Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: Are You Ready to Succeed ?

Dr.Srikumar Rao's book Are You Ready To Succeed ? is one of the most unusual books I have read in 2007. I read it on a flight from Bangalore to San Francisco and as soon as I finished the reading it, I went back and started reading it again.

The book is sub-titled "An unconventional guide to personal transformation in work & in life" and it is written in a very direct engaging manner as though Dr.Rao is directly talking to you. This writing style probably emerges from the fact that the book arose from a very successful course conducted by Dr.Rao at Columbia Business School.

As the author states repeatedly in the book, to derive the most benefit out of the book, you have to be committed to doing the exercises in the book. These exercises force you to take a very candid look at your mental models - the lens by which you perceive the universe and your relationship to it. Blaise Pascal wrote, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. " The exercises in this book require you to sit in a quiet room, examine yourself, and then understand what drives your behavior and then recognize these mental models at play as you go about your work.

The breakthrough revelation from the first few chapters is that "It's not REAL !"
No - it's not escapist philosophy but elaboration on the fact that we see the universe through a set of mental models and when we change the mental model, the universe changes. Thus there are multiple sets of "realities" and we can see what we choose to. If we deny this, then that too is a mental model.

The book then goes on to describe how mental models come into place even when we recognize that these are undesirable models which do not benefit us. These arise from our thoughts or "mental chatter" that we are hardly aware of - the characterizations we make about ourselves and others, how lucky somebody else is, how unfortunate I am, what is the secret of success of xyz and so on.

As we realize, it is impossible to shut down this mental chatter and the way to control it is to become aware of the Witness (a Westernized and simplified version of the Atman: the ever pure, immortal, and blissful - which is distinct from, yet immanent in the world of change and process). By being aware of the mental chatter we can decouple it from our mental models. This is similar to what Eckart Tolle describes in his opening chapter of the Power of Now: the feeling that he "could not live with himself" led to the realization that "I" and "myself" were different entities.

Although the Bhagavad Gita is not mentioned in the book, the next few chapters go on the describe the benefits of decoupling your actions from the outcome. This is not an excuse for shoddy work, but frees you from being affected by outcomes you cannot control, beyond doing your best.

The book also talks about moving from a me-centered universe to an "other-centered" universe, and asks us to take the benefits at face value. The Gita (5:18) provides the foundation for this: the enlightened man is one who sees the same Atman in all.

As the author says in the introduction, there's nothing new in the book - it's all based on the experiences, thoughts and wisdom of spiritual luminaries. What makes it different is that it's highly readable, converts the abstract concepts into specific actions and thought exercises that help you internalize these truths.

The books ends with some simple steps that you can do to improve your life. No - I'm not going to list them out here since you would derive a far greater benefit by reading the book for yourself.

The book also has a suggested reading list which covers the gamut of human experience - from the highest spirituality to daily business tactics. It's sure to change your life.


Shankar said...

ok, now you have made me curious, I'm going to read this one.

boon2 said...

First part of your post reminded me of "Vipasana meditation" techniques which advocates sitting in a quiet room (without falling asleep) to understand "who are you?".

Interesting book...will read it for sure