Friday, August 31, 2012

‘Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to break the 24/7 habit and change the way you work’ by Leslie A. Perlow

Breaking the cycle
"In this always-connected age, you cannot break the cycle of responsiveness alone. When you disconnect, everyone else remains connected. That's the reality of today's 24/7 culture. And no individual alone – not even the CEO – can change that reality. But it is also the case that altering the demands of clients or customers is not required. What it takes to break the cycle of responsiveness is for you and your colleagues to strive to do it, together.'
"Many organisational change initiatives have revolved around empowering employees to change the way they work together. A central tenet of such popular initiatives as Continuous Improvement, Lean, Six Sigma, and Organisation Learning is to empower employees to participate in rethinking their work process to improve it. Typically these initiatives entail significant top-level involvement, often creating new programs and more policies that require large upfront investments. Moreover, even in the best cases, when teams succeed, the time gained from team members working smarter gets reinvested in the work itself, with little effect on work schedules and personal lives.'
"PTO (predictable time off) is a radical departure – that benefits both the work process and individuals' work-lives. It is based on a set of small and doable steps that can be executed by a single team:
  • Every team member strives to achieve the same goal – an agreed upon unit of predictable time off each week.
  • The team meets weekly to discuss how each member is achieving the goal and to discuss the team's work process more generally.'
"When a team follows these small, simple steps, remarkable things happen – for individuals' work-lives and the work process. In fact, everything about PTO inspires people to give change a shot: because its very purpose is to improve their personal lives without negatively impacting their work, team members are motivated to participate. By starting with one small, doable change – a unit of predictable time off each week – team members discover that challenging the way it is and the way they have presumed it has to be is not as inconceivable as they once believed. And by allotting time to discuss issues – relating to both work and personal lives – the team ends up continually surfacing areas for change and then working together to improve their work process to the benefit of their work-lives and their work. They end up challenging fundamental assumptions about how work is done. They test boundaries, consider options, and discover how to spend more time addressing the most important problems, effectively, and with more control over their work schedules. Individuals, the team, and ultimately the organisation all benefit."
(pp. 8-9, 'Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to break the 24/7 habit and change the way you work' by Leslie A. Perlow - Landmark)

‘The Intention Economy: When customers take charge’ by Doc Searls

The Net Rules
"Every technology, every domain of science, has what are called boundary conditions between levels of an operational hierarchy. Take, for example, a mechanical clock. You can understand the clock at a number of levels. At the bottom level, the clock depends on the laws of chemistry and physics. Without good materials, you can't make the clock. Above that, you have laws of mechanics. These depend on the laws of chemistry and physics but cannot be reduced to them. This is because chemistry and physics have a boundary above which they have nothing to say. Even if you know everything about chemistry and physics, you can't explain mechanics with them. Likewise, the laws of mechanics are harnessed by the purpose of the clock, but you can't use mechanics alone to explain the clock because the clock's purpose is above the upper boundary of mechanics. If you were to disassemble the clock and lay out all its gears and other parts, you wouldn't know what to make of them unless you understood that these make up a clock. In fact, the clock itself would make no sense unless you knew its purpose was to tell time. Thus, we have this hierarchy of domains, each of which has an upper and lower boundary.'
"In this sense, the Internet is about telling time, not about maintaining the mechanics for doing that. The mechanics of the Net are endlessly varied and substitutable. The Internet Protocol itself simply requires that a best effort be made to find a path from one end of the Net to the other. John Gillmore, civil libertarian and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), famously said, 'The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.''
"This is an intentional design feature of the Internet and not just an accidental property. And this feature comes, at least in part, from study of the phone system by the Internet's founding geeks. The phone system used what's called 'circuit switching,' which was ideal for billing everything that could possibly be billed. The Internet uses 'packet switching,' which very pointedly does not care about billing. In fact, it was invented to relieve the world of a need for billing on networks.'
"That's why the Internet is good for business, but not its own business. Business protocols – ceremonies of relationship, conversation, and transaction – are supported almost perfectly by the technical protocols of packet switching and best-effort data transport. And the cost of moving bits is not high, once the capacity is installed. Since fiber-optic cabling is capable of carrying enormous sums of data traffic, while disturbing the physical environment remarkably little (especially when compared to the easement and build-out requirements of electricity, gas, water, roads, waste treatment, and other public utilities), business should have a great deal of interest in seeing Internet infrastructure completed everywhere. But it can't feel or express that interest if it can't understand what the Internet is, or at least settle on one metaphor that makes clear how something so huge and stupid as the core of the Earth can be good for business."
(pp. 141-2, 'The Intention Economy: When customers take charge' by Doc Searls – Landmark)

‘Just Start: Take action, embrace uncertainty, create the future’ by Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer

Entrepreneurs' methods
"What we realised, as we took a step back, is not only that most entrepreneurs view the unforeseeable world differently, but how they go about tackling problems successfully can be chronicled and explained. In other words, their methods are available to everyone.'
"Until now, most studies of entrepreneurs have tended to focus on entrepreneurial behaviour, which is indeed idiosyncratic; no two entrepreneurs do things exactly the same way. But we shouldn't have been looking only at their behaviour. We should have been studying the thinking that leads to their behaviour as well.'
"That was a huge 'aha' moment for two reasons.'
"First, in a world that is seemingly growing more unpredictable by the moment, you can neither think of everything – or even close to everything – nor map out the future with any real certainty. That means that Prediction reasoning alone is incomplete today and may well become even more limiting tomorrow. Instead of thinking your way into a new way of acting, which is at the heart of using Prediction, you need to act your way into creating the future you want. That's what entrepreneurs do when faced with the unknowable – and it is an approach that will work for you as well.'
"Second, we came to understand that what entrepreneurs do will work everywhere!'
"A quick example will prove the point. Say you want to lose thirty pounds. You can think of all you want about losing the weight, but if you keep your eating habits and exercise patterns exactly as they are, your weight will remain exactly where it is. Until you take action, nothing is going to change.'
"But what kind of action?'
"Well, in the Prediction world, you would work out a plan. Maybe you would stop eating carbohydrates, or follow the current hot diet. You'd keep your eye on the prize – losing those thirty pounds. And history shows that you will probably fail. The level of commitment required (high) and time frame (long) are just too much for most of us.'
"Someone who employs Creaction would attack the problem differently. They'd begin by taking what we have come to think of as a 'smart step' (action) in the direction they want to go. It would not necessarily be overly aggressive ('I am only going to eat five hundred calories a day') or focus on a big goal ('I am going to lose those thirty pounds in the next sixty days').'
"That smart step probably would be statement like: 'I want to lose one pound this week.''
"With that modest initial goal in mind, you are far more likely to eat a little bit less over the next seven days and exercise a touch more. If at the end of the week, you have found that you have indeed lost a pound (or perhaps more), you will say to yourself, 'That wasn't so bad. Let's see if I can do it again next week.' And if you fail, you'd try adding something else. ('Hmmm. If I keep exercising and eating less and have just one glass of wine with dinner instead of two, maybe that will work.')'
"And if that approach is successful, you've learned something from your own experience, not just the diet book. So you build off your success and try it again the following week – and keep repeating it until you have achieved your goal. You have broken down a big problem ('How the heck am I ever going to lose thirty pounds?') into a series of smart actions: losing a pound a week for thirty weeks."
(pp. xxi-xxiii, 'Just Start: Take action, embrace uncertainty, create the future' by Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer – Landmark)

