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The Story Rules Podcast
69 minutes | Oct 15, 2021
E10: Max Dickins - Using Improv principles for better storytelling
“So, I have this concept which I call ‘Listening to Ignite’, which is, you're listening for things that can really light up the other person. So, it's about what your curiosity clicks into. And can you ask a question that allows them a launchpad to show the best of their skill, their experience, their expertise, their background? And I think in that occasion, when you're thinking of those questions, when you're thinking of something you remember, not being present with that person is almost the more generous act.”That is Max Dickins, an improv artist who helps leaders and their teams get extraordinary outcomes through the use of improvisation techniques.Many months back, I had reviewed Max's superb book, 'Improvise: Use the Secrets of Improv to achieve Extraordinary Results at Work' and was delighted to have him on my podcast.For the uninitiated, improv, short for ‘Improvisational theatre’ is the art of unscripted theatre. But it goes so much beyond that. It’s a whole different way of thinking. A way of thinking that has applications in almost all aspects of life - whether at work or at home.In the book, Max shares several lessons from improv that can help you to: • Be more creative • Listen better • Become more mentally agile • Improve spontaneity • Enhance collaboration • Embrace failure and learn from it We touch upon all of these topics in the conversation. I specifically was curious to know how Improv principles can help us listen and present better at the workplace. Max has some great ideas for us. Links to resources:Max Dickins' websiteMax' Twitter handleHis LinkedIn pageHis Amazon author pageMy review of his bookThis podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Amisha Jha and all-round support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.
72 minutes | Sep 24, 2021
E09: Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar - Chronicler of the India economic story
“You have to woo the reader. You have to persuade the person, first of all, to read what you have written that's the very first thing. If you have failed there then you've already failed. It doesn't matter what are the gems of wisdom. So the notion that you have to woo your reader was important.”That is Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, aka Swami, the legendary and long-serving columnist for the Times of India and one of the foremost chroniclers of the India economic story.Growing up in Mumbai, the Times of India was a daily habit at our household. Here’s what I would unfailingly do, when I got my hands on the newspaper:- I’d look for ‘interesting pictures’ in Bombay Times (I mean, let’s be honest, I was in my mid-teens)- In the main paper I would chuckle at RK Laxman’s cartoon of the day- I’d then ignore the rest of the front page and head straight to the sports pages.- And when it would be the Sunday Times of India, I would head to the edit page and first read the ‘Swaminomics’ columnToday, I’m not exactly a big fan of the Times group. But I still like the Sunday Times of India, especially that edit page and especially Swaminomics.Since my early teens, I have marvelled at Swami’s ability to demystify complex economic and political news and distil the key essence for the lay reader. He would take contrarian perspectives and back them with solid data and clear analysis. You might disagree with his opinion, but you couldn’t ignore it.Swami is a legend, a doyen of economic journalism in India. And so, it seemed like a moonshot - what if I could interview THE Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar for this podcast?Well, dreams do come true.After a few emails and some help from his daughter Pallavi (who I knew from earlier) I was thrilled when he agreed to come on this podcast!In this conversation, Swami narrates key milestones from his 56-year writing journey … (That’s right, 56 years - he’s been professionally writing for 14 more years than I’ve been on this planet).He shares his research sources, how he records his ideas, his contrarian approach, and the focus on lucid writing. It’s a memorable conversation. Let’s dive in.Links to resources:- Swami's columns in the Times of India- Author page for the Economic Times- CATO Institute Profile- Books by SA Aiyar
70 minutes | Sep 10, 2021
E08: Aravind SA - Standup comedian and Storyteller extraordinaire
