The Story Rules Podcast E06: Prakash Iyer: Bestselling author and Leadership Coach (Transcript)

Prakash Iyer
5. General

The Story Rules Podcast E06: Prakash Iyer: Bestselling author and Leadership Coach (Transcript)

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Intro Hook

“…there is deja vu. Where you see something new but you find it familiar, and you go to a place for the first time and you say wow, doesn’t this remind me of or you meet somebody for the first time and you say, doesn’t he look like, and this attempt to try and take the new, and, and put it in boxes which are old and familiar for us and that’s deja vu. And he says it’s you know what can work for us is Vuja De which is the opposite of that. When you look at the same old thing and you say wow, never seen it before. And it’s such a powerful idea so you see a car, and you see somebody driving it and you say wow somebody’s driving a car. So, what if nobody was driving your car, you could have a driverless car.”

<Intro Music>

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.

Today we speak to Prakash Iyer, an accomplished leader who wears many hats: Ex-CEO of Kimberly Clark Lever, bestselling author of several books on leadership, speaker, coach and most of all, a gifted storyteller.

Of these, I have, of course, chosen to focus on his storytelling skills in this episode.

I came to know about Prakash’s books through Ameen Haque, a leading story coach and collaborator. 

I was hooked!

Prakash’s books are like a delicious box of chocolates – filled with several short stories, anecdotes, fables and allegories – all of which offer rich life lessons.

His collection of stories come from a wide array of sources – including from his own observations of life around us. 

His ability to spot the Vuja-de (i.e., to see something new in the familiar) is off the charts. 

But, for me what really stands out in his writing is his incredible analogical thinking. He gleans out several life lessons from everyday activities such as using teabags and flying kites

Another recurring theme in his writing is the use of sports as a metaphor for life. Especially his genuine love for cricket shines through in the compelling anecdotes he shares about the game.

In this conversation, Prakash talks about the influence of his family, the importance of persistence in writing, how he kept his love of writing going even when his job was in Sales, and how he goes about thinking and writing his stories.

Thanks a ton, Prakash for coming over to the Story Rules podcast. So, I’ve been teaching people storytelling for about five and a half, six years now, and in many of my sessions when people ask me, or you know when I myself recommend (books), two books that I always include in my recommendations are ‘The Habit of Winning’, and ‘The Secret of Leadership’. And of course, I didn’t know about ‘You Too Can’ at that time. So, I’ve included that too, but this has been something I’ve been recommending for years now and so it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast, welcome.

Prakash 000112

 It’s my pleasure entirely to be here, so thanks so much for having me here and clearly, you’re a kind man.  Needless to say, great choice in books!

Ravi 000123

Thanks, Prakash! Yeah, I’ve been having a lot of questions because I definitely want to talk about the science and the art behind your storytelling as a skill. But before we get into that, I want to talk about you finding stories themselves as such a powerful tool, how did that happen? So, what triggered in your mind the interest in stories as a tool to teach leaders, to form leaders. And you know, specifically was there, was there some sort of an aha moment that led to this insight or was it just more gradual over many years? 

Prakash 000158 4:13

I guess I don’t necessarily see myself as a storyteller or any such thing. I just think stories happened somewhere along the way. And maybe I’ve quite enjoyed, communicating, or talking to people and, you know, conversations or I just enjoy talking people. So, because I enjoy people, I love to hear their stories, maybe that’s a part of where it might have begun. I love to tell stories, and maybe that has kind of got me started somewhere along the way and it’s hard to put it down to a particular incident or something, but if I was to look back in my life, I’d probably say, my dad was a good storyteller. So,

Ravi 000243

What kinds of stories would he tell?

Prakash 000247

So that’s again an interesting one. I don’t think I saw him as oh wow, you know, I can tick the box for my dad and say he’s a good storyteller. It’s just that now when I look back, on my father and my growing up years, I remember a lot of small things that might have happened which could be you know we were (living). I was born in Jaipur, and winters in Jaipur can be fairly severe, so I remember quite distinctly, you know all of us huddling together under one blanket in a room, you know, with my brother and my sister, my dad and mom, and we had the heater in the room that was probably, you know whirring away. That was I guess as a kid when you think of your dad you think of him as Superman anyways and for me that was Superman and he had all these stories from the epics and he had this ability to, to tell us those stories without making it sound like you need to know this, or you know, I’ve got a lesson for you, or none of those it was fun because it was fun, it probably just got stuck somewhere in my head and it stayed with me, and maybe that’s my earliest recall of saying, yeah, maybe there was a time in my life when stories began to work on me. And perhaps that got me, in turn, to say that maybe it can work and I can, you know, since you asked this question, I’m thinking about it. I think another moment very early in my life that I kind of remember is you know, in school, I used to be, you know, reasonably into elocution and debates and stuff like that and had lots of fun with it so you know, you can imagine this is not like some you know grand prize for the All-India master, this was the inter-House debate in school was only in class eight or class nine, I can’t remember. And I distinctly remember though that the topic of the debate was the goal of education is employment. The goal of education is employment and here I am speaking against the motion, and as it happens, you know, kind of ask my dad and dad’s helping me with that trying to prepare for this whole thing and I am trying to understand it and I think he gave me a very interesting way to look at it and he said, you know you’re not, you are against it, but you’re not going to say that education does not help with employment, you’re only protesting the fact that it says the goal of education.

Ravi 000507

Wow! Beautiful.

Prakash 000509

Okay. and then he, you know, sounds beautiful to you today and perhaps to me today but you know as a 13-year-old kid I’m not sure I quite got it. I’m not quite sure yet the debate, you’re either saying education lead is for employment or it’s not. What is the doing over here, right? And then he told me that you think of it like this that in your right hand is a set of animals, okay, let’s call it education, and on your left hand is a set of elephants and let’s call it employment. And if someone says, all employment means education, you tend to agree, because all elephants are animals but when you disagree is when somebody says that the goal of education is employment that the only reason why education exists is employment, thereby implying that all animals are elephants.

Ravi 000559


Prakash 000600

Now, damn, that kind of sunk in like never before.

Ravi 000602

That is brilliant ya

Prakash 000603

And then of course you know you have 13-year-old coming up on stage next day in school. And I’m not sure if people got anything else as I said, you know, you get those 3-4 minutes of speaking I’m not sure they got what I did, but in that 1 minute, when I told them about elephants and animals, you know, for the next few days I was a bit of a school, local hero in the school yeah and that, in some senses, I guess also, stayed with me to say that you can have the most powerful arguments and you can marshal great logic and thought, but what often works with other people with teams with an audience, is this ability to make it simple and to perhaps, you know, provide an analogy or metaphor or a story, which gets them thinking. Aha, I get it. And for me I think that elephant and animal (example), perhaps told me that, hey, there is something in this there’s magic in this and maybe it’s worth kind of staying with me, maybe later in my life it kind of stayed with me

Ravi 000701

I am going to actually do a deep dive with you on analogies because I think you’re absolutely fabulous with those. And yeah, I can see some of it is probably genetic because this is classic, you know, deductive logic by the Greeks right Aristotle and Socrates and to pick that up from just that one line, the goal of education is, is I think very nice. Did you do you read a lot when you are growing up, read and write?

Prakash 000728

So, I must tell you I, my reading was not quite conventional, you know I didn’t read too much fiction. I was very poor with fiction, but I probably made up, so I was big cricket fan, and I probably read everything I could find on cricket. I would read magazines a hell of a lot so for me, nonfiction, in a sense, articles, you know, I could tell you, you know, from those days of my growing up, I could tell you how I thought the lead Dilip Bobb or Sunil Sethi writing in ‘India Today’ were doing such a great job or Mudar Patherya writing in Sports World and what a great guy, you know or Rohit Brijnath so I am just saying for me as a kid, that’s what great writing was, Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, you know, not, not quite my scene, and I say this with some with ultimate modesty that I think I miss something, and later in my life I recognize that maybe if I had read fiction, I’d probably be even, even, you know, even better with what I’m trying to do, but you can’t get it all for me, fiction just didn’t make it. Nonfiction was big, so I would read everything I could. And I guess what also helped me some way perhaps Ravi is the fact that, you know, I got, I used to love magazines and if I read a lot of that and then I started you know for me, Sports Week was my ultimate goal in life and I would write letters to the editor to sports week.

