By Vaisesika Dasa
Here are seven basic organizational principles that will help make your book distribution program a success and your life more productive on all levels:
- Define your mission
- Set goals
- Create efficient systems
- Get the right tools
Humans are walking idea factories. Brainstorming puts these invaluable factories into full production mode. And even if you don’t have any people to work with yet, you can begin brainstorming alone. Sit in a quiet place with a blank sheet of paper and a pen and write down your ideas. Start by writing a relevant question about book distribution on the top of your page. Then write down every thought that comes into your mind about how you can start to distribute books or improve the way you are doing it now.
If you do have people to work with, you have the most valuable asset of any organization. Some Japanese companies brainstorm by regularly polling their employees, especially the ones doing the manual labor. They do this because their workers see things about the company – its products and the ways they are manufactured and sold – that the managers may not see.
Other companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, brainstorm by inviting their customers to write or call in with their ideas for improving the company’s products. They print the company’s phone number and email address on every product, along with a request for the consumers to give ideas on how they can improve their goods and services.
Brainstorming is the best and quickest way to unearth valuable ideas and discover creative solutions to persistent problems. It is not only useful but fun, because it brings people together, reveals their hidden talents and ingenuity, and cultivates working relationships that help groups of people form teams.
To brainstorm with a group of people, first call them to a comfortable, peaceful environment. To start the session, ask a question, such as “How can we increase and improve book distribution?” Write the question at the top of a whiteboard (or project it on a screen) so that it is plainly visible to everyone. Then invite and encourage all the participants to contribute their ideas while someone writes them on the board. At this stage, don’t stop to analyze the ideas; just list as many as you can.
Once you have your list, work with your group to prioritize the ideas and identify the top seven to ten by numbering them. This list of top ideas will be the primary seeds from which you will start to grow your team of book distributors. Victor Hugo writes about the importance of ideas: “An idea whose time has come is a force. It changes the world. It alters reality. It’s unstoppable! There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
ISKCON’s communities are chockablock with skilled, imaginative people. Leaders who know how to tap this rich vein of talent and insight by inviting these bright people to share their ideas through brainstorming will never lack ideas on how to improve or develop.
Śrīla Prabhupāda advocates brainstorming in a 1973 letter to Tejīyas Dāsa, temple president of ISKCON Delhi: “Now try to tax your brain for finding new ways and better ways for distributing our books widely to the intelligent men of Delhi.”
Indeed, brainstorming is the most efficient way to tax our own brain and the brains of those around us. And the tax extracted from these brainstorming sessions is lucrative, to say the least. For example, in a brainstorming session at a temple presidents’ meeting in Dallas, I worked with a group of leaders to brainstorm how to work with an idea I had to make a book-vending machine. In a single session, our group was able to develop this innovative idea to the point at which it could soon become what we now call the Smart Box. Smart Boxes have spread all over the world and distribute thousands of books each year, especially in North America.
Practically everyone has good ideas. The problem is that most people offer their ideas randomly or at inopportune moments. For example, with a great idea in mind, a person might walk up to a manager hurrying to an engagement and say, “Excuse me, I have an idea I want to tell you about.” Ideas offered erratically in this way often don’t get gathered, planted, and cultivated; rather, because they are not carefully recorded, considered, or followed up, they remain on the ethereal plane and are never practically pursued.
But when a leader convenes a brainstorming session, not only do the team members feel empowered to give their best ideas, but the organizers are also in a better position to capture the ideas and make concrete plans to implement them. What’s more, a kind of synergy exists among the group members in a brainstorming session that gives results greater than the sum of the individual ideas themselves.
In the process of brainstorming, the group can effectively consider and list all the aspects of the project that are most important to them. These main points then become the basis from which the team can craft its mission statement. A team that has a clear understanding of its mission is blessed. Patañjali, author of the Yoga-sūtras, agrees with this conclusion:
When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
Start with a statement of your main purpose. This will enable you to guide and inspire your team to simplify and clarify your team’s purpose and come up with a mission statement. For example, Amazon’s simple mission is “To be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, expresses its mission in this statement: “To leave a sustainable world for future generations.”
