Sanjeev Kotnala: If only we were a country of sponges!

16 Aug,2018

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Yesterday, we celebrated the 72nd Independence Day.  On the occasion, I am sharing a review of   ‘SPONGE: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients’ by Ambi Parameswaran.

I was thinking, how different the country could be if all of us behaved like the sponge.  If like Ambi, we too could reflect on our mistakes and learn through our experiences. Maybe our collective efforts could initiate a new movement.

‘Becoming a sponge while interacting with a wise customer is something that can transform life. Absorb the words of wisdom. Learn from their behaviour. Look beyond what is obvious. And like the colourful sponge inhabiting the ocean floors, you too will red yourself of impurities and get enough nutrients for you to develop into a better leader’– Ambi Parameswaran in the introduction of his book ‘Sponge’.

I read his book ‘Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles’ and loved it.  Ordering ‘Sponge’ was an involuntary reaction to the release announcement. There are two reasons for me taking the time to read. One I follow FIFO method in sequencing the books I read. Two, the format of ‘Sponge’ allowed me to read it in parts.

I enjoyed reading ‘SPONGE: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients’. I loved the stories and anecdotes. The anecdotes were brilliant. We all will find our favourites.

No one is complaining, but for me, the book references supporting Ambi’s experience and observations broke my rhythm. I felt I would have enjoyed the book more without validation of learning’s from some published theoretical frameworks.

I would have wanted Ambi to do better justice to the stories and spend a bit more time in developing each of them. They are too summarised. They finish before you warm up. I am not cribbing. As no-where, you lose on any details.

I loved him naming characters in successful adventures. However, I am not hugely surprised that he decided not to call the characters if the experience were not right, proper or in case they went wrong. I felt a bit cheated by this vagueness. It diluted the impressions for me.

The book, a light reading, but delivers big time. It is a perfect plug for active listening, reflection and learning. You can pick and start with any chapter and pace your reading. Serious readers are welcome to check the books referred in the chapters and just for records lengthen their ‘to-read’ list. It is at times interesting for a reader, to see if you can reflect and distil some other learning from the same incident.

Most of the book, in many ways, ends up celebrating the famed glorious years of advertising. Some of us have been fortunate to be in the industry when the relationship was of partners in Brand building and not a vendor. They had conviction in their team and efforts. The fee was enough to hire and retain talents. The teams were willing to back their work and understanding, instead of trying to read the clients mind.  They were willing to learn from the client. The  loyalties were first to the Brand, Agency and then the client.  Ambi has been able to capture them well. Most of them are the goody-goodly-good type of episodes. I fear the gentleman Ambi is, he will never share the juicy bits.

The book has me nodding in agreement at lot many places. One of them is there on page 27. I quote. “I think if we see more and more ex-service people in the Indian start-up and corporate world we might see some fresh churning of concepts and strategies. …Getting them into operational positions can provide Indian corporates a great new window into how to work and how to get work done”.



SPONGE- Leadership Lessons I learnt From My Clients. Ambi Parameswaran. Westlandbooks. INR 350. Pages 180


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