Favorite books list

Recently I was talking with my colleague about book reading habit, he was asking me to get a list of my favorite books. Few years back I created a list consisting of my favorite books using Google drive (it was called Google docs then). This list grew over the years when my friends started adding additional items into it. Recently I have updated the list; latest version can be downloaded from the link below:

Favorite books – Link to PDF document

Hope you find it useful.

BOOK REVIEW: My journey – Transforming dreams into action

Abdul Kalam
Transforming dreams into actions

Author: APJ Abdul Kalam

Price: 195 INR

For most Indians, reading about Abdul Kalam and his work is always an inspiring item. Post retirement, he started off his journey into writing by scripting his auto-biography titled ‘The wings of fire’, followed by some popular books like Ignited Minds, Envisioning an empowered nation, Turning points etc. Most of them talk about his early life in Rameshwaram followed by his experience with various defense and space research organizations. Another popular theme in these book is about “Vision 2020”, where Kalam is been articulating India becoming super power by 2012 by achieving excellence in technology, rural transformation, self reliance and self sustainability.

In this latest book ‘My journey – Transforming dreams into Action’, Kalam has followed pretty much the same canvas but gone into very small and specific stories. Unlike his previous books, he has chosen real life anecdotes and shared deeper learning from them. Growing up in town like Rameshwaram with very high aspirations and dreams is not very easy situation to handle. With lesser resources and exposure, Kalam need to go thru lot of struggle and build his career brick-by-brick. The most inspiring part is about him overcoming umpteen numbers of challenges and overcoming them with very strong vision and value.

For example, he explains how he became a working person at the age of 8 by supplying newspapers in Rameshwaram and struggle associated with it. Every day he would to get up at 4 AM followed by his morning tuition and prayers. In order to support his family Kalam takes a part time job of distributing newspapers to Rameshwaram household. Thanks to some policy change, Chennai-Dhanushkodi passenger train which carried daily newspaper bundle from Chennai removed Rameshwaram station from the list. This resulted in Kalam doing every day stunt by catching paper bundle thrown from a moving train at Rameshwaram station. Kalam will then go on distributing them after which his school day would start. In the evening he would finish his homework and complete settlement of newspaper daily account with his cousin who gave him this opportunity. It was quite obvious to see the amount of stress and pressure he might have gone thru as a 8 year old boy, but the way he put it across along with key learnings is simply amazing.

There are multiple similar stories related to his profession filled with struggle and failures.  Inspired by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Kalam and his team went on building Indian space story from the scratch.  He recalls how his professional career is similar to his early life in Rameshwaram – Lesser resources, Limited knowledge, larger challenges and a passion to win. Taking references from Bhagavat Gita to Thirukkural, Kalam mentions how he taken inspiration from these great ancient text to lift him up when things went wrong due to mistakes.  There were some repeated stories (ex: Church in Thumba becoming ISRO office, thanks to the local people), however they are always inspiring ones to hear again and again.

Unlike his previous books, Kalam kept this one very simple which can even read and understood by a high school kid. Definitely worth reading!

Useful Tamil websites

I have been an avid follower of Tamil Internet, which has grown into leaps and bounds over years. All dimensions content, technology and choice of contents is getting enriched day-by-day. Following are some of the useful sites which I follow:

Blogs:

Writers:

Web sites:

For buying Tamil books online:

Audiobooks – New mode of learning

I have been a regular reader of books over years now. Every year I used to read 12 books (one book a month) until 2012. Last year it was very challenging to keep up with work expectations, family priorities, travel and fitness related activities. Definitely I was missing books not sure where and how I will make time for it.

I stumbled upon audio-books in a book-store, thought of giving it a shot. Thanks to Bangalore traffic I at-least end up spending anywhere between 1 to 1.5 hours in traffic, where listening to FM radio or audio CD becomes boring after some time. I have interleaved it with Audiobooks, which has opened up new mode of learning. Following are the pros and cons of Audio-books.