In short, a mission statement is an action-oriented outline of how your team can fulfill its potential. Śrīla Prabhupāda expresses his mission through the seven purposes of ISKCON. He frequently stresses the special role the printing and distribution of his books will play in fulfilling his purposes:
My special mission is to complete the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in sixty volumes, so the most important thing on the part of the International Society is to organize the sales propaganda of all the books that you are publishing. If there is less sales propaganda, then the outlet of the books will be bottlenecked, and smooth printing work will stop. You have not only to print, but you have to sell them.
I want that each and every one of my centers should be fully stocked with all of my books.
I want that every respectable person has a full set of Bhāgavatam and Caitanya-caritāmṛta in his home.
“Organize and Sell Books”
In my service as both a manager and a book distributor, I have seen that when an ISKCON community’s mission revolves around Śrīla Prabhupāda’s directive to “organize and sell books,” multiple benefits accrue to the entire community. In fact, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote about how good management follows enlightened outreach in a letter to Satsvarūpa Dāsa on November 21, 1971: “Yes, preaching is more important than managing. Just because you are preaching nicely and distributing so much prasāda, the management will follow like a shadow and Kṛṣṇa will send you no end of help.”
Human beings are always on the move and want to be part of an organization or community that’s going somewhere. In ISKCON, when that “somewhere” includes increasing the distribution of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, every one in the group is lifted to a higher conception of life, because distributing books is a purely transcendental activity that directly pleases our founder-ācārya and Lord Caitanya.
Once your mission statement is in place, you need to regularly communicate it to your community and team members, because a collective awareness of the mission “affects their identity and determines their degree of cohesiveness.” Stephen Covey, the famed management guru, comments in this regard that having a mission statement helps to overcome “the baggage of the past, or even the accumulated noise of the present.”
What’s more, when you have your clear mission on paper, you will also have a basis from which to make sound decisions. When you’re not sure how to proceed or what to accept or reject, reviewing your mission statement will give you clarity about how to continue on the right path to accomplish your goals.
In his last days, the disciples in the room with Śrīla Prabhupāda heard him make a statement that beautifully sums up his mission: “Just go on discussing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam among yourselves and everything will remain clear.” He also enshrined this idea in one of the last purports he dictated: “Thus the more we read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the more its knowledge becomes clear. Each and every verse is transcendental.”
Thus Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us how to get fresh energy in order to improve and increase by always reiterating the mission enshrined in his books. To read and distribute his books, then, is the essence of his mission.
Indeed, the effectiveness in conveying your organization’s mission will determine how well your team unites and operates. Rick Warren, the founder of the highly successful Saddleback Baptist Church in Orange County, California, writes:
One of your most important roles as a pastor is as vision caster. Sharing the vision of your church can’t be a one-time event. The Bible says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Proverbs 29:18, MSG).
As the leader, God has called you to help your congregation see what God is doing in your midst.
That’s why you must continually put the vision of your church before your congregation – at least every 26 days. That’s the Nehemiah Principle.
In Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, halfway through the project people got discouraged and wanted to give up. Like many churches, they lost their sense of purpose and, as a result, became overwhelmed with fatigue, frustration, and fear. Nehemiah rallied the people back to work by reorganizing the project and recasting the vision. He reminded them of the importance of their work and reassured them that God would help them fulfill His purpose (Neh. 4:6–15).
Although the wall took only 52 days to complete, the people became discouraged at the halfway point: just 26 days into the project! Nehemiah had to renew their vision.
You’ve got to do that, too. It’s amazing how quickly human beings – and churches – lose their sense of purpose and vision. Vision casting is not a task you do once and then forget about. You must continually clarify and communicate the vision of your church. This is the number one responsibility of leadership.
Imagine what might happen if you were to randomly interview some of the people in your community or on your team about your mission? What would they tell you? Do the core members of your team and community know their team’s mission? Do you know your team’s mission?
If you don’t, you should. Take time to define and write it down. Once you do, you’ll feel new life and so will your team. With your mission statement in hand, you can read and reread it, and thus not only encourage your team members but also attract new people to join your team.
