Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bucket List #2014

This started off as a post to recount what a brilliant year 2013 has been for me, just about behind 2011 as a year in my life probably. The relief after being placed in Airtel, the excitement of watching all my best buddies get placed, the joy of the bike rides and beaches in Goa, the pride of graduating from IIMA, the nostalgia of the trips to NIT Bhopal & IIMA as an alumnus, the tears during Sir Alex's retirement and Nadal's comeback win at Roland Garros, the elation of the first salary, the nervousness during the first sales market visit, the exalted feeling after my first 'sale', the laughter during all those comical moments of Sales life, the accomplishment of purchasing my own domain name. Plenty of brilliant moments I'll cherish for life. Some that I'll regret for a life time. And then, I heard that my CEO never prefers a post-mortem but prefers planning the future. Something that struck a chord, and this post became a bucket list. 

Resolutions have always been meh, for me. Last year, I swore I would reduce social  networking activity - and posted two FB updates on Jan 1st itself. I ended up being more active than ever on social media. The blog did get revived to a decent level and the domain name was purchased as well. But, being in Sales, you gain expertise in target setting very quickly. Especially breaking down larger targets into smaller manage-able bits! And thus began my bucket list for the year, rather than 'resolutions.' 

#1: 12 months. 12 kgs. Every year, I think about reducing some of the girth I have gained in that one tragic three month long vacation in my second year of engineering. My mom recollects, "When you were a kid, we had to struggle to make you eat. Now you are struggling to stop eating." And so, #1 on the list is to reduce atleast 1kg a month. Anything more is a bonus. 

#2: 52 weeks. 52 books. Last year was good in terms of books. 28 all together. But periods in between without reading even one. And the sales guy in me broke it down to a manageable number of 1 per week. More importantly, have resolved to break free of the sports-management-Indian Fiction-biography loop I am stuck in, and explore more variety. 

#3: 26 fortnights. 26 blog posts. Midway through last year, I took upon myself the arduous task of 1 post per day on the blog. And I managed it for 7 days. That mood, that setting that I generally look for, before writing is something I hardly manage. Added to the Twitter menace where most of the random thoughts that prop up go, I manage any content to keep this place running. Hopefully with sales life kicking off soon, the experiences will keep it going. 

#4: Write something significant. Something beyond the blog. Something I have never had the patience to write. Something beyond random rants, CAT gyaan and the usual stuff I come up with. 

#5: And finally, the biggest and the hardest of them all. Complete that life long goal. That pilgrimage. That walk down the tunnel, into the dressing rooms. The trophy room. Sitting in those stands, watching United run riot and singing along to Viva Ronaldo, Five Cantonas, Ooh Robin Van Persie. And hoping that my luck is good enough to run into some player while I'm around. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ten books I enjoyed this year

28 books - 21 that I purchased from Dear old Flipkart and 7 from the IIMA library - that I managed to read this year. And due to a severe writers' block, I thought this was the lowest handing fruit for me - to list down my best reads in this year. (These aren't books that released this year, but the best among the 28 that I read this year; so all in all a meaningless list). Here we go! 

1 - Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski | Genre: Sports & Economics

This isn't really a new book, but one that I finally caught while window shopping as usual on Flipkart. If you are a football (or soccer) fan with a mild understanding or interest in economics, this one is a must read, just for that one chapter on Penalty Shootouts and Prisoners' Dilemma. 
Some real unique insights on Overperforming and Underperforming nations in Football (Where India is of course at the very bottom) - and Spain even pre-2008 is really overachieving; the illogical expensive transfers - when paying better wages is the logical step to winning; biases that affect transfers - like blonde players; how clubs rarely shut down and about the modern 'glory-hunter-plastic' fan are great reads as well. All in all, if you are looking for a logical/statistic based read about the various myths of football, this is one book you should never miss. Hard to see any book that will top this from my favourite reads list, when Sir Alex's autobio didn't. 

