Friday, May 13, 2011

By: Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik - Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group

To Burn or Not to Save a Forest

One day, states the Bhagavat Puran, the earth-goddess took the form of a cow and went to Vishnu with tears in her eyes complaining how the kings of the earth were exploiting her. Her udders were sore, squeezed by human greed. Vishnu promised to set things right and so descended on earth as Krishna.
In the Mahabharat, however, Krishna advises the Pandavs to set a forest aflame. This forest, Khandavprasth, is the share of property given to the Pandavs by their uncle when they demand their inheritance. As the trees burn, the animals and birds of the forest try to escape. Krishna instructs Arjun to circle the forest on his chariot and shoot down every escaping bird and beast down. Hundreds of animals are thus massacred. The