Alum Author: Battle-Ready – Crafting Strategy to Beat Competition – Sai Prakash R. Iyer, FPM 2007
Sai Prakash R. Iyer is by no means conventional in any way. He has rich experience from three careers, in completely different streams from each other. His recent book Battle-Ready, is also unique in a lot of ways. Sai has not rushed to meet deadlines and just publish a book, he has deliberated and researched to present readers with real-life examples and cases to make the content-rich & effective.
In this interview Sai talks about his latest book, learnings and experiences as an author.
Please tell us something about yourself.
Am an electrical engineer. Started my professional life in the engineering industry – Crompton Greaves, Siemens. After ten years at that, was fortunate to join IIMB for the fellowship programme. Even more fortunate to learn from gurus, especially Prof. Deepak Sinha. Started PGP1 with 2002-04 batch and graduated in 2007. For the past fourteen years, have been in management consulting and academics – Arthur D. Little, IIM Calcutta, IIM Udaipur. Tried my hand at three different careers and thoroughly enjoying the diversity of experiences. Settled in Chennai to be close to my family, while teaching at IIM Udaipur and doing consulting assignments.
Can you please tell us about your latest book – Battle Ready: Crafting Strategy to Beat Competition?
Managers put a lot of attention and effort into addressing challenges and leveraging opportunities that arise from within their business or company. They focus on topics like leadership, culture, innovation, operational excellence and so on, which are essential. But is also essential to win the game is how all these compare with what’s out there – from current rivals, future rivals, complementors, business partners. Managers often end up not focusing much on what’s outside their business. It’s a bit like the horse with blinders. You have a five-year strategic plan and you just keep at it. Doesn’t matter if someone pulled the rug from under your feet in year three. That’s not good, and that’s what I call out in the book.
The key ideas in the book are two. First, managers need to look outside more often and more carefully – market, industry, competitors, soon-to-be rivals, regulators and so on, to generate deep and actionable insights. Second, managers need to appreciate that the business landscape is evolving, and it’s changing as we speak. What worked yesterday is probably not a smart thing to do today. These are the two questions I ask. “Are you battle-ready?” – are you fit for the competitive battle that you are in right now. “Can you stay battle-ready?” – are you able to catch the evolutionary trends and upgrade/ adapt yourself to be fit for future battles.
Who is this book for? And what is the unique offering of this book?
Any business manager – be it the frontline warriors or the CEO, would find Battle-ready useful. I have seen that managers do appreciate the need to look outside. However, they end up not doing this either because they are in fire fighting mode or it’s just that internally-focused initiatives get more traction. Many times, I have faced the refrain that it’s not practical to look outside and derive actionable insights. I try to address that challenge through this book by providing concepts, frameworks and analytical techniques that can help managers get actionable insights about their business ecosystem and how it’s evolving.
In doing that, I have stood on the shoulders of giants. There is a rich body of research literature that I leverage. I have added my flavour in terms of new concepts and frameworks, tweaks to concepts as well as how I have structured the whole thing. Hopefully, business managers, after reading the book, would be able to come up with an action agenda on how to bring more external focus in their business. The book draws from the eclectic mix of my experiences as a management consultant, manager and a student of strategy.
Another value-add is the Battle-readiness Tool. It’s a simple assessment tool that helps one get a sense of where one is, in terms of battle-readiness. It’s available on the companion website https://www.battle-ready.co. You complete ten statements by picking from choices of what best describes the current state of your business, and you get a score.
It’s not like two-decimal points accurate. It gives a ballpark of where you are and what that means for the battle-readiness of your business. I have briefly discussed a few use cases of the tool in the webpage. You can use this to assess the battle-readiness of your business. You can get your colleagues to use the tool and compare notes. You can even do it as a group. This will help drive discussions and is especially useful if consensus has been eluding your team about how battle-ready your business is. You can even ask someone – a colleague or a customer, to role play your rival, and do it to understand that rival better. The tool helps bring structure to thinking about battle-readiness of your business as well as your rivals. I believe that’s the starting point to getting more battle-ready, for the present and for the future.
I don’t collect any data from the use of this tool, so if you want to keep your responses or score for future reference, you will have to get a PDF by printing. I deliberately chose not to capture data as the tool and website are not meant to generate leads for marketing anything. The tool comes with the book and it’s for your use. That’s all.Sai-Prakash-R-Iyer_Battle-Ready_flyer-1
Can you please walk us through the writing of this book and what prompted you to write on this subject?
The content of this book has been in my mind, evolving, over a long time. As a manager, as a doctoral student, as a management consultant, as a facilitator of learning, my primary preoccupation has been about why some businesses or companies perform much better than others. Over time, I have come to appreciate that the business landscape evolves, inevitably. Since 2012, I have been offering a 2nd year elective at IIM Udaipur, called Industry and Competitor Analysis that emphasises on understanding of competitive dynamics. What I cover in that course has evolved over time, and has given me the inspiration for this book.
What have been your learnings from, your experience, as a writer/ author?
I missed all the deadlines the editors gave me and took an extra year to complete the manuscript. When I look back, I realise that the so-called delay was because I was hunting for better real-life examples, or reading more into this or that literature. Lot of exploration and quite a few dead ends as well. The journey over two years got me to read much more than I had done in the past few years.
What I realised is that trying to write a book will first reveal one’s ignorance, and then presents the opportunity to become less ignorant. If you think you know quite a bit about something, starting to write a book on that is a good way to appreciate that there’s lot more you don’t know. That hopefully triggers exploration. To me, writing this book was an awesome learning experience.
What other interests do you pursue in your free time?
I am an ordinary person doing ordinary things in life. I don’t think there is much to write about 🙂
Any memories or instances at IIMB you would like to share.
My five years at IIMB were so rich in experiences. I am sure all of us would have experiences that we cherish to date. We had something as well. Right outside the old canteen, there was (is?) a stone ledge, and my batch FPM – six of us, used to sit there and chat about all sort of random topics after lunch, evening chai and dinner. Topics ranged from Allo Allo and Asterix to Popper and Feyerabend. Some senior/junior FPMs or a PGP or two would also join in occasionally. We also used to discuss and debate tricky issues faced in our research work, and interestingly the discussions would somehow bring some vague (and often false) sense of clarity with which we would go and face our gurus. Over time, we realised that there is something about that stone that made us think and think a lot. So we gave it a name – Gyan Pathar, and baitaks there were called GP sessions. Even today, we have a WhatsApp group by that name for my FPM batchmates, and we have been doing GP sessions on video calls for many years now.
A book you are currently reading.
There’s Power Play by Tom Higgins. It’s about how Tesla, the EV maker, came to be. And then there is India, that is Bharat by J Sai Deepak. I am a history buff, be it business history or otherwise. Enjoying both.