‘Em and the big Hoom’ by Jerry Pinto

"I lost my faith as an hourglass loses sand. There was no breaking moment but one day I found myself reading the Gospel without a twinge. I had always hated the Gospels because they had unhappy endings, all four of them. They seemed rush stories. He's born. He grows up. He preaches. He cures. He saves. All this is in the course of a few chapters. And then that Thursday and Friday, the horror of his foreknowledge, the last desperate plea to be permitted to elude this ordeal, the abandonment by friends who cannot keep vigil with him, the humiliation of his nakedness, the pain of the scourgings and the crown of thorns, the mocking crowds, the crying women, the cross, the crucifixion and even the last request – 'I thirst' – denied. I had always felt genuine distress at all this. I could not bear to read it, could not bear to put it down. It was the pain of empathy, the sorrow that this should happen to anyone.'
"That pain vanished one day. I read the passion through to check myself again. I read another version by another evangelist and was left unmoved. I remember being vaguely relieved and slightly guilty. I did not even realise at that moment that I had lost my faith. What I had left was a syrupy sentimentality and aesthetic appreciation of the Gregorian chant, the form of the fasting Buddha, and a love of stories. This is the standard equipment of the neo-atheist: eager to allow other people to believe, unwilling to proselytise to his own world which seems bleaker without God but easier to accept.'
"No one could offer any explanation for the suffering I watched my mother go through. Nothing I read or heard fitted with the notion of a compassionate God, and God's compassion, one uncomplicated, unequivocal miracle of happiness, was the only thing that could have helped. The sophisticated arguments of all the wise men of faith – their talk about the sins of a past life, the attachment to desire, the lack of perfect submission – only convinced me that there was something capricious about God. How could one demand perfect submission from those who are imperfect? How could one create desire and then expect everyone to pull the plug on it? And if God were capricious, then God was imperfect. If God were imperfect, God was not God.'
"But being an atheist offers a terrible problem. There is nothing you can do with the feeling that the world has done you wrong or that you, in turn, have hurt someone. I wavered and struggled for a long time before I exiled myself from God's mansion."
(pp. 67-8, 'Em and the big Hoom' by Jerry Pinto - Landmark)

‘The Taliban Cricket Club’ by Timeri N. Murari

Clandestine classes
"Over three years ago, Mother and I had started clandestine classes for girls in and around Karte Seh. They came once or twice a week, or sometimes not at all, depending on whether or not they were free of their chores. Only a few came these days – Raishma, a cheeky girl with an impish laugh and lovely green eyes was the oldest at eight; the youngest, Sooryia, was only four, a shy, thin girl.'
"They broke the monotony of our restricted lives with their eagerness to learn and their gossip. It was Raishma who had told me about the woman whose fingertip, with the nail varnish, was chopped off. And a girl named Louena told me about her brother, who was given an electronic game the size of a playing card, a magical gift for his eight birthday that he took to show off to his friends on the street. The religious police caught him. They first smashed the toy, then beat him and broke his right arm. I wrote that story too after talking to the depressed and frightened boy, his arm in a sling.'
"When Mother could no longer teach the classes, I continued alone. I taught them to read and write and then some geography, science, and arithmetic. We used small slates that they brought with them, hidden under their shalwar-kameezes. Because they were that young, they could go out alone, as they didn't have far to travel. They were so proud of their skills. I thought of the priceless value of the written word. Without reading, how would they find where they were in a country, how could they read signs on a bus, read the instructions on a packet? To read a language, any language, is a wonderful gift that I had taken so much for granted. I remembered my own excitement at discovering the alphabet – first the letters formed words and then sentences, paragraphs, and pages, and ultimately they provided the pleasure of reading a whole book, even a child's story.'
"On two occasions women banged on our gate and told us they wanted their little girls to join the classes. As I suspected they were informers, I would blandly deny teaching any girls."
(pp. 185-6, 'The Taliban Cricket Club' by Timeri N. Murari - Landmark)

‘Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ by Susan Cain

Warren Buffett
"Buffett takes pride not only in his track record, but also in following his own 'inner scorecard.' He divides the world into people who focus on their own instincts and those who follow the herd. 'I feel like I'm on my back,' says Buffett about his life as an investor, 'and there's the Sistine Chapel, and I'm painting away. I like it when people say, 'Gee, that's a pretty good-looking painting.' But it's my painting, and when somebody says, 'Why don't you use more red instead of blue?' Good-bye. It's my painting. And I don't care what they sell it for. The painting itself will never be finished. That's one of the great things about it.'"
(p. 177, 'Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking' by Susan Cain - Landmark)

‘Table for Two: In conversation with power, fame and glory’ – Business Standard

Swami Ramdev
"However radical his thoughts may sound, Ramdev oozes confidence. This is because he thinks he has the numbers all worked out. About 30 million, says he, have attended his yoga camps. Each of them goes back to a family of five to seven. So, that's at least 150 million votes. He is also on television round the clock. That, claims Ramdev, gives him viewership of 1 billion! Then there are the latent supporters, says he. 'Even evil idolises truth. Ravan's brothers wanted Ram to win. A philanderer doesn't want his kids to follow in his footsteps.''
"He also has a huge fan-following among Muslims. 'I am the only saffron-clad accepted by Muslims,' says he. Muslims, Ramdev has said, can recite verses from the Koran while doing yoga. Ramdev says he has thought of a name for his party but will not disclose it to me. He will not contest elections. He wants to have an organisation of up to a million people in each district, and aspires for power at the Centre, not in the states, because that's where real power lies.'
"Is there a role for private enterprise in Ramdev's world view? Definitely, says he, but the government needs to fix prices of all goods and services and, thereby, control profits! He says he knows most large businessmen and what kind of obscene money companies make.'
"Ramdev himself runs a business of no small proportions. This includes hospitals, the media and herbal products. He sells medicine worth Rs 25 crore every month; sale of his books and CDs fetch Rs 2 to 3 crore. He has set up a food park near Hardwar with an investment of Rs 500 crore. All told, Ramdev provides employment to 13,000 people. 'What are your profit margins,' I ask. Sixteen per cent, says Ramdev, but quickly adds that his operating costs and retail margins are way below others and that's why his products are priced on an average 50 per cent below rivals.'
"'But you must be a rich man,' I tell Ramdev. 'Haven't you bought an island off the Scottish coast.' The island of 700 acres, Ramdev counters, was a gift from the Poddars of Glasgow (Mr Poddar is from Bihar, Mrs Poddar from Nepal). Somebody has even gifted him 95 acres near Houston. Then there's something similar in Canada. Individuals have also contributed towards the Rs 500-crore food park."
(pp. 184-5, 'Table for Two: In conversation with power, fame and glory' – Business Standard - Landmark)

‘The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change’ by Charles Duhigg

"In 1992, a British psychologist walked into two of Scotland's busiest orthopaedic hospitals and recruited five-dozen patients for an experiment she hoped would explain how to boost the willpower of people exceptionally resistant to change.'
"The patients, on average, were sixty-eight years old. Most of them earned less than $10,000 a year and didn't have more than a high school degree. All of them had recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries, but because they were relatively poor and uneducated, many had waited years for their operations. They were retirees, elderly mechanics, and store clerks. They were in life's final chapters, and most had no desire to pick up a new book.'
"Recovering from a hip or knee surgery is incredibly arduous. The operation involves severing joint muscles and sawing through bones. While recovering, the smallest movements – shifting in bed or flexing a joint – can be excruciating. However, it is essential that patients begin exercising almost as soon as they wake from surgery. They must begin moving their legs and hips before the muscles and skin have healed, or scar tissue will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. In addition, if patients don't start exercising, they risk developing blood clots. But the agony is so extreme that it's not unusual for people to skip out on rehab sessions. Patients, particularly elderly ones, often refuse to comply with doctors' orders.'
"The Scottish study's participants were the types of people most likely to fail at rehabilitation. The scientist conducting the experiment wanted to see if it was possible to help them harness their willpower. She gave each patient a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were thirteen additional pages – one for each week – with blank spaces and instructions: 'My goals for this week are _______? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.' She asked patients to fill in each of those pages with specific plans. Then she compared the recoveries of those who wrote out goals with those of patients who had received the same booklets, but didn't write anything.'
"It seems absurd to think that giving people a few pieces of blank paper might make a difference in how quickly they recover from surgery. But when the researcher visited the patients three months later, she found a striking difference between the two groups. The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They had started getting in and out of their chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast. They were putting on their shoes, doing the laundry, and making themselves meals quicker than the patients who hadn't scribbled out goals ahead of time."
"The psychologist wanted to understand why."
(pp. 141-2, 'The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change' by Charles Duhigg – Landmark)

‘Undercover Boss: Inside the TV phenomenon that is changing bosses and employees everywhere’ by Stephen Lambert and Eli Holzman

