Leadership In Departure

One of the tests of leadership is how you walk away: do you leave the ship in safe hands, with lots of mentoring & support to the incoming leader? Or do you sabotage their success? Do you train your folks to ensure your legacy lives on? Or do you incite them against the new leader, whether passively or actively?
I have been fortunate to see many powerful leaders in action, who left with grace & dignity, and actively encouraged their folks to carry on their work, supporting their successors.
I have, unfortunately, also been witness to folks who behaved otherwise, undermining their image & leaving everyone (including their strongest supporters) with a bad taste.
Do ask yourself: what kind of a leader will you be when you leave!

Saturday morning musings

Thought stuck in my head for a few years now…don’t know if I read it somewhere or if it came to me:

It seems to me there are only 2 ways for a man to live: one is to behave as if every day is your last, and the other as if you’re immortal!

Reading in 2012

I set a target of 50 books to read this year. I started the year with a fantastic book by Terry Pratchett, “Carpe Jugulum”, and things picked up pace all through Jan. But I read only 1 book in Feb, so it seemed as if my target was ambitious. Given that Feb flew by in a blur, what with our relocation, and sundry administrative issues, the fact that the one book was GRRM’s Game of Thrones, I wasn’t too worried. However, as the year went on, the reading picked up pace. And I finally closed the year with 86 books read (and another 180 unread on bookshelves – real & digital. But let’s not discuss that.)

The best books I read this year were:

Salman Rushdie – Luka and the Fire of Life
George R.R. Martin – A Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin – A Clash of Kings
JRR Tolkein – The Hobbit
Nilanjana Roy – The Wildings

Tom Holt – The Better Mousetrap
Tom Holt – Barking
David Thorne – The Internet Is a Playground
Nora Ephron – I Remember Nothing

YA Fiction
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Jo Nesbo – Headhunters

Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg – The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (Volume 1)
Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga, Vol. I
Art Spiegelman – The Complete Maus

Gulzar – Selected Poems
Jawed Akhtar – Laava
Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Pratinidhi Kavitayein

Veena Venugopal – Would you like some bread with that book?
Mark Haddon, et al – Stop What You’re Doing And Read This

Lynda Gratton – The Shift: The future of work is already here

Life & Philosophy
Cheryl Strayed – Tiny Beautiful Things
Clayton M. Christensen – How Will You Measure Your Life

Joshua Foer – Moonwalking with Einstein
Simon Singh – The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking

Don Rickles et al – The Playboy Interview: Funny People
Rukun Advani – Written For Ever: The Best of Civil Lines


The complete list of books, in the order of reading is:

