Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Purple Cow - Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

Author:       Seth Godin
Published:   2002
Publisher:    Penguin Group
Hardcover: 144 pages

More than a year after being disappointed with the author Seth Godin's book Tribes (See my review of this book in an earlier post ), I decided to give his books another try as I picked up and borrowed  this book Purple Cow , from the library since it seemed interesting in the first browse.
Well in my view this is a much better book than Tribes though they deal with different themes. This one is about niche marketing, whereas Tribes is  about network leadership.

Seth Godin offers rather a common sense insight into niche marketing in a very simple and conversational style. Nothing new or profound here. It may have been so when this book was first published in 2002, though I am not sure about it.

In this book also he sounds rather repetitive and keeps flogging the same horse, but the tone is less evangelistic, more subtle and thereby more tolerable as compared to his Tribes (which is comparatively his more recent book. Deteriorating Quality  over the years ??/!!)

A plus point of this book is this. Nearly 20 case studies and examples drawn from more than 250 brands/companies packed in this small book (less than 150 pages) to illustrate the Purple Cow Concept. 

Here is my take on Seth Godin's books, now having read two of them. 
They are OK for a quick, light read to pass time if you don't have anything better in hands. 
I would rather Beg, Borrow or Steal his Books rather than buying them. But of course he has a considerable fan following which keeps him going.

I have also decided to pay him a tribute by posting this blog in Purple Color Font in Bold !

Purple Cow Concept - Key Points 

  • The conventional marketing wisdom is to play safe by creating ordinary products (or services) and advertise to the masses. However these are the days of information-overload and plethora of choices.
  • Your prospects are too busy to pay attention to mass advertisements. They have too many options, but there is less and less time to understand them and go out of way to spread the word.
  • Therefore your product or service must be truly exceptional, remarkable and unusual like a mythical Purple Cow which will stand out among the mundane brown & white colored cows. Only then it will garner enough attention, spread through word of mouth and bring in profits.
  • Purple Cow approach is to create remarkable products by building marketing element into its creation process vs the traditional approach of add-on marketing after an average product has been created.
  • Such a remarkable product should be created first for a small under-served niche market in which there exist an otaku (an overwhelming desire that gets someone to go out of way to try out new things that interest them). It will be much easier to sell something that people are already in the mood to buy.
  • You need to discover the limits that make the product remarkable. Try to be the cheapest/costliest, the fastest/ slowest, biggest/smallest (in other words the most…) in a given market. Don’t play safe. Safe is Boring & Risky in long term.
  • Purple Cow products (i.e Remarkable products) are created by the ones who can get inside the heads of the people who do care deeply about this product and making them something they will love and want to share.
  • The product you design should be remarkable enough to attract the early adopters – but also be  flexible enough and attractive enough for these adopters to easily spread the idea to the majority.
  • Differentiate your customers. Find the group that is most profitable. Find the group that is most likely to sneeze (spread the word). Figure out how to develop/advertise/reward either group. Ignore the rest.
  • Your ads (and your products!) should not cater to the masses. Your ads (and your products) should cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers. Your slogan or positioning statement must be concise, true, consistent and worth passing on.
  • Get permission from people you impressed the first time to alert them next time when you create another Purple Cow product or service for them.
  • Once you create a Purple Cow, milk the Cow for everything it’s worth. Figure out how to extend it and profit from it for as long as possible. Once the Purple Cow evolves into a Safe and run-of-the-mill product REINVEST! Launch another Purple Cow (to the same audience). Assume that what was remarkable last time won’t be remarkable this time. Build a discipline of repeatedly launching products, watching, measuring, learning and doing it again.
  • The Purple Cow is just part of the product lifecycle. You can’t live it all the time (too risky, too expensive, too tiring), but when you need to grow or need to introduce something new, it is your best shot.
  • You don’t need passion to create a Purple Cow. Nor do you need an awful lot of creativity. What you need is the insight to realize that you have no other choice but to grow your business or launch your product with Purple Cow thinking.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Discipline for Software Engineering

Author:      Watts S. Humphrey
Published:   1995
Publisher:    Pearson Education, Inc.
Paperback: 816 Pages
Readers in India:

The author Watts Humphrey needs no introduction to the software engineering community. He was a real "process innovator" whose pioneering work led to the development of the widely known and implemented Capability Maturity Model (CMM/ CMMI). While this model helped in instilling some discipline to the chaotic way of developing software  which existed in the organizations, Watts Humphrey believed in catching the software engineers young in their schools itself  and  teach them a disciplined  way of developing software.
Thus Personal Software Process (PSP) was born and this book is a complete guide to this process.
In Watts Humphrey's own words in the preface to this book:
"The principal goal of this book is to guide you in developing personal software engineering skills that you will need for large-scale software work. You will learn how to make accurate plans, how to estimate the accuracy of these plans, and how to track your performance against them. You will use defect management, design and code reviews, design templates and process analysis. You will do this with a defined and measured personal software process. These measurement and analysis disciplines will then help you to evaluate your performance, to understand your strengths, and to see where you should try to improve. From all of this you will develop the tools to continue your personal improvement throughout your professional career"

PSP is taught in this book through a series of 10 programming exercises, requiring progressively higher levels of process discipline. All the required forms, templates,checklists, process scripts  for this purpose are made available in the appendices (which forms almost 40 % of the book's bulk !).