"Joe's first undercover assignment was at the company's store in Shirley, New York: the epicentre for coffee for 7-Eleven because it sells more than 2,500 cups of coffee a day, an extraordinary amount, and the most of any store in the system.'
"Joe would be working his shift with Dolores, who handles the coffee counter for the shop. A short, blunt woman in her mid-60s, Dolores has been working the morning coffee rush for more than 18 years, at two different franchised locations, each managed by a different one of her sons, and both owned by her son-in-law.'
"As the sun came up and the customers began trickling in, Dolores gave Joe a quick course in preparing and refreshing the coffee bar. But the lesson was interrupted when the trickle turned into a steady stream and finally a torrent of coffee buyers. Struggling to keep up, and realising how much water they needed and how quickly things got messy, Joe suggested (he thought helpfully) that having a sink located at the coffee counter would make life easier. Dolores laughed at her trainee's 'pipe dream,' joking that 'already he's coming up with new ideas.' More stunning than the sheer number of customers was that Dolores seemed to have a personal relationship with each, greeting him or her by name and exchanging in the kind of teasing quick back-and-forth that substitutes for morning conversation in the metro New York.'
"Joe met one customer who said she'd been friendly with Dolores for 20 years. The woman revealed that Dolores had only one kidney and went for dialysis twice a week. She refused to accept a donated kidney from any of her children for fear that they might get sick themselves one day and need that spare organ. When Joe asked Dolores about it, she didn't minimise the problem, but neither did she accept credit for being anyone special."
(pp. 74-5, 'Undercover Boss: Inside the TV phenomenon that is changing bosses and employees everywhere' by Stephen Lambert and Eli Holzman - Landmark)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

‘The Great Train Robbery’ by Michael Crichton

Scotland Yard
"In London, the Metropolitan Police, founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, was headquartered in a district known as Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard was originally a geographical term, denoting an area of Whitehall that contained many government buildings. These buildings included the official residence of the surveyor of works to the crown, which was occupied by Inigo Jones, and later by Sir Christopher Wren. John Milton lived in Scotland Yard when he was working for Oliver Cromwell from 1649 to 1651, and it is apparently from this association that a slang reference for police, two hundred years later, was 'miltonian.''
"When Sir Robert Peel located the new Metropolitan Police in Whitehall, the correct address for the headquarters was No. 4 Whitehall Place, but the police station there had an entrance from Scotland Yard proper, and the press always referred to the police as Scotland Yard, until the term became synonymous with the force itself.'
"Scotland Yard grew rapidly in its early years; in 1829 the total force was 1,000, but a decade later it was 3,350, and by 1850 it was more than 6,000, and would increase to 10,000 by 1870. The task of the Yard was extraordinary: it was called upon to police crime in an area of nearly seven hundred square miles, containing a population of two and a half million people.'
"From the beginning, the Yard adopted a posture of deference and modesty in its manner of solving crimes; the official explanations always mentioned lucky breaks of one sort or another – an anonymous informant, a jealous mistress, a surprise encounter – to a degree that was hard to believe. In fact, the Yard employed informers and plainclothesmen, and these agents were the subject of heated debate for the now familiar reason that many in the public feared that an agent might easily provoke a crime and then arrest the participants. Entrapment was a hot political issue of the day, and the Yard was at pains to defend itself."
(pp. 166-7, 'The Great Train Robbery' by Michael Crichton - Landmark)

‘The Fear Index’ by Robert Harris

"Hoffmann, still clutching the crowbar, hurried up the steps from the basement to the ground floor, intent on raising the alarm about Rajamani. At the door to the lobby he stopped. Through the rectangular window he saw a squad of six black-uniformed gendarmes, guns drawn, jogging in heavy boots across the reception area towards the interior of the building, following them was the panting figure of Leclerc. Once they had passed through the turnstile, the exit was locked and two more armed police stationed themselves on either side of it.'
"Hoffmann turned and clattered back down the steps and into the car park. The ramp up to the street was about fifty metres away. He headed for that. Behind him he heard the soft squeak of tyres turning on concrete and a large black BMW swung out of a parking bay, straightened and came towards him, headlights on. Without pausing to think, he stepped out in front of it, forcing it to stop, then ran around the driver's door and pulled it open.'
"What an apparition the president of Hoffmann Investment Technologies must have presented by now – bloody, dusty, oil-smeared, clutching a metre-long crowbar. It was little wonder the driver couldn't scramble out fast enough. Hoffmann threw the crowbar on to the passenger seat, put the automatic transmission into drive and pressed hard on the accelerator. The big car lurched up the ramp. Ahead, the steel door was just beginning to rise. He had to brake to let it open fully. In his rear-view mirror he could see the owner, transformed by adrenalin from fear into rage, marching up the ramp to protest."
(pp. 332-3, 'The Fear Index: Nothing spreads like fear' by Robert Harris - Landmark)

‘Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way’ – Ed: Latika Padgaonkar and Shubha Singh

Journey to Piparia
"In January 1984, fourteen children of the Yadav caste who had crossed the Ganga to collect fodder were kidnapped and murdered by fifty men of a criminal gang belonging to the Dhanuk caste. Three boys managed to hide and saw their friends being cut to pieces and thrown into the river.'
"Incensed by the tragedy, and the non-deliverance of justice, I got my editor's permission to reconstruct the events. The journey to Piparia was not easy. There was no road to speak of, let alone any means of transport. Worse still, the area was infested with criminals. I had to walk for fifteen hours, alone, as no one, not even a photographer, wanted to accompany me. Fortunately, I had my own camera. When I reached the village, I interviewed a dozen youth and adults. My story was run in three parts. The first two parts focused on the events themselves and on the treatment of Dalits in the Diara region.'
"The third part was about the murky political dealings of the region. I was scathing about those who advocated amnesty to the murderers. What was the reason for their demand? Did they consult the mothers whose beloved children were butchered? And what about the three terrified children who had witnessed the crime and were so shocked that they couldn't utter a word for seven days?'
"The pen proved mightier than the notorious nexus of administrators, politicians, criminal gangs and police. The accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, and I was honoured with the PUCL's Human Rights Award for Journalism."
(pp. 142-3, From Manimala's 'In pursuit of change' included in 'Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way' – Ed: Latika Padgaonkar and Shubha Singh - Landmark)

‘China Fast Forward: The technologies, green industries and innovations driving the mainland's future’ by Bill Dodson

Mahindra Satyam
"Michael Su met me at the entrance of Mahindra Satyam's headquarters. Su was Marketing Manager for Mahindra Satyam's China operations. An affable Singaporean, dressed in a white button-down shirt and tie and black slacks, he quickly guided me the few steps to the firm's main conference room. Minutes later Su returned with his boss, Sushil Asar, head of the Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing division for Greater China. Asar personally delivered presentations about their global practice and the China-based development plans. These talks were followed by a presentation given by a Mainland Chinese engineering manager on Mahindra Satyam's projects in offshore development centres (ODC).'
"Mahindra Satyam impressed me greatly as a truly international company. I did not get the feeling during my half-day orientation that it was an Indian company per se. Something I appreciated about Mahindra Satyam's approach to meeting customer requirements was that the country desk drew relevant experience from its Asian operations. Asar gave me the example of an automotive customer in Japan: Mahindra Satyam used industry specialists from Indian and Japan to develop the business requirements and Japanese-proficient project managers and programmers in the Chinese city of Dalian to implement the project.'
"Mahindra Satyam was well aware of the rising labour costs and high turnover rates of staff in the Shanghai area. So, it had invested hugely in a campus in the Nanjing High and New Technology Development Area. The site was 70,000 square metres and would ultimately support a labour force of 2,500 professionals. It would be the largest Mahindra Satyam campus of its size outside of India. Private Chinese services outsourcing companies, though, travelled a different path in expanding their operations."
(p. 52, 'China Fast Forward: The technologies, green industries and innovations driving the mainland's future' by Bill Dodson – Wiley)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

‘The Fix: How addiction is invading our lives and taking over your world’ by Damian Thompson

