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Write now!

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Here I am trying to write
something nice, satisfying, fulfilling
But the mind draws a blank
The masters advise- Write now! There is no particular time
No stars will align, nor an auspicious moment
No bells will ring

Write. Now.
So I scribble and tap hard
The words align and I struggle for inspiration
Do those last confounding words have to rhyme? Irrelevant.
Write now.

The mind and heart must work
with memory and imagination
cook, spin, concoct, stir
Create
churn rubbish, gold, slur, gems
hustle till in arrives, shines, glows, rises.

Staring at books I couldn’t read
A desperate resolve to learn spikes
Looking for words that work
Some work. Some resist.
Work the words
Wondering now if I can write. Try.

A distraction pings
Resisting hard
A task at hand
Like a baby’s grip
says ‘Write now’

But I am not trained to.
My profession is the graphic kind
True
But if a larger thought has to… become,
Then it must be shared with others
To collaborate with
So it can see the light and might
Of day

Nothing stays. All thoughts are butterflies
Flitting from shoulder to eyebrow
of all thinkers.
So write now
else its all a daze
And we are just dreamers who take instructions…
From those who write now.

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The Copywriter’s handbook : Robert W. Bly

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Though published first in 1985 for print and TV content, this book has relevant gems that work for social media; and as long as you are communicating with a human on the other side, the basics of copywriting don’t change and can still be referred to from this bible. Some all-time great takeaways:

the copywriters handbookYour copy must: get attention, communicate, persuade.
Photography and copy must work together.
Internet has not changed human nature.
Consumers today more skeptical and better educated, have shorter attention span.
Receive more communication than ever.
Any visual has only 5 seconds to grab attention.
1st impression means success or failure.
Headline is most important, appeals to people’s self interest.
Answer the Q: whats in it for me?
Select the audience, generate reaction, avoid negatives, use brand name.
Make a list of words that relate to the product.
Keep it simple and straightforward.
Make a complete statement with the headline.
Use more facts. Communicate with people, not try to impress them.
Avoid vague copy.
Write in a friendly, conversational tone.
Empathise with the customer.
BFD formula: Beliefs – what does your audience believe? Feelings – How do they feel? Desire – what do they want?
Positioning: compliment features and benefits.
People like looking at pictures of people.
Make the brochure worth keeping.
Write snappy headlines, provocative questions, add a strong benefit, header should sell itself, go beyond obvious facts.
AIDA formula: ATTENTION, INTEREST, DESIRE, ACTION
Headline should tell the story.
Excessive verbiage is a put-off.
Every speech should have . clear minded purpose.
Do not bore the audience.
First 4 seconds are like headlines.
Use supers. Think about your customer.
Repeat the product name twice. Avoid stagnant shots.
Relate your content to current or relevant news.
Readers love what they can use right away.
Give actionables: like useful ‘how to’ tips.
Are people having fun working?
Advertising is a serius business.
Your ideas should sell and market the firm’s product.
Be sharp. Be on time. Look professional. Bring work samples. Listen. Let the interviewer do the talking. Be aggressive. Dont be sorry.
Simple layouts are the best.
My copy has all the best takeaways on postits. This piece is a treasure for life.

 

The Culture Code – by Daniel Coyle

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the culture code‘Culture has Strategy for breakfast.’

This well said quote is best enforced with great examples in this book. Cultures of winning teams in companies observed over atleast a decade prove that a great internal culture can make for a great place to work where constant communication and collaboration shows results. Constant communication with team members beats highly qualified folks working in silos. The book is very inspiring and learnings can be put to use immediately if you are leading a team or just working with a team where many skills come together.

You don’t have to be individually excellent, just collaborate with more instances of  interaction which is more important for improving a product and reducing errors. Examples are from basketball teams, the army, movie companies and startups.

You also don’t have to be a maverick – an ever misunderstood catalyst. Just be the guy who connects talent together which makes great things happen. Also, an office or any workplace can be designed for better interaction, eye contact and communication between team members. The more the random connections, the higher the chance of generating ideas. Though tech – chat and email can aid communication, not everything can be typed.

