Straight from ancient wisdom comes an unexpected source of plant nourishment- Biochar. Gardening with Biochar by Jeff Cox is a comprehensive guide to understanding, making, and using biochar effectively in the home garden.
We all know that a garden is only as good as the soil that is in it. Biochar is one way of enriching the soil. Put simply, biochar is organic matter that has been roasted (and not burned) to black charcoal. In Gardening with Biochar, author Jeff Cox demystifies biochar and makes it accessible to the home gardener.
Cox revisits history to trace the origins of biochar. He visits the area around the Amazon basin, taking a dip into the distant past. Much before the slash and burn technique (which incidentally lateralizes the soil leaving it unsuitable for agriculture), the natives used a special charcoal which we now called biochar. This black soil still exists after eons, and this in itself is testimony to its high fertility.
Biochar is black and crumbly. Well, it is useful to get a bit of scientific description of this stuff and what it actually contains and feels like. Many people also confuse it to be a fertilizer, when it is in fact, a perfect ‘house’ for the microbes that inhabit the soil and make it fertile! It increases the water holding capacity of the soil and also acts as a storehouse of nutrients for the microbes. In addition, there are a few other peripheral advantages that biochar holds for the environment in general. These are the varied aspects of biochar that the book describes in simple terms.
With notes from the field, that is, case studies of different farmers and agriculturalists who have tried and experienced the miracles of biochar first hand, Cox enhances the story of biochar. The book is easy to navigate, not only because it is written in simple language, but also because it is structured in an easy-to-read manner. The topic for discussion has been neatly divided into chapters and further segregated into compact subtopics.
The book also discusses the cautions to heed to while using biochar. For instance, since biochar raises PH levels making the soil alkaline, it may not really be the best thing for acid-loving plants.
Of course, the most important topic in the book is the section on actually making biochar. This chapter comes to the point- how does one actually make biochar? The book answers questions like what kind of feedstock can you put in biochar? How should you dig the pit and actually go about making the biochar so that the burn is low and slow, which is vital to producing biochar? It also discusses other ways of producing biochar, for instance, in a tlud cooker or in a metal can. This is followed by several practical tips such as how to form and follow a schedule for making biochar and so on.
The promise of biochar lies in much more than its outstanding abilities to enrich the soil and improve plant growth. From a more long-term view, it is the ability of biochar to sequester carbon in the soil, making it good for the health of the planet, as well as the plants. Reading the book may perhaps convince you, to put it in the words of the author, “the fabled gold of Eldorado may actually be black and crumbly!”
Title: Gardening with Biochar
Author: Jeff Cox
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Malala Yousafzai is a household name. The brave young Pakistani activist who survived a bullet in the head- a ghastly move against her activism, went on to make a remarkable contribution for the cause of women and children. She has penned some equally outstanding works, such as the recently released book, We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World. Let Her Fly by Ziauddin Yousafzai is an inspirational autobiography by her father which outlines his life story from a small village in Pakistan to Birmingham, Britain. As the name suggests, his whole life is dedicated to promoting girls’ education and rights!
The book describes in simplicity and detail, the patriarchal society in Pakistan which Ziauddin took for granted when he was a child but which made him uncomfortable once he grew older. When he was blessed with a daughter, Malala, he rejoiced her birth as opposed to the disappointment of others and made sure his home was a haven of equality. He applauds the quiet, rock-solid support of his wife and his sons throughout the book.
Ziauddin and his family are God-fearing, ‘salt of the earth’ people. They wanted to help others and realise the need for education of girls in an orthodox society like Pakistan as the way forward. They are content running their school in a small town and never lose sight of their goal despite Malala’s growing popularity. Slowly but surely their efforts are paying off when tragedy strikes! Malala is shot by the Taliban and taken to Britain for treatment. To avoid danger and to stay together, the whole family shifts there too.
This is a classic story of the slow but steady underdog winning the race! It proves that no political connections or wealth is needed when one’s intentions are clear and one’s only focus is to do good. Their strength of spirit and resilience comes through as does the close-knit sense of family. Their love for their country is recounted in many scenes in the book. More specifically, the scene when the family returns to Pakistan after many years is truly heart-warming! Way to go Mr Ziauddin, the strength behind the hero! We applaud your simplicity, humility and roundedness of character that brings tears and smiles by the end of the book.