"In February 2011, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, published a report in the journal Nature entitled 'Public health: The toxic truth about sugar'. This dismissed the popular notion of sugar as 'empty' calories. On the contrary, they were bad calories. 'A little is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly,' said the authors, who went on to propose that sugary foods should be taxed and their sales to children under 17 controlled.'
"We have known for years that refined sugar is also implicated in damaging the liver and kidneys and is the main cause of the worldwide spread of Type 2 diabetes. 'If these results were obtained in experiments with any illegal drug, they would certainly be used to justify the most severe form of retribution against those unfortunate enough to be caught in possession of such a dangerous substance,' writes Michael Gossop of the National Addiction Centre at King's College, London.'
"But is sugar actually a drug? Gossop thinks so. If a casual visitor from another galaxy were to drop in on planet earth, he would assume that human beings were even heavier drug users than we already are. Why? Because vast numbers of us ingest a white crystalline substance several times a day. We become agitated if we run out of supplies, and produce lame excuses for why we need another dose. We say we rely on it for 'energy,' but we're deluding ourselves. The energy rush form sugar is followed by a corresponding crash: it's physiologically useless. But it is strongly reminiscent of the ups and downs associated with, say, cocaine.'
"The idea that sugar has some of the psychoactive qualities of recreational drugs is looking more and more credible. One of the major research findings of the past decade has been that sugar can turn rats into classic addicts. A team of scientists from the psychology department of Princeton University put rats on an intermittent diet of large quantities of sugar solution in addition to their normal food. The diet was intermittent because the researchers wanted to see what would happen when the rats were deprived of sugar. The answer was that they went into withdrawal, quivering with anxiety like a junkie deprived of his fix. And when the sugar reappeared, they binged."
(pp. 106-8, 'The Fix: How addiction is invading our lives and taking over your world' by Damian Thompson – Harper)

‘101 Myths & Realities @ the Office: How to get the best out of yourself and your team’ by Utkarsh Rai

Employee appraisal
"Many a time, employees express surprise at a few statements mentioned in the appraisal form. Managers try their best to explain the reasoning behind them, but you, as an employee, might feel that the manager is biased or has misinterpreted the results. You might even feel that those comments have been written just to avoid giving a better performance rating. One can argue for any misunderstanding or misinterpretation, but it is not always the spoken or written word from the manager that conveys the meaning. Employees fail to understand that perception plays an important role in the evaluation process. It is human to remember selectively. Each person builds a perception about someone else based on the multiple interactions he has had with that person while working together. It takes time to build a perception, but, once formed – whether good or bad – it takes more time to change it.'
"It is not only the manager who will form a perception but also all those people with whom you interact directly or indirectly. Even your manager's superior will have a perception about you. It might happen that the manager has a different perception about you than his superior, but the chances of difference here are slim. At the time of appraisal, your manager collects the 360º feedback and his perception will flow together with the feedback. Even though each manager provides examples to prove his point, they are limited to the subject matter. Soft skills that envelop your contribution can, therefore, play a major role in building perception.'
"A wrong perception can play havoc with one's career. It is better to project the correct image through appropriate interactions. This could be done by providing strong results and consistently acting upon any feedback given. A willingness to receive feedback, and maintaining a positive attitude and flexibility on work assignments are a few examples of the soft skills that can help in building a positive perception. The only way to correct a wrong perception is by further interactions and by being patient for the desired results. Good interactions can clear doubts and make the other person see the results in the right perspective. As appraisals are not a once-a-year activity, it is important for an employee to interact frequently with the manager during the course of the entire year in order to ensure that perceptions (as well as objectives and results) are aligned."
(pp. 41-2, '101 Myths & Realities @ the Office: How to get the best out of yourself and your team' by Utkarsh Rai – Penguin)

‘The New Emerging Market Multinationals: Four strategies for disrupting markets and building brands’ by Amitava Chattopadhyay and Rajeev Batra

Country of origin
"Many of the home countries of the companies we spoke to still have an image of being under-developed and poor, with low competencies in technology and quality control, although these countries may admittedly have a more positive country-of-origin imagery in some narrow product areas (e.g., India as a source of tea, China for silk or low-cost computer manufacturing). Lenovo's ex-CMO Deepak Advani mentioned to us a survey in 2005 by PR consultants Edelman which showed Chinese products had a poor reputation for quality in many countries. Titan's Bhaskar Bhat explicitly said to us that his company thought its Indian country of origin was a major reason why its seven-year effort in Europe to market a global watch did not succeed (Titan pulled the plug on this in 2002), and China's Chigo said that China's poor image was a major reason why it decided to go the OEM route instead of marketing directly to overseas consumers. (There were, however, some other companies in our sample – Mitac and Midea among them – which did not feel their country of origin worked against them in their brand-building efforts overseas. Taiwan, notably, has had a nation-branding campaign in recent years focused on creating an image of high-quality innovation.)'
"If consumers doubt your quality because of the imagery of the country your company is from, it might help to downplay such country of origin by using either a global or regional brand identity or a local one. With today's wide Internet usage, no company can hope to keep its national origin a secret (as Lenovo's Advani reminded us), but it is still possible to reduce the salience of it through clever marketing. Alternatively, some of our companies target markets where their country-of-origin image is a positive rather than a negative. Evyap's country of origin, Turkey, is an advantage for its soaps in Egypt, as is Natura's country of origin, Brazil, an advantage for its biodiverse Amazon-sourced ingredients in France."
(pp. 190-1, 'The New Emerging Market Multinationals: Four strategies for disrupting markets and building brands' by Amitava Chattopadhyay and Rajeev Batra – TMH)

‘Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What it takes to be an entrepreneur and build a great business’ by Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington, and Tsun-Yan Hsieh

Action, not inaction
"Entrepreneurs who profile strongly in the Guts dimension are more at ease challenging the status quo, setting trends, and placing their reputation on the line. Their credo might well be: Action, not inaction, and not reaction.'
"If you're thinking, 'That is definitely not me,' pause for a second. Consider the times when you actually did put something at risk: your coursework as you pursued a dorm-room enterprise, your comfort zone as you moved to a new city across the country for a new job, or your pride as you tried to chat up strangers who might not be as interested in you as you were in them. Many of you likely have started or joined a venture in which you hold deep passion – taking a risk and trading off against more conventional career paths. It turns out that those who follow Robert Frost's path less taken do tend to build stronger Guts. Just as green shoots might portend the tallest of trees, so do these actions reveal the potential to develop some serious Guts.'
"In our interview with Mehmet Oz, he reflected on the moments in the operating room when he has had to make go/no-go decisions. A heart transplant is not working, the EKG is flatlining, and applying a thumb's pressure to the heart can only slow the bleeding for so long. Now what? First, Oz stresses, you take an action, and take it quickly. Pondering options and alternatives does no one any good (particularly the patient). You can learn to live with taking an action that leads to a mistake far better than you can live with taking no action at all. Inaction almost always lead to failure, while making a decision promises at the very least the possibility of a positive outcome.'
"Thus, this foundation level of our Guts hierarchy framework, the Guts to Initiate, is the most common and essential trait of Guts-driven individuals. If you are Guts-dominant, you will always prioritise decision making over indecision. Even after considering worst-case scenarios, you will invariably decide it is worth jumping in.'
"The world is overweighted with idea generators and underweighted with people actually willing to execute their ideas. Even during the dot-com boom in the mid- to late 1990s, surprisingly few of those enrolled at top business schools across the country were launching new companies, given the large number who professed excitement for new ideas. By Tony's recollection, in 1998, two years before the dot-com peak, the number of Harvard Business School second-year students starting their own ventures came to less than ten in a class of about nine hundred."
(pp. 78-9, 'Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What it takes to be an entrepreneur and build a great business' by Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington, and Tsun-Yan Hsieh – Harvard)

‘Creating a Portfolio like Warren Buffett: A high return investment strategy’ by Jeeva Ramaswamy

