|We spent two years reading extensively before we published the “The Victory Project”. The books which led to “The Victory Project” are the ones which have: a) Helped me understand a discipline that I knew little about; b) Helped me come up with new insights; and c) Are fun to read.
Over the past month, my friend Anupam Gupta and I have spoken in several webinars about our new book “The Victory Project: Six Steps to Peak Potential”. During these interactions, the question which we been asked most often is “Which are the books which prompted you to write your latest book?”. Having had a month to think about this, I realised that the books which led to my latest book are the ones which have changed the way I perceive the world. More specifically, these books have: a) Helped me understand a discipline or a subject that I knew little about; b) Helped me come up with new insights which could, in turn, help me become a better investor; and c) Are fun to read. Basis these criteria, I have listed below the five non-Finance books which have taught me a lot and fuelled many of the concepts which have helped “The Victory Project” become a bestseller.
1) “Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized” by David Epsetein (2019): Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller ‘The Outliers’ (2008) popularised the concept that with 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate’ practice under the guidance of an expert/coach anyone could become a world beater at anything. In an equally well written book ‘Range’, David Epstein says that the ‘10,000 hours of practice’ theory is not only misguided, it could also be damaging. Epstein argues that specialists flourish in “kind” learning environments (such as golf, classical music, technology innovation, chess), where patterns recur and feedback is quick and accurate. By contrast, generalists flourish in “wicked” learning environments (business, politics, fund management, medicine, day-to-day life), where patterns are harder to discern and feedback is delayed and/or inaccurate. Why so? Epstein’s book lays out a neat model for understanding this aspect of skill building and we have drawn upon it in our latest book.
2) “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey (2013): VS Pritchett said in 1941, “Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.” So other than working non-stop, what exactly do the legends do habitually which entrenches their greatness? In 2013 American journalist, Mason Currey, summarised the working habits of nearly 200 great minds in an interesting an entertaining book called “Daily Rituals”. Currey’s book (which itself draws from over 400 sources) and our reading of the biographies of other great minds give us a pretty good idea of the life one would has to lead to have a high probability of doing original, path-breaking work. Chapter 6 of “The Victory Project” gives you a list of activities which can help you hit peak creativity.
3) “The Mind is Flat” by Nick Chater (2018): Psychologists and cognitive scientists such as Nick Chater are telling us that we suffer from the following three ‘illusions’. First is the knowledge illusion, we think we know how complex operations – like an iPhone or like Reliance Industries – work when in fact we don’t even know how common things like a zipper or a toilet flush work. The second illusion is that we can multitask when in fact we can’t. Third is the visual illusion: you think you can see every word on the page of a book when in fact, eye tracking software has shown that our eyes are only focusing on 12 to 14 letters at a time. As if all this wasn’t enough, research tells us that our memories are fallible. So how do we succeed in our daily lives inspite of these limitations? Chapter 1 of “The Victory Project” explains how we use heuristics to survive in a competitive world and how the same heuristics can get us into trouble.
4) “I Too Had a Dream” by Verghese Kurien (2005): Simon Sinek’s latest book ‘The Infinite Game’ (2019) should be celebrated as a breath of fresh air in the discourse around the rightful purpose of capitalism. In that context, one of India’s greatest sons – the late Verghese Kurien, the man who made Amul a powerhouse – deserves to be lauded as the greatest player of the ‘Infinite Game’. Kurien and co-operative he spearheaded, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, were able to co-opt almost every single politician of note in independent India to help them promote the cause of Gujarati farmers. As Kurien’s autobiography shows, Sardar Patel, Tribhuvandas Patel, JL Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, TT Krishnamachari, YB Chavan, Indira Gandhi – basically anybody who mattered in New Delhi or Western Indian politics was brought to Anand, wowed by the scale of the miracle in Anand and converted to the cause of promoting The book is a masterclass in the art of fostering collaboration on an epic scale. Chapter 7 of The Victory Project was inspired by this great man.
5) “Guns, Germs & Steel” by Jared Diamond (1998): “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (2015) made Yuval Noah Harari a literary superstar but an even better read is the book which inspired Sapiens, “Guns, Germs & Steel”. Jared Diamond starts with the basic proposition that all humans are born with much the same abilities. He then argues in logical steps that the world around is unequal i.e. not everyone is born in a region which is productive & fertile. This mismatch – between abilities and surroundings – produces remarkable outcomes.
In the ancient world, inequality started with the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent (modern day Iran & Iraq). “Agriculture stimulates increasing population density, which means disease, which means acquired immunity. Civilisation requires the food surplus only agriculture can provide, but it also imposes a need for specialisation, for technology, for ingenuity. Competing civilisations …provoke an arms race.” (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/feb/18/guns-germs-steel-jared-diamond)
Diamond is at his mindblowing best when he explains why civilisation as we know it was born in the Fertile Crescent but his book also shows that “Other places were not so fortunate. The entire continent of Africa produced a few scattered plants – coffee, millet, sorghum, groundnut and yams – but these species did not share the same climate so they could not all be grown in the same place. And not one large African mammal has ever been satisfactorily domesticated, even now. Meanwhile, the Fertile Crescent had four of them at the end of the last ice age…” That these inequalities have persisted over many thousands of years should make the rest of us pause, consider our gifts and our endowments and make the most of them during our time at the batting crease.
Saurabh Mukherjea is the CIO at Marcellus Investment Managers (www.marcellus.in) and the co-author of ‘The Victory Project: Six Steps to Peak Potential’
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