This book is almost a text book and definitely not for light reading. At the same time it is not too difficult to grasp for any software engineer.

In my view this book should form a mandatory part of  any software engineering curriculum. 
A must read for all software engineers and proponents of Agile  too (since I could sense the principles of  agile development throughout the process) !

However it  needs to be revisited and overhauled to fit  the current scenario of software development (this book was written 1995 !). It requires too much of a discipline which while is nice to have is rather difficult to inculcate for e.g. 
a) the recommended practice of reviewing the code before compiling (Temptation to compile first is impossible to curb !).
b) recording time to the accuracy of 1 minute (Going back to Time and Motion studies of Taylorian era ! In my view an accuracy of  5-15 minutes is quite acceptable. )
c) rigorous statistical analysis (Good to do; but a software engineer should focus more on the requirements, architecture, implementation. Statistical analysis can be delegated to a specialist or to an appropriate tool)

But all said and done hats off to Watts Humphrey for such a pioneering work. 

May his soul rest in peace.
(He passed away this year (2010) in October).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Divine World of the Alvars

Author: Pravrajika Shuddhatmamata (Cecile Guenther)
Published: 2003
Paperback:  128 Pages

Between sixth and ninth centuries there lived in South India ,Vaishnava saints known as Alvars. They were well known for their deep devotion and ecstatic love towards the God Vishnu and composed several songs expressing the same. These songs are still sung as an integral part of the prayers and worship in many Vaishnavite homes.  Andal's composition Thiruppavai is one such example.
This book  consists of  twelve short, well-researched and well-written biographies of  Poygai-Alvar, Pudatt-Alvar, Pey-Alvar, Tirumalisai Alvar, Nammalvar, Madhurakavi Alvar, Periyalvar, Andal, Tiruppan Alvar, Tondaraippodi Alvar, Kulasekhara Alvar and Tirumangai Alvar.
It also has extracts from their compositions which very well convey  the essence of their devotional outpourings.
A good read for those interested in spiritual/ religious literature.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Kalam Effect: My Years with the President

Author:        P.M. Nair
Published:    2008
Publisher:    HarperCollins Publishers India
Hardcover:  180 pages
Readers in India

Dr. A.P.J. Kalam,  is one living personality whom I admire the most and would like to  meet personally (though I have been lucky enough to hear him speak a couple of times in large gatherings). He was probably  the best president  India had ever had. 
The author P.M. Nair narrates his experience as a Secretary to Dr. Kalam during his presidential years. It is a reverential yet  frank and objective account written without being overawed by the personality of Dr.Kalam. As a result the picture that emerges of Dr Kalam as a President is that of a  good human being -  with many positives, but with a few weaknesses as well - rather than that of a demi-god. 
The book has 34 short chapters, each bringing out a facet of Dr.Kalam's personality and his way of working.
A couple of  Dr. Kalam's admirable traits described in this book :
1. Not Misusing his  Position and Status Dr Kalam paid Rs.3.5 lacs out of his pocket for all the expenses (even for a cup of tea) incurred on the stay of his relatives at Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He did not use the official car for their sightseeing trips. (Politicians, Please Note and Emulate!)
2. Treating everyone with considerationHe personally received the author's mother when she visited him and gifted her a shawl. He took lot of care to ensure that every visitor to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan was treated well. He never disturbed his staff during holidays barring unavoidable circumstances.
However we also come to know about Dr. Kalam's lack of punctuality and his not adhering to schedules (morning meeting with his staff at 3 P.M. !) and his insistence of reading and answering every mail/communication (even those of little consequence!). Time management was clearly not his strength.
One amusing incident described in this book is about how Dr. Kalam diplomatically and effectively  prevented Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf from raising the Kashmir issue, by giving him a presentation on PURA (Providing Urban Facilities in Rural Areas) which consumed 26 minutes of the alloted half-an-hour of meeting !
A highly readable book having a very simple yet powerful narrative. A MUST for all Kalam admirers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Neti, Neti - Not This Not Thiis

