The Story Rules Podcast

Ravishankar

Storytelling is an ancient craft and humans are wired for story. Yet when it comes to telling the story of our work, we often fall short. My mission, through 'Story Rules', is to help you tell a better story of your work. I do that by tapping into the fascinating and wondrous world of Storytelling techniques. The Story Rules Podcast is a further step in that direction. In episodes 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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E17: Sajith Pai - Foremost thought-leader of India's Startup Ecosystem
Jun 17 2022
E17: Sajith Pai - Foremost thought-leader of India's Startup Ecosystem
“Whether It’s a start-up or not, narrative building is important. I think of it in terms of ‘lines, not dots.’ Whenever you see someone do a great presentation, sell a great story, etc., I don’t feel there’s an overnight success; that person has put in a lot of work to shape something (from nothing). Typically, the people who have (good) narrative skills, (are the people who) are using it all the time. They would have had preliminary communication going out; they would have articulated it; some bit of self-selection of the audience would have happened over time. Success happens when there’s a fit between the audience, the product, and the content.” Sajith is a VC at Blume Ventures and arguably the most astute observer and thought-leader on India’s vibrant start-up ecosystem.So I’ve been a fan of Sajith’s writing for several years now. He has the rare gift of being able to discern patterns which are unseen-yet-obvious-in-hindsight. He’s able to then label them making them easier to discuss and analyse. For instance, he created the Indian consumer stack as 4 parts – India 1 Alpha, India 1, India 2 and India 3. Sajith is a prolific writer on his blog, on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Over the years as I followed his writings, I almost always found them sharing something new and insightful, in an easy-to-understand yet engaging manner.In short, to me Sajith was a rare leader – an accomplished business executive turned successful investor, who was also a gifted storyteller.I’d been wanting to have him on the podcast for a long time… and I must admit – it was not easy getting him. But I persevered and he was patient and receptive to my request. I’m so glad that I put the fight – this is perhaps the most insightful conversation I’ve been a part of. There are so many gems across such a wide range of topics. For instance, Sajith shares with us:- Why you should ditch newspapers and instead focus on curated newsletters and podcasts- How everyone can sharpen their thinking, learn from others and form better connections by doing one simple thing: writing online- Why it is critical to choose the right metrics in measuring and rewarding performance and in telling data stories- How data presentations should be about “lines and not dots”It's a fascinating conversation  - I hope you learn as much from it as I did.Links to show notes:Sajith's website, newsletter, LinkedIn and TwitterThe article on Indo Anglians
E17: Sajith Pai - Foremost thought-leader of India's Startup Ecosystem
Jun 17 2022
E17: Sajith Pai - Foremost thought-leader of India's Startup Ecosystem
“Whether It’s a start-up or not, narrative building is important. I think of it in terms of ‘lines, not dots.’ Whenever you see someone do a great presentation, sell a great story, etc., I don’t feel there’s an overnight success; that person has put in a lot of work to shape something (from nothing). Typically, the people who have (good) narrative skills, (are the people who) are using it all the time. They would have had preliminary communication going out; they would have articulated it; some bit of self-selection of the audience would have happened over time. Success happens when there’s a fit between the audience, the product, and the content.” Sajith is a VC at Blume Ventures and arguably the most astute observer and thought-leader on India’s vibrant start-up ecosystem.So I’ve been a fan of Sajith’s writing for several years now. He has the rare gift of being able to discern patterns which are unseen-yet-obvious-in-hindsight. He’s able to then label them making them easier to discuss and analyse. For instance, he created the Indian consumer stack as 4 parts – India 1 Alpha, India 1, India 2 and India 3. Sajith is a prolific writer on his blog, on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Over the years as I followed his writings, I almost always found them sharing something new and insightful, in an easy-to-understand yet engaging manner.In short, to me Sajith was a rare leader – an accomplished business executive turned successful investor, who was also a gifted storyteller.I’d been wanting to have him on the podcast for a long time… and I must admit – it was not easy getting him. But I persevered and he was patient and receptive to my request. I’m so glad that I put the fight – this is perhaps the most insightful conversation I’ve been a part of. There are so many gems across such a wide range of topics. For instance, Sajith shares with us:- Why you should ditch newspapers and instead focus on curated newsletters and podcasts- How everyone can sharpen their thinking, learn from others and form better connections by doing one simple thing: writing online- Why it is critical to choose the right metrics in measuring and rewarding performance and in telling data stories- How data presentations should be about “lines and not dots”It's a fascinating conversation  - I hope you learn as much from it as I did.Links to show notes:Sajith's website, newsletter, LinkedIn and TwitterThe article on Indo Anglians
E16: Santosh Desai: Pre-eminent chronicler of India's culture
May 20 2022
E16: Santosh Desai: Pre-eminent chronicler of India's culture
