The Alchemist : Reading Experience

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Reading The Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise, while the whole world slept.

The Alchemist doesn’t teach you anything, but you can learn a million things from it.

“Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for the lead, and then the lead will have to turn itself into gold.”

My 6th book of the year was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This was a rather famous book that I finally decided to read and was not at all disappointed.

The book narrates the journey of a boy and his quest for his treasure. On the way he meets the alchemist, who helps him find the treasures he didn’t even know existed.

The boy who was a shepherd, used to travel across lands with his sheep.

He remembered that because he had the jacket, he could withstand the cold night of the desert. He knew that we have to be prepared to withstand the change, and suddenly he was grateful for the weight and warmth of the jacket, even in the scorching day time heat.

The above quote perfectly captures the importance of embracing change and suffering now for the sake of later good.

The boy had a dream of finding treasure near pyramids of the Egypt. And he later finds that this was what his personal legend was.

After all, it is the possibility of dream come true that makes life interesting.

On his way, he meets an old king. The old king who teaches the boy what one’s personal legend is.

Personal legend is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young knows what their personal legend is. At that point in their life, everything is clear and everything is possible.

The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy and jealousy. To realise one’s personal legend is a person’s only real obligation.

“And here I am between my flock and my treasure” – the boy thought.

And while following our personal legend, we have to choose between something we are accustomed to and something we wanted to have.

The secret to happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the journey of your own personal legend.

But that journey is full of decisions and choices that one has to make.

Making a decision was only a beginning of things.

When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.

The Alchemist’s greatest discovery was not the elixir of life or the philosopher’s stone. But, they discovered that the purification of metal had led to a purification of themselves.

A purification that made them understand the ultimate truth of life. One’s personal legend.

Journey of one’s personal legend is full of omens. Omens that represent the resonance of energy with the soul of world. And the universe communicates the omens by using the universal language.

But how does one immerse himself in his personal legend?

“Listen to your heart, it came from the soul of the world and one day it’ll return to it”.

Power of silence is what allows us to hear the world speak the universal language. The book describes

The boy was sitting in desert in silence with only sound of the laventer (east wind) hitting his face. He was learning to understand the desert.

An average person speaks 10,000 words per day. May be cut that into half. or some times don’t speak at all.

It’s all about improving himself. That’s is the reason why one’s personal legend was carved by the soul of the world. It’s the journey that one follows in his personal legend. that is the real treasure. Everything else is secondary.

This is why the alchemy exists. So that everyone will search for their treasures, find it and then want to be better than their former life.

“Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for the lead, and then the lead will have to turn itself into gold.”

And finally, towards end of the book, the boy finds his treasure right where he started.. The place where first he had the dream. When he asked the soul of the world why it didn’t tell him that before, it said,

Because it was fun! This is what your personal legend was. You had to follow it.

Conclusion : 

The most prominent lesson I learned from The Alchemist  was that one has to find and follow his personal legend. Even if the goal is right in front of them. Because in the end, it is the one’s journey on his personal legend that reveals the true treasures of life to him.

A must read for everyone!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : Reading Experience

The Japanese motorcycle maintenance guide says “ Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great piece of mind”. There is a thing about everything you build, including bikes. If you build it with non-serene mind, then you build your problems into it.

The book takes you on a cross country bike journey that will teach you mind opening lessons that leave lasting impressions on your mind. Your mind will simple refuse to contract itself to older stage.

One of the most important lesson that book teaches you is to enjoy the common little things that life has for you. There is as much Buddha in cogs of bike, as there is at the top of the mountain.

Towards the beginning of the book the author says, “If you want to set out for the most amazing bike journey, you have learn the art of motorcycle maintenance.” The quote has so many meanings at different levels that your mind can explore the words in infinite ways.

As the bike journey progresses, author makes the point that the key to be doing great work is to be completely involved in it. Not like mechanics who listen music while working on the bike with no intention to make it great, the noise of the tools should be music.

How we see the world affects how we think about it. There are two ways to see the world, the classical way where everything is logical and the other is the romantic way.

Classical way of thinking runs the knife on views, something is cut. And when the logic in the logic is found, the beauty of the unknown is lost.

Romantic way of thinking is all about enjoying the continuum of things.

Quality is the thing that author says that you know what it is, but still you can not define it. Like you know what makes a tomato soup good, but yet you can not define what makes up its quality, both materialistic and spiritual.

World consists of three things : Mind, Matter and Quality.

The author was a student of University of California at one point, before his nervous breakdown. Studying there he made some amazing point on the thinking of Plato and Aristotle. How dialectic way of thinking is different from rhetoric way of thinking, but at the same time one doesn’t proves the other wrong.

My two the favorite quotes from the book are :

  1. “The only zen you’ll find at the top of the mountain, is the zen you take with you”.
  2. “The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquillity it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”

This is the best book that I have ever read. No matter what you are doing in your life and how old are you, this books touches your mind at levels so deep that you didn’t even think it was possible. But you’ll have to keep the beginner’s mind to learn.

As the author states, “sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive”. I was carried away with the philosophical ideas presented in the book and the serenity that the country side description provides.

Knowing that Chris, the son of the author, with whom he set out for this bike journey is dead was a little sad. But again in snap that increases the importance of all the lesson and the author was expounding throughout the book about life and zen.

A recommended read for everyone.

The next book that I have picked is “The Blue Ocean Strategy”.

Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age by Bob Negen : Reading Experience

This was the book that I knew prior to reading it that it won’t be too interesting and might even feel too slow. I searched it on the internet and picked it to read to get a perspective of a retail seller. As me and my team are trying to start a company that will work very closely with retail stores and their owners I thought this book will provide some value.

