Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The world can quickly agree on remedies to disarm a criminal state.

Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea
Jasper Becker

Can we eradicate the threat of nuclear weapons, ‘in the same way that the world has cooperated in wiping out diseases such as polio’? Possible, though it certainly may require a long-term policing effort, says Jasper Becker in Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea ( http://www.oup.com/ ).

Though “once a technology has been invented it is hard to uninvent it or to stop this knowledge from spreading,” the world can quickly agree on remedies to disarm a criminal state that tries to hold its own people as hostages and threaten its neighbours with nuclear weapons. What is needed is the right political will, he adds.

Explosion of national esteem.

Inhaling the Mahatma
Christopher Kremmer

May 11, 1998. It was the Buddha’s birthday. “Truckloads of Indian Army personnel were deployed to villages in western Rajasthan with orders to evacuate all residents from their homes. At 3.45 pm, under a cloudless sky, a tremor suddenly jolted the ground beneath the feet of the evacuees, and large cracks appeared in their simple mud-brick homes,” writes Christopher Kremmer in Inhaling the Mahatma ( http://www.harpercollins.com/).

“The impact was felt 100 km away. Three nuclear devices including one hydrogen bomb, the world’s most devastating weapon, had been placed in bomb shafts deep beneath the desert near the town of Pokhran, 550 km southwest of New Delhi. Two days later, two miniaturised nuclear bombs designed to be dropped from aircraft or fired by artillery guns were detonated at the same site.”

Why do nations choose to develop nuclear weapons?

The Atomic Bazaar
William Langewiesche

India’s intention to acquire nukes dates back to before the Partition, writes William Langewiesche in The Atomic Bazaar (http://www.penguin.com/). “Jawaharlal Nehru, looking forward to Independence, said, ‘I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes, but if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposa l.’” Why do nations choose to develop nuclear weapons, the author wonders.

“Is it because of external threat and strategic defence? International prestige and diplomatic power? Bureaucratic striving? Populism, nationalism, and the need to impress constituents on the streets?” The answer, in the case of India, is all of the above, ‘with added emphasis on strategic Defence after India’s humiliating 1962 defeat by China,’ says Langewiesche.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Managers are paid to make sure that the right person does the right thing at the right time

Reading Room
Monkey Business
William Oncken III

Who doesn't know a monkey, but the one that William Oncken III describes in Monkey Business (http://www.jaicobooks.com/) is different; it is at workplace.

A monkey, according to him, is the next move, initiative or action step in resolving a problem. "In most of your conversations during working hours, there comes a point where the dialogue breaks off and there is a next move." Monkey is what conventional managers call `assignment' says the author. Project, which is the vector sum of a lot of little assignments, is the `gorilla' - `a lot of little monkeys laid nose-to-tail'.

An example of sour milk is bad attitude, as with some employees

Manage Mentor
How to Get to the Top
Jeffrey J. Fox

Dinner at home can be a great ritual during which you can learn business and life lessons, says Jeffrey J. Fox in How to Get to the Top ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/).

That “you can’t unsour the milk” is one such lesson. “You can’t go back in time. You can’t prevent what has already happened… And you can’t quit,” explains the author. “You must counterpunch. Do not waste time bemoaning your troubles.”

An example of sour milk is bad attitude, as with some employees, he says. “It is hard, if not impossible to fix,” frets Fox. “Part ways, and go forward.” Another ‘family’ lesson is to gain confidence by acting like you own the place. “When you walk into the office, into a meeting, onto the stage, act like you own the place. Act as if you are in your complete comfort zone.” That way you are more likely to be ‘at ease, calm, courteous’ rather than be arrogant, says Fox.

Get ‘more’ of power, purpose, and success

Books 2 Byte
Vince Thompson

Do you feel pushed to the precipice by work pressures, and so want to quit? Wait, there can be an alternative, says Vince Thompson in ‘Ignited’ ( http://www.pearsoned.co.in/), offering “a way to stay within the corporation and begin making the kind of real difference.” It really is up to us, the managers in the middle, to make the changes we know are necessary, he writes. “A new, genuinely empowered generation of managers can steer their companies off the paths that have led so many into scandals, unnecessary layoffs, catastrophic misreadings of the market, and other disasters.”

Get ‘more’ of power, purpose, and success, Thompson exhorts. And, for each ‘more’, he offers practical tips. Getting more power, for instance, can be through making teams work and controlling the CAVE people. “The CAVE (citizens against virtually everything) people are the ones in every organisation who go out of their way to kill buy-in, spread negativity, and create failure,” is a quote of Laurence Haughton cited in the book.

Some professions, such as dentists, consultants, or massage professionals, cannot be scaled

Books 2 Byte
The Black Swan
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The central idea of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in ‘The Black Swan’ ( http://www.penguin.com/) is about our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly the large deviations.