Author:       Anjum Hasan
Published:   2009
Publisher:    Roli Books Pvt. Ltd.
Paperback: 288 Pages
Readers in India:

I have hardly read any  contemporary Indian Fiction, except for  the novels by Chetan Bhagat and  Upamanyu Chatterjee's English August. So it is time I make amends by reading more  books in this genre. Stories about the characters and the places which I can relate to better as compared to those in English novels I have been reading all these years.
With such an intention I picked borrowed this book from the circulating library Just Books (one of the best things that has happened for book lovers in recent times) - mainly for three reasons - a) the blurb said that story is set in Bangalore, my home town for three decades; b) it had been longlisted for a couple of literary awards (that probably assures a minimum level of quality) c) The title words "Neti Neti" is from Vedantic literature, which is close to my heart.
The story is about Sophie Das a young girl from Shillong who has recently moved into Bangalore and works for a BPO company. While coming to terms with the fast-paced life in Bangalore, she experiences a sense of lacuna and hollowness in her life and decides to go back to Shillong for good. However she does not find the fulfillment even in Shillong where her home is. So she is back in Bangalore and her life moves on. She accepts the reality and tries to make the best out of it.
The story  seems to be a realistic portrayal of Generation Ys in Bangalore (I am not sure about this though,I am GenX !) and the city as such (with all its traffic jams and malls etc.) . A few interesting characters like Baba Sampige ( who I guess is modelled on a few Godmen in and around Bangalore) and Bhatt (the landlord of the flat which Sophie had rented) who lend a touch of humor, have also been thrown in.

A coincidence:
I was reading  this book while commuting to my office and I came across these lines:
".....they came up to Trinity Circle and joined the cars swarming excitedly in every direction...." and that very moment I looked up and realized that my car was too in Trinity Circle !

The punch line:
Swami, Sophie's boy friend who has managed to buy an expensive car on loan, says "The only problem we'll have in life from now on is the problem of where to find parking space."

This punch line in my view sums up the complete underlying philosophy of this novel !

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Speeches that Changed the World

Compiler:    Alan J. Whiticker
Published:   2010
Publisher:    Jaico Books
Paperback: 288 pages
Readers in India:
 This book is a compilation of over 40 speeches delivered over the last 100 years by leaders who swayed the public opinion , through their power of persuasion. 
The leaders featured include Lenin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Indira Gandhi, Mikail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela .  I am surprised by the inclusion of  George W. Bush and  Arundhati Roy  in this list !
The themes covered in this collection are - politics and diplomacy, war and peace, freedom and justice, civil rights and human rights. The background and aftermath of each speech is briefly explained along with a short biographical note about the speaker.

A well compiled book  at a reasonable price , which will be of great interest to anyone interested in Public Speaking. 
What makes this book a real bargain is the accompanying free audio CD - Great Speeches of the World.

About the Speeches in this Book:
 Some of the well known speeches in this book: 
  • The Only Thing We Have To Fear is Fear Itself  - F.D. Roosevelt
  • The Jewish Question - Adolf Hitler
  • Our Finest Hour - Winston Churchill
  • Quit India - Mahatma Gandhi (Very inspiring, but did not find the phrase "Quit India" in the text. Not sure whether it is an extract of the speech or whether Gandhi never explicitly uttered "Quit India" )
  • D-Day Address - George S. Patton (I liked the earthy , colorful and rustic but in a no nonsense manner it has been delivered)
  • I Have a Dream - Martin Luther King (Very emotional and inspiring !)
  •  I have AIDS - Ryan White (Very touching !)
  • Dissolving the Soviet Union - Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Release from Prison - Nelson Mandela
  • Eulogy for Diana, Princess of Wales - Earl Spencer (Probably you may have seen this moving speech by Diana's brother which was telecast life on the occasion of her funeral)
About the Audio CD- Great Speeches of the World

This is a compilation of 13 speeches. 
You can hear original broadcasts of the inaugural addresses of  3 U.S. Presidents (F.D. Roosevelt, Kennedy & Barack Obama) and also the great inspiring speeches of Churchill (Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat) , Martin Luther King (I Have a Dream), Ronald Reagan (The Berlin Wall) in their own voice.

