“This book reinforced personal energy as a metric for your well being”

Reading seems to be second nature to Ramya Raghavan, who is currently working as a Program Manager with Freshworks. She picked up the habit in school while writing prose for plays (Wow). An avowed fan of Dilbert comics and Richard Feynman quotes, she believes that reading can indeed make one more articulate and expand one’s “narrative abilities.” In this email interview for Freshworks Book Circle, she talks about the books that have impacted her most, the “solace” of audio books, and how reading has helped her be “more precise and conclusive.” Going by her short and crisp answers, we couldn’t agree more. 

What draws you to a particular genre of books?

I particularly have no preference to any genre. But I have been reading quite a few biographies, and psychology and business books of late. 

Can you name a few books that have had the most impact on you? What was it about these books that touched you deeply?

There are some books that have had the most impact on me: What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman (edited by Ralph Leighton), How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles.

The book What Do You Care… is not very linear and has a collection of Feynman’s personal as well as work events. Given that I agree with his philosophies “on an awful level” (https://twitter.com/ProfFeynman), I simply found this book dispensing valuable lessons around life. Right from how he juggled his priorities between his extremely demanding profession and his personal life.

I love the Dilbert comics and The Dilbert Principle. The book How to Fail at Almost Everything… had a huge influence on me when I wanted to be explorative about my career. It led me to thinking how forming systems was more important than setting up goals. It reinforced personal energy as a metric for your well being—which most of the self-help books fail to preach. 

In her book Mindset, the author Carol Dweck reveals “the growth mindset” and talks about how important it is to reach out for support, and be open to criticism. Definitely helped me understand that the goals need not be individualistic in proving my intelligence. It instilled in me thoughts about stretching myself even when the journey is not going well.

Mindset instilled in me thoughts about stretching myself even when the journey is not going well.

As regards Ikigai, I heard the audible version of this book—which is all about the things we already know to remain calm in life. But the experience of listening to the narrative was far brighter than the impact it would have perhaps had on me if I had read the book instead.

Do you think the habit of reading can help one in one’s profession? How do you relate it to your current role at Freshworks?

Reading can help people be more articulate and expand their narrative abilities. It has helped me to be more precise and conclusive in my thought process. 

In my current role as a Program Manager I am required to talk to stakeholders, translate the org’s vision, bring in more participation and synergize the efforts of the different functions to achieve a common goal. Reading has helped me in divergent thinking where I am able to solve problems with no set process or schema of order. It has had a compounding effect on my problem-solving abilities, with exposure to various models and frameworks.

How did you pick up reading books, that is, apart from academic books? How do you “make time” to read in the midst of the multiple demands on your time (work, family, etc.)?

I enjoyed writing prose for plays in school and it became natural to pick up the habit of reading back then. The best part about reading books is that it improves visual stimulation and I particularly enjoy this about reading books. The current challenge has been to remain consistent with reading because of erratic schedules. On days I can’t read a book, I listen to Audible and I also have the habit of reading 2-3 books at the same time across mediums. 

Do you prefer physical books or e-books? How about audio books?

I almost read in all forms but audio books have been a solace mostly because they do not require dedicated time and can be heard at my own convenience, doing any chore.

Which books do you want to read next and why? 

All the below thoughts about the books I want to read are from people who spoke about the books to me or anecdotes from Goodreads.com:

Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. All through my career I have been advised on how important it was to carve out a specialization. This book dispels this belief and talks about the importance of being a generalist.

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman. The book displaces many of the thoughts that the human race is naturally disposed to.

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe because the book seems to be making connections between mind games and creativity techniques. I generally love reading books that enable free associations with various scientific phenomena. Most importantly, the book is all practiced science and not very theoretical in approach.