Ziauddin Yousafzai’s moving memoir tells the story of how a single family can be a powerful unit of change. Let Her Fly will be an inspiration to millions of parents who often succumb to the pressures of society. When a family is dedicated to a true cause it can change the world! Ziauddin Yousafzai’s tale goes on to show that.
Title: Let Her Fly
Author: Ziauddin Yousafzai
A single glance at the cover of Hunger’s Daughters gives you the impression of a cute, girlish read. However, the story couldn’t be further than that! Although girls and women are the central focus of the story, Hunger’s Daughters is a stirring social commentary on the bleak circumstances of young breadwinners from the forest hamlets of Jharkhand, Orissa and Karnataka.
The book is a first-person account that is told from the point of view of the author Nirmala Govindarajan. Through research and investigation, the author learns about forest hamlets in the hinterlands of India, and thus visits these places to gain information for her story. The raw journalistic information is expressed with a rare sensitivity. There are various verses and texts that gives the reader insight into the pain and plight of the little girls.
The book recounts few of these stories, which need to be told. Living in a small village in Orissa, Susanthi Bodra is compelled to become a breadwinner at the tender age of twelve. With her father presumably dead and mother gone missing, Susanthi is left to fend for herself. On another tangent, Hunger’s Daughters also follows the chilling tale of eight-year-old Nelli who runs away from her mistresses’ home but is kidnapped and sold into a brothel in Nagpur. Twenty years later, her mother is still hopeful and on the lookout for her precious daughter. The narrative is cleverly woven together making it a compelling story of poverty and power with an underlying thread of love and family relationships.
The story travels into the interiors of India and throws light on the struggles and plight of children who are forced to grow up way before their time. Packed with raw, gritty instances, Hunger’s Daughters is definitely not for the faint hearted. Nirmala Govindarajan is a seasoned journalist and social sector documentary film maker, and gives a voice to the unheard voices buried within the heart of the country. The story plainly presents the dark reality without exaggeration or sensationalism. It is supported by multi-dimensional characters. Their trials and tribulations feel extremely real and honest.
An unforgettable story- Hunger’s Daughters isn’t your typical Sunday read. Be prepared for angst, violence, extreme poverty and despair which also tells a tale of resilience, strength and lost childhood. But, it is a brave book that awakens us to the truth of the world we live in. I think, the call to action is the fact that she has brought this unheard-of story to life. It definitely evokes emotion and inspires one to act!
Title: Hunger’s Daughters
Author: Nirmala Govindarajan
Publisher: Om Books International
The former monastery of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole was also the asylum home of one of the greatest artists who has ever lived- Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum by Martin Bailey talks in detail about Vincent’s year-long stay at the asylum. Why would a reader be specifically interested in knowing about the one year that Van Gogh spent at an asylum? Well, the popularity of the artist has just been growing as time passes by. This should be reason enough. But, there are many more. This was also a period of rich creativity for Van Gogh. It gives a glimpse into the sheer versatility and energy of the artist.
Bailey makes connections between the building of the asylum that he sees today, and the life of the artist during the one year he was confined there. With unprecedented access to authentic documents, he takes us into his process of research and discovery of Vincent Van Gogh’s time at the hospital.
One gets the feeling that the reader is on a mission to solve some of the mysteries about Van Gogh that has left experts baffled. Here are just some of the things you can expect to know in more detail: what did memoirs and dairies of inmates who were there at the same time as Van Gogh had to say about him? What did the starry sky looked like on the night when Van Gogh painted Starry Night, one of his most famous works? What were his other paintings during this time? How did he interact with the landscape and how did that influence his work in confinement?
I felt I was a detective looking at clues that would provide information and links to the life of Vincent Van Gogh. There are minor but relevant details in the book that would be of great interest to those interested in the artist. For instance, the author points to the fact that he may have just tracked down the actual almond tree that became the subject of a famous painting. The book features some old and new photographs and trivia about the asylum. Now, with very limited access to this asylum, these are indeed valuable.
