(This is part 2 of my Bookshelf tales. For part 1, click this link).

All the preparations didn’t go in vain. I passed the interview and received my first job offer. With a lot of excitement, I moved to a new city to begin my career with Baan (a great company) along with three of my classmates and forty others in that batch (a great company).

The day we landed, I noticed my friend unpacking more books than clothes from his luggage. He filled out half the wardrobe shelf with his books. Seven Habits of Highly effective People was one of the first books I borrowed from him. I remember feeling inadequate at that moment – after having ignored a friend’s dad’s advice before I left home. He was reminiscing on his bachelor days in Hyderabad many years ago and suggested that I avoid eating out and to do a lot of reading. I perhaps paid more attention to be one own’s cook than to pick up a book.

Eventually, I began collecting (and reading) some books. I write about three of those, that provide colour and context to my first four years.

The Goal” (…and how my trainer eliminated the job of a canteen clerk)

“What is the goal of a company?”. Mr. Karan Rastogi, the trainer asked us as he began unravelling the concepts of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Most of the answers were around producing goods that are useful to society or something in those lines. Mr. Rastogi clarified however, the main goal of any enterprise was to make money.  To be accurate, to create value – for shareholders, employees, and the society at large. It was all going over my head anyway. To make it easier for us, he narrated a story from his management consulting days.

He was once asked by a major manufacturing company in the northern part of India to identify ways to reduce cost of operations. He learnt that all employees were provided subsidised food and tea at their canteen. A clerk was employed to manage tokens and the cash register. Initially, the workers were quite happy – being able to buy a meal for less than 50% of the cost outside. Soon there were complaints about the quality of food and the long queues in front of the billing counter. Mr. Rastogi initially performed a lot of algorithmic calculations based on Operations Management but soon came to a simple conclusion: it is best to fire the clerk and eliminate his job function, and provide free meals. The loss of revenue was more than made up by the increased employee morale (when they pay nothing, they didn’t complain even when the food was terrible).

He suggested that we read a novel by Eliyahu M. Goldratt: The Goal, which is rated as one of the top 25 books in Business Management. Read how the central character in the book learns complex concepts like Theory of Constraints, Bottlenecks etc, from real life experiences as he resurrects his career as a struggling Shopfloor Manager. In particular, I enjoyed the part where he goes on a mountain hike with his children and their friends, as they follow each other in a sequence on the way up. Hours later, he finds the last few kids arriving much later than others – due to a fat kid in the middle who slowed down everyone behind. With the insight: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, he goes back to work and fixes his production chain, thereby reducing inventory and increasing profit, thereby keeping his job and getting back with his wife.

The Tipping Point

As I was browsing through a book shop, I picked up this book that was at the end of the shelf and about to fall. What an odd (but appropriate) title, I thought. Tipping Point. A tip is a point after all. And the author’s last name is Gladwell. Well, I didn’t regret buying it though. It introduced me to the world of social sciences, especially how influential ideas spread virally in a social network (long before the age of Facebook). And more importantly, to non-fiction books that are as gripping as novels.

“The Power of now”

A bit of hard landing occurred in the first job as I struggled to deal with expectations. It was much easier to shine as a topper in a class room but not so in the real world. I also had to deal with a literal hard landing.

One morning, I found myself flat on a hard, newly laid tar road, thrown from my Yamaha RX 135 bike as I narrowly avoided colliding with a patient exiting from an eye hospital, riding his bicycle across the road (he was still carrying some bandages in his face). I had four seconds to respond and I thought I did well not to kill him, even when he unknowingly tried his best to come straight at me with a single eye.

In an eerie sort of coincidence, I had bought this book “Power of Now” only a couple of weeks before. While I was recovering from a surgery to my broken wrist, I thought it wouldn’t a bad idea to dip into this book about mindfulness and stuff. I couldn’t resist wondering why this happened to me. What if I had joined my friend in his bike that day. What if I had paid more attention during those four seconds. Or maybe earlier.

A colleague tried to assuage me, “in our roads, even if you are 100% careful, you are only 50% safe.” That made me laugh while still at pain. My uncle’s friend saw me reading this book and said, “Kid, you have many years to go before you indulge in philosophy stuff. You need to do earthly things and struggle in life first.”

That rang a bell. A year later, I was married and it was many months before I touched any book, especially philosophical ones.