Recession research
"All companies need to perform in all business conditions. When the economy is on an upswing, all businesses do very well. But, you need to identify the company that has done better when the economy is in a state of recession; that company is the real winner.'
"Here is a scenario to consider. When the economy is on an upswing, businesses generate more revenue and more earnings. The company has cash on its balance sheets and the business is adding cash each quarter. Senior management wants to expand the business as soon as possible. They are formulating aggressive plans to become a big company in a short period of time, either through acquisition or fast-paced expansion.'
"To support the aggressive growth, they use bank debt, leveraged up as much as possible. The banks also think that the company will generate the same level of increased earnings in the future and allow the company management to leverage up to the maximum possible level. During boom times, the company might have acquired other businesses at an inflated price.'
"After the economy booms, the stock market soars. Ultimately, stock prices reach bubble levels and finally burst. Then reality comes into the picture. The economy slides back into recession. Companies' revenues start falling faster. Management might not be able to cut cost fast enough. Because of falling revenues, earnings start to fall. The company's management faces difficulty when servicing acquisition debt, starts to violate the financial covenants, and finally ends up in bankruptcy.'
"This kind of cycle happens all the time. The 1990s tech boom created a bubble in the stock market. It finally burst in 2000 and the economy slid back into a recession until 2003. In 2003, the real estate bubble started. Banks were lending money to commercial and residential developers and sub-prime borrowers, thinking that real estate prices would never come down. When reality set in, the financial crisis hit in late 2008.'
"If a company's management is capable or experienced enough to understand business cycles, they act prudently. They conserve cash when the economy is in expansion and run the existing business as usual. When the economy bursts, less well-capitalised companies get into trouble. The well-run businesses acquire the troubled companies at fire-sale prices or take away market share when their competitors end up in bankruptcy.'
"This is what happened during the last financial crisis; the well-capitalised banks absorbed the troubled banks. When you are researching a company for a possible investment, do the research and find out how the company performed during the last recession. If they come out stronger than before, that kind of company will reward the shareholders very well over the long term."
(pp. 59-60, 'Creating a Portfolio like Warren Buffett: A high return investment strategy' by Jeeva Ramaswamy – Wiley)

‘US + Them: Tapping the positive power of difference’ by Todd L. Pittinsky

Empathy, sympathy
"As far as we currently know, it is only human beings who can imagine what it is like to be in someone else's shoes. It is an ability with profound effects. It might have helped prehistoric hunters to be able to imagine what their prey would do. Complex human societies would be inconceivable without the ability to imagine what other people might do or wish or fear under particular circumstances. This is different from – and more sophisticated than – simply inferring how another might instinctively react. It is an ability so facile that we often don't even notice it in the course of our busy days.'
"And we go even further. We not only imagine what others are feeling, but also feel something ourselves in response. You see a homeless man shivering on a park bench and you 'feel sorry' for him; that is, you actually feel some measure of discomfort and sorrow. You see the stricken look on a politician's wife as her husband admits to the world that he's been having an affair and you feel embarrassed for her – you may even physically cringe. By the same token, you walk by a small park, see a child swinging as high as she can and loving it, and you feel happy. You may even feel joy. You see newlyweds – even complete strangers – emerging from a church, and feel happy. You see someone arriving at an airport, suddenly surrounded by family and smothered in hugs and kisses, and feel happy for the whole joyous group. Many a camera company has based an advertising campaign on this ability of ours to feel an emotion in response to someone else's experience.'
"This combination of imagining what someone else is feeling and then feeling a related emotion oneself is how I and many (but not all) social scientists define empathy. When the feeling is negative, such as sorrow or embarrassment, in response to another person's experience of something unpleasant, undesirable, or harmful, many social scientists call it empathetic sorrow; a more ordinary word for it is sympathy. When the feeling is positive, such as happiness or pride in achievement, in response to another person's experience of something pleasant, desirable, or beneficial, social scientists call it empathetic joy, but it is telling that there is no ordinary word for that in English."
(pp. 125-6, 'US + Them: Tapping the positive power of difference' by Todd L. Pittinsky – Harvard)

Monday, August 27, 2012

‘The Transforming Leader: New approaches to leadership for the twenty-first century’ – Ed: Carol S. Pearson

Ego's craft
"Much of my own understanding of Buddhism comes from my years studying with the Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa, who arrived in North America in 1970 as a young but already accomplished meditation master intensely committed to making a genuine link between Western culture and the wisdom tradition he had inherited. He shed his monastic robes and became immersed in the language, idiom, and questing minds of his new Western students. As a teacher he was delightful – inquisitive, magnetic, wise, playful. This was my first and most powerful encounter with a leader operating from a place beyond age.'
"According to the Western Buddhist definition, ego is the process of fabricating certainty. A sophisticated, moment-to-moment process freezes, judges, anticipates, and assumes what is going on, driven by an unconscious anxiety that something is missing, something needs to be secured. But reality can't be secured, ego's mission can never be accomplished. Thus, ego's process is the source of misunderstandings from the most trivial to the most profound and is at the root of a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction.'
"While this process is ongoing, any indication of threat sends it into high gear, producing elaborate self-justifications, fantasies, and fears. Trying to suppress, rationalise, or override ego's process just adds to the struggle. According to Buddhism, the primary antidote is to relax the momentum by establishing a different kind of ground, one that is not ego-based, through the practice of mindfulness.'
"While many leaders practise formal mindfulness meditation as an ongoing support for their work, not everyone is motivated to adopt such a practice. However, anyone can apply the foundational principles of meditation to their everyday leadership."
(pp. 111-2, 'The Transforming Leader: New approaches to leadership for the twenty-first century' – Ed: Carol S. Pearson – Harper)

‘The Liberals’ by Hindol Sengupta

Akshay Kumar
"…I went to interview Akshay Kumar in the winter of 2005 in a flowery pink shirt (yes, that is a bit odd, but I will come to that), which I thought was becoming to an entertainment reporter.'
"The interview was in Bombay, at the suburban dance school belonging to a very plump, very agile choreographer called Ganesh Hegde. On every floor of the scratchily built school were made-up girls with hard faces, faces that had wanted to make it in Bollywood for a long time.'
"Akshay Kumar came on time, sat with his legs parted macho style, said this was the way he always sat, laughed at me for wearing TV make-up, and said that he hardly ever wore make-up. As it so happened, said Akshay Kumar, he knew that Bollywood was changing. He was not sure whether he ought to call it Bollywood any more, but of this he was sure – there was a drastic change in look, feel and storyline in the offing. He said that when he was trying to become an actor, everyone thought he would be a loser, or worse, a loafer, lost in the multitude of Bombay. Everyone, he said, loved the old films, the zip and charm of the Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand films. Everyone lusted after and wanted to become the grouchy and gregarious Amitabh Bachchan. But in the 1990s, when he began dreaming of Bollywood and when I was a schoolboy, Bollywood had become a caricature of itself.'
"'In my early films, I don't know whether you want to call it wooden,' guffawed Akshay Kumar, 'but even the cupboards and tables and furniture on the sets acted better than me.''
"These films, he explained with the passion that would have matched Calcutta's great film societies discussing Tarkovsky, appealed to the mass market, Bollywood's famous front-row audience, the people with the cheapest tickets, the public. But then, said Akshay Kumar, in his famously faltering, gruff voice, the multiplex age and satellite dish age explained to Bollywood that a new audience had arrived. He explains this in sartorial terms:'
"'You see, you as the viewer would have wanted to wear the suits Dilip Kumar wore or Dev Anand. Amitabh Bachchan wore cool clothes, but would you wear the stuff that we wore in the nineties?''
"The answer, looking at the fluorescent pants and blingy shirts and stringy pyjamas and ragdoll kurtas that populated films like Raja Babu, Collie No. 1, Judwaa, Yeh Waqt Hamara Hai and Ankhen, was clearly – no.'
"Then, said Akshay Kumar, Bollywood producers realised that their films had to be realistic and had to be based in the cities. It is in the cities where a new audience, earning new money and bred on large doses of Americanism, lived and worked.'"
(pp. 91-2, 'The Liberals' by Hindol Sengupta – Harper)

‘Great Game East: India, China and the struggle for Asia’s most volatile frontier’ by Bertil Lintner