Another important takeaway for the leader is to make himself vulnerable to the team. No matter how much a leader knows, its advisable for one to ask others for ideas and expose his own weakness. The point is to create a ‘safe’ zone for other team members to be able to come out and contribute.

I managed to get my hands on this book in a few months after it was published. The review suggests that it be read immediately. True. My copy has notes and postit notes where ever there is an insight. I also hold less higher the idea of the ‘A’ team where only a group of highly placed qualified individuals can achieve greatness. The ‘B’ team has all the potential to do bigger things by simply staying better connected.

More takeaways – Embrace fun, highlight positive behaviour, overdo the ThankYou’s. High candor feedback, uncomfortable truth telling and face to face interactions are a must. Its about collective

Sapiens: most relevant book yet

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Just finished reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. This is probably the most important book in recent times. Though published in 2014, anyone from any field or background will find this book relevant from an existentialist point of view at any point in time.

Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval questions the very point of human existence and why we are doing what we do. The first part of the book charts the history of mankind and all the development yet in agriculture, perception of money, credit finance and how Europeans influenced the world (important) or science.

Biology enables, culture forbids: you may have all the capability bestowed upon you to create and achieve but the prevailing culture you are in may not allow it. Networking and social skills give humans the edge over others and not brute strength.

The last few chapters dwell into the whole point of what we are doing today. Is happiness the purpose of all innovation and development? Is it money or conquest? What makes us happy apart from just secretion of serotonin in our brain? Is the human race improving or worsening? What is the point of advanced intelligence and cutting edge scientific capability? What do we really want? A person who does not crave does not suffer. People who are genetically disposed to happiness will be happy anyway, with what the already have instead of craving for new things.

Some important takeaways for me: Nationalism is fast losing ground. Soon it will not matter which country you hail from but what you can bring to the table for larger communities, how you can improve the current state of things. Your social skills and ability to collaborate and take things to the next level will matter more than your background. Two main examples are India and America. Both countries have been built by immigrants and conquerors who have left behind legacies which make both countries proud of what they have today. Indians love drinking tea, have a huge cricket fan following (both Brit behaviours), are the largest English-literate population and protect British buildings as heritage sites. Taj Mahal was created by Mughals with material from all over the world. Punjabi food is heavily influenced by Persian and Mughal inputs. ‘American culture’ -be it architecture, music or technology is made from inputs by Europeans, Africans and recently- by Chinese and Indians. So what is the fuss about ‘outsiders’?

All big scientific experiments and projects were given funding because the folks who agreed to fund them saw a larger political, social, economic or religious goal. So think bigger; infact things colossal at a much larger level before you propose your project plan to your boss. The goal must be sustainable with a much larger impact.

No concept, idea or theory is beyond challenge. As long as we accept that ‘we do not know’, there is always the path for more knowledge and debunking whatever hindered our ability to go beyond and achieve more. The status quo can always be changed. There is nothing natural about our current situation and that is evident from history.

This book is already influencing my work and my  perception of the world- more so after our US trip. Incidentally I read this book half-way while we were touring in Greyhound buses across the states so it was a surreal experience anyway. I feel that’s why its important to read while travelling. One tends to soak in much more in changing environments and the words get hard-baked into the cells somewhere :).

USA trip 2018: West to East coast

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On our US trip we were in 12 locations in 21 days, on 10 Greyhound buses (4000 km), 2 flights (3000 km) with 6 bags of luggage across 8 hotels. In all our sightseeing, we walked a total of 250 km.
US trip 2018 frame
We visited:
  1. San Francisco ( < Istanbul < New Delhi)
  2. Yosemite National Park, 269 km by bus
  3. Los Angeles (bus) 616 km
  4. San Diego (bus) 807 km
  5. Las Vegas (bus) 435 km
  6. Grand Canyon West rim (bus) 200 km
  7. Dallas (flight)
  8. Houston (connecting bus)
  9. Lake Charles (bus), 505 km, Baton Rouge (connecting bus) 204 km
  10. New Orleans (bus) 130 km
  11. Memphis (bus) 635 km
  12. Washington (flight)
  13. New York (bus) 360 km
All photos and videos are self-shot.  Spherical (Google Street View) photos (view in Chrome browser, or Google street view app):