Pros:

  • Excellent way to catch-up with book reading in a busy schedule added with traffic jams. After getting into the habit of listening, longer traffic jams have become an opportunity for me to listen to few chapters from audio-book.
  • Compared to physical book reading, audio books are faster. Based on my experience, I was able to complete one book in a week (with 7-8 hours of drive time). This definitely provides a ‘feel-good’ factor!
  • Easy to carry, share and store. Obviously they occupy less space inside and outside house, I am able to create a small sharing circle in office where we keep exchanging audio-books.

Cons:

  • Audio book listening experience cannot equate book reading experience. Especially during driving, I was not able to give 100% concentration on what is being told from the audio system. This also sometimes gives a ‘incomplete’ feeling
  • Relatively I found good audio books are costly than printed edition. At least in India, average book audio costs about 500 INR, which is quite high, compared to print edition. Of course it varies from book to book
  • Continuously listening to audio books creates a ‘boring’ feeling especially during long drives. It is good to interleave audio books with good music and radio. I found a decent combination of these three worked well for me.

Resources:

Book review: Employees First, Customer second

Jwritings - Employee first, Customer second
EFCS - Vineet Nayar

Author: Vineet Nayar

Price: 499 INR (Audio version of the book)

Employees First, Customer Second (EFCS) is creating buzz for a while now! Coined by HCL vetranVineet Nayar, this term has created a bunch of different interpretations, perspectives and discussions. I picked up audio version of this book from Reado, mainly to bring pace  to my reading habit. Listening to audio book, especially in busy city traffic conditions, makes it a enriching experience by putting better use of time. Also audio book helps to read book faster than the traditional printed books. I used to be an advocate of buying books in printed form and have them as my priceless possessions. Thanks to the busy schedule at work and home kindled me to explore innovative ways to keep my reading habit alive. EFCS is the first audio book I have heard (long time back I did similar stuff with one of the Tamil books, by having them listen during travel), so listening to an English audio book is also equally interesting experience.

Coming to EFCS book, author Vineet Nayar shares his transformational journey in HCL using EFCS framework. HCL, one of the top notch software services companies in India, steadily lost its stream both in business and people elements.  HCL was not considered as a preferred employer by many of people due to not so favorable work environment. Based on his experience by meeting HCL employees Vineet felt many key issues, which pushed him to make transformation in HCL by implementing EFCS. Fundamentally Vineet believed what he describes as ‘value zone’, which is nothing but an employee linkage with its customer. This critical zone where  customer interacts with software service organization like HCL to get the necessary assignment done. For customers, they see the software company and its value generation thru its employees who are interfacing with him/her. So from the organization perspective, if employees in the value zone, who can be enabled and empowered, would result in more value for customers. In order to take care of its customers better organizations need to work with their own people, to put them first before customers. Because every action they do eventually gets converted into value for customers thereby maximizing many things which include employee satisfaction, customer value, revenue, profitability etc. This doesn’t mean providing a second-class treatment to customer, but in order to give them first-class treatment, employees of the organization needs to be taken care.

With this basic principle, Vineet goes on executing EFCS by taking few important but bold changes in the organization. To start with, he gets his top 100 leadership team to buy in this concept of EFCS by creating what he describes  as ‘blueprint’ meetings.  Initially most of the senior leader were not able to buy in this idea with ‘yes, but….’ Thinking, but over a period of time, they start seeing the value of doing such things customers. Second, Nayar believes in order to implement EFCS successfullym, he need to build trust in the organization at all levels. In order to open up conversation with employees, he creates an internal two-way transparent web based system called ‘U and Me’ by openly making conversation with employees. Employees at any level can open conversation with the CEO (Nayar himself) or any of the senior leadership team. In case of specific questions, pertaining to a business line, the corresponding leader would provide the response. When this started off, initial days were more of making it as a compliant box, but over a period of time it turned out to be a platform to build two-way transparent conversation for building trust in the leadership. After attaining certain level of maturity, Vineet opened up this platform with a new item titled ‘My problems’ where he started seeing suggestions/inputs from employees for the issues faced by him with respect to competitors, business changes/challenges, media etc. He started getting very creative and workable suggestions from employees from all the level, which in turn created more belief in the leadership among employees.