The year at the asylum was a very productive one. Van Gogh made at least 150 paintings during this time. While the colours were more muted, the swirling strokes tell another underlying story. Nature always moved Van Gogh. The asylum had beautiful gardens and views and this must have soothed his mind. His paintings from the time in the asylum are clearly inspired by the gardens present therein. He spent the whole day painting in the park. He even exhausted all his supplies and took to sketching in ink whilst he waited for more canvases to arrive from Paris.
The book also highlights Van Gogh’s state of mind prior to the infamous incident where he cut off his ear. Bailey notes after examining asylum records that Vincent suffered from auditory hallucinations. This could explain why he cut off his ear. However, some other facts also need to be considered.
He was, at that time, in Arles, in the South of France in the famed Yellow house. He had invited the painter Gauguin to live and work with him. But, their relationship turned sour and different temperaments could not gel together. So far, Van Gogh had been dependent on his brother Theo. But, around this time, Theo had just gotten married and it is natural to assume that Vincent felt a little insecure.
It was under this mental state that on the night of December 23, in the year 1888 the most infamous episode in the history of art took place. Vincent had a bitter fight with Gauguin, which led the latter to walk out on Vincent. Vincent then cut off his left ear, wrapped the flesh in paper and delivered it to a woman in a local brothel.
This prelude to what led to his confinement is well known in history. The book adds on to this information by revealing more information in detail. For instance, ten years before this infamous episode, Vincent’s father had thought of committing him to an asylum as well. it describes in detail his entry to the asylum with the help of a reverend pastor who accompanied him.
A record of his work
A book on Vincent Van Gogh would need to have his paintings presented in full glory. Quite aptly then, this book has colourful representations of the artists’ works which makes it a visual delight as well. What I also found interesting was related memorabilia, including old photographs and illustrations pertaining to what is described in the book.
Another point of interest is that the book has pictures of paintings that he made whilst in the asylum. There are interesting details and observations made for each. This section is quite exhaustive and the research and interpretations presented here would be very helpful for anyone who has an interest in Vincent’s works. The writer speculates based on the paintings what Vincent must have felt at the moment of painting it. For instance, he speculates that Van Gogh’s bedroom at the asylum must have been on a higher floor based on the views of the wheat fields that he has painted in several of the paintings. It is these little details that make the book a delight to read.
This book would be of special interest to those who have a keen interest in Van Gogh and would like authentic information on his life. It is packed with a lot of detailed information, corroborated with some ingenious and out-of-the-box research. Van Gogh at the Asylum by Martin Bailey is a very detailed and rich account of one precious year in the life of one of the world’s most renowned artists.
Title: Van Gogh at the Asylum
Author: Martin Bailey
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, Art biography
As one of the most renowned authors in the mythology genre, Anand Neelakanthan needs no introduction. With bestselling titles such as Asura, The Rise of Sivagami, Ajaya 1: Roll of the Dice and Ajaya 2: Rise of Kali, Vanara is Neelakanthan’s latest offering.
A refreshing change from the traditional heroes of Indian mythology, Vanara focuses on those who were vanquished and weaves a story around untouchables. Bali and Sugreeva are orphans who are brought up in Rishi Gautama’s ashram. They belong to the Varana class and hence they are considered untouchable and not allowed to mingle with the others in the ashram. Circumstances force them to leave the ashram and meet Tara, the beautiful daughter of Vanara Vaidya, Sushena. The love story between these three characters forms the crux of the book. Packed with family drama, love, lust and friendship, Neelakanthan explores the various facets of romance through the eyes of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.
Vanara might come across as one dimensional at first, but like a good cup of tea, the layers unfurl as you go along. As the book progresses, the characters really come into their own and display multifaceted personalities. The story is extremely gripping and will keep the reader on edge till the very last page. Written in an easy to read format, Neelakanthan has done away with any magical or mystical elements. All characters are portrayed as normal human beings devoid of any magical powers thus making them relatable.
