bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of On Balance

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                    On Balance: An Autobiography

                                          Leila Seth

Penguin India

496 pages; Average reading time 7 hours 01 min

This bookbhook summary will take not more than 11 minutes


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This bookbhook summary is handcrafted by Gayathri Manikandan. Gayathri describes herself as an ex-software engineer, book lover, craft enthusiast and a proud citizen of ‘Imagi’nation.’

This handcrafted summary will help you know

  • More about India’s first female chief justice
  • How Leila Seth managed work and home
  • Challenges that working women face, even at higher levels

Some sentences have been quoted from the book. These are marked in green

My parents

Much to the delight of my parents, their longing for a daughter came true on the day of Diwali on 20 October 1930.  They already had two sons Raj Kumar (or Michi), Sushil Kumar (Sashi) and I was named Leila. It was the pre-independence times, and my father was in the Imperial Railway Service run by the government. My mother was from a westernised background, her father was a doctor and was remarried (after my grandmother’s death) to a young and educated woman.

My father, on the other hand, was from a more Indianized background brought up in a village in present day Uttar Pradesh (UP). His mother was a young widow with seven children and wasn’t educated. She pawned her only piece of jewellery to educate my father. He excelled in his studies and remained with Imperial Railway Service until he died in 1942.

East meets West

In the 1930s, the years of my childhood, the British Raj was ruling over India and western education by Christian missionaries was most sought after. Gandhi, Nehru and Bhagat Singh were well-known figures. However, my immediate family favoured English & English became the language I think and dream in. It was not until my college days, when Hindi was made compulsory in post-independent India that I took up Hindi in college (though I failed the exams).

As my father was employed in the Railways, we also had the opportunity to live in Punjab and Bengal apart from UP. The small railway towns and the railway colonies in bigger towns ranged from sprawling bungalows to tent houses.


My parents had an active social life and played tennis and threw dinner parties. After a car accident, when I was about four, my mother became apprehensive about cars and suffered acute headaches. Because of this, my father rented a house in Darjeeling where we all lived, visited by my father for six months in a year. I went to the Loreto Convent, which had children from different countries.

In Darjeeling, we became close with the Dutts family. Later when my father was seriously ill and died in Calcutta, and my mother had to be there to take care of him, I lived with the Dutts as I always did when father and mother went on trips. The Dutts were very kind in accommodating us in their home while my brothers were in boarding school in Darjeeling. They were careful about not letting us feel the weight of their generosity and had secretly paid for my brother’s education, which we were made to believe was a scholarship from the school.

Quest for a suitable boy

I was nineteen when I met Premo. He had come to visit a family friend on his return to India from England after doing a course in boot and shoe manufacture. A year later, I visited Delhi for an extended New Year holiday, and a meeting was arranged at Kanpur for Premo to see me. Though he liked me and found me unassuming and intelligent, I was hesitant. I was not bowled over at our first meeting.

With permission from my mom, Premo started writing to me, and the correspondence helped me know him better. He was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his uncle and aunt, who he thought were his parents until he was the age of eight. He left home in protest against getting him married to his widowed sister-in-law. He joined a Bata shop in Ambala as a shop-boy and was later recommended as an assistant in a Bata shop in Mussourie.

Like my father, Premo appeared to be honest, steady and sincere. However, we were nurtured differently. While Premo’s grandmother was of the opinion that anything to deal with leather and shoes were best left to low-caste people, my mother’s view was that it was no disgrace to be a shoemaker but only for a shoemaker to make bad shoes. We eventually got married on 13 March 1951, 13 months after we first met.

In the family way

After we had been married, we lived in Batanagar near Calcutta. Moreover, for a short while, I continued my job as a stenographer at the Assam Rail Link Project. I had chosen a second-hand car over a romantic honeymoon at Switzerland, but little did we realise that we had spent all our money in buying the car and we had no money to buy petrol! We had to borrow money from the car seller to fill petrol for our drive back to Bata Nagar. It was amidst this financial situation that I discovered, much to my shock, that I was pregnant. Ma told me that each child comes with his food and fate and that I should not worry unnecessarily. Thus came Vikram, into this world.

The accidental career

When Vikram was not yet two, Premo was given an opportunity to work in Bata Development Office in London. We were naturally very pleased but decided to leave Vikram behind until we settled down in the new place. I was mostly seasick throughout my journey and remained in bed. After a little less than two weeks of travelling, we arrived at England greeted by the grey overcast English sky that looked depressing. The cosy image in my head with pictures from Beautiful Garden and Homes were all shattered by our poky little hotel room that was gloomy, grey and bleak.

My house-hunting trips, after Premo left for work, ended in disappointments owing to rejections on racial grounds and homes with no baths or shower. We eventually settled down to a flat with the property owner living downstairs. After upsetting our property owner with ringing doorbell, loud laughter, Indian music and creaking steps, we decided to move out as were planning to bring Vikram.

When I arrived in London, I had decided to do a six-month Montessori diploma course hoping to start a nursery school when I returned to India. Later, I decided to apply for admission to the Bar because the attendance requirements were not too strict.

Clearing the Bar exams

Vikram arrived in London when he was three years old, was not too sure of us and took some time to bond. Soon, he felt at home, and we enrolled him in a school. A year and a half later, Vikram and Ma (who came unannounced on a cheap chartered flight ticket) returned to India due to tension over the Suez Canal. Therefore, when his little brother Shantum arrived, Vikram was not there. At that time, I had already passed Part I and the final Bar examinations were due in a few months.

 We soon hired a baby-minder and we left Shantum every morning at her place and brought him back in the evening. With all these preparations, I took my exams relaxed though not as well prepared, as I would have liked. The day the results were out, I could not believe myself that I had come first in the Bar examination. Moreover, with that Bar Final results, my dream of starting a nursery school ended.

Young woman, go and get married

Shortly after completing my law studies, we moved back to Batanagar near Kolkata, and I was busy setting up the home and Vikram had started school. Once that was sorted out, the next task in hand was to find me a senior who would take me in his chambers. Pupillage is an apprenticeship to a senior, enabling one to acquire a proper knowledge of the technique of the profession. Moreover, that meant following the senior around like a shadow.

After consulting a list of barristers who were willing to take pupil, I chose Mr. Sachin Chaudhari and thought I would call him for an appointment. However, his calls were filtered, and there was no way for me to reach him. After a month, I finally booked an appointment with him. When I met him and asked me to join his chambers, he said ‘Instead of joining the legal profession, young woman, go and get married’. I replied that I was already married, to which he asked me to have a baby. I said I had a baby, and he said I should have another one. I replied ‘Mr. Chaudhari, I already have two children’. Taken aback, he said, ‘Then come and join my chambers, you are a persistent young woman and will do well at the Bar’.

So, this woman who not only wore a sleeveless blouse but also drove a car joined the chambers and completed one year of pupillage, picking up Vikram on the way back home from my brother’s home where he went after School. Late evenings, my attention was with Shantum who had been looked after by his Ayah, with a lunchtime visit from Premo.

