Challenging the Status Quo

Ever wondered why the best quotes are summed up in a sentence or less?

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

“Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way”  -Charles Bukowski

It’s because wisdom is hard to express and rare to find.

A lot of people confuse knowledge with wisdom. A person who talks a lot may not necessarily be an expert. A person who is famous is not always right. A person who spends a lot of time in meetings is usually not productive.

Mahatma Gandhi had a poster behind him to warn such people. It said, “Be quick, be brief, be gone”

Wisdom happens when you have the courage to listen to your inner voice. It happens when you refuse to bow down to the noise of the outer world. It happens when you start challenging the status quo.

You can choose to read all the books in the world and become knowledgeable. You can stand in your ivory tower and mock at the ones who dare to tread a different path. But beware, the same people are the ones who make paradigm shifts happen.

Begin challenging the status quo now. Start small, fail a lot and become wise quickly. The earlier you start defining your own path, the lesser energy you’ll have to waste later.

Because once you are successful in changing the status quo, the ones with knowledge will flock to you for your wisdom.

Cheers!

My Must-Read Book Collection: Spy Novels

I find it extremely difficult when people approach me and ask for a book recommendation. It’s an impossible task because the sheer number of books in each genre is mind-boggling! And to pick one at random and tell someone to read it is akin to a crime in my head.

So I’ve decided to share my must-read book collection with the world in a very methodical way. Every month, I will pick one category and share some of the best books I’ve read in that genre. So anytime you feel the craving to read a book and are looking for some help, you know where to find it!

And the category I’m going to start off with is: Spy Novels

Spy-Novels

A good spy novel is one which grips you from the get-go. A lot of writers have tried their hand at this genre but few manage to make a mark. The reason behind this is a good spy novel combines elements of heavy research, good story and solid characters. This combination takes a writer who is super-smart, tenacious and has a solid writing style.

Across the years, I have read a lot of spy novels which attempt to take the reader into the cloak and dagger world of espionage. But only the following novels managed to capture my entire attention and transport me to the realm of secrecy, shadows and suspense!

1. The Deceiver

The Deceiver

A classic spy novel by the legendary Frederick Forsyth. The Deceiver takes the reader into the life of a British Secret agent by the name of Sam McCready and his most successful missions.

This spy novel is a particular favorite of mine because the four missions of Sam in the book show the different skills and tactics required from an actual spy who works undercover. The author doesn’t mince words when describing the ethical dilemmas and the cold inhuman decisions which are a part and parcel of a spy’s life.

Another interesting theme described is the importance of relying on human intelligence as opposed to gadgets and drones. Sam in his various missions demonstrates how a superior human agent can always exploit the loopholes in technology and thereby makes a strong case for using humans in covert operations.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Fist of God , The Afghan )

2. The Matarese Circle

the-matarese-circle

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum is a lesser known spy novel by the legendary author who created the Bourne series. This spy novel pits the protagonists Brandon Scofield (US Intelligence) and Vasili Taleniekov ( Soviet KGB) against a mysterious organization called Matarese.

Matarese is a dynasty which has it’s secret origins around 100 years back and is led by an evil mastermind. The natural enemy spies who hate each other must combine forces to save their respective nations from falling prey to Matarese!

I love this book because it is a solid example of spy fiction which transports you to the Cold-War era and the filled with suspicion and a wariness resulting from long battle. And it’s one of the few books which forces the natural enemies in the spy world to collaborate towards a common goal!

I remember losing all sense of time when reading this novel and having a grim look on my face till I reached the end of the novel. Action, superior intelligence strategies and amazing characters make this an unputdownable book!

PS: Ludlum is extra awesome because he follows this novel with a sequel called Matarese Countdown which is equally gripping with a CIA protagonist and a ruthless new villain!

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Ambler Warning, The Covert-One Series )

3. The Company

the-company robert littell

Don’t read this book unless you are a serious espionage fan and can spare a week. Because it’s extremely addictive and is a mammoth read (900 pages!) which can piss off your near and dear ones as they try to get your attention.

The Company is a definitive novel by Robert Littell about the infamous CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) which showcases its history from 1950 to 1995. This is a must-read for all those wanting to understand the dynamics of intelligence history and the moves of the big players following World War-II.

The CIA’s involvement in the defection of Burgess and MacLean from Britain to the Soviet Union(thus ending Britain as a superpower), the Suez Canal crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis are covered extremely well. Also the arming of rebels in Afghanistan to combat Russia and the Gulf War are featured with a very good amount of detail.