Although this gripping tale is set in ancient times, the author is successful in drawing parallels to modern times. As a result, Vanara is an interesting read. However, since the story is not from the perspective of popular idols such as Lord Ram, Sita or Indra, some parts might be considered offensive to certain groups of people.
Vanara is a great read for those who are looking to explore Indian mythology. It gives a refreshingly new perspective to ancient tales and helps readers understand our rich Indian heritage.
BOOKS BY ANAND NEELAKANTHAN
Author: Anand Neelakanthan
Publisher: Penguin Books
The big five…five decades of life loom right above you as you veer towards the fiftieth birthday. But, is it any different? Does 50 change your life forever? What exactly does this milestone mark? Feisty at Fifty by Sudha Menon is a very personal, hilarious and heartwarming account of reaching fifty.
Turning fifty, one fine day, may not suddenly change your life forever. But there are many life events that mark a person in and around the fiftieth birthday. Turning fifty does offer the gift of introspection, and the ability to look back and reflect on life with a fresh understanding. Menon brings about these conversations with oodles of humour mixed with poignancy.
Menon talks about the varied aspects of life at and around fifty. She uses her own story and events and people from her own life, but, the issues are universal: A change in the relationship with parents, confronting the death of parents or their old age; dealing with an empty nest; redefining out relationship with our children; sex or the lack of it; worries for children who are now independent adults; FOMO and social media; keeping up with looking good and a myriad of other concerns.
“We are on the topic of sex and the middle-aged couple and I am not sure it is even a relevant subject because I think by the time you and the grumpy half have been married thirty years, there is too much familiarity to breed any sex. Your breeding has been done by then and that brood is always around reminding you of your advancing age. Some of that brood have dumped their brood on you so they can go get themselves a life….” she writes.
It takes a sassy woman to look at these issues and confront them with huge hilarious doses of humour. I found Menon’s irreverent and spunky take on life quite refreshing! There are bound to be comparisons between the simpler times she grew up in and the complex world we live in how. The journey of how she negotiates between these two worlds sends the reader on a roller coaster ride of laughter. Another illustration of this ‘feisty’ spirit caught between the two worlds lies in the following extract from the book- “Will someone please tell me I am not the only fifty-year-old suffering from FOMO? At the crack of dawn every morning, even before I have relieved my overfull bladder, I reach blindly for my smartphone to check what is happening on FB,” or then, “The old times were innocent times, things were less complicated. For instance, you could hold hands with your best female friend and roam around the entire afternoon and nobody would look at you strangely,”.
In between the light jibes at the new world and the current state of affairs, you are sure to find nuggets of wisdom. One of the discussions I found quite interesting was that women undervalue themselves when it comes to evaluating their true worth. Menon talks about her experiences as a motivational speaker who has learnt the hard way to demand her price- “If it is free, it is not worth my time. My time comes with a price tag. And, I’m worth it!” she says.
Well, be prepared. If Menon will have you in splits when she discusses her salon adventures, tryst with throngs and what not, you’ll find it difficult to escape a few tears on topics where she talks about parents, memories and letting go. But, isn’t this representative of life itself? Happy moments…funny ones, sad ones and contemplative ones all coming together in a neat package as you go about the business of living!
OTHER BOOKS BY SUDHA MENON
Title: Feisty at Fifty
Author: Sudha Menon
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
What is the ‘self’? It’s a simple question really. But, the answer is not that easy, or apparent. The Man Who Wasn’t There takes a journey down the annals of science to bring out stories where people have experienced a loss of self or an altered sense of self. A lot of this is published research. But, there is plenty of first-hand information that comes from the author’s personal interactions with medical and mental health professionals as well as philosophers.
Each chapter talks about a different experience, citing case studies and supportive research. Some of the conditions described in the book include Cotard’s Syndrome (the belief that one is dead), Alzheimer’s (that clearly takes away the essence of who you are), Body Integrity Identity Disorder (where the person desires to ampute a part of the body), schizophrenia (and how it is related to a disturbance in the sense of self), depersonalization (a sense of detachment or of being adrift), autism, out-of-body experiences, and so on.