1. Terry Pratchett – Carpe Jugulum – Pratchett leads you down quite a few blind alleys, on a hilarious horror story with witches, to an extremely satisying ending with a twist.
2. Vendela Vida – The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers – Interesting interviews, although some of them were mutual admiration society stuff. Still, a worthwhile peek into the writers’minds.
3. Jeremy Hope – Reinventing the CFO – A war-cry to the CFO’s to change: the world has changes, and the stresses are many; the only CFOs worth looking at/for, are those who know how to lead this. Hope tells them how!
4. Paul Hoffman – The Left Hand of God – Hoffman built an interesting, gripping premise for 300 pages, and then lost it not knowing what to do with it! Disappointing!
5. Salman Rushdie – Luka and the Fire of Life – Rushdie tells a children’s tale; only it’s too powerful to be read only by kids! Proves why he is one of the best writers around.
6. George R.R. Martin – A Game of Thrones – This book proved well deserving of the hype…as well as being as good as the tv series based on it! Martin spins a complex web of stories, which will captivate, enthrall & fascinate readers of all hues & age groups!
7. George R.R. Martin – A Clash of Kings – Martin continues the saga with a worthy sequel to “A Game of Thrones”. Although I need a break from this epic thriller now, I can’t seem to let go of the Starks & the Lanisters!
8. Cyrus Broacha – The Average Indian Male – Cyrus tries to be funny. In fact, he tries too hard. And fails consistently. Add to that, the numerous spelling & grammatical errors that plague this book, and you’ll be well advised to avoid this altogether!
9. Josh Horowitz – The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker – Only for movie buffs; the interviews give an insight into the minds of the folks selected, but most of them are people you’ve never heard of, and so are left wondering about their inclusion.
10. Louis L’Amour – Dutchman’s Flat – Nice stories to while away the time, daydreaming of a place long ago, the Wild American West.
11. Eugene O’kelly – Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life – O’kelly writes movingly of meeting the final days head-on; with joy & building on the relationships.
12. Louis L’Amour – Kiowa Trail – Westerns in first-person are never as much fun as those in third-person; strictly for L’amour fans
13. Gerald M. Weinberg – The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully – Invaluable resource book for all consultants, and their clients! The book’s funny, irreverent tone only masks some really good & true & serious advice.
14. Marshall Goldsmith – Mojo: How to get it, How to keep it, How to get it back, If you lose it – Goldsmith is the world’s leading executive coach, and the book demonstrates why. It’s witty, insightful, and filled with really good advice on how to become more effective professionally. However, he fails when he asks you to compromise your values in order to succeed professionally.
15. Jennifer Egan – A Visit From The Goon Squad – No more classical literature for me. Ever. Thoroughly disappointed by the fact that critics seem to love only the books which somehow are a showcase for the writer’s wordsmithy, rather than for actual story-telling. Nothing moves in this book for damn near 200 pages!
16. Neil Gaiman – The Sandman: Book of Dreams – Really good stories with many layers, and awesome one-liners!
17. Louis L’Amour – The Daybreakers – Part of the immortal western series, “The Sacketts”, this is a slow, thoughtful examination of human frailties & motivations, set in the context of the Wild West.
18. Richard N. Bolles – What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers – This is the definitive how-to manual on finding a job. But it left me a bit disappointed, since there was nothing really new here!
19. Ronald Cohen – The Second Bounce of the Ball: Turning Risk into Opportunity – Good guide to making use of your inner uncertainties, and overcoming them, in order to succeed as an entrepreneur. Could have done without the repetitive examples of how Cohen made it happen!
20. Michael Robotham – The Wreckage – About a 100 pages too long, but a delightful thriller nonetheless.
21. Angie Sage – Septimus Heap I: Magyk – Why does all YA fiction have to travel the same roads as Rowling/Pratchett, I’ll never know…but it’s getting repetitive, and quite boring folks!
22. Veena Venugopal – Would you like some bread with that book? – The best book I’ve read this year! A journey into a reader’s heart…lots of laughs!
23. Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg – The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (Volume 1) – The reputation of this book, as one of the foremost comics of all time, is rightly deserved!
24. Lynda Gratton – The Shift: The future of work is already here – Gratton examines the changes in the world, and how they impact work & workplaces. A sociological masterpiece!
25. Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely – All-Star Superman, Volume 2 – Not really all that great
26. Jon Stock – Games Traitors Play – Jon Stock writes a spy thriller, reminiscent of Jason Bourne, but rather darker. I do wish he’d found a better way to end this one though.
27. Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Some interesting cases, of rare neurological disorders, which give us an insight into what makes us whole, what makes us human!
28. David Stone – The Orpheus Deception – Stone writes a worthy sequel to Echelon Vendetta, which I read 2 years ago.
29. Swapan Seth – This is All I have to Say – Short, quick reads; musings on everyday life, from success & failure, to marriage, love & parenting! The chapter on failure was great!
30. Mark Haddon, et al – Stop What You’re Doing And Read This – A collection of 10 essays about reading, and books, and the thoughts & dreams of readers. Absolutely delightful. Goes to the top shelf!
31. Tom Holt – The Better Mousetrap – Possibly the best fiction I have read this year, or in the last 2 years! Holt at his personal best. An engaging, hilarious mix of magic, management and humor.
32. Vilayanur Ramachandran – The Emerging Mind – Ramachandran’s BBC The Reith Lectures compiled in one small volume. Essential for anyone who wants to understand neuroscience.
33. George R.R. Martin – A Storm of Swords – The third book in the series, A Song of Ice and Fire.
34. Stephen King – Full Dark, No Stars – Chilling stories of humans who go over to the dark side, which is in all of us!
35. Gulzar – Selected Poems – Some really nice poems, with stunning translations by Pawan Verma
36. Raghuvir Sahay – Log Bhool Gaye Hain – These are highly acclaimed poems, by a much-celebrated poet. But they didn’t work for me!
37. Jo Nesbo – Headhunters – Absolutely brilliant! Nesbo writes lyrically, magically, about crime, and the baser elements inside his protagonists! Some amazing lines too!!
38. Nora Ephron – I Remember Nothing – Ephron is always a delight to read; she finds the absurdity in everyday affairs & displays it for all of us, with sympathy, wit & humor.
39. Jawed Akhtar – Laava – This is a stunning collection, of really fabulous, heart-moving ghazals & nazms!
40. Jeffrey Archer – False Impressions – Archer is a master of racy thrillers, which make you believe at times that they could have actually happened, some small plot-holes & unnecessary descriptions notwithstanding!
41. Cheryl Strayed – Tiny Beautiful Things – Luminiscent is the only way to describe these essays; they provoke really strong emotions, at times tears…absolutely amazing advice columns on life & love!
42. Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma – It’s an important book, tracing the journey of the food we eat…but for some reason important books are usually really badly written. Boring as hell; abandoned mid-way!
43. Clayton M. Christensen – How Will You Measure Your Life – Christensen’s classic HBR article turned into a book, still manages to retain the vibrancy & relevance. A must-read for everyone, not just young college graduates!
