Author Interviews

Life lessons from simple stories

Vinay Kamath | Updated on September 17, 2021

Leadership coach and author Prakash Iyer

In his new book, author Prakash Iyer talks about learnings from real-world experiences

How Come No One Told Me That? is Prakash Iyer’s third book. The earlier ones, The Habit of Winning and The Secret of Leadership, were both bestsellers. In this book, published by Penguin Portfolio, Iyer does what he does best: simple stories with anecdotes drawn from everyday life and real world experiences and what lessons one can learn from these incidents. An alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, Iyer was formerly MD of Kimberly-Clark Lever with earlier stints at HUL and PepsiCo as well. He’s also a motivational speaker, a certified leadership coach and as he says an ‘uncertified cricket junkie’! Excerpts from an interview:

Do you always seek out life lessons from the humble and the every day? Do you always find one?

I am hugely fascinated by – and curious about – the world around me. I sometimes feel I look at the world with two lenses. One is the normal lens. And the other is a ‘What-does-this-tell-us-about the -world?’ lens. Beyond the obvious, there is a story, or a lesson, waiting to jump at you. We only need to look. Truth be told, I don’t always find one. But that may be because I wasn’t looking carefully enough, or I couldn’t connect the dots.

Are all your anecdotal stories from your experiences or also from conversations with people and how they perceive events and incidents?

Some are from my own experience, and some are born out of conversations, or even from a line I may have read somewhere, or even a chance remark. When I come across something interesting, my mind gets to work – almost subconsciously – to see what might this tell us about our world? What can we learn from it? Is there a story or lesson there? I then try and relate it to my own world, my own experiences. I try and make the idea come alive. And make it simple, easy to understand and I hope the story behind it will make it memorable, make it stick. And then, I feel the urge to share it – with whoever would care to listen!

How do you ideate for a book? In this book, for instance, did you have to keep adding stories as and when you came across the incidents you describe or did you conceive it at one go?

While ideating for the book, I first came up with the broader idea of what I want the book to be all about. I had an initial set of lessons, experiences and stories that I wanted to share. And then over the course of the writing of the book, I went about looking for stories and messages that would make some of the points I wanted to make. Sometimes a story would come to mind, or I would find something interesting. And sometimes, it would be a message that would start the chain, and send me on a hunt to find a story. And I kept adding the lessons and the stories over time.

Which was your most life-altering lesson that you experienced from interactions with people or from an incident?

As a little boy growing up in Jaipur, I remember there was this man called Chhotu who would ferry me to school and back on his bicycle. Chhotu was our Man Friday. He would help me get on to the bike and get off, hold my hand and help me cross the street. A helpful man he was.

And I remember two things my parents told me. Two rules, if you will. One, I was to call him Chhotu bhaiya, not Chhotu like my parents did. And two, I had to carry my own bag. Always. My schoolbag felt like the heaviest thing in the world, but I had to carry it. Two powerful, early lessons that have stayed with me. Respect other people. And always carry your own bag! I do think the lessons learnt in early years have a huge impact on who we become. Don’t you think so?

From your experience of your earlier books too, are your readers influenced by the life lessons you draw out for them from every day incidents?

Well, that certainly is the hope. In everything I write – and say – I am hoping there will be one little bit – a tiny story or a lesson - that will stick in my reader’s mind, and make her or him think differently, or act differently. And as we have all seen, sometimes that one small change can make a big difference. Often, it may be a reminder of something they already knew – but had forgotten.

I must confess, I get my highs out of some of the emails and feedback I get from readers who say that something they read in one of my books impacted them and helped change their thinking. And sometimes at an airport – or in a random place, I will meet someone who will play back a story from my book and tell me how much it has impacted their life. And I feel so good about that!

Making a small difference to other people – wow, that seems such a big win for me! Gives me a reason to keep at it!

From your latest book, which is your favourite story, the one that is most memorable for you?

Hard to pick one story as a favourite. But let me pick a story that resonates a lot with me – and in some ways explains the raison d’etre of the book, and my own reason for being. It is the story of an alteration tailor.

I once read a fashion stylist put out a list of five style tips. The one that caught my eye was her tip #5: Find an alteration tailor. Someone who can make those small, tiny changes to the length of the trouser, or the shirt sleeve, to help us look better, more stylish. And I thought that was terrific advice for our clothes. And for our lives too. We all need an alteration tailor – a friend, or spouse or colleague who we can count on to tell us about the small changes we can make to become as good as we were meant to be. Someone who points out our hidden strengths, our tiny flaws and helps us set them right.

I am grateful for the several alteration tailors who have helped me in my life. And in some ways, I feel blessed to be able to play the role of an alteration tailor for other people, through my speaking and my writing. This book then might just turn out to be the alteration tailor readers needed – but were struggling to find.

Check out the book on Amazon

Published on September 17, 2021

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