Many a times, as a particular disease progresses, clinicians observe other symptoms that point to an erosion of the sense of self. For example, patients with Alzheimer’s may often not remember being diagnosed with the condition. This may set off a tangent of new problems. They wonder why they are being prohibited from activities such as driving for example. The loss of autonomy affects the sense of self.
A BIID patient where the sufferer got his leg amputed wilfully is also very poignant. I can understand the author’s predicament when he writes, “Each time I have felt fear and sadness. Here was a perfectly healthy man, with a perfectly healthy leg, yet he went under the knife voluntarily, in a foreign country. He trusted a surgical team that worked under the cloak of deception. How much must a man suffer to come to this?”
One can sense empathy towards the ‘cases’ mentioned in the book. As a reader you will also understand how the brain can be easily fooled as well as how simple it is to manipulate the body. Ananthaswamy has travelled widely and conducted first-hand research on the subject. He has met up with medical experts and patients, family members and friends, often in different places all over the world. The touch of authenticity and personal involvement that this gives to the book is invaluable and supreme.
Title: The Man Who Wasn’t There
Author: Anil Ananthaswamy
Publisher: Penguin books
Also by Anil Ananthaswamy:
The Birth of Kali pulls out instances from our rich repertoire of mythological tales and reworks them, presenting a very different view of the events that happened and the hidden meanings behind them.
For example, the story, “Lakshmana’s Circle” has a dialogue between Sitai and Surpanakai. We normally see Sitai, pure and innocent and Surpanakai as bold, unapologetic and a badass. But in Sivakumaran’s version, Sitai is enamoured by this ‘wild woman’. She says “the wild southern woman has sowed a seed within my heart, and it is sprouting, sending roots into the earth tramped down for years by my father and my husband,”. She wishes, “there would not be a circle drawn to limit my straying,”, an allusion to the ‘Lakshman Rekha’. Indeed, it is a very different way of looking at something that all of us are familiar with.
Sivakumaran has taken liberties with the narratives. The skeleton of the basic story that is a part of our oral and written culture remains- but just as a skeletal framework. As a potential reader you may wonder if you need to know the original story in order to understand what Sivakumaran’s version entails. One can indeed appreciate the difference better if one knows the original story. I knew some of the stories that the book refereed to, and I greatly enjoyed the retelling. The ones I didn’t know however, also stood quite well as individual stories in their own right. For example, the story about The Birth of Kali, from which the book gets its name, was one I was not familiar with. However, the retelling, for me, was another powerful short story.
I also enjoyed reading the story of Draupadi, where Krishna recounts the incident of her ‘Vastraharan’ when she was disrobed in open court and called upon Krishna to save her modesty. In the retelling, narrated by Krishna, she asserts herself with her own strength, slapping Dushasshan and declaring war!
Legends narrated to us in a particular manner form a part of our collective consciousness. We form notions of good and bad from these. We use these as examples and guides to live a moral life. What the stories chronicled in The Birth of Kali do is shake us out of that complacency and show us that the same situation could be looked at in a different manner.
Title: The Birth of Kali
Author: Anita Sivakumaran
“You just see. That’s how the sorkar works. It forgets. Sometimes Korok, it is best if the Sorkar forgets you”
It is ironical in a sense, that the Headman of the small Gond village says the above lines to Korok, the protagonist of Year of the Weeds. They are better off without the government’s interference after all! Korok tends to the garden and lives his simple uneventful life in a small Gond village next to their sacred hills. But, one day, bauxite is discovered beneath the sacred hills. The Gonds have to go. Or, do they?
The sheer poverty and apathy that specific sections of our society have to face is brought out in this powerful and poignant story. Told simply and with great humour, Year of the Weeds is a timeless read. Though the novel is written with the young adult readership in mind, it transcends the barriers of age, and is relevant as a human story.
In 2013, I decided to write a story which talked about the current Indian state and the problems with its institutions and representatives. I had been following the agitation by Dongria Kondhs in Niyamgiri area of Odisha for several years, and had been pleasantly surprised when they were given the opportunity to vote against the bauxite mine which would have uprooted them and destroyed their culture. I wanted to narrate this story, while also accommodating my observations on the systems and structures within the Indian state. That was how I arrived at the idea for the novel.