https://www.google.com/maps/contrib/114770083174186668538/photos

Click to view a snapshot gallery from the DLSR-

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 5.20.02 PM

Our trip started with San Francisco. After checking into the Marker hotel, we walked around a bit in Union Square. We observed the classic Frisco trams which still do their trips. So well maintained! Chatted with homeless folks at a Burger King. Despite their situation they do not mess with your space.
DAY 2: On the second day we met our tour bus guide Kimberly of Extranomical Tours. We drove around town, Fisherman’s wharf, Palace of Fine Arts and Theatre, Golden Gates Bridge and other iconic spots. We went across to the Alcatraz on a boat. The AV tour of the prison is immersive enough to make you feel what it was like back then. Back in town we learn that San Fran is very expensive to live in. Rent can average at $4000 a month.
Day 3: Yosemite
we met Constantine of Extranomical tours who took us to Yosemite which took the whole day. Though it was raining it was a good trip anyway. Stopped at Turlock for a while where we got sandwiches packed for the way. The high quality of San Fran’s local produce creates awesome food- the air, water, meat, milk, strawberries and awesome people. The landscape here gives meaning to the phrase ‘rolling hills of California’.

we headed for LA via MegaBus. Our original plan was to do West to East coast of US by road. At LA, we were picked up by our French driver Philip who migrated from Paris in 1970 and felt very strongly about how much LA has changed since then. After checking into the Best Western plus Sunset Blvd. walked down Hollywood Boulevard down the walk of fame. Glanced around at souvenir shops. Marijuana is legal in the US so we could smell weed all over the streets. There were also large signs of free HIV checks at one pharmacy. We also spotted a Ferrari painted in weed graphics claiming to be the fastest marijuana delivery service. Did the Hollywood celebrity homes tour. Saw the homes of Silvester Stallone, Paris Hilton, Borat. Later we walked from our hotel to Hollywood Boulevard. Found a freestyle artist at the footlocker crossing. Damn he was good. Check him out-

 

Great weather (Street View) (2). We stopped for a while at Southbound Aliso creek rest area. In San Diego we visited three places – the USS Midway – a large Navy ship, La Jolla, hotel Del Coronado and old town in San Diego. Our co-travellers were from Israel.
Our guide and driver Michael was great till lunch then he fell sick after he ate something. Took an Uber back to LA. We walked around in farmers market and shopped at Barnes and Nobles.
If you have grown up on Hollywood films, do check out the Mecca. Universal has made an entertainment theme from films they made like Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Fast and Furious, Mummy returns and Transformers. We went for the roller coaster rides which were unforgettable. What is amazing is that the entire park is barely 4 blocks and they managed to make it so much fun. Here’s a collection of reactions from the Jurassic Park roller coaster ride.
(Street View across the Bellagio, High roller,
Stopped at Barstow on our bus trip to Vegas (Street View). Incredible town this. There are things, businesses here you will not see anywhere in the world- not even in the rest of the US. Even the locals say there is no place in America like Vegas.
Ten things we did in Las Vegas apart from gambling, will you believe –
1) drop on and off bus tour,
2) high roller Ferris wheel,
3) ate at Heart Attack Grill. This restaurant has a hospital theme. To start with the nurses (servers) dresses you up with a patient’s gown. Burgers are called Bypass burger, double bypass, quadruple, sextuple and octuple. ‘Flatliner’ fries and wine is served in a IV drip. If you waste your food, you have the choice of being spanked with wooden plate.
4) shopped at Fashion Show,
5) 4 floors of M&Ms store – incredible fun zone. These folks know how to sell an experience.
 
6) walked the Vegas strip. Even if you are broke, you can be entertained just walking down the strip. Too much fun going on here.
7) gambled at Venetian (ok this happened)
8) ate at Shaky Shack
9) Bodies Exhibition at BALLY’s. This happens to be a permanent exhibition unlike the one in Fulton street in New York. Bally’s also allowed visitors to take photography and videos.
10) Circus de Soleil at Bellagio. Unbelievable show. An abstract dance performance where the stage changed from floor to swimming pool. The performers would jump from 20-30 feet into the water after their performance.
Day 8 – day trip to Grand Canyonvia GreyLine bus we stopped at Hoover dam, chopper and boat. Our most memorable part of the entire trip, no doubt. (Street View), Hualapai Ranch
On the way to the airport, our driver Peder says there is no place like Vegas in the US.
Our driver Sandor met us at Dallas airport. He has migrated from Hungary. We checked in at Crowne Plaza downtown. We walked 16 km and saw these places-
  1. Visit to 6th floor museum– from where JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald,
  2. Perot Science museum,
  3. Kennedy Memorial
  4. World aquarium,
  5. Klyde Warren park,
    1. Reunion tower. 2. 