“The only thing I would say is ask fundamental questions; ask stupid questions; insight lies in interrogating the obvious. It lies in asking the obvious. It’s not new knowledge, it’s in the old knowledge. It’s in asking 'why' to the most basic questions. The most basic questions are the ones that I think will give the most interesting answers.” That is Santosh Desai - a leader who wears many hats. Santosh headed an ad-agency, currently heads a brand consulting firm, is a published author and a long-time columnist for the Times of India. His weekly column City-city Bang-Bang - which he has been writing for 17 long years - paints a vivid, relatable yet surprising portrait of India’s fascinating culture. Some of these columns have been compiled in a book called 'Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India'. I’ve always been a fan of Santosh’s work. Specifically, his stellar observational skills (which to my surprise, he says are not that great!), his ability to see the unusual in the usual and his almost poetic writing abilities. In this conversation, we dive into the secrets of how Santosh Desai does his magic. How does he view the world with his unique fundamental questions. How he finds patterns and mental models that help him interpret and understand this world… and how he finally brings it all on paper with his lucid and lyrical prose. It is an eye-opening conversation, especially for left-brain-heavy folks like me who tend to over-rely on data, logic and structure!*****Episode Links:Santosh's website and Twitter handleSantosh's essay series 'City City Bang Bang' in the Times of IndiaHis book:  'Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India'. The Bharat Darshan reports on the Future Brands Consulting website
E15: Crafting Data Narratives with Pramit Bhattacharya
Mar 25 2022
E15: Crafting Data Narratives with Pramit Bhattacharya
“No data exists on its own; there has to be a story, or a theory, or a hypothesis which connects that and everything else that we know about the world or the subject matter of your story. When you say that these two states in northern India have developed, is it reflected in the GDP per capita numbers? Is it reflected in the unemployment numbers, that government data itself is collecting? Is it reflected in the other development indicators?”That is Pramit Bhattacharya - the ex-Data Editor at Mint and currently a freelance data columnist based in Chennai. He writes the 'Truth, Lies, and Statistics' column for Mint, and 'Simply Economics' column for the Hindustan Times.Data is the core raw material with which we build a story. If the quality of your sand or clay is rubbish, then the bricks, and the house that you build with it, will also be rubbish.Pramit has spent several years tracking macro data in India - from various government and institutional sources. He deeply understands the storied history of India’s statistical infrastructure as well as some of the recent troubling developments in that space. Over the years, he has written several detailed pieces arguing for what needs to be done to improve our data foundation.He has also written data-driven investigative pieces which have shed more light on key sectors of the economy.In this conversation, Pramit shares some of the techniques that we can all use when working with data:1. The importance of validating your data.  - How do you know what data sources (especially from the government) to trust?  - How the use of transparency - especially concerning the raw-data and collection methodology - can engender trust in data?  - And how you can check the credibility of one metric by triangulating data from other related sources?2. Hypotheses vs bias: Pramit also shares the technique he uses to avoid getting swayed by his own hypotheses and biases when he's investigating a data story.3. Counter-factuals: Finally, he talks about the importance of the counterfactual - a key technique to ensure that we don’t get too influenced by alarmist headlines. By asking ourselves - 'Ok, X looks bad, but what is the counterfactual? What is the norm for a similar context?' - we can be better placed to come to an informed judgement about X.It’s a conversation filled with practical nuggets of wisdom that you can use to improve your own data stories.Unfortunately, we had to cut this conversation a bit short because of an unforeseen commitment that he had. I definitely hope to continue my conversation with Pramit sometime in the future!With that, let’s dive in.***Show notes:Pramit's columns in MintPramit's columns for Hindustan TimesPramit on Twitter and LinkedInPramit's article on reading budget dataPramit's article on the pitfalls of night lights data
E14: A curiosity masterclass with J Ramanand
Mar 4 2022
E14: A curiosity masterclass with J Ramanand
"I think the message that I wanted to leave people with was “Can you swap anxiety with curiosity?” This is something I’ve been trying to do for myself: when you’re in an anxious situation, can you take a curious approach and say “What is going on? What can I learn from this?”, whether you can postpone the anxiety to when it is more useful to be anxious, is something that I was keen to get out in this piece"That is J Ramanand, the Co-Founder and Upleveler at Choose to Thinq, which enables organisations and individuals become future relevant.Ramanand is a master quizzer, quizmaster and an expert at using the power of curiosity to help others uplevel themselves in a 'shape-shifting' world.So here’s a confession. I’ve always been in awe of quizzes.For one, the sheer thrill of quizzing.Even though I’ve participated in just a handful of quizzes throughout my life, I still remember the memory of the dopamine hits when I would get an answer right. It must be amazing to get these hits much more often in life!The second reason relates to the skill of quizzing. Now, many of you may know this, but for those who don’t: Good quizzes are not reliant on memory. As Ramanand says, they have 50% of the answer hidden in the question itself… and the participant can use the powers of deduction to arrive at the answer.Now, while the ability to deduce an answer with the given clues is one key quizzing skill, the real skill for me is the craft of creating good quiz questions. And it is this craft which has several parallels with storytelling. Both skills use the power of surprise, familiarity and curiosity to deliver an engaging experience to the audience.Ramanand is uniquely placed to shed light on these two related skills: - He is a die-hard quizzer - incidentally he was the youngest winner at BBC's Mastermind India and has appeared as an expert on the show Kaun Banega Crorepati (India’s version of Who wants to be a Millionaire) - He’s a sought-after quizmaster: for the last couple of decades he’s been setting questions on an average of at least one a day. That’s thousands of questions! - He’s an engaging and thought-provoking writer - He works closely with the leadership at different organisations in helping them navigate the ‘shape-shifting world’ as he calls it and stay future relevantI had a ton of fun geeking out on quizzing and storytelling techniques with Ramanand. Finally, make sure you listen to the fabulous, fascinating story about the Indian flute maestro, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia. Let’s dive in. ****Show notes:J Ramanand on LinkedIn and Twitter Choose to Thinq websitePosts by Ramanand on the CTQ blog: - Three lessons on Managing a remote team an- How Fouls Changed FootballQuora posts by Ramanand: - A favourite question he created, - Favourite personal moments from quizzingA couple of pieces Ramanand wrote  for Mint: The Computer History Museum
