Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - Patrick Lencioni

Success of any Team has many ingredients. What differentiate a great team and a bad team is the lack of many of these fundamentals. Every successful team has its own uniqueness that stand them apart from the rest. There are innumerable books on the leaders of successful team or organisations. Despite of these uniqueness, there are few common factors that is essential to the success of a team. Lack of these fundamentals can be attributed to the failure of team, however great the individuals of the team are. Patrick Lencioni, in his celebrated book, discusses these dysfunctions of every unsuccessful team.
According to him , the five dysfunctions are :

Absence of Trust — unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
Fear of Conflict — seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
Lack of Commitment — feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
Avoidance of Accountability — ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior sets low standards
Inattention to Results — focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Book consists of two parts. Part one, written in a parable style, looks at the proceedings at a Silicon Valley startup, currently struggling, despite some great individuals at the helm. Generally young, tech savvy leadership team is put under a newly appointed 55 year old, lady CEO, from the typical old school back ground. In her attempt to re-build the team , she exposes the short comings of the team in her initial off-site meeting of her leadership team. The next few chapters examines these dysfunctions among the team and set to address them by her own ways and style. They go through anger, frustration, despise, fear, rejection and various other emotions. The team goes through the inner turmoil , doing their own introspection, getting their act together during the next couple of leadership meetings. They also go through removal of certain leaders, and the often heard restructuring before, as it always end, in bringing back to the path to success.

The initial part is written like a fiction, with all those twists and turns, the anxiety, the deception and suspense. Most of the chapters are in the form of meeting room discussions, and conversations. it is in this part, he introduces the concept of five dysfunctions. But, the part 2 of the book gets into the serious discussion. There are no stories here. In a typical text book manner, he examines each of these dysfunctions at length, their pros and cons, the symptoms and the recommendations to overcome them in a more practical and actionable terms. Very crisp and concise, this part is the creame of the book.

Typical to any management , self development books, this too does not provide you with any new insights. You go through the familiar "I know this already" feeling. However, the second part makes the difference. Personally, I found this book pretty good and presented neat, despite the 'novel' approach in the part one. This is a good read for any first or second line managers, who lead complex teams.

Times Group

229 Pages
Other links: Wiki, Table Group

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Arresting God in Kathmandu - Samrat Upadhyay

Samrat Upadhyay, is the first Nepali author who had written and published his works in English. Currently working in US, most of his stories in this collections are on the middle-upper class life in and around Kathmandu. Most of them revolve around the changing world and changing values of the society and the families.There are no generation conflicts, but there are the difficulties of the individuals in the changing world where the find themselves alienated from the world and from their own people.

Most of the stories depicts the troubles and unhappiness in the families. The rebellion within the family , unhappy over the orthodox family values pushed on the generation. Hence, all the stories revolve around adultery, relationship outside wedlock, the new found sexual liberation and freedom, illicit affairs, and unwanted pregnancy. While these form the thread on the chain, its the resulting issues that affects the family that is in discussion here. Except one, "The Cooking Poet", rest all appears to be moving along this line.
Samrat has a knack of starting the stories with a bang. "The trouble bagan for Deepak misra when he kissed his unattractive secretary in the office ( Deepak misra's Secretary), Get him married, Rudra said, once he has a wife, he will come to his senses" ( The limping bride), "The man wih long hair appeared around the street corner, his self confident apparent even from a distance" ( The man with Long hair) etc started with enough curiosity.

The Cooking Poet, which stand out from the rest talked about a young poet with extraordinary talent, seeking blessing from the old guard, an established and well sought after poet during his early days of career. Realising the huge potential bordering jealousy, the old man promote the talent to the larger world, only to realise his involvement in the revolutionary movements. In "The Limping Bride" talks about a fathers dilemma with his drunkard son. He fights his own hidden desires ( after the death of his wife) resurface with the arrival of the bride, along with his efforts to get his son accept the girl as his life partner. The room Next door talk about a families hide the illicit pregnancy of their college going daughter and to save their image in the society get her married to a worker in their house. Deepak Misra's Secretary, is a tale of a Nepali businessman's troubled marriage with an American wife. 'This world' looks at the new generation, US educated Nepali youths with their life and multiple affairs and

Arresting God in Kathmandu is a catchy title; however there are no stories that carry this name. The only reason I could attribute for this header ( I dont see any other reference to it elsewhere), is the omnipresence of Gods in the life of Nepal with its numerous temples ( the famous Pasupathinath Temple including) in and around Kathmandu. God, is an eternal presence in the life and so is in the stories.