Ravi 000851


Prakash 000852

Yeah, wow, in the sense that you know the really high-quality stuff like you know, “congratulations Sunny for scoring 100 in Melbourne, keep it up”. But you know it got published.

Ravi 000902

No, but see, at least you know, taking the initiative right because I think it all comes from that passion, but a lot of people may have passion for cricket but they may not even take the initiative to say oh, let me write something even if it’s a simple statement to and you know send it back, and the thrill of seeing even that published I think it’s quite priceless, right?

Prakash 000921

It was, it was quite something I think I must confess, though, that when I look at young people today, and the kinds of people, and the things that they do the way they reach out, you know, I get calls or emails from absolutely natural strangers, young kids, reaching out to say hey I have an idea, I want to do a book I want to do a podcast I want to become a whatever, and I start thinking that you know “hey that’s initiative”. Yeah, and you see young kids go off and become commentators give up careers do all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah, that puts in perspective the fact that writing a letter to the editor of a magazine may not have been the biggest thing but you know, I’ll take it .

Ravi 000959

That is also relative but yeah so, but would you also like write for school magazine or in general for your diary or something like that?

Prakash 001007

So I guess, you know, for whatever its worth, I used to enjoy writing, and so I was the kind of kid who quite enjoyed the essays in schoo.  Maybe (this) has an interesting little side, as the side on this one which is not to say that “hey, you know look everybody, look at, I am cool writer any such thing”, but, so you know I remember, I had an essay to write in school on a person I admire, you know. And if you’re in high school that essay, a personal admire usually becomes a politician or, you know, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, you know one of those kinds of things. And for me, that essay was about my older brother.

Ravi 001057


Prakash 001057

And, again, something that I probably remember and for me I think therefore this whole idea of saying that it’s maybe there is life beyond the obvious. And that’s perhaps another recurring theme in my life where I see something and I say, “is there something interesting behind this?” Therefore, a person I admire doesn’t have to be someone you also admire doesn’t have to be someone you would know somebody’s worth admiring hey you know what, there’s someone I like. I admire. I’ll tell you about him. Of course, it makes me complete domain knowledge expert on it because you don’t have no clue what that guy does. So I think

Ravi 001136

how, sorry sorry, go ahead

Prakash 001137

Go on

Ravi 001138

How old would you have been when you wrote that piece about your brother?

Prakash 001142

I’m guessing around, you know this class seven, eight

Ravi 001146

because at that time Prakash, to have the wisdom of life to say that “Hey, I have seen a lot of people, a lot of kids, and in my mind, these are the things that make my brother different or he stands out from the others”, itself is so difficult to develop, right? You know for you, he’s probably just an annoying elder brother so to have that (awareness), at that early age.

Prakash 001211

(inaudible) and maybe you’ll say that as kids growing up you always like people who are older than you because they seem to be able to do so much more. You know they’re better than you at sport, they seem to manage to get things done and you’re learning from them you’re looking up and saying wow, when will I be like him. So I think the sense of admiration can start early and. And for me, genuinely, you know, there was this thing, that “hey, you know, cool guy. Older brother, cool guy”, and like I said, I’m not sure what it’s interesting that I’m not sure I remember too many other essays I might have written in school but that’s one, I remember. And maybe the reason I remember it is of course the fact that I didn’t write about what might have been the conventional kind of thing and you know. But yeah, so I used to write then I, I grew up, you know, I started writing a little bit, I would. I remember I wrote a film review, for Filmfare for 50 bucks, which is what I got paid for it.

Ravi 001300

Nice, nice

Prakash 001300

I would try and write a lot of the accept a lot of these middles to The Times of India. In those days, of course, that meant you write something and then you take it out to the, you know, to the shop near the railway station where the guy sits and types stuff, and you tell them you need a double space that you read somewhere that has to be double spaced, and you put that all in, you know, my early investment in all of this was of course then, it costs money to print out for you, then posting it cost you a lot of money and then you sent it out. And then you waited. You waited, and the only thing it did for me was that I would, you know, A week after that every morning I would go grab the newspaper and look at the middle, hoping that my name would have appeared, guess what, it never did never, it never did never and I never managed to get a middle published in the Times of India. But luckily, you know, around that time other newspapers started coming in and there’s a newspaper called The Sunday Observer, which is started by this terrific guy called Vinod Mehta. Vinod went on to edit Outlook for many, many years, and 1983, India won the World Cup and I wrote something funny about it and Vinod Mehta and Sunday Observer published it.

Ravi 001417


Prakash 001418

That was really cool. And then I started to write quite often for the Sunday observer, these are slightly, you know, my I kind of humor, but you know Vinod Mehta thought it was worth publishing it got published, and I’d get like 150-200 bucks for each of those pieces that, I loved it, went to business school and you know in many ways, that was my calling card in business school because I was not the smartest kid in school. And you know, suddenly to see all these guys coming from these fabulous Institutes and you know toppers and gold medalists and all of that and you’re like this ordinary guy there. Yeah, but I could write, or at least I thought I could write or I’d had something published and you know, maybe that gave me a little bit of impetus 

Ravi 001459

But and I know this is 1980s and you know at that time careers are usually done in the conventional way you know MBA, Engineering, CA. Did you ever consider doing something in writing, part-time, full-time?

Prakash 001514

I did, I did so when I was in college in Bombay, I would go and write copy for an advertising agency.

Ravi 001521


Prakash 001522

For two hours, no, it’s a small agency. In that time, and run by a lady called Gulshan Patel, the agency was called Sai Advertisers. They had a classified ad in the newspaper saying they were looking for copywriters, and I, and I applied to that and she, you know, she gave me a chance, god bless her. I am sure she would have found someone else who knew advertising or had experience and all of that she gave me a chance, and I’d spend afternoons, couple of hours, and then it became when college got busy, I would be like, you know, twice a week or thrice a week, but I’d write for her

Ravi 001558

Cause I’ve heard copy is a great way to learn, right? It’s a wonderful way to brush up your (skills)

Prakash 001604

in those days I guess that was about, you know, one of those few avenues for creative writing in a sense, and today I’m sure you could do 100 other things but yeah, it was fun, and I think I get to stay with the idea that I enjoyed writing

Ravi 001615


Prakash 001616

and the money looked like good pocket money, but it was as much about saying that so there was, I remember there was an ad for Sharp, car stereo systems. And, you know, and the whole idea was that I wrote this you know obviously the client was sort of okay with some reasonably long copy and there is this guy going home after a long day’s work, and enjoying, and the drive home suddenly becomes interesting because of our stereo and the headline for that of course, ‘Bread, Butter, and the traffic jam’, which was so corny, when you think of it today, that you know, as a kid, you thought, you know, you would have paid it.

Ravi 001659

but it was never for you like, “Hey, I think I may be onto something serious here.”

Prakash 001706

So yeah, to be fair, I guess at the time in view. When I was growing up and this is you know going back in time now quite a bit. I don’t think writing or journalism was seen as this great career. And you thought that was nice to do, it was something nice to have on the side. And maybe, this is just the typical, you know, middle-class syndrome, as it were the middle-class insecurity. So, you, you know, you try and say “hey, what would bread, what would put food on the table, what do we get you know, house to live in and the chance to kind of make a livelihood?” and journalism and writing at that time, may not have looked to be great, to be fair, I don’t think anybody ever to, you know, it’s not like my parents said “no, you will not do it” or any such thing. I don’t think there was ever any pressure, but perhaps it was a pressure of its own internal

Ravi 001800

Conditioned? Ya, from society, peers, yeah, I know

Prakash 001804

know also what happens is that if you then get into business school, then you don’t say, no I am not going to business school because I’ll, you know, work as Journalist, then you get into business school and you get a job with the multinational company. You don’t say no I’m not going to take it, I’m going to go out and write, now, that doesn’t quite follow that script, so I probably did but to be fair. And that’s what I would probably advise anybody out there listening in today to say, never let go of your dream job, never let go of your passion. And for me the fact that I enjoyed writing stayed with me and, I started selling soaps very early in my career and for me, writing that the monthly report was great fun, was great fun because you know that was the only writing that I did around that time but you know to talk about what happened when I was in Chikmagalur at that retailer or you know what is Procter and Gamble doing suddenly in the market, you know, this became an interesting thing for me to talk about. But the point I’d make is, let that stay with you, it never goes away, and hopefully, someday you’ll get a chance to do more with it. 