What you don’t know is far more relevant than what you do know, argues the author. Focus on antiknowledge, he urges, therefore. “We do much less thinking than we believe we do – except, of course, when we think about it,” rues Taleb. “It looks as if we have the wrong user’s manual. Our minds do not seem made to think and introspect…”

He divides professions into two, the scalable and the rest. “Some professions, such as dentists, consultants, or massage professionals, cannot be scaled: there is a cap on the number of patients or clients you can see in a given period of time… Your revenue depends on your continuous efforts more than on the quality of your decisions.” This type of work is largely predictable, and so are revenues.

China’s private sector achievement and ambition

Books 2 Byte
IT and the East
James M. Popkin and Partha Iyengar

The growing impact of China and India in the IT (information technology) industry is clear to anyone following the money of global trade, write James M. Popkin and Partha Iyengar of Gartner in ‘IT and the East’ ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/). “More and more, traditional Western high-tech firms are sourcing not just the assembly of their products from India and China but also the innovation that drives these produ cts.”

Divided into three parts, the book talks about the game-changing developments. Such as, how “by 2008 it is highly likely that China will generate IP (intellectual property) at a rate comparable to developed countries and, in the same year, actually surpass the US as the population with the largest English-language capacity.”
However, there are two critical uncertainties in China, according to the authors. One, government involvement. “Consider the high-profile case of Huawei, the dominant brand within China for routers and other telecommunications equipment and an icon of China’s private sector achievement and ambition.”

What is business if not an endeavour to create wealth?

Book Value
The Dhandho Investor
Mohnish Pabrai

Mohnish Pabrai speaks of a low-risk method to earn high returns in ‘The Dhandho Investor’ ( http://www.wiley.com/). “Dhandho (pronounced dhun-doe) is a Gujarati word. Dhan comes from the Sanskrit root word dhana meaning wealth,” he explains. Dhan-dho, literally translated, means ‘endeavours that create wealth,’ but the street translatio n is simply ‘business’. What is business if not an endeavour to create wealth, the author asks?

The book opens with ‘Patel motel dhandho’. Do you know that Patels of Gujarat, who number less than one in five hundred Americans, “own over $40 billion in motel assets in the US, pay over $725 million a year in taxes, and employ nearly a million people”?
They started arriving in the early 1970s without much in the way of education or capital, narrates Pabrai. “Their heavily accented, broken-English speaking skills didn’t improve their prospects either. From that severely handicapped beginning, with all the odds stacked against them, the Patels triumphed.” How? “There is one word explanation: Dhandho.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Say Cheek
Endless Universe
Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok

All of us live on a planet that is lost in the multiverse, a conglomeration containing an infinite number of very different regions. And, it may be time to fasten your seatbelts. Because our rare pocket of the universe is running out of time, as Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok declare in Endless Universe ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/). “Dark energy has already overtaken all other forms of matter and radiation, and has taken command of the expansion of the universe…”
The book is about “a new theory of the universe, according to which our cosmic history consists of repeating cycles of evolution.”

A common theory that has held ground for nearly half a century is the big bang idea – “that the universe emerged from a very hot, dense state 14 billion years ago and has been expanding and cooling ever since.”

In a trillion years, our home will be well on its way toward a vacuous oblivion, predict the authors. “Virtually all the galaxies we see today will still exist, but the stars will be gradually burning out. There will in all likelihood still be stars, planets, and life. But…”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Books of Account
Making Sense of Software Quality Assurance
Raghav S. Nandyal

Software quality and car racing

Change four tyres, add more than 80 litres fuel, tweak the car for better efficiency, clean the windshield, clear debris from the front grill, and give the driver water. All in less than 13 seconds.

Such breakthrough pit-stop performance in car racing events is possible only with a highly capable crew that has continuously improved its processes, much the same way as in software quality assurance, says Raghav S. Nandyal in Making Sense of Software Quality Assurance (http://www.tatamcgrawhill.com/ ).

“Beyond winning and losing, poor pit stop performance can result in injuries, lost earnings, lost sponsorship, and lost jobs. Along similar lines, without an optimising software development process assisted with an equally capable competency management process, software initiatives will wrap up without a trace in today’s competitive environment.”

Book Mark
Pour Your Heart Into It
Howard Schultz

From a local business with six stores and less than 100 employees, Starbucks grew to 1,300 stores and 25,000 employees, in about a decade. And now, it has more than 13,500 stores in 40 countries employing nearly 1,50,000, as the world’s leading retailer, roaster and brand of specialty coffee.

“The story of Starbucks is not just a record of growth and success. It’s also about how a company can be built in a different way,” writes Howard Schultz in Pour Your Heart Into It (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). The book is almost a decade old, yet the biographical narrative by Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, is worth studying at a time when Starbuc ks has exited the Forbidden City and put off the India plan. One of the first lessons he learnt was in Italy, in 1983. “To the Italians, the coffee bar is not a diner, as coffee shops came to be in America in the 1950s and 1960s. It is an extension of the front porch, an extension of the home. Each morning they stop at their favourite coffee bar, where they’re treated with a cup of espresso that they know is custom-made… I had a revelation: Starbucks had missed the point – completely missed it.” Schultz realised that Starbucks could be a great experience, not just a great retail store. “Starbucks sold great coffee beans, but we didn’t serve coffee by the cup. We treated coffee as produce, something to be bagged and sent home with the groceries. We stayed one big step away from the heart and soul of what coffee has meant throughout the centuries.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Three Billion New Capitalists
Clyde Prestowitz

