The core philosophy of the maverick entrepreneur Steve Jobs can be found in his favourite quote by Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. It is simplicity that separates the wheat from the chaff. It is simplicity that separates the signal from the noise. It is simplicity that gives a certain character and appeal to the products, services and all that we consume. In this blog I will share a couple of very pleasing experiences I have had recently. Experiences that made me smile and appreciate the obsession for quality and personalised service that was dished out with a dash of humility and simplicity.
We have bookstores such as Kitab Khana, Mumbai; Higginbothams, Chennai; Bahrisons and The Bookshop both in New Delhi; Cambridge Book Depot, Mussoorie to name a few, who have not just survived but have thrived in spite of the deep discount onslaught from Amazon and others of its ilk. And if this was not enough, there is added competition from the digitization of books. Well the answer to their survival lies in “curation”, a concept shared by the behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their recent and final edition of the book -Nudge. The owners of these independent bookstores are good curators; they differentiate themselves through personalization and specialization. They are obsessed with setting a certain standard of service and then not just maintaining it but pushing it to greater heights. The pioneers of this concept of curation were T N Shanbhag and T S Shanbhag, who operated the Strand Book Store in Mumbai and Premier Bookshop in Bangalore respectively. They were masters in offering a dedicated and personalised service to their clients. This was the only way they could compete against Amazon who carries more than 33 million titles and holds a 64% market share of printed books sold worldwide and a 70% share in e-books via Kindle. The independent bookstores cannot offer more choices; they do not have the algorithmic navigation tool that Amazon and other online bookstores offer nor the capital, but they prosper because they give their customers a delightful experience with a personal touch. Their encyclopaedic memory will make an elephant blush. While I have been culpable in ordering from Amazon and Flipkart because of the convenience they offer, I make it a point to visit Kitab Khana every month and the other independent books stores whenever I travel outside of Mumbai. Some of these bookstores also offer the same convenience of ordering online, but there is no better experience than stepping into a bookstore full of anticipation and excitement of stumbling upon a title that you have been desperately seeking. A reasonably robust selection bolstered by top notch personalised service is a winner in my book as compared to the operating model of large volume driven chains who somewhere down the line forget that they are meant to serve and keep their customer happy.
This takes me to another happy interaction that my dad and I had last week when we visited a Neurologist – Dr Rajas Deshpande at the Jupiter Hospital in Pune. We experienced truly genuine and fantastic bedside manners which most doctors nowadays lack. And there was patience and loads of empathy which are other factors that most doctors have forgotten. With my dad being a General Practitioner himself, I was fortunate to have grown up amongst some pioneers in the field of medicine. The area of Dadar, Hindu Colony, Matunga and Shivaji Park had Dr Ramamurthy, Dr V N Shrikhande, Dr Ajit Phadke, Dr Anand Nande, Dr Suresh Vengsarkar, Dr Shashi Parchure, Dr Nandu Laud, Dr MS Sabnis, Dr Suresh Gharpure, Dr Ashok Mahashur, Dr Ashok Mathure, Dr U B Rao, Dr Anant Joshi, Dr Savur and Dr Ravin Thatte to name a few. All of them pioneers in their own way and successful across fields as diverse as orthopaedics, urology, general medicine, general surgery, pancreatic and gallbladder surgery, gynaecology and more; yet humble, caring and more importantly ethical. They were the best in their field. I use the past tense, since many have passed on or have retired. With parents and in-laws in their seventies, visits to many of the new age doctors and hospitals have been quite frequent for me and my wife over the last few years. While the medical and surgical treatments have been satisfactory, the interactive experiences have varied from ordinary to mediocre to terrible. Forget about greeting the patient and his companion, most doctors do not even look at the patient. They are busy making notes, checking their phone or answering calls. This time round, Dr Deshpande stood up when my father, a senior citizen, walked into his room and greeted us with a Namaste and folded hands. I almost collapsed. It took me a few seconds to recover from this pleasant shock while he very patiently asked us to take him through my dad’s history; all along exhibiting eye contact and no distractions. After a thorough physical examination, he suggested some check-ups and wrote down his prescription. He also made sure that his assistant guided us at the counter with the next steps. What more can a patient expect; my dad was overwhelmed and this approach reminded him of Dr Ramamurthy, who is yet remembered by his peers, friends and students as one of the best doctors we have had but more importantly a great human being. In today’s medical world which is full of unethical practices, quacks, cuts, quotas, doctor’s insatiable appetite for money and desperation to be big and famous on social media with very little empathy for their patients, this was a delightful experience. It reminded me of a quote shared by Dr V N Shrikhande, a legend in his field of gastrointestinal and biliary-pancreatic surgery from his book “Reflections of a Surgeon”; “To become a surgeon entails two distinct and sequential phases. The first consists of learning to become a gentleman in its broadest sense, the second is learning the technical skills of the profession. Some have never passed the first phase. They become technicians, not surgeons” – Dr. James Priestley, Surgeon Mayo Clinic who was the first to perform a successful pancreatic surgery in 1944.
P.S: This blog is dedicated to all the legendary doctors I have mentioned above and many whom I have not been able to but who through their selfless service, ethical practice, honesty and skill have made all of us happier, healthier and wiser. And to all my fellow bibliophiles and all the independent book operators. My heartfelt gratitude!