Ravi 001909

Such a lovely, lovely insight Prakash because most people, I think 99 of 100 folks from HUL at that time would be dreading writing that report right you know oh my god wapas (again), I have to do something and send it, and yet there’s one guy who’s writing and probably you’re writing it so well that you’re the senior who’s reviewing it is actually enjoying reading it. I think that’s great and it’s also like a great message that pick whatever you get, you know, it might, you might just get that once in a month, a chance to write but use that and make it work.

Prakash 001941

I guess in some ways, yeah, you know, it’s like I said it doesn’t go anywhere, it may not come your vocation right but it stays with you and it’s not a bad idea to try and you know, keep at it 

Ravi 001952

At the beginning Prakash, you said that, you know, you don’t see yourself as a storyteller and I see, I agree with you I see where you’re coming from and for me right there are two types of people very broadly on a spectrum where on one end is I see people who are the doers who get things done, you know, in sports it’s a Sachin Tendulkar in business it’s Jeff Bezos and stuff and we know all the doers. On the other hand there are the storytellers right who are not the operating guys the sales guys, the entrepreneurs, but who are the Malcolm Gladwell, in sports it’s Harsha Bhogle classically and so on right so and you’ve got typically people who you know are either great doers or great storytellers. It’s very rare to find this combination of people who have excelled in both worlds and I was kind of looking at you, coming from the. So, I clearly belong to the right I’m the storyteller, I’m not the doer type, and to see when I read what you write, I clearly see you as a storyteller, although you know you’re coming from that world of a doer, but to me you’re in that middle to have, you know, done both and which is great. And I see a few others also. do, you know a good balance, Jeff Bezos himself for example writes brilliantly, a very clear thinker, a very, you know, a different example someone like R Ashwin. He is an all-time great cricketer but the way he conducts his YouTube interviews and his channel and stuff, he’s a great storyteller also. So, there are these guys who are I think you know, I think, able to kind of balance both. Do you ever think of that?

Prakash 002128

Since you’re talking stories, Before I answer that question quickly tell you, since you’re talking stories and talking R Ashwin, I must tell you. So, I join Hindustan Lever in the Madras Branch and, of course, young management trainee, turned into an area sales manager now, and the boss says, “How about we start a magazine for the branch” and I said of course, you know, volunteer, so I put together a magazine and I we create a magazine which is interesting enough was called number one because Madras Branch was number one, at that point in time for Hindustan Lever, and guess what I had some of those old copies lying around over here. Not so long ago, and I picked out something in the first issue. There is a, you know, there’s a little snippet that we’ve got over there which says that for those of you wondering where the Agri steno(grapher) Chitra has vanished, we’d like to report that she’s just been blessed with a baby boy, Ashwin.

Ravi 002226

Oh my god, oh my, that was the Ashwin. Wow.

Prakash 002229

So, you know, as they say, I called him first!

Ravi 002233

Fascinating, fascinating, wow. Small world

Prakash 002237

So, yeah, and here’s the deal, so it goes back to writing and it’s something that I still remember and I’d probably say Wow! you know to be able to say that Chitra his mom used to work in our office. Delightful woman. And, of course, Ashwin is that little boy was born around that time,

Ravi 002250


Prakash 002250

I can’t remember the date now, I think September, August 19 September I can’t remember but anyways so that’s, yeah sidelight stories since you’re talking about it, but go on

Ravi 002259

I loved that, loved that. Yeah, to me I think this combination is really it fascinates me people are able to achieve massive amount of success in the business world also and also at the same time have the ability to tell their own story, there is this nice, you know I spoke some time back to a batchmate of mine called Swanand Kelkar.

Prakash 002321

Great guy

Ravi 002321

He’s a managing director with Morgan Stanley.

Prakash 002323

Great guy

Ravi 002323

So, he had a nice line where he said that you know if till the Sachin Tendulkars of the world can’t talk, their story will be told by the Harsha Bhogles of the world and, you know, he hugely respects both, but from his own point of view, we’re saying that you know in in the investing world. There are guys who write and there are guys who invest but very rarely do other people who can invest and also write and so that is one of his objectives to actually write more and you know, explain the rationale of his decisions, etc.

Prakash 002353

I’ll react to that actually. So, you know, this bit about, there are people who might have been successful at what they did and then there are storytellers. I think that’s I think the problem that I have with this idea or this notion of storytelling, where it’s often seen as it’s what you do when you can’t do. You know and I think that’s not being fair to both people who do and to the storytellers and you know, and to take some of your examples, I think Malcolm Gladwell has a craft. I think his ability to tell stories is a phenomenal craft, and he probably works as hard at it, as somebody else might add perfecting their backswing or, you know all the follow-through, or whatever else it is in sport that might be or to perfect his ability to pick the next stock which is going to do well in market and Gladwell does that with his writing and he does a good job of it and I think this is the classic debate which then leads people to question you know, is Harsha a delightful guy, you know gem of a person (not sure), and, you know, for people to say oh yeah but he’s never played cricket is like missing the point.

It’s missing the point. And I think, to that extent I probably say that, increasingly, you find several examples, where people. If you do a good job, you can do a good job of both, and I would, I would, I would then tell anybody in business. And I will tell you that you should listen to Sachin Tendulkar. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Sachin talk, and Sachin may not be the most endearing public speaker, but to sit him down and he can regale you with little stories. He has this remarkable memory he remembers every single knock , he’s ever played well.

You can tell him he tells you how much it was what happened on that ball what happened on the ball prior to that, how he got his hit and you know what the bowler did how did he hit it, and he says it with that, childlike enthusiasm

Ravi 002551

so genuine

Prakash 002551

and it’s genuine I think I would, I would say that, increasingly, and I think that’s what you’re doing, you know you’re doing at some level, which is to get people in business to discover that the old theory would have been a he’s met, missed his monthly target, he’s missed his numbers for the month “ab ye kahani sunayega”, he will tell you a story. Right. The story became a substitute for the action, substitute for the doing bit. Whereas actually a story can actually amplify the doing bit can almost encourage and cause the doing bit to happen because if you can tell your team a better story. Maybe they’ll do a little bit more, which will mean that you have a better story to tell, at end of it all, so I, that’s really where I’d be on this one.

Ravi 002634

No, I, great nuanced points there Prakash. I agree with you, I think the genuine storytellers I have huge regard for the Gladwells and Harsha Bhogles and Michael Lewis’s of the world. It’s a very, very tough skill to master. There is also this challenge of unfortunately stories being taken as you know when you don’t have the real numbers and you spin stories so I come purely from a point of view of, you know, stories are what you do with the data with the facts, but tell them in a way that’s engaging, interesting and impactful. And, but having said still, you know, the point I would come back to Prakash is that it is tough to master both the words you know, I’ve been a little bit of work in the business world right and I know it’s not easy to, to lead a large team to get, you know, get behind them get the targets done monthly reviews, it’s a different skill, operations, sales, these are different skills. And yeah, I mean, no skill is I would say, you know, better or worse than any other, but to be able to kind of be reasonably good at two very different skills, is, is I think quite remarkable. So, yeah, I mean, there’s just like little more and observation, but now let me actually come to the ‘how’ of it right so I absolutely loved the kind of stories that you share, to make some of your points, points to help people become better versions of themselves, I think, at a fundamental level that’s what we try to get people to become. Let’s talk about these stories right there are for those of the, for those of the listeners who have not read Prakash’s books, we’ll put the links in the show notes but fabulous collection of stories. Each book Secret of leadership or habit of winning would have 60-70 stories each are more?

Prakash 002827

Thereabouts, between 50 and 60

Ravi 002828

Thereabouts, right. So, that’s a lot of research right so how do you actually go out and get some of these stories do you know, you keep collecting them on an ongoing basis.