Wealth and power are shifting to the East, declares Clyde Prestowitz in Three Billion New Capitalists ( http://www.basicbooks.com/ ). It is while skiing on Lake Tahoe in California, in the winter of 2003, that the author gets the first glimpse of the powerful forces being unleashed by the new capitalists and how they might interact with the old system and structures. Chummy, the author’s oldest son, asks him if he would consider co-investing in a local snow-removal company. Read on…

“‘What do mean by snow removal?’ I asked, somewhat surprised because my son is a high-level software developer. ‘Well,’ he explained, ‘the company has contracts to plough the parking lots and access roads of the hotels and vacation condominiums around here whenever it snows, and that happens pretty frequently between November and May.’ ‘But what on earth are you doing,’ I exclaimed, ‘going into something as mundane as snow ploughing?’ ‘Dad,’ he said, ‘they can’t move the snow to India.’

China Shakes the World
James Kynge

In China Shakes the World ( http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/ ), James Kynge narrates the tale of how ‘a hungry nation’ has risen. The book opens ‘on the flat alluvium beds’ of the Yangtze River, where parts of a steel mill from the heart of Ruhr “had been reconstructed exactly — to the last screw — as they had been in Germany. Altogether 2,50,000 tonnes of equipment had been shipped, along with 40 tonnes of documents that explained the intricacies of the reassembly process.”

From that steel story, the author moves on to a steal-y one. “As Chinese demand drove up the price of scrap metal to record levels, thieves almost everywhere had the same idea,” he narrates. “During the several weeks from mid February 2004… slowly at first but with mounting velocity, manhole covers started to disappear from roads and pavements all over the world… The first displacements were felt in Taiwan, the island just off China’s southeast coast. The next were in other neighbours, such as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan… More than 150 covers disappeared during one month in Chicago. Scotland’s ‘great drain robbery’ saw more than a hundred vanish in a few days. In Montreal, Gloucester and Kuala Lumpur, unsuspecting pedestrians stumbled into holes.”

American Shaolin
Matthew Polly

“To suffer and learn a lesson, one pays a high price, but a fool can’t learn any other way,” reads a Chinese proverb, with which Matthew Polly begins American Shaolin (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/).

The first lesson is a challenge match that the laowai (old outsider, a polite term for white foreigners) has to fight against Master Wu, a kungfu teacher from Tianjin.
The venue is a tourism centre in Henan province. Bao (Polly) Mosi (Matthew) narrates the walk to the performance hall, along with his teacher Monk Deqing, who quotes his favourite martial arts maxim: “I do n ot fear the 10,000 kicks you have practised once; I fear the one kick you have practised 10,000 times.”

The Tao of Deception
Ralph D. Sawyer

King Wu queried his preceptor, advisor, strategist, and confidant, the T’ai Kung: “I want to overthrow the Shang but have three doubts. I am afraid our strength will be inadequate to attack the strong, estrange the close supporters within the court, and disperse their people. What should I do?”

The reply, as chronicled in Six Secret Teachings (Liu-t’ao), was as follows: “In order to attack the strong you must nurture them to make them even stronger and increase them to make them even more extensive. What is too strong will certainly break, what is too extended must have deficiencies. Attack the strong through their strength. Cause the estrangement of favoured officials by using favourites, disperse the people by means of people.”

On similar lines is a snatch from chapter 36 of the traditionally received Tao Te Ching: “If you want to reduce something, you must certainly stretch it. If you want to weaken something, you must certainly strengthen it. If you want to abolish something, you must certainly make it flourish.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reading Room
Who Owns CBI: The Naked Truth
B. R. Lall

Rewind to 1994. Sugar scam was in the news. “One afternoon, suddenly the sugar price soared from Rs 8 to Rs 16-17 per kg. After great hue and cry, the price settled back at Rs 14-15 per kg,” narrates B. R. Lall in Who Owns CBI: The Naked Truth ( http://www.manaspublications.com/).

“The facts unfolded that some nominal shortage was expected; so one shipload was imported at a high rate of Rs 16 per kg around May, when 70-lakh tonnes of sugar were in stock,” he explains. “Since sugar production season was complete by April, all the costing had been completed and the issue price was also fixed. Subsequently when sugar was imported at such a high cost, the inland prices of stock were made to jump to the same level.” An additional Rs 6 per kg to the existing stock meant a neat Rs 4,200 crore! Eerie. About a week ago the central bank asked all commercial banks to sanction additional loan limits of Rs 420 crore to sugar mills for creating buffer stock.