Dallas apparently has the least corporate tax so this is home and headquarters to many corporations. This place felt a bit like Gurgaon – a lot of glass buildings and eat-outs and food courts on the ground floor. A lot of old traditional heritage buildings still look good around Elm street where our hotel is. We stopped on the way to Houston.

Day 12 – Houston  1. Street view  2. Houston Greyhound bus stop
We start our bus trip through the south. Took a bus via Tornado Bus Company to Houston. Though we reached at 1230 noon and the next bus to Lake Charles was at 8pm, we decided to wait at the station and not go galavanting into Houston. Returning to the station would be cutting it too fine. Read ‘Sapiens’ halfway.
We stayed the night at our hotel at Lake Charles. We took the morning bus to New Orleans from Greyhound station at 8am. We chatted up a bit with Rana Afzal from Pakistan at the greyhound counter. He has been here for 2 years and he says his heart ain’t here. This bus goes to Baton Rouge – a connecting station to New Orleans.
Street view photos 1. Natchez steam boat, 2
We arrive at New Orleans and driver Lamon is a retired school teacher from New Orleans. He showed us a few spots to visit. We check into our hotel at Canal Street. New Orleans is heaven for creative people. We walked down Fisherman’s Street down St Peters Street. Then the jazz cruise in the evening was on board a steamboat called Natchez. A band called ‘The Dukes of Dixieland’ played onboard. This was a high point of our trip here. Insanely talented folks came out of this town. We deliberately reduce and subjugate ourselves to a limiting culture. The same country be it US or India has varying cultures. How well you fare depends directly on the culture you are allowed (or not) to thrive in.
Day 15 – March 24
Today we woke up early and walked along the aquarium on the Mississippi River side. The weather is just right – sunny and pleasant wind along the river side. Later around noon went to Lafitte for the swamp ride. Spotted a few alligators, held a baby alligator in my hand on the boat. After a few hours we got back to New Orleans. Walked down the street in the French Quarters area till night and got back.
Spotted some unbelievable musical talent on the streets of New Orleans. This is the birthplace, the bedrock, incubator of upcoming talent.
Day 15 – March 25
Taking the bus from NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) back to Baton Rouge for our connecting bus to Memphis. There is a marathon going on in New Orleans so our driver had to drive around a bit to reach our bus station. We made it in time though.
Greyhound bus trips show what America is really about- the people and landscape changed drastically from green California, Vegas desserts and swamps of Louisiana. The people are real. We travelled with people of all ethnicity and they were still being themselves. Compared to this, all hotels, planes and airports are the same across the world now with people being their artificial covers. Bus trips are real. Chatted up with a couple who had worked for a Patel family and he figured I was from India. He felt Indians got too much into religious politics like Jews and kept the businesses to their own kinds!
Stopped at Jackson for our next bus to Memphis.
Stopped at Durant, Mississippi for passengers pickup
We are at the crowne plaza in Memphis. Walked down to Beale Street which celebrates B.B King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Day 16- Memphis
Street View photo  Beale Street
our driver Larry took us to Memphis airport and gave us a short dose on the city. This is home to rock and Blues. The music from the movie Blues Brothers came from Memphis and the city is also breeding ground to a lot of other genres. Memphis is also FedEx’s headquarters so the airport has a small passenger terminal compared to the cargo terminal. We boarded a small American Airlines plane called American Eagle which was a tiny 50 seater. It has just three rows and the ceiling was only 6 feet.