Prakash 002841

I guess I tend to collect them on an ongoing basis in the sense that if something happens, I try and remember it because human memory is such a terrible thing, I tend to write it down. And I often will I try and use it. And maybe that’s where the story then starts to become a part of who I am, what I do

Ravi 002859

How would you use it?

Prakash 002901

So, you know, it’s probably an old habit yeah, if I read something interesting in a book. If I read something interesting last night, I would want to tell you about it today.

Therefore, it would come up in my conversation so I would, you know when I was at work. It wasn’t unusual for me to try and tell my teams or whoever I was meeting that you know and try and say hey read something, it’s interesting. And maybe if it applies to what we’re doing at work I would try and apply it and if it didn’t, you know, it’s still a good lesson. It will probably be something that, in that drive from one city to another, you know, that would probably be sitting with a sales guy and I’d be telling him you know and this is what I read yeah this is fascinating and, in a way, I’m also I’m telling him something interesting, I learned something good. And I thought hey you know what you should do it too, so maybe that’s one way of looking at it, and I probably use those stories, therefore it kind of stays with you doesn’t lose it so easily. I think I didn’t know, and maybe there is this, there is, in my head, perhaps this thing that’s been with me. That I have how do I put it, let me give you a lousy way of looking at it you know I love puns, which is the worst, you know everybody says lowest form of wit and the worst kind of humour, but I think there is an interesting one there which is that every time I hear something, I’m actually saying, “Wow, what else could this mean. Is there something else that’s happening here?” And I’m just using that as an example to say so, you know, maybe I’d, you know, would hate me for it if I had too many puns going, but maybe that little streak has meant that when I see something, And I say, Wow, that’s what you see that’s the obvious thing, but what else could it be doing to you. What else could it be telling you and therefore at one level, I have let’s say one line of vision which is looking at something that’s what it is and there’s another one which is looking at and saying, “What could this teach me? What could be the lesson from this, is there a message here beyond what you’re seeing”. And maybe that’s the other thing that helped me need to perhaps find stories, or to see something and say, you know, hey, what happened. And, you know. An example could be not so long ago. Lockdown 1.0 out. I’m out, there was this whole scramble because there was a guy would come and bring Vegetables. At the entrance to our complex and, and the wife tells me to go and pick up coriander and you know, I go and pick up coriander, you know, and she’s saying, and there’s lots of other things to pick up. But Coriander is what she needs in a hurry because she’s probably making something so the maid comes along with me because she’s been the coriander back while I pick up the rest of the stuff and I do that and I picked up the coriander give it to her, she comes back up, and I pick up everything else and I come back home, only to discover a fuming wife because she says you know I asked for coriander and, you got parsley. Now, what is parsley, as in parsley is the stuff that Simon and Garfunkel would sing about and you know, who eat all of this and buy in the roadside Yeah, but. So that happened. Of course, it ended over there but for me, I think it’s, it’s telling me that no wow, you know, this can happen to us in our lives. Yeah, we have a little knowledge about something and then we think we know it all know it, and because we think we know it, we don’t take no because we know it, we don’t take the trouble of Maybe I should have asked that guy, shopkeeper, “yeh kya hai” (what is this) you know. Maybe that would have answered the question, but I didn’t because I thought I know, now, now, you could not think of this and I’m sure there’ll be a lots of, lots of literature on this and psychology to tell you what happens here but for me, just the fact that something like this happened doesn’t remain a joke or something I can laugh about and tell people that this is what happened and can you imagine, my wife loves to tell people that this is what happened and this is how much he knows about vegetable but, for me I think there’s a story there and there’s a lesson there and this is probably what I try to you know. This is where I, in a sense, stories are all around us and you know, you can see them all over here and for me that’s another way that I might find to use stories so

Ravi 003318

That incredible because yeah, I mean there’s such a regular everyday occurrence to then ruminate over it and think about it and then reflect, because at some level, this is also mentally a little exhausting right you know a lot of us when we are reading a let’s says a nice book which has got a story. We just want to be entertained by that story, and then move on. But in your case, I think those stories kind of you know take residence in your mind and it starts interacting with other things that you know and is this something that you’ve always generally been like this when reading or it just happened?

Prakash 003352

So good point I think maybe that explains also my reading habits where fiction versus nonfiction but don’t read fiction I don’t know I only read nonfiction, and I don’t know if this is true but I vaguely seem to have read a line somewhere which talks about, you know, typically people read for one of two reasons, they either read for pleasure or they read for profit. And perhaps, I enjoyed reading because there was profit and I thought I was looking for that story. I was looking to say, “how can this help, what does this use, you know, why is this useful, what does it tell me?”

Ravi 003429


Prakash 003430

And maybe that that could be a reason. Or,

Ravi 003433

And if we get a little tactical on this so let’s say you, you come across something whether in a book or in a, in a real-life incident, and your, your mind is thinking about it then. where, where would you note this thing down.

Prakash 003446

So, I’m a big user of Apple notes. So, therefore, if I read something I’ll just put down those two words, perhaps, which will tell

Ravi 003455

on your phone or laptop, yeah.

Prakash 003458 37:08

Yeah. So typically, this is more easily at hand. And so, I will probably put down something over there and say wow, that’s an interesting one, you know, and say look wow and I read something about Mike Yershon and I have no idea now, you have no idea who Mike Yershon is but there’s a nice story I read something about Mike Yershon and football this morning. So, I think it just has that there it has Mike Yershon and football as the note that I’ve got note over there. That’s enough for me to know that there is a good story there because I know what Mike Yershon did, and all I have to do is to otherwise now google Mike Yershon and football and say what happened. This is how I use a lot of my stuff because this is all, usually at hand, but there are other notes apps. So, I’m a big user of Pocket. I use Evernote not a not as good user of Evernote as I’d like to be. But clearly, you know there are people out there telling you that apps like Evernote or Roam or Notion is the way to go if you want to become a better person (at note-taking). And to all those again to people listening in, if you want to become a terrific at, you know at note-taking, maybe you should look at one of those apps and say how can I get better at it. I use Evernote which I am told probably the kiddie pool when it comes this business, but it works and works effectively because it has links, I can store stuff, I can tag that stuff so I can, you know, potentially cross tab, look for something that I’m, I might have wanted, but I think what I do well with it and maybe that’s something that, you know, I’m not as good at taking notes as many other people but I try and use it. And that brings me back to the point about if I have read something interesting. I have this almost desperate, urge to share it with somebody. And often it could be the kids, you know when they were growing up, you know, so I would tell them, or it could be on the, on the dinner table, I would tell them you know, “here’s what I saw and that’s an interesting one” and it also is immediate feedback,

you know, either that they tell you whether it you know, you can tell they did, it fly or did it flop? Yeah, so it tells you that it also tells you, you know and what I try and do is to make it, not that I read that and therefore, here it is, but to try and say look, we’ve been (not sure) talking to young kids, how can I make that relevant to their world. Yeah. How can I make that that idea or the concept that I think is fascinating, but how can I make it interesting from their perspective? So, can I can I contextualize it to their world can I can I link it to something that’s happening in their lives. And I think that’s another important piece in this and just being able to use it quickly, is a good way to ensure that it encourages you to find more of these stories, to keep looking at them and it’s not like every story you get is this blockbuster or any such thing sometimes it’s a simple line. And what surprises me is that sometimes I think go “Wow! what a fabulous story and nobody cares” and equally you’ll come across something which you thought was you know, somebody going to say what is this, but it resonates and people suddenly find that it works.

Ravi 003807

So, that’s a great point. I mean, just try it out on, and it doesn’t have to be like a, you know, customer consumer research audience…  just at home. Is that what you typically end up doing now?

Prakash 003819

Yeah, because, you know, so maybe 10 years ago, it might have been at work, so maybe I’d have met somebody in the office and told them about what is happening here in the last few years, you know not, since I don’t go into an office now. And this is my office where I’m sitting right now so it could be typically, you know, telling the wife, or whoever I meet friends.