"The only outsiders who ventured into the Naga Hills after Burma's independence were missionaries from the Kachin Baptist Convention. As the Kachin had been converted into Christianity at the turn of the century, and the new religion had spread rapidly among them, they decided that it was their duty to convert other tribes in the area too. They began to work through the schools that did exist in a few Naga villages along Ledo Road, where the first Kachin missionaries to the Nagas – Labwi Hting Nan, Zau Tu and Tinghkaw – arrived in the early 1950s. They based themselves at Shingbwiyang, a small town on the road which had been a major base for the Americans and other Allied forces during World War II.'
"Zau Tu baptised the first batch of six Naga schoolchildren in 1954, followed by another group of twelve young converts won over by Tinghkaw the following year. But the real pioneer in the field was Labwi Hting Nan, who opened a new school in Rangkhu Sumri in 1956, and another in Kalawn three years later. This was well south of Ledo Road, inside the actual Naga Hills where there were not even proper mule tracks. He remembers seeing 'plenty of skulls in the villages, especially in long houses belonging to chiefs.' But even the Kachin missionaries did not dare to venture into the wildest area of them all: the mountainous country between the Namphuk River and the Indian border. That was where the Nagas from the Indian side later established their base area.'
"'Thieves, adulterers and prisoners of war were sacrificed to the spirits and their heads kept for ceremonial purposes,' Labwi Hting Nan told me when I met him in Kachin state in 1986. People believed there was spiritual value in a head, and the cutting of heads was the ultimate celebration of victory in war, or for a young warrior to show his manliness."
(pp. 256-7, 'Great Game East: India, China and the struggle for Asia's most volatile frontier' by Bertil Lintner – Harper)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

‘Disaster Science and Management’ by Tushar Bhattacharya

The devil water
"When the first deep tube-well for drinking purpose was bored in the
24 Parganas district (what is now North 24 Parganas) in 1962, the
villagers protested, 'It's the devil water coming.' The scientific
communities laughed at their stupidity, but later on discovered that
the groundwater in the district was contaminated with arsenic. Arsenic
is a heavy toxic material. It gets deposited in nails, hair, urine and
skin. Medical records show that people affected by continuous and
protracted drinking of the arsenic contaminated water suffer from skin
irruption, lesions, swelling of palms and soles, pigmentation and
liver disorders. The first case of arsenic contamination was detected
in the School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata in 1983. The initial
response from the State of West Bengal was that of denial of the
problem, blaming those, who were trying to bring the issue into public
domain as 'agents of mineral water.''
"West Bengal, in the decade of the 80s of the last century, recorded
the highest agricultural growth among all the states of the country.
Single cropped areas were transformed into multiple cropped. New crops
introduced were water intensive, dependent on groundwater. In the
process, the overexploitation of groundwater has been the prime reason
of arsenic in groundwater. The political party in power attributed
this agriculture growth to the land reforms in the state. Land reform
was their agenda for building a mass electoral base in rural Bengal.
Possibly, this was the reason for denial by the state power. The first
official reaction from the state was from the Chief Minister of West
Bengal after 14 long years of detecting the first case of arsenic
poisoning. According to The Statesman of February 6, 1997, the West
Bengal Chief Minister admitted that about 4.5 million people of the
state spread over 8 districts were exposed to arsenic poisoning and
200,000 people were suffering from arsenic induced diseases."
(p. 97, 'Disaster Science and Management' by Tushar Bhattacharya – TMH)

‘Just Married, Please Excuse’

"I had a bad feeling that Vijay would end up getting the new job. He
had always been very different from the regular
hardcore-corporate-types, and had a passion for do-gooding that
somehow struck me as highly suitable for a slightly
off-the-beaten-track initiative such as the rural project.'
"But every fibre of my being was resistant to the idea of leaving
Bangalore. I sat alone moodily on the chair in the balcony that
evening, looking out to the view I loved – including even that
unsightly yellow eyesore of a building that I decided had actually
been growing on me of late. I didn't want to move to unknown bustling
"I reflected upon how Bangalore had been a great place to be a young,
slightly asinine couple getting to know each other. Although we had
plenty of impetuous weekend trips out of the city, we had also, over
the last year, enjoyed pottering about the various parks, pubs, malls
and busy streets of Bangalore. On the rare occasions that we were not
slaving away at our desks, we could be found eating bhutta, chaat, and
other street food, idly exploiting second-hand book stores – or
watching the Govinda movies that Vijay would drag me to kicking and
(p. 101, 'Just Married, Please Excuse' by Yashodhara Lal – Harper)

‘Winning the Story Wars’ by Jonah Sachs

Genesis 3:16
"By the beginning of the twentieth century, America's traditional
agrarian life was being challenged by a new dominant force – the
modern city.'
"Compared with life in the growing metropolises, life on the farm was
only a stone's throw from the spot outside of Eden where Adam and Eve
made their homestead after that little misstep in the garden. The
scenario included a father who toiled on the land, ruling over his
small dominion, and his wife as his helpmate. To a society based on
this way of living, Genesis 3:16 provided reasonable story,
explanation, and meaning. Everyone was familiar with it and almost
everyone was living it.'
"But as women found independence from the old order and gained access
to the educational and work opportunities that cities offered, 'thy
desire shall be to thy husband' was no longer a necessity for
survival. In fact, to some of these women, it had stopped making sense
at all. One culture-rocking outcome of this emerging rejection of
Genesis 3:16 was the notion that women should have the right to vote.
The idea that Eve might not agree with Adam on matters of public life
was an 18-kiloton assault on a myth that had gone largely unchallenged
for almost two millennia."
(p. 67, 'Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell – and live – the
best stories will rule the future' by Jonah Sachs – Harvard)

‘The Future of Boards’ by Jay W. Lorsch

Integrate strategy into board's monitoring function
"Although boards may discuss their strategy in their annual board
retreats, the quarterly board meetings often focus mostly on
short-term financial results. As a result, boards often fail to
monitor the vital intermediate steps – capability creation and
delivering the customer proposition – on a routine basis. This failure
can have serious consequences. Boards may make resource allocation
decisions – including major acquisitions – without a deep connection
to the overall strategy; they can put pressure on management to
deliver short-term financial results, rather than focus on long-term
strategic success; and they may not ensure that the company's
financial performance is communicated to investors in the context of
the company's strategy, leading investors to focus on short-term
"One way to make sure that a company's board integrates strategy into
its monitoring function is to (1) use the annual board retreat to set
the year's strategic agenda, (2) use a board strategic information
system to get regular information on the progress on this agenda, and
(3) design a quarterly meeting agenda to monitor and discuss it."
(p. 49, 'The Future of Boards: Meeting the governance challenges of
the twenty-first century' by Jay W. Lorsch – Harvard)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

‘Lead to Win’ by Harshit Bhavsar

Leadership communication coaching
“Great communicators are made and not necessarily born that way. Communication improves with conscious and continuous practice. Many a time it is wrongly assumed that leaders, who are great communicators, were born with the natural talent of oration since childhood. On the contrary, Ronald Reagan was trained by some of the best acting coaches in the world and consistently worked on his timing and delivery. Clinton, who had closely studied the speeches and communication styles of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, worked intensely on his communication skills undergoing both neuro-linguistic programming and body language training. The results of this leadership communication coaching are evident to all and were key factors in Clinton’s ability to maintain his popularity throughout the various storms he encountered during his presidency. Like Reagan and Clinton, Obama is reputed to have worked hard on improving his public speaking abilities. You only need to see some earlier film footage of Obama speaking, to trace the significant improvement in his performance.”
(p. 121, ‘Lead to Win’ by Harshit Bhavsar – Universal Hunt)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

‘The Indus Intercept: In the badlands of Balochistan, every step is a minefield’ by Aruna Gill

