Sponge book cover

When office commutes were a thing, I used to listen to podcasts. Do I miss commutes? No. Do I miss podcasts, yes, but I haven’t yet figured out a way to listen to podcast in an environment where I am not doing something else. I used to drive during commutes, so listening to podcast on the drive was a good pass time instead of say, listening to music all the time which becomes boring after a while.

I found one such interesting podcast which goes by the name The Sponge Podcast. The podcast is by Ambi Parmeshwaran, who has spent more than forty years in the advertising industry, and launched a book which goes by the same name, Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients.

Mr. Ambi has very interesting stories to share from his collective experience in the industry, across various brands & situations he has handled, and also shares a lesson or two he learnt while dealing with those in each episode.

I’m not someone from the advertising industry, not even remotely into a business development / sales kind of role, yet I found the podcast interesting, is a big testimony to the storytelling skills of Mr. Ambi. After all, he’s probably been doing this all his life by way of advertisements.

The podcast has been crafted in an interesting way – he cites references to a lot of books which is related to the episode. When you’re listening to a podcast on a drive, you can’t really remember name of each book that was cited in the episode (at least that’s me), so after finishing the podcast I reached out to Mr. Ambi on Twitter with a suggestion to publish the names of the books on the episode description. That’s when I he suggested reading the book.

The book itself is short about 180 pages, but given that each chapter in the book is delivers some kind of lesson, this constant preaching can be a bit overwhelming. So I took a good two months to finish the book 😂.

For folks who haven’t either listened to the podcast, nor read the book it might probably be a good idea to do so in parallel, because each episode in the podcast maps to one chapter in the book. It could also get a bit boring, because you’re going through the same story twice, but I don’t see a better way to capture the names of the books – some of them are top rated ones which you wouldn’t want to miss if you like business development, leadership, brand management, sales kind of things.

The word SPONGE itself is a framework with an analogy to the sponge often used for cleaning, formed by Mr. Ambi, which stands for:

S – Super active listening
P – Probe and Question
O – Observe and Note
N – New Behaviour to Emulate
G – Get to a Goal
E – Expand, Enlarge, Share

Some of my favourite quotes from the book, in no particular order:

The lesson I learnt was that if you are committed enough to a task, you will find the time to do it and do it well. You will not rest till you have got it right.

Some of the most engaging conversations you might ever have in your life are likely to be with your most challenging customers. You can either dismiss them as a bad dream or you can use them as a springboard to improve yourself.

A satisfied customer will speak about his experience with two people. A dissatisfied customer will speak to twenty about his lousy experience (this was before social media; now multiply that by a factor of ten).

We often tend to underestimate the aesthetic sense of the common man.

If you are committed to your vision, you cannot allow anyone, even a premium paying customer, to derail you.

The time to build a strong relationship is when it seems least important (if someone you know is in a tough spot, that is the time to reach out to him; he may not call you out of fear of being rebuked, but you can call him).

This quote, not by Mr. Ambi himself, but by someone else has been monumental to an important event in India is also mentioned in the book, probably takes the cake:

if you are building a house and the architect has given you the design, you like it, but you feel there are too many pillars and you ask the architect to remove some of the pillars. A few years later, your house falls on your head, whom do you blame? The architect or yourself?

Both the book and podcast are extremely interesting, and you will definitely learn a lesson or two that can be applied in life. Highly recommended.

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