Ravi 003840

That’s a great one. And then, I think the magic starts happening when you start refining it, and developing that idea and then writing about it right and so what I’d love to bring in, your I think, singular skill with an analogical thinking. So, two, three points that you know I wanna kind of bring in for you to respond. One is India I think as a culture has had a very long and rich history of the use analogies and similes in its writing and I’m going back to the great Sanskrit epics and Kalidas, and Kalidas was apparently called the King of metaphor or king of analogies for the amount (of analogies) that they would use. I remember when I was learning Sanskrit in school, we had this Subhashitmalas which used to be basically these two lines shlokas and almost every one of them would contain an analogy and I just feel it was kind of wasted on the young kids like us who never really understood import of, you know what we were kind of you know, dealing with. One day I’d probably go back to them but I somehow feel that you know you’re bringing or you’re taking that tradition forward. And one example that I’d like to share, you know, that we’ll put a show note or something that you talk about I think this is in secret of leadership you talk about tea bags, and how, you know the leadership principles from or lessons from tea bags and I am reading okay, you write about one principle that I you know, when a leader is put into hot water, then you really know how they do, then there is a porous membrane so that means you know that things can go in and out, and like this 1-2-3 there are 10 points you make 10 comparisons, 10 analogies with just that one thing, and that blew my mind to you know can think about it so deeply, to come up with 10 ideas on that one, so I’d love to know your process of you know how do you come up with something like this

Prakash 004039

So, I guess, in the case of a teabag and obviously, it’s something that seems to have resonated with lots of people and it was a lucky find. I think I read a line somewhere. Which I’m not entirely sure but I think it was about women and how one of these women in the corporate world, said that you know, women are like teabags, put them in hot water and you’ll know how strong they really are, and I thought that was a pretty powerful line. And I’m not sure who or where or what that hasn’t happened but that’s the line that kind of stayed and then somewhere along the way, I guess, you know, that struck me that maybe that line is as true for leaders and I think I was supposed to be. I think there was speaking somewhere about the VUCA world and what does it take for us to succeed in the VUCA world. And, and somebody said that, you know, the VUCA world is really a place where somebody turn the gas on left the water to boil and forgotten to turn the gas off, okay? And so, I’m sitting over there listening to then I say wow, that’s a good place to use my tea bags story to say, you know, as a leader in that VUCA world, whether it’s somebody so I’m not picking up somebody else’s line where is talked about the water being left in the gas and I say, maybe you need to be a teabag, and then it stayed and then I said, so what else could you do with a teabag. And I guess that’s how you say suddenly discovered 5-6-7-8 Of those, to be fair, the 9th and 10th and I started speaking about it quite often. And then very often somebody in the audience will come and tell me you know what, I’ll tell you one more analogy-

Ravi 004220

Wow, amazing, amazing

Prakash 004221

and then somebody tell me one more and then you know there are some which will not be in the book and somebody said you know at the end of the day, if it’s coffee that you’re looking for no tea bag will do it for you. So, I guess people have their own versions of, of what happens with the tea bag and maybe that’s, that’s how it’s come to be. So,

Ravi 004240

Again, this is amazing, again tactically, like how, when do you do your best thinking is it while walking, do you jog, what do you do?

Prakash 004250

So, I’m a bit of a dreamer. You know I like the time that I spend, reflecting, thinking and I’m not sure it’s a great idea because that necessarily doesn’t mean it’s as productive as I’d like to be perhaps, but I can sit for a fair bit of time and, you know, try and think about it. So typically, I guess my first half of the day is my best/better part of the day. If I’m writing a book for instance I would tend to try and use the early hours of the morning to get to work and do my 1000 words a day or whatever it is that I want to do or a couple of hours to sit down and write and, you know, I probably do that in the first half of the day. And like I said I think, my mind can wander off quite easily and maybe it’s because of this, I’m seeing something and I’m imagining something else now so I am lost in another world and to your point, very often I will read something in a book, and then suddenly find that gosh, I need to go back now because the last one-and a-half pages I haven’t been, you know, focused on what I’m reading, I was lost somewhere, so I’m going back and reading again. And that’s because I’m trying to say that wow, that’s an interesting – Where can this fit in… how does this work so I, you know, I probably end up, when I find something interesting or if I think of something and I say wow that’s a nice one, and I try to say how does this work, how does this apply to what we might be doing or, you know, what could an example of this in our life be. And I think that is something else that happened, which is that I’m not, I don’t see it for what it is over there. You know, I’ll give you an example I read a line somewhere and I’m guessing it’s about, about Amsterdam, and I’m not sure if it’s true of Amsterdam or some other city but that’s about how there was a problem that people weren’t keeping their houses, clean, possibly a few centuries ago. And, they were not the residents of the city were keeping messy homes, and someone decided that you know when you’re trying to change this so what should we do, what can you do to change this. And somebody came up with the idea that tell you know build houses with large windows.

Okay. Now, I think it’s an interesting little snippet in itself and it probably goes back to architecture, and design and all of that. but for me I say Wow that’s an interesting one, you know, how do you ensure that you know if you have a you know it probably applies to us as people now and you can probably find analogy there. You know if you have large windows you tend to keep your house clean, and maybe there is an equivalent of people living in glass houses etc. But I thought that’s an interesting one I’ll tell you another one which I thought was fascinating and it’s actually early morning, several years ago, (I) picked up the newspaper, and The Times of India had this story about bus drivers in Andhra Pradesh. Now it’s a small little story about bus drivers in Andhra Pradesh and how they had lots of accidents and they were trying to solve the problem, they couldn’t solve the problem, they tried, training them, tried incentives, they tried improving repair and maintenance but nothing worked. And apparently what worked finally was that they got every driver to put a picture of his family on the dashboard. And it worked (reduced accidents)

Ravi 004623

as high tech as that

Prakash 004626

As high tech as that. Now here’s the what I’m trying to tell you now, is that that little news item which, if you believe the Time of India would have been seen by several million people in India because that’s the number you know, they have a pretty good readership in country, lots of people read it. But for me it wasn’t just about reading that story, it was also about saying, wow, that’s interesting. Now what how does this apply to us. And what does it tell us and therefore, is there a leadership lesson here, which I think there is, you know, about the whole idea of purpose and giving people a reason why they might want to do something rather than telling them what to do or how to do it. I guess for me, I get my cheap thrills, my little joys out of stories like these saying look, what can this tell us about what’s happening in our world.

Ravi 004713 49:16

So, I have this kind of belief or a line that storytellers are bridge builders. They build bridges between some data or something that is important and with the audience. So that’s what at the end of the day your you know, is a key differentiator between you and anybody else who probably knows or has come across that story because you’re actually making the effort of building that bridge saying okay this is interesting but then how will this apply in this particular scenario. And I think one huge advantage that you probably bring there is just the sheer decades of actual real-life lived work experience, right?   Because then you know this is what actually happens at the workplace. So, you know, while you were looking for examples, one that struck me when I was doing this quick research was story about bomber planes in the World War Two, which were coming back with a lot of bullet holes in them and the survivorship bias. And I loved the fact that  you didn’t end with just because once I read the story, I was like “wow this is great”, but then you gave like at least three or four business use cases that you know hey and it, one really hit me, so why don’t you share that story so that you know those who have not read it, you can quickly tell them and then we’ll talk about the use cases.

Prakash 004831

So, I think. Here’s the interesting bit, I think that story of survivorship bias is been around for years, and it’s a great story, and it’s, it’s (Abraham) Wald. It’s actually a mathematician who comes to work and helps these guys in terms of figuring it out and the story goes that, you know, too many planes were, you know, being lost in the war. And they were trying to say look what can we do to strengthen the plane now obviously putting more metal on the plate is not good because the plane can’t fly,

So, the question was, can we reinforce those parts where the planes are being attacked so they look at all the planes lying in the in the in the airfield. They found where are the places which have got the largest number of marks of attacks where missiles have come and hit the plane. Right and, they decided to kind of reinforce those places where they were those marks and Wald, the mathematician comes up and says you know what I think we got it wrong, you should not be reinforcing the places where the marks are because those planes made it back. We should be reinforcing the places where there are no marks right now because that’s where those planes that didn’t make it back, would have been hit, I think it’s such a powerful idea and

Ravi 004950


Prakash 004951

and to your point I think the thing about a story like that is, I probably say two things one, I think these are stories that people need to know people need to be told the story they are such a they’re so powerful in terms of the idea then I think the good news is that, you know, you and I don’t have to go out and become the Wald, and to make that discovery, somebody else’s done the hard work, but hey, I think it’s our job to be able to share it with people and to make it come alive because if you say it and leave it at Bomber planes the guy might probably turn out and say, “Yeah, but, you know, I sell soap ya, there’s nothing, what do bomber planes have to do with me or I’m in customer service, what do I have to do with or I’m in HR, what does that have to do with me” and I think making it come alive for them to and I think therefore taking that one extra step of not just saying here’s a great story. But here’s how it might work for you.