Third, internal systems were tuned to support/empower and aid people in the ‘value zone’. For example business support functions like HR, finance, operations etc, need to be tuned for getting support to the business needs by creating a ticketing system with automatic upward escalation. This also broke the traditional power center concept by truly tuning the organization to be people centric, thereby eventually passing on the value to customers. In the same lines, Vineet opened up business results (revenue, profit, current status etc..) data of individual businesses as a transparent information across the organization. Every individual group/team were able to clearly see where their team/business stood with respect to other organizations. While this created some initial issues (ex: information leaking to the press, as HCL is a public listed company) but this created a sense of urgency and bias to take action for improving the situation. It took about four years time for Vineet to implement EFCS in multiple phases and he also explains the benefit/results of this framework in terms of revenues/profits/employee satisfaction. By taking certain big bold steps like EFCS, HCL is transformed into a multi billion dollar organization with capability to handle larget client base with higher criticality.

When such large scale tranformational changes are implemented, any organization will have its mixed response from people side. When I talked with some of my HCL friends about EFCS they were not so excited but admitted that it did had impact in the way HCL has done business. It required lot of courage backed with common-sense to float something like EFCS, but Nayar’s no non-sense common sense approach was really interesting to challenge stereotype management thinking.

BOOK REVIEW: You don’t need a godfather

Author: Elango R

Price: 250 INR

Success is one of the key items that each of us wants for sure. Be it personal or professional sphere, succeeding and winning given immense feeling of accomplishment to individuals or teams. In the corporate world success, especially in the long run depends not only on skills but also in other key aspects like situational leadership, moral authority, managing dynamics of the organization and building a brand for individuals. While there are many books that take deep dive in each of the items mentioned above, the book ‘You don’t need a godfather’ provides a very pragmatic blueprint creating success.

There are three unique things about this book. First the way it is written is very different from others. Author Elango takes his example conversations with his little son Agastya and maps them to corporate environment by taking some of the key learning’s from his son. As a father of three year old I can understand this viewpoint, mainly because we tend to learn so many things from our children provided we are having deeper listening to what they are saying. For example Agastya, while watching a cricket match between India Vs. Ireland makes a statement ‘Appa I hate Ireland’ mainly because the opposition take the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, thereby calling the opposition bad. When things go wrong we seem to blame that problem is ‘out there’ whereas we as individuals might be root cause of the whole issue.

Second uniqueness of the book is its simplicity. Author conveys some of the key messages in a very simple manner. In my article about ‘Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR’ I called out some examples on how professionals compromise on moral values in the name of making some silly money. In the similar lines author gives examples of people with very high academic qualifications losing their jobs mainly because their integrity related issues are found and asked to leave the organization. As professionals it is very critical not to compromise on such items which plants critical seeds for success.

Third uniqueness of the book is about real time case studies he used for explaining some of the key messages. Some of them include — How individuals should see constraints as opportunities, how individuals should build a brand for themselves by doing small things correctly and differently and how to learn from many of the mistakes we do in professional careers etc. I am also glad to see one of my college seniors story is mentioned as a case study, where many of his early constraints (Ex: Learning in regional medium school and difficulties faced to learn English, Missing out on initial set of opportunities faced for traveling abroad but still hanging on, Switching over to an internal sales job which was considered as inferior initially but later creating wonders in the job etc.). As I know this individual for the past 15 years, it’s really heartening to see his story getting mentioned in a book like this.

If you are looking for a light weight, yet powerful guide for navigating thru the corporate jungle, You Don’t need a Godfather is highly recommended. Backed up with real life case studies and drawing experience from his HR profession, author Elango provides great insights into creating success by you own. After all we don’t need a godfather to succeed in life.

BOOK REVIEW: The new age of Innovation

Author(s): CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan

The context of innovation has been over the years. In the world of business (especially the ones which are consumer centric) providing superior ‘customer experience’ has become the core, on which organizations build their competitive advantage. However building this customer experience (which varies from one customer to other) is not easy to build from the organization point of view, as they may not have all the necessary resources to do that. This is precisely where leveraging global networks (thanks to the power of Internet) and co-creating value along with customers become very critical, thus forming the new age of Innovation. In the book titled ‘The new Age of Innovation’ authors CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan provide a framework for building this new age of innovation in organizations, which is essential to stay competitive.