The investment guru and legendary organizer Charles Schwab writes, “We are all salesmen every day of our lives. We are selling our ideas, our plans, our enthusiasms to those with whom we come in contact.” Therefore, make the clarity of your mission the foundation of your organization and then sell it to others.
If you don’t have a clear mission, why would anyone else want to join you? Furthermore, even if you have a beautifully crafted mission statement, if you don’t tell people about it, what value does it have?
Again, with this purpose in mind for his movement, Śrīla Prabhupāda consistently stressed the reading, discussing, and distributing of his books as the essence of our spiritual lives and the means for uplifting ourselves along with the rest of the world.
Anyone, however, who tries sincerely to present Bhagavad-gītā as it is will advance in devotional activities and reach the pure devotional state of life. As a result of such pure devotion, he is sure to go back home, back to Godhead.
French Renaissance author Michel de Montaigne writes about clarifying one’s mission: “No wind favors he who has no destined port.” Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking Glass, illustrates the same point in a dialogue:
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know where I’m going!
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.
Again, Rick Warren attributes his church’s success to its clear mission: “I cannot overemphasize the importance of defining your church’s purposes. It is not merely a target that you aim for; it is your congregation’s reason for being.”
One’s mission is also considered to be vital in the business world. For example, Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist and the original marketer of Apple products, in his book Art of the Start, lists the top three steps for starting a corporation: Make meaning; Make mantra; Get going. Here’s how he defines these steps:
- Make meaning: find a cause that inspires you and that makes the world a better place.
- Make mantra: craft a pithy description of the spirit and purpose of your venture. For example, Nike: “Authentic athletic performance.” Disney: “Fun family entertainment.” IBM: “Think.”
- Get going: Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Instead, move ahead with your project as soon as you’ve defined the meaning of your project and have created a mantra that embodies its spirit and purpose.
Kawasaki prefers a mantra to a formal lengthy mission statement because a mantra is easy to understand and to propagate whereas a long mission statement tends to bog down the team.
Team ISV’s mission statement: To serve all living beings by widely distributing the holy names, transcendental literature, and kṛṣṇa-prasāda.
Team ISV’s mantra: Always Better Service.
Frame or Be Framed
Those who have not clearly defined their mission are sure to be dragged off course. That’s why Kawasaki, like Rick Warren, recommends that leaders frame their organization or product by clearly and regularly stating why their organization exists. Inevitably, even those in the same organization will have conflicting ideas about what’s important and why the organization was established. Therefore Kawasaki advises that leaders “frame or be framed” – that is, unless you clearly define and display your mission, just as you would frame a picture and hang it in a prominent place, others will put up their own pictures of the way they think your organization should look and bifurcate and confuse your mission.
Not only does Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly frame his mission in The Seven Purposes of ISKCON, but he constantly reminds his followers of those purposes. For example, in a letter to Satsvarūpa Dāsa, dated June 21, 1971, he frames his mission for outreach:
Saṅkīrtana party and distribution of our magazines and books is our real program. Other things are secondary. So during the summer time you should utilize this program of saṅkīrtana and book distribution vigorously. Attention diverted to incense business is not a very good sign. We should give all our energy for distributing BTG.
Here Śrīla Prabhupāda has prioritized: books and magazines are the real program; other things are secondary. This is framing the mission. Those with a clear mission and a burning desire to fulfill it can do so by setting appropriate goals.
The human mind chases a goal the way a heat-seeking missile pursues a jet engine. It’s natural, then, that after making your mission clear, your mind will look for ways to achieve it. This leads us to the next fundamental phase of organizing: goal setting.
Regarding goal setting – which is a means to push ourselves to do better than we are doing now – the poet T. S. Eliot writes, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
For balance, you must set both quantitative and qualitative goals. For instance, one might set a goal to distribute a certain number of books within a given time period. The moment you set your mind on such a numerical goal, your mind will work, even as you sleep, to reach it.
But one must also make goals to improve the quality of one’s presentation of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. For example, I’ve seen devotees at ISV set goals to learn how to present a book in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, Farsi, or other languages. By setting qualitative goals, your team members not only become well-rounded but stay interested, because setting qualitative goals stimulates the imagination and intelligence.