Reading Room
The English Civil War: A People’s History
Diane Purkiss

Seventeenth century… The armed conflict took a toll of nearly eight lakh people, the majority of them in Ireland. “One in four of all men served in the armies on one side or the other… The war was not a clean and tidy affair of sabres and dashing cavalry charges; it was a bloody business largely driven by guns — cannons and muskets and pistols — which at times appears to have combined the worst aspects of the American Civil War and Vietnam. Both sides used soft lead bullets that did terrible damage to flesh. For years afterwards, the London streets were full of one-legged beggars. Cities and castles were razed to the ground. There were atrocities involving civilians, again especially in Ireland. The war was expensive, and individual families were ruined…”

Thus reads a poignant snatch in The English Civil War: A People’s History by Diane Purkiss.

Reading Room
A Beginner’s Guide to the World Economy
Randy Charles Epping

What is inflation? How are the world’s economies compared? What is free trade? How does international trade work? What are the world’s major currencies? How do central banks regulate an economy? What is GNP/GDP? How are interest rates used to control economic growth? What is globalisation? How can the Internet help investors keep track of foreign markets? What is a balance sheet? How do investors buy foreign shares? What is e-commerce? How can new economy companies be compared to traditional economies? What causes the income gap between rich and poor countries? What is a stock index? How is gold part of the world economy? For answers to these and more, catch up with Randy Charles Epping’s A Beginner’s Guide to the World Economy (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). It discusses ‘eighty-one basic economic concepts that will change the way you see the world’.

Manage Mentor
The Greatest Innovation Since the Assembly Line
Michael Hugos

Being efficient enough is not enough in today’s competitive, fluid, real-time economy. You need to be responsive, says Michael Hugos in The Greatest Innovation Since the Assembly Line ( http://www.mkpress.com/).

“By being responsive to the needs and desires of specific groups of customers, companies can wrap their products and services in a blanket of value-added services to consistently earn an additional two to four per cent (and sometimes more) in gross margin than they would otherwise earn for the product or service alone,” he assures.
To be responsive, you must be agile, which is why Hugos sees the ‘agile enterprise’ as ‘the next wave of innovation and productivity’. Such an organisation, ‘the equivalent of the assembly line in our information economy’, would use a set of processes, enabled by existing information technology and an organisational structure, “to acquire and act on up-to-date information to continually improve existing operations and devise new operations as opportunities arise.”

Books 2 Byte
Gurus on e-Business
John Middleton

Instant global news, instant global impact; geography matters less; nine to five becomes 24/7; size matters less; short-term focus becomes even shorter; the Net levels the playing field; and people are the ultimate scarce resource.

These are some of the ways in which technology has changed the way that organisations and their people work, writes John Middleton in Gurus on e-Business ( http://www.vivagroupindia.com/).

The book brings together the views of the world’s thought-leaders on e-business.
“There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second,” reads an e-bite of Jeff Bezos of Amazon.
Andy Grove of Intel has this to say: “Within five years all companies will be Internet companies or they won’t be companies at all… Companies not using the Internet to improve just about every facet of their business operation will be destroyed by competitors who do.”

Books 2 Byte
Bill & Dave
Michael S. Malone

Chapter three in Michael S. Malone’s Bill & Dave ( http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/) is titled ‘That damned garage’. It begins thus: “In January 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard signed the papers and formally incorporated Hewlett-Packard Company. Bill agreed, as part of the deal, to advance some money to the company to purchase some components and tools. Packard contributed the equipment he’d brought from General Electric…”

The book is about how Hewlett and Packard built the world’s greatest company. The easy narrative straddles several decades and technology generations.
Take, for instance, the period 1950-1960, when the company grew thirty-fold, from $2 million in annual revenues to $61 million. In 1951, HP had just 215 employees. Yet it averaged 20 product introductions per year, “introducing new products — even inventing whole new categories,” writes Malone.

Books 2 Byte
Catalyst Code
David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee

In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that causes or accelerates a reaction without actually undergoing any change itself.

Catalysts in business are those who can similarly cause reactions between customer groups, say David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee in Catalyst Code ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/). "These customer groups are attracted to each other. They need each other in some way. But without the catalyst, the two groups might never come together."

For instance, Frank McNamara who started Diners Club more than 50 years ago, after he found himself in a fix without a wallet and a chequebook at a restaurant, was an economic catalyst. His credit cards brought together merchants and customers.

Book Value
Fooled by Randomness
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Bullish or bearish are words used by people who do not engage in practising uncertainty, like the television commentators, or those who have no experience in handling risk. Thus chides Nassim Nicholas Taleb in ‘Fooled by Randomness’ ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/).

“Alas, investors and businesses are not paid in probabilities; they are paid in dollars,” he adds. What is important, therefore, is not how likely an event is to happen that matters, reasons Taleb. “It is how much is made when it happens that should be the consideration. How frequent the profit is irrelevant; it is the magnitude of the outcome that counts.”
The book, now an updated second edition, after having been published in 18 languages and, was selected by Fortune magazine as one of ‘The Smartest Books of All Time’.

Book Value
Mutual Funds
Mark Mobius

Want to lock step with the fund master, Mark Mobius? Here is his book ‘Mutual Funds’ ( http://www.wiley.com/), designed as an introduction to the core concepts of the MF industry.