Other notable great speeches in this CD  read out by professional actors are:
  • Apology - Socrates (read by Christopher Cazenove)
  • Give me Liberty, or Give me Death - Patrick Henry (read by David Birney)
  • Gettysburg Address - Abraham Lincoln (read by Burt Reynolds)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Information Security Management Principles

Authors:         David Alexander,              
                     Amanda Finch, David Sutton
Editor:           Andy Taylor
Published:      2009
Publisher:       The British Computer Society
Paperback:    216 pages
Readers in India:

This book is aligned to the syllabus of the CISMP (Certificate in Information Security Management Principles) exam conducted by the British Computer Society.
It consists of following four chapters:
1. Information Security Principles: Here the basic principles of Information Security are covered and specific terminologies are defined. The relationship between Information Assurance management and the environment in which it operates is also discussed.
2. Information Risk: In this chapter the basic terminology of risk is introduced. This is followed by discussion on potential threats, vulnerabilities  and the processes for understanding and managing the risks associated with Information Systems.
3. Information Security Framework: The basic principles for establishing and managing an Information Security Framework in an organization are covered in this chapter. The role, use and implementation of  policy, standards and procedures, Information Assurance governance, security incident management in this framework are then discussed.
4. Information  Security Controls: Here the controls implemented to protect against the security incidents are discussed in details along with the process of detection, prevention and mitigation of such incidents.

A simple and realistic case study with relevant exercises runs throughout the book. These exercises will give the readers some guidance on how to apply the Information System Management principles in real life situations.

The layout of the book could be better. The inside  pages have a  monotonous and soporific look being  densely packed with text with very few illustrations and almost indistinguishable section headings.

But overall a fairly good and concise introductory book on the subject.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The 60 Second Leader

Author:         Phil Dourado
Published:     2007
Publisher:     Wiley India Pvt. Ltd.
Paperback:    180 pages
Buy from Flipkart

Is it possible to compile quotes, concepts, references on leadership in a book without making it look like a dictionary or an encyclopedia ? Yes it is and that's what the author Phil Dourado a leadership consultant has precisely done.
He has dived into  oceans of books, theories and courses on leadership to extract 30 pearls of leadership wisdom and offers them to the readers in a very concise (less than 200 pages) book.

The book is divided into five sections, each having a chapter dedicated to one essential element of leadership.
  1. Personal (Self) Leadership: 
    • Failure, Intuition, Decision, Connection, Luck, Optimism.
  2. Leading the Organization:   
    • Strategy, Competition, Action, Execution, Management, Change.
  3. Leading People:
    • Questions, Attention, Stories, Motivation, Engagement, Targets.
  4. Distributed Leadership: 
    • Innovation, Culture, Leading from the middle, Customers, Frontline leadership.                                                     
  5. Great Leadership:
    • Ego, Humility, Fear, Love, Presence, Legacy 
Each chapter contains the gist of  the views of several leaders (mostly business leaders) regarding  the element discussed, recommendations for further reading and an appropriate leadership story. 

Most of the chapters also have a precise definitions of useful  concepts like - The Tripping Point, Thin Slicing, OODA Loops, Network Leadership,  System Dynamics,  Epiphany, The Attention Economy,  MBSA (Management by Storying Around), The Law of Great Expectations, Goodhart's Law, The 360 Degree Leader, Transformational Leadership, Presencing etc.

If you are too busy to read everything you need to read on leadership, this is the ONE BOOK which you should read !

To get a feel of what lies in store for you between the covers of this book, you can visit the following link maintained by the author at his website (  Sample extracts from The 60 Second Leader  

I borrowed this book from a library but I intend to buy it at the earliest (at less than  Rs 200/- (about $4) it is a  real steal !) so that I can have a handy leadership advisor whom I can consult from time to time. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Corporate Strategy

Authors:              Rob Dransfield
Published:           2005
Publisher:            Heinemann 
Paperback:         120 pages
Readers in India:

This is a concise, introductory  undergraduate  level textbook on Corporate Strategy in the series Studies in Economics and Business.  It consists of  nine chapters.

Chapter 1 gives a brief outline of the nature of corporate strategy.
Chapter 2 shows how strategies need to be shaped by the past successes of an organization.
Chapter 3 outlines procedures involved in scanning the external environment of the organization to outline key changes in the wider political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental influences as well as in  the competitive environment (PESTLE analysis).
Chapter 4 explains the importance of identifying the internal strengths and weaknesses of an organization and the external threats and opportunities facing the organization in helping to formulate strategies (SWOT analysis).
Chapter 5 outlines the importance of defining the purpose and objectives of the organization. 
Chapter 6 is concerned with identifying a range of generic and competitive strategies for the organization. It examines a range of major types of strategy which are typical of those being pursued by modern organizations.
Chapter 7 highlights ways in which the organization can implement its strategy and ways in which it can then monitor and evaluate ongoing strategies. It shows that, in a dynamic business environment, the strategy that emerges may be different from what was originally planned.
Chapter 8 examines ways in which managers can plan strategic change in an organization and overcome the barriers which exist.
Chapter 9 identifies globalization as a key strategy that is being pursued by many large organizations today - both as a means of expanding their sphere of interests and profits, and as a means of defending against the actions of competitors.
These chapters are followed by 11 short (one-page) case studies  with discussion points  focusing on  key learning points.
A good  short  book (just 120 pages !) to start with for a quick overview of what corporate strategy is all about.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Author:        Stieg Larsson
Translator:   Reg Keeland
Published:   2009
Publisher:   Maclehose Press 
Paperback: 649 pages
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Readers in India

