Hi guys, interviewing authors after reading their books is my favourite thing to do. I can really get into their heads and ask them all the questions that popped into my mind while reading their book. I reviewed Lalit Jagtiani’s When Change Happens just a couple of weeks ago and then fired away these questions to him. 🙂
Can you tell us about your challenges in writing your first book?
There are many challenges, the first being to convince myself that I had a story to tell. The next was getting the structure right – how many words to target? Should I focus on the key points and build around or flow with the story and build the narrative and context? I read several articles on how to go about the process. The challenge was in finding a process that would work best with me. The writer’s block is a tough one and there were many times when I would get stuck on the story line.
I also had to deal with content and style; in achieving the balance between a story and an insight. Particularly, in a Management Fiction book; where the fictional narrative must be blended with real management literature, in my context, my personal experiences; to appear seamless and at the same time structured enough for a business / management approach.
The other was the pacing and the content. In Change Management, there is no one right way to execute the strategy. The role of the book is to focus on the ideal and then to provoke the reader to think and to confront some of their own assumptions around managing Change. Achieving this without being prescriptive or preachy was my biggest battle.
What inspired you to write a book on organizational management in a form of a fictional narrative?
There were 2 main reasons. The first was based on my personal belief that storytelling is a more engaging way of sharing experiences and insights. During my early years when I was a student of Business Management, I found the book “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt help me better understand the “Theory of Constraints.” I therefore felt that there are others like me who prefer this approach in understanding complex topics.
The second reason is that Change is complex to implement and that is why despite the many books on this topic, there are very few initiatives that succeed.
If people were to understand the underlying people dynamics that impacted these transformation projects, it would enable them to dynamically evolve strategies to overcome them. The advantage of this style of writing is that it allows many professionals to share intimate details of employee motivations and political agendas without compromising on the confidentiality of the organizations that they worked with.
I found the dialogues on the politics of change very interesting. As a change agent, which have you found more difficult to manage personally? Politics at the lower team level or politics at the higher managerial level?
The degree of difficulty in managing Change increases as the sphere of influence and span of control of the individual gets bigger. At team levels, the immediate concern of the professional is winning in the market and career progression. If employees can see the co-relation between the desired organizational Change and their ability to be professionally successful they are more likely to adapt and adopt the Change.
At the more senior levels, the game is about power and control. If any of these are equations or equilibriums are challenged, then the managers / leaders engage in a complex series of subtle maneuvers that have the potential to disrupt the momentum of the Change.
Another factor that impacts individuals are their past successes. Those who have been successful in the old structure are more likely to resist Change. Managers who have climbed the ladder, based on what they perceive as successful behavior, are less likely to adopt the new paradigms needed for the Change.
Do you see the patience required to work towards a long-term vision or goal visible in today’s competitive growth oriented business environment where immediate targets are the primary concern?
To me, the days of a documented vision have passed. Markets are evolving so dynamically, that requires teams and organizations need to be agile enough to react quickly.
Visions are more about continuous conversations that teams need to have to generate alignment and the energy needed to achieve aspirational goals. At the senior leadership, it provides the basis for them to engage with the teams. On the field, vision is to ensure motivation and clarity on the outcomes planned.
Very often we individuals are caught in chasing individual KPIs and do not spend time in ensuring they are achieving goals in a synergistic manner. I have seen great sales strategies come undone because the team members knowingly or un-knowingly undermine each other in the race to achieve their individual bonuses. This erodes shareholder-value of the organization and margins for its products in the long run.
On a lighter note, how important do you feel the use of icebreakers in sessions to warm up people physically and mentally?
Ice-breakers are need to manage group energy and focus. However, I believe that they need to be chosen carefully to ensure they have a seamless context to the planned workshop. Like in a Hindi movie, songs are needed to provide the break but a song out of context takes away from the narrative rather than building it.
To what degree do you identify yourself with the protagonist in the book?
All the situations and challenges of the protagonist in managing Change are based on my personal experiences, however the story and the romantic interest are fictional. In many instances the protagonist has emerged as being successful. This was not always the case for me. As an example, there have been times, when I faced setbacks based on my own Mental Models. I have then had to revise and revisit my assumptions and take corrective actions.
What was the most difficult part of your artistic process in writing the book?
The biggest challenge was for me to ensure that the context and industry content in each of the interactions was masked to preserve the confidentiality of the organizations. I had to mention enough to flush out the insight but mask much of the typical business jargon that is relevant to specific industry/organization.
The other was keeping the fictional content enough to hold the interest of the reader — too much and the book would become too light, too frivolous to engage and inspire professionals; and too little would make the book a strenuous read. However, that said, I would depend on the feedback of my readers to comment on my success and ability in achieving the crucial and delicate balance.
Did you have to face any rejection while attempting to get your book published? How did you deal with it?
Once the book was written, getting a publisher interested was the next big challenge. The question that publishers got stuck with, on was on the exact genre – is this a management book ‘classified’ fiction? Where will it be placed in a bookstore? The publishers specializing in Fiction would ask me to approach the publishers that specialized in Management books and when I wrote to them the management book publishers asked me to speak to the publishers that dealt in books on fiction!
If I were to total my experiences of personal and professional rejection before writing the book it would be only a very small fraction of the total rejections I received by the potential publishers. Some were courteous and others frank. I took each of the rejections to sharpen my content even more, whittling away at the imperfections that were mentioned in the feedback.
The reason the book is now a reality was because of Minal, my wife who firstly had faith in the manuscript and work; and secondly has been a part of the publishing industry for over 20 years.
It was her determination, constant drive and never-say-die attitude that kept the project alive and going in the difficult times while I worked and re-worked on the manuscript.
In the end, I had a fabulous editor Tara Dhar, who has edited many a business book. She enhancing the book with her expertise and honed it to what it reads. I shall remain eternally grateful to her.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
As a student, when I was in Management School, my professor of Production Management publicly announced that I would be one of the students that would not graduate, since I would not pass his class. I found the subject he lectured on boring. Until, I came across “The Goal.” The fiction content made the book easy for me to grasp and understand the principles and soon after I would imaginatively apply all the concepts of Production Management in a business context. In the end, I was one of the top students in that subject.
This experience, that of the story-telling form of learning, reinforced for me the power of Management Fiction.
Will you have a new book coming out soon? What would you like to write on next?
There are a few opportunities that I am working one. One is to co-author with other professionals their experience(s) in a similar format of Management Fiction. Another is my personal book on Digital Innovation, again written is a similar genre. I am also in the middle of a Science-Fiction novel that is quite unrelated to the other two. I am having fun writing this one since it allows my mind more creative freedom to express and build the narrative.
So there you have it folks! I am grateful to Lalit for being kind enough to provide such in depth answers to all my questions. Did you read When Change Happens yet? Do you have any questions for the author?