My law practice

Premo moved from Batanagar to Pune for work and so did I and started practising at the Pune High court. I was one of only two women in that court at that time, the other being Dharamshila Lal. She was unafraid, bold and forceful. In short, she was the sole female star. We lived in a beautiful old house that once belonged to the Maharaja of Chainpur (owing to my husband’s position in Bata Shoe factory). Moreover, I arrived at the court in a chauffeur-driven black Plymouth. People could not understand why I was roaming around in the dusty corridors and courtrooms spending time with uncouth clients. However, Dharamshila Lal put me in my place when I complained to her about the musty toilet with bats flying about.

In due course, I found my feet and appeared for many cases including a rape case and a case involving death sentence, that gave me moments of deep dejection. Another case was that of a train engine driver convicted of criminal negligence and sentenced to 2 years rigorous imprisonment. He was unaware of a tragedy that happened when the train passed through a low bridge smashing and severing passengers sitting on the rooftop of the train unknown to the driver. I won the appeal, and my ultimate recognition came when the driver, not having the means to show his appreciation in a material way, brought his entire family to meet me and insisted on touching my feet.

After having two wonderful boys, we longed for a girl and had Aradhana. Vikram and Shantum, by this time, were in boarding school. We had difficult times when there was a clash between my duties as a lawyer and a wife and even told Premo one day about quitting my work. He replied, ‘I know that your work is one of your hands and that the family is the other. How can I ask you to cut off one hand? No, no, you must work, and we will adjust.’

My turn: Delhi

Premo was transferred back to Calcutta from Pune. Though I was less enthusiastic about the move, it was a very important one for Premo. I, on the other hand, worked very hard but did not make too much headway. There were gender specific challenges. It was difficult for a solicitor to brief young female lawyers. My brother who was a senior executive at Andrew Yule & Co sought my opinion only informally as his company preferred briefing a male lawyer.

On the personal front, our stay in Calcutta strengthened our family bonds. My brothers were living in Calcutta, my mom came over for Sunday lunches, and we had a large circle of friends. We also found our gardener Sona, who stayed with us for thirty-five years. He lovingly tended garden after garden, as we moved homes. Our children learnt to love flowers, trees and enjoyed peaceful gardens.

In Calcutta, Premo too was reaching a sort of dead end with Bata. We decided to move out of Calcutta but the question was where we should go. It was essential for me to stabilise my practice in a single place and we zeroed in on Delhi, as both the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court were there. Therefore, I moved first to test waters. Premo had to settle for a transfer as Factory Manager to Faridabad, which was a bit of a comedown for him.

First woman judge in the capital

In early 1978, I was recommended as a judge for the Delhi High Court. Until then, there had only been one-woman judge, Anna Chandy who served as a Judge in the Kerala High Court during the late 1950s. Since then there were no women judges, and this issue had been under discussion and became more prominent during 1975, which was declared the Women’s International year.

The only two women who qualified for being a judge at that time were Urmila Kapur and me. Nevertheless, fate and destiny made me the first woman judge of Delhi High court on 25 July 1978.

There were interesting incidents when I was sitting as a Judge with Justice T.P.S Chawla who insisted a lawyer to address the court correctly. Justice Denning in England had issued directions that a woman judge has to be addressed as ‘My Lady’. The lawyer, however, had no idea what to do and when explained what was expected out of him, he simply chose to turn his face towards Justice Chawla and answer as if he had asked the question.

On another occasion, I was disturbed by shuffling of feet and the soft murmur of many voices. When enquired, I came to know that the dozens of people staring at me were a group of farmers whom Prime Minister Charan Singh had invited to Delhi to see the sights. They had visited the zoo and then came to see the woman judge at the Delhi High Court!

Women’s economic empowerment

Since the beginning, I had refrained myself from appearing only for cases about women. I had, by choice, taken up civil and constitutional work. However, as a judge, I wrote judgements for cases that had a woman’s angle (whether Silver utensils and Gold ornaments were considered ‘Jewelry’), a dowry-death case, and a custody case and so on.

In the dowry-death case, I was appalled at the alacrity with which the man remarried while he was still on bail and the parent’s mindset to give away their daughter to such a man. The law can only help. It is for parents of young girls to change their mindset about marriage being the be-all and end-all of their life. The education and economic empowerment of a girl are necessary.

Once, when I had asked a good friend who rose to very high judicial position, if he will give a dowry to his daughter, he answered that he would as it was nearly impossible in his community to get his daughter married without a dowry but at the same time he would not take dowry for his son. Though it was not what I wanted to hear, it was one small step forward.

Meanwhile, on the personal front, my daughter Aradhana was over 25 and was making commendable progress with her career in films. However, I could not help my apprehensions and fear about her landing up with someone unsuitable or worse, no one at all. My eldest son Vikram had his Tibetan journey compiled and published as a book and was working on his novel, The Golden Gate. My other son, Shantum, on the other hand, pursuing his search for an alternate lifestyle and a path of peace.

First female Chief Justice of India

11 years after being a Judge, in 1988, I was elated to know about my recommendation to be elevated to the Supreme Court of India. However, by a twist of fate, Ms.Fathima Beevi was recommended in place of me and she went on to become the first woman to be a judge at the Supreme Court of India. On the other hand, I was the senior most judge in line to become the Chief Justice. In 1991, Ranganath Misra, the then Chief Justice of India, decided that I should be made the Chief Justice of the High court of Himachal Pradesh in Shimla.

Unlike male judges whose families would follow them to their places of transfer, mine would not be able to give up their assignments. However, I was going to be the first woman Chief Justice of a state in India, and I did not want to pass up. I accepted the move and had the new experience of the entire household revolving around me. In my earlier homes, everything revolved around the needs of the man of the house, and for the first time I felt like I am a person in my right. It was in Shimla, Vikram completed his revision of A Suitable Boy.

As my sixty-second birthday approached, and so did my retirement, my memories came rushing back to me and I indulged myself in memories of the past.

Retirement is not the end

After my retirement, we moved to our own house in Noida with its tiny garden, which is my great joy. We had decided to move to Noida, as we did not have the sort of money to buy a house in Delhi.

About six months after retirement, I started getting depressed about not being able to have a routine anymore, and I could find no sense of purpose. Therefore, I joined a nine-month course of study to do a diploma in environmental law at the World Wide Fund for Nature. When I completed it, I was invited to be a member of the Board of Trustees and later became its Vice President.

In 1997, when I was busy with my arbitration work, I was appointed a full-time member of the 15th Law Commission. The Law Commission’s work was to look at particular areas of law suggested by the Government or Supreme Court or taken up by ourselves and prepare a report to be submitted to the government regarding the reforms that need to be done.We prepared several reports covering a wide range of subjects.

I did face difficulties and challenges in my legal career, but there were brave women, both in India and in other countries, who inspired me with their courage and determination. I feel humbled when I think of such luminaries.

I remember my mother who would feel upset when she was left out of activities of her children, and I was determined that I should have a life of own, so that there is no expectation of reciprocation of attention from my children. This did not mean I did not give my children affection or time; it was just that it was not to the exclusion of everything else.

