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Thursday, August 11, 2011 Reviews: "The Tenth Unknown" by Jvalant Sampat

It is often said that an author’s debut novel is always semi-autobiographical in nature. To that extent, we may safely deduce at least one fact about Jvalant Nalin Sampat after reading The Tenth Unknown. He was the bright-eyed student who sat on the first bench in every History class while his friends stared at the ceiling with glazed eyes! Historical thrillers, with their mix of fact and fiction, have held readers captive for years but the genre is largely unexplored in India. However, Sampat’s ‘The Tenth Unknown’ can be called India’s answer to The Da Vinci Code.

The novel begins in March 1939, a few months before the start of World War II. The narrative is weaved on the same lines as Talbot Mundy’s 1923 novel The Nine Unknown. Folklore suggests that The Nine Unknowns are a two millennia-old fictional secret society founded by King Asoka to preserve and improve on nine books of secret knowledge. Each of the books deals with a different branch of potentially hazardous knowledge, spanning subjects from psychological warfare to cosmology.  These books are hidden in clandestine locations in different parts of the world. The fast-paced, high-octane thriller depicts how the first of these is acquired by German archaeologists during the British Raj in India, knowledge of which goes on to become the backbone of Adolf Hitler’s success. The ensuing race of the Germans to get their hands on the remaining eight, the British attempts to thwart their efforts coupled with the Nine Unknowns desperately trying to protect these books makes for a brilliant read.

The characters in this book are meticulously constructed, with just the right shades of grey to make them relatable to readers.  The world of Prithvi Rathore, the elite arrogant Anglicized Indian is turned upside down when his grandfather, one of the Nine Unknowns, assigns him to protect the books from the Nazis. Dismissive of the Indian nationalist movement, one sees a change in Prithvi’s heart once he is refused entry at the Madras Gymkhana on account of his skin color. He scours the world with valor in his search for the all-powerful literature. On the other hand, Joseph Heidler, reluctant member of the Nazi party, who is assigned to hunt down the remaining books, makes for a superb antagonist.

The one thing that jumps out as one flips the pages of this book is the painstaking research that has gone into making this book a delectable mix of intrigue and action. Travelling from the ruins of Nalanda University to the mystic Angkor Wat, the locations too have been depicted with great precision. The author’s natural flair for the English language places the book on a pedestal that not many Indian authors find generally place on.

The book jumps from conversations in one country to the conspiracies of the other swiftly, which might make it a tough read for some. However, this book delivers on quality of prose, astonishing obscurities and insightful characterization. It’s a must-read and would make a great companion for a solitary train journey.

We give The Tenth Unknown a 4 on 5.

Do share your opinions with us. 
Till then,
Happy Reading :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Strategic Acceleration "Succeed at the Speed of Life" by Tony Jeary

We're absolutely flooded with book reviews of late, all so articulate, we hardly have a choice but to publish them in our little corner of the cyberspace. The book in question is "Strategic Acceleration" by Tony Jeary, coach to the world's biggest CEOs. In an era of information anxiety and cut-throat competition, this is a must-read. While the world deals with the debt crisis and stock market losses as best they can, one can learn how to strategize their way to success with focus and clarity by following the tenets of this book. 

The word “strategy” is a tricky one.

On the one hand, we all know its importance. We know that great things can’t happen without one, and bad things happen when there’s not one. “Strategic thinkers” are assumed to be the best kind of thinkers, at the pinnacle of success.

On the other hand, we use the word “strategy” typically more as part of an excuse than anything else. “Why would we build that website when we don’t even have a web strategy?” “We can’t decide to move into that market until we have a market strategy.” “We shouldn’t even consider moving in that direction because it doesn’t sync up with our strategy.”

It’s as if adding “strategy” to the end of any kind of initiative automatically makes it heavier, more important, and oftentimes now too complicated and serious to even consider.

Which is one of the reasons I enjoy Tony Jeary’s Strategic Acceleration so much. It demystifies “strategy” and turns it into the action-rooted idea that it’s meant to be. And I’ll confess: much of what’s in it is stuff I already know. But it’s also stuff I’m not doing. Jeary simplifies it and makes you not only get, but also want to do it.

Here are five key takeaways for me:
1.    The three enemies of speed and results are a) absence of clarity, b) lack of focus and c) poor execution. Jeary centers his book around this three principles, and it makes for an extremely logical process. Get clear, get focused and then get to work.

2.    I’ve underrated the importance of clarity. Of all the great takeaways I personally had, I definitely come back to the importance of clarity. It seems I simply skip this step in my mind and want to get right into planning and execution. But you have to be sure of what you’re planning for, and you have to be sure everyone else knows what you’re planning for. You can’t assume they get it. And you definitely can’t assume they are as passionate and sold out to it as you are. So spending time clarifying the vision is never worthless exercise. In Jeary’s words, “Clarity is achieved when ideas and concepts are clearly explained and presented internally and externally.”

3.    Critical Success Factors are... critical. Jeary coined the term “Critical Success Factors” for those things that have the most influence in gaining success toward the end goal. We too easily spend valuable resources on not-so-critical factors. Meetings come to mind, as does email management. When you’re clear on the objectives, then clarifying your Critical Success Factors becomes markedly easier. Then you simply have to focus on them. As Jeary explains, “As simple as it sounds, focus is the ability to keep those main things the main thing as we go.”

4.    You need a system for success. As fun as it is to just react, and as boring as it is to do the same ol’ stuff all the time, systems are critical to achieve success. Even if you’re clear on where you’re going, and you’re focused on the best ways to get there, it still won’t happen if you don’t execute those things that must happen with excellence. So how do you communicate for better execution? What defines success (that you can measure)? What are the benchmarks? Get systematic about your success so you can clearly determine when and if it’s successful.

5.    Speed matters. We may like to gripe about the pace of life, and how nice it would be to slow down, but the fact is that our lives are only going to get faster. Which means businesses must be fast. And successful. And strategic. What worked 20 years ago from those strategic giants we so admire won’t work today. Sure, the principles can still be applied, but in the heart of the action, the pace of business changes how we actually make all this stuff happen. Find ways to get faster without sacrificing value or excellence.

 Brett Duncan is Vice President of Global Marketing at Mannatech, located in Coppell, Texas. He also shares his marketing ideas regularly at his blog, Follow him on Twitter: @bdunc1.