“Late in the night, a car with deeply tinted window glass and a curtained rear window drove through the quiet expansive boulevards of Islamabad. It turned into the residential side streets of Sector F-10, past the twinkling lights of the Cat House, a private and exclusive ‘dance club’ with prostitutes from all over Pakistan, China and Russia. The car turned yet again, before stopping at the gates of an unprepossessing house named ‘Orchid’.’
“The driver rolled down his window as an armed guard approached. When he saw the man seated in the rear, the guard hurriedly saluted and shouted to his partner to open the gates. Pinky Aunty, the Madame of the house, stood waiting in the gleaming white marble flyer for her VIP guest. A plump, heavily made-up middle-aged woman, she was dressed in a deep-purple silk salwar-kameez suit, with large dangling silver and amethyst earrings.’
“Normally, she faced all challenges with equanimity: kitchen catastrophes or pregnancies among the lissome working beauties, forbidden love affairs or angry tantrums, black-market liquor or special refined opium supplies, doctors to replenish her stock of Viagra or to repair the wounds inflicted on her girls by frustrated men unable to perform. But today she nervously used the end of her dupatta to wipe away the beads of perspiration that kept appearing on her forehead.”
(p. 81, ‘The Indus Intercept: In the badlands of Balochistan, every step is a minefield’ by Aruna Gill - Harper)

‘With My Body: The naked truth about happy ever after…’ by Nikki Gemmell

Lesson 187
“There is a solitude which gradually grows into the best blessing of our lives.’
“You used to swim laps, several times a week, and then you went to church, evensong, on a Sunday night; and then you sat and typed, in a room that catalogued a relationship once.’
“The feeling at the end of each activity the same: a cleansing, a serenity. That you have done something solid. Good. Right. Seizing the alone, and lit with it.’
“No longer feeling you are the rubbed-away housewife with absolutely nothing to contribute, the little woman being pushed to the side of her own life. Here, anonymously, you are the pulsing beating glittering centre of it. Secretly, deliciously.’
“It feels good. To have found a voice.’
“To be honest, at last.”
(p. 420, ‘With My Body: The naked truth about happy ever after…’ by Nikki Gemmell - Harper)

‘Will There Be Donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time’ by David Pearl

Use discomfort to creative effect
“Sometimes you can even use discomfort to creative effect. I remember watching the MD of a German telecoms company conscientiously setting up his meeting room on the evening before a conference was to begin. He was creating a perfect, dare I say Teutonically perfect, horseshoe of chairs so that all members of his executive team could see the screen. The theme of the meeting was to be taking on new markets, and his intent was to fire up his board so they would have the courage and daring to step out of the comfort zones of their home territories. When he had gone to the bar I surreptitiously moved the chairs, and the following morning a third of the participants had to lean and peer uncomfortably sideways to see the slides. After a good hour of this suffering I stepped in.’
“‘I notice you guys don’t look that comfortable. Is there a problem?’’
“‘Yes,’ says a spokesperson irritably, ‘the screen is in the wrong position and we can’t see the slides.’ (The MD is meanwhile checking his calculations.)’
“‘So why didn’t you move it?’’
“The point wasn’t lost on them. You are not going to get anywhere as a company if you don’t dare to move from your current position.’
“This phenomenon of accepting what you are given runs deep in the Anglo-Saxon mentality and, I suggest, in the north of Europe generally. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from post-war austerity (you’ll eat what you are given), but generally people seem to make do with what they are presented with (as individuals and as businesses) because it seems, well, rude to ask for more. Not quite cricket.’
“The North Americans are more explicit about expressing their needs (as all those self-help books tell them to), but even they are not immune.”
(pp. 115-6, ‘Will There Be Donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time’ by David Pearl - Harper)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

‘Wildlife on Coal Island’ by Shivani Sivagurunathan

Staring at a vase
“We both got into medical school in India after two years at college. I was beginning to think that Amitabh had dropped his penchant for cutting open the world and looking deep into its light. But it was India that broke him again. The problem there was that drugs were cheap, accessible, too common. Students absorbed them like coffee and went on crazy bike rides around the infested streets, charging at stalls, yahooing at the colours of cakes and grains and saris. Amitabh was electrified. The issue I had with his new phase of drug-taking was that he had stopped talking about looking for the truth or the soul of the universe. This time, he had given up on philosophy in favour of fun – riding with the boys, cavorting with the girls, whistling at cats, laughing at inanimate objects. I caught him one day staring at a vase and mumbling something about darkness.’
“‘What did you say?’ I asked.’
“He looked up at me, sad, fearful, his hair sweaty and uncombed. ‘Sit with me a while, Shel.’’
“I sat, feeling that I had never caught this particular mood of his before.”
(pp. 75-6, ‘Wildlife on Coal Island’ by Shivani Sivagurunathan - Harper)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

‘Creative Evolution: A physicist’s resolution between Darwinism and Intelligent Design’ by Amit Goswami

Creative sleep

"Neurophysiologists earlier had discovered that our brain waves show specific signatures of our three major states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In materialist neurophysiology, this fact was already hard to explain because no distinction is possible between the conscious and the unconscious. Then came the discovery that the brain wave signature of meditative states is also quite unique, quite distinguishable from the three common states of consciousness (Wallace and Benson 1972). This discovery raised the question, In addition to meditation, are there other distinct states of consciousness aside from the usual three?'

"In spiritual traditions, there is mention of 'higher' states of consciousness called samadhi in Sanskrit. In the Hindu tradition, it is said there are two kinds of samadhi. A transient state of experiencing the 'oneness of everything' is called savikalpa samadhi, samadhi with subject-object split. In Japanese, this state, a state of subject-object split experience, is called satori. More recently, Abraham Maslow called this state the 'peak experience.' Because of its highly transient nature, measuring a brain wave signature for it may be quite challenging.'

"However, Hindus also talk about a second kind of samadhi, called nirvikalpa samadhi, that is, samadhi without subject-object split. This state is therefore more akin to sleep, which also lacks the subject-object split. I call this state 'creative sleep' because in this state consciousness unawarely processes new possibilities, not the old ones of memory processed in regular sleep (Goswami 2008). I suspect that there may very well be a specific neurophysiological signature for creative sleep that can empirically differentiate it from regular deep sleep.'

"The experimental investigation of the higher states of consciousness will open neurophysiology to a broader worldview. The beauty of the new view is, of course, that it does not leave out anything, not even cognitive science."

(pp. 257-8, 'Creative Evolution: A physicist's resolution between Darwinism and Intelligent Design' by Amit Goswami - Wisdom Tree)

‘The Buddha and the Terrorist’ by Satish Kumar

How can terror bring freedom?

"'Stop, monk, stop,' he shouted. 'Don't leave me behind.''

"'I have stopped, Angulimala,' the Buddha replied. 'I stopped ages ago, but have you? And will you?''

"'While you are walking faster than me, you say you have stopped. What do you mean? How have you stopped when you are still moving?''

"'I stopped a long time ago,' Buddha said. 'It is you who have not stopped. I stopped trampling over other people, I stopped desiring to control and dominate people, but you think freedom lies in killing and overpowering others. True stopping is to stop interfering in other people's lives for your own ends. You are rebelling against the oppression of others, but you yourself are oppressive – you are frightening and terrorising towns and villages. How can terror bring freedom?'"

(p. 34, 'The Buddha and the Terrorist' by Satish Kumar - Wisdom Tree)

‘Back to the BCs’ by Pavithra Srinivasan

The City of the Dead

"'You know that we Sumerians refer to your lands, as a whole, as Melukkha – the High Country,' said the merchant. 'But why have you named this new city 'The City of the Dead'? Forgive me, but it sounds inauspicious.''

"'Yes, a question many have asked,' Manis said slowly. 'We all know how the living fade with time. But these buildings, coins and artefacts will remain as a lasting testimony to how we once flourished. And I hope that, some day in the future, our descendants will think of us with awe and pride, that the world will know how great our civilisation was. I want this city to be remembered thousands of years from now, like the great cities of Sumer, Babylon, or Egypt.' He paused, then continued: 'I am a realist too – I know our people will vanish one day. They may die out, and other cities, other civilisations may take their place. After all, human life is so fragile. But there is no death where there is history, where there are memories. Death is not to be feared in such a place.' Manis smiled. 'And that's why I named this city 'Mohenjo-Daro'.'"

