Dec 24, 2009

Indian Summer by Pratima Mitchell

Pratima has painted a beautiful picture of the hilly region of Daroga, the characterization of the two female protogonists, their lives and contradictions in this interesting novel "Indian Summer". The title had caught my attention that I immediately borrowed from my library. The storyline is simple - Sarla, the teen protogonist was really looking forward to her summer holidays but her plans were shattered when her mom had to travel on account of her work. So she decided to spend her holidays in India with her grandparents. She meets Bina, the granddaughter of her grandparent's caretakers. Although there was friction initially between Sarla and Bina owing to the different environment in which they were brought up, soon they become understanding friends and they began to discuss their problems and secrets. Having brought up in a foreign country, Sarla comes to terms with the way women were treated in India and was able to provide a helping hand to Bina on the different problems she had to deal with. After a few eventful incidents, their lives end in a happy note. Though not a gripping storyline, relating to one of the two characters should be easy.

The author has portrayed the individual behaviors of these two characters in simple words. She has written in a first person view from both the character's voices. So unless you read the chapter title, you might get a bit confused as to whose character you are reading about now. As this was the first time I'm reading a novel of this style of writing, it was a bit of strain.

"Indian Summer" is worth reading for its simple storyline and the portrayal of contradictory characters in Sarla and Bina.

Dec 13, 2009

Ready to lead?

With textbooks taking a safe place in my wardrobe, it's time to get back to reading other books. Last week, I finished reading a simple and insightful book on leadership. One of my colleagues recommended me this book three years ago. Although I purchased it then, it was safely tucked inside my bookshelf. "Ready to lead?" by Alan Price narrates the story of Mark Gibson's journey into becoming an effective leader in his organization.

Facing a daunting challenge of fixing a loss making division within his organization, the story takes you through Mark's attempts in understanding leadership. It's a simple story told in simple words. The concept of having your own definition of leadership is relevant. Although books might tell you what leadership is and what it is not, it is important to have one's own definition of leadership. Ever since I read this book, I have been introspecting on what my definition of leadership is.

The author clearly distinguishes between drive and passion. "When I'm driven, it feels like a powerful push to accomplish something. It's like the force of my determination pushing me to go ahead. When I'm passionate, I feel like  I'm pulled by the project".

One more distinction I liked is the difference between management and leadership. "Management creates a story to make sense of the past and guide our actions in the present. Leadership creates a story of the future that makes our present actions meaningful".

Another insightful distinction offered in the book towards the end is "Leadership builds a community of purpose. Management builds a community capable of purpose".

Simple words, good insights and a short story revolving around leadership make this book an interesting read.

Dec 10, 2009

Note taking

As a product manager, I receive information from different sources at all possible times of the day - emails, action items, random ideas/thoughts, meeting notes, telephonic discussions with various stakeholders, interesting nuggets of information from blogs and news sites, useful links for future references etc. Having made the shift from an engineering role to a product management role, the first challenge that I had to face was to manage this sudden pile of information. I initially made notes in a single text file and searched through this file whenever I need to refer. But this was proven to be a cumbersome task when I had to organize this information into clear groups. Then I shifted to a model of creating separate text files based on the categories - Project Ideas, Tasks, Meeting Notes, Conference call discussions etc. This was working well for a while until I realized it wasn't easy to transfer the information collected in this manner across different computers.

I stumbled upon this application "Evernote" while reading through one of the productivity blogs. I fell in love with this application instantly and it has been a constant companion for the past one year both in my professional and academic life. I can access my account across multiple computers and synchronize the contents. This had solved the immediate painpoint that I had faced in note taking using text files. The interface is very intuitive. I can create multiple notebooks to organize the different categories of information that I want to track. I have created a notebook named "Inbox" to capture every kind of input that I come across which has to be tracked for future reference. Then I just drag and drop the individual notes from this notebook to other notebooks depending on the category they belong to. I can clip images, web content (from Firefox) and emails (from Thunderbird) through the plugins that Evernote provides. Whenever I attend any meeting or conference call, I quickly jot down all the points being discussed and capture the action items. Checkboxes can also be added in front of the action items in case one wants to identify the tasks to be taken up after the meeting.