The best part of the novel is that you end up learning all these things without realizing them as you are caught in the gripping story-line and associate yourself with many characters as the novel progresses. You get to know a large number of young men and women recruited while still in college and their battle with themselves and the world as they rise through the ranks of the Company.

Don’t miss the character called The Sorcerer (Harvey Torretti), a heavy-drinking chief of the Berlin office in the early Cold War days. He re-defines the trope of badass spy who can be drunk as a fish while carrying out super-complicated covert operations.

Rating: 5 / 5 

 

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Smiley: Short, fat and boring.

Atleast that’s what James Bond fans would call him. This John LeCarre novel is close to my heart because it sheds all the fancy glamorous bits of what we associate with the world of spies.

The hero of the novel is a disciplined intelligence professional who was forced to retire. He is called upon to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

This is not an easy book to read as you don’t have all the answers to the puzzle before the characters. The timeline is non-linear, and contains many subplots. As a reader, you will be left observing the actions of the characters and you must put together the pieces yourself!

But at the end of it, you’ll realize it’s totally worth it. You learn the psychological approaches to interrogation along with many intelligence operations details which other novels never capture. And of course you’ll fall in love with Smiley, the legendary spymaster as he battles his way through the darkness cast by the shadows of his enemies.

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People)

5. The Key to Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca is my most favorite Ken Follett book. The novel starts in 1942 as the World War II is raging, and the now legendary German general Erwin Rommel is having success after success with his famous Afrika Corps.

The Nazis are planning to invade Cairo and Rommel wishes to urgently hack into the British intelligence from their Headquarters in Cairo. So Rommel sends a master spy known only as the “Sphinx,”into British occupied Egypt. Then begins the roller coaster ride as the Sphinx tries to outwit his opponents and faces many obstacles.

I absolutely love this book because it was the first ever spy novel which kept me up all night! It’s a fantastic thriller which keeps you on edge as you start rooting for the anti-hero Sphinx as he devilishly wades through dangerous waters. A must, must-read indeed!

Rating:  4.5 /5 

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: Eye of the Needle, Triple)

Over to You

Hope this post introduced you to some books which were new to you. Don’t forget to give them a try and let me know what you thought of them. And if you have any favorite spy novels which you think are a must-read, tell me about them in the comments!

Cheers!

How Smart People Remain Super-Effective at Work

“I work so hard all the time yet I’m unable to meet my goals!”

“There’s hardly any time for my personal life! Work takes up all my time!”

We hear such statements often at our workplace. Whether you are a beginner starting out in your professional life or a senior executive, you must have faced situations when work becomes so overwhelming that your productivity starts to erode.

In today’s era where your work-life and personal life end up becoming intertwined, it’s becoming extremely important to manage your time and energy in order to remain efficient and carry out your tasks effectively.

How Smart People Manage to Be Effective

The truly successful people understand the power of smart work and not just hard work. This smart working style gives them more time for themselves and their families without compromising on their professional success.

You too can adopt some of these simple and common-sense practices to make sure your effectiveness at work remains awesome. Are you ready to learn these smart practices?

Write Things Down

Writing Lists
PC: Toshiyuki IMAI via Flickr

This might seem like a very basic tip to follow. But the truth is, more than 80% of the people I know rarely bother writing stuff down when they are given tasks or when planning their day-to-day tasks.

I know the misfortune which befalls those who don’t write because I was one of them. I thought I had a great memory and could remember tasks which needed doing without much effort!

What usually happened was I would remember the unimportant tasks (as they ‘re easy to do) while forgetting the critical ones. Also, not writing down usually results in losing track of old activities which need follow-up as time goes by!

Write is Might

Don’t make this mistake anymore. Effectiveness is sometimes simply knowing what needs to be done and when to do it. These are enough to keep you focused and will limit your non-value adding activities to a minimum.

Smart people organize themselves very carefully when it comes to listing down tasks. They define their own way to categorize and prioritize the tasks which they are responsible for. Some of them use old diaries and notebooks while some leverage technology.

Writing tasks down gives you a reference point to track your progress. And with regular tracking and updating your task-sheet, your effectiveness is bound to increase!

Use the Power of Procrastination

Do Everything?
PC: john.schultz via Flickr

In case you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind, hear me out fully. Procrastination is the trait which helps us to conveniently postpone work to some unseen time in the future. Usually seen in lazy people, this trait ruins their lives and makes them unproductive.

But procrastination can also be used as an effective tool to decide the tasks to do immediately and plan tasks which can be postponed to a later date! Smart people instinctively understand this and put it to deadly use.

Usually when we make our to-do lists for the day, we fill them with 80% of junk tasks which are neither urgent nor important. This always leads to excess energy and time wasted on tasks which never seem to end.

