A MOVIE: So You Think Your Life is Tough? Watch this inspirational movie to change your mind

Miracle Worker, the Helen Keller Story is one of the best inspirational movies that I have ever seen.

If ever you feel sorry for yourself, watch this. And you will know that however bad your life is, it is not as bad as it could have been.
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Resources to learn more about this amazing lady:

7 pieces of advice for a more productive, happier life

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This is a summary of a summary of self-help book summaries over the past few decades.

1. The big picture: Find the “why” that drives you.

2. Mastery: To succeed, practice your craft and learn from others.

3. Innovate: Embrace failure and keep on trying.

4. Focus: Be effective, not efficient, and declutter.

5. Positivity: Live in the present and banish negative thoughts.

6. Cooperation: Think win-win and make a good first impression.

7. Human needs: Accept your inherent irrationality and learn to fight it.

Okay, that is all. But you really need to read the article: What The Greatest Self-Help Books Of The Last Decades Can Teach You In 7 Minutes.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Are You Old and Illiterate?

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By Nilooka Dissanayake

You could be old and illiterate and you might not even know it!

Just because you are not ancient in years and reading this article may not be sufficient proof to say that you are young or literate.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty”, declared Henry Ford.

Alvin Toffler complicated the issue by saying that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Now where does that leave you?

It leaves me feeling terribly young and overly literate. A precocious kid, in other words. I am one of the lucky ones. The best thing I ever learnt was learning how to learn. And the greatest challenge I face every day is trying to break mental barriers. Sure that sounds weird. But you should try it and you would forever be young that way despite your years.

Before getting anywhere, you might first have to debate with yourself to figure out the type of student you are.

Martin H. Fischer described the four great classes of students of life:

The dumb who stay dumb,
the dumb who become wise,
the wise who go dumb and
the wise who remain wise.

Actually, I would rather be the ‘dumb who become wise’ category anytime rather than in the ‘wise who remain wise’ because the latter seems, on the surface, rather a boring thing indeed. The dumb who become wise is bound to have a wonderful experience in learning. Then again, how many of us have a choice here?

“Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.”

How Do You Learn?

Once you figure this out the next question is: How does one learn to learn? You can’t go for tuition to learn how to learn. The only way is to learn while you go on with your life. Basically, there are three ways of gaining intelligence or learning about anything: thinking, through insight and of course, taking pointers from others who have gone the same road.

Thinking

When I say ‘thinking’ I am really speaking of learning cycles. The most quoted learning cycle is Kolb’s Cycle which identifies the four phases of learning: Action, Experience, Reflection and Conceptualisation. Whatever we learn, we do so by re-visiting all that we have learned previously and re-thinking our ideas and plans for future learning. So the cycle never stops.

Insight = Sight from Inside You

Insight is another cup of tea altogether. Insight is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘capacity for understanding hidden truths.’ But, shall we say it is merely, sight from the inside or within us? Insight obviously is not for sale at supermarkets. If you want it you have to work at it. And according to Nihal Dissanayake, author of many Buddhist novels and founder of http://www.happicraft.com, a website on the craft of mobilizing mind power for happy living, insight comes to a neutral mind. That is, your mind needs to be neither too full of joys and happiness nor harnessing thoughts if you are to focus on gaining insight.

Learn from Others

The third way is to learn from others. We can read or listen and absorb what others have already learned through thinking, experiencing and insight. This is probably the short cut, if you really need short cuts to learning and are too lazy to think for your self or develop a mental state to gain insights.

For starters, take the words of Henry L. Doherty seriously and “get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”  Then, you might as well “sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every conceived notion, follow humbly wherever and whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing” (Thomas Huxley). Next stage is to go one step ahead and join Eartha Kitt who said “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”  Go on. Earn your diploma!

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.
Be a student so long as you still have something to learn,
and this will mean all your life.
~  Henry L. Doherty

I decided to write about learning because, especially in the small or micro businesses, the entrepreneur’s attitudes and levels of knowledge, at some point, becomes a confining factor for the whole business.

As a Chinese Proverb tells you, “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.” Isn’t it also true of business?

Business@Home series published in Sunday Times FT - February 2005

What is Depression?