Day 17  – Washington 360 Street View photos 1. Lincoln Memorial
When we reached Washington our driver Kocou from Benin said he had lived in New York earlier and liked Washington better. We walked around till the Capitol. The weather is bitter cold and windy. We should have worn more sweaters before stepping out in 3 degrees Celsius. We grabbed a quick meal and a gallon of water from Walgreens.
Woke up at 5am to make the most of our single day in Washington. There is something about high energy levels here despite so many cars. People were jogging around the Capitol in the noon and evening. We walked almost 12 km today. We had breakfast, walked down to Union station for our hop on and off bus. Saw quite a bit of Washington on the three tracks. Starting from the Capitol, Lincoln memorial, Georgetown and China town. At Macy’s we met an Indian at the luggage counter- Mr Bala Rao who migrated here from Chennai in the 60s. He was a vegetarian back then, then started eating meat since there was not much choice for vegetarians back then. He is 85, never married. Later at the end if the day we walked back to our hotel on New York avenue. Our phone batteries were down and I left the charger in the hotel, so when we lost our way in the night so we took a cab- our only cab through the entire trip. Paid $10 for 2 km!
We reached The Big Apple at 3pm via Peter Pan bus. Weather wasn’t looking good at 3 degrees Celsius but no one seems to care. All shops would be shut for Easter on the coming weekend so everyone was shopping in a hurry. We walked from our hotel to Apple store on 5th Avenue and back through Times Square.
Day 19
The next day it was drizzling but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone in Manhattan. We walked to B&H Video – a landmark store for photography and gadgets. This store is a must visit for anybody interested in as much as a connecting wire.
There’s also Macy’s a few blocks away. All stores here are landmark icons in Manhattan – from the NBA, M&Ms, Apple, McDonalds, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Day 21
Took the hop on and off bus today and went sight seeing. We were at Freedom tower, Wall Street bull, across the bridge to Brooklyn. We chatted up with elderly ladies on the streets and restaurants. We met an elderly lady from Hyderabad on Wall street. She has been travelling alone all over Manhattan via GreyLine Hop on and off buses. When we walked into a restaurant, another old lady got chatting with us. She said we looked like Spanish folks. I said most people from equatorial countries like Egypt, India and Malaysia looked alike. Walked around to Crate and Barrel, Container store, M&M store in Time Square to pick up chocs for gifts.
Day 22
We took the tour bus to uptown around Central park and saw some celebrity homes through Central Park West and Harlem. We got off at Guggenheim museum, looked in a bit and walked upto Museum of Modern Art. From there we walked up to Long Island Rail and went down to Hicksville to meet family.  Dropped in at a gorgeous store called Micheals which is paradise city for creative tools, material and stationary.
Day 23 – still in NY
We walked to Bryant Park in the morning and walked into Whole Foods Market across the park. The range (and size) of American produce was exhausting- from strawberries, onions, cheese, meat, chocolates. There was also a sitting area where you could serve yourself and eat there. We had our last meal at Joe’s pizza in Times Square. Here we spotted the famous naked cowboy again. This guy is incredible – strolling around in 2 degrees playing his guitar.