Before I have a discussion with either my manager or my peer, I note down the questions and points to be discussed. During the discussion, I capture the responses either in a different font or color. This helps me to quickly go over the points discussed and plan the next steps accordingly. Search feature is very useful given the humongous amount of information one has to deal with on a daily basis. Although many Evernote users find the tagging feature very useful, I still haven't found valid use cases for myself in order to use this feature. My current setup seems to work just fine.

The value provided by this free application is just tremendous. Definitely worth giving it a shot!

Dec 9, 2009

Chequered flag

It still hasn't sunk in; the feeling of not having to go to IIMB every Fri and Sat, attend fantastic lectures, work on assignments and projects. This has been my weekend routine for the past 2.5 years which has finally come to an end last week. My classmates who have one more term to go ask me how do I feel. "I feel relieved, yet I know I am gonna miss something" is my standard reply for now. Looking back, these 2.5 years resulted in creating some memorable experiences.

Unless you are interested in knowing what the hell I did in these 2.5 years at IIMB, you can skip this post.

After I joined work immediately after completing my Engineering degree, I didn't have any BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals) except for the fact that I wanted to do my post graduation. One of my well wishers told me that once I get involved in work, I may just drop the idea of pursuing my higher education. She asked me to keep looking for opportunities for higher education. As family commitments prevented me to move to a full time post graduate programme, I had narrowed down my options to part time offerings. I was more interested in management than technical education. I had even written about my perspectives a while ago on this topic

Having narrowed down on part time MBA as my preferred choice, I came across PGSEM which is the appropriate option for me. One of my PGSEM seniors and also a colleague at work suggested that it is good to join PGSEM only after 4-5 years of work experience. I'm glad I got this advice at the right time. I felt 2007 was the perfect time to join this programme as I had 5 years of work experience by then. I took the PGSEM admission test (similar pattern to that of CAT) and the faculty interview also went well. I still remember the day when I got the email indicating the offer to join the school. I was so excited to join a premier B-school and get back to being a student.

The orientation session created a lot of jitter when seniors scared us on how tough the programme is and how one needs to balance four aspects of life - work, studies, family and Bangalore traffic. To get used to the case based pedagogy, we were given a case to prepare in advance. Prof.L.S.Murthy's superb analysis of the case brought out many insights and created a lot of interest to learn more using this approach. We were given a pile of books for the first quarter at the end of the day. At the end of the orientation session, I realized this journey is going to be fun and exciting.

The first year was packed with core courses and we had some excellent Professors. Some of them are brilliant in their respective domains - Prof.Rishikesha Krishnan for Strategic Management, Prof.Ranganathan for Microeconomics, Prof.Sourav Mukherjee for Managing Organizations, Prof.Mahadevan for Operations Management. The scope of my understanding of business definitely widened, thanks to all the Professors. The education methodology was a stark contrast in comparison to my Engineering days. As someone rightly said, "you take from an MBA as much as you can give". I realized how true this saying is. As I had very minimal understanding of Finance before MBA, I paid a lot of attention to financial accounting and corporate finance courses. Our FinAcc Professor Prof.MS Narasimhan was brilliant in explaining complex accounting principles with simple examples. Although I fared well in both the finance courses, my areas of interest were definitely Marketing and Strategy. Somehow I started to appreciate the case based subjects more than theory.

This led to my selection of marketing and strategy based electives in the second year. Among the various marketing electives I took, the two interesting courses from Prof.Ramesh Kumar (Consumer Behavior, Behavioral dimensions and marketing strategies) triggered a lot of interest in me to dive deep into this fascinating subject that links how individual behavior towards various products and services can play a vital role in formulating a firm's marketing strategy. Professor really inspired us to think differently as part of our case analysis and assignments. Once one accepts the rigor of these two courses, there is a lot to be learnt from class discussions and Prof's lectures. Sometime in the near future, I am really keen to pursue my doctoral dissertation in this fascinating subject of Consumer Behavior and its role in Marketing.

