For people with aspirations

Dony Kuriakose | Updated on August 01, 2021

A book that focuses on an oft neglected aspect — soft skills

There’s an apocryphal story about a hoarding that was put up to praise the US postal service, which said, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” below which a wag had added the graffiti lines…“Well, what IS it then?”

That’s pretty much the feeling that you get many times while reading resume after resume of candidates who start with great potential but seem to have lost their way into a mid-career morass and who, when you speak with them, don’t articulate a though-out path forward. Many of these are youth who surmounted small-town beginnings and hard times to equip themselves for a better life, but then found workplace complexities a far more nuanced challenge.

In Skill It, Kill It, Ronnie Screwvala focuses on an essential but oft-neglected aspect — Soft Skills — as a major enabler for career success. Ronnie should know, given his rise from humble beginnings to become one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs. With ventures ranging from toothbrushes to television and films to training and education, he has been witness to many successes and failures.

In addition, for this book, he connects with a stellar cast of successful professionals and entrepreneurs ranging from Sanjiv Mehta of HUL to Vijay Shekhar Sharma of PayTM, from Amitabh Kant of NITI Aayog to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw among others, to give depth and dimensions to the advice.

Divided into 13 crisp chapters that examine different aspects of career and workplace challenges, the book follows a format of creating problem statements from young professionals and proceeding to answer them directly to the reader.

Personal tone

The tone and tenor is personal and involved, so that if it relates to one of your problems, you’ll feel a hand on your shoulder while the author unravels the core issues. Since he identifies each solution-seeker with first-name, age and location, you can see the target cohort ranges from 23-36 years, with an average of about 29, i.e. early career aspirants, to mid-managers who may be languishing and who are from locations that include metros to mid-town India.

The book seeks to help you navigate progress through attitude changes, behaviour changes and inspirational examples. This could be for essential attributes you need to develop across situations, like a habit of listening well and learning, or seeing empathy as a strength, or strategies that are critical like planning for a future beyond the immediate and not getting stuck in the ‘stability’ trap in a dynamic world.

To convey these, the book offers both anecdotal examples and solid advice based on the author’s experiences and those of the illustrious panel with their diverse backgrounds. It also stresses on the importance of failure in eventual success. To be clear, this isn’t a book for people with problems, as much as it is for people with aspirations. There are unwritten rules and routes in the workplace that aren’t always obvious but are usually essential if you want to keep up your career momentum.

Add to that the increasing pace of change and the recent trend when the onus of ‘keeping up’ is moving to the individual and you have a situation where re-skilling, positioning right and communicating clearly are critical for success and hence progress.

As the author himself points out, hindsight is 20/20 but knowing at the right time is priceless. For many who come into the workstream from diverse backgrounds that do not offer these insights, several points in the book that unravel daily bumps can be invaluable. Careers are streams, not ponds and you have learning phases, contributing phases and a time to self-actualise.

Yet there are many who, despite high potential, do not plan for the length or pace it for maximum benefit because they get too stuck in the ‘now’. Some of the advice in this book should help clear mind space for long thinking.

While the author succeeds in binding together what is essentially an unstructured topic, there is the occasional weak spot. Work-life balance, for instance, is a very individual measure and the attempt to “formulise” this ends up sounding more preachy than practical. Overall, however, the practical insights are true to their cause and very relevant.

Do read the book, whether you are starting out your career or feeling stuck or even a little too settled. It’s an easy read and so full of factual situations and solutions that you’ll surely find something that helps you crack a code or two and open a window.

The reviewer is Director & CEO, Edge Executive Search, a talent search partner to multinationals

Published on August 01, 2021

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