I expect the average urban reader will find what is written in the novel to be new and unfamiliar. This is because such issues do not occupy the popular imagination, or space in the media or average discourse in urban homes. I hope the reader will be sufficiently interested, not to mention disturbed, by what she finds here, and will discuss these matters with her classmates and interested teachers, perhaps even with her parents. I also hope that YA readers will begin reading about these issues, and following such events. If the novel serves as an introduction to the many problems in the country that need to be addressed urgently, I will be content.
Korok and the villagers do not have watches, so time is a different concept for them. For Korok, time is in the seasons, in the planting of seeds and flowering of plants, in the heat of summer and the hardness of the soil in winter. The Niyamgiri agitation occurred over several years, but I had to reduce the chronology of the story and had to make the events happen over a single year. I briefly considered naming the chapters after seasons, but since there are only four, the chapter titles would become repetitive, so I named them after months.
Korok is a gardener, so he understands metaphors based on gardening. As Anchita, the artist daughter of the divisional forest officer tells Korok, the government and the company which wants the bauxite mine are like weeds in the way they enter a garden and prey on green and growing things. Korok extends this metaphor to include everybody who has preyed on the Gonds, including the Maoists.
The events are based on my reading of reportage about Niyamgiri and other people’s agitations. The ordinary life of the Gonds is based on a combination of my reading news reports and my personal experience of tribal and rural societies as a reporter. The details and descriptions of how government, private companies and other entities work are based on my personal observations as a reporter.
Humour is particularly difficult when describing tragic situations, but perhaps necessary. The strongest societies, those which endure hardship and sometimes emerge triumphant are also those which can find even the minutest strands of humour in a hard life. It is not easy to include such elements or give this kind of treatment to such a serious topic, but I tried my best.
I would like my readers, YA and grown-up alike, to become more aware of problems within the state and its apparatuses as well as the difficulties of vulnerable people in today’s world. If we start discussing these topics, if we can have dispassionate and objective conversations on these matters, it will be a start in finding solutions to these problems at some point. It has become very important for Indians to be kinder, more understanding and humane and this can only come from awareness and knowledge about the real world and the people who live in it.
India’s diversity has been often talked about. However, the sheer contrast between rural and urban India, as well as between different rural areas of the country is mind-boggling. This is why it is important to tell stories. Sometimes, stories convey much more about what a community faces, rather than news reports. Year of the Weeds tells one such powerful story.
Title: Year of the Weeds
Author: Siddhartha Sarma
Publisher: Duckbill Books
Age group: Young Adults
The market is flooded with many self-help books for managers who want to better their game. However, very rarely does one find a new paradigm within which, one can view performance. The Liberated Manager by Stuart Drew draws on the author’s extensive experience and introduces the concept of “Personal Share Price” in order to understand how much a manager is really valued by those around him- and how he can amp up his performance.
Bookedforlife in conversation with Stuart Drew….
The USP of the book lies in the concept of Personal Share Price. Tell us about what led you to formulate this very specific measurable way to gauge one’s own individual ‘worth’ in the context of what one brings to the job?
I wanted to help managers and others come to terms with their MADness. MAD is short for Make a Difference. Whether you are in a new role or you have been promoted the expectation is that you will make a difference. How the difference can be achieved and measured became the question. In the past managers were exclusively measured by their boss, particularly in hierarchical companies, which most were, where teams operated in silos. People were subject to annual appraisals based on performance against set objectives.
This environment made it very difficult to add value in the short term as it happened once a year or half year at best. Business is now more global than ever, more dynamic and subject to acceleration in technological development and innovation. Basically, it is very different from the past and people are subconsciously measured on a regular basis, weekly or monthly. The phrase that ‘you are as good as your last performance’ captures the image and is relevant for today’s business environment.
Managers are now measured by the people they work with at each interaction: customers, peers, bosses, other teams they work with, team members, support functions and the like. Furthermore, I believed people could take much more personal responsibility for making a difference on a day to day basis. I thought about how companies were measured and recognised that quoted companies are measured on a daily basis through their share price. There for everyone to see. A company’s share price is not just about performance but, strategy, expectation, sentiment and positioning among other metrics. A brand is enduring but a share price fluctuates daily.
