Doing more by doing less!

Hepburn (band)

Hepburn (band) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first heard of the book title ” Why Quitters Win: Decide to be excellent“,  to say the least, I was very much intrigued. Was Nick trying to say something like stop doing something mid-way if you know that it is going to fail- and ignore the sunk costs…or was it about quitting when faced with unreasonable odds- rather than doubling your efforts and commitment. I believe in sticking with the choices you make,  till you have given it your last shot, and so was slightly apprehensive.

However, what Nick Tasler means, is not about starting many things sequentially,  and then quitting them early, if they are likely to fail; but what he means, instead, in a broad sense, is not starting off and getting absorbed in too many parallel threads, in the first place- but defining a theme or decision pulse and sticking with it and let it guide your day-to-day decisions; and also actively quitting doing the million other things that are not inline with that main theme / decision pulse.

To elaborate, the book is about advice in a business/ organizational scenario,  where an organization, should spend time to spell out its one-time decision pulse- a guiding value that enables managers at all levels to determine for themselves as to whether the decision they will take will be for the good of the organization or not (is in harmony with the decision pulse or not). Seems like a reasonable and obvious advice , but only in hindsight. Practically, it’s very difficult to determine what exactly is/ should be one’s guiding value. And then what is even more difficult is to focus on that one value/ principle and *stop* doing/ being driven by other values/ value propositions.

Easier said then done. Nick proposes a three-step guiding cheat sheet: Know:( find out/ define your decision pulse); Think ( appraise action-plan  in light of decision pulse and also taking alternative scenarios and contrary views into account.) and Do (execute by getting everyone aligned with single focus and take action rather than falling into the trap of making a decision either way by stalling or not acting/ deciding). And quitting other options/ burning bridges behind is important at each step. For e.g. your vision/ decision pulse cannot be vague or over-inclusive- it has to be sharp and concrete enough and focus on one thing and consciously exclude other options- so that it is useful when decisions involve tradeoffs between competing values- as they always do in real world scenarios. .Also, while its important to have action plans, its more important to have a non-action plan: given your new priorities and direction, what are the things you need to stop doing- given that taking up something new and fitting in your day-to-day schedule would force time away from some other activities. Lastly, when executing its best to leave plan B’s foreclosed- for success of plan A, Plan B and Plan C must be sacrificed.

Nick has enough evidence based studies to back his proposition, but the way he goes around elaborating these themes is by taking use of anecdotes and business case studies, which make for engaging reading. Illustrating for e.g. , how Starbucks , whose primary value proposition was being a coffee place, was sort of getting waylaid by having cheese sandwiches as breakfast, and whose cheesy aroma spoiled the coffee aroma, and how the Starbucks founder used the guiding value to  put an end to the lucrative breakfast/  sandwich business to realign the Starbucks with its roots; is illuminating and makes the principles involved clear.

The book is full of such illuminating examples, which makes one see the power of these ‘quitting’ actions,  in action and make one appreciate the theory and ideas in light of real world historical examples.

The book is an absorbing and light read, and is sure to grip you till the end.  In the last chapter, Nick also elaborates how the same strategic framework can be applied to personal planning and self-development.  He list support for some eight universal personal values and how one should ideally choose one of those values and let all one’s personal decision be guided by that value. I could fit those eight values in my ABCD and fundamental four frameworks and would like to spell them out here for the benefit of the readers:

they are sort of eight values,  a pair slightly opposed to each other:

1. Security- Freedom  (pain-pleasure Affect based polarity)

2. Stimulation- Authority (active – passive Behavior based polarity)

3. Achievement- Relationships (self-other Drive/ motivation based polarity)

4. Power – Humanity (broad- narrow Cognition based polarity)

Of course, this is just a peripheral part of what Nick’s book is about, but it resonated with me most.

Lastly, I am at a stage in my life, where , although I do have a guiding decision pulse i.e. ” anythings and everything that helps me achieve and leverage positive psychology based knowledge and interventions in workplace and school settings” I am still too broadly spread: for e.g I am doing a  plethora of MOOCs  ranging from topics related to management and leadership , to evolution and genetics,  and to psychology and neuroscience. Also, I simultaneously manage a full-time job, read a lot of psychology books , do book reviews, am writing a psychology book of my own and have 3-4 active blogs, to which I should contribute on regular basis. I am planning on attending a 15-day cognition workshop in near future. On top of this I pride myself as  curator and share stuff on scoop.it, twitter, Facebook etc. I definitely needed the advice Nick has so timely provided- to make a non-action plan and quit doing somethings.

It’s rare for me to proclaim books as life changing- but this book does seem to be right up the alley- I can’t vouch for you, but at least I am planning to apply its principles to my life in earnest- and am sure that it will be a life changing experience. Thanks Nick for writing this book and sharing it so graciously with me for review.  Hope many more people get to be aware of your ideas and are able to apply them to their lives.