The author, a familiar name in the financial media, is a PhD in Economics and Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mobius was among Asiamoney’s 2006 list of ‘Top 100 Most Powerful and Influen tial People’; earlier, Carson included him in ‘Top Ten Money Managers of the 20th Century’. He currently manages Templeton’s emerging market portfolios of nearly $30 billion.

“In its most basic form, a mutual fund is a company that pools money from a group of people with common investment goals to buy securities such as stocks, bonds, money market instruments, a combination of these investments, or even other funds,” explains the intro. “The collected holdings of these securities is known as its portfolio. Each share, or unit, represents an investor’s proportionate holding of the portfolio and their proportionate entitlement to the income generated by those holdings.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Books of Account
Economics in One Lesson
Henry Hazlitt

What would happen if interest rates were kept artificially low? That’s no different from keeping price below the natural market, says Henry Hazlitt in Economics in One Lesson (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/ ). Artificial reduction would create economic distortions, with increase in demand and reduced supply. It can encourage highly speculative ventures that cannot continue except under artificial conditions, while on the supply side, low interest rates discourage normal thrift and savings.

“The money rate can, indeed, be kept artificially low only by continuous new injections of currency or bank credit in place of real savings,” cautions the author.
“This can create the illusion of more capital just as the addition of water can create the illusion of more milk. But it is a policy of continuous inflation. It is obviously a process involving cumulative danger…”
Books of Account
Cash Management
Tony Dalton

Want to make your small business cash-rich without breaking the bank? Tony Dalton’s shoestring Cash Management ( http://www.penguin.com/) should help. The book opens with a startling finding that emerged from a 2005 survey conducted by Bank of Scotland: “Almost two-thirds all small businesses admitted they had paid the same invoice twice.”

How so? Because the entrepreneur is working so hard that he doesn’t have the time to cover all business aspects, and cash management comes ‘way down in the list of most small companies’ priorities’. At least till the till goes dry even as bills pile up.

“Think cash,” exhorts Dalton. “Think cash is management practice, not management theory. It’s a proven method of running a successful business. It’s about going back to basics.”

Book Mark
The Marketing Mavens
Noel Capon

In a world ‘awash with choice,’ can you create customers? Yes, you can; the simple secret is to place customers at the centre of your business and make marketing everyone’s job, says Noel Capon in The Marketing Mavens ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/).

We have moved from an era of scarcity of supply to an era of scarcity of demand, announces the intro. “The next innovation, the next killer competitor may come from anywhere, anytime, to take your customers – and thus your business – away from you in the virtual blink of an eye.”
The marketing’s job is to ensure that scarce customers do business with you, because “one of the central facts of business life today is that customers don’t have to do business with you.” Great companies know this fact, and are “populated at every level of the organisation with Marketing Mavens obsessed with the idea that everything a company does, from R&D to customer service, must be focussed on anticipating and meeting customer needs.” Marketing with a capital M must be a philosophy of your entire organisation, insists Capon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Curtis R. Carlson and William W. Wilmot

Curtis R. Carlson and William W. Wilmot of SRI International speak of ‘the five disciplines for creating what customers want’ in Innovation ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). Innovation is not just the invention of some clever new gadget, say the authors.

“It is much more than that. Innovation is the successful creation and delivery of a new or improved product or service in the marketplace.” Innovation is the process that turns an idea into value for the customer and results in sustainable profit for the enterprise, they explain.

“Innovate or die,” reads the title of a chapter that guides you through ‘the exponential economy’ — a development that is more important than globalisation. The phrase “includes those increasingly large segments of the economy improving in price performance at rapid, exponential rates, including computers, communications, biotechnology, and consumer products.”

A Demon of our own Design
Richard Bookstaber

Innovation can have its perils, writes Richard Bookstaber in A Demon of our own Design ( http://www.wiley.com/ ).

The financial markets that we have constructed are now so complex, and the speed of transactions so fast, that apparently isolated actions and even minor evens can have catastrophic consequences, he cautions.
After decades of progress and a drop in real economic risk, the average annual standard deviation in market index was not lower, but higher, during the past 20 years than it was 50 years earlier, notes the author, about the S&P 500.
Closer home, too, the charts have been volatile, and returns, erratic. “Risk should be diminishing, but it isn’t.”

Extreme Competition
Peter Fingar

It wasn’t the invention of the computer that triggered a great 21st century transformation, says Peter Fingar. “It was Sputnik in 1957, and the beginning of global telecommunications,” he adds, in Extreme Competition ( http://www.mkpress.com/ ). “Now all the world’s computers are linked by the Net, shrinking the planet to the size of the screen on your cell phone.”

To him, the dotcom crash of 2000 was not the signal for the beginning of the end. “It was a signal that we had reached the end of the beginning. The tinkering phase of the Internet was complete, and now it’s time to get on with the real transformation of business and society.”

The next big thing in business, according to Fingar, is not about dotcom booms. It’s about operational innovation and business transformation, driven by the emergence of a wired world, he declares. Discomfortingly for many, “the days of market stability and competitive advantage from a single innovation are over.” So what is the path of salvation? “Today, companies must respond to new entrants in their industries that come from nowhere,” advises the author. “And they must not just innovate, they must set the pace of innovation, gaining temporary advantage, one innovation at a time, and then move on to the next.”