Having said that, there are no stories that worth a second read in this series. Nor am I going to start my verbose on this book to my friends and insist they read this. While it is interesting and good to see writings emerge from Nepal, this leaves me rather disappointed for its lack of style, substance and language. Apart from few superfluous family story of sexual, matrimonial troubles, it does not reflect the larger issues of Nepali society. A mediocre effort.

Rupa & Co

191 Pages

Rs 250
Other reviews : Book Reporter , Blesok

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zero Degree - Charu Nivedita

Originally published in 1998, the book caused a stir in the Tamil Literary scene for its non-linear narrative and the brutal and explosive description of violence, torture and sex. It was beyond what the conservative society could take. Experimental novel with narrative technique moving between traditional styled story telling to poems, to plain single lined comments, monologues, telephone conversations and what not... The publishers blurb announces this as transgressive fiction, the book was a huge success in Tamil and in Malayalam, to which it was translated almost immediately.

The new age literature, I have observed, has taken up new ways of communication with the readers. From the time tested, traditional styles of 20th century, we see the use of latest jargons in the market place appearing in abundance in the books of young writers books in the new century. I am yet to see a facebook or twitter reference in the main stay literature, but the e-mails, blog entries, the internet uploads and cellphone transcripts have become common. This book , with its current shock value, might not be as shocking in next few decades, as the same is not a new concept in the literature of the world.

Charu Nivedia, while speaking to some of us, while he was in Bangalore , was mentioning using at least six styles of Tamil in his original. Intellectual urban Tamil to the slum dwellers brash use of language. However, understandably, it would be difficult to get that effect in a translation. There is no elitist use of language here. It is plain and non-baroque. Its often incomplete and abandoned. Seldom, he gets into story narration. Its a collage of various images.

Is this really a novel, or merely a bunch of notes thrown together into a book?” , the narrator himself ask at the beginning of the book. "There’s been a mistake. The chapters have become shuffled. I might have had some ulterior motive". This is a book about literature. The unnamed narrator ( or sometime named as Charu Nivedita), refers to the texts written by someone called Muniyandi and that of a Misra. He himself modifies some of the writing and fills in the gaps wherever essential. The characters are not special, and there are no heroes. The novel ( if we can call that) itself as he claims a mixture of three writings. Its an experimental novel and the effort is in creating a deliberate stir with the readers and in that he succeeded. However, we can see a fantastic writer in those chapters where he move away from his experiment and gets to story telling.

This is a work of an intelligent writer. Some one who do want to create a stir. There is no linear story line. There is no real story to say, apart from various tales loosely held. The intention was not that of telling a story. It is to create a new way of writing, new way of communicating. Whatever was considered a taboo in the society ( to talk publicly and openly), but was past of the daily life,

What is appreciable is the effort in translation. I am usually wary about English translations from an Indian Language. This was a welcome change, with certain limitations ( like the local idioms ) not withstanding. Reading this has been a roller coaster ride often trash, often curious, often mediocre and brilliant at many places. Very interesting and path breaking novel.
Zero Degree ( 1998)

Charu Nivedita ( Translated form tamil by Pritham K Chakravarthy & Rakesh Khanna 2008 )

Blaft Publications

239 Pags

Rs 315

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The President - Miguel Angel Asturias

"Death has always been my true ally , Miguel !"

Ryzsard Kapucinsky says in his "Soccer war" that it takes only 100 armed men along with you, to capture the power of the state in many of the countries in Africa, Latin America and some parts of Asia. It is that easy to be the leader of the nation and it needs another 100 and a leader to throw you out. Hence, the moment you are on the seat, your effort is to remain there as long as possible. One of the best way is to successfully eliminate not your enemies, but anyone who is a potential threat to you, and mostly your own comrades.

In one of the discussions after reading "I, the Supreme", some of us where discussing the great 'dictator novels' emerged from Latin America in the 60s. This article written by the great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes ( review of I the Supreme), he talk about dozen writers choosing to writer about dictators ruled their respective country. In one such discussion came up the name of "The President" and ever since, I was trying to get a copy. The President is considered to be one of the first in this genre ( first Dictator novel was Valle Inclan's satirical book, Tirano Banderas, published in 1917) which soon received international acclaim for the author, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Colonel Jose Parrales Sonriente, known as "the man with the little muse", was murdered on the steps of a Cathedral. There begins the story of more killings, escapades ,accusations and plotting. The head of Judiciary is given the charge of investigating. The president, plotting behind the scene, gets his trusted ally Miguel Angel Face, to inform the head of army General Conales to escape from the country as the arms of investigations are turning in his direction. Angel Face, with the help of two assistants, makes the scene and arrange for the escape of the General ( who is yet to recover from the shock of being accused) and leave his young daughter in his custody to be safely taken to her uncle's house.

