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Imbibing Wisdom
What lessons can you learn from your clients? Prabhakar Mundkur finds out in Ambi Parameswaran's 'Sponge'

There is a plethora of management books at your average bookstore that spew well-articulated management theory, which you have to wade through with great difficulty. In fact, we often hear people talk about how they have learnt so much from their mentors, coaches and role models. Unfortunately, not many care to put these down. This is where Ambi Parameswaran’s latest book, Sponge, stands out. The author writes from his intimate and personal experiences, and jots down the lessons he has learnt from his clients through his illustrious career.

The metaphor of a sponge is appropriate, as the author describes, “the core idea of the book is something that I have attempted to practice all my life — the tenet that we would become better by listening, learning and adapting ideas, thoughts and actions from the wise people we meet in the course of our working life.

In his inimitable style, Parameswaran cross-references the stories in the book with contemporary management literature — sometimes to a book, sometimes to a HBR or Forbes article, and so on. It might be worth taking notes if you are keen to create a new reading list for yourself. In many ways, the book is also a memoir of Parameswaran’s travelogue in the world of marketing and advertising, where he has brushed shoulders with some of the most respected leaders of our time, along with some inspiring and engaging conversations.

Each chapter in the book includes a case study and real stories about the leaders of India’s blue chip companies: the Tata Group, Sterling Resorts, Thermax, Boots, GSK, Cadbury’s, Zee TV Network, and more. Take for instance, the very first story where Ratan Tata had to attend a meeting at a very short notice. The incident brings out Tata’s passion for his products and his personal involvement to meet the standards of perfection. Nothing is too small for Tata to give his attention to. That interaction becomes a valuable lesson to learn from one of the most respected leaders.

Another story is of the late Rohinton Aga of Thermax, who to everyone’s surprise took the initiative to write the technical body copy for a campaign created by Rediffusion, which was left with him for his approval. The incident reiterates that great leaders consider no task too menial for them. Instead, they are forced to strive for perfection to maintain the status quo. Parameswaran debates everything from, whether jobs at NGOs need to be paid less than the private sector, or if a chaiwala’s sense of aesthetics is lower than someone more educated, when it comes to evaluating design. The book is peppered with Ambi’s insights and takeaway from each incident.

The book emphasises on both listening and absorbing, something that most management pundits tout as the key to managing successful business relationships. Ambi, of course, prefers to call it “active listening”. As we know, the Indian tradition of learning, whether it is music or learning to lead an ascetic life, is based on received wisdom. Over the course of the book, the reader also realises that Parameswaran, no doubt intuitively, has absorbed important lessons from his mentors, just like a sponge!

Discover the book for yourself. It is an easy read, and who knows, you may imbibe the quality of being a sponge yourself. 

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