.@HelenMFarrellMD via @TEDTalks
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. But because it’s a mental illness, it can be a lot harder to understand than, say, high cholesterol. Helen M. Farrell examines the symptoms and treatments of depression, and gives some tips for how you might help a friend who is suffering.

Positive Psychology Books — Improve My Well-being

This is a collection of Positive Psychology books from Improve My Well-Being.

Positive Psychology Books If you’re interested in learning more about positive psychology, the following publications are a good place to start. Within them you’ll find references and suggestions for further reading on topics of particular interest. Many should be available at your local bookshop or library, alternatively they can be found online with most major […]

via Positive Psychology Books — Improve My Well-being

Becoming By Michelle Obama — Bombay Ficus

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I thought I’d get an insight of what it was like living in the White House and what it was like to be the First Lady. But this book is so much more than that. Celebrity memoirs are often like fondant-covered cakes, laboured to blemish-free […]

via Becoming By Michelle Obama — Bombay Ficus

The Name Behind Odel

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An Interview By Nilooka Dissanayake originally published in the Small Business International Magazine.

I sit in the atrium awaiting her arrival. Throbbing with light music, bright colours, novel shapes and ideas makes me believe it the heart of the place. And it is. Everyone almost passes through it. Millionaire businessmen and little kids alike enjoy the light hearted ambience. It is the unseen bridge that connects a converted mansion of a bygone era with the ancient warehouses that belonged to another retailer, Cargill’s. The atrium bridges the old and superimposes the new physically. The spirit that blends it all belongs to the lady I plan to interview.

Tall and slender, she arrives in a woven, sleeveless, skin coloured top and dark trousers, very much the spirit of the place; bright, fair, light hearted and fashionable. We sit down in the patisserie which has but a few customers. The jaw of a pimply young man in the adjoining table drops significantly as we seat ourselves. “Odel!” His whisper to his friends is hardly a whisper.

This is nothing new to Otara Chandiram. She is used to being referred to by the brand name that she built. After all, it has it’s origins in her name – Otara Del. With a degree in biology from an American university and experience with part time modeling, Otara Chandiram has managed to become probably the most famous woman in Sri Lankan business, both locally and in the international scene.

Sri Lanka’s ‘biggest fashion retail success story’ as the eODEL website claims, began in 1988. Odel is an offshoot of the Sri Lankan garment industry which brings in close to quarter of the country’s export revenues. It is a story of our time; a story that runs a parallel course with the economics and fortunes of the country. It is a story about adapting to the changing needs of society.

It is however, not a typical story. But, then, nor is Otara who was adjudged the Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year 2000 by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka. However prestigious it may be, an award is hardly the type of laurels that Otara would rest upon.

She describes herself as a “quiet and reserved” person and admits that popularity and public life does not come easy. “And hard working and determined” she adds. “I know what I want and try to make sure I achieve all my goals.”

What were your goals when you started? What are they now? “Didn’t have a set goal as such” she says and smiles at the look of disbelief on my face. “No big goals even now. We go along day by day. Our goals are very small even now.” She feels that Odel has “way surpassed” her expectations. An average day sees 1,500 to 2,000 people walking through the doors. “Some time back, they had to replace the cash registers” says a vendor “because the old ones could go only up to nine digits.” Obviously one does not do that on the chance of a rare occurrence.

Obviously one does not do that on the chance of a rare occurrence. Birth of Odel was a response to the opportunities opening up in the local market. The export oriented garment industry was piling up factory excesses and leftovers. These began hitting the local market. All of it was not above board since there were regulations on the percentage of products that could be sold locally. Some industrialists were allowed to sell up to 10% of manufactured products while others were not allowed any local sales. But, demand there was. The Sri Lankan consumers when they saw the factory excesses fell in love with them. They were export quality and reasonably priced. What you could buy in Sri Lanka for Rs. 300, you would have to buy in London for Pounds Sterling 30 or a lot more. The situation has gradually changed over the years. Now all factories can sell locally at a specified level of duty.

Otara, persuaded by friends, began buying factory excesses and selling wholesale. In a few months, she saw opportunity for a retail operation. Odel began in a little room on Fife Road, Colombo 5. By 1996, Odel had seven outlets including shops in Liberty Plaza and Majestic City as well as in Mount Lavinia and Transasia Hotels. The Dickman’s Road outlet which I recall full to the brim and flowing over with customers in the early nineties was replaced as the main outlet with Odel Unlimited, a refurbished warehouse attached to an old mansion in the Lipton Roundabout.