Before jumping into details of the book, let us understand the concept with a simple example: The iPhone ecosystem. Given the fact that Apple iPhone (and Apps) are used by millions of customers worldwide, they will have unique set of application requirements depending on their need (ex: App for a local eCommerce site). However Apple alone cannot achieve it by developing millions of applications as they may not have the necessary resources to do that. In order to address specific customer needs, releases a Software Development Kit (SDK) using which can be used by any individual for developing applications and host it as a part of the App-store. This is precisely what authors call it as N = 1, R = G model of innovation. In order to address a unique requirement of a customer (N = 1) firm can leverage Resources (R) that are available globally (G).  In the similar lines of Apple, many organizations are innovating around this N =1, R = G model, some of the examples being Wal-Mart (retail) and ICICI (Banking).

After introducing this new model of innovation, authors dive deep into intricacies in subsequent chapters by taking various aspects and case studies. The first aspect talks about having robust business processes, which lay foundation for innovation as it integrates business strategy, business process and operations. The very process of doing a business activity differently can act as a competitive differentiators, thereby enabling innovation. ICICI Bank in India is a classic example where they transformed the face of Indian banking system by being successfully executing the business process innovation. Also by consistently building on the process they are able to introduce services like internet banking, online trading account, cost-effective support system etc. The subsequent chapter talks about deriving useful insights (ex: customer behavior and expectations) with data analytics by listening deeper into customer transactions. The analytical information derived can be used to take specific actions (ex: Dynamic configuration of resources, continuous improvement, strategic redirection) in order to meet customer/market expectations. Especially for organizations like UPS or FedEx, deriving useful intelligence information from global supply chain becomes critical.

Third aspect of innovation is about having robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) architecture where building scalable and intelligent systems for responding to unique customer demands.  For example, Google accesses 40 billion distinct pages to create unique personalized experience (N = 1) for its customers, which is aided by strong internal ICT architecture. All the above mentioned three aspects (business process, analytics, ICT architecture) cannot be successfully implemented if organization and its people are not flexible and adaptable enough to cope with changing business environment. In order to achieve the desired results, strong organization commitment should be there in terms of senior management evangelism, strong accountability with alignment and clear understanding of ICT architecture, which is covered in subsequent chapters.

The people goal can be achieved only when the organization evolves by taking real time decision backed up with strong data-points, strong yet flexible organizational structure and pro-actively addressing customer issues. The other key point is to improve the capability of the organization by understanding and continuously making competency improvement in the organization. Authors explain various case studies (ex: Madras Cements) and how they have leveraged the people part to gain business advantage out of it. The final chapter of the book talks about a list of agenda those global managers to adapt for making the innovation work in their teams and organizations.

In my opinion, the context of Innovation has changed to a larger extent recently. What was initially considered as a “cool product” may not necessarily innovative in business sense as it may not make the organizational business successful. Taking customers and their unique experiences into account is a very important for innovating in business today, where many aspects mentioned in the book can be handy. Another very interesting observation is to see many case studies from various Indian companies and their innovation models, which is quite inspiring.

BOOK REVIEW : The Long Tail

 

Price: 275 INR

Author: Chris Anderson

The Business world has gone through disruptive changes during the past decade – one of the main reasons being content (ex: music, books, photos) is created, maintained and consumed. Internet was instrumental for fueling this change, thanks to digitization of anything and everything. The new ‘digital’ way has literally changed (in some cases ruined) many traditional business models, which is been working for decades together. One classic example is Apple iTunes, which has democratized the way music is created and shared across billions of people across the world. Another major aspect of digitization is about providing equal opportunity for niche players by connecting them with niche audience, which did not exist previously. As the digital infrastructure can be scaled overnight (that too with global availability), many innovative models are emerging around it.

In his book ‘The Long Tail’ author Chris Anderson introduces a new model which he calls as ‘endless choices creating unlimited demand’. He explains it with the power law graph (see image on the right). The left side of the graph is about ‘hits’, which has maximum number of non-niche customers. The right hand side is about ‘non-hits’ which reaches niche customers, which also has a huge number, at least comparable to mainstream non-niche customers. The ‘Long Tail’ of business is about selling to niche customers, aided by digital infrastructure.