“So the best way to address this, I thought, is the tip I give any aspiring public speaker just whatever your fears are, tell them that. Put it out there. If you're thinking "Oh my god I'm gonna have a disaster tonight and I can't believe all your faces are looking extremely ugly and it's making me even more anxious", tell them that. Yes, it'll take them a minute to second or two to process and be shocked, but then the brutal honesty of the connection that you're doing there will take you with them for the rest of the piece once you do that leap of faith you have to take the risk and that jump."Today we speak with Aravind SA, a leading stand-up comedian and extraordinary storyteller.I had attended a show by SA in Pune many years back. I vividly remember one statement he made - and I’m paraphrasing here - he said, “I don’t make jokes, I tell stories.” Which is what he does in most of his shows. SA takes real-life incidents that he’s undergone, many of them traumatic… writes them down after extracting every drop of humour from them and then proceeds to perform them with his manic, intense, infectious energy.But more than his funny bone and intensity…, what struck me was his deep, unabashed honesty. SA presents his full authentic self to you, warts and all.For instance, he talks about his deep-seated need for attention… which makes him want to perform… coupled with his paradoxical fear of public speaking (which means he practices his routines obsessively).He also opens up about mental health and how he copes with Attention Deficit Disorder.This episode is a fascinating deep dive into the mind of an artist who’s as driven as he’s talented… and who’s fearlessly pushing the boundaries in his profession. Links:The famous 'Why I hate Lungi Dance' videoSA's 'I was not ready da' show on Amazon PrimeSA's 'Madrasi Da' show on Amazon Prime
105 minutes | Aug 12, 2021
E07: Praveen Gopal Krishnan: The Writer of India's largest paid newsletter
The guy with the most productive Friday evening in journalismMy most anticipated email of the week arrives every Saturday at 10 am. It's a weekly newsletter called The Nutgraf and it's written by Praveen Gopal Krishnan (COO at The Ken, India's foremost subscriber-driven business-news publication). The Nutgraf is an indepth, 10-min analysis of a crucial topical issue - one that goes far deeper than the typical banalities and cursory analysis that make up for 'opinion pieces' in major dailies - and looks for 'connections and consequences' - in a way that makes the reader go "Ah, now I get it".Reading these fascinating, immensely thought-provoking pieces, I used to think: Man, they've employed a person just to write one article a week. This is how, I surmised, his schedule must be like for the week:- Monday-Tuesday: Research- Wed-Thursday: Writing, rewriting and edits- Friday: Final proof-reads and hitting publish for Saturday.Then I realised that it was written by someone who was the Head of Product at The Ken (now COO). Surely, he must be busy with, erm, Product-related responsibilities?The new narrative in my head was - perhaps he spends most of his time on Product (say 75%) and then spends the balance 25% on writing.Boy, how wrong I was.PGK is a 100% Product guy. His job Monday to Friday is to work on The Ken's product. And then, just as all of Bangalore finds its way into the pubs and restaurants in Indiranagar and Koramangala, our man starts. With his research.In a manic, unprecedented, staggering five-hour marathon-sprint between 6 pm to 11 pm, PGK researches, understands, writes, edits and finalises the Nutgraf edition to be published the next day.At around 10.30-11 pm he passes it on to his colleagues (God bless them) who review, edit and proof-read the content and add their comments.The next morning, Praveen reviews the comments, resolves them and gets it ready for publishing. On some days, just in time at 10 am.As I was saying, I was blown away.In fact, when I heard about this writing process, I had one overwhelming thought: you remember the disclaimer you get at the beginning of an action reality TV series - something on the lines of “These stunts are done by professionals and must not be tried at home”?Well, Praveen pulls off those kinds of stunts every week. He’s a bit of a maverick genius.The Podcast conversationIn this podcast conversation, Praveen talks about - The early influence of reading (especially re-reading) on his life - The impact of theatre - His strong belief in the effectiveness of the three-act narrative structure in storytelling- His love for Aaron Sorkin and- Most fundamentally - why is his newsletter called the Nutgraf! *****You can follow Praveen on Twitter or LinkedInLinks for- The Ken- The Nutgraf
84 minutes | Jul 16, 2021
E06: Prakash Iyer: Bestselling author and Leadership Coach
