Dabawalas, Shrinivas Pandit

The story of their success is not new. It has been around for a while and has been excitedly spoken of in various business events and discussions. They have made Mumbai proud by placing an otherwise taken for granted enterprise on the global map. I am, no doubt, talking of the Dabbawallas of Mumbai. Those pyjama-donned and Gandhi-cap clad busy-bees who are ubiquitous every morning during your commute to office.

I finished the very unputdownable book, Dabbawalas, by Shrinivas Pandit, yesterday, in one sitting. The entire book is a set of dialogues between the office bearers of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust and the author and Anita Dalal. The author has inserted takeaways at the end of every dialogue and has summarised them at the end of the book. It is a very simple read, does not use complicated business jargon, neither does it present an over-analytical view of the dialogues. In fact, the analysis, if you insist on calling it that, is embedded in the conversation seamlessly and does not require a separate process in your brain to comprehend that.

The dialogues provide a deep insight into the functioning of the Dabawalas: not as a process of implementation, but the philosophy and the value system of an enterprise. The dialogues often touch upon the concept of durability, which had me mesmerised, thinking of how these people look at their business and how most businesses are superficial in their mission definition.

This book is an important read for anyone in business for one very important reason. This book explores the psyche of the enterprise. Often, most business-self-help books provide you the tools of success — describe what has been successful in one business that you may implement in yours. This is a classic posture for failure. Most processes are built on foundations of a value system that is often ignored. To adopt a process without it’s underlying value system is a mistake that many businesses make. In my opinion, every enterprise is unique based on the value it creates for customers and markets. Therefore the processes that they should adopt must be derived out of the value systems that they follow. Processes that are orphaned from their biological value systems are doomed to fail or at best achieve mediocre results.

A significantly large population who knows about the Dabawalas story, will focus on their six-sigma performance — one error in 16 million transactions (99.999999%). This would be the fallacy. Dabawalas, by Shrinavas Pandit, helps provide the perfect context of this error-rate. The context of the belief-system in mission; the spiritual density in action; a discrete single-mindedness of a business (not financial) goal, and the arresting inclusion of every stakeholder in the enterprise.

The book, if you are willing to delve in its takeaways, is even a guide for how you may live your life. Read it completely, if you want to make sense of why certain things work and why certain don’t. In the fast-paced life that we live, it will be useful for us to take a few scoops from this book, rather than scrape the icing, mistaking it for the cake.

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