Otara describes Odel Unlimited as a mini-mall, an experience and a lifestyle store. “It is a place to unwind, relax and enjoy. It offers an international experience in your own background.” No one would disagree. Many foreign visitors fall in love with the unique way in which Odel combines the old world and the new. Carved wooden staircases and intricate arches share the limelight with the latest fashions and accessories. Odel provides a shopping experience equal to anywhere in the world and enhances it with its own small scale and quirky surprises.

How does she see Odel, the brand that she created? Otara sees Odel as standing for “stylish, trendy, classy, international and sophisticated.” Seen and perceived more as “high class” all these years, Odel now tries to reach out to the general public. One effort on this front is Otara taking part in a fashion tips show on local daytime television. She is surprised at the response shown by the public.

You have no prior business experience. How did you manage? How did you know what to do? “It was a learning process” says Otara. “I entered a new market and grew with the market. It was a young, untapped market.” According to Otara, the success was not so much luck as the ability to foresee an opportunity. “We took lots of risks. We experimented. We tested the market. We explored and learned to anticipate the market. There were some failures. A couple of things did not work out.

I also read books and studied about business on my own. I read about Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric, named the Manager of the Century by the Fortune Magazine) and about business women like Anita Roddick who started Body Shop. She built a brand and made a change. I read mostly about famous people and learnt from everyone. Read a little bit of everything. I read business magazines and attended a couple of seminars. I did not have much time to devote to reading.” Is retail success a science or an art? “It is a bit of both. Success in retailing is a matter of being able to anticipate what customers will want and having it ready. It is about being able to target to the market. You have to grow along with the market. The tastes and needs of people change. Culture changes. The world is growing smaller. Consider the last ten years. Local consumers today learn about the international trends in fashion. They can think for themselves. It is critical to judge these trends, see the needs and develop products. Then only you can be ahead of the need. You have to know and understand. It is very important to keep in touch with international trends. There is so much more (to do), but market is not ready yet.”

How does she know what customers will need? “Putting your gut feelings to work and knowing about international trends are important. I travel a lot. I read a lot and watch media and previews of fashion worldwide. I keep up with designs and trends and fads. It is a constant challenge to keep the customers happy.”

Odel, with Otara’s guidance is always ready for the market demand. It takes over nine months to get ready for a season. And hard work pays off when even foreigners “go crazy over the goods.” “All that we have on our shelves are the latest fashions” Otara claims proudly. Giving new things and seeing how people react is part of the job that she enjoys. “I like to keep this as part of my job although I have a good team of merchandisers who take care of this side.”

Many people try to follow you. “Imitation is a form of flattery. The main thing is to go with what you feel. Imitation often does not work. You should have your own way of doing things. This should be distinct, always the same. Otherwise customers get confused.” The temptation to imitate Odel seems to reach beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. Recently Odel got an injunction in the Middle East against a company retailing goods under the Odel brand.

Otara is married to Raju Chandiram who is also in the business with her. They have two boys. Koran is eight and Rakhil, two and half years old. She feels thankful for the support of a close-knit extended family especially when she and Raju travel abroad. At other times they take turns at dropping kids to school and share the other duties.

Her work day starts at 9.30am and finishes around 6.30pm when she heads home to “spend time with the kids.” She likes to keep up with her exercise routine and spends “a minimum of one hour a day and try to do it almost every day.”

What are her other interests beside work? This was a second thought which did not occur to me at the first interview. And I asked it over the telephone, a bit past 10pm, after Otara had put the kids to sleep. “Fashion” comes the answer accompanied by laughter “and shopping. Unfortunately I don’t get to do much shopping and at Odel I see the stocks every single day. I like to pick up unusual things, especially when I travel.” She enjoys relaxing and likes to go to the movies. She loves travelling and seeing new places.

And with a degree in biology, what would she have done had she not gone into fashion? “Something to do with animals and the environment.” So, there is our explanation for Odel’s commitment to the environment.

What advice do you give to start ups and small businesses? “Know the business you are going into. Understand your market. And have a vision. Work hard to achieve your goals. It can be done with hard work. I have put in a lot of hard work.”