To be effective, goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, and time-bound. There is power in setting deadlines on your goals – for example, things you will achieve within a week or a month or a year or in five years. Each deadline is effective in its own way.
The Magic of Setting Goals
Setting a goal is like flipping a light switch. When you flip on a light switch, electricity flows through the bulb and radiates light. Similarly, when you set a goal, your mind and intelligence at once consider how to reach it: creative energies stream through the subtle body, carrying images of practical steps one can take to reach your goal.
ISKCON leaders dedicated to distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books do not hesitate to flip this switch by making goals to distribute more books and to improve in the quality of how they are distributing them. In contrast, some managers may find themselves reluctant to set goals for distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. Such leaders might find it helpful to examine their hearts to find the reasons they’re not willing to make such a commitment.
In working with devotees, I’ve noticed that those willing and eager to set goals for distributing books make dramatic and rapid improvements. But those who are hesitant to set goals find it difficult to move forward. How can they move forward? They have nowhere to go.
In any case, progress begins at the most basic level: faith in one’s cause. One’s ability to set goals is determined by this faith. Kṛṣṇa Himself tells Brahmā, “Realization will correspond to the nature of one’s faith.” Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, in his commentary on this verse, writes: “The more transparent the faith, the greater the degree of realization.” Śrīla Prabhupāda makes repeated statements such as this: “Our preaching work will be measured by the quantity of books we distribute, so continue ever-increasingly.” Faithful devotees take such statements to heart and regularly set goals to increase the numbers of books they distribute.
The Written Plan
Setting a goal starts one on a journey, and savvy travelers who embark on long journeys always take along a map. The map that guides us to reach our goals is our written plan. As a testament to the value of a written plan, Thomas Boone Pickens, an American business magnate and financier, states, “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan any day.”
Planning means to decide what you need to do to reach your goal and then to write it down. An early secretary of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s in India, Tejīyas Dāsa, told me that Śrīla Prabhupāda insisted that his secretaries write everything down. Tejīyas recalls: “Śrīla Prabhupāda once called for me at 3:00 a.m., and when I came he asked me where my pen and paper was.”
It is common knowledge that Śrīla Prabhupāda often said that in Kali-yuga, to forget means to forget to write it down. In different ways, other people say the same thing about the benefits of writing things down:
- What gets written gets done.
- What gets written gets improved.
- What gets measured gets managed.
The point is that one must commit one’s plan to writing; otherwise, one’s goals will remain in the mind – rarely to be realized. Writing down what needs to be done is so simple that people often forget to do it. Simple, but it takes effort. When I see that people are habituated to writing things down, knowing how important it is, I at once think, “These people are not only serious, they’re organized.”
All creations start from the subtle world of thought and then manifest themselves in progressively more solid forms. The act of transferring your plans from your mind to paper makes them more tangible and commanding. A person with a list of action items in hand moves from the realm of daydreams to that of doing.
For example, you might write the following simple plan: “I’ll organize a brainstorming session in my community to develop ideas about starting a team of book distributors.” Next, you might break down this plan into small, doable parts:
- Set a date
- Decide on the venue for the meeting
- Make a list of possible participants
- Send email invitations to possible participants
And so on.
Experts at organizing agree that one should work from a list. For example, Brian Tracy writes: “Always work from a list. When something new comes up, add it to the list before you do it. You can increase your productivity and output by 25 percent or more from the first day you begin working consistently from a list.” Śrīla Prabhupāda’s room in Vṛndāvana contains museum cases. In one of them is a small booklet containing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s goals and a to-do list written in his own hand.
Following this practice of writing down the details of your plan on paper or in electronic form and ticking off the to-do’s as you accomplish them will keep you moving forward toward your goals. You’ll be efficient and make progress like never before – by carrying out your plan.
Carry Out Your Plan
The famous military leader George S. Patton used to say, “A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
That’s the spirit of Kawasaki’s third step of starting a business: get going. This advice is important in all works of creation; that is, don’t wait until your vision, mission, goals, and plans are perfect. All of these can be adjusted later, as needed.
Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke about Lord Caitanya’s penchant for action on a morning walk on December 5, 1973:
Caitanya Mahāprabhu is God Himself. He comes down to preach, to become sannyāsī, and to take so much trouble all over India and everywhere, and giving instruction and sending men, “Go, go, go, go” … Why He’s coming? He doesn’t require. No. For the benefit of others, we must follow the footsteps of Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Following in the footsteps of Mahāprabhu means one should “go, go, go, go.” Go, go, go, go means to carry out the mission. You should start carrying out your plan as soon as possible with the aim to improve as you go. Moving in this way, making incremental improvements, anyone can build a book distribution juggernaut.
Good organizers draw on this mantra: “Everything and everyone counts.” Even the tiniest of improvements is important, because each improvement compounds – after the fashion of bank interest – and each person’s contribution counts.
Good managers therefore have a “bias for action.” They begin working on their plan at once, and constantly try to spot places needing improvement. They know that each tiny incremental improvement starts a chain reaction of enhancements.
In sports, business management, and any other discipline, one “wins in the margin.” The famous photo finish in track and field or horseracing reveals that the victor often wins “by a nose.” In finance, those who intelligently negotiate even slightly higher interest rates over time end up with compounded gains significantly greater than those who settle for a lower rate of return.
Don’t fail to do all that you can in the moment, even if you can’t do everything you want to do. Even the smallest improvement keeps one moving in the right direction and over time has dramatic effects. What’s more, organizers who look for and make incremental improvements find ways to systematize them. Creating systems, therefore, is another aspect of astute organizing.
A system is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole. The successful fresh-juice franchise Jamba Juice uses systems well. At Jamba you can see for yourself what a good system looks like. As you walk in to a Jamba shop, the first thing you see is a menu of juices above the service counter. After you’ve chosen your juice, a person behind the counter takes both your order and your payment. The worker enters your order into a computer, and the order is relayed to a clearly visible computer screen, in front of which attendants are standing by to make the blend of juice you ordered. The workers add the fruits and other ingredients using measuring cups and spoons. Every ingredient and tool is lined up in sequence so that the workers don’t have to backtrack, guess, or waste any movements. As a result, the customer’s juice comes out quickly and perfectly mixed and presented.
Such systems take time to design and institute, but once they’re in place, the operation hums. When organizers neglect such details, however, the operation has ragged edges that lead to annoying and costly mistakes – and to lost customers. I once attended a Monthly Saṅkīrtana Festival at which the team members were held back from their outing for more than an hour because the organizers had failed to plan the transportation in advance.
At ISV, a devotee on our book distribution team found that by using WhatsApp, an instant messaging application for smart phones, he could better keep in touch with his team members while out distributing books. Afterward, he brought up his innovation on a conference call. WhatsApp soon became a standard system for ISV’s teams. WhatsApp had been available for months, but it took a team member to systematize its use in our organization. Now that it’s a system, it has considerably increased the efficiency of our teams’ communications.
Each new system that your team creates saves everyone both time and money. These economies soon begin to show up in the overall results. As you build systems, you’ll also need to invest in tools to maintain them.
Get the Right and Best Tools
The most important mantras about getting tools for your project are:
- Get the right tools for the job
- Get the best tools available that money can buy
For example, book distributors need a way to carry their books. At ISV, after much research we found that the JanSport Driver 8, a backpack with wheels, was the best tool for carrying books. This backpack is more expensive than most others, but because it does the best job for the distributors, we invested in it anyway. It also comes with a lifetime warranty. By investing in these backpacks for all the distributors, we’ve saved them a lot of bodily wear and tear from lugging books on their shoulders. And by spending more in the beginning, we not only got more out of the product but also saved money in the end.
There are myriad tools, including software needed to track and stay in touch with people, good shoes, and proper hats to protect the distributors from the sun.
Employ the Principles By employing these seven principles of organization for distributing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, you will dramatically increase your results:
- Define your mission
- Set goals
- Create efficient systems
- Get the right tools