Here’s what this story can do to help you get better, and to that extent, I think, you know, and to come back to why I might have said I don’t see myself as a storyteller is because I think I see myself as helping that person say look, hey I want you to be careful that you don’t look at the data and come to the wrong conclusion. And the way I’m going to help you to do that and to look at the misses and not just the successes to not just try and talk to your own employees today and say what will make you happy, but to try and talk to people who’ve left you.

Ravi 005122

Ya, ex-employees ya

Prakash 005122

to talk to them and tell you, you know what, why did they leave, because that’s what you need to fix. So that’s the survivorship bias that’s the bomber story in an HR context. I see, my job is helping them do that and the story is really a good way to get that message across, rather than the end in itself.

Ravi 005141

Oh, that’s a great way to show that differentiation Prakash, because I think that skill, is rare because too your point, after having read the story I said okay great story, but I’m not sure that it applies to me but immediately the first example that you gave was, you know, second was, was, was the HR one which was great. I think the first one was, think of a consumer research, talk to this consumer didn’t, don’t buy from you, why do they not buy, and it never even strikes you, right? And then, oh my god yeah, those are the planes that didn’t come back. And ya, I think that’s a great, that’s a great bridge building.

Prakash 005216

You know you’re making it sound cooler than it is, Ravi. I think you’re being very generous. I think it’s pretty simple and for me it’s, it’s about saying hey, I think it’s an interesting point to be made and a story helps you to make that point in an interesting manner and hopefully in a memorable way for that person. That’s how I see it ya

Ravi 005233

But, yeah, I mean, I read a fair bit of books and this is rare, Prakash, to have that, again, come back, go back to the doers’ storyteller, you know, thing right to know stories is one thing but to A) of course tell that right and then build that bridge. So now let’s come to the ‘telling that right’ part right and there are some very cool things that I noticed in the way you write and even I think those are places where people who want to just improve their writing storytelling, can I think learn from you. So one thing that I noticed is almost invariably you put in a lot of effort to your starting and the ending of stories, you start really well, you know, you grab the attention, and you end really in almost like a rousing manner almost like in a music piece they say you need to end with a flourish, so I’ll give an example, and you know you can talk about that so this is from ‘You Too Can’ and I think it’s beginning of chapter one, where this How it starts ‘On his first day in Mumbai, A Velumani slept on the platform of the Victoria Terminus railway station. 34 years later, the company he has set up, Thyrocare made a dream debut on the Bombay stock exchange.’ So, at the very beginning with that contrasting two statements you have got our attention, that what happened to a guy who you know from the railway station platform, he’s now become a great entrepreneur, and this is this is how you end that chapter right so this is about I think the introductory chapter so, so ‘Come join the conversation, get inspired, listen in to the people who have walked the entrepreneurial part, they have done it. And now, you too can.’

 And it just reading that almost gives me goosebumps, the way you have, you know, pumped that up and so I’d love to, you know, understand your process of, you know, there is a story, but then it’s a beginning and the end really matter how do you think about those.

Prakash 005424

Clearly, I need to get to work on improving the middle.

Ravi 005428

Okay, fair enough.

Prakash 005432

So, I think, honestly, Ravi I’m not sure this is a very conscious effort to get it right as much as saying that, so I guess when you’re trying to tell somebody something, if you don’t make it interesting, in the beginning, they will not stick with you they will go away so you’ve got to kind of make it interesting and therefore you’ve got a find a way to kind of make it interesting. And maybe that’s what I try and do which is to say how can I make it interesting and maybe. Here’s what I would do, I think a lot of, you know, if I look back on the way I write, I tend to write the way I speak. And as much as possible, as far as possible. I think my writing, tends to be conversational. I imagine I’m actually talking to, to this guy into the young person standing in front of me or sitting with me and trying to tell them a story. What would I tell them and you know and how would I tell them and I think I try and write in that in that way and maybe that’s maybe that’s an interesting. I’m not sure everybody will have their own each of us will have our own style, but maybe we’re looking for a way to do it. This could be an interesting way where you don’t try and put burden on yourself of saying oh my goodness, I have to write something so this has to be now, you know, it has to be flamboyant or impressive. So for example, I would never use a word in my writing, which I would not, which wouldn’t roll off my tongue easily in conversation. And there will be several words, where I might know the meaning of the word and I might understand the context but if it’s not something that I would find, easy to use in conversation I would worry that that will jar, even if I’m writing that word, you know, using that word in writing. So maybe that is something that, that, so keep it simple, keep it interesting and perhaps the ending the bit about you know how do I end it, is also genuinely an attempt to try and say, you know, I want you to take away something from this I don’t want you to go away saying, wow that was fun. I want you to take away something so how can I ensure that I ended in a manner by which I say, you know, do something about it.

Ravi 005646


Prakash 005647

Take that first step, you know, maybe that’s, that’s, that’s something that stays there. Also, perhaps, to be honest. Something else I might have learned is, and I don’t know if I do this right, I never, never assume that your, your audience knows it. Okay. And sometimes I think it can backfire, because some people can, you know, somebody might think that, you know, why are you why are you using this word or why are you saying you know, why are you saying this, doesn’t everybody know it and I’ll tell you when I wrote my first book, my editor on that book was the delightful lady called Heather Adams. And Heather, you know, somewhere in that in one of my stories I might I think there was a reference to cricket. I can’t remember, but I think it was a reference to Navjot Singh Sidhu. And, you know, and she says, “who’s that?”

Oh, but she made a good point, and then later in, in that book, I refer to a story where I talked about, ERP, which you know if you go back 10 years, ERP was everybody in business, talking ERPs and SAP suddenly becomes a big thing and. And I said, and I use ERP as if everybody knows everybody knows it. And she, she said to me, “what’s ERPs?” And she says, “Look, I might know it, but I’m going to pretend I don’t know it because you can’t assume that I know it, because if you use the ERP and I don’t know what it is you’ve lost me”.

Ravi 005824


Prakash 005826

You know, and therefore she said, make it, you know, don’t ever let your own don’t ever lose your audience, because you thought they knew it and they didn’t. So, it’s a good idea if you say ERP talk about Enterprise Resource Planning or if you talk about Sidhu Singh former Indian cricketer you know, or and commentator or raconteur or member of parliament whatever you want to call him but refer don’t assume I think that’s a, that’s a good piece of advice and I find that, you know, in our storytelling. If you want to connect with your audience and you want to make sure you don’t come across as someone trying to talk down to them or trying to preach, it’s a good idea to put yourself at their level and try and talk to them as if you were having this conversation with a friend.

Ravi 005910

I love that ya, very practical advice, it there’s also the concept of as she talks about the empathy that you know you just put yourself in their shoes if they would not understand it, you know, can you explain that in a way that’s easy. When you’re coming to a Story series like ‘You Too Can’ where you’ve profiled, some inspiring entrepreneurs. When you’re interviewing them, and you know, talking to them, how do you manage to, you know, keep that balance between really telling their story well, but at the same time not making it too celebratory and you know actually asking them some hard questions?