2 - My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson | Genre: Sports Autobiography

When the book was announced, I couldn't help but eagerly count down to the release date. Easily one of the best sporting autobiographies written, partly down to the stature of Sir Alex. Rather than going the traditional chronological chapterwise way, this one settles for a Player-wise perspective, making it a unique read. His quips about the players he has worked with - Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Giggs, Rooney - his retirement; the relationship he shared with David Gill and plenty of other anecdotes and digs at rival players make the book tick. I am pretty sure Sir Alex can manage another book full of such incidents, and that would top the best sellers list too! 

Another match/season-by-season read - after numerous ones by the players - would have been boring. More than the sporting parts of it, I enjoyed the parts outside the sporting world - John F Kennedy, the 'mind games' that made Sir Alex, a really unique manager. One book you shouldn't miss, if you are an ardent football fan. 

Twitter warriors (me included) constantly harp about how a country with 1 billion people find it so tough to win one gold medal in the Olympics. Abhinav Bindra's autobiography is one heck of an inspiring read where he takes you through the blood-sweat-tears journey of his, to the elusive Olympic Gold. The tiniest margins that affect shooters, the mental pressure that one has to deal with, the expectations - the book simply leaves you in awe what Bindra would've gone through as he was pulling the trigger in the final rounds of the medal round in the Olympics. And how it is so easy to cuss at our athletes - forgetting the administrative pains and effort they put it. Looking for inspiration post a couple of failures? There isn't a better read, to boost your morale. 

4 - The Dum Dum Bullet by Sandeep Goyal | Genre: Business & Management 

The Dum-dum bullet is a collection of the author's anecdotes and experiences from his stints in various organisations in the marketing and advertising world. Being an MBA, and having seen how ad agencies work, during my internship and with my current sales experiences - this was a very relatable read. 
It keeps its promise of 'real life learnings'. Right from the first chapter - of the author's sales stint to his experience with Sunil Mittal in the stages where the name for the brand that finally became 'Airtel' was decided; the author stacks up a whole lot of interesting experiences to keep the reader engaged. The success of a book, for me, is in whether the author is able to leave the reader wanting more when the book comes to an end, and this one does just that. 

Ever thought 'Why did Rajat Gupta, with all his fame, power and money get into this whole insider trading affair?' For a person interested in some good investigative journalism on the Rajat Gupta - Raj Rajarathnam affair, this one is a definite purchase. 

While another book I read this year - 'The Fallen Angel - Rise and Fall of Rajat Gupta' by Sandipan Deb ends up being a typical Indian hero-worship version of the story (While raising some questions), this one provides a more neutral read and takes you through the back stories of all key players in the tale. Raj Rajarathnam and his rise in Wall Street, Rajat Gupta's journey from IIT-D to Mckinsey and his relationship with Raj. Anil Kumar - the one that got away; and the 'whistleblowers'. An engrossing read, it gives you a sneak peek into the level of insider trading that the markets are entrenched in today! 

6 - Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh | Genre: Sports

Lance Armstrong was a hero to me - someone who defied all the odds to triumph, and I had purchased and read both his books, and loved them. After his fall from grace, my first question was 'How did he manage it? And manage it without any regrets'. Seven Deadly Sins gives you an overview on the history of doping in cycling and Tour De France in particular; and takes you through David Walsh's relentless chase of Armstrong - despite threats - veiled and open from the Armstrong camp. 

This is more about the journalist's perspective on how his pursuit was - as the title suggests - and what he went through as he tried to uncover Lance Armstrong's doping trial. The book leaves you with few doubts about the extent to which the one-time-hero was entrenched in doping, and made fools of thousands of fans of his across the world. Superbly researched read, but at times a little too heavy for people who haven't really watched cycling but only followed it in the papers. 

