Book Review: Joker in the Pack

Books about life at the IITs / IIMs seem to be much in demand these days. It all started with Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone about life at IIT Delhi. The next one in line was Abhijit Bhaduri’s Mediocre but Arrogant about MBA days – both touted to have been ‘inspired’ by the legendary Snapshots from Hell. These were followed by other such titles that dominated the shelf – like Anything for you Ma’m and Keep Off the Grass by Karan Bajaj (an IIMB Alumnus, an ex-BIT Mesra alumnus and now a friend whose inputs I value! :)).

Joker in the pack - cover

One book that is also a little special is Joker in the Pack – co-authored by Ritesh Sharma (IIML, 2005) and Neeraj Pahlajani (IIMB, 2006) – both of whom are currently working with American Express Bank.

The book flows pretty gently and for some reason, I beleive the book would appeal to 2 sets of people:

1. The aspirants – who want to make it to India’s top B-Schools – since it provides a ringside view of the life inside.

2. The alumni – who can dive back and go through some of these images to recreate those of their own.

I personally did not find it very appealing because the instances mentioned are “daily ka taam-jhaam” (everyday hassles) for most of us studying at an Indian B-school, particularly the IIMs. The book talks about the life of Shekhar Sharma (a middle-class-boy-next-door-who-has-made-it-big-now-after-making-it-to-IIM) and his escapades in 2 years.

What I found particularly noticable in the book are the fact that it has a slight over-emphasis on the whole placement process – summer placements as well as final placements.  Life at a B-school has a lot more and there were lots of other snippets that could have made the book more colourful. Having said that, it is the placements that get all the attention, the hype and bring the IIMs their glory – so one can’t really blame the authors for focusing their lenses there.

(** EDIT: Incidentally, I was reading the book while the final placements for the seniors was on and we were in one of the “tents” in one of the placement 3 support teams).

Some parts of the book though were absolutely amazing and remiscent of the typical Indian middle class life – those are the parts I enjoyed while reading it this time around. I am sure reading it 10 years later will bring back fond memories of my time spent here! 🙂

OUTLIERS: The Story of Success – A Short Review

We are all in search of Success – Success in our lives, Success at the workplace as well as success in our personal lives. We know that success is acheived through a combination of factors and relentless effort. However, whenever we speak about or look at the lives of succesful people, we tend to atribute their success to one (or sometimes 2 factors). For instance:

  • Sachin Tendulkar is what he is because of his determination and exceptional talent!
  • Aamir Khan is a brilliant actor!
  • Dhirubhai Ambami had the vision and guts to execute his ideas at any cost

We sometimes tend to forget that these “success stories” are about ordinary people with sometimes extra-ordinary perseverence who were fortunate to be gifted opportunities and had the insight to make most of these. OUTLIERS: The Story of Success is a book that talks about how extra-ordinarily high acheivers are bred out of not a single reason, factor or circumstance – but often a combination of a huge number of these.

outliers3

Malcom Gladwell, a British-born Canadian journalist and author – (though I did not enjoy his earlier books “Blink” and “The Tipping Point” too much) – has come up with a landmark book. Outliers is about how success can be acheived in everyday life provided we are working hard and can spot the opportunities life presents us. Outliers is about creating more such opportunities – so that there are even more extra-ordinary people – and society, at large, can benefit. 

Any well-written book gives you certain “take-aways”. My “take-aways” from Outliers are these 2 ideas that have stuck on to my mind and will probably remain there for quite a while:

1. The 10,000 Hour Rule:

According to this rule, if you want to “master” anything.. (like Mozart-level master), you have to give it 10,000 hours. Gladwell thinks 10,000 is the magic number for success at anything. He also refers to a research study which proves the hypothesis. And he goes on to state that the sooner you complete your 10,000 hours, the sooner you become a “master” at that particular activity. With examples ranging from Bill Clinton and The Beatles to references from lesser-known American folklore, Gladwell brings this point alive in ways that you cannot even imagine!

2. The Ethnic theory of Plane Crashes:

 This chapter in the book talks about the other “flip” side. If success is a combination of  many factors, well so is failure. Gladwell refers to an in-depth analysis of airline crashes and brings up stories from global aviation history. He brings forth the point that plane crashes are not because of the ONE BIG technical snag, or JUST that there was no fuel or a SINGULAR reason. Planes crash, Gladwell says, because of a series of failures which could be as unrelated as:

  • A pilot who has had a more-than-long stint at the cockpit
  • Tired air-hostesses who spilt water on the floor, was busy cleaning it and did not adhere to the captain’s instructions
  • A passanger who did not follow safety regulations and had inadvertently switched on his cell phone
  • A co-pilot who, due to a “communication gap” with his superior could not apprise the captain of the situation and raise an alarm in time

When 4 such factors strike at the same time, we have a disaster waiting to happen. Interestingly, the rules of success are the same as the rules of failure.

At times, it is hard to make out exactly what Gladwell is trying to say. Nonetheless, the book is very anecdotal, every statement is backed by data and an attempt is made to ensure that every insight shared has reason, rather than rhetoric. Throughout the time that I was reading this book, I kept wondering – “What exactly is he trying to say?” – That success is bred within the person? .. Or is it the function of the oppurtunities (including luck!) that are external to oneself? … It is only towards the end that I started getting the idea behind the book and that idea is not better summarized than this excerpt:

“It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. it is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

BOOK REVIEW: Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely - Predictably Irrational

When we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But are we? Entertaining and surprising, Ariely unmasks the subtle but powerful tricks that our minds play on us.

The description could not have fit the book better. The book is about how we make irrational choices – imagining our choices to be perfectly rational. Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, builds on his years of research, keen observation and intellect to come out with an absolutely stunning analysis of the human mind and literally dives inside our cerebral cortex to explore how decisions are made. That thin line between impulse and thought, feeling and logic, emotion and rationale is demarcated with a precision which only deep thought can bring about.

I was recommended the book by a colleague (basically my super-boss!) to serve as some sort of a guideline towards helping me make a training proposal for one of our PSU clients. I finished the book in record time (300 pages in less than 24 hours!). One of the benefits of focused, result-oriented reading as opposed to my usual casual, distraction-laden reading habbits!

Coming back to the book – it has some wonderful examples and experiments that have been conducted on students over the years and Areily also shares his own anecdotes and observations he has made along the way. This book is as useful to a marketing manager who wants to gain an insight into customer preferences as it is to a human resource manager who wants to train his people on team-building. Basically, it touches the very sensitive chord of understanding people and that is central to every sphere of human activity.

The book is englightening, clever, smart and funny. Especially chapter 5 (The Influence of Arousal: Why Hot Is Much Hotter Than We Realize). 😉

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