The balancing act

This balancing act has not been easy. However, I have realised that if you are sincere with your work and love your family, you can share your problems and difficulties with them and it is surprising to see the solutions that emerge through consensus. In addition, I felt it was less stressful doing two different kinds of work. You could switch between your work and household, the change itself becoming a form of relaxation. The fame, the privileges, the recognition are fleeting, and I bring myself down to earth with a remark Premo made to me when we were first married: ‘It is better to spend time making something of yourself than socialising’

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bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of The Secret

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                                                The Secret

                                                Rhonda Byrne

Simon & Schuster

198 pages; Average reading time 2 hours 48 min

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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Shweta Siddha-Deshmukh, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Shweta is a computer science engineer who is currently working as a manager at an NGO, learning entrepreneurship and building a better work-life balance. Shweta believes reading has made her broaden her thoughts and reading helps her connect more with herself.

This handcrafted book summary will help you learn

  • How to discover the secret of happiness in your life?
  • How to achieve the goals that you want to?
  • How to love your own self?

The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is the most powerful law in the Universe and is the secret to life. The greatest teachers, poets, artists, thinkers and writers have talked about it. Different religions and civilisations have expressed it in their writings and stories. The law was first recorded in stone in 3000 BC. The Babylonian civilisation was the wealthiest as they had applied this law of the universe.

The law states that you will attract those things in life that you are predominantly thinking of. For e.g.-You will attract more wealth with the thoughts of wealth and abundance. Your thoughts give you a magnetic power to attract things in life.  They may be happy or sad; the law will attract more likewise thoughts and thoughts become things!

Your predominant thoughts generate a frequency that is transmitted to the world outside. You attract things likewise on the frequency that are broadcast back to you. If you want to change anything in your life, you need to change your thoughts! People mostly think about the things they do not want and do not have in life. The Law does not understand good or bad, it will give you the things you focus on, and they may be the things you want or do not want!

Choose your thoughts

All living things operate on this Law of Attraction, but human beings can choose their thoughts and have the power to create their own life! Positive thoughts are hundred times more powerful than negative thoughts. It takes many negative thoughts to get negativity in your life. Decide and think only good thoughts. Not all thoughts need come true instantly. Time allows you to think about what you want and make choices. You need to become aware of your thoughts and carefully choose the right ones. Meditation is the way to control your thoughts and calm your mind.

Observe your feelings

The effect of what we think becomes our feelings. You will have good and bad feelings, which will make you aware of what you are thinking. You cannot have good thoughts when you are feeling bad. Bad feelings will attract more bad things to you, and so you need to try to change your thoughts and feel better. The good emotions of excitement, joy, gratitude, and love will draw more good into your life. You create a future that is on track with your desires. The Law of Attraction works throughout the day, and everything you feel and think creates your future. Be aware that when you are feeling good, you are powerfully attracting more good things to you.

You get what you are feeling rather than what you are thinking. If you are starting your day with a good feeling, you are going to attract more people and situations to sustain that feeling. There are situations when things go wrong one after another because of one bad thought. This pattern will continue until you change your thoughts. The feeling of love is the highest frequency and one of the greatest life-transforming powers in the universe. When you feel and emit love, you are harnessing a power that will benefit you if you have thoughts of love, and harm you if you have harmful thoughts for others. You need to understand and master your thoughts and feelings to create your reality.

Your wish is my command

You create your life using the Law of Attraction. There are many stories to demonstrate this phenomenon. In the story of Aladdin and Genie, the Genie always says, ‘Your wish is my command!’ In real life, Aladdin is you who always ask for wishes and Genie is the Universe, which answers your commands.

The creative process involves three simple steps:

  1. Ask: Making a command to the Universe for what you want. You need to have clarity about what you have asked for. If you want to lose weight, you need to get a clear picture of the weight you want and how you will look like in your mind. Do not focus on ‘Losing ’
  2. Believe: You need to believe what you have asked for. It is about acting, speaking and thinking as if you have received it. In the case of weight loss, you must visualise and believe yourself getting into that perfect shape.
  3. Receive: You need to feel good about what you ask for and believe you have received it. You are on the frequency of receiving when you are feeling good. For example, you must feel good about your body, as you cannot attract the perfect weight by feeling bad about your body.

When the actions you take seem effortless, they become inspired actions, and you start attracting things like a magnet when you become clear about what you want. There is no time and size for the Universe, and it will manifest one dollar or millions of dollars in the same way.

To experience the Law of Attraction, start with something small like a cup of coffee or parking spaces. As you attract small things, you will expect bigger things and create your life in advance. Make it a habit of determining the things in your life in advance. Create your day in advance by thinking how you want it, and then you are creating your life intentionally.

Gratitude & visualisation

Your current life is the outcome of your past thoughts and actions. Make a list of things you are grateful for and feel good about. This will shift your focus from the things you are complaining about and your problems. Gratitude will bring more into your life. Start feeling grateful about what you already have. The negative thoughts and emotions will block good things coming to you. You cannot get more into your life by feeling ungrateful about what you already have. Start by writing down what you want. When you thank in advance, for what you want, you emit a powerful signal to the universe, which says that you already have what you want, as you are grateful for it.

Visualisation is a powerful process as it creates powerful feelings by focussing thoughts into pictures. The law of attraction will revert those pictures that you saw in your mind. Many great inventions happened because the inventor saw the picture in his mind of what he wanted. When visualising, focus on the results and put yourself in the feeling of having achieved it. It is the feeling that creates attraction , and not the thought or picture. If you wish to get a new car, put yourself in the place of being inside the car and feel good about it. If you stay in the feeling of ‘I wish I could get that car’, it is always in the future, not in the present. That feeling will begin to be an open doorway through which the power of the Universe will begin to express. Our job is not to figure out how. The how will show out of commitment and belief in the feeling. The Universe always knows the shortest, quickest, fastest, and most harmonious way between you and your dream. If you turn it over to the Universe, you will be surprised and dazzled by what is delivered to you. Create a vision board and place the pictures of all the things you want in life. See it every day and feel that you have those things now. As you receive and feel gratitude for receiving, you can remove old pictures and add new ones. This is a wonderful way to introduce children to the law of attraction.

How to attract money?

The use of the Law of Attraction works for money as well. However, to attract money you must focus on wealth. If you focus on not having enough money, you are creating circumstances of not having enough. You need to think and believe you have more than enough and focus on abundance rather than lack of money. Negative thoughts and emotions will block money from coming to you. When you need money, it is a powerful  feeling, and you will continue to attract the feeling of ‘needing money’.

The fastest way to get money is to BE and FEEL happy. Declare to the Universe how much money you want in how many days, and it should be believable by you. You need to change the thoughts that money will come only through the job.  Ask and believe that you are receiving and feel happy; the Universe will take care of how to bring it to you. The thoughts of debts and bills will attract more of it. Figure out the ways to focus on prosperity. Always say, ‘I can afford that. I can buy that’ about the things you want to buy or dream. As you continue doing this, the pictures of your life will change. Do not focus on the lack and scarcity of the things you do not have.