7 - Simply Fly by Capt Gopinath | Genre: Business & Management Autobiography

Simply Fly - is a simple read about Capt Gopinath's rise and fall (?). The autobiography takes you through his journey right from his childhood till the point he sold Air Deccan to Vijay Mallya. The book is inspiring - the entreprenuerial streak in Capt Gopinath is evident right from his farm venture to the motorcycle dealership, and finally taking off with Deccan Aviation and helicopters - and finally Air Deccan. Chronicling every success and failure on his way, you can feel the excitement that the author would have gone through in the times close to the launch of his ventures. 

At the end of the day, the book does gloss over some mistakes that Capt Gopinath probably made in running Air Deccan that led to its various issues - and the Vijay Mallya-Air Deccan days are covered limitedly. But the book has enough in it - and reminds you of another airline & serial entrepreneur - Richard Branson - but for their completely contrasting philosophies when it came to their businesses. 

8 - The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan | Genre: Indian Fiction

This was one book I spotted while browsing through the library shelves at IIMA. A book on cricket, by a lady; was what got me hooked - added to the fact that the protagonist (a girl) was in advertising/marketing. When you think of Indian fiction, you expect a Chetan Bhagat-ish novel. Zoya Factor is a girl's perspective on romance, and the tale of the Indian cricket captain who gets lucky when the girl is watching the match - and how this ends up in the Indian team winning the World Cup, with this 'lucky charm'. 

Humour in good doses, combined with the Indian superstitions, some advertising bits and enough chic-lit and romance, the book holds your attention despite the length. The author's style is quite different from most other Indian authors and is quite likable (So much that I went ahead and bought two other books by her as well!)

9 - Conversations with Mani Ratnam by Baradwaj Rangan | Genre: Entertainment Biography

Another book in a very unique format - a super-extended interview - where Baradwaj Rangan picks Mani Ratnam's brains on all his movies so far. From Nayagan to the more recent ones like Ravanan - the book takes you through the ace filmmaker's vision and thoughts about the movie. For a director whose movies are known for their minimal dialogue portions, Mani Ratnam does speak, and speaks a lot of sense and makes the book an interesting read. Rangan manages to get Mani Ratnam delve in deep into hitherto unexplored aspects of his movie making. 

The only negative (to me) was Rangan trying to draw random parallels between Mani Ratnam's various movies - at times forcibly; that became a little repetitive; and the 'bias' towards Mani Ratnam's earlier movies than the more recent ones - that made it tough to relate to for a 90s person who came to know Mani Ratnam through say an Alaipayuthey than his older movies. The book provides an interesting insight into one of Tamil Cinema's top directors and into the way he envisions his movies! Must read. Hope Rangan can someday convince AR Rahman into something similar! 

10 - My Stroke of Luck by Vijay Santhanam | Genre: Autobiography

With an IIM author, and a title like 'My Stroke of luck'; your first instinct is to expect yet another of 'those' books that sermonize about what to do in an IIM and what not to; and romance in the red bricks. But this one is a very inspirational read from Prof Vijay Santhanam about the ordeal that he went through during his stroke episode. The author makes it clear that he isn't really looking for sympathy - but just wants to chronicle the episode. As you read through the book, you can feel the helplessness of the author and the struggle he went through during this traumatic phase. 

The motivation that he draws from his goals, despite being down and out; is amazing. Prof Vijay's story tells you that anything can happen in life, and you can never really say nothing will happen to me. Prof Vijay takes you through his hurdle filled journey from alphabet (not remembering even one of them) to becoming an author and a guest lecturer at IIMA (where he taught me Sports Marketing). The only sore point is the references to chess - one of the author's passions - in the book. But all in all, very inspirational - and shows that some of the hurdles that we crib about in our lives are nothing at all, compared to what the author beat. 

The last one was a close call as there were two other books that I found equally interesting, that led to me nearly ordering most of the authors' other works - Bankster by Ravi Subramaniam and Life is what you make it by Preeti Shenoy! Both were equally good, but the genre of My Stroke of Luck - an the inspiration it gave me, put that ahead. 

What were your favourite books among the ones you read this year?