Monday, October 31, 2011

The Habit of Winning - Book Review

BOOK REVIEW by Vikram Karve

The Book
Publisher: PENGUIN BOOKS India
Year: 2011
ISBN: 9780143068280
Pages: 248
Price: Rs. 299

I love reading Self Help Books. I am sure you do too. I feel that the best way to derive immediate benefit from a self help book is to pick one inspiring sentence, the one cardinal thought that appeals to you the most, apply it to your life and see the results.

The first self help book I read was How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. In the very first chapter I found that cardinal sentence: LIVE IN “DAY TIGHT COMPARTMENTS” – a quote by Sir William Osler. Carpe Diem – seize the day and make the most of it – I started doing just that – I stopped brooding over the past, avoided speculating about the future and started living one day at a time, and, presto, I have got rid of worry forever. Yes, I do get angry at times (do suggest me a good self help book on anger management) but I do not worry that much ever since I have started living in the present, one day at a time.

In THE HABIT OF WINNING by Prakash Iyer I found that cardinal thought which appealed to me towards the end of the book - UNFINISHED TASKS ARE THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTORS TO STRESS AT THE WORKPLACE. I pondered over this and realized that this is true in personal life as well. So that’s what I am going to do now – learn to finish tasks, get them out of the way, and like the author says: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly at first” to which I would like to add: “If something is not worth doing, it is best not do it”.

So here I am, completing my first unfinished task, this book review, and then I am going to focus on my most significant unfinished task – my novel – and channel all my energies and resources towards finishing my novel and, till then, everything else can wait on the backburner. It is going to be difficult, but I will do it everyday, “one day at a time” and let’s see how it works out.

I don’t know the author and neither have I heard of him. The blurb says that “In a corporate career spanning twenty-five years, Prakash Iyer has worked with teams selling everything from soaps and colas, to watches, yellow pages and diapers. He is currently the managing director of Kimberly Clark Lever”. His corporate achievements and the fact that he is an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad certainly bear testimony to his credentials to write this book.

The Habit of Winning is not a seminal work nor is it an earth shaking management classic. It is a cleanly written, easy to read, attractively packaged affordable paperback which will appeal to the common man looking for a tip or two for self improvement. There is no laundry list of dos and don’ts, there is no moral lecturing, there is no pontificating – the author imparts his message through stories. And, mind you, most of these are contemporary real life stories which you can relate with these and not teaching stories or inspirational gems of ancient wisdom, parables or fables, except for a few familiar ones like The Water Bearer, The Cracked Pot and  Making a Difference, The Starfish Way.

The book is very readable. The chapters are short, just one story per chapter, and end with a message encapsulating the gist of the story. A good pick me up, you can open any page, start reading anywhere, and finish a chapter in a couple of minutes, this book is an ideal companion while travelling or waiting or just about anywhere.

The meat of the book is not in the middle, but right at the beginning in Part I – VISION AND GOALS in which I particularly liked the chapter DON’T CHANGE YOUR RABBIT that emphasises the importance of focus which I feel is most relevant today where you are surrounded by an environment of distractions and multitasking. I will not tell you any more about the stories in the book – those you must read and enjoy yourself. I will tell you a bit about my views on management.

The Art and Science of Management owe its genesis and evolution to the Military. Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged in the 1950s from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War II [particularly in The United States of America by organisations like the RAND Corporation]. For example, the concept of systems analysis, which involves looking at a particular problem not in isolation but rather in the context of the whole system of which it is a part and then explicitly examining the consequences of alternative courses of action, was developed at RAND in the 1950s to address military challenges. The revolutionary technological concepts of information technology like internet and software and hardware technologies which today’s corporate world depends on so extensively also emanated from the military. RAND was the birthplace of the Internet's basic distributed network technology.

Isn’t it therefore ironic that the reverse is happening today?

Yes, it was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world, and today we see an paradoxical situation of military men running to Civilian Business Schools and Management Institutes to "learn" management and acquire the coveted MBA which is the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world. It is also amusing to see so-called management experts from the corporate world, safely ensconced in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, who are far removed from the experience of war and who have never seen a shot fired in anger, boast of using military strategy in boardrooms, advocate the use of military tactics in sales and marketing, bandy about terms like “foot soldiers”, “generals”, “field experience” and liberally quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and other military tomes and classics. 

It has become fashionable to call competitors as “enemies” and use terms like “battles” and “leading from the front”, little realizing that there is a vast difference between the rules of engagement pertaining to corporate “wars” and actual wars. Of course this metaphorical imagery sounds appealing and makes good reading.

The author too falls into this populist trap when, in the context of “cola wars” he describes salesmen as heroes out on a “battle” ready to “kill” the “enemy” (the competitor) and make their own brand the number one cola.

The stakes are vastly different – if a manager does not “win” he risks losing his job and may cause a loss to his company, if a military officer does not win, he risks losing his life (and those of his men) and causing defeat to his country. It is unjust to compare the two.

I feel that all management gurus must have stint in the military, leading soldiers in difficult and dangerous situations of war and conflict, fighting real wars and insurgency, actually killing people and themselves being in danger of losing their own life and limbs. This would probably enlighten these management gurus more than case studies and paper exercises in Business Schools and Management Institutes. Yes, it would indeed be a good idea for students of the top business schools like IIM to experience the highly stressful combat situations first hand as these are the ultimate tests of all aspects of management, particularly human resource management.

I have learnt more about management, especially human resource management, from the Captain of my first ship than I learnt from the high-falutin management courses and training programmes I attended. And, strictly academic qualification wise, my first Captain was just a matriculate though he had immense first-hand experience.

Dear Reader, thanks for hearing me out. I just wanted to get it off my chest – an “unfinished task” so to say! Now, let’s get back to the book under review THE HABIT OF WINNING. I commend this book. You will enjoy reading it and I am sure you will gain something from it too (like I did – about unfinished tasks) and the book will help you improve your life, both professionally and personally.

Do get a copy of THE HABIT OF WINNING. It is certainly worth having in your bookcase. And better still, this book will make an ideal gift, so don’t forget to present a copy to your boss, your colleagues and friends.

HAPPY READING – May you develop the habit of winning. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like this review?
I am sure you will like the 27 short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL 

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Foodie Book:  Appetite for a Stroll
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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