People are wealthy because they predominantly think of wealth. Wealth is a mindset. You need to feel good about money to attract more money. Giving is a powerful action to draw more money into your life. The wealthiest people give away vast amounts of money. When you give with a feeling of ‘I have plenty’, the law of attraction will give back more money in multiples. As you practice giving, you must get more to give.

How to love yourself, and others?

Your actions should not contradict your desires when you want something in your life. Your actions in life should reflect your expectations. To get more love in life, you need to treat yourself with love and respect. Only after this will the Law of Attraction get you more people who respect and love you in your life. You should not sacrifice yourself for others with the feeling, ‘There is not enough for everyone so that I will go without.’ These feelings will turn to resentment. There is abundance for everyone, and you should make feeling good your priority. When you do what makes you feel good, you are a joy to be around for everyone. All the good things including health, wealth, and love depend on this. You need to focus on all the wonderful things and the positivity inside you, and the Law of Attraction will show more great things about you. As you love yourself, you will automatically love others.

For any relationship to work, we need to focus on what we can appreciate about others rather than the other way round. If you are having a hard time in a relationship, write all the things that you appreciate about that person and think about all the reasons that you love the person. When you focus on acknowledging the strengths of the other person, that is what you will get more of, and all the problems will fade away. We at times expect others to create our happiness, but only one person is in charge of your joy, and that is you. Your parents, spouse, or children have no control over creating your happiness but only have the opportunity to share it. Love everything and everyone you can, and when you focus on things you love, love and joy will come back to you multiplied.

Healing with the mind

The human mind is the biggest factor in healing arts. When patients truly believe they will be cured, then they will certainly be cured because of their belief. Healing through the mind can work together with healing by medicines. Thousands of diseases and diagnosis are a result of just one thing-stress. Our body creates diseases to let us know that we have an imbalanced perspective.

Cathy Goodman was cured of breast cancer in about three months without any radiation or chemotherapy. She healed herself by watching funny movies and laughing all the time. She tried not to put any stress in her life, as it was detrimental to the healing process. The immune system is made to heal itself, and we all have a basic built-in program called self-healing.

Diseases cannot live in a body that is in a healthy emotional state. Diseases remain in the body by attention, thoughts, and observation of illness. Release thoughts of ageing and stop counting the number of your birthdays. Through constant thinking of perfection, you can bring into being your perfect state of health, body, weight, and eternal youth. If you are not well don’t talk about it unless you want more of it. Help the sick person by changing the conversation to good things and walk away by giving your powerful thoughts and feelings to see that person well. To get rid of the disease, get rid of negative thoughts and stress. All the incurable diseases can be cured. Morris Goodman is known as the Miracle man, and his recovery from paralysis demonstrates the unfathomable power and unlimited potential of the human mind.

Heal the world

The society is fighting against poverty, war, drugs, and terrorism. When we focus on the things we do not want, we add energy to it. The anti-war movement creates more war. Instead, try to be pro-peace. Mother Teresa said she will never attend an anti-war rally, but will always be there for a peace rally. When you talk more about things you do not want, you are creating more of it. You can give your powerful thoughts even to a world situation by emitting feelings of love and well-being, despite what is happening around you. The news channels broadcast more and more negative news because we are buying such news. It is just the Law of Attraction in action, and this will change when the society changes its focus. When you think good, feel good, and do good, you uplift your life and subsequently the world.

There is an abundance of goodness, joy, love, and power for everyone in this world. However, humanity limits itself by thoughts of fear, greed, stinginess and this becomes the experience. You see lack and limitation when you think there is not enough by looking at the outside pictures. Things come into existence when you think and feel about them from inside. There cannot be a lack as your ability to think is unlimited, and things you think into existence are unlimited. Life was meant to be lived to the fullest, and you must think, see, feel, and believe in abundance without thoughts of limitation. We can always find new resources that can help us achieve our goals.

Your goals are your responsibility

You cannot create other people’s life for them and force your opinions. Let others create the life they want. The universe offers everything to everyone through the Law of Attraction. And if you are facing a lack of anything, like poverty or a disease, it is because you cannot believe or understand your power. You must get hungry and intentional for the things you want, and Universe will deliver it all to you. Praise all the beautiful and wonderful things around you and do not spend your energy complaining about the things that are not working.  You get more when you embrace the things you want. You are on the highest frequency of love and have good feelings when you are praising and blessing everything around you. It will return to you manifold. Praising and blessing the enemies will dissolve all the negativity, but cursing them will harm you, as the curse will come back.

Focus on yourself

You are the most powerful transmission tower in the Universe. When you think about the things you want and emit that frequency, the things that you want also vibrate on the same frequency and come to your life. You have the power to focus your energy through your thoughts. Look around for the needs waiting to be filled, imagine, and think their fulfilment into being. Henry Ford was ridiculed by the people when he wanted to bring his vision of motor vehicle into the world. However, he knew The Secret and the law of the universe that other people did not know.

We are all connected and are part of the One Energy Field or the Creative Source. When you think negative thoughts you are separating yourself from this. The Universe is the supplier of everything, and you can think of Law of Attraction as the law of supply.

All your questions will be answered when you become aware of the power of The Secret and have a deeper understanding of the Law of Attraction. The universe has been answering you all your life, maybe in the form of a newspaper headline that attracts your attention or a song. Focus on the presence inside you.

You are limitless

Your life is what you create or what mission you give yourself, and no one will ever judge it. Start with a new beginning, be grateful to your past as it got you where you are and find your joy and live it! Do the things that you love, and that bring you joy. Once you find your joy and commit to it, the Law of Attraction will pour joyful things, people, circumstances, events and opportunities in your life because you are radiating joy. You have the freedom to choose for yourself.

This is the most exciting time in the history as we are going to experience all the impossible becoming possible. Once we know we are limitless, we can experience limitless magnificence of humankind expressed through sports, health, art, and any field of creation. The more you use The Secret, the more you will understand it. The Secret is within you. Every beautiful thing you see and every wondrous thing you experience is all there for you. You are the master of the Universe and the perfection of Life.

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bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of Super 30

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                     Super 30: Anand Kumar Changing the World 30 Students at a Time

                                       Biju Mathew

Penguin Books

256 pages; Average reading time 3 hours 37 min

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Early Years

In 1973, Indian economy was crawling at the famous Hindu rate of growth. 54 per cent of the country’s population was living below the defined poverty line. The state of Bihar was in particularly bad shape, with 70 per cent of its population living below poverty line. Patna, the capital of Bihar, is where Rajendra Prasad lived with his family. Rajendra’s family comprised of his wife Jayanti, his brother and his wife and their parents. As a letter sorter with the Indian Railways Mail Service, Rajendra’s meagre salary just about enabled the family of six to live in the slum of Gaudiya Math, a suburb of Patna, and eke out a simple living. On 1st January, 1973, Rajendra and Jayanti, having lost a daughter earlier, were blessed with a boy, whom the grandparents named Anand- the Hindi word for Joy. Two years after Anand came Pranav.

