October 27, 2013

The Elephant Catchers - Subroto Bagchi - Book Review

The Elephant Catchers: Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth by Subroto Bagchi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hunting a Rabbit is easy, but catching an Elephant is difficult. It requires expertise planning. This is the theme of the book. Subroto Bagchi, one of the cofounders of Mindtree has used this phrase as an analogy to the growth of a firm. There are lot of startups. Many of them fail immediately. But among the startups that cross the initial struggle, a few survive the phase of Scaling. Based on his experience of scaling up Mindtree, Subroto Bagchi has outlined all the strategies that would be required by startups that succeed.

The book is full of analogies and examples. The author takes four chapters to explain what 'Scale' is and how people often misinterpret scale. He wonderfully depicts how 'Elephant Catchers' function and how how they are important for any organization. He has divided the book into five parts apart from a separate part on introduction. The five parts deal with Scaling the Business, Intellect, Reputation, People and Scaling against Adversity.

In the first part, the author writes widely on how emotions work, how it is important to identify proper salesmen and the dangers of Joint Ventures and Mergers & Acquisitions. He then says how important Equity is and how many people make the mistake of selling Equity for unnecessary spendings. He shares an event where a Newspaper approached him to give Equity and in return they would promote the company and also avoid publishing negative news (It pulled down my already poor views on Media. It looks like we have to take into account the relationship of Media with the company before accepting).

After that, Subroto Bagchi writes on how to deal with Consultants in order to get good results. He also writes about the importance of dealing with Media, where one careless sentence in an hour interview can be made as the headline. He also writes a bit about CSR and the way companies exploit society and give donations back and say they are for the society. He says firms should inculcate CSR in the way they function.

In the next part about people, the author writes about Hiring and firing people. He says often times firms forget about the culture of the firm their new executive is from. He says most times firing is not done on time and it creates problems. He also says the founder cannot be behind everything. Trusting the respective people is important and they are specialists in their zone. He also compares the Hindu mythology of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva as to how each role should be taken by specialist and not by the same person.

In the end he looks back into 9/11 events and says how Mindtree survived the phase. He writes, 'When Extraordinary events overtake us. It is time to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well'

The book was very short and crisp. With all the examples and analogies, the contents register in the minds of a reader easily. It is a must read book for any person who wish to become an Enreprenur or a person who has started a small firm.

Buy this book from Amazon - The Elephant Catchers: Key Lessons for Breakthrough Growth

Happy Reading!

October 13, 2013

Shooting for a Century - Stephen Philip Cohen - Book Review

Hi Guys,

As a new experiment, I have tried embedding my review from Goodreads.

Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

India - Pakistan. These two words are enough to spark many debates and fights in both the countries. Both the countries view each other as hard core enemies. What is it to do with both the countries? How did the problem turn out to be such a grave issue? Stephen P. Cohen looks into this issue in his recent book. As per the author, there are only 5% of the conflicts in the world that are not resolvable and India - Pakistan is one of them.

The author starts the book looking at the context of how these two became separate countries. The partition was done by a Britisher who never had any idea of the area, civilization and people leading to a poor border. Kashmir, an area with majority Muslims, but ruled by a Hindu Ruler was taken by India and it has become a big issue right from the partition. Result is that the South Asia region has only 5% intra regional trade which is very bad.

The author moves on to the conflicts between the states and how there are three types of issues that are mainly contributing to the conflicts. One is the visual disputes such as Kashmir, River Waters, etc. Other is the identity crisis in which the way people perceive about each other has caused lot of problems. India is considered as a giant which takes advantage and is considered to be a dominant Hindu oriented nation, while Pakistan is looked upon extreme Islamist. The strategic location of the nations has been exploited by external countries for their strategic advantage.

The author next moves into chapters dealing with the perspectives of how Indians and Pakistanis think about each other. They have always viewed each other as negative and has always taken all the chances to impose the same in their people's mindsets. The education system of both the countries are altered in such a way that History is never taught properly. He looks at the various sects of people in both the nations and how they consider the problem widely.