44. Terry Pratchett – Thud! – Pratchett is the only writer who, rather consistently, manages to hold my attention throughout the book, with his wit & humour, masking the fairly important points he wants to make.
45. P.D. James – Talking About Detective Fiction – I usually avoid reading criticisms, but James brings a keen eye to her first love, Detective Fiction, and introduces us lovingly to her favourite contemporaries & predecessors.
46. Louis L’Amour – Lonely on the Mountain – L’Amour is a master at the craft of storytelling, but this one didn’t work for me. Too many changes in tone & voice, and too many long-drawn descriptions of stuff not happening.
47. Ramesh Menon – Siva: The Siva Purana Retold – Menon’s translation skills are seriously good; but the stories are by-now too stale & repetitive for me. Hindu mythology is like a longer, and boring, version of Game of Thrones.
48. Kouzes Posner – Credibility: How Leaders Gain And Lose It, Why People Demand It – Kouzes & Posner make a compelling case for credibility, as the primary quality a leader needs to strive for.
49. Tom Holt – Barking – Anyone who wonders why Tom Holt is my favorite writer, needs to read this book. Holt brings law, lawyers, and other horrifying creatures to life in this rollicking read.
50. Nilanjana Roy – The Wildings – Nilanjana’s debut breaks new grounds, from the story to the characters. This is a genre-defying, absolute must-read. Can’t wait for the sequel.
51. Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Pratinidhi Kavitayein – There is no modern urdu shayar who even remotely compares to Faiz. It’s difficult to say whether these are revolutionary love poems, or romantic revolutionary poems.
52. Saul Smilansky – 10 Moral Paradoxes – This was on my to-read list for a long time. But to say that I was disappointed would be understating it a fair bit.
53. Sam Harris – Lying (Kindle Single) – Harris makes a compelling moral case against lying, except in the most extreme situations.
54. Parween Shakir – Pratinidhi Kavitayein – Shakir is a new voice, a refreshing change from the recent crop of the shayars. But this is not a very encouraging selection.
55. Rukun Advani – Written For Ever: The Best of Civil Lines – These are brilliant essays. Made me want to pick up each issue of Civil Lines & devour it.
56. Jo Nesbo – The Leopard – Nesbo is a master. This is a great thriller, although it brought me to my pet peeve of complaining about the length of novels nowadays!
57. Nazir Banarasi – Nazir Banarasi ki Shayari – Some of the sher’s were passably good, but Nazeer is just not in the same league as Faiz, Akhtar, Gulzar or even Raahat Indori.
58. Odayan – Level10 Comics – Indian comics have certainly come of age; the story arc & the art in both these comics was stunningly good!
59. Daksh – Level10 Comics – Indian comics have certainly come of age; the story arc & the art in both these comics was stunningly good!
60. Terry Pratchett – Equal Rites – Pratchett takes on the touchy, sensitive issue of misogyny & gender with his trademark light touch, lacced with humour, wit & sharp satire! Really, really good!
61. Terry Pratchett – Mort – This was a re-reading; and it was worth it!
62. Art Spiegelman – The Complete Maus – Spiegelman manages to weave in the complex Holocaust history with his troubled relationship with his father, in a moving, harrowing comic, which will stay with you a while after it’s over.
63. Daniel Coyle – The Little Book of Talent – Coyle talks about 52 tips & tricks to improve performance; a brief summary of all factors. Very very good!
64. Ben Coes – Power Down – The first half of the book was reminiscent of Ludlum, but Coes couldn’t keep the pace up. Not to mention the racist black & white world he drew.
65. Joshua Foer – Moonwalking with Einstein – Foer’s engaging & inspiring account of going from covering Memory competitions to winning one, with a year’s preparation is filled with unexpected nuggets of wisdom & insight. Great!
66. Jonah Lehrer – The Decisive Moment – Lehrer sheds light on the deepest mystery of all – how our brains make up their mind!
67. Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games – This was the best YA fiction I read in a long time; slow on romance, deep on action. Collins doesn’t treat her reader as kids to be talked down to.
68. Sidin Vadukut – Who Let The Dork Out – A fitting conclusion to the Dork Chronicles. Robin Einstein Verghese grows up, and wins the day by wits & luck! Hilarious
69. David A.J. Axson – The Management Mythbuster – Axson is everybody’s favourite old uncle: wise, world-weary, cantankerous, doesn’t tolerate fools gladly, yet lovable! Must-read for all who are weary of management bullshit!
70. John Grisham – The Racketeer – Grisham returns to form, after a few years of meandering in wasteland. Really good!
71. Ben Coes – Coup D’Etat – Factual errors & a meandering story made this a disappointing read. One wonders why thriller writers don’t use wikipedia, at the very least! I couldn’t finish it – a first after a long long time!
72. Anant Pai – Mahabharata I – The Kuru Princes – There are a few typos, and one wishes some of the language was a little less flowery. But on the whole, this series is as satisfying a read as it was when I read it as a kid!
73. Anant Pai – Mahabharata II – The Pandavas in Exile – The language in this part of the Trilogy is really awful: cliched, ornate & meaningless at times. The story continues to rock!
74. Louis L’Amour – Jubal Sackett – This is a winding novel, with nothing much to it, except the thoughts of a lone wanderer. L’Amour tries to write a literary western novel. Didn’t work for me.
75. Simon Singh – The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking – Simon Singh brings to life an arcane topic, but one that is possibly of interest to everyone. This is a really well-written book.
76. David Thorne – The Internet Is a Playground – Thorne is wildly funny; it is not advisable to read anything written by him in public – you’ll laugh so hard, you’ll lose your reputaion!
77. Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith – The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales – These are NOT your everyday Fairy Tales; these are Fairly Stupid Tales…in fact, some of these are Incredibly Stupid Tales. Delightful!
78. Jon Scieszka, A. Wolf & Lane Smith – The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs – Scieszka is a true master – it’s a tribute to his genius that he can tell an upside down fairy tale, with a twist, without dumbing it down.
79. Jon Klassen – I Want my Hat Back – Really good pictures, and a simple but lovely story!
80. David Thorne – I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs – 2nd book by David Thorne is almost better than the first!
81. Anant Pai – Mahabharata III – On the Battlefield of Kurukshetra – This was significantly better than Part 2 of the trilogy, partly because it avoided (to some extent) the religious imagery
82. JRR Tolkein – The Hobbit – Tolkien’s mastery of the forces that make a great fantasy are evident here; this story could have led to the birth of a 100 LOTRs. Great imagery!
83. Don Rickles et al – The Playboy Interview: Funny People – Do NOT, under any circumstances, read this book in office, hospital, bus/train, or any other place with other humans present. These are really hilarious interviews!
84. Nasreen Munni Kabir – In the Company of a Poet: Gulzar, in Conversation with NM Kabir – Long interviews are a dying form. This is very readable, but most of the stuff here is known facts. What makes this book readable is the character of Gulzar which shines through.
85. Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga, Vol. I – Stunning imagery, great storytelling: graphic novels come of age!
86. John Kay – Obliquity – Some of our most important goals are achieved indirectly. Kay makes some important points in this regard. However, parts of the book seemed rather contrived