Inquisitive as a kid, Anand would take things apart to understand how things work. Soon he started repairing broken radio sets on his own and in one instance, with a chemistry experiment gone wrong, caused a mini explosion in Chandpur Bela– the locality where Rajendra Prasad had built a house in 1988. Younger brother, Pranav, in the meanwhile, was following his own path of becoming a violin player.

College Years & Happy Numbers

By the time Anand Kumar was in grade 10, he was doing far better in maths, as compared to other subjects- a talent his teachers were clearly able to notice. Anand joined B.N College in Patna for his Junior College and chose maths as his specialisation subject. In college, he would reach out to his teachers with perspectives in maths that would normally not be expected from someone of his age. In 1991, conscious of the poor education facilities in Chandpur Bela, Anand decided to do something about it. On 10th August 1992, Anand attempted his first effort to improve the education resources in his locality- he opened a maths club with just two students. The two students did very well in their grade 12 exams, especially in maths. Word got around about Anand’s maths club and soon there were other students who were keen to join Ramanujan School of Mathematics- the name Anand gave to his maths club, in honour of his favourite mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

By 1993, Ramanujan School of Mathematics had forty students, only a fraction of whom paid a nominal fee to Anand. While helping students at Ramanujan School, Anand started nurturing the secret desire to study further at the University of Cambridge. He was already reading up journals in mathematics that he would pick at university libraries. Soon, Anand worked on a solution to a complex maths problem on his own, and showed it to the Head of Mathematics at Patna Science College. Professor D.P. Verma found the solution elegant and in order to bring some finesse to it, he asked Anand to send the solution to Kaushal Ajitabh-a senior of Anand’s, who was pursuing his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With Prof Verma and Kaushal’s help, Anand published an original paper titled Happy Numbers in the British Journal Mathematical Spectrum.

He then went on to publish a few more papers across prestigious journals, all this while pursuing his studies as well as running Ramanujan School of Mathematics from a poor suburb of Patna. With the encouragement of his well-wishers, Anand decided to apply at the Cambridge in April 1994.

 Cambridge and Selling papad

In a month’s time, Cambridge wrote back confirming acceptance of his application to study maths at the world renowned university. Amidst all the delight and happiness, the serious and difficult job of arranging funds to send Anand to Cambridge began. Rajendra Prasad was clear that his son had to go to Cambridge– whatever be the cost.

On 23rd August 1994, Rajendra Prasad developed laboured breathing and though Anand got his father to the hospital, delay is administering the right medication led to Rajendra Prasad’s death that night. In this period of bereavement, there was still the big challenge of arranging funds for Anand’s Cambridge stint. Anand met rich businessmen, political leaders (including the then Chief Minister of Bihar) but to no avail. Due to a loan taken by Rajendra Prasad, there was an outstanding amount on the family and no source of income, other than a meagre amount from Ramanujan School. The family’s priority shifted from arranging funds for Cambridge to managing the next meal for the day.

Anand’s brother Pranav, who was studying music at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), also came back to support the family. His mother decided to make papads (a savoury food eaten with meals) which Anand would then go out and sell. Very soon, Anand was selling papads on his bicycle during the day, and studying maths in the night. Selling papads allowed the family to pay off its debt and barely keep hunger at bay. Both Cambridge and Ramanujan School were shelved. But while Cambridge was a shelved dream, Ramanujan School of Mathematics still kept Anand awake.

 Ramanujan School of Mathematics

Anand revived Ramanujan School in 1995 with six students. Despite the severe struggle with finances at home, Anand continued to charge a very nominal fee from the students, that too only from those who could afford to pay. Some of these students, while being coached by Anand for grade 12 public exam, were also keen to appear for the extremely competitive Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission into the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Coaching for JEE was an expensive proposition at private coaching institutes, something that was out of reach for the Ramanujan students. Anand decided to help his students prepare for IIT-JEE at a fraction of the cost. With the support of the editor of the Patna edition of The Times of India, Anand got the opportunity to write a weekly column on maths in the popular newspaper. This popular column helped Anand with enrolments at Ramanujan School, so much so that the school relocated into a bigger premise.

By 1997, Ramanujan School had 300 students and Anand started using a Public Address System to run his classes. Pranav, who was a budding violinist in Mumbai, also started helping Anand with the administrative aspects of running Ramanujan School of Mathematics. By 1998, the student population was 400, each paying Rs 500 ($7) annually- a small fraction of the exorbitant fees at the other coaching institutes. The other coaching institutes began a vilification campaign against Anand that soon degenerated into threats and violence. The landlord of the premises where Ramanujan School operated from, was forced to ask Anand to vacate the premises. Ramanujan School, now 500 students strong, shifted to a secluded part of the town.

By 2000, Anand was no longer worried about money, but he was worried about the quality of education being provided at Ramanujan School. He decided to limit the students to 500, come what may, so that he could extend personal attention to each of the students. He also decided to conduct an entrance qualifying exam for his school. In the first edition of this entrance exam, 7500 students appeared, of which 500 were selected. Anand seemed well settled into a life of a high calibre maths teacher in a small Indian town, doing what he loved and earning enough money to take care of his family. But then Abhishek Raj & Kishan Kumar came along.

  In Search of a Greater Purpose

In 2002, a boy-Abhishek Raj-came from a nearby village, with his mother, to meet Anand. His father was a potato farmer in the village, and earned only during the potato harvesting season. Abhishek, his mother said, stood first in all the exams in his village school. Abhishek was keen to study further at the Ramanujan School, but could not afford the Rs 1000 ($15) annual fees. This reminded Anand of Kishan Kumar who had met Anand earlier and told him he wanted to become an engineer, but had no money to pay the fees for studies. Anand asked for Kishan’s address in Patna and went to his ‘home’ to meet him. Kishan did not have a home-he worked as a security guard at a house- studied by the street lamp’s light, and slept in the open. Anand was heart wrenched. He thought of the days when he wanted to go to Cambridge and no support came his way. He thought of his father, Rajendra Prasad, and wondered if his father expected him to do more than just run the Ramanujan School. He was reminded of the time when his father had asked him to follow a greater purpose.

 Educate a Student, Elevate a Village

Anand decided to explore the path of greater purpose. He decided to begin a system of coaching very different from Ramanujan School. 30 underprivileged students would be chosen by Anand through a qualifying exam, who would not only study and prepare for IIT-JEE, but also eat, sleep and stay with Anand-at no cost. He asked his mother to cook for the 30 students and take care of their day to day living. Jayanti Devi was sceptical about the idea, but then Anand reminded her that the money they had now was because Rajendra Prasad ensured a good education for Anand and Pranav. These 30 kids are trapped in abject poverty and the only way for them to aim for a better life would be through good education. Enabling full boarding would allow bright students from far-off villages to study under Anand’s tutelage. ‘You educate one boy, you elevate an entire village’, said Anand. Jayanti Devi agreed but felt Anand was trying to be a Superman. 30 was the number because Anand felt that supporting full living expenses of more than 30 students would be beyond Anand’s means. Super 30 was born.