Nuclearization has not done major changes, but it has been a factor that has made responsible acts from both the Governments. There is always a chance of some irrational behaviour that would lead to nuclear war, though it is very low. The changing geopolitics such as Soviet Union collapse, rise of China, Afghan Terrorism has changed the way the external nations look at Pakistan and India. They have always played a crucial part in extending the issue and never tried to help the nations bridge the gap.

Pakistan is no longer a big threat to India with growing China and Pakistan doesn't look the same way with decreased Army dominance and increased terrorism in the western regions.

Finally the author considers the prospects of the countries coming together. Though he says normalization may not come true, increased trade and mutual acceptance might come due to the increase in communication through Social Media and the changing views of the countries. He also wishes that USA plays a crucial role in helping the nations come together.

Overall, it is a well researched book that explains the problem in all angles and from everyone's eyes. The book doesn't say what would happen in the future, but gives a clear picture of what are different possibilities and how things might turn up. It is a must read book, if you are interested in Geopolitics or if you are interested in knowing about how India Pakistan problem shaped up or would turn out in the future.
If you are interested in reading the book click the link below,

Happy Reading!

P.S: Thanks to Harper Collins and Indiblogger, who gave me this book as part of their Review Program.

October 9, 2013

Is MOOC a Game Changer in Education?

Hi Guys,

MOOC or Massive Open Online Course has been in the limelight in the recent past as a major breakthrough in education. A MOOC is an online course wherein a technology firm signs up with a top notch university to provide a course to students across the globe. Though there are lot of websites doing this, Coursera has been one famous site providing MOOC. Coursera has tied up with many of the leading universities to provide courses across many streams like Engineering, Arts, Humanities, Management, etc. Recently it has come up with a concept known as ‘Signature track’ wherein the student pays a nominal fee and get certified by the providing university.

Is it a really a game changer? Well, MOOC is widely considered as higher learning platform, where learning occurs voluntarily and not by force. In real world, a student attends a college or a university. A professor frames the course, provides resources and guides students to learn the course with the help of lectures, projects and exams. In today’s integrated world, all the materials are available online. If I google Thermodynamics, I’ll get enough materials to master the subject. But, the problem is I won’t know the order or how to get into the subject. A professor facilitates that. If you have doubts, you ask the professor. You get clarified. The professor constructs it in such a way that you get the subject (Though, not many people would agree with that!). You have friends who would have different opinion. It will lead to knowledge development.

A MOOC is somewhere between a real university and the self-search. A professor records his lecture and slides and presents it to you. He gives you reference material. You have assignments, quizzes and peer evaluation. You can learn on your own. But, it would be individual learning and you can’t go back to the professor to get clarified. A MOOC cannot replace real education, but it provides you a framework to learn on your own.

Let me quote a personal example. After joining a few courses in Coursera about varied topics, I discontinued them due to lack of time or the complexity of the course. Recently I completed a course on Social Psychology. If there was no coursera, I would have had no idea on how to know about Social Psychology. Still, I might not have in depth knowledge in the subject, but I know something from the subject.

Dennis Yang, president of another famous MOOC provider Udemy says that MOOC is in the peak of Gartner Hype Cycle (see picture). It is in the peak of expectations and wild swings are expected. People say MOOC is the future of education and can spread education at a low cost. MIT Open courseware has been giving away the course materials free of cost for a long time. It hasn’t created a big learning for you can’t replicate the professors of MIT.
Garner Hype cycle - MOOC is said to be in the peak of the cycle.
Many other points are to be considered. A MOOC does not allow you to gain practical insights. It doesn’t boost peer learning (Discussion forums are not peer learning). The quizzes and evaluation might not reflect the true learning. There are few advantages too. It is easy for you to find a course you like and enrol just for the fun of knowing (If you are person like me, you will enjoy it). It enables you to connect with peers across world and get to know how they think about certain aspects. Features like Google Hangout enable people to come in and interact and enable some amount of peer learning.

Generally, lot of people join a course. But only one-tenth of people complete a course. It requires some self-motivation and commitment to stay with the course. I would say MOOC would not become a game changer in the near course of time. But, they definitely help spreading knowledge and can evolve over a period of time.

Happy Reading!