My wishlist is up at Flipkart – http://www.flipkart.com/wishlist/mohit

The Busy Trap

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter…

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking…

I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

– From The ‘Busy’ Trap – NYTimes.com

Quotes from Barking, by Tom Holt

1. Pg 3
In every working day there is a still moment, a point of balance; a fulcrum, if you like, around which the scales pivot. The slightest nudge at this point decides whether it’s going to be a good day or a bummer. It can come at any stage in the proceedings; it can be a mssive boot on your instep in the crowded rush-hour Tube, or a call from a rabid client at 5.29, just as you’re pulling your raincoat sleeve p your arm. It can be a fleeting wisp of a smile from the new girl in Accounts, the dismissal of a loathed superior, an unexpected and undeserved pay rise or a bluebottle floating in your mid-morning coffee. But it will come, every day, and leave its little scar.

2. Pg. 5
Click-buzz, said the phone. Duncan held it at arm’s length and scowled at it for a moment before putting it back. In many ways it reminded him of the former Mrs Hughes; every day he held it close to him, and every day it whispered in his ear horrible things that ruined his life.

3. Pg 28
Duncan Hughes adhered to the school of thought that maintains that you shouldn’t buy newspapers, because it only encourages them. Nevertheless, he had a guilty feeling that he really ought to keep up with current affairs, as a sort of miserable civic duty.

4. Pg 30
There is a moment, a watershed in one’s development as a human being, which must be passed before one has any claim to enlightenment and understanding. It’s the moment when you come to realise that, just because somebody likes you, you’re under no legal or moral obligation to like them back.

5. Pg 153
We’re lawyers. We know that the secret of attaining happiness lies in starting off with a realistically achievable definition. Only want what you know you can get.

6. Pg 402
Very few of the millions of people who hate their jobs ever get around to admitting it in so many unambiguous words, and of that small minority, only a fraction ever take it into their heads to do something about it.