 Superman or Super 30?

In the spring of 2002, Super 30 began from Anand’s home. Suitable (and barebones) accommodation was identified for 30 students. Jayanti Devi geared up to cook two simple meals for 30 students every day, Pranav became the overall supervisor of the programme, and Anand the tutor. Super 30 expenses would be covered from Ramanujan School’s earnings, and a decision was taken that Super 30 will never seek or accept funds or donations. The first qualifying exam saw many under privileged students appearing to get a chance to enter the Super 30 programme. The first batch of Super 30 started preparing for IIT-JEE exactly one year before their actual JEE exam. One year of rigorous study, basic food and lodging, saw 18 of the 30 students clear the IIT-JEE and get confirmed engineering seats in the best engineering college in India- the Indian Institutes of Technology. The highest ranker among these 18 students was Abhishek Raj, the son of the potato farmer, whose mother did not have the money to pay for Ramanujan School fees.

This was a revolution beginning in the non-descript state of Bihar, built on the determination to not let another under-privileged child miss the chance to earn the best education that the country had to offer. The next year, 22 of the 30 made it to the IITs. In 2005, it was 26, then 28 in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, all 30 students from Super 30 made it to the IITs. This 100% record was repeated in 2009 and 2010. In the 13 years that Super 30 has been around, 333 out of the 390 students have joined the IITs, and the others have joined colleges of national repute.

 Formula for Super 30?

What is Anand’s formula for Super 30? Anand says that the core requirement to help underprivileged students succeed is to raise their confidence. Having lived a life of abject poverty and constraints, these students do not believe that they, too, can join institutions of global repute like the IITs. But once they are part of the Super 30 community, the power of group learning helps the students come out of their shells. These students are also aware that this is their one chance to change their destiny, with help from Anand Sir.


On 30th September, 2014, Anand was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-on an invite to address the teaching faculty and students. From missing an opportunity to study at Cambridge to selling papad on the streets of Patna to building Ramanujan School & Super 30, Anand had travelled a long way-guided all along by his father’s call to ‘find the greater purpose’. Global acknowledgement for Super 30 has been rich and adulatory. Japan has tracked Super 30 closely through documentaries. Discovery Channel did a feature on Super 30, and Barack Obama’s special envoy visited Anand in Patna in 2010. Super 30 has been covered extensively by both Indian and international media.

How Nidhi Jha Reached Paris from Varanasi

Nidhi Jha is from Varanasi, where her father is an auto-rickshaw driver. Once Nidhi cleared her grade 10 public exam, it gave her the confidence that further studies will help her build a better life. She attempted IIT-JEE on her own, but could not clear the exam. She then got to know about Super 30 and travelled to Patna and successfully cleared the entrance test for Super 30. Like the few other girls, Nidhi stayed with Anand’s family instead of the hostel. In her mind, her father driving an auto rickshaw to run the family became her motivating factor and for her Super 30 was her best opportunity to build a life very different from what she lived currently. Nidhi Jha made it to Indian School of Mining, Dhanbad. In 2015, a French director made a movie on Nidhi’s life, and Nidhi, along with her family and Anand Sir, got to travel to Paris to watch the premiere of the movie.

Shivangee’s Journey to IIT Roorkee

Shivangee Gupta is currently studying chemical engineering at IIT Roorkee. She was part of the 2013 batch of Super 30. Shivangee is from a village near Kanpur, where her father runs magazine and newspaper stall. She travelled to Patna for Super 30. She remembers her expense free one year stay at Anand’s home fondly. While she cleared the IIT-JEE entrance due to Super 30 programme, Shivangee’s family did not have the ability to fund her four years engineering study at IIT Roorkee.  Super 30 stepped in to help her with an education loan from a bank, by acting as her guarantor.

Chiranjeev’s Journey to Adobe Systems

Chiranjeev Kumar is a computer science engineer from IIT-BHU, Varanasi and currently work with Adobe Systems. Before he joined the Super 30 batch of 2010, Chiranjeev studied in his village school. His father is a farmer and his mother stitches clothes. Their means could offer Chiranjeev the village level school education only. Without Super 30, Chiranjeev may have still been in his village.

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bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of Give & Take

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          Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success

                                         Adam Grant

Orion Publishing Group

384 pages; Average reading time 5 hours 20 min

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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Sujatha Sathya, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Having spent a decade in the field of teaching and training, the draw of the written word was too strong for Sujatha to resist. The proof: A blog. Handcrafting summaries is another dimension in the pursuit of the love for books for Sujatha.

Givers & takers

Conventional wisdom states that extremely successful people share three things in common: motivation, ability and opportunity. So if you want to succeed, you need a combination of hard work, talent and luck. However, there is a fourth component, one that’s vital but often ignored. Success depends profoundly on how we advance our interactions with other people.



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bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of The Wizard of Menlo Park

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                     The Wizard of Menlo Park

                                       Randall Stross

Broadway Books

392 pages; Average reading time 6 hours 32 min

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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Varsha Srinivasan, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Varsha is an immunology scientist, currently busy raising her twin girls. She believes non-fiction books impart life lessons that are hard to find.

The making of a genius

Thomas Alva Edison, one of the most famous inventors of all time, started his career in relative obscurity. The inventor of the phonograph, light bulb and motion picture camera was just twenty-two when he set out to be a full-time inventor, in the year 1869. With financial backing from partners, he founded multiple ventures. The first of these was the American Telegraph Works, founded in 1870, set up for Edison to work on his field of expertise- improving telegraphic equipment.



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bookbhook Handcrafted Book Summary of Blink

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Blink: The power of thinking without thinking

Malcolm Gladwell


304 pages; Average reading time 4 hours 19 min

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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Ruchi Nagpal, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Ruchi is a research scientist and believes books are the wings that help you reach the unknown.

Blink, as a book, sets out to complete three tasks. The first task is to prove that snap decisions can be as rewarding as the decisions made carefully and intentionally. The second task is to explore why sometimes we cannot see or rationalise something very obvious to others. The third task is to persuade ourselves that those quick decisions and first impressions can be learned and forced upon.

The first instinct

Blink is a book about our very first impressions; precisely those first two seconds that decide our next course of action. The incidence of art forgery at J. Paul Getty Museum in California is one such example of how those initial moments finally lead us to making correct decisions. After 14 months of thorough scientific investigation, the museum curators gave nod to the purchase of an ancient marble statue known as Kouros. However, the initial reaction of visiting art historians betrayed its authenticity. Be it Italian art historian Federico Zeri, Greek expert Evelyn Harrison, or Thomas Hoving of Metropolitan Museum-they all felt that something was just not right about the statue. The case was finally resolved after a series of in-depth investigation. The fake letters, subtle errors in sculpture styling, and the proof of artificial aging of dolomite marble statue, all revealed the truth in the end. The sculpture was a fake.

