Catching the fast train to success

IIT Madras alumnus with an MBA in finance and marketing, Abhishek Ratna has worked extensively in the corporate world, mainly in the financial services industry. Gifted with keen observation skills and passionate about coaching for success, he has also worked as an image consultant and personal branding coach.

His book, No Parking, No Halt. Success Nonstop! has 50 career lessons for today's younger generation. Ratna, who enjoys mentoring and speaking assignments on success, talks to Swetha Amit, about the importance of being creative, to achieve success and what makes his book different from the other self-help books.

No Parking, No Halt. Success Nonstop!, is an interesting blend of anecdotes, parables, humour and sensible guidelines. What inspired this book and the quirky title?
A few years ago I had failed in my career. I was going through a phase where I was learning from my mistakes and setting my career back on track. I started blogging about this entire experience. Initially it was circulated within my network of friends. Gradually its readership expanded to an extent where I started to get positive feedback globally as well.

This led to the idea of converting the blog into a book. I wanted to help others by sharing my experience and thought this book could be a guiding force of sorts. That was where the inspiration came from and that's how the book is practical as a lot of it is based from my experiences.

About the title, being a book on career success, the word "success" ended up being there by default. I also wanted the title to be unique and eye catching, keeping in mind search engine optimization to help lead readers towards my book.  I was then reminded of the time when I was seated in my car, waiting for a friend, when a cop tapped on my window and asked me to get out.

When I stepped out, I saw that my car was parked right under a sign board that said No parking, No halt and that's how the major part of the title came into play. The word non-stop was inserted as I realized that it's easy to attain one-time success but difficult to sustain it over a period of time. If you see, there are several one-time success stories such as the one of the U-19 Cricket team captain Unmukt Chand, who was unable to repeat his success. So that's how the title No Parking, No Halt. Success Nonstop! came about.

You have stated that career success is dependent on other factors besides talent and hard work. What according to you are these other factors that sums up the recipe to the formula of success?
If you look at today's working environment, it's taken for granted that you will find most people talented, hardworking and ambitious. The other factors for success will vary from individual to individual, depending on their situation. However, there are three factors which I consider extremely essential for success, the first one being- interpersonal skills.

According to me, the biggest competitive advantage a person can have over another is the ability to deal with people in an effective manner. Aspects like leadership and management are all about people ultimately. Hence those who master this art are charmers, good networkers and negotiators who  will go a long way in their career.

The second factor is communication. I have seen several instances where despite being a bundle of talent, a person fails to bag a certain project due to lack of good communication skills. However, someone who may possess lesser talent grabs a good project mainly due to their excellent communication and presentation abilities. The third factor is possessing the knack of identifying and grabbing the right opportunities which can guarantee success on a long-term basis.

You have emphasized the honesty factor by bringing out an interesting chapter in your book which dwells on how people utter things they don't know much about due to the fear of appearing ignorant. Going by your philosophy, how do you see this element of absolute honesty working in the case of job interviews and in the corporate world?
I have talked about the aspect of selective honesty in my book and I would like to give an analogy. If you are driving on the road and have traffic cops who are monitoring each and every activity, then they are in absolute control of what goes on. The chances of anyone breaking traffic rules are minimal. However, if the traffic cops are careless, then chances of people breaking the rules are high. Hence in the latter situation, even if you are willing to abide by the rules, you are forced to break the rules in order to save your skin. 

 Similarly in the corporate world, where people are often driven by greed and lust for money and power, you will find many not playing by the rules. Such instances will require you to be selectively dishonest based on your wisdom and judgement, in order to survive in such an environment.  If you are the one who is responsible for setting the tone of the organisational culture, you can afford to be honest and let others follow suit. However, if you are a mere follower of an already existing culture, which does not practise absolute honesty, then you need to be either selectively dishonest or move out of the system if it is not in line your value system.

 As for job interviews, honesty is rated high as it builds on the trust factor. I have personally been honest to admit my lack of knowledge in certain areas during my interviews and it has been taken in a positive manner.

''In order to get noticed, get creative'', is something you have stressed about. While following this policy, people tend to go overboard sometimes and embarrass themselves in the process. So how should one maintain this fine balance of getting noticed for the right reasons especially in an organisational set up?
I think this is a valid question. You need to maintain a very fine balance here. So the best thing to do is sharply observe the people around you first and assess their reaction to different situations. With a good amount of research and observation, you will be able to judge the pulse of the people. This in turn will give you the confidence to identify what will work with them. That way you will not end up embarrassing yourself. In fact if you look at stand-up comedians, they decide their act depending on the audience they are facing and customise their jokes accordingly.