Once I had this concept I applied it to my team in the form of a Personal Share Price (PSP). This promoted the idea that one’s own, behaviour, presence and performance combine to enable people to make a difference. Being conscious of the PSP concept encouraged managers to adjust their behaviour to circumstances, develop their presence and deliver differentiated performance, and it worked! The PSP concept also allowed me to focus on the issues and concerns most managers suffer, that limit performance.
Thus, I asked myself how could managers liberate themselves from burdens and release the full potential of themselves and their teams. Liberation from things like having to have all the answers to team issues, liberation from risky hiring, liberation from worrying too much and negativity, liberation from one’s own cultural heritage, liberation from tethered (past) thinking, liberation from coming second too often in sales. This led to the book entitled The Liberated Manager – A new leadership paradigm using the Personal Share Price method
When we think of corporate environments, the concepts of cut-throat competition and varying agendas, office politics and so on comes to mind. You say in the book, “facilitating this growth of one’s colleagues is the ultimate reward in management,”. How can modern organisations adopt this outlook change?
The negative concepts you mention have one thing in common- people. It is people that create cut throat competition, people that have varying agendas and people that operate office politics. Therefore, the modern organisations need to create an environment that is based on an open transparent meritocracy. This is particularly important where the workforce employs a large number of the so-called millennial generation. These younger people are not motivated by the prospect of a job for life, do not want to sit quietly and accept the status quo, and are less likely to follow the path of their parent’s advice. They want to be empowered and make a difference.
Through social media they are connected in ways unavailable to previous generations and they have a global outlook from news, the internet, and technology. I have witnessed a global conversion of younger people. Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers are the international dress code. Pop music stars and entertainers are present across the world. Thus, organisations need to understand this represents the future ‘operating environment’ and adopt appropriate policies.
I ask myself why did the #MeToo movement start. One could argue because a failure of corporate governance. When harassment and abuse were out in the open, the movement went viral, globally in a heartbeat. Once again it is all about people, how they behave and what is deemed acceptable or not. Thus, a manager’s true role becomes one of setting appropriate examples of openness and transparency, empowering others and promoting the notion that everyone is better than they think they are.
Thus, liberating people from real or imagined burdens and encouraging a self realisation of one’s own PSP through behaviour, presence and performance allows a manager to facilitate the growth of one’s colleagues and is the ultimate reward of management. In summary, organisations need to operate a meritocracy with a foundation of trust, openness and transparency. Only people can do that!
The Liberated Manager also alludes to the present work environment world over which is a constantly changing one. You also emphasise on the need for this change. How should managers be in tune with the changes that mark today’s times?
With the geopolitical environment changing ever more quickly and with more unpredictability, the key skills of a manager become to remain relevant and adapt to circumstances. Remaining relevant is now more important than ever. There is no alternative or excuse when the online world offers endless opportunities to seek opinion, research alternatives and study almost any subject in depth. The appetite for knowledge needs to be tempered with an ability to sift truth from fiction and news from fake news. ‘Google it’ has become the daily recourse to knowledge.
These same dynamics are also making the world more unstable. Managers therefore need to learn to adapt to circumstances like never before. The China slowdown, the threat of international trade wars, nationalisation-imposed tariffs to protect dying industries, Brexit, global financial crisis are examples of the unpredictable world we live in. At a more local level a company setting up a campus near yours will distort the labour market for months or years. Thus, the skill is to study trends early in their development and adjust plans to maintain or improve outcomes.
Therefore, managers should not become slaves to the path they declared at say the beginning of the year. Informed managers will be able to assess threats and opportunities early and act as ‘the go to person’ for advice. This is not a dependency on seniority; junior managers can in many ways see trends earlier if they are close to the ground. Those under the age of 30 years are also better at innovation, think, Google, Amazon, Tesla, AirBnB, and mobile only banks. These are facilitated by young industry disruptors. The trick for them, think Bill Gates, is to remain relevant or become a philanthropist!