The adaptive unconscious

An experiment by Iowa University scientists on gamblers playing a simple card game revealed much about the working of our brain. By measuring the sweat glands in the palms of the hands, the stress response was recorded till a player figured out the game. The gamblers started showing stress responses to the red decks, the wrong ones, by the tenth card but it took another 40 cards for them to realize that there was something fishy about the red decks. They then started to opt for the correct blue decks gradually but it took 80 more cards to establish a definite no-no about picking cards from the wrong red decks. This is called as conscious brain strategy, which works slowly gathering information bit by bit to reach a logical reasoning. The second brain strategy which was opted for by the art historians is ‘fast and frugal’ according to psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in which the brain signals ‘positive or negative’ to something after doing instant random calculations. The art historians knew that something was wrong but could not point that out instantly. This strategy of the brain where it jumps to quick conclusions is called the adaptive unconscious. Our brain is capable of using both conscious as well as unconscious modes according to the situation.

Math predicts your marriage stability

John Gottman, a psychologist in the University of Washington has developed a coding system named SPAFF to assign any thinkable emotion expressed or experienced by a person. He recorded the conversation of more than 3,000 married couples in his laboratory to analyse their married life. He assigns a SPAFF code for every second of a couple’s conversation. This coupled with the measurement of stress responses like increase in heart beat or restlessness is fed into complex mathematical equation to predict the marital status. On analysing an hour-long conversation, he can successfully predict whether the couple will stick together in future or not with 95% accuracy. According to Gottman, there are four crucial behaviours among couples that can predict their destiny. These are defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Of these, contempt is the main sign of trouble in a marriage. If you contempt or disapprove your spouse, you are bound to leave them at one point in time. The technique used by Gottman is actually about observing and analysing every second in minute detail ,almost like cutting really thin slices and analysing them.

How thin do you want your pizza slice?

The concept of thin slicing is further understood with our choice of doctors. We tend to go to the doctor who is willing to listen to us and who treats us with respect. The arrogant doctor who doesn’t pay attention to patients’ queries is most likely to get sued by the patient in case of any medical malpractice. This is proved by an experiment done by medical researcher Wendy Levison. She recorded the conversation of a group of surgeons and their patients.  By analysing these conversations, she could predict which of the surgeons got sued and which of them didn’t. Another psychologist, Nalini Ambady, further extended the experiment by selecting 10-second clips of that conversation. Doing thin slicing with Gottman-style coding, she rated the doctor’s tone as warm, hostile, dominant, or anxious and came to the same conclusions.

Thin slicing is not a gifted quality. We do it constantly without knowing. In sports such as basketball, we term it as ‘court sense’; in military terms, it is called coup d’oeil; bird watchers term it as knowing a ‘bird’s giss’. Hollywood producer Brian Grazer recollects his first meeting with the then unknown Tom Hanks for the movie ‘Splash’ where he instantly got a liking for Tom. Later, they did many successful movies such as ‘Apollo 13’ together.

Priming an ‘instant’ decision

The irony of deciding instantly is that we are not able to justify those decisions later, even to ourselves. The evidence is somehow locked in our unconscious. It happened with Vic Braden, one of the world’s top tennis coaches. He realised that he was able to predict double faults committed by players the moment their racket would make a contact with the ball. However, it drove him crazy because he was not able to analyse how he knew it. George Soros said that his father used to alter his decisions on the stock market when his back started to hurt. The spasm was the early warning sign of his decision making. What then happens in our minds which directs instant decision-making?

Numerous priming experiments have been done to know what goes on behind the locked door of our unconscious. ‘To prime’ means to create favourable conditions for one’s brain to behave in a particular manner. In one experiment, two groups were given different jumbled-sentence tests in order to prime their brain with either politeness or aggression. After completing the test, they were supposed to give it back to the instructor sitting in another room. The group which was primed with words of respect never interrupted the instructor who was deliberately pretending to be busy. And the group which was primed with words of aggression interrupted eventually after five minutes. This gives an interesting finding that our brain can be primed to behave according to what is happening around it.

Aronson and Steele did a similar experiment with a group of black students who performed very poorly after they were reminded of their race in a questionnaire before the examination. This suggests that in reality our independent will is a kind of illusion. How we behave in a situation is largely dependent on external influences.

Vic Braden’s experience with many professional athletes also indicates our inability to decipher ‘why’, when it comes to explaining our instant actions. According to his research, not a single player gives a consistent answer about what and how exactly he does on the court. He has studied taped matches of Andre Agassi in detail and confirms our inability to tell how we act at a given moment. The speed dating exercise also suggests that people do not get attracted to the opposite gender having qualities that they initially stated.

Appearances are always deceptive

Warren Harding, the 29th American President, is considered to be one of the worst presidents in American history. He served only two years before dying unexpectedly of cerebral haemorrhage in 1923. According to journalist Mark Sullivan, Ohio attorney lawyer Harry Daugherty was instrumental in convincing him to run for presidential candidature. Daugherty had instantly formed the impression of Harding being everything that people look for in a president: distinguished looking, handsome, masculine, intelligent, with a magnificent voice, and exuding friendliness and confidence. After his death, many scandals were exposed which tarnished his image. This is an example of the dark side of quick reasoning that sometimes leads to erroneous judgements. We humans have powerful or strong associations with appearances – size, shape, colour, or gender – that lead us to prejudge other human beings. The troubling thing is that our unconscious attitudes do not reflect our self-proclaimed conscious values. So is it very difficult to change our pre-existing notions and values?

I have judged you

Goulomb, a successful sales director of Nissan car dealers in New Jersey has mastered the art of not judging his customers based on their appearances or his first impressions. He believes only in taking care of the customer. It is very difficult as a salesperson to not let your impressions judge the customer and behave accordingly. A social experiment done in 1990s in Chicago showed how colour or gender can affect the price quoted by a salesman to the customer. The experiment consisted of 38 people: 18 white men, 7 white women, 8 black women, and 5 black men. All were instructed to go to car dealerships in Chicago and present a similar story. They were dressed up in the same manner and were instructed to bargain in same way. The outcome was astonishing. Among the group, black men fared very low in comparison to others. The white men were able to bargain heavily followed by white women, black women, and black men. The unconscious mind of the salesmen was biased against women and black people and quoted very high price. This kind of approach in sales can drive away many potential buyers.

Analysis paralysis

Paul van Riper retired from the Marine after a long and eminent career. He was a strict, aggressive, and no-nonsense commander to his soldiers in Vietnam. In 2000, he was approached by Pentagon officials who were planning a hypothetical war game named Millennium Challenge ’02. The JFCOM (the joint forces command) is the organisation of Pentagon which experiments with several new military strategies to go to battle for the U.S. Riper’s role was to play a rogue anti-American commander of the Red Team who was threatening to engulf the entire Persian Gulf in war. The military analysts of Pentagon representing the U.S. and its allies were the Blue Team. The Blue Team was equipped with all the scientific databases and the methodologies to systematically monitor the activities of the enemy while the Red Team relied on the instant decisions of Riper. The Blue Team suffered a disastrous failure in the first level as it could not anticipate the spontaneous attack of the Red Team. The Blue Team concentrated so much on the computational mechanics and the processes of the war that they never approached it wholly. The Red Team, on the other hand, used unconventional means to rip through the Blue Team. An overload of information sometimes makes it difficult to take a quick decision, which was case with the Blue Team. The important lesson to be learnt from this story is that premeditated thinking should be balanced by the intuitive thinking at the time of crisis. We cannot rely solely on the pre-calculated strategies in an emergency.