"Whether you're guilty or innocent is irrelevant, General; what matters is whether you're in favour or not with the President; it's worse to be an innocent man frowned on by the Government that a guilty one"
Fallen for her beauty, Angel Face had other intentions. The news spread of his defection and him being the enemy of the state. The girl now had no takers as every one wanted to stay away from traitor's family. The girl was now under the custody of Angel Face and had taken ill to a level of loosing her life.The arrests and torture continued with more and more assistants of Angel Face and their lovers were arrested and the ladies were sold in the flesh market. The statements were manipulated and the confessions were extracted framing people of higher orders. The love story was moving to the next level with the marriage of Angel Face with the general's daughter. The president had other things in mind. Officially celebrating the wedding with the blessings from the president, Angel Face was offered a role in the United States to build up the image of the country. The journey was his last as he was arrested en route.

While this looks a simple and typical narrative of every dictator novel , with ingredients like murder, spying, kidnap, torture, framing and plotting resulting in even gruesome murders. This makes the book different is in its treating the psychological results on the victims. Asturias, who started writing this in his 20s while he was still a law student. The book came into light much later and was a sensation in the literary world.

The totalitarian regime, with a ruthless dictator, scheming and plotting to stay on power is not named, but is identified as his own country Guatemala. The official machinery is on roll to eliminate the enemies of the state.

"Ungrateful beasts!" He added under his breath. "I loved and shall always love Parrales Sonriente; I was going to have made him general, because he trampled on my country men and humiliated them, and if it hadn't been for my mother he would have finished them off altogether and avenged me for all the grudges I bear against them, things I alone know about. Now that people are plotting against my life on all sides, my friends are deserting me, my enemies increasing and - no , no ! Not a stone be left standing .."
Like every dictator, he too need to show the world that his country is a democracy and he is democratically elected president. We have umpteen examples of this in the recent history across the world. Mock election, with the current ruler winning with 99% majority.

That the welfare of the Republic depends upon the RE-ELECTION OF OUR ILLUSTIOUS MANDATORY AND ON NOTHING ELSE BUT HIS RE_ELECTION ! Why hazard the ship of State in unknown waters, when we have at its head at present the most accomplished Statesman of our day, whom History will salute as a Great man among Great men, a Wise man among wise, a Liberal, a Thinker and a Democrat ?? Even to imagine any other than Him in this high office amounts to an attempt upon the Destiny of the Nation ( which is our own destiny); and whoever dares to do so - if any such there be - deserves to be shut up as a dangerous lunatic, or if he is not mad, tried as a traitor to his country according to the law !! FELLO CITIZENS, THE BALLOT-BOXES ARE WAITING!!! VOTE !!! FOR !!! OUR !!! CANDIDATE !!! WHO !!! WILL !!! BE !!! RE-ELECTED !!! BY !!! THE !!! PEOPLE !!!
The way the narration is to establish the living under the dictatorship and how individuals are succumbed to the system and forced to behave in a way against their own conscience. He uses the subtle language and uses dream sequences, monologues, conversations between commoners etc to bring about the physical and psychological changes the regime can bring on individuals and the society as a whole. This book may not be as comprehensive or complete as Bastos' or Llosa's novel. That could also may be due to the time it was written ( in early 20s) and published ( 1946 in Mexico). Asturias has to deploy tools of different kind during its writing. There is no direct terror , there is no omnipresent danger hidden through the narrative. But there is always the presence of uncertainties and watchfulness. The game is constantly shifting, taking sides. Asturias uses dream sequences very effectively through out the book.

"and according to instructions received,...... This is all I have the honour to impart to the President..."
Miguel Angel Asturias ( Translated from Spanish by Frances Partridge )

287 Pages
More read: Wiki Article,

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Imperium - Ryszard Kapuściński

"They made me a Stalinist, but they never made me a communist....if they would only let me live normally for a while now".

The difference between Western European Colonialism which collapsed in the first half of 20th Century and the Eastern European Colonialism ( which collapsed in the last decade of the 20th century) is interesting in comparison. Early colonialism was for territorial control and for the resources, the later was more ideological in nature. After the world war, the decolonization of the Western powers were rapid, and they were all over the world. In the disintegration of the Communist countries were sudden and the repercussion were very different from the earlier one. The once mighty USSR, disintegrated into 15 independent states ( CIS) did trigger birth of whole many new nations in the adjoining territory with the 7 way split of Yugoslavia and the division of Czech and Slovakia. The turmoil is not ceases yet, though it is less to be in the news and discussion.

