James Joseph, in my opinion, is going to be a trendsetter in bringing back talent to its roots. In his book God’s Own Office, he talks about his experience of working from home in a remote location. Which happens to be his hometown for a multi-national company. Here James Joseph talks about writing the book.
How and when did you get an idea of writing this book? Is this your first piece of writing or have you written earlier as well?
James Joseph: I always wanted to write a fiction but never thought about a non-fiction till I met Kris Gopalakrishnan, then CEO of Infosys, at a CII function in Kochi. Kris heard my story of returning and working for India while living in Bharat. He felt many young professionals could benefit from my experience and find a way out of wasting several hours a day being stuck in traffic in the metros. But that time I never thought I had the aptitude to write!
Later I was hosting Tom Friedman for a roundtable in Mumbai and he explained the power of writing to me. “No one messes with me including heads of States as I get to fire two missiles a week through my column in New York Times.,” said Tom at the meeting. That evening on the flight back home I started writing my experience of Working for India and Living in Bharat.
This is my first piece of writing but I had some warm up. I first started sharing my writing as a blog shared with a close network of professionals on LinkedIn. This helped me to refine my writing based on feedback and analytics I could see on my blog. Next, I started writing guest columns in ET, Times Of India, Computer Society of India and a financial magazine in Malayalam. This helped me to refine my writing in 800 words per message/ story.
When you write about yourself and to an extent about your family and work, how do you draw boundaries on what can go in the public domain and what can not?
My principle is anything related to my professional life can go public, any personal or social experience can go public if it helps to reinforce the message I am trying to convey through the book. But my family will remain PRIVATE. I did get some criticism from readers about hiding some characters in the book for example names of my daughters and wife. It was a conscious call I took and I am happy about that.
What are the key things that a non-fiction writer should keep in mind?
Transparent sincerity is a must. Anecdotes and real life stories resonate with the audience well. Some of the best comments I got are, you haven’t used the literary tools most authors use, it’s more like a conversation with the author, an easy read, life lessons captured in the shortest possible way, etc.
Writing a book or promoting a book – which one do you think is tougher or needs more effort in this day and time?
This is a tough one. I had the opportunity to work with many authors in my professional life and the feedback on their experience, between writing and promoting was mixed. For successful professionals their time is quite precious and if you spend too much time promoting the book the return on investment cannot be justified. I have come across authors who have flown 10 or more air miles for every book sold. Author has to promote the book but shouldn’t go overboard with it. The best advice I got on this was from Abraham Varghese, a very successful internist and author of Cutting for Stone. He told me to focus on writing and let the publisher take lead in promoting the book while I pitch in to complement their effort. And I am quite happy with the returns I got on promotion in relation to the time I spent.
After the publication of your book, have you come across many people like you who are choosing to live in a rural setting while still working for the urban world?
Yes, many people reached out to me. Some of them with even larger global roles than I had. But I would say the majority are from tier 2 and 3 cities than the rural setting. Many NRIs moving back found the book reassuring. Most interesting feedback was, from a young mother of three boys, saying the book made her angry with her parents’ decision to sell off their ancestral property in their hometown. She feels her children lost the opportunity to connect with her roots.
What are 3 biggest disadvantages of working from a remote location?
1. Requires a lot of discipline and work ethic
2. Need to make extra effort to stay top of mind of colleagues and leadership team
3. Ability to manage unplanned disruptions from family and friends.
How does your family feel about not being a part of urban surroundings? And not having access to things like shopping malls etc?
We use our holidays effectively to compensate for this.
How has your chosen home benefitted from your being there? Has it made certain things more accessible to them or have they been inspired by you?
I have captured this in detail in Chapter 6 where I make a case. Why small towns in India should embrace the concept of God’s Own Office.
1.If professionals work from their hometowns 100% of their income gets spent there instead of the 15% savings they send every year. This is good for the local economy and employment.
2. When you spent more time you also get to study local issues and apply your expertise to solve them. If I had not moved back I would have never considered starting JackFruit365.
Kerala government considers me as a success story in reversing the brain drain of Kerala youth and God’s Own Office was in fact released by the Chief Minister of Kerala!
After spending time in all major economies of the world, how do you see the world of entrepreneurship in rural India? What do you think needs to be done to create opportunities for people in their native places?
I can comment on what I am seeing in Kerala. The overall attitude towards entrepreneurship in Kerala has improved significantly in the last 5 years. Earlier parents and teachers discouraged anyone considering entrepreneurship. Now they are either neutral or are willing to encourage in some cases. There is a general recognition that unless we promote entrepreneurship, migration of youth from Rural India to metros will further accelerate. And we will end up with the significant concentration of elderly people in Rural India.
To encourage entrepreneurship first and foremost we must make it easier to start and exit businesses in India. Professionals should be able to experiment with entrepreneurship. And if their experiment doesn’t work out they should be able to exit without a long drawn bureaucratic paperwork.
James Joseph, are you working on another book? If yes, please tell us about it.
Yes, I am working on two more non-fictions and then a fiction. Too early to discuss!