This sort of hyperactivity might make you seem busy and hardworking to others but in the long run, you’ll only end up fooling yourself! Don’t let your work routine make you mediocre!

(Suggested Read: 3 Destructive Habits Which Make You Mediocre)

Once you have your to-do list ready, eliminate half of the tasks which can wait and don’t need your urgent attention. You’ll be amazed to see 20 – 25% of these tasks will disappear on their own! (This usually happens because in a week, some of them would have lost their importance or would have resolved themselves)

Look at the Outcome and Not Time

Ripple Impact
PC: Scott Cresswell via Flickr

A lot of people make the classic mistake of judging effectiveness by counting the number of hours spent on a particular task. Unfortunately the tasks which involve a lot of grunt work end up taking more time than the ones which are short and powerful.

Learn to map the importance of tasks by their ability to impact your goals. By doing so, you will find that a lot of these time-consuming activities can be delegated to a later time when your energy levels are low.

The really smart people manage to combine their low-value tasks with some multi-tasking. This might involve listening to music or an audiobook! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy after all!

Hobbies are your Best Friends

Hobby Reading
PC: Kamil Porembiński

If you look at the people who are incredibly effective at work, they usually have one or two hobbies which they are passionate about. Hobbies are a crucial component of our lives which rejuvenate us and make work less stressful.

Whether it be a game of tennis, reading or even a long walk, make sure you take some time off to do what you like! This helps you to relax and regroup your energies so you can give the best at your workplace the next day.

Breaks Destroy Monotony

Laugh away
PC: Ed Schipul

The best wisdom to remember is “Never let yourself become overwhelmed by work”

If you feel the strain is getting on your nerves, just drop the work for an hour and give yourself a much-needed break.

The super-effective people are the ones who take regular breaks to recharge themselves. They move around and talk to the people around them. They build connections and share stories. Sometimes this activity by itself opens up chances of collaborating with others and increasing effectiveness!

The famous Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye told us: “It’s not stress that kills us. It’s our reaction to it”

So do the best you can and learn to let go. Wish you all a productive journey ahead!

Cheers!

Rejection Diaries – My First Encounter

My first encounter with rejection happened when I was 14 years old. I had just completed my tenth grade and life seemed an open canvas where I could freely paint my desires and do whatever I wanted to. Little did I know my real schooling was about to begin.

In India, formal education is given an immense amount of attention in the family. The degrees which you possess, the schools that you attend and the grades that you get are seen as indicators which determine your chances of success or failure in life.

The IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) are a premier group of schools which offer engineering degrees which are highly valued throughout the world. They are one of the hardest institutions to get into with one of the toughest entrance exams in the world. Students who finish their class 12 appear for this entrance exam commonly called JEE (Joint Entrance Exam)

And because the exam is so hard, there are special coaching centres which promise extensive training to students in all the required subjects so that the students are prepped to ace the IIT entrance exams. One such coaching centre in the city of Bangalore was BASE where most parents hoped their kids would get in.

Not surprisingly, BASE had its own entrance exam! Thousands of aspiring 15- year olds and their equally ambitious parents ensured that the BASE exam date was prominently highlighted on their calendars.

When my dad first told me about the BASE entrance, I thought I could easily ace it. After all I had pretty decent grades in school and even managed to top my school exams once or twice.

“How hard could a few multiple choice questions on science and math be?” I thought to myself.

On the day of the exam, I was amazed at the number of kids who turned up at the venue. Everyone seemed to be carrying books containing previous question papers and were religiously scanning their formulae and notes. And here I was coolly laughing at them with a pen in my pocket and chewing gum instead of preparing.

And then it began. At 9:30 a.m. sharp! Lightning struck me pretty quickly after that.

school exam
By Rune Mathisen

I can’t seem to recall if it was a two or three hour test. My mind has pretty much erased the painful bits. All I remember now is within 15 minutes of seeing the questions, I was pretty sure the only way I could get in was if the goddess of luck and the god of gambling both decided to hedge their bets on me.

There were questions on gravity, probability and oscillations. Pendulums, weights and water seemed to be the theme of the test as many questions contained these phrases. I felt like Archimedes himself!

Minus the water-tub, brains and the Eureka moment. In short, naked and dumb!

So I used my imagination and luck and answered all the questions. I thought “Heck, I should get some of them right” and started with the ones I knew. These were about 5 % of the questions. For the rest, I relied on the tried and tested method of choosing the options: All of the above, None of the above and the longest explanation answers.

By the end of it I was thinking maybe, just maybe I can bag the last spot left in the center.