You discuss various points that lead to being a liberated manager, and in turn contribute positively to your Personal Share Price. I found the section where you discuss animal behaviour and what we can learn from their instincts quite interesting, and easy to remember as well! Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We are all limited in some way or other and age does not make it easy for us to maintain the carefree, all things are possible, ideas of our youth. However, because the change is gradual, we are less likely to witness the change ourselves. Do you real look older every time you look in the mirror? Meet someone you have not seen for years the change is obvious.
Sometimes trying to look from outside-in can reveal changes you had not perceived before. The same applies to analogies. Our ability to cope with change is an increasingly important facet of management. Furthermore, our ability to recognise changing patterns and adapt our behaviour and performance is even more crucial in today’s dynamic business environment. The paradox is that we learn from our experiences and that, in turn, moulds our behaviour. Unlearning experiences and being open to new ideas, probably not yours, are the more important skills for the future. This is frequently the frustration between generations in families.
To illustrate these issues and their impact on PSP, I found that a comparison with some animal behaviours helped me understand how I could better deal with work demands, keep up with change, and encourage innovation. The idea that we limit our own possibilities as we get older reminded that elephants that are tethered in their youth and are conditioned to the tether even when they are strong enough to free themselves. People who seem to be carry the world’s problems on their shoulder got me thinking about carrying monkeys on their back. Some people carry a lot of monkeys and it shows. People who resist change at all costs reminded me of the dinosaurs that became extinct through a catastrophic change in their environment, and the efficiency of birds flying in formation helped me appreciate how efficient true teamwork can be. Thus, I would encourage anyone to try to externalise characteristics that limit one’s potential to make the most of life in business and outside. Do you know a Sloth? Is there a Cheetah in your workplace? And remember Wales eat Plankton! So, you can grow big by the smallest things.
Readers who will read this book would be earnestly looking for change in the manner they currently function. Any tips from your side on how they should approach the book? How could they maximize what they get from the book?
For those, having read the book, who wish to become liberated managers, there is no better place to start than the chapter on 30-60-90 day plan towards liberation. This details what actions can be taken to arrive at MADness at its earliest. That is, Making A Difference. After all the only reason someone is hired or promoted is the belief that they will make a difference. For someone in a role for some time who wishes to become a liberated manager I suggest a declaration of a change and request for support from team members, boss and peers. This declaration can be followed by the 30-60-90 day actions.
Lastly, while the book speaks to a global audience, it is also true that your work experience specific to India has been vast. You make a special mention of the country in the book as well. Since this blog is rooted in the country, any message specifically for our readers in India?
I have visited India over 100 times in 14 years on business and vacation with my wife. A century in cricket, the most venerated sport in India, is recognised as a significant achievement. I am proud of achieving my century. My wife and I have participated in Aarthi at Rishikesh and Holi in Narendra Nagar. We were at Fisherman’s Cove 8 days before the tsunami and we have shopped in Palika Bazaar in Delhi. We were in Kerala for an elephant festival and visited the golden triangle cities. One of our most memorable experiences was a private dinner in the middle of the lake in Udaipur surrounded by fireworks celebrating the maharaja’s birthday.
These experiences and many, many, more gave me a fondness for India and Indian people that is a joy in my life. People in India are completely dedicated to providing excellence in all they do. From bus boys in hotels to IT delivery managers, from retail sales assistants to taxi drivers. The work ethic also comes with no complaints and a smile. The willingness to do one’s duty, alive and well in India is sadly disappearing elsewhere. The commitment to learning is endemic and I know that even the poorest families seek to put something aside for their children’s education.
One thing I witnessed over recent years is the developing appreciation of the contribution of women in the workplace. This should continue to be encouraged, with more rising to senior positions. My summary message to your readers in India is thank you for helping me become a better manager by your example of dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to innovate. India is in good hands and all things are possible in India. I hope many of you become liberated managers and deliver sustainable differentiated performance through empowering your teams!
With that, we sign off after a power-packed conversation! Here’s to all our future ‘liberated managers’! May your Personal Share Price only increase!
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Title: The Liberated Manager
Author: Stuart Drew