Prakash 005952

Ya, I think you need to go back to your purpose on why you’re doing that story why are you writing the book, and I must confess that for the intent was not to try and get into “Nation wants to know” and you know, here’s a tough question and there was this acquisition in 2014 that you evaded tax or you know, that is not my intent. My intent was to find inspiration find simple stories, which could, which is what the brief was from the publisher, you know, can we get another generation of young entrepreneurs to find Indian stories of people like ourselves who might have started life pretty much like many of us did and then gone on to set up businesses, what are their struggles, what do they do, what did they learn that was really the intent. I think mine (my intent), I was really looking for stories in the conversation, and therefore I would try and so it would be one thing to say that I struggled, or that it took me a long time, and then I decided now so then I decided how did you decide what happened, you remember that day. What did you do

Ravi 010056


Prakash 010056 1:03

What is going through your mind so for me that became the, so, I would be looking for those little hooks, which would tell me, maybe there’s a story here. And that’s what, you know, so, so for example, when you know in the case of Thyrocare he talks about the model for his business where, you know, Thyrocare does these tests, lab test, and I don’t know if you know how they do it, they have one laboratory in, outside Mumbai, you know, and tests happen around the country and all the samples are airlifted from around the country and brought to Mumbai and an all processed that night, and before the next early morning before eight o’clock next morning, everybody has those reports back, so interesting and then, you know, I remember Mr. Velumani telling me how he said that he saw that in a laboratory. The machine was waiting for the sample. And, and he said to himself, you know, why can’t the sample, wait for the machine . And that’s how it happened so I said “Wow” but you know how. So I said everybody saw this machine how did you get this idea. And that’s when he says to me, you know, when I reached Mumbai, I was coming from a Tamil speaking home, Tamil, you know, in a village in Tamil Nadu and I wanted to get my English to get better because I had to go to work, ya. So I would read the newspaper every day, and I would read the Times of India every day and I would find that, and I saw the Times and I said this is interesting. And this is of course pre-Internet era and all of that and he says that every time there was a news break Times of India didn’t print a newspaper. Times of India printed the newspaper at night, right? News happened through the day. Journalists filed their stories and sent it into their desk, and then the newspaper got printed at night and came out the next morning, and he says that parallel is what got me thinking that if Times of India can do it, maybe I can do it with my lab too. And again, analogies interesting example to say look, here’s somebody else who saw parallel in another business and said maybe I can learn something from here, which can help me in my own business.

Ravi 010303

Velumani was really inspiring. I mean, for someone who’s had a very rough background growing up is the kind of his one-liners and he’s very entertaining and very thoughtful. I love that reading that chapter. 

One other thing that I find you use quite a bit really well, are these pithy one-liners, some that you write some you pick up from others, the places and also what I call as you know, interesting labels or you know, giving a name to something, that may not really be something that people think of for example, Déjà vu, and Vujà Dé. I love that and maybe you can talk about that and also PHD; Passion Hunger Discipline, R&D; Restless and Discipline. So very cool because it makes it I think it’s easier for the audience to remember some of these things. So, again, how do you think about them, do you include them deliberately or just comes.

Prakash 010358

So, I think. I love this idea of let’s say one line I think, some, lots of times we’ll find a single line with a lot of wisdom in it. And the problem for many of us is that the lines we learn as great quotations are somewhat dated in the sense that, you know, sure, Lincoln would have said, a government of the people for the people by the people and you know and that’s a great way to look at what you’re, what a democracy is, but then lots of other simple one liners which perhaps are not as celebrated, but have an interesting backstory, or an interesting message that you can share and if I stayed with Lincoln right now. My favorite Lincoln story is something that I learned from my dad perhaps back many years ago where apparently, Lincoln, you know, President of America is, you know, is getting ready to go to office, one of his ministers or cabinet members walks into his home, and he’s horrified to see Lincoln is getting ready to go to work he’s wearing his jacket, but he’s polishing his shoes and he says what Mr. President, you polish your own shoes, and Lincoln looks at him and says yeah, whose shoes do you polish. you know…

Ravi 010510

That’s a nice one

Prakash 010511

And for me, that tells me more about Lincoln, and the man he was, than perhaps some of the better-known quotes I think I love these ideas that you pick a one-liner and tell a story around it or a message around it, and therefore George Carlin, you know, the comedian the man who apparently used the phrase Vuja De, many, many years ago. And I found it fascinating and I think in the context of innovation and the things we talk about today, the whole idea that you can explain it by saying that there is déjà vu, where you see something new but you find it familiar, and you go to a place for the first time and you say wow, doesn’t this remind me of or you meet somebody for the first time and you say, doesn’t he look like (someone I know), and this attempt to try and take the new, and, and put it in boxes which are old and familiar for us and that’s deja vu. And he says it’s you know what can work for us is Vuja De which is the opposite of that, when you look at the same old thing and you say wow, never seen it before. And it’s such a powerful idea so you see a car, and you see somebody driving it and you say wow somebody’s driving a car. So, what if nobody was driving your car, you could have a driverless car. That is an interesting one to say you know Vujà Dé Déjà vu, can work, but I love the idea of using one-liners, maybe a bit of consumer marketing at work ya, when you need to do brand stuff you also need something that’s memorable, and therefore I’m sure you can think of, you know, and for me, PHD, something that came very early don’t know when it came out of, but I think it typically to say that, you know, I was looking at what does it take to get you to succeed and you know, you could look at several versions of three things, to make it work. The rule of threes is an old, while people can do it but I think for me, and I as I looked at you know some of the businesses and teams had been a part of, I genuinely felt that those three things passion hunger and discipline could be powerful. And of course, that, gives that lends itself to PHD, and maybe here’s the other interesting thing for me which is that, you know, so when I’m speaking if I ever to talk about PHD, it kind of surprises you because you start thinking, you know, I tell you that you should have a PHD and you start saying, Oh boring guy and trying to tell me to study go back to school which is not what I want to do, and then you tell him it’s not quite as boring as you might have thought, so maybe that element of surprise, also makes it memorable.

Ravi 010739

Yeah, you’re right, these are some of the things that stay with you I think long after you have, you know, read the book and finish the chapters, etc. One challenge with using stories as a tool to make a certain point is that, and you’ve written about this in one of the chapters of your book, you will have contradictory stories for, you’ll have contradicting (opposing) stories which say hey, you know, be focused and as you say stick to your knitting, but also stories which say that no you should diversify and you know, so you mentioned in your book that you know you should look at your own context and what do you want to achieve and then pick the story that you feel resonates with you or goes with you but would you like to add to that you know when people are faced with this contradiction of two stories which are telling them different things. What might be a way for them to resolve that.

Prakash 010830

Ya, I don’t think stories were meant to be prescriptive to tell you what you should do. And I think so, be careful, and because you can always have a narrative which is different, you know for every example of, of what you should do, there will be another example of someone who did the opposite thing and yet found success. And I think that the challenge for individuals is to try and find which of those stories, seems more relevant to your context. And why would I want to use it so I think there’s also question of saying, is it applicable to me. Does it fit my context does it also, you know, help me in what I’m trying to do. You know so grit is often talked about is that one thing that makes people successful and become as good as they are and yet you will have enough examples of people who ruin their lifetimes chasing a stupid idea. And therefore, which of these (is right?), so the fear here is that if you give up too soon you won’t find success if you stick with it for too long, maybe you will waste your time. So, you need to find your own, you know, happy halfway house, as it were to say that’s what works for me. I think as a storyteller, I’m trying to tell you and prescribe that’s the way to do it, but I’m trying to say, maybe, so if you’re giving up, I might want to tell you, don’t give up in hurry. And here’s why. Here’s a story that might help you to do that and if I think you’ve been stuck with something for too long, and you’re being almost blinded by the reality, and you’re refusing to look at evidence that’s coming up, maybe I will tell you a story which tells you the opposite which is to say why you might want to give up so I think, and I would feel as comfortable giving you those stories because can again for me it’s not about saying here is a story which is a gospel truth. It’s about my trying tell you that A] I want you to focus, or B], I want you to kind of, you know, kind of open your mind and look at the evidence that’s staring you in the face and not be so closed in your thinking about what you might be watching, so I think for me that’s the intent and the story that might do the job for me is what I would then share with you, without necessarily worrying about saying, Oh my goodness. Is this an absolute truth, because that’s not what I’m trying to do

Ravi 011045

It is one input, and we take it with many other inputs but this might be the one that kind of, you know, helps you to take that decision. Well, but yeah,

Prakash 011055

Also I think we’re being unfair, by trying to put the blame on the story, because for me it’s- what’s the advice I’m going to give you, am I going to ask you to focus and to staying with it and stick with it. Or, Am I gonna advice you to kind of say, you know what, broaden your thinking and look outside, don’t be so, you know, bulldogged about it as it were now what’s the advice, I want to give you now problem can be with the advice I’m giving you, right? And I’m saying that I’m giving you I’m telling you to be focused, I’m telling hey, it’s a great idea to specialize and we’ve all heard of, you know, jack of whatever, jack of all trades master of none is not a good idea, we always use that as a derogatory phrase until you now figured that actually generalists, are probably better off in the world, right? So now the question is for somebody who’s tried too many things, never stuck at anything, and not really made anything you could tell them about Jack of all trades and master of none. But for somebody who’s done well in one thing and thinks that’s the end of the world and you know the whole world is going to be solved by my kind of thinking and my expertise, and therefore whatever is your problem, I know what the solution is because it’s my hammer, right, that can become a problem so to that person you tell a story where you try and tell him that

Ravi 011215

So well said Prakash I think there are stories are tools at the end of the day and you’ll have to really apply the tool to the problems you’ll have to understand the problem in the audience and their context. And that’s a great way to (go about it). What are some of your inspirations Prakash, what kind of books, authors podcasts, people that you look up to?