Less is more

When we thin-slice any situation or make snap judgements, we do it by editing in our minds. That is why our mind gets confused if loaded with many choices. This happened with the experiment done by Sheena Iyengar at a grocery store. While 32% of customers bought jams from the booth having six types of jam, only 3% of customers bought jams from the other booth having far more varieties of jam.  We are forced to consider more when given more choices and our unconscious gets confused to take instant decisions. Therefore, sometimes less information is more beneficial than more.

(Sheena Iyengar’s excellent book The Art of Choosing is available as a bookbhook summary. Do check it out)

Mystery of instant judgements

The musical journey of Ethiopian rock star Kenna depicts how sometimes we are not able to achieve fame even after getting a good start. Although Kenna’s music was appreciated and loved by the record company executives, music club enthusiasts and people in the music industry, it didn’t pass the reality test by mass audience of music buyers. Whenever music research firms collected the ratings of his songs on web or by phone or by sending song samples CDs, the response was so poor that his album release could not materialise. The positive impressions of music executives were not accepted by the general public. However, is this the right way to decide the fate of a person’s ability or a new product in the market? We have to explore more to understand the mystery of our instant judgements.

New Coke? No thanks

The classic failure of new Coke can give us some insights. In 1980s, the popularity of Coke was dipping due to rise of Pepsi. The so-called ‘Pepsi Challenge’ showed that people favoured Pepsi instead of Coke in blind taste tests. It forced the think tank of Coke to change the age-old favour of Coke to a much sweeter one. The final version of new Coke outscored Pepsi in all market research challenges and blind taste tests. It convinced the executives to launch new Coke across U.S. There was no doubt that new Coke would be huge success, as all data indicated people loved its taste. But new Coke failed.

There were protests from the loyal consumers of old Coke. The company had to bring back the classic Coke. The Coke that is selling today is the same classic Coke, and is still the number one soft drink in the world. This example shows how wrong it is to extrapolate the likings of a selected group to broader one. This is what happened to Kenna. The market testers relied only on the research data assuming that people will thin slice a new song in a couple of seconds. They forgot to inspect the fact that Kenna was a hit among the live audience in the musical club scenario or local concerts.

The consumer & the expert

The successful product development story of ‘Aeron’ brand comfort chair by Herman Miller Furniture Company explains that new and different innovative ideas tend to get thumbs down in market research. The new concepts take time to register and their final outcome can be very opposite to the initial reaction. Two of the most successful sitcoms in American television history – All in the family and The Mary Tyler Moore show – were initially rejected by the selected audience group as they were different from the regular shows. Had Kenna been given a chance, he might have had a successful career.

After studying the profession of sensory experts who taste food for a living, I realised that experts in any field are able to interpret their first impressions more correctly than the common people. Their rigorous training and experience over the years gives them a better understanding of their unconscious locked door. The consumer, unfortunately, has a superficial knowledge of the subject and therefore his reactions can sometimes point in the wrong direction initially.

Kenna did manage to release an album called ‘New Sacred Cow’ with Columbia Records after a while. Despite not having achieved immense popularity, Kenna’s own small group of fans are there to cheer for him and keep him going.

Mind reading and wrong decisions

The theory of mind reading can explain the way we behave with others, depending on their facial expressions, in our daily life. It applies to the instant judgements we make. However, why do we sometimes fail to read the mind correctly? The unfortunate shooting of black American Amadou Diallo in the neighbourhood of South Bronx showed how a series of wrong and crucial judgements made by the four policemen on duty that night, claimed Diallo’s life. They suspected him to be a criminal when he was just terrified seeing the police approaching him. The whole episode led to 41 gun shots in about two and a half seconds. Why did the police fail to read Diallo’s mind? Why did they wrongly deduce his actions to be of a criminal running from the police? Scientists have proven that our mind reading ability goes down under pressure, when our heart beat rises significantly, and our motor coordination starts deteriorating.

Taxonomy of facial expressions

The psychology and science of mind reading has been studied in detail by two brilliant scientists: Silvan Tomkins, the teacher and Paul Ekman, his student. Tomkins had once identified crucial characteristics of two tribal groups on the basis of their facial expressions. This inspired Ekman and his colleague Friesen to create a taxonomy of facial expressions. They identified every distinct muscular movement of the face calling it an action unit (AU). By studying the effect of particular muscle movements and their combination, they noted the wrinkle pattern of the face. The entire exercise took seven years to identify about 3,000 AUs that were meaningful. The rules for reading and interpreting these facial expressions were documented as Facial Action Coding System or FACS. At present, there are only 500 people around the world who are certified to use this coding in research. Ekman recalls his saying about President Bill Clinton in his early days to have an expression of ‘love-me-Mommy-because-I’m-a-rascal look’. And Clinton did get caught eventually.

Our voluntary expressions are guided and controlled by us, but our involuntary expressions signal our authentic and true feelings. Ekman has confirmed this after studying various cases like the OJ Simpson trial.

Inability to read the mind

According to British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the inability to mind-read is the condition of autism. Autism expert Ami Klin of Yale University studied an autistic patient Peter in detail. Peter is an educated, independent person who is very articulate but lacks intuition about things. It was decided to show him an emotional movie called ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and the researcher followed the direction of Peter’s eyes. It was found that even in emotional scenes, he was not focusing on the actors involved but his attention was captured by a light switch. Since his mind was not able to connect with the emotions of the actors, the particular scene had no special meaning to him. Does this type of mind-blindness happen to common people under stress thereby allowing incorrect rapid decisions?

Removing popular bias

In earlier days, female musicians were not considered for playing as part of an orchestra due to lack of strength, and the attitude or the flexibility required for certain kinds of pieces like trombone or horn. Most of the instruments were seen as very masculine. There is a famous incident of Abbie Conant, the trombone musician, who won the hearts of Munich audition committee, which was not aware of her being a female. The error in the invitation letter addressing her as ‘sir’ and the ‘screen/shield’ between the musician and the committee at the auditions led to this surprise slip. She had a tough time retaining her position in the orchestra in the coming years.

However, over the decades, the classical music industry has started changing rules to overcome the prejudice against women and to bring transparency to the auditions. The identity of the audition giver is now concealed till the final judgement, and steps are taken to reduce the influence of judges among themselves. The outcome is the rise in hiring of women professionals in the orchestra. This gives us a deep understanding of the fact that our first impressions are influenced by the surrounding environment and the general pre-notions. When the judges were listening with their eyes closed, they were focusing only on the music but when they were listening with their eyes, the gender, the personality and the performance of the musician were all adding to their impressions. However, by erecting a shield or a screen, they had controlled the environment in which rapid cognition takes place. We can control our rapid cognition by controlling the environment.


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