Monday, July 16, 2007

Soft Skills
Managing People for the First Time
Julie Lewthwaite

Successful managers don’t manage people; they manage their relationships with people. This is the first lesson in Julie Lewthwaite’s Managing People for the First Time ( http://www.vivagroupindia.com/ ).

Managing relationships is a more flexible way of managing because it gives you more things to manage, says the author. “Managing people gives us one way of looking at the problem: ‘I told him what to do and he wouldn’t do it — there must be something wrong with him’.” Instead, you can look at what is wrong with the relationship, be it between manager and employee, or employee-employee.
The new manager has to learn to learn, advises Lewthwaite. “Learning is an essential management skill. It involves acquiring, sorting, analysing, and storing information… You can learn by obtaining new information; by combining existing information into new patterns; by finding new meaning in existing information.”

Say Cheek
If Harry Potter Ran General Electric
Tom Morris

To harried parents preparing to cope with the Harry fever, it may help to know that great stories can provide valuable insights, as Tom Morris writes in If Harry Potter Ran General Electric ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). The author is a former philosophy professor and his book is about ‘leadership wisdom from the world of the wizards’.

In the Potter series, Morris finds it ‘particularly interesting’ that the most difficult problems “are rarely solved with just magic, but rather by the use of intelligence, reasoning, planning, courage, determination, persistence…”

He classifies Rowling among ‘the greatest philosophers’ because she conveys through her stories that the meaning of life is not to be found in “elixirs or incantations, secret words, or exotic objects with esoteric powers, but in real moral virtue and the magic of what it can help us do.”

Reading Room
Lessons in Journalism: The story of Pothan Joseph
T.J.S. George

Joy of the first story

Joseph, a student of Kottayam College, went to attend the annual boat race. The race was a spectacular regatta, crowded and full of excitement, narrates T.J.S. George in Lessons in Journalism: The story of Pothan Joseph (www.vivagroupindia.com).

"Joseph's fertile imagination took over and he spent the night composing a report on the event. As he later described it: `Into the uneventful story I inserted a yarn about a kid escaping drowning by clutching at a twig. No drowning man is ever known to have caught at a straw, nor has any person searched for a needle in a haystack. Indeed, some proverbs are not worth a straw. But the editor of a weekly journal in Madras to whom I had posted my report apparently was fond of proverbs and turned my version into superior fiction to illustrate the saying about the drowning man and the straw. The initials P.J. at the bottom of the four-inch paragraph so thrilled the author, aged 14, that he read and re-read it at least 41 times.'" Entertaining and educating read.

Reading Room
Positive Organizational Behavior
Debra L. Nelson and Cary L. Cooper

Stress is a mind-body response to demanding and/or emergency situations, reads a definition of the dreaded word in Positive Organizational Behavior edited by Debra L. Nelson and Cary L. Cooper (http://www.sagepublications.com/).

The stimuli, called stressors or demands, may involve roles at work, policies and job conditions. `Distress' arises when stressors are perceived to be either threatening or harmful; being negative and dysfunctional, distress can lead to absenteeism and employee turnover. There can also be positive response to stress, or eustress, argues the book. A recently promoted individual, for example, may display eustress, experiencing "joy and satisfaction associated with the recognition of achievement and excitement about the opportunity to pursue new goals and challenges at work."

Manage Mentor
The Ape in the Corner Office
Richard Connif f

You need not wait till the weekend to visit the zoo. Because you may already be spending long hours everyday just there! Yes, we are talking about the workplace.

“Animal analogies have always ranked among the favourite clich├ęs of the business world, where 800-pound gorillas run with the big dogs, swim with the sharks… or end up caught like a deer in the headlights,” writes Richard Connif f in The Ape in the Corner Office ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/).

Our time in the workplace is about as natural as a chimpanzee’s in the zoo, he observes. “At some companies, it’s as natural as a hen in a battery cage half pecked to death by some feathered tyrant. The only thing that remains the same is the animal within.” And behaviours at work are ‘rooted millions of years deep in our biology.’

Books 2 Byte
The Steep Approach to Garbadale
Iain Banks

Meet Fielding Wopuld, the great grandson of Henry Wopuld, who first dreamed up ‘Empire!’, the UK’s best-selling board game… in the novel by Iain Banks The Steep Approach to Garbadale ( http://www.iainbanks.net/). The firm is so successful that the American Spraint Corp wants to buy it. Banks weaves the takeover game through a racy style that has his characters playing many other games. “Morningston Crescent, a game based on the map of the London underground with a complicated double-level board sold well in Britain… A more purely trade-based game called High Seas! did reasonable business.