Let us take an example of creating and distributing rock music in the form of albums. During earlier days, a particular rock band will create an album and approach some or the other major music distributors for making a production (in form of CD/DVD) and distribution out of it. From the distributor’s point of view, they will take a very stringent approach for short-listing these bands as they want to really ensure that the album becomes a hit. This is mainly because the distributor needs to make an upfront investment of creating the physical network (CD/DVD creation, distribution to channel partners/retailers, staff expenses etc…). While this ‘hit’ based world/approach still exists, the niche based items also gaining high importance due to the digital transformation. Today any rock band can still create the music, edit is using freely available tools, make an album out of it and upload into the Internet (ex: MySpace). By doing this, they are completely getting rid of traditional distributors, thereby targeting niche audience who are bored with popular bands and interested to explore something new.

According to Chris the ‘Long Tail’ is created because of three factors:

  • Democratization of tools for production (MySpace online tools)
  • Democratization of tools for distribution (Internet)
  • Connecting the demand and supply (MySpace social networking platform)

The similar model can be extended to other industries, using which organizations like Apple (iTunes music, iPhone Apps), Amazon (Online retailing, which can literally list infinite number of items), Google (Ad-sense, Ad-words), Wikipedia (democratic content ecosystem) has become a global success by leveraging Long Tail customers. From the consumer side, the behavior has changed as they are expecting more and more choices which can be met only by such system.

Throughout the book, author explains above mentioned aspects in detail across different chapters, thereby giving complete perspective to readers. In few chapters I felt he repeated same information multiple times, but he takes examples from different industries makes it an interesting read.  In order to understand the recent business changes, aided by Digitized Internet, Chris Anderson’s Long Tail provides an excellent framework where one can put things into perspective.

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t sprint the Marathon

 

Price: 199 INR

Author: V. Raghunathan

Taking real life situations, mapping into a model and deriving some interesting observations is something comes natural to author Raghunathan. In his first book ‘Games Indians play’, he gave a very good perspective by mapping behavior of Indians to Game theory. In his second book he tried a similar approach by taking a different approach into our educational system and how parents are reacting by putting unnecessary pressure into children. Being a parent of two year old, I am able to very well connect with the points mentioned in this book.

The author starts deriving basics for his argument by comparing Sprint Vs Marathon running. In the world of athletics, they follow two entirely different approaches for preparing aspiring runners. The former is all about strength, energy, rush of speed, visible progress with main focus towards the end, whereas later is all about stamina, mental toughness, persistence and competing with self. Life, if at all can be compared, can be done only with marathon running. Also, assuming the fact that every individual has a career span of 30 years, it makes all the more sense for comparing it with marathon, than sprint.

Cut to education! As middle class parents with lot of ambitions and aspirations, most of us tend to put pressure on kids for making them as ‘someone’ in life. In this mad rush for the so called success or rat-race, middle class parents prepare their kids well as sprint runners, who may not achieve excellence in the marathon called life. By not allowing children to grow at their own pace by understanding their strengths, will eventually set the children for failure when life throws different set of challenges at them. The commonly perceived notion of ‘success’ will not mean anything in the long run.

In order to substantiate his viewpoint, author refers to so many real life examples where multiple individuals (ex: MD & CEO of GMR infrastructure) who were not so great during their school time but eventually achieved excellence by taking a long term view of life and focusing on their real interest and passion. While he is not disagreeing to the fact that doing well during school and getting admission into top college does mean getting a good ‘start’ do the life. However it will not guarantee a great ‘finish’ which is what life is all about. He also states that there is enough number of opportunities in all fields for people having the right set of skills and attitude.

In practical, I could connect very well with that he has mentioned in this book. Providing costly education has become a fad these days where nobody bothers about the quality or what exactly the kid gets out of it. Children have become man made instruments, thro’ which parents can achieve their own dreams which they couldn’t due to many constraints they faced during their childhood. Because of this approach, most of the people end up choosing careers that is not suiting their own strength and passion, which is resulting failure in life. This is also one of the main reasons whey ‘excellence’ it not achieved in many of the fields.

