I have never purchased a self-help book before in my life as I feel our combined lives are too complicated for solutions proposed by a life hack. Can a made-simple narrative that identifies behaviours and mindsets determine outcomes for all and sundry? It is like offering an ancient panacea for our modern-day problems.

I chanced upon Leapfrog when I stopped to look for a classic at a local bookshop in Mumbai on my way back from work a couple of weeks ago. The attractive cover caught my eye, and I decided to flip through it. But my interest was piqued when I found references in the text to certain shows and books that have left a deep impression on me – Schitt’s Creek, my favourite television sitcom; journalist Shekhar Gupta’s popular show Cut the Clutter; Maria Popova’s online curated platform The Marginalian; and a book on higher education and careers – Saikat Majumdar’s College: Pathways of Possibility. I felt I wanted to know more about a book that had benefitted from these diverse sources.

Stepping out of the comfort zone

Some of the anecdotes that authors Mukesh Sud and Priyank Narayan have used in the chapter “Nudge Yourself – Tricks That Work For You” speak to the Nobel Laureate behavioural economist Richard Thaler’s Nudge Theory. These include the etching of the image of a fly inside a urinal in Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport to reduce spillage, or the leadership programme at McKinsey & Company in Australia that led to the creation of a database of 80 nudges and 150 interventions customised to drive desired benefits.

Sud and Narayan have drawn crucially from this theory, as well as several other theories and studies, through various chapters in the book. Through these anecdotes and observations, the authors have successfully driven home the point that it is possible for a person to achieve one’s goals when they are being nudged.

The chapter “Dance with Disciplines – When Ideas Have Sex” draws upon themes and ideas that I have come across in College: Pathways of Possibility, where Majumdar has outlined forms of interdisciplinary education and particularly the idea of contra-disciplinarity, which represents the most innovative dimension of new-age interdisciplinary education, fusing subjects traditionally left apart from each other, such as computer science and music/literature.

Interestingly, the name “Dance with Disciplines – When Ideas Have Sex” resembles the titles of certain chapters in College: Pathways of Possibility, such as “The Souls of Discipline”, “The Promiscuous” and “The Contra-disciplinary”. Whilst Majumdar builds the foundations for his arguments by delving deep into the history and nature of different disciplines, Leapfrog does not go to significant depths about conflict and collaboration. Instead, Sud and Narayan have evoked mathematician and Princeton University professor Manjul Bhargava, who has likened his field of number theory to patterns in nature and sequences in music. Both Bhargava and Majumdar indicate that a contra-disciplinary education is one which brings together fundamental skills kept apart from each other, such as quantitative and qualitative abilities.

It is interesting that multidisciplinary college education is a key recommendation for India’s National Education Policy 2020, for which Bhargava was a committee member and Majumdar was a consulting expert. It does not come as a surprise that the authors of Leapfrog invoke both Bhargava and Majumdar’s ideas extensively through various chapters in the book, and constructively outline ways of processing abstract and material information, raw human aptitude, and recognise social formations, all of which are essential to thrive in the 21st century global economy.

Taking everything into account, it is heartening to note that key thinkers on education, career, and entrepreneurship in India today are seeking to connect a broad interdisciplinary education with the full range of human potential, ranging from what the educationist Howard Gardner has described as linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences to bodily-kinesthetic and personal intelligences.

Being real is what keeps us humble

Listening to contrary ideas and embracing challenging views are the cornerstones on which the authors have based the chapter “Be Intellectually Humble, We Are All Confident Idiots”. In more than 15 years of work in the corporate world, I have become acutely aware of the importance of humility, particularly as one climbs the ladder of seniority. However, the reference to Ankur Warikoo, the founding CEO of Groupon’s journey of failures and his “failure resume”, which is based on the “CV of failures” devised by Johannes Haushofer, professor of psychology at Princeton University, does not appear to be an example of humility. On the contrary, it sounds rather pompous. Warikoo’s life story is unremarkable, like that of countless others like him who have had similar experiences.

However, I can perfectly understand why the authors have emphasised the importance of the Dunning-Kruger theory in this chapter. I have been at the receiving end of the learnings from this theory in the past, wherein I have overestimated my own competence in a certain area where I clearly lacked knowledge and skill. No wonder the authors say that being intellectually humble is to accept our limits to what we know.

Playing leapfrog with a unicorn?

The anecdotes in Leapfrog are contextually significant, even if many of them are stereotyped. It is also true that sometimes stereotypes do make an impact. The multitude of ideas corroborated by the authors in Leapfrog remind me of SparkNotes – helpful study guides that often function as valuable
supplemental tools for someone who reads at levels significantly lower than expected. Leapfrog is replete with anecdotes, beautiful illustrations, and has a notes and reference section that spans a quarter of its 249 pages.

The length of the references section triggered me to ask an AI bot “Is there such a thing as too many references?” The bot replied “In writing, it is best to use references sparingly and only when they add value to your work. Excessive references can detract from the overall effectiveness of your work and can make your writing appear overly academic or dry, which can make it less accessible to a general audience.”

Leapfrog does not claim to be an academic book, no; but after reading the book a reader will “feel” intelligent. It has gathered some striking praise from the movers and shakers of the academic, corporate and start-up world. While the book deserves praise, it could have developed itself a little more by emulating the depth and research behind some of its source material.

Leapfrog: Six Practices To Thrive At Work, Mukesh Sud and Priyank Narayan, Penguin India.