One of the other courses that really inspired me is "Reinventing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial leadership" by Prof. DVR Seshadri. Professor really made us look at life from a different perspective. The initial few lectures in this course were just mind blowing, with many AHA moments. Many of the Professors have such a vast experience in their professional lives that the examples they quote from their own experience is definitely worth listening.

In the third year, two of the electives I took were just amazing and both were from the finance domain - Prof R Narayanswamy's Financial statement analysis and Prof PC Narayan's Banking, Financial Markets and Systems. When Professors are humorous and give lot of examples to explain complex concepts, the courses become so interesting. If my interest in Finance domain is kindled now, I owe it to both these Profs. Having completed these 2 courses, I can only regret why I haven't chosen them earlier in the 2nd year.

Though I have been talking only about courses and Profs, it doesn't mean the program is only about learning. I have met interesting people, made some good friends and shared a lot of fun moments. The Cafe Coffee Day counter at IIMB knows about all the stories and gossips we talked about!

PGSEM journey is definitely one of the best times of my life. My perspectives have broadened. I have started to look at life differently (no exaggerations here). I no longer dread reading any of the business newspapers or magazines. I have become better at managing myself, my time and my efforts.

All these wouldn't have been possible if not for my supporting and encouraging husband. He stood by me during the challenging times when I had tonnes of submissions and project work lined up. He was very understanding when I wasn't available for a leisurely activity on a weekend.

I should definitely mention the support offered by my organization and all my managers during these 2.5 years. Not once they asked me to skip classes to attend a meeting at work on a Friday morning.

If you are interested in pursuing a part time MBA filled with interesting experiences and learning from fantastic faculty members and you have the support of your family and organization, then this programme is a perfect fit for you.

Dec 8, 2009

A one day drive to Talakad

To celebrate the completion of my exams in the last term of PGSEM, my husband and I decided to go on a one day drive last Sunday. We narrowed down on Somnathpur and Talakad the previous night and set the alarm clock at 5 AM. Our plan was to leave home at 6 AM. As luck would have its way, we ended up switching off the alarm and dozed off until 8:30 AM when our maid came home and rang the door bell. Although we were a bit disappointed, we decided to go ahead with the plan and left home at 10:30 AM. Hubby had browsed through google maps and neatly taken a printout of the route. Although I like to browse through maps, I don't really believe in following the map to the finer detail. I let the route and the directions on the way take the lead.

The traffic wasn't bad and we hit the NICE Road and later Mysore Road in less than an hour. This route is a familiar one as we have done such short trips earlier. We stopped at Hotel Kadu Mane for breakfast and packed lunch for the trip. After reaching Maddur, we took a left turn towards Malavalli and reached the lake as per the map. From this point, we took a different direction and got lost for a bit. It was already 2 PM and we couldn't find the route to Somnathpur. Luckily, we spotted a familiar KTDC yellow direction board pointing towards Talakkad. It was a nice stretch of road, with green fields on either sides. The road was a deserted one, with no traffic or people. Although a few stretches were bumpy, overall the road was fine. We hit the T junction with Somnathpur and Talakkad on opposite ends. As visiting both the places is out of question, we took the left turn towards Talakkad. By the time we reached the gate that leads towards the temples, it was 3:45 PM. It's a long walk for about 2 kms from here. There were a few auto rickshaws available at this junction. They typically charge around 30-40 Rs for a ride to the temple. We visited the sand temples of Lord Shiva and returned back to the parking spot. It was high time we had lunch. We drove down a little bit and parked at a beautiful place with paddy fields. The long walk and fresh air had increased our appetite so much that the pooris we packed in the afternoon tasted divine.

The return route was a different one as we took a longer detour but a very beautiful road.

The maps that we decided to ditch were lying on the dashboard. The villagers were so helpful in giving accurate directions that one doesn't need GPS or Google maps. After a coffee break at Cafe Coffee Day, we headed back home. Overall, it was a good drive, with nice scenic routes. It would have been much better had we started early.

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