When I first met Chandramouli Venkatesan a few years ago over a cup of tea, I had high expectations, because he had a reputation for depth and wisdom. He did not disappoint. His extensive experience as business leader, together with his natural inclination for teaching and mentorship gave him a remarkable vantage point that led to fascinating insight. He mentioned that he had developed a program that could help corporate folks maximise their career potential. It was a three hour session called ‘Tee Off with Mouli’ which he has taken to scores of organisations, with some stellar feedback and outcomes.
Some time later, I discovered that he had developed this session into a book, called ‘Catalyst’. This immediately made it a must-read. Then a video popped up on my timeline. It featured the venerable D. Shivakumar, former CEO of Pepsi and Nokia and someone I have looked up to, giving some stellar career advice. It turned out the video was part of the clever promotion of Mouli’s book. Now I knew I had to drop everything and get my hands on it.
I promptly did just that. I finished reading the book cover to cover in one sitting, which I don’t recall having done for any book in a long while. At that point, it came as no surprise that ’Catalyst’ is a bestseller. I may have contributed a teensy bit to that, because I made sure to get every member of my team their own copy of the book.
The theme of the book is built around the thought that although most of us are presented with the ingredients that lead to a successful career, these ingredients are not sufficient by themselves. Mouli underlines the importance of certain ‘catalysts’ – organized actions and behaviours, that help in converting the available ingredients into ‘real’ individual growth, ultimately leading to the desired career growth.
The book lays out the structure and principles of career growth, the various moving parts of this structure illustrated with examples and anecdotes and then a behavioural recipe that brings all of these into sustainable action. Most management books tend to offer either high strategy or utilitarian advice, in mutually exclusive ways. Mouli’s mix of motivation, action framework and pragmatic to-dos make this an excellent guide to build and strengthen a career, and one that is equally suited for leaders as it is for team members that are fresh into their careers.
A few ideological choices that the book makes resonated very deeply with me. The idea that how you live your life impacts work rather than vice versa, the concept of learning cycles, the fundamental need for pristine honesty and humility as catalysts to leadership, the important role that bosses and mentors play in shaping not just your foundational years but enduring success as well, among many others. I could validate much of all this from my own experiences, and Mouli’s articulate exposition crystallizes these beliefs very effectively.
Perhaps, the most striking thought in the book is Mouli’s concept of the TMRR module, which stands for ‘target, measure, review, and reflect’. Most of us stop after the first three steps, but the book emphasises that a small amount of effort invested into mulling over “what could I have done better?” is what may extract the most learning from an initiative or project. In fact, Mouli goes one step further to exhort us to reflect on each day’s activities, to build a continuous process. He even has a cool trick, the idea of ‘anchoring’ the habit of reflection in a daily routine to make it an automated act.
Each chapter ends with an actionable summary under the “Unleash the Catalyst” This act of repetition, rather than being a drag, actually helps change gears and get the reader into an implementation mindset. In fact, as Mouli rightly says in the last chapter, the more you read a book, the better it will build conviction. In that vein, I’m going to read Catalyst again.