Ryszard Kapuściński, one of the prominent traveller and journalist from Poland, writes about this country during the period of 1898- 1991. To be precisely, after the fall of German wall and through the separation of Soviet Union into 15 states. Typical to his style, the book reads like a fiction in style and narration, but carry his keep observation and insight to the subject he is set to write.

The book is set into 3 parts. The initial 75 odd pages brings us to the reality of Communism and Soviet Union during its all enduring days. His own personal experience as a 7 year old boy in the remote Polish town, witnessing disappearance of his classmates and neighbors. Recounting those nights spent in terror expecting to be deported, he had the first encounter with the Imperium. the early part also has his travel through the erstwhile Central Asian Republics of Soviet union in the late 50s, through the tribal and political conflicts of the society. This set the book up for further reading where he takes his next expedition in 1990, witnessing the readying of the republics to be independent states and thriving to re-build their own identity which was under cover for over 70 years. His travel through the frozen Siberia, looking for those dreaded places where masses of dissidents and suspected civilians under the regime were deported and was living under sub human conditions under threat, torture, labour and hunger.

He quote Yurii Boriev in the book, who compared the history of USSR to a train in motion.

The train is speeding into a luminous future. Lenin is at the controls. Suddenly—stop, the tracks come to an end. Lenin calls on the people for additional, Saturday work, tracks are laid down, and the train move on. Now Stalin is driving it. Again the tracks end. Stalin orders half the conductors and passengers shot, and the rest he forces to lay down new tracks. The train starts again. Khrushchev replaces Stalin, and when the tracks come to an end, he orders that the ones over which the train has already passed be dismantled and laid down before the locomotive. Brezhnev takes Khrushchev's place. When the tracks end again, Brezhnev decides to pull down the window blinds and rock the cars in such a way that the passengers will think the train is still moving forward. (Yurri Boriev, Staliniad, 1990)

Kapuściński adds to that " And thus we come to the Epoch of the three funerals ( Brezhnev's, Andropov's and Chernenko's), during which the passengers of the train do not even have the illusion that they are going anywhere. But then, in April 1985, the train starts to move again. This is the last journey,however. it will last six and half years. This time Gorbachev is the engineer...."

It is his encounter with those otherwise insignificant individuals, you complete the picture of the life, history ( of those years) and culture of the territory.  He writes,

Nearing Krupska Street, we encounter an old woman outside a little house who is trying with the energetic strokes of a broom to halt the muddy deluge crawling onto the porch.

"Hard work," I say, to start a conversation.

"Ah," she replies, shrugging her shoulders, "spring is always terrible. Everything flows."

Silence falls.

"How's life?" I ask the most banal and idiotic question, just to keep the conversation going somehow.

The granny straightens up, leans her hands on the broom handle, looks at me, smiles even. "Kak zyviom?" she repeats thoughtfully, and then in a voice full of pride and determination and suffering and joy she offers in reply what is the crux of the Russian philosophy of life—"Dyshym!" (We breathe!)
It is not easy for the new states. Most of these republics were annexed to the Imperium, over a period of a century. Few by the Czars and many others by Stalin. While they inflicted the agenda and invaded culturally through Russian, at heart they remain those independent tribes. The often heard conflicts of geographical control ( Chechnya , Nagorno - Karabakh and other interstate issues) continue to be a nuisance. There is also expectations and the resulting disappointments of the people. The Problems related to the sudden found freedom and the resulting law and order situation continue to be an issue in most of the republics.

The book is not political, though Political issues do come in the purview, but mostly it is about people, the society under the regime through the people and his own experience. There are no biases nor it is judgmental but clear in thoughts and communication. This could be read as a journalistic reportage or as a travelogue. It is also a historical text for those who would like to see it so. Kapuściński is a marvellous writer. He is always in the thick of things. Be it inside the freezing, dark and gloomy coal mines of Siberia, or the troublesome Nagorno - Karabakh during the conflict or at the demonstration and siege at Kiev.

Even after twenty years, his observation and anxiety about the newly formed republic is interestingly accurate. Reading after twenty years of the events that unfolded, the book continue to remain relevant and accurate. His insights are result of these close observations and numerous conversations that are first person and not hearsay. That makes his books a different reading experience.

"One often regards it as a state like any other; this is not at all the case. Russia is a whole separate world"
Imperium ( 1993 )

Ryszard Kapuściński ( translated from Polish by Klara Glowczewska 1994)

Granta Books

337 Pages

Rs 399
Other Reads : Independent