So I went home cheerfully and told my parents I had a pretty good chance at clearing it. They were of course happy and optimistic as parents are when their kids show over-confidence and excess positivity. They probably thought their doofus boy had it all figured out and was well on his way to becoming the next rocket scientist!

The results came in through post and was probably lying in our mailbox for a few days as we had all gone on a family vacation to our native village. We came back Saturday morning and dad left for his half-day of office.

I went down to play with my apartment buddies and on the way back peeked in the mailbox to find an envelope with BASE written on it.  I was both nervous and anxious as I quickly took it to my room and opened it in hurry.

Rank

That was the number which stared at me. I didn’t understand it at first. I thought they were referring to my roll number. But after staring at it dumbly for a few minutes I realized it was my rank. Not only had I got a rank which looked like a train number from the Indian Railways, it was probably a couple of ranks better than the person who forgot to show up for the test.

That was when I realized the questions had negative marking! In my enthusiasm to succeed through sheer will power, I had forgotten a fundamental principle of math. If you add a smaller positive number to a larger negative number, the result is still a negative bloody number! I must have answered so many questions wrong that whatever little marks I got by answering the ones I knew were eaten up by the wrong ones.

My dad was mightily disappointed and probably lost his appetite for a week. But being the eternal optimist that he was, he calculated that some kids might not want to go to BASE and there might be some seats left over. Of course some seats did get left over but they went to the kids who scored ranks in the early 600’s.

The rejection hit me hard.

For probably the first time in my life, I faced severe self-doubt and struggled to come to terms with the fact that there were thousands of kids my age who were better than me. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and for the next few months I just trudged along with my life as if it were a bad dream.

I got into a local pre-university college which had many people attending BASE as they juggled regular school and coaching classes. For them regular coursework seemed too easy as they were much ahead compared to the rest of us thanks to the advanced coaching they received.

So as I struggled with understanding calculus and organic chemistry, the college library became a place of solace for me. It wasn’t crowded as it consisted of dusty shelves and a musty odour but it gave me a chance to be with people and stories from books I loved so I didn’t really mind.

For a teenager struggling with rejection and shaky self-worth, fiction can be a comforting friend.

One day, in the middle of my 11th grade, I was browsing through the library after classes. I stumbled onto a book called Swami Vivekananda – Collected Works Vol. I

swamiji

I had heard a little about the heroic monk and his inspiring journey of uplifting people back in the days before India achieved freedom. So I borrowed it for a week and started reading it at home that evening.

For the next few days, day and night merged into a series of forgettable moments as I plunged into the book with the fervour of a madman. The speeches of Swami Vivekananda were electrifying and inspiring. They beckoned to the hero within each soul as he urged everyone to ‘Arise, Awake and stop not till the Goal is reached!’

I could imagine him standing in front of the rejected masses of Indians back in his days roaring

 “My countrymen should have nerves of steel, muscles of iron, and minds like thunderbolt!”

The book shook my being completely and made me realize what a self-pitying idiot I had turned into!

The possibility of making something of myself through my own genius and not having to depend on others for assessing my worth gave me immense strength. I realized that the more I tried to fit myself into the patterns of other people’s expectations, the more miserable I would become.

Rejection in this case had made me turn to what I had always loved to do. It set me on a path where I read more, imagined stories and fueled the hunger to acquire more wisdom through deep introspection.

Had I not been rejected, I would have desperately tried to fit in with the others and would have probably never ventured into the college library. All the literature on physics and advanced chemistry would have not given my soul the nourishment it desperately needed to blossom and evolve.

Over To You

Rejection is something we have all faced at different points in our life. I have faced it many, many times and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. The key to handling rejection, however is your attitude towards it. Rejection if handled properly can provide a sense of direction and a renewed purpose which might drastically alter the direction of your life.

Rejection taught me an important lesson which I will always be thankful for. To never let a momentary setback get in the way of a larger vision. To not let fear and ridicule rule me, but rather stare rejection in the face and move ahead confidently past it.

As Swami Vivekananda brilliantly put it, “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

So, how has your experience been with rejection? What has it taught you? Would love to hear from you.

Cheers!

What Master Influencers Do Differently


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When I was in the ninth grade, I picked up this book from my dad’s office library. The title read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I was super excited!

I had always dreamt of being one of those master influencers and speakers whom thousands of people listened to and sought advice from. Therefore I was naturally attracted to the book and ended up finishing it in a few days!

I thought I had discovered a great secret which very few people knew about!