E13: Devaiah Bopanna, Writer of funny stories that go viral
Feb 11 2022
E13: Devaiah Bopanna, Writer of funny stories that go viral
Often at work, when I would get bored, I would press CMD-Tab on my Mac and head off to drown myself in the joys of the internet. Movie reviews on Rediff.com, Sports writing on Cricinfo, and funny videos and trailers on Youtube. (Of course I was doing all this to learn the art of storytelling).And on Youtube, while I would watch videos by a variety of creators, perhaps the group that I enjoyed the most was All India Bakchod (or AIB). For the uninitiated, AIB was a comedy collective which created funny sketches and videos on a variety of topics. Some of their well-known series included: - The Honest series - a seriously funny take on all experiences from restaurants to flights to engineering campus placements to the Big Fat Indian Wedding- The Bollywood spoofs: Check out the viral one with Alia Bhatt, or their work with Irrfan- Political satire: the biting one on the news media or the one on electionsIt’s really good stuff. I found the quality of their storytelling so good that I don’t think I’ve missed ANY of their sketches (yep, I even liked the Pista one).I also liked the fact that AIB would always respect its writers and prominently credit them in their videos (often getting these reticent creators to appear at the end to ask for the mandatory subscribes and likes).One such writer I noticed in some of those videos was a shy, nerdy looking guy called Devaiah Bopanna. I realised later that he was the Head Writer there.Cut to - a few years later - I came across some funny posts by Devaiah on an unlikely platform - LinkedIn! And I also learnt that he - along with some AIB stalwarts like Tanmay, Nupur, Vishal, Puneet - have been responsible for the crazy viral CRED ads - including the one featuring Rahul Dravid as Indiranagar ka gunda and Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad as members of a boy band.And then I decided that I need to get Devaiah on my podcast to get his take on the craft of storytelling. It took some time, but I’m glad that I persisted.Devaiah is a multifaceted and thoughtful creator. During the conversation he talks about:- His curiosity being his biggest learning driver- Why he would think extra hard about the opening in a story- How AIB made its stories surprising yet familiar- The parts of storytelling where he personally struggles withIt’s a fun, insightful conversation. Enjoy!A small note before we begin: There are parts where Devaiah uses some fairly colourful language. Since this is a show for adults, I’ve chosen to keep them in. But please be mindful in case you are listening with young folks around.Further links:Devaiah Bopanna on LinkedIn and Twitter
E12: Mahima Vashisht - Pre-eminent storyteller covering gender issues
Dec 3 2021
E12: Mahima Vashisht - Pre-eminent storyteller covering gender issues
“And their stories would suddenly be much more powerful than the story I triggered their thought with. So that's how I started speaking to women and collecting these stories. And the whole idea behind it, which seems to be working so far, is that you can deny opinions, you can question studies, but you cannot deny real experiences of real people.”That is Mahima Vashisht, the incredibly talented writer of the 'Womaning in India' newsletter. (You haven't subscribed yet? Off you go and sign yourself up pronto!).In my podcast, all my guests have taught me a lot about the craft of storytelling. But it’s rare to come across a guest who - apart from storytelling - has also taught me how to be a better person. Mahima Vashisht is one such guest. I was introduced to Mahima’s writing through Anustup Nayak on Twitter. And I was quite blown away by her work. In the 'Womaning in India' newsletter, Mahima shares stories about everyday issues faced by women. Issues like discrimination at the workplace, mental load at home, unequal sharing of domestic chores, under-representation at leadership levels across fields…and so on. And while these stories are backed by research and stats, Mahima’s main tool is her collection of stories. Real stories shared by real people. Stories that are told with honesty, engagement, empathy, relatability… and generous amounts of humour. (One of Mahima’s superpowers is her ability to take crappy 1990s Bollywood movie references and extract comedy gold from them!) So, two things that make Mahima a special storyteller for me: 1. Her choice of topic: Mahima writes about gender issues - a topic that impacts all of us, but has limited options in terms of engaging storytelling for those who want to know more. For the world to become a better place, a more equitable place, it is critical that these stories are shared widely, especially with men.2. Her approach in sharing them: There’s a lot to learn from Mahima’s storytelling process. She takes incidents shared by her network of friends and adds her narrative abilities and her own brand of humour to convert these into highly readable stories.In addition to her take on the craft of storytelling, Mahima also offers some perspective on the gender rights movement and why, despite all the gloom, there’s reason to be optimistic for the future.It’s a must-listen conversation - especially for men! Contact links:The Womaning in India Substack newsletterWomaning in India on- Twitter- Instagram- LinkedIn- Mahima's LinkedIn profileEmail: womaningindia@gmail.com This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Amisha Jha and all-round support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.