Another based on stocks and shares called Speculate! was a brief, faddish hit on both sides of the Atlantic, though in the States it was marketed purely as a children’s game on the basis that all the adults were feverishly engaged in the real thing, making a game of it superfluous…A very brief-lived game called Karma! based on a grotesque mishmash of misunderstood hippy gibberish and cereal-box Buddhism was an unmitigated disaster…”

Books 2 Byte
A Mighty Heart
Mariane Pearl

May 2002… “They have just found Danny’s body. It was cut into ten pieces. Nobody told me this. I learned it in an email that had been attached by accident to another email being sent to me,” writes Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/), now a movie starring Angelina Jolie.

“Lately, every email I open, every phone call I answer, feels like a missile blowing up a little more of my life…” The book narrates the tragic story of Danny Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapp ed and killed in Pakistan, retold by his surviving wife. “The video of Danny’s murder is on the Internet for anybody to see. ‘We’ve tried to get it off,’ warns Bussey, ‘but there’s nothing that really can be done.’ I cannot believe that is the case. I call Attorney General Ashcroft, forgetting that it’s night in the US. ‘Call in the morning,’ says the guy at the other end of the line…”

Books 2 Byte
Eternal Gandhi
Ranjit Makkuni

Welcome to the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum, “a technological and design milestone in culturally rooted computing,” as Ranjit Makkuni writes in Eternal Gandhi ( http://www.sacredworld.com/). This is the fourth project of the Sacred World Research Laboratory, which has designed and developed the museum.

Earlier works of the lab had focused on the Buddha (‘the electronic sketch book of Thangka paintings’), Radha and Krishna (‘Geeta-Govinda’), and Shiva and the Ganges (‘Crossing Project’). Can Gandhiji’s messages animate and inspire modern product design and information access technology, asks Makkuni, the project director, in the opening essay titled ‘From play stations to prayer stations’. The museum is the answer, ‘located at the site where Mahatma Gandhi attained martyrdom’.

Book Value
Carmen Wong Ulrich

Carmen Wong Ulrich, a former special projects editor at ‘Money’ magazine, has written ‘a how-to guide’ to help you take control of money: ‘Gener@tion Debt’ ( http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/ ).

“The sad, sick truth is that young adults today are drowning in debt,” laments the author in the intro. Though the statement is about the US situation, it may ring true closer home, too. But hasn’t debt become a way of life, you may wonder? Isn’t debt normal, and no longer a stigma, so why fix it? “Because too often, it hurts,” answers Ulrich. “Because it squeezes and wrings until your hard-earned money is unable to breathe, or even see the light of day… It makes you tired.”
If debt is not managed well, it can become your prison, she cautions. “If you take control of your situation as soon as you can, you can prevent that multiple-year sentence for overspending… Start up new and better habits.”

Book Value
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing
John C. Bogle

The only investment that guarantees you ‘fair share of the returns that business earns’ is index fund says John C. Bogle in ‘The Little Book of Common Sense Investing’ ( http://www.wiley.com/ ). He founded Vanguard more than three decades ago, and is credited as the creator of ‘the world’s first index mutual fund’.

His book promises to change the very way that you think about investing, and is especially pertinent if, like most investors, you think you “can avoid the pitfalls of investing by due diligence and knowledge, trading stocks with alacrity to stay one step ahead of the game.”
Mutual fund investors, too, have inflated ideas of their own omniscience, observes Bogle. “They pick funds based on the recent performance superiority… Fund investors are confident that they can easily select superior fund managers. They are wrong.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Books of Account
Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing
Robert S. Kaplan and Steven R. Anderson

If as a management accounting student, you had learnt the ABCs of ABC (activity-based costing), here is something to enhance your skills: Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing by Robert S. Kaplan and Steven R. Anderson ( http://www.tatamcgrawhill.com/ ).

TDABC, as the authors abbreviate their new approach to costing, is a bridge between ABC and ‘Balanced Scorecard’, says the preface. Balanced Scorecard, as you may know, describes a model of value creation, by measuring the customer value proposition and by linking critical processes and intangible assets to customer and shareholder value creation.

And ABC, for starters, is a model of cost, which provides managers with ‘vital cost-curve information’ to help them make better decisions about ‘process improvements, order acceptance and rejection, pricing, and customer relationships’.

Book Mark
The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value
Colin Shaw

What is the big issue that businesses face today? “That everything is the same,” says Colin Shaw in The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/). “Organisations are selling similar products and services to the same people. This, along with massive improvements in technology and more efficient offshore manufacturing, enables price reduction, which drive s commoditisation which in turn drives down profits and ultimately shareholder value.” The next battleground, therefore, is ‘customer experience,’ declares Shaw. He defines customer experience as an interaction between an organisation and a customer. “It is a blend of an organisation’s physical performance, the senses stimulated and emotions evoked, each intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

David Landes

Author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes chronicles the ‘fortune and misfortune in the world’s great family businesses’ in Dynasties (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). “Tales of money, power, and kinship inevitably entail drama and passion, especially with the passage of generations: as wealth grows, so do the opportunities for disagreement.”

Landes narrates with verve the tales of about a dozen dynasties including the Barings, the Rothschilds and the Morgans, in ‘banking’; Ford, Toyoda, Peugeot, Renault, Citroen, the Agnellis and Fiat, in ‘automobiles’; and the Rockfellers, the Guggenheims, Schlumberger and the Wendel under ‘treasures of the earth’.