(p. 9, 'Back to the BCs' by Pavithra Srinivasan – Helios)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

‘99 to 1: How wealth inequality is wrecking the world and what we can do about it’ by Chuck Collins

CEO pay
“The root problem with CEO pay is the underlying system of incentives. Current compensation practices encourage a very short-term outlook and reward short-term decisions that goose immediate profits over long-term strategies that foster healthy, durable, built-to-last companies. Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto business school, has blasted the current US compensation system of ‘profit maximisation’ that encourages CEOs to game the system. In this structure, ‘customers become marks to be exploited, employees become disposable cogs,’ and shareholders see their equity values plummet.’
“There is a perverse incentive, for example, to use a corporation’s power and influence to distort the regulatory environment it operates in. For example, of the 100 highest-paid CEOs in 2010, 25 took home more compensation than their company paid in federal income taxes. Twenty of these companies spent more on lobbying lawmakers than they paid in corporate taxes, and eighteen gave more in money in bundled contributions to political candidates than they paid the IRS in taxes.’
“Another perverse incentive is that companies lower their tax bills by overcompensating their executives. The higher CEO paychecks soar, the larger the amount corporations can deduct off their taxes, because compensation is a business expense.”
(pp. 53-4, ‘99 to 1: How wealth inequality is wrecking the world and what we can do about it’ by Chuck Collins - Harper)

Monday, August 6, 2012

‘Incognito’ by Lata Gwalani

Mountain air
“The special thing about the mountain air is that your appetite takes on huge proportions. You can eat like a pig and still not feel stuffed. Post-brunch, I would stroll back to the house and lounge in the garden chair. The chill in the air and the warm sun rays were a delectable combination, too hard to resist.’
“An hour or so later, when my eye lids became heavy and my vision blurred, I would go up to my room, snuggle under the quilt, for a dreamless siesta that had no fixed waking up time. That’s another thing about the mountain air; you can sleep, sleep and still sleep more.’
“Early evening, I would once again come down to the garden, and lazily sip the tea that Gopi reverently placed in front of me. This was some sort of an unspoken agreement; a ritual that Gopi hadn’t broken in the last seven days.’
“At sunset, I would stroll over to Char Dukan to pack a light dinner; some nights just fruit, some others a sandwich or something.’
“An early dinner and early to bed would bring down the curtain on a day well spent; doing nothing.’
“Doing nothing? Actually, that’s not true. I believe a writer’s mind works overtime. We can sit still in one place for hours on end and conjure up an entire paperback – cover to cover.’
“That’s exactly what was happening in my mind. Given an ambience such as the one I was in, where not only do I sit still, but the world around me appears so still, I cannot but weave the fabric of my imagination into a tapestry that has passion clinging to its every fibre.”
(pp. 134-5, ‘Incognito’ by Lata Gwalani - Frog Books)

‘The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry’ – Ed: Sudeep Sen

My bindi
“All said and done, at fifty,
dear bindi, you brighten up
the day…’
“Each morning, I’ve something
to look forward to in the mirror,
and a game to play…
Which one of you
shall I use today?’
“A full-stop of red
to keep the ardent lover at bay?
An asterisk of gold
for the one I wish to amuse?
The black exclamation mark
for those curious to learn
how I juggle
fidelity with occasional flings?’
“Mark of the Hindu; fashion-statement
ever since Madonna took to you;
symbol of wedlock or mere
facial embellishment, dumb bindi,
eloquent in your shapes…’
“My Morse code of dots and dashes,
bindi, that flashes
the one I wish to invite…”
(p. 418, A poem by Smita Agarwal in ‘The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry’ – Ed: Sudeep Sen – Harper)

‘Toke’ by Jugal Mody

Evil stewardesses and flying Japanese legs
“Chiaki and Yatsuha look at each other, smile and pull out two batons, which open up like long rods, and pounce over seats like cats, whacking stewardess-heads aside with all that they have, but not touching a single unfazed passenger-head. Billie Joe tries to burrow under his seat.’
“Our two ultrafunctional fighters flap open the overhead cabinets and cling onto them. The moment any stewardess tries to get up, feet and batons fly. Its like the girls have octopus feet, flapping around, turning this into some sorta video game level. The rest of us cross through the dungeon of evil stewardesses and flying Japanese legs, dodging them while they try to dodge our heads.’
“Once we cross the stewardesses, the girls jump right behind us as we run towards the cockpit.’
“The door behind us opens and the co-pilot grabs Suparna and me by our collars, yanking us head-first into the cockpit. This seems to be straight out of an action movie, in 3D, as I watch two metal sticks fly by my ears. I close my eyes, but I hear a crushing sound. When I open my eyes, one stick has struck right between the co-pilot’s legs from between Suparna and me. The other smashed into his face. He drops Suparna and me to the floor.”
(p. 93, ‘Toke’ by Jugal Mody - Harper)

‘Pantheon’ by Sam Bourne

“There was an editorial from the New Statesman of 1931. The magazine reckoned that the only people who could possibly oppose the eugenic vision were traditionalists and reactionaries, too selfish to see that their desire to have children should take second place to society’s need for an improved breed…’
“Here was that economist chap, Keynes, whom everyone so admired, putting the case for widespread use of birth control, because the working class was too ‘drunken and ignorant’ to be trusted to keep its own numbers down. And look at this, Grey’s big pal, William Beveridge, Master of University College, arguing that those with ‘general defects’ should be denied not only the vote, but ‘civil freedom and fatherhood.’’
“Next James came to a short essay by Harold Laski, who had once sat between James and Florence at high table: The time is surely coming in our history when society will look upon the production of weakling as a crime against itself. And on the very next page, JBS Haldane. Harry Knox was always quoting Haldane, James remembered, chiefly because the eminent scientist and socialist supported the Republic in Spain. Here he was sounding the alarm: Civilisation stands in real danger from over-production of ‘undermen’…’
“There was an editorial of warm support from the Manchester Guardian, praising Brock for backing the sterilisation ‘the eugenists soundly urge.’ On the next sheet was a table of recent statistics, showing which countries were already leading the way. Curtis had been right: Germany apart, the United States was ahead of the pack, having sterilised thirty thousand of the mentally ill and criminally insane by 1939, mostly against their will…’
“He flicked through a few more pages, coming across Bertrand Russell, star philosopher and another one of the Greys’ high table chums. It seemed the great man had dreamed up a rather elaborate wheeze to improve the quality of the nation’s stock. He wanted the state to issue colour-coded ‘procreation tickets’: anyone who dared breed with holders of a different-coloured ticket would face a heavy fine. That way people of high-calibre could be sure their blood was mixed only with those of similar pedigree. Why risk contamination by those whose blood might be dangerously proletarian, foreign or weak? Just check their ticket!’
“James was shaking his head at the arrogance of it all when he came across an essay suggesting that the problem was not that the poor were having too many children, but that they were having the wrong kind of children. The solution was a programme of artificial insemination, aimed at impregnating working-class women with the sperm of men blessed with high IQs…”
(pp. 328-330, ‘Pantheon’ by Sam Bourne - Harper)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

‘The Greater Goal: Connecting people and performance’ by Ken Jennings and Heather Hyde

"'The cliques are breaking down. For years, I've noticed how employees eat together and stick together in their cliques, their clans, and their clubs. But something else is happening now. Our employees are mixing across the clans and the clubs, and the noise level in the lunchroom is higher than ever. So like any good HR type, I decided to investigate. Every day at lunch, I moved my tray around and listened in on the conversations.''
"'What did you learn?' Alex asked, his curiosity growing.'
"'People are talking about opportunities – opportunities to do good things in the company that can happen only with fuller cooperation from other clans and teams. So they are reaching out to both get and give help. We are becoming a community.' Matt leaned forward and interlaced his fingers in front of him to demonstrate. 'We are weaving together in a good way. You know, Alex, as your HR guy, I've been all about defining our competencies and building our culture.''
"'That's good,'Alex encouraged, sensing that his friend was in a confessional mood.'
"'Good, you bet. But I was missing the key right in front of me. Genuine community connects competency and culture.' He drew it on Alex's office whiteboard.
Competency ß Community à Culture'
"'Community, catalysed by the shared goal achievement discussions we're having, is actually putting individual competencies to work. And the work itself that's happening across functions, the giving and getting of help, is literally building the high-performance culture we have been hoping to create.'"
(pp. 85-86, 'The Greater Goal: Connecting people and performance' by Ken Jennings and Heather Hyde - Harper)