You have talked about how people like to thrive in this fast-paced life, by drawing parallels to the hare and the tortoise story explaining the contrast philosophies of both where the former likes to race all the time while the latter likes to stop and smell the roses.  In such a case, how does the philosophy of the tortoise work with regards to career success?
It's very important to understand that resources are limited and you cannot go on with the same pace all the time. I believe that you need to choose your battles carefully. Do not run every race else there are chances of a burnout. For instance, if you are working on several projects, there will be some projects where you can utilise your strength and do your best. However there will be some projects where you can just suffice by contributing your bit.

For instance this race was not for the tortoise and it was important for him to just complete it. Similarly in life, not every race is for you.  There will be races where you will want to run and some where you will just be happy to complete. Hence it's important for you to identify your races and run accordingly.

Usually self-help books are met with a dismissive wave or a critical eye with the belief that there are too many of of them. What would you say makes No Parking, No Halt. Success Nonstop stand out from the rest?
Considering how books by authors who graduate from IITs and IIMs bordering around the genre of crime, murder, drama, etc, were hitting the popular chartbusters, I understood the importance of keeping the readers engaged. So when I started writing this book, I realized that my book had to be a compilation of engaging stories interspersed with a bit of humour and which at the same time conveys a strong message.  So this story format of anecdotes, humour and practicality of its content is what I would say, makes this book stand out from the other self-help books.

So Abhishek, tell us a little more about yourself and your interests?
I work in the financial services industry. Citibank and McGraw Hill financial are some of the  names that I have worked for. I am a member of Mensa International which is an international organisation for people with high IQ. My IQ is 156 on the Cattell scale and that puts me on the top 1 percentile of the population.

I started as a blogger and still write some posts on my blog. I also love travelling and meeting new people. I am a big fan of Robert Greene and his book The 48 Laws of Power is my favourite. In fact my book is largely inspired from him. My fiction reading is quite selected and in this genre I enjoy reading author Ravi Subramanian's books as they are banking-based thrillers, which I can relate to.

Any other books in the pipeline?
This book was a format of short stories with illustrations, which was easy to write. At present I am trying my hand at a novel. It is the story of a corporate person and I am trying to mix it with lessons that one can incorporate in their own lives. Hopefully by this year end, I will try and have it ready.

Book excerpt from No parking, No Halt. Success nonstop

The tortoise and hare story revisited
Once upon a time, there lived a tortoise called Toto and a hare called Hure. There was a pond, a thousand metres away from where they lived. Every morning they went to the pond to drink water.

Toto started at 8 o'clock for the pond. He plodded along slowly and steadily until he reached the pond. There he had a long, slow, enjoyable drink of the cool water. It made him feel refreshed and alive and full of energy. After that, he was ready to start his day.

On the other hand, Hure slept till 9 o' clock. He then started for the pod. At some point every day, he whizzed past Toto, usually knocking him sideways and reached the pond first.

One day, Hure reached the pond, breathless as usual, and started to wonder. He wondered why he went through this routine every day. Just then Toto arrived.

Hure, trying not to sound breathless, said, 'Don't you get tired of being so slow? Your life is so boring compared to mine. Wouldn't you like to be fast and dynamic like me? Wouldn't you like, people to notice you and admire you?'

Toto thought for a minute and said, 'Its rue, you always get to the pond before me, and you're fast and dynamic and I know that people are impressed with your style. However I am quite happy with my life because I keep a cool head when I walk and I can take in the scenery, and enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the trees and the birds. I also have time to think as I walk and I plan the best and most effective route to the pond.

'And when I have taken the best route, I reach the pond still with plenty of energy let to enjoy my drink. And I always have plenty of strength to walk back and enjoy the odd lettuce leaf on the way.'

Hure tried to think of something witty to say but then realised that he didn't have the energy to do so.

Toto continued, 'And you know, Hure, people who know both of us say that they do admire you because of your speed and your dynamism and your 'get-up-and-go' attitude but they also admire me. They admire me for a different reason. They see me as someone they can rely on; I am careful and I plan ahead. I always give myself time to think of the most effective way of doing things. Because I think ahead, I always have energy to do whatever jobs I need to do. And in the end of it all, Hure, it is a big pond. And we do both get to drink water.'

Lesson: It is important to understand the objective of every race. Sometimes it is more than enough if you just complete the race.