What I liked about this book how it delivers simple and effective tactics that a store owner can use to create customer loyalty, make lasting seller-customer relationships and compete against online retail giants.

It compares getting customers to getting a girlfriend. They are demanding and they want to feel special or else they’ll move on.

It brings focus on few very effective retail techniques like bag stuffers and doughnut marketing. It also covers basics of copywriting and its importance.

What I didn’t like about the book was that it was too slow and dumb at times. As a young person who is aware of technology world you’ll feel few things too stupid to be covered in that detail in the book. May be that’s a better fit for old shop owners.

Overall it was a good read. Not as per my expectations but still can give you an image of a mind of a retailer.

I’ll definitely use the concepts of this book in my company as me and my team too believe that the best shopping experience for a customer can be provided at a local retail store. All they need  is a power up and better tools now.

My next book is “How to win friends and influence people”. Will share my experience about that too when’ll be done.

Thanks.

 

The Lean Startup : Reading Experience

 

My 3rd book of the year was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I first got to know about the existence of this book during a keynote video of Gary Vaynerchuk where it was up for display. Finally got the time to read it.

The book focuses on how the lean manufacturing using in Toyota can be used in startups as well. And it makes sense! The case studies to new terms defined all help you shape your mind to run your startup in a lean manner.

Part One : Vision

Start

Traditional management taught in business schools is just not what an entrepreneurial manager need. The uncertain market, the uncertain product requirements all needs to be taken care of. This can’t be done with classic managerial metrics. A startup needs new metrics to track itself.

Define

A startup is human institution designed to create new product or service under extreme uncertainty.

 

Validated Learning

Failure is over hyped in startup world. People are happy to fail and then masquerade it as learning. But are we actually learning in the process?

Validated learning is the metric that startup needs to track its progress that it is making by learning from failures. Validated learning focuses on making use of learning to make tangible progress.

Experiment 

Get into the market as quickly as possible. Bootstrap the product and hit the market. Get the feedback of the customer. Nobody wants to end up building something that nobody wants. Find it as soon as possible.

Part Two : Steer

Build-Measure-Learn Loops

Eric suggests that startup should continuously run Build-Measure-Learn loops within the organization. Use metrics like innovation accounting and learning milestones to track actionable metrics and not to dwell on vanity metrics.

Leap of Faiths

Leap of faiths are the assumptions you make as an entrepreneur that your business depends upon. Entrepreneurs should have foresight, ability and tools to discover which of their leap of faiths are working and which are not.

There are two major hypothesis a startup depends upon :

  1. Value Creation Hypothesis : How you are looking to give value to customers?
  2. Growth Hypothesis : How you think that your product will grow?

Minimum Viable Product : Test It Out

Only way to test your hypothesis and leap of faiths is to hit the market.

Best way to do so is to create an MVP, that consists of your core business features. Make sure that customer actually wants what you are building.

A very good example is Dropbox : Their MVP was a video showing how it will work. It was enough to let them know that there is need for there product in the market.

Concierge MVP  : It is testing MVP with selected customers that you take feedback from in exchange of VIP treatment and support.

Measure 

How do you know that your product is improving? Innovation Accounting is again a metric that allows you to do so. It involves 3 steps.

  1. MVP
  2. Learn – Lean towards working business model
  3. Pivot or Persevere

Cohort Analysis and Split Testing

How do you know which change in product is steering the change in customer behavior? Cohort analysis and split testing is used to test different versions of products with different customers at the same time. This allows us to test features and do innovation accounting properly.

Kanban or Capacity Constraints 

Kanban is an agile development methodology that doesn’t allow new features to be added in backlog until implemented features are validated.

Pivot or Persevere 

The most important decision for a startup is to persevere current approach or pivot.  Pivot is special kind of change designed to test new business hypothesis about the product.

Eric states 10 types of pivots in the book :

  1. Zoom in Pivot
  2. Zoom out Pivot
  3. Customer Segment Pivot
  4. Customer Need Pivot
  5. Platform Pivot
  6. Business Architecture Pivot
  7. Value Capture Pivot
  8. Engine of Growth Pivot
  9. Channel Pivot
  10. Technology Pivot

PART THREE : ACCELERATE

Batch

Eric focuses on the point that startups should now follow large batch production systems but instead work on small batches. This means shortest possible release cycles and always keeping customer involved.

Grow

Startups should focus on sustainable growth. A sustainable growth is when new customers are drive towards the product by the actions of previous customers.

Engine Of Growths

There are three engine of growths that can exist in a startup :

  1. Sticky Engine of Growth : Customers stick with the product for long term.
  2. Viral Engine if Growth : Customers spreading the name of the product as side effect of using the product.
  3. Paid Engine Of Growth : Promotions and stuff.

Paid engine of growth is only profitable when customer lifetime value is greater than cost per acquisition.

Building an Adaptive Organization

Startups should focus on building an adaptive organization. Don’t go too fast nor too slow, don’t get too structures neither lack any structure at all.

The 5 Whys

As used in Toyota. 5 Whys is asking 5 level of whys on every problem. This helps you to get to the root of the problem.

Beware this should not become game of 5 Blames where each team keeps blaming other.

Innovate

Startups should provide platform for their employees to innovate. Best way to do so is to create an innovation sandbox. New features are added within this sandbox and are tested on early adopters segment of customers. Take validated learning out of it and move forward.

Also key is to hold the internals of the startup accountable for their actions. This will increase sense of belonging-ness among the employees.

 

It was a great read. All stuff you read about makes perfect sense. All the problems the book states are real world problem and if you are in touch with startups are not new for you.

 

My next book is Founders At Work : Story of Startups’ Early Days. Excited to read this one.