Pilani Pioneers: An artless collection of stories which could've been great (Book review)
I picked up this book with a lot of enthusiasm. Perhaps because it was sent to me by the lovely folks at Pan Macmillan. This was the first time a leading publisher (whom I respect a lot) had reached out to me with a request. I was thrilled.
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was soon met with disappointment, as the book failed to live up to Pan Macmillan's reputation. It seemed like an inadequately written collection of seemingly unwoven stories, scrambled together in a haste. The more I pushed myself to complete the book, the angrier I got. But I ended up finishing it anyway, because some stories were of incredible people who've done extraordinary work.
Beyond the moments of frustration, I began to think about the reasons why this book didn't click with me, and how it could have been better. What's the point of criticism, if it isn't constructive? So here are a few pointers:
All men aren't equal
The book's subtitle is "Inspiring Success Stories of 25 BITS Pilani Graduates". Why 25? I don't know. But the authors wrote in the foreword that "the common thread that connects these pearls is what they stand for". Also, "it's their moral fibre that truly brings them and the thousands of BITSians around the world together". Okay.
So my first problem is that the book didn't need to have 25 stories. It averaged 10 pages with about 2,500 - 3,000 to words for each, and in those many words tried to deliver the entire life story of a person with decades of experience. Worse yet, about 350 words in each tale were dedicated to a section called "Back to BITS", where interviewees just reminisced about their college life and how they adjusted themselves to the hostel daze.
The entire format of the book and the number of stories screwed every chance of the book becoming "valuable". Like Mr. Abhishek Humbad from Goodera, Baba Kalyani from Bharat Forge and Gulu Mirchandani from Onida (to name a few) had terrific stories. Very interesting. Would have loved to read more about them! But they got the same number of pages as someone else who was simply not comparable (and readable). The winning stories seemed rushed, while the boring ones seemed dragged. At the end, nothing worked out.
Always ask deeper questions
I don't know what was the authors' perspective while preparing the questionnaire for their interviewees, because there was simply no depth in content. The questions were as generic as they can be and offered no deep insights on how these people came out on top.
For example, if you met the Founder of Redbus, you'd probably want to ask him some really deep questions about how they managed to be amongst the first few startups to get VC Money back in the day, what was the fight like, what led to them to go for an acquisition so early in the journey, and so on. There are tons of things that only Mr. Phanindra Sama can answer, having been at the right place at the right time; the man's a treasure chest of insights! Instead, the authors dedicated almost two pages on "Ethics in business", where Mr. Sama told us how they were always ethical and how it matters.
The importance of artfulness
Books have a degree of art attached to them. Even if it's a collection of stories of businesspeople, there's scope for weaving it together like a piece of art. Think of How I Almost Blew it by Siddharth Rao. It was also a collection of stories of entrepreneurs, but laced with so much of author's personality that you couldn't help but appreciate the book like it was an entertaining, inspiring, well written novel. A poorly written but extremely valuable book was The Inheritors, which was also a collection of stories of business families, but explored in such depth that despite its writing, you couldn't not take your hats off. I've gifted both of these books to many, always with a warning that the latter's writing will make you sleep, but it's great nevertheless.
Unfortunately, Pilani Pioneers seems artlessly written, superficial and basically just brought together like a college project. It could have been a great blog.
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