Our trip through the US changed something in our heads; too much of fresh air maybe. But we saw the country differently – for better reasons. We understood people better (and partial reasons for why Trump won). But more importantly we also saw India better. There are good and bad things about every place. Thats what travel does I guess. About Greyhound buses –  when we returned we Googled Greyhound buses and found that it was not rated highly and most people mentioned loss of luggage. Others we spoke with had a few things to say about the people on board. Our experience was different all the way. We interacted with so many people at the stations and got back with all our 6 bags we travelled with. Its upto you and how you see things so have a great time on your visit to to the US- by far the greatest country on the planet right now.

 

I carried my DSLR throughout the trip – a Canon 6D Mark 2. Though it is heavy, it did two things – I got high quality photographs and it opened up conversations with total strangers in shops and buses. One also tends to look more carefully and compose a picture while looking into a DSLR.

Our trip was organized by Dewberry Holidays LLP, Mumbai. A great team stayed online with us throughout the trip. Our friends wanted to know what difference really does an organizer bring to the trip. Well, somewhere you need the experience of others to optimize your trip. The organizer will at the most suggest the most popular, relevant, best or historic things to see. Its upto you if you want to go there or not. Either this or you do your own research and travel.

The unpublished David Ogilvy: still gold

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unpublished David Ogilvy.jpgLooks like we stuck gold here in the land of ‘books of insights’ for the workplace. Published first in 1987, this 30-year-old gem still shines through all the changes the corporate world has seen. Just like Iacocca’s biography, Ogilvy also puts people first at the workplace; making this book very relevant today. Random takeaways-

On writing: Knowledge is useless unless you can put it down in writing. Avoid jargon, being boring, standard sales talk. The copy must be human and simple. Every word counts. Do your research on the client. Talk about your own company and what it can do for the client. Be definite, factual, tell the truth.Your ad has to carry the big idea, followed by position and promise. Write down every idea, and atleast 20 headlines. Edit ruthlessly, bring story appeal. People who think well, write well. Write the way you speak- naturally. Use short words, sentences and paragraphs.

On hiring: Be imaginative and unorthodox in your hiring. Character is the most important thing of all. Hire people who are better at things than you. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Never hire friends and relatives. Avoid negative people who spread gloom and negativity. Encourage people who bombard you with ideas.

On competition: Never mud-sling competition.Be a leader in your space. Let competitors follow you. Anyone can do a deal, but it takes time and guts to build a brand.

On clients: Earn their respect. That matters most.
At client meetings, do not assume the posture of a servant. Both need each other.
The consumer is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.

On leadership: A good leader must look confident at all times. Advertising from research give you an edge. Great professionals may not make great leaders.

Avoid excess in all things.
Hard work never killed anyone, boredom does.
Vacations are most important to charge the batteries.
Creative people do not have a monopoly of ideas. So create a culture where anyone can contribute.
Succeed in public, fail in private.
Have a divine discontent for your own performance. Its an antidote for smugness.

I think I found the Bible and handbook for advertising and messaging.

Iacocca – amazing man, life and book

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Edit If you are looking for a book to read and can’t decide between biography, management and or general inspiration, pick up ‘Iacocca’. This is the autobiography of the former president of Ford and chairman of Chrysler corporation. An old colleague mentioned this book 6 years back and I made a mental note to pick it up. Finally, I managed to read this and I am only wishing I had earlier. Some books are just supposed to come your way at certain points in time.

What a man, life and book. Though this book was published in 1984 and the product and industry is of an era gone by, the learnings shared are still relevant today. That’s because its about managing people. There are people who live amazing lives, but don’t bother to write about it. Even if they do, not everyone has the charm and ability to spin an engaging story till the end. Mostly written straight from the gut, the book is easy to read and flows like a movie at times. Lee Iacocca was always a brilliant marketing genius and clearly his writing shows. Some random takeaways –

Be the best in your field. All the talent in the world doesn’t excuse deliberate rudeness. Why walk when you can run. You need to compare happiness to something to know its worth.
For marketing folks – People dont read stories, only headlines. Headline writers influence people’s perception of the news. Always prepare, rehearse before presenting to a customer. Play out the relevant consequences and details, all conceivable options and scenarios. Put your great idea on paper. If you can’t, you haven’t thought it out. Its a shame when a talented executive cant tell a board whats in his head. Always work with a script.

For managers – Quarterly reviews force managers to talk to their teams. It changes the boss’s role; he becomes less of a authoritative figure and more of an advisor. The conversations remind people not to lose sight of their dreams. Regular reviews make it self regulating. Managing is all about motivating other people. When giving credit, give it in writing, when giving hell, do it on the phone. Play it with your heart. Nobody goes far kicking people around. Speed of the boss is the speed of the team. Everyone in the world is accountable to everyone.

General observations at the workplace – when the secretaries are goofing off, you know the place has dry rot. One incompetent manager brings along another. If morals is low, the place becomes a sieve. If you stand still in this business, you get run over quickly. All business operations are reduced to – people, products, profits. People come first. Unless you have a great team, you cant do much with the others. Build quality products. Its all that matters. In the end, what counts is performance.


Life is about timing. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and correct our mistakes as you go along. Coming out with a new product too early is as bad as being late. You can only sell what people are ready to buy. Work can kill you. So can not working. Always think in terms of other people’s interest. In a disposable society like ours, nobody is a hero or lasts too long. People are hungry to be led. If you are not Number One, you have got to innovate.

Thats my copy – with postits and notes all across the book. What a treasure.