Prakash 011236

I am a sucker for stories so if I find, you know I love the idea that everyone has a story. So, I’m as fascinated by the Uber driver. And what’s his story. And therefore, I love to strike up conversations with, with drivers and waiters in restaurants and I just find it fascinating to know to look at life from their perspective, and to hear about what do they think about what’s happening around the world. And very often if you want to understand customer service you will hear, you’d hear from them, and they’ll probably tell you more. It could be this lady selling vegetables in the market you and she might have a great story to tell you about inventory management or about, about the challenge of logistics at a time like this. So, for me stories are- I love those stories and I love the idea that they could be common, ordinary folks telling you about their extraordinary lives. And I think there’s a story there which I quite enjoy listening to. But, you know, on a more conventional sense. Authors I like, I think, (I am a) big Gladwell fan. So maybe in the last 20 years, some of the stuff that he’s and especially because of his remarkable ability to find incredible stories, and then to research them in such great detail. I think it’s, you know, and then to make it all come alive. So (I am a) big fan of Gladwell amongst early, you know perhaps on the same time Matthew Syed I don’t know if you’ve read a book called Bounce.

Ravi 011417

Heard that no not read

Prakash 011419

which probably another interesting guy who probably also alluded to the 10,000-hour rule or a variant of it. Early on, and again, he was I think if I remember right, Matthew Syed was a table tennis player himself. If I remember right, but he’s a very interesting writer but again tells lots of stories in his writing. I love this interface of psychology and life, psychology and economics, psychology and business, psychology and living you might do stuff so… So, people, that’s been a genre that I think has also taken off in the last couple of decades but I, you know, there’s Daniel Kahneman or Dan Ariely or Thaler so, you know, whole lot of people who kind of try to use the science of psychology, you know, to try and explain why do we do the things we do and how can we try and think better, decide better. So, you know, quite a big fan of that kind of stuff. If I was to look back on last couple of years I guess, James Clear is been a pretty interesting guy and Atomic Habits was probably one of the better books again, lots of simple stuff.

Ravi 011526


Prakash 011528

But you know, how do you kind of put it all together in a manner which can make sense

Ravi 011531

Very engaging writing, I think

Prakash 011533

Very engaging, you know, if I move beyond books, Shane Parrish does something called the Farnam street blog. (I am a) Big fan of the stuff that he does there. I love his blog, I also love his, his, his website and his and here’s another interesting story for you, coming out of that which is, so I’m a member of his learning community

Ravi 011600

Oh really? nice.

Prakash 011601

And I did that several some years ago as much because I thought he’s doing great work and he says, hey, if you if you like what you do and if you remember the learning community, it gives a simple stuff like I think access to transcripts of the podcast that he does which is to go back to something that’s an interesting thing to do. You know he has two levels of membership on his site on that site so you could be a member, I can’t remember the exact amount for moment but let’s assume it’s $75 and $150. So, you know you can be a member for $75 or you can be member for 150 so of course (not sure), you know, you look at this is $75 gets you what does it get you, it gets you all of this, 150 dollars gets you, exactly the same thing. So why is it 150 dollars, because some people want to pay more.

Ravi 011650

Wow! That’s incredible he’s relying on generosity or ya

Prakash 011654

That is so cool. That’s and he says that lots of people you know and he obviously there are people who are investment bankers in New York who are fans of Shane Parrish.

Ravi 011702

For them it’s nothing

Prakash 011704

For many people and, honestly, I forget everything else I think it’s not about that. But simply the idea that for many of us, maybe it’s not, you know, $75 or $150 but you imagine, typically 150 dollars will get you access to something else more or something more of this, advance, you expect all that and his answer is, it gets you exactly the same thing. So why $150 because some people want to pay more. And I thought, Wow, what a cool idea. And maybe, so the question now in my mind has been for many years and, you know, I’m sure there’s a story there. Is there a pricing strategy for business that you can base out of this? I don’t know if you’ve heard of a restaurant chain used to be around in South of India. And I think it was in Singapore in Malaysia and other places it’s called Anna Laxmi.

Ravi 011755

I’ve heard of it I’ve not, yeah, yeah, I, my wife has something gone where I think you eat and then you decide what you want to pay or something like that

Prakash 011802

Exactly, exactly. So, they don’t have a, you don’t tell you how much we need to pay for the food. And you just pay what you feel is right. And of course, there is a footnote to the story which is I think in India, they decided it doesn’t work, because people pay too little. So, they brought in a menu and put in a price on it. But an interesting story and, like I said, you know, maybe there’s a message in it for all of us to say, how can we look at it

Ravi 011827

Fascinating stuff, is there something else about your thinking, writing storytelling that you feel that you’d like to add.

Prakash 011840

I guess it’s, it’s not a conscious thing and I’m not sure I can pull it out and saying up here one more thing that I want to talk about, but I think maybe a more general one is to, I think just to find fun and have a, I don’t know, is it curiosity? It is just being inquisitive, where you try and look at something and say, “wow, what is that. And how does that work?”, and you know and maybe your mind then starts getting into a bit of a “Hm, that’s interesting”. So, I think, I tend to say “hm that’s interesting” quite often, in the sense that I find ordinary things and I find simple things and say “wow, that’s nice. What does it tell me?” And maybe if you’re looking for, you know, storytelling in three steps, maybe I’d probably say that’s the first one which is to say, “Hm, that’s interesting”, quite often, so you find things interesting. And if you start finding things interesting, you’ll suddenly find lots of things that are interesting and your mind is saying “wow, that’s interesting, hm, never thought of that”, so you’ll find lots of stuff which is interesting, rather than look at everything. And ah, I’ve seen this before, that’s so, what’s so great about it. I think you should start saying, wow, that’s something great. That’s the first one and second one I think is don’t trust your memory. Try and write it down, try and write it down, and maybe just make a note of it, put it down somewhere and that might help you to, you know, and the third one would be to say that you know don’t just leave it there as writing because then you’ve got lots of stuff written down somewhere and never used it. Try and use it and try and use it as quickly as you can and try and find application for whatever it is that you might have picked up; try and share it, simply try and tell someone that you know what, I was lucky, I read something interesting today, I want to share it with you. And may be just do that and you’ll be on your way

Ravi 012021

that that’s lovely Prakash and I think you yourself are I think a great practitioner of Vuja De. And so hopefully you keep doing that and keep regaling us with your stories and keep teaching us with us because I think we all benefited a ton when you do that. Thank you so much Prakash for coming up on this podcast.

Prakash 012040

Hey, my pleasure entirely, and thanks so much for having me here and it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you Ravi.

And that was Prakash Iyer – a leadership coach and highly engaging storyteller.

A few things which stayed with me:

  1. The concept of Vuja De – how you can find extraordinary insights in ordinary things
  2. How to build powerful, evocative analogies
  3. The importance of branding concepts for instance – PhD for Passion Hunger, Discipline to make them easier to stick
  4. The use of conversational, simple writing to make it easy and engaging for the reader

If you find this content valuable, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to them. It’ll help others like you discover these insights!

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Sanket Aalegaonkar and Prahlad Viswanathan.

Until next time, may the force of good stories be with you.

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