Overall I found this book is very relevant in the current context of India. In some ways it is sending messages in the similar lines of ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’. I would strongly recommend this book for professionals, parents and to some extent teenage children to put things into perspective.

BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

Price: 300 INR

Author: Pallavi Aiyar

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world’ referring about China. The very statement become a reality today, as the dragon country literally started shaking the world in all dimensions – be it economical, political or social. None of us can imagine to ignore ‘Made in China’ phrase, given the fact that we use Chinese goods day-in and day-out – ranging from shirt button to iPad. The topic of China becomes all the more interesting, looking from Indian perspective. Both countries have  long history and tradition, but poles apart the way they are operating today. In her book ‘Smoke and mirrors’ author Pallavi Aiyer has attempted to explore many unknown aspects of China from an Indian point of view. The beauty of the book lies in the way she represented China – based on her personal memoirs, travel experience and interaction with tons native chinese people.

The storytelling starts when Pallavi, relocates to China (Beijing) for taking up her teaching profession in Beijing Broadcasting institute. Her first surprise comes in form of her students who are programmed to think in a pre-defined way. It is way different from what she has seen among journalist students in India, where journalism starts with freedom of expression. India is a country where ‘Aishwarya Rai is on her family way’ hits the mainstream media in no-time and people start doing ‘page-3’ research on it would affect Bollywood. China is way different, where the freedom of expression is limited to a larger extent. Whatever comes out the media, everybody is forced to believe it as truth. In another words – truth is not in its real form, but how the Chinese government wants it to be. For example, during her interactions, Pallavi finds all her students saying ‘Mao was 70% correct and 30% wrong’ and she later understands that’s how they were thought during school days. Since there is no other source to validate this statement, students are forced to believe it as a truth. The main theme for this book emerges from the same topic – Is freedom of expression (in the name of democracy) is more important than financial development ? Is it worth having a vibrant media over poor infrastructure? Does economic growth mean happy people?

No doubt! China has emerged as the economic powerhouse of 21st century by threatening every other developed country in the world (read it as USA). This large scale, aggressive globalization with a strong communist government has definitely brought a whole lot of good by lifting its one third of the population out of poverty. Thanks to unmatched execution capability, China can literally make anything happen. For example, the Zhejiang province has emerged as the hub of manufacturing with every damn thing we can imagine takes it shape. For example in 2004 alone 3 billion pairs of socks where exported this province, which really talks about the scale and execution speed. China stunned the world by building 4300 KM Shanghai-Lhasa train route which is situated at 3600M above sea level, surrounded by snow mountains. Pallavi was one of the lucky passengers to travel in this ‘dream-train’ during its first journey. She vividly explains how China has built this marvel by taking care of smallest things (ex: installing cold water pumps near the rail track for nullifying the snow effect). Thanks to its robust infrastructure (mainly roads), the supply chain has become really world class. Goods can be moved from one and to other without any major hazzles, thereby aiding smooth exporting of its manufactured goods.

The above mentioned growth has come with its own cost. The never-transparent Chinese government always operates with a bunch controversies. When China stretched its muscles by hosting 2008 Beijing Olympics, countless number of ancient Chinese houses were demolished ruthlessly. Called as ‘hutong’ in Chinese, there ancient houses given a red mark called ‘chai’ (destruction) and vanished overnight to give urban makeover to the Beijing city. Not only buildings, people also do vanish, when they voice against Chinese government. Pallavi stayed in one of these hutongs and explains how the ancient Chinese way of living got affected in the name of urbanization. She also gives deeper social insights of China (ex: unbelievable change in the way sex is perceived among the youth, local passport system called hukou, aping the western way of living , copying anything and everything etc..) which is really interesting. In each case, Pallavi compares with India which makes it all the more fun to read.

Given the fact that even Google not able to crawl many sites in China, it is extremely difficult for a normal individual to understand China.In such scenario, Pallavi’s ‘Smoke and Mirror’ comes out as a relevant account, which gives realistic perspective about contemporary China. The style she has adapted in this book, would really interest both fiction and non-fiction readers.