You see I was pretty dumb back then (Sometimes I still am!). I forgot to notice the part on the front cover where it said ‘More than 15 million copies sold!’. It was a good thing I didn’t notice it. If I had, then I’d have assumed that more than half the world knew about influence and there was no great secret to it!

How-to-Win-Friends-and-Influence-people-Dale-Carnegie

So happily I set off putting the little tips mentioned in the book to use. I started to smile more, say thank you more and listen genuinely to people. The surprising part was it worked! I became more persuasive and assertive and before I knew it my confidence in my ability to influence peaked!

Later when I looked back, I realized though the book had sold so many copies, not even 10% of the people who had bought the book ever put it to use. They never bothered acting on all the golden advice given in the book! Had they tried even a little, it could have helped them become better influencers in life!

Most of the advice in the book is still pretty sound. But in today’s world, it takes more than just being nice and saying thank you to become a master influencer. These things might make you more likeable and get you more friends, but if you seek to influence people, you will have to learn from the best and start following them.

Whether you want to become a better Manager, Blogger or an Effective Leader in your field, you need to learn and master the art of influence. And who better to teach you influence than some of the most powerful influencers in the world!

What Master-Influencers Do Differently

After having studied the actions of many master influencers – old and new, I can say with a great degree of confidence that they all have some common characteristics which you and I can learn from. So what do they do differently which gives them the power to influence people around them?

Use The Power of Communication

The one thing which all influencers do with extreme efficiency is communication. If you wish to stand out from the pack and become a master at exerting influence, you need to understand the different forms of communication.

1. Verbal and Written Communication

Nadella Satya

The written and the spoken word. As an influencer you will have to choose words carefully when communicating to your target audience. Because once the words are written or spoken there is no way you can take them back.

Imagine an average manner of trying to communicate his vision to the team

“Team , we should achieve $xx million in the next 2 years and develop a product which will make us no 1 in the market!”

Motivating?  Maybe.  Powerful?  Not nearly enough.  Memorable? Hardly!

Now look at how Steve Jobs communicated his vision

“We are here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

JObs Vision

Simple. Powerful. Profound.

Master Influencers understand this principle and put it to use. They choose their words carefully and ensure they carry maximum impact and benefit their audience. You too can follow their lead. Thinking for a few seconds before speaking/writing can produce wonderful results.

2. Non- Verbal and Para-Verbal Communication

luther

Non-Verbal communication constitutes a very important part of communication. In fact only 7 – 8% of your communication is verbal. Almost a majority of it is made up of things like your body language, posture and poise.

Para-Verbal communication is a lesser known and relatively ignored form of communication which the masters employ to their use. Para- verbal refers to how you put across your message. Sometimes the same words if conveyed with the right tone, pitch and cadence can have a deadly effect. Master Influencers also learn to use silence to communicate their intent.

So next time when you wish to communicate, keep these elements in the back of your mind. With gradual practice you will definitely be able to become a better communicator and an influencer.

Listen with Empathy

President-Bill-ClintonAll of us love to talk don’t we? But what about listening?

When was the last time you gave undivided attention to someone speaking to you?

Bill Clinton was the most charismatic person in any room not because he was a great speaker. It was because he was a listener who could make you feel as if you were the only person in the room! When he listened, he actually cared and made sure you understood that. This one quality alone made even his enemies admire him.

Listening is said to be a fast disappearing trait nowadays where all of us seem happy to be in our own worlds all the time. All it takes is to mute your internal noise and bring all your attention to the person in front of you. It’s not hard as you think! Next time when someone talks to you, try listening not just with your ears but your entire being and watch the magic unfold!

Are Not Afraid to Ask for Help 

Reach-out

Many people make the mistake of assuming that in order to influence, you always need to be in a position of power or superiority in a situation. And because of this convoluted thought process, they stay smug and aloof when it comes to asking for help.

Master-Influencers do the exact opposite.

Influence happens in equal measure when you are not afraid to ask for help and do so fearlessly. Because it tells the people around you that you are not someone who is arrogant and cocky but a level-headed individual who wants to learn from the people around.

Moreover this keeps your ego in check and teaches you how to harness the talent and skills of people around you! This in effect will make you a better leader and an influencer.

Over to You

Whether consciously or not, we are all trying to be Master Influencers in our own little worlds. But the trick is to realize that influence is not rocket science. And as long as influence is not used as a selfish tool for power but rather as a means to benefit those around you, you will thrive. 

Before I forget, I am planning to send a special Ebook to my subscribers next week. It contains some of the best advice from this amazing book you’ve never heard of. If you like what’s written here, I seriously suggest becoming a subscriber now!

So what are the other ways Master Influencers set themselves apart? Would love to know your thoughts…

Cheers!