Economists and government planners tend to see family firms as transitional and therefore obsolete, but the author wouldn’t subscribe to such a view. “Family firms continue to succeed,” he says, citing a BusinessWeek report that such concerns “averaged 15.6 per cent return, as against 11.2 per cent for non-family firms, with annual revenue growth at 23.4 per cent against 10.8 per cent.”

Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations
David Warsh

In October 1990, Paul Romer, a 36-year-old University of Chicago economist, published a 32-page article, ‘Endogenous technological change’ in the Journal of Political Economy. Now, here is a whole book about that paper: Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations by David Warsh ( http://www.landmarkonthenet.com/ ).

The first paragraph of Romer’s paper had this sentence: “The distinguishing feature of… technology as an input is that it is neither a conventional good nor a public good; it is a non-rival, partially excludable good…” A sentence that initiated a far-reaching conceptual rearrangement in economics, writes Warsh.

Bound Together
Nayan Chanda

“The questions are as varied as they are unending, and they go to the heart of the all-embracing phenomenon of global interconnectedness,” writes Nayan Chanda in Bound Together ( http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/ ).

Though the word globalisation may be new, the process it describes ‘has worked silently for millennia without having been given a name,’ he explains. Looking ‘under the hood of our daily existence,’ Chanda finds that globalisation stems ‘from a basic human urge to seek a better and more fulfilling life’ and that the key actors behind the process have been ‘traders, preachers, adventurers, and warriors’.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Soft Skills
Little Green Book of Getting Your Way
Jeffrey Gitomer

You can persuade without being manipulative, says Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Green Book of Getting Your Way (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/). “Manipulated persuasion is short lived. True persuasion exists when it lasts beyond the moment.”

The key to getting your way is to let the other person feel great after he has decided to see it or do it your way. For this to happen, being compelling isn’t enough; you need to be ‘positively compelling,’ insists Gitomer.
“You must be the essence of self-belief and YES! Attitude in order to transfer your message.” Which explains why “the outgoing, friendly, aggressive, assertive ones tend to have more ‘luck’ than the meek.” However, more important than these external attributes are ‘character, credibility, stature, history of success, and reputation.’
Say Cheek
The Great Office Detox
Dawna Walter

What is the most toxic thing at the workplace? A common answer of the staff, though in a hush, may be, ‘the boss’; as if to compensate, the vice-versa may equally be true, often in no muted terms.

Well, if you are prepared to get out of the blaming ping-pong and see how best you can minimise stress and maximise job satisfaction, here is Dawna Walter’s counsel in The Great Office Detox (http://www.crosswordbookstores.com/).

First, detox the desk by clearing your space. “Don’t let your office become a dumping ground for personal items you never take home,” instructs the author.

“Things that sit around and collect dust create pockets of stale and stagnant energy, making your office a more stressful and lethargic environment.” So too, computer and equipment cables and wires that are tangled mean chaotic energy, says Walter. Which should probably explain all the PC malfunctioning you had to endure.

Say Cheek
Me, Inc.
Scott W. Ventrella

You are probably a successful businessman, but are you good at being you? Or is life just plodding along on a road to nowhere? If the answers to these questions are no and yes, respectively, Scott W. Ventrella offers help in Me, Inc. (http://www.wiley.com/). The book is not about making your life more like a business; it tells you how you can use some of the best ideas from the most successful companies.

But what’s so great about business that we need to draw insights from it for being ourselves? Excellent companies and exceptional individuals have a vision, focus on their customers, manage by fact, empower people, and never stop trying to improve, says Ventrella.

“In the final analysis, all business is deeply personal,” he declares. “Organisational behaviour is essentially about the way in which individuals conduct themselves as they collectively work toward common business goals.”

Reading Room
Curious Lives
Richard Bach

There are no secrets

Every mystery cloaks an inner reason, each one gives its meaning only when we have allowed ourselves a new point of view, writes Richard Bach in Curious Lives (http://www.jaicobooks.com/).

There are no secrets; through observation, inquiry, through the kaleidoscope of intuition, we detect what has been facing us all along, he says. Something, that is, applicable to auditors too, you’d agree.

Reading Room
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini

Laila hated the whistling. “It wasn’t so much the whistling itself, Laila thought later, but the seconds before the start of it and impact. The brief and interminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. The waiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.” Thus writes Khaled Hosseini in A Thousand Splendid Suns ( http://www.bloomsbury.com/).

The book is a story set in Afghanistan, at a time when the country was witness to bombing and whistling rocket firing. “Often it happened at dinner, when she and Babi were at the table. When it started, their heads snapped up. They listened to the whistling, forks in midair, unchewed food in their mouths… The whistling. Then the blast, blissfully elsewhere, followed by an expulsion of breath and the knowledge that they had been spared for now while somewhere else, amid cries and choking clouds of smoke, there was a scrambling, a barehanded frenzy of digging, of pulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, a grandchild.”