You know Deja Vu. But do you know Vuja de?“…there is deja vu. Where you see something new but you find it familiar, and you go to a place for the first time and you say wow, doesn't this remind me of (Something).... or you meet somebody for the first time and you say, doesn't he look like (someone)... and this attempt to try and take the new, and, and put it in boxes which are old and familiar for us - that's deja vu. And ... what can work for us is Vuja De which is the opposite of that. When you look at the same old thing and you say wow, never seen it before. And it's such a powerful idea so you see a car, and you see somebody driving it and you say wow somebody's driving a car. So if nobody was driving your car, you could have a driverless car.”That is Prakash Iyer, an accomplished leader who wears many hats: Ex-CEO of Kimberly Clark Lever, bestselling author of several books on leadership, speaker, coach and most of all, a gifted storyteller.Of course, in this podcast interview, I have chosen to focus on his storytelling skills. I came to know about Prakash’s books through Ameen Haque, a leading story coach and collaborator. I was hooked! Prakash’s books are like a delicious box of chocolates - filled with several short stories, anecdotes, fables and allegories - all of which offer rich life lessons. His collection of stories come from a wide array of sources - including from his own observations of life around us. His ability to spot the Vuja-de (i.e. to see something new in the familiar) is off the charts. But, for me, what really stands out in his writing is his incredible analogical thinking. For instance, check out how he gleans several life lessons from everyday activities such as using teabags and flying kites. Another recurring theme in his writing is the use of sports as a metaphor for life. Especially his genuine love for cricket shines through in the compelling anecdotes he shares about the game.In this conversation, Prakash talks about the influence of his family, the importance of persistence in writing, how he kept his love of writing going even when his job was in Sales, and how he goes about thinking and writing his stories.Links & ResourcesBooks mentioned in the conversationThe Habit of WinningThe Secret of LeadershipYou Too CanVideosLeaders are like TeabagsGo Fly a Kite!Prakash Iyer's websitePrakash on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube
102 minutes | Jun 18, 2021
E05: Sowmya Rajendran: A Literary Torchbearer for India's Gender Movement
"So I used to tell her these fairy tales also, like Cinderella and Rapunzel and somehow when the story got to the part when Cinderella had to be rescued or Rapunzel had to be rescued, I would find myself changing the story because I didn't like it. I didn't want my daughter to grow up thinking that she needs to wait for some boy to come and rescue her and that she is going to be this passive person who doesn't take charge of her life..." That is Sowmya Rajendran, a brilliant, thoughtful writer who I would describe as a literary torchbearer for the gender movement in India.Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.I came to know Sowmya first through her children’s books - which by the way, pack in a world of meaning in them. For instance, take her book, “Girls to the Rescue”. In this book, Sowmya overturns the typical ‘damsel in distress’ plotlines of most fairy tales. Instead, the girls in her stories are smart, independent and take charge of their own lives. Later, I read some of her interpretations of the depiction of gender in cinema and how that is changing - ever so gradually - especially in south Indian films. (She frequently writes on cinema with a focus on the depiction of gender - for 'The News Minute' online publication). For instance, check out this richly analysed, nuanced review of 'Drishyam 2', the Malayalam superhit sequel to the original blockbuster.Finally, I read Sowmya’s only adult fiction novel - The Lesson (published in 2015) - a scathing indictment of the patriarchy deeply embedded in Indian society.The Lesson is a darkly satirical tome, and represents, for me, the 1984 moment of India’s gender movement. In the book, Sowmya paints a dystopian totalitarian future where masculinity and hyper-patriarchy have been taken to their extreme logical conclusion. It's an absurd, deeply disturbing, and unfortunately, not entirely implausible tale. It's a book that should have gotten more attention.As I was reading through Sowmya's writing (and connected it with the section on patriarchy in Yuval Harari's Sapiens), I had a realisation.We live in a world divided by nationality, religion, language, customs… but having one unifying theme: Patriarchy. While massive strides have been made in the past several decades in the gender rights movement, the underlying patriarchal mindset - which is several millennia old - will not be easy to change. Thankfully, in the long struggle for gender rights, we have leaders like Sowmya who are putting in their unceasing, fearless and most importantly, creative storytelling efforts ... in bending this long arc of the moral universe towards fairness and justice.More power to you Sowmya!Enjoy this long, in-depth conversation with her.***You can get in touch with Sowmya through her Facebook or Twitter accounts.