This is the second book in the Millennium Trilogy of which the first book is  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the third is The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. All the three books are translations from Swedish and have been in Amazons' Top 100 Bestseller lists for several months.
A fast paced thriller featuring a rather unconventional heroine, which holds your interest almost till the end.
However hardly any re-read value and definitely not a must read. If you have not read it, you have not missed anything. If you are an avid crime fiction reader, you would have definitely read better books in this genre.
But it is quite a good book for light reading and passing time though. I won't mind reading the other two books in this trilogy, if I come across them, though I have no intention of buying them.
I suggest reading its prequel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first before you read this book, for this book gives away the twist in the prequel.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beyond the Darkness

Author:     Shirley Du Boulay
Published: 1998
Publisher:  Rider Books
Hardback: 308 pages
Readers in India:

This is a biography of Father Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a  British Benedectine  monk who assimilated  the tenets of  Indian philosophy , culture, way of worship yet remained true to the Catholic order he belonged to. 
Though he had predecessors in this endeavor like Roberto de Nobili,  Swami Abhishiktananda (Father Henri le Saux), he was perhaps the most well known. He came to India in 1955 and  established Kurusimala Ashram in 1958 along with Father Francis Acharya. Ten years later he was invited  to manage the Saccidananda Ashram (Shantivanam) near Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), by  Swami Abhishiktanananda (its co-founder). Father Bede Griffiths remained for rest of his life in this Ashram and  took it to great spiritual heights.

It is a well written book however it is rather factual and fails to move you and strike a chord. I have read better biographies. But it was effective enough to generate an intent in me to read the books written by Father Bede Griffiths when I come across them , especially his autobiographies - The Golden String and its sequel The Marriage of East and West. I would also like to pay a visit to Saccidananda Ashram (Shantivanam) if I happen to be in the neighbourhood of Trichy.

The following extract from this book based on author's discussion with Brother Martin, who succeeded Father Bede Griffiths in Saccidananda Ashram,  summarizes succintly the four stages in spiritual development of Father Bede Griffiths:

First was Bede's discovery of the love of Christ, so total that it led him to become a Benedictine monk. 
Then, in the 1930s, came a period when he began to discover other religions, though never doubting that, though all religions contains some elements of truth, 'there is only one absolutely true religion...Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and without him no man comes to the Father'.

By 1973, however, he found that this statement needed qualifying: 'Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of all religion, the final and definitive word of God, but the same cannot be said of Christianity. Christianity, as an organized religion seeking to express the mystery of Christ, the divine Word in human terms, suffers from the same defects as other religions.

Two years later he went further, writing: 'I am so tired of the childish pretence that Christianity is the only true religion and must be shown superior to others.' He was moving gradually to the third stage, a conviction that all religions are complementary.

In the early 1980s came a glimmering of the final stage, the idea that there is one reality beyond all, a reality found in all religions. Bede became more and more interested in advaitic experience.

The latest development in his own thought, Bede wrote to Nigel Bruce, was that he had become more and more 'advaitin':
It seems to me that we have ultimately to go beyond all forms of thought - even beyond the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church etc. 
All these belong to the world of 'signs' - manifestations of God in human thought - but God himself, Truth itself, is beyond all forms of thought. 
All meditation should lead into silence, into the world of 'non-duality', when all the differences - and conflicts -in this world are transcended - not that they are simply annulled, but they are taken up into a deep unity of being in which all conflicts are resolved - rather like colours being absorbed into pure white light, which contains all the colours but resolves their differences.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Secret Agent

Author:      Joseph Conrad
Published:  1907
Readers in India:

Read  Online:

In 1894 at Greenwich Park, London, an anarchist called Martial Bourdin was killed  when the explosives he was carrying prematurely detonated. His motives and the potential target of his bombing remained a mystery. It is this incident which inspired the author Joseph Conrad to write this novel which is perhaps one of the first spy novels written in English literature. The author spins out a simple imaginative story behind this bombing and its aftermath.
If you are expecting a plot and suspense on the lines of modern-day thrillers, you will be disappointed. However this book has  brilliant tragi-comic portrayals of  characters and situations in the plot, which are a delight to read if you have a taste for late nineteenth century/early twentieth century English literature. And this comes from a person (Conrad was of  Polish origin.) who did not speak English fluently till he was in twenties.
You can read the plot summary of this novel at

Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Edison to iPod:Protect Your Ideas And Make Money

Author:               Frederick Mostert
Published:           2007
Publisher:            Dorling Kindersley
Hardback:           288 pages
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If you want to protect your intellectual property (IP) rights but don't know how to go about it, this book is a perfect starting point.
The author Frederic Mostert a distinguished IP lawyer who can count celebrities and public figures like Nelson Mandela, Sylvestor Stallone, Boris Becker and Shaolin Monks among his clients, has explained the fundamentals of IPs in a very simple and interesting manner avoiding complicated and confusing legalese as far as possible. Also he has a great sense of humor which is very essential for explaining such a dry area.
The basic concepts of Trade marks, Copyright, Design rights, Trade secrets and Patents are dealt with in the Introduction. These topics are discussed in details in subsequent chapters that follow. The author also provides ample guidance on:

  • How to prove that you were the first with your ideas?
  • How and when should you register your ideas?
  • What can you do if someone copies your ideas?
  • How can you strategically build an intellectual property portfolio?

This well produced book with glossy pages (ala coffee table books) contains lots of examples and illustrations to demystify various categories of the IPs.
One drawback about this book is that it deals only with IP laws in UK. However I find from the website of this book that it is available in US and South African editions also, revised and updated to be in synch with the IP laws prevailing there. Hopefully we will have an Indian edition also soon, since I find that general awareness of IP rights in our country is rather low.
Overall a Must Read Book especially for creative people (designers,artists, musicians), entrepreneurs with unique concepts, and investors who are approached with new ideas.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Secrets of Happiness

Author:       Richard Schoch
Published:   2006
Publisher:    Profile Books Ltd.
Readers in India

"Unhappy is the story of happiness". Thus begins the introduction of this book. Probably this explains why we have on the front cover of the book an illustration of a clown (a symbol of happiness and joy) looking glum and morose . 

The author, Richard Schoch a Professor of History and Culture, laments that the concept of  happiness which once,about two thousand years ago, was a lifelong endeavor for a good life, has degenerated today into quick-fix solutions like "swallow a pill, get happy; do yoga, find your bliss; hire a life-coach, regain your self-esteem." But happiness is much more than mere enjoying pleasure and avoiding pain. It is a lofty achievement which one should strive for and not an entitlement which one can take for granted.

This book ferrets out from the ancient philosophical and religious traditions, the secrets underlying the pursuit of happiness.
The introductory chapter discusses three lasting rules  governing the search for happiness.

1. Catch Big Fish - Happiness goes beyond from pleasing ourselves to please others, especially the ones we don't  know.
2.  Wrestle, Don't Dance - Happiness is not a state of passive enjoyment which comes on our way effortlessly. We must struggle for it with skill, focus and concentration.
3. Start at the Beginning -  Journey to happiness begins from the state of unhappiness - a feeling of a lacuna in one's life.

The author states that there is no single secret for happiness but several, differing from person to person separated by time, place and culture. However in every concept of happiness and good life, throughout the history of mankind there are only four fundamental themes - pleasure, desire, reason and suffering. The difference lies only in their interpretation and applying them in the daily life.
These themes are discussed in four parts with the help of  examples drawn from different philosophies and religions as follows:
Part I:   Living for Pleasure:      Utilitarianism and Epicureanism
Part II:  Conquering Desire:      Hinduism and Buddhism
Part III: Transcending Reason: Christianity and Islam
Part IV: Enduring Suffering:      Stoicism and Judaism

An interesting book, but nothing new for readers well acquainted with these ancient philosophies, other than the convenience of having key ideas about happiness well consolidated to serve as a quick reckoner. 
But a real eye-opener for those who believe happiness can be bought !

Key Takeaways:
In the concluding chapter the author summarizes the insights what it might mean to find happiness.
Some extracts from this chapter: 

