The title and sub-title of this book are a trifle misleading. At first glance, they tend to delude readers into anticipating one of those low-brow ‘how to flourish and prosper’ prescriptions which unfortunately flood the Indian market.
The good news is one can’t be more wrong. This is the 70-year-old management doyen’s fifth book and here, R Gopalakrishnan has indeed excelled himself.
As is often the case with introspective writing, the author’s narration seems self-evident and the discerning reader will find herself asking: “I’ve thought of this already, haven’t I?”
Gopalakrishnan’s learning has been gathered from decades of corporate experience. This book is enriched by deep and insightful analyses based on the author’s one-to-one conversations with ordinary, not famous, individuals. Consequently, their words are not self-conscious and don’t “suffer exaggeration and distortion” as stories of celebrities do when “presented like fairy tales which romanticize more than depict stark realities”.
The author acts boldly. He explains: “This book is based on People Like Us (PLU). PLUs inspire as well as instruct readers in different ways compared to the stories of celebrities. It is comforting for ordinary people to know that PLUs, like themselves, struggle to think through dilemmas, do not know precisely what they want out of their lives and careers or struggle to live a life of fulfilment… This may perhaps be one of few such books that is based on chronicling People Like Us.” In addition, he forestalls doubts expressed in the first paragraph of this review by clarifying that “I did not want to be prescriptive with pat answers and solutions.” Authors are rarely so honest.
Gopalakrishnan believes the emotional question banks of PLUs are enormously complex: Are my ideals and goals aligned to those of my employer? Does the latter live up to the professed ideals of its leaders? Does my boss come through as truly transparent with people? Does my organisation take what I think to be rational decisions? What is a purposeful life for me? What is courage? How does one get fulfilment in life? What is ethical behaviour?
These dilemmas are not theoretical but realistic. Besides, PLUs seeking cast-iron answers to each of these can’t lead ‘sane lives’.
Now comes the book’s clinching postulation. To simplify life, PLUs need to build mental archetypes of good behaviour, a sort of personal standard of conduct. PLUs ought to judge events and people against this standard. To help PLUs cut through the clutter of dilemmas, Gopalakrishnan urges them to view life through six lenses:
1. Purpose: Belief about one’s life’s aim. Find the long term goal and nurture it.
2. Authenticity: Belief about who one is at the core. Around that belief develop ideas about truthfulness, frankness, self-confidence, speaking one’s mind.
3. Courage: Mind-set about virtues one admires such as ambition, boldness, resisting unfair power, taking risks, facing vulnerabilities.
4. Trust: Mind-set about reliability, never letting anyone down, keeping secrets, loyalty and faith.
5. Luck: Includes words like fate, unexpected fortune, providence, unearned bonanza, fluke.
6. Fulfilment: Being happy, radiating positive energy, enjoying what there is, not cribbing about what isn’t, contendedness.
These ‘six lenses’ aren’t cooked up as a wise author’s pontifications but are seamlessly provided by People Like Us, ordinary non-celebrities, each of whose dialogues with the author is faithfully transcribed in the first person. The presentation is lucid and bracing and the method is uniquely well-conceived.
This reviewer unhesitatingly commends this brilliant book to countless People Like Us.
Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer.