacation that will be, being in the middle of millions of books, spending time interacting with thousands of book lovers, while also catching up on the reading in an utopian setting! Have a look at the photographs and also imagine these little towns – what could be their reason to live, except books!

Books are said to be man’s best friend. What would people in these towns say about them? Read more here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/booktowns-where-reading-is-the-reason-to-live

Book-towns – where reading is the reason to live or should i say the reason to live itself is books! Think!


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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