  • We do not have to become someone else to be happy. Whoever we are, and whatever circumstances we face the possibility of happiness always surrounds us. We are always in the right place, though we do our best to forget it. So let us cultivate a happiness that is authentically ours and let us be happy with the things that will make us so. To be authentically happy means to take possession of ourselves, to bring about the person we are in potential, to become more real. Action is the heart of an authentic existence because only in action do we attain fulfillment. Of course 'action' is not just striking out in the world but a directed realization of the kind of person we imagine ourselves to be. Through purposeful action, we become our future and find our contentment. We make happiness as best we can within life as it is,and do not import it from some magical elsewhere.
  • To search for happiness is not to embark upon a voyage to an exotic distant land, but to return home.Happiness must feel like something that we once knew,perhaps only dimly, but now are finding again, although with a greater resolve and a surer purpose. In a way, we are discovering a part of ourselves we had never known.
  • Becoming happy is not a kind of deliberate consumer choice. We do not appraise paths to happiness dispassionately,as if we were on the lookout for a bargain, ready to negotiate the best deal we can. In a way, the path finds us, for it must always fit the shape and size of life as we live it right here and right now. We end up with the only kind of happiness that we can: one that suits us, that feels right for us because it is 'in sync' with our life's rhythm and pace.
  • We are born to be happy, for happiness is the perfection of our existence. And we can achieve it. Not easily, and perhaps not on our own. And maybe there is yet more happiness in the life to come. But we forge a happiness in this life.
  • Happiness cannot take us entirely by surprise, cannot steal upon us, because it is an enterprise that requires our investment.  It must lie within our reach and fall within the span of our days.
  • That we shall find happiness is not guaranteed. We are not entitled to be happy. We are entitled only to work for it.
  • What matters is not that your pursuit of happiness is sanctioned by an authority figure (be it religious or secular) but that it works for you - that it actually makes you happy.
  • We cannot find happiness in isolation. Finding happiness means not despising the world but wanting to create a better one within it. 
  • It is profoundly human need to aspire to something more, and to be carried by that aspiration beyond horizon's edge. We want to envision something that surpasses our selfish desires, that outstrips merely personal goals; and then we want to attain it. Of course from time to time we shall fail in that attainment, but we shall have learned enough to know that we are stronger than our failures.
  • Our life is an ever striving, and we call the striving happiness.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power of Now

Author:      Eckhart Tolle
Published:  2004
Publisher:  Hachette Australia
Paperback: 224 pages
Readers in India:

Forget the past, don't worry about the future, focus on the present and that's the key to your  inner peace and that is enlightenment. This is the core message of the book by one of the well known spiritual teacher of today - Eckhart Tolle.

To the readers well aware of the eastern philosophy of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc. there is nothing new in this book. However the way these esoteric concepts are explained in a manner which makes it intelligible to readers uninitiated in this school of thought is perhaps what has made this book an international bestseller.

Eckhart Tolle follows on the footsteps of  great spiritual masters like Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Ramana Maharishi, Rumi and states that the dominance of ego and the analytical mind in one's psyche is the root cause of all the pain in this world.  One can subdue this ego by being alive to the present moment by intently observing the workings of the mind i.e. watching the thinker and one's emotions. He then proceeds to discuss how this can be achieved.

The book set in question-answer format is a must read for anybody who values peace of mind and contentment more than anything else in this world but assailed by many doubts and struggles to achieve the same.

Key Extracts:

1. What is the power of  Now?
None other than the power of your presence, your consciousness liberated from thought forms. So deal with the past on the level of the present. The more attention you give to the past, the more you energize it, and the more likely you are to make a "self' out of it. Don't misunderstand: Attention is essential, but not to the past as past. Give attention to the present; give attention to your  behavior, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears, and desires as they occur in the present. There's the past in you. If you can be present enough to watch all those things, not critically or analytically but nonjudgmentally, then you are dealing with the past and dissolving it through the power of your presence. You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.
2. Enlightenment - what is that?
The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form.
3. And how do I get to that point of realization?
When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. You do not need it anymore. Presence is the key. The Now is the key.
4. How will I know when I have surrendered?
When you no longer need to ask the question.

Genuine and Pragmatic Questions/Doubts  
I strongly recommend reading the book to find out Eckhart Tolle's answers to the following genuine and pragmatic questions/doubts on various issues raised by earnest seekers:

Mind and Thoughts

  • What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?
  • What exactly do you mean by "watching the thinker"?
  • Isn't thinking essential in order to survive in this world?
  • Why should we be addicted to thinking?
  • I don't want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn't mind learning to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don't want to lose my mind. The gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be another species of animal.
  • It seems almost impossible to disidentify from the mind. We are all immersed in it. How do you teach a fish to fly?
  • Is it not possible to attract only positive conditions into our life? If our attitude and our thinking are always positive, we would manifest only positive events and situations, wouldn't we?