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An infographic on schizophrenia

In continuation of the theme of May as Mental Health month, passing along an infographic received in email. Hope it helps in raising awareness.
Schizophrenia: The Broken Mind
Source: BestMedicalDegrees.com

Book review: A Lethal Inheritance

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today, i.e. 15th may 2013 is being celebrated as a mental health blog day by APA and in the spirit of the day I am posting a review of ‘A Lethal Inheritance’ by Victoria Costello. It is a book chronicling how ‘ a mother uncovers the science behind three generations of mental illness‘  and is an apt topic for the day highlighting the importance of public education and discourse about the topic of mental health.  this blog pots and book review is a homage to all the people who silently suffer from mental illness, most of the time undiagnosed, or even after diagnosis kept under warps due to associated stigma, and their family members who face the burden of not just care-giving but the counterproductive and unnecessary guilt that many of them either by themselves feel or are made to feel by indirect societal gestures.

 

Let me also take this opportunity to apologize to Prometheus Books and Victoria :  the book had come out a year ago and I was sent a review copy promptly, but could not review it earlier. Better late than never!

 

The book, as the subtitle reveals, revolves around three generations of Victoria’s family (this book is autobiographical) :  her two sons Alex and Sammy, which have their own mental health challenges  and  the unraveling of one of them: a first time encounter with a psychotic experience which could be quite disconcerting for everyone involved: leads her on on her journey to trace the roots of this malady affecting her family and also on a scientific pilgrimage where she  continues to search for reasons, symptoms and preventive measures for the various mental health conditions afflicting her family’s  three generations.

 

If the third generation is her sons, the second generation comprises of her and her sister Rita. While she struggles with undiagnosed/ untreated depression for most of her life, her sister is found struggling with serious substance dependence and addiction- which in the end cost her her life.

 

The first generation consist of an Irish immigrant grandpa in USA, whose claim to family fame, is that nobody wants to talk about his death: a purported accident where he feel asleep /drunk on the railroads and died. Now Victoria is a journalist and a good investigative journalist at that. Not satisfied with the account her mother has narrated to her, she undertakes an investigation of her own that leads to surprising discoveries like the fact that her grandpa had dies seven months before hew mother was born , rather than afterwards as believed. Also that his official death transcript reads as died from accidental drowning in a lake, thus casting doubts over the real conditions surrounding his death and also raising a question, could we ever really know if someone had committed suicide or died accidentally even if the incident was of yesterday and not many years before. The fact that his grandpa was an alcoholic, an immigrant laborer most probably facing economic stress and suffering from some mental illness, and likely committed suicide, based on the guilt/ disgust and many other emotions it aroused in his relatives (wife , daughter etc) points to the various ways genes (Irish inheritance) and environmental factors come together to wreak havoc.

 

The book is large part sensitive narration of one’s own story, some part thrilling investigative journalism and remaining parts informed scientific documentation of symptoms, risk factors, early signs, preventive measures and genes-environment interplay in the making and unmaking of mental health. While the scientific facts are up-to-date, they wont be path breaking as this is not mostly a scientific book- its value lies more in a first hand account of how a family deals with mental health issues and how there are common genetic risk factors that manifest in various forms- from a teen having conduct problems and eventually psychosis, to an adult in the grips of substance use and addiction, to a mother fighting and feigning at the same time that she does not suffer from depression, to a long dead grandpa who was alcoholic and probably committed suicide, to traces of violence in other relatives.

 

The book is also important as it highlights that mental illness and genetic risk does not respect diagnostic boundaries- from depression to conduct disorders to substance use to psychosis – all manifest in the same family tree and were perhaps myriad manifestations of a same common inheritance.

 

 

 

My recommendations; read it, read it as a piece of fiction , as an autobiographical account; as an educative opportunity to know more about mental illness and risk factors or just to get a first hand experiential account of what it meas to live under the weight of a lethal inheritance- read it whichever way you like, but you are bound to come out with an enhanced and more nuanced perspective that would be richer for having read this .

 

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Business Sutra: the marriage of management and mythology!

Tathastu

Tathastu (Photo credit: .::RMT::.)

 

Regular readers of The Mouse Trap will know that I have an abiding interest in all things mythological; also by profession I am a middle manager.  Top this with the fact that I am a fan of Devdutt Patanaik and have written a couple of posts before about his work, and you will not find it strange that I could not pass a chance to review his latest book, Business Sutra, which successfully entangles mythical narratives and interpretation with sound business and management principles and practices.

 

The book appears voluminous, with more than 400 pages, but is easy to read and like his 7 Secrets trilogy, is path breaking in its format. On an average, each page contains an illustration/ hand-made cartoon, making the read lively and entertaining.  Mythical narratives are used to elaborate on management principles in the main text, while in-text boxes contain real/ made-up anecdote from the industry to deepen our understanding of the issue involved.

 

While the book deserves to be savored just for its innovative form, the content itself leaves you more than satisfied. Business is seen as a yagna – where a Yajman offers services/ products in the form of Svaha to the Devta– which is the consumer of the service/product and once the consumer has been seduced to except the svaha, he is under obligation to return favors in the form of Tathastu. The tathastu is the return on investment (svaha) that the yajman gets.

 

Re-imagining business as a yagna is a little counter-intuitive, even for someone as steeped in Indian culture as me, so I can sympathize with my readers, if they do not get the hang of this- for really appreciating the analogy you have to read the book.

