Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The irresistable pull of irrational behavior

Commander Jacob Van Zanten, Head of Safety, KLM Airlines, one of their most experienced pilots, revered by his peers in the industry, could do no wrong. But, he did.

Having got diverted to Island of Tenerife because of a situation of La Palmes Airport, Canary Islands, Commander Zanten of KLM 4805 obsessed with several concerns. His mandated rest period kicked in 6 hours. There was no way a replacement crew could be flown into La Palmes to pick up the passengers for the return trip. A stay over would mean accomodating the passengers in a hotel overnight and huge loss to the airline. Besides, his cherished always on-time record was at risk. There was fog that was fast descending on the airport. Zanten threw all caution to the wind (most surprising for the Safety Head of an airline) and took off in thick fog without clearance for take-off from Air Traffic Control. To his horrow, 500 metres into his run, visibility being near zero, he spied a little too late a 747 parked on the runway (obviously lost in the fog). Too late to stop and too early to take-off, he attempted a take-off all the same and did not quite make it over the parked 747. Over 300 died in the flaming inferno that ensued.

I know of many instances in my life when I have been the victim of the irresistable pull of irrational behaviour.

To be cont'd.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's a break without a book

Having opted to take a clean break from work this is how I spent it to date.

Mornings are generally for spiritual books starting with Bible and related like Care for the Soul by Thomas More or If tomorrow never comes by Anthony Yeo or The Way by Josemaria Escriva, Opus Dei Founder - a christian organization focussed on reflection on christian life, which has been misrepresented for cheap titillation by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code. These books continue to give me insights on how to lead a rich and connected life.

This typically would be followed by brushing up on my discipline of strategic marketing communications. How to Advertise by Kenneth Roman and Jane Mass of Ogilvy fame (my alma mater of advertising), Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Lane Keller, one of the better books on the subject after Advertising Management by Rossiter and Percy. With my abiding interests in Brands and Branding, a book by the same name became part of my reading list. The book is a collection of articles published by The Economist by subject matter experts and prominent names such as Chuck Brymer, ceo of ddb (and earlier with Interbrand - both OMNICOM companies). a new brand world by scott bedbury gives you a practitioner's insight into two of the world's most famous recent brands - Nike and Starbucks.

I also recommend the book by MG (Ambi) Parameswaran on research (based on his personal dialogue with late Ramesh Thadani) and Anand Halve on planning great advertising. Of course, the book on Subhas Ghosal with his memos (to Stephen King, particularly) and speeches plus his life in advertising is a great read. For me the T-Plan, the OMI Blueprint and DDB's Brand Foundations and Springboard (including the updates) are bibles of advertising to be cherished and visited every now and then just for the pleasure of internalizing the pr0cess.

Having brushed up on the basic one moved on to more specific subjects: Insider SEO and PPC by Andreas Ramos and Stephanie Cota that was gifted to me by Position2 an organization specialized in this space, for whom I had conducted a workshop on branding. Another remarkable book is Marketing Payback by Robert Shaw and David Merrick which guides you on measures to use to ascertain ROI on marketing spends. In the process, you also get to brush up on the basics of marketing communications, in context. A supporting book I am currently reading is Return on Customer by Don Peppers & Martha Rogers Ph.d.

Knowing my interest in reading my colleague and friend Bijoe George who heads Rapp South operations suggested that I must read Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan which I have (along with several of Ram Charan's books, latest being What the customer wants to tell you). I particularly liked the strategy development and review part in the book, which is one of the three key processes along with people and operations.

A Fortune interview with Ram Charan was fascinating. He does not have a family (or a home he can call his own though I believe he picked up one recently because he got fed of people tell him to own one). He is available to ceos of Fortune 500 companies 24/7. He stays at the Astoria in New York when he is 'home' and has his laundry delivered to him by FedEx, wherever he is, by his two secretaries working out of an office in Texas.

His typical day would be breakfast in New York, late lunch in London and dinner in Paris and 90 winks on the plane heading to another destination. He comes from a joint family of some 11 siblings he being the youngest. His book dedications are to them who through their sacrifice made his education possible. He does not disclose their location somewhere in Bihar because of fear of kidnapping. He intends to donate all his wealth to charity after keeping some aside for his siblings who continue to lead a small-town life of old.

Evening hours catch some news on TV, say the rosary with the family, eat dinner with them, and get back to some light reading but mostly non-fiction.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L Friedman. The book provides an amazing picture of what it is like to live in a war-torn district and the menacing existance of palestinian and jews - an issue that will ever remain centrestage. It makes you feel guilty of one's idyllic existance. His writing style inspired me to once again go back to The Flat World and also pick up his other book on globalization, From Lexus to Olive Tree.

Given the crisis on Wall Street, I thought it would be of interest to read about and by the man who had played a major role in how the modern financial markets have evolved. Sandy Weill's The Real Deal provides some real insights into this sector though not necessarily why it is such a mess (given the book was written couple of years back). Sandy Weill, as you would know, was the erstwhile chairman of Citigroup after its merger with Traveler's Group. Closer home, Bangalore Tiger by Steve Hamm provides a detailed view of Wipro and how the company and its chairman operate. Good insights on how to build a world class organization and become a global player.

My FBI by Louis Freeh (director, FBI, for 8 years across three presidencies: Bush Sr, Clinton and Bush Jr) provides shocking details of the state of FBI technologically before 9/11 and of course the strained relationship between Clinton and the FBI director. Since his appointments by President Clinton, Louis Freeh found that he could not socialize with the president as the president was being investigated by FBI for one scam or the other (Whitewater being one) or some indiscretion (Monica Lewinsky being the most famous).

This blog is an offshoot of my interest in writing and hence I simply could not resist picking up Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, which as the title suggests is about how we pick up a language, especially children, who learn words from the environment but the construction of the sentence is all their own.

In all this reading, I had to constantly remind myself that I should also be looking for a business to head after Rapp Collins and hence the Personal Balance Scorecard by Hubert K Rampersad and Richard Nelson Bolles's What color is your parachute got passing look in.

Of course, this is not the complete list, but proof enough that there are some great ways of utilizing a break. Next time around I intend to take in some world travel with the Lonely Planet and my wife beside me.