Pain and Suffering
  • Nobody's life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn't it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them?
  • You mentioned fear as being part of our basic underlying emotional pain. How does fear arise, and why is there so much of it in people's lives? And isn't a certain amount of fear just healthy self-protection? If I didn't have a fear of fire, I might put my hand in it and get burned.
The Illusion of Time
  • I can see the supreme importance of the Now, but I cannot quite go along with you when you say that time is a complete illusion.
  • But without a sense of time, how would we function in this world? There would be no goals to strive toward anymore. I wouldn't even know who I am, because my past makes me who I am today. I think time is something very precious, and we need to learn to use it wisely rather than waste it.
  • Aren't past and future just as real, sometimes even more real, than the present? After all, the past determines who we are, as well as how we perceive and behave in the present. And our future goals determine which actions we take in the present.
  • But the belief that the future will be better than the present is not always an illusion. The present can be dreadful, and things can get better in the future, and often they do.
  • I don't see how I can be free now. As it happens, I am extremely unhappy with my life at the moment. This is a fact, and I would be deluding myself if I tried to convince myself that all is well when it definitely isn't. To me, the present moment is very unhappy; it is not liberating at all. What keeps me going is the hope or possibility of some improvement in the future.
  • It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it is what makes me unhappy.
  • In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?
  • Even if I completely accept that ultimately time is an illusion, what difference is that going to make in my life? I still have to live in a world that is completely dominated by time.But I still have to pay the bills tomorrow, and I am still going to grow old and die just like everybody else. So how can I ever say that I am free of time?
  • I can see the truth of what you are saying, but I still think that we must have purpose on our life's journey, otherwise we just drift, and purpose means future, doesn't it? How do we reconcile that with living in the present?
  • How can we drop negativity, as you suggest? But if you call some emotions negative, aren't you really saying that they shouldn't be there, that it's not okay to have those emotions? My understanding is that we should give ourselves permission to have whatever feelings come up, rather than judge them as bad or say that we shouldn't have them. It's okay to feel resentful; it's okay to be angry, irritated, moody, or whatever - otherwise, we get into repression, inner conflict, or denial. Everything is okay as it is.
  • Couldn't a negative emotion also contain an important message? For example, if I often feel depressed, it may be a signal that there is something wrong with my life, and it may force me to look at my life situation and make some changes. So I need to listen to what the emotion is telling me and not just dismiss it as negative.
  • When you become this detached, does it not mean that you also become remote from other human beings?
  • I always thought that true enlightenment is not possible except through love in a relationship between a man and a woman. Isn't this what makes us whole again? How can one's life be fufilled until that happens?
  • Why should we become addicted to another person? Can we change an addictive relationship into a true one?
  • I suppose that it takes two to make a relationship into a spiritual practice, as you suggest. For example, my partner is still acting out his old patterns of jealousy and control. I have pointed this out many times, but he is unable to see it.
  • Are the obstacles to enlightenment the same for a man as for a woman?
  • When one is fully conscious. would one still have a need for a relationship? Would a man still feel drawn to a woman? Would a woman still feel incomplete without a man?
  • In the quest for enlightenment, is being gay a help or a hindrance, or does it not make any difference?
  • Is it not true that you need to have a good relationship with yourself and love yourself before you can have a fulfilling relationship with another person?
Acceptance, Surrender and Inner Peace
  • In that state of acceptance and inner peace, even though you may not call it "bad, " can anything still come into your life that would be called "bad" from a perspective of ordinary consciousness?
  • I have been practicing meditation, I have been to workshops, I have read many books on spirituality, I try to be in a state of nonresistance - but if you ask me whether I have found true and lasting inner peace, my honest answer would have to be "no." Why haven't I found it? What else can I do?
  • You mentioned "surrender" a few times. I don't like that idea. It sounds somewhat fatalistic. If we always accept the way things are, we are not going to make any effort to improve them. It seems to me what progress is all about, both in our personal lives and collectively, is not to accept the limitations of the present but to strive to go beyond them and create something better. If we hadn't done this, we would still be living in caves. How do you reconcile surrender with changing things and getting things done?
  • I can see that if I am in a situation that is unpleasant or unsatisfactory and I completely accept the moment as it is, there will be no suffering or unhappiness. I will have risen above it. But I still can't quite see where the energy or motivation for taking action and bringing about change would come from if there isn't a certain amount of dissatisfaction.
  • Letting go of resistance is easier said than done. I still don't see clearly how to let go. If you say it is by surrendering, the question remains: "How?"
  • What about people who want to use me, manipulate or control me? Am I to surrender to them?
  • I am in a situation at work that is unpleasant. I have tried to surrender to it, but I find it impossible. A lot of resistance keeps coming up.
  • Is nonresistance also to be practiced in the external conduct of our lives, such as nonresistance to violence, or is it something that just concerns our inner life?
  • What about nonresistance in the face of violence, aggression, and the like?
  • If someone is seriously ill and completely accepts their condition and surrenders to the illness, would they not have given up their will to get back to health? The determination to fight the illness would not be there any more, would it?
  • I read about a stoic philosopher in ancient Greece who, when he was told that his son had died in an accident, replied, "I knew he was not immortal." Is that surrender? If it is, I don't want it. There are some situations in which surrender seems unnatural and inhuman.