82 minutes | May 22, 2021
E04: Mihir Dalal: The Writer of India's Best Business Book of 2020
"So when I would start writing every day at 10:30-11 am, the first two hours would just be spent on rewriting, and editing the previous day's work.... So it was not just once, I think I would have edited my own work at least 12-13 times"12-13 times. Gosh, that can be tiring.But when you toil to this extent, the results are bound to be good. And they were.Mihir Dalal, a business journalist who's been with Mint, Reuters and CNBC - wrote his first book ‘Big Billion Startup - The Untold Flipkart Story’ It's a book that has won several awards - including the Best Business Book 2020 by Gaja Capital. The Flipkart story must not have been an easy one to tell… getting information about events that happened almost a decade ago can be challenging. This difficulty is compounded when you factor in the multiple perspectives and the need to weave the disparate threads into a coherent narrative.Mihir took on this challenge and has absolutely nailed it. The book surges forward with the pace of a thriller - one that is laced with several jaw-dropping moments.If you’ve not already read it, I would suggest you do so - a lot of the points we discuss would then make sense.In this conversation, Mihir talks about his early influences, his strong grounding in business journalism and how he made his key decisions on writing form and tone. Book-writing is like the Test Cricket of the writing profession - a tough, brutal and thorough examination of your skills. You might be thinking - but I don’t plan to write a book anytime soon!That’s ok! Even if you play only Gully Cricket or T-20 as a writer (i.e. write long emails and make presentations), you can learn a ton from Mihir’s suggestions.Enjoy the conversation.For more information on Story Rules, you can check out the website or you can connect with me on LinkedIn.Show notes:Mihir Dalal's LinkedIn profileThe Big Billion Startup Book on Flipkart and Amazon.Mihir's articles on Mint.
94 minutes | May 7, 2021
E03: Swanand Kelkar: Writing investment theses for a $3B+ portfolio
"If you write something, it just clarifies your thinking. When you put pen to paper and you do it hand on your heart, and dig up data and try to make the argument robust why you're buying or selling the stock. I think it just clarifies your thinking … there're so many stocks which I did not invest in because I started writing the rationale."Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.In this episode, we speak to Swanand Kelkar, a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley in India. At Morgan Stanley, Swanand advises investments in funds with around 3-4 Billion dollars… but what is more impressive about him is his ability to write and to tell engaging data stories about the thinking that underlies those investment decisions.In the episode, I speak to Swanand about his techniques to consume curated information, his reflection methodology and his writing process.We also delve into some lessons he learnt from fiction writing. That’s right - Swanand also writes fiction.I especially found two things to be very impressiveHis structured approach to curiosity, andHis ability to explain complex topics and phenomena using everyday English and relatable metaphorsHappy listening!For more information on Story Rules, you can check out the website or you can connect with me on LinkedIn.Show notes:Swanand Kelkar's LinkedIn profile His articles on Mint:- The article on how younger Indians are much more comfortable taking on debt: https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/sAwG6XPVVktkiLtVaXhTbJ/A-generational-shift-in-consumption-and-debt.html- The article on lessons from fiction short-story writinghttps://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/opinion-why-writing-is-harder-than-you-think-11598599300744.html- You can read more of his writing (including the unique 'sabbatical series') here.: https://www.livemint.com/Search/Link/Author/Swanand-Kelkar
107 minutes | Apr 16, 2021
E02: Shrehith Karkera - The Storyteller who Simplifies Financial news for 400K readers
"I went from not having written anything to just starting a publication" - This is Shrehith Karkera, the co-founder - and you could say Chief Storyteller - at Finshots. The Finshots newsletter reaches 400K subscribers daily - a staggering number, considering they write about complex topics on finance and economics. (For comparison, the Business Standard newspaper, which launched in 1975, has a circulation of about 189,000) Their Android app has 100K plus downloads and a 4.9 rating with more than 11K reviews! (They have a 4.9 rating on the iOS app too)Their podcast is ranked #11 across all Indian podcasts and is the #2 news app. And they have achieved pretty much all of this over the last 1 year.What was even more staggering for me was to find that Shrehith - the accomplished writer who writes most of the Finshots stories - is someone who basically never read or wrote anything when he was young. He essentially started reading and writing seriously only in his early 20s. In the episode, I speak to Shrehith about his upbringing, what shaped his insatiable curiosity, his eclectic reading choices and his core writing