 

To give a taste of things, I’ll list the principles that have been clubbed under the heading of decisions:

 

  1. He who takes a call is a Karta.
  2. Every one is a potential Karta
  3. A karta who allows and enables others to take a call is a yajman.
  4. A yajman has the power to take and give life.
  5. The size of the contribution does not matter.
  6. All calls are subjective.
  7. All decisions are contextual.
  8. Not everyone can handle the burden of uncertainty.
  9. Every decision has a consequence.
  10. Decisions are good or bad only in hindsight.
  11. Decisions are often rationalized in hindsight.
  12. If the decision is bad, yajman alone is responsible.
  13. If the decision is good, yajman is the beneficiary.

 

As you can yourself see, the principles he elaborates on  are not revolutionary- but the way he entwines mythology and makes a business case out of ancient wisdom is mesmerizing. All said and done, after reading the book, you will come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of Indian mythology and how that affects the Indian culture, than you will know of  how to manage in a MNC context.

 

This book is  a great read for those who are enamored of India, its mythologies and its culture, or are even fascinated by the human essence and psyche (like I am); but for those who are steeped in western principles of results oriented business culture, this may not provide tangible solutions to perplexing business and management problems.

 

While Devdutt may have aimed high, at revolutionizing the way management science is defined and delivered, only time will tell whether the svaha that Devdutt has offered to the readers gets a triumphant Tathastu from them. As for me,  Amen / Tathastu!

 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

 

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Epic Love Stories: a book review

taking oath, on abdicating his right to the th...

taking oath, on abdicating his right to the throne, in order to get the fisher girl married to his father . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although this blog is mainly about psychology, I have interests in mythology and have earlier reviewed Devdutt Pattanaik‘s ‘7 secrets of Shiva’, under the Blogadda’s book review program. So when an opportunity to review Epic Love Stories by Ashok Banker came under the same program, I could not resist myself. While Devdutt Pattanaik reinterprets myths in modern light and draws explicit analogies , Ashok Banker sticks to a retelling of the myth in its original spirit- and how beautifully.

Banker has come out with a set of five such short books in the epic love stories series- based around Mahabharata, and two of them were sent for me to review- they arrived today and as they were comparatively short and intriguing, I ended up the better part of my evening reading them and musing about the themes depicted.

The first book I read was the one story I was already sort-of familiar with- that of Bhishma and Amba (a love story that was never meant to be). It s a simple tale of abduction by Bhishma of three princesses from a swyamwara, so that he can bequeath them to his cousin as his wives. While the elder princess Amba starts by hating her abductor, :on the course of the journey back to Histanpur, seeing the valor and protection offered to them by Bhishma, she falls for him.

One can easily mistake this for one of the earliest depictions of Stockholm syndrome, but then one would miss the point that Bhishma didn’t abuse or harass the princesses , but rather saved their lives, although, in a way he had also abducted them.

If the success of a fiction is judged by its ability to induce in the readers a willful suspension of disbelief, Ashok has succeeded brilliantly. You could almost visualize and rationalize the different sorts of arrows, javelins, canons etc used in the fight between Bhishma and his pursuers. So could you feel the chemistry building up between Bhishma and Amba. Ashok also ends at the right note, leaving Amba forlorn and spurned and headed toward nowhere.

The other book in the series I read was ‘the love triangle that changed destiny': a story about Devyani, Sharmishta and Yayati.  Despite what the appearances looked like, it was not a simple love triangle story. Rather there were multiple stories embedded in it, some providing the context to the story- embedding it in the eternal fight between Asuras and Devas for supremacy- while others subtly highlighting the Varna system– how people can become a Brahmin, despite being a raj-kstriya by birth, or how a Brahmin could elevate others to brahminhood or curse them if need be- how Brahmins and Kstriyas existed, an dsometimes thought them superior than the other- what the different Dharmas of different Varnas were, the slave-hood and the Kings right (nay indeed Dharma) to sleep with the maids, and beyond this all there is an overarching theme of Sanjeevini or Eternal life or at least life that could be lived a thousand years or a life where one’s old age can be exchanged with someone for his youth—all questions that make one ponder that if we got life elongated or became immortal, would we still remain the same animals – driven by same lusts to retain our youth/ or will we be more driven by human concerns- the same Dharma obligation to feel fulfilled in our productive years by doing our duty?

Tough questions that remain lurking in the background, while ostensibly the story is mostly about whether you can trick someone into love or whether it follows naturally and from within.

This was a slightly longer read, but again the narration is fantastic and one keeps turning page after page, especially fro someone like me who had forgotten the original story and was rediscovering the myth.

Overall it was a nice evening spent – musing about the theme of love in the epics, about unwed mothers and sages siring sons, about swayamwaras and apparent choice wielded by women, about the good things in life like keeping Vows and sacrificing for your parents and about the darker side, where maids are treated as proprieties and inter-varna marriages are problematic and where someone could forcibly take someone as his or his cousins wife.

There is such a richness of emotions and wisdom, if one were to revisit the epics and try to appreciate the universals behind such folklore- its to the credit of authors like Banker that they are able to pull people back to such subjects.
This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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