E11: Brent Dykes - Author of seminal book on Data Storytelling
Nov 12 2021
E11: Brent Dykes - Author of seminal book on Data Storytelling
“I'm in the boardroom, he's in the middle; (There are) Managers around, listening to my presentation; I get to the slide with this insight or observation that I had found, and he tilts his head, looks at it, and then blurts out “Bullshit!” At that moment I was like, 'Oh crap, I have just stepped in it. I am not going to be one of the MBA students hired now. I am in trouble here,' and I was a little bit flustered. I wasn't expecting that reaction; I was expecting 'Oh, that's interesting, Brent! Tell us more.' or maybe, 'We should look into that.' But nope, it was basically flatly denied, and luckily, I had a mentor who jumped in and gave me some cover fire. I escaped the room that day relatively unscathed, maybe my ego (got) bruised a little…but what did die that day was that observation; that potential insight went nowhere. Nobody picked it up and said “Hey, let's look at this trend!” or anything. Basically, when the Senior VP says 'bullshit!' about something, I don't think there's another Manager who would pick it up. So, that taught me a very good lesson that I have to find a better way to approach communicating data.”That is Brent Dykes, author of “Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals” a seminal book on the topic.In 2016, Brent (who started his career in Marketing Analytics) wrote an article on Data Storytelling in Forbes magazine. That article went viral with 3-400K views. In subsequent conferences and talks, Brent was asked for book recommendations. He realised that there wasn’t anything which covered the stuff that he was talking about.. and decided to write one himself.I’m so glad he did, because I learnt a lot from his book. In a newsletter post a few months back, I’d written an effusive review of the book - no wonder, I was excited to have Brent in my podcast.In this conversation, Brent shares some of his best insights from the book:- Why do you need to tell a data story: to ensure that your hard-won insights are not ignored- When do you need to tell a data story: The simple but effective concept of the Story Zone- How do you tell a data story: the different types of narratives and the one that Brent prefers- The idea of a Data Trailer as a way of enticing the audience to listen to the entire Data StoryIn addition, Brent also narrates some fabulous contrasting examples - of people who struggled to make an impact because of poor storytelling, as well as of folks who changed the world through the power of story. Links to resources:Brent's LinkedIn profileBrent's Twitter accountWebsite for Brent's bookBrent's book on Amazon: Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and VisualsMy blog post on Brent's book with the Story Zone visual.This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Amisha Jha and all-round support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.
E10: Max Dickins - Using Improv principles for better storytelling
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.
E09: Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar - Chronicler of the India economic story
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
E08: Aravind SA - Standup comedian and Storyteller extraordinaire
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
E07: Praveen Gopal Krishnan: The Writer of India's largest paid newsletter
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
E06: Prakash Iyer: Bestselling author and Leadership Coach
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
E05: Sowmya Rajendran: A Literary Torchbearer for India's Gender Movement
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.
E04: Mihir Dalal: The Writer of India's Best Business Book of 2020
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.
E03: Swanand Kelkar: Writing investment theses for a $3B+ portfolio
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: The article on lessons from fiction short-story writing You can read more of his writing (including the unique 'sabbatical series') here.:
E02: Shrehith Karkera - The Storyteller who Simplifies Financial news for 400K readers
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&
E01: Mohit Bansal - The Guy who Creates Multi-Million $ Decks
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: The Steve Jobs Video mentioned in the interview: For more information on Story Rules, you can check out the website or you can connect with me on LinkedIn.