philosophy. More than anything, I found Shrehith’s story hugely inspiring - for anyone who feels they don’t have it in themselves to become good storytellers, since they never were into reading or writing... You’ll change your mind once you listen to this story. PS: The conversation is a bit rambling, moving back and forth between topics… Also, in some sections, I have made edits to ensure continuity and clarity.For more information on Story Rules, you can check out the website or you can connect with me on LinkedIn.Time stamps:0:43: What makes Shrehith/Finshots special 2:39: The Finshots mission - to simplify financial news3:18: How the Theory of Constraints led Finshots to the one-story-per-day 5:37: Finshots staggering achievements - 400K subscribers...7:40: … and some great user reviews too9:09: Storytelling is the differentiator9:55: Shrehith’s upbringing with his imaginary friends and surprisingly, his lack of interest in reading14:42: Choosing Engineering...17:00: ...and then opting out of placements18:05: Leading to an ‘extremely productive year’19:40: Where a chance video makes Shrehith pick up his first non-fiction book21:55: And he learns the value of discipline25:50: The story of how he tanks all IIM interviews... except for the one at IIMA…30:40: Shrehith comes to IIMA and is accosted by some unfriendly subjects33:15: Two of the co-founders of Finshots meet and bond over their shared discomfort with studies 35:34: I reminisce about my own time at IIMA and empathise with Shrehith!37:15: Shrehith considers his job options post IIMA43:15: … and decides to start-up with his batchmates47:42: Shrehith narrates an inciting incident - the ‘investor’ who ran away after the first meeting51:22: The period of voracious reading that gave Shrehith his insight: the need to make finance relatable 53:59: Shrehith starts writing 55:50: How Shrehith thinks about the ‘Hook’ for a story (The Mathusian prophecy for Bal Krishna Tyres!)57:40: How Shrehith started reading about finance and markets 1:05:00: … and the source of his insatiable curiosity1:06:40: How Shrehith went from not writing at all, to creating a publication1:10:10: We talk about a&
103 minutes | Apr 1, 2021
E01: Mohit Bansal - The Guy who Creates Multi-Million $ Decks
In the middle of an engagement, the CEO of Instamojo says this:”You know Mohit, we have been running this business for seven, eight years, but it's only now we have understood what we really do”Mohit Bansal is the Founder of Deck Rooster, a Chandigarh based company that conceptualises and creates startup pitch decks.Decks that get high praise from clients:“Don't waste two per cent on a Banker, these folks at Deck Rooster rock!” - Ravish Naresh, CEO, KhataBook.“Deck Rooster guys not only helped bring our story to life with visuals, but were an equal thought-partner in helping me articulate the story. Strongly recommend.” - Vikram Chopra, Co-founder and CEO, Cars24Deck Rooster’s clients include startups funded by Goldman Sachs, Accel Partners, Khosla Ventures, Sequoia, IDG, Blume VC, Y Combinator and other top investors.As the Founder and chief Storyteller at Deck Rooster, Mohit has had a fascinating journey - from being fired as an intern and being terrified of public speaking… to now confidently creating decks that raise millions of dollars in funding.In this conversation, we discuss:Mohit’s unique honesty and how that helps him at workHow he uses an ‘army of referrers’ to spread the word about Deck RoosterHis unique visual approach to crafting the pitch storyWhy it’s critical for him to find the “anchor” of the story firstSome specific tools that he prefers to create his decks (including one by Microsoft that will surprise you!)Links to Resources:Deck Rooster Website: https://www.deckrooster.com/ The Steve Jobs Video mentioned in the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiXK11naSfY For more information on Story Rules, you can check out the website or you can connect with me on LinkedIn.
3 minutes | Mar 31, 2021
The 'Story Rules Podcast': Learning from the best storytellers in the world
Welcome to The Story Rules Podcast. This is your host, Ravishankar Iyer and I’m launching this podcast with a very selfish motive - I want to learn from the best storytellers in the world.I admire good storytelling wherever I see it… whether it’s: - Someone who creates start-up pitch decks that raise millions of dollars, or- Someone who simplifies complex financial news into daily stories that are consumed by several hundred thousand readers, or - Those who craft investment theses that form the basis for billion-dollar investment portfolios, or - Folks who write non-fiction in a simple yet arresting manner… I feel that all of us can learn from these storytelling experts, and so I decided to pick their brains and unearth their secrets. In each episode of the podcast, we will have long, deep and meaningful conversations with some of the best storytellers in the world. We will explore their life story, discuss their storytelling philosophy and unearth the secrets of their craft. Listeners will get to learn, grow their own inner storytellers and finally, achieve better outcomes at work - by leveraging the power of story.
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