Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chasing the Mountain of Light

[Author: Kevin Rushby; Publisher: Constable and Company Ltd.
Hardcover: 276 pages ]
The world famous diamond Koh-i-Noor (which means "Mountain of Light" in Persian language) has been adorning the British monarch's crown since 1850s. How it landed up there is a fascinating story.
In late 1990s the author Kevin Rushby  traveled through India following the trial of Koh-i-Noor diamond from Kollur mines in Andhra Pradesh to Amritsar in Punjab.
This book is an account of this journey during which he met people from all walks of life - miners, smugglers, merchants , politicians, royalty, bureaucrats, scholars , academicians - in the places where the renowned diamond has passed through hundreds of years ago. These encounters helped him to know more about the Koh-i-Noor and also provided him a good exposure to the Indian society where he found "both the depths of human greed and heights of spiritual aspiration".
An interesting travelogue. A good light-read to pass your time.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to be More Interesting

[Author: Edward de Bono Publisher: Penguin Books , Paperback:  304 pages ]
In this book, the author Edward de Bono the originator of lateral thinking methods, provides guidance on developing oneself into an interesting person. And this transformation does not  necessarily mean being a  celebrity or performing outstanding feats or having an unusual experience or holding an interesting job. 
According to de Bono what make you an interesting person depends upon - what happens in your mind; how you express what happens in your mind; what impression you create in the mind of a listener. 
Being interesting is a skill which can be developed. Hence this book is a workbook consisting of 70 short  and simple exercises intended to help you develop this skill. These are exercises to train your mind to think and express yourself in an interesting manner.
de Bono strongly encourages you to do these exercises to get full benefit from the book. He also cautions that book should not be read like a novel in a hurried manner. Instead it should be read through slowly, agreeing or disagreeing with the points made by him based on your own experiences.
Well I did implement de Bono advice to some extent but I doubt whether this book has turned me into a more interesting person. Maybe you can try yourself and see whether this book works for you.
Just an OK sort of book, authored by a person who has written path-breaking bestsellers like "Lateral Thinking" and "Six Thinking Hats". I was rather disappointed since I had high expectations from it.

Overview of Topics
Apart from the Introduction and Summary , there are three main sections in this book. A brief overview of  topics discussed in these sections are as follows. Each of these topics has several exercises associated with it.

The Basic Operations of Interest : 
  • Possibility : Opening up and exploring possibilities in mind. Going beyond what is in front of you. The role of hypothesis and speculation.
  • Alternatives: The deliberate generation of alternatives. Alternatives of explanation, action, ways of looking at things, etc. The importance of the 'fixed point'.
  • Concepts: The fundamental importance of concepts to all thinking. Concept extraction as a source of interest.
  • Run Forward in the Mind: Visualization, imagination and projection. Looking ahead, moment to moment, to see what follows and what happens next. Exploring forward in time.
  • Connect and Link Up: The effort to make connections and to link up different matters. Skill at connecting things enlarges the field of interest. We are no longer limited to the immediate matters.
  • Provocation: With provocation there may not be reason for saying something until after it has been said. Provocation are the basis of creativity. Provocations open up new lines of thought.
  • Attention-directing: Where do we direct our attention? Why do we direct attention? Attention either flows on or is directed. Directing attention creates the dance of attention that is central to interest.
  • Alleys, Avenues and Themes: We choose to open up and to pursue avenues and alleys of interest. How do we notice them? Why do we choose them? Themes are very broad areas of attention.
  • Clarify, List and Summarize: The need to express things simply and to communicate them well. The use of analogies and metaphors. The value of lists in clarifying, thinking and providing attention points.
The Drivers of Interest
  • Feelings: Feelings provide the fuel for interest. There is a whole range of human feelings. They are there to be enjoyed. Interest seeks to  draw in those feelings.
  •  Relevance: Relevance to yourself. Relevance to other people. Relevance to human nature and so on to individuals. Relevance is a key part of interest. Something becomes interesting as soon as it can be made relevant.
  • Human Interest: There are a number of basic 'human-interest' drivers: sex, money, scandal, categories, etc. People are interested in people and people's behavior.
  • Emotions: These are strong emotions. What is their place in 'interest'? Do they help with interest or do they interfere with interest? Emotions may be simple or mixed.
  • Humenes: This is a new word to cover that aspect of interest that derives from physiological behavior in the mind: humor, insight, surprise, etc. This is a powerful form of interest but need not involve either relevance or feelings.
  • Fascination: A powerful form of interest. The interest that is aroused by wildlife television programs. Something may be fascinating in itself. The importance of curiosity.
  • Knowledge and Stories: The content part of interest. Information and experiences. First-hand or second-hand stories. The ingredients of interest as distinct from the operations.
  • Discussion: Discussion and conversation. Interacting with other people. The use of basic 'interest operations' to increase the interest of a discussion.
  • Agreement: The value and use of agreement. Ways of agreeing. Developing and building on ideas. Full agreement and partial agreement.
  • Disagreement: The dangers of negativity. The ego-driven sources of disagreement. The fundamental flaw in Western thinking. The benefits of parallel thinking. The Six Hats framework for discussion. Designing a way forward.
  • Bores and Boring: Why is someone is boring? Jumps and changes in conversation. The use and dangers of interruption. Diversions.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Outliers - The Story of Success

[Author: Malcolm Gladwell Publisher: Backbay Books , Paperback:  346 pages ]
People who are extraordinarily smart, accomplished and successful are very few. They are Outliers ! You won't come across them in your normal course of life.
What makes them stand out among the crowd ? In this book the bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell  says that intelligence, ambition , personality traits may be necessary but not sufficient conditions for becoming such extremely  successful  achievers. The circumstances-  like culture, family, time, location, upbringing, luck etc. - in which they are  born and grow up in, play a major role in their achievements.
This book is full of examples and case studies of outliers to substantiate this theory. The reason why a person is an outlier is well researched and described in a very interesting manner.  At the first instance the linkages between the causes and the outstanding success stories are not obvious and even seem bizarre  . But once Gladwell explains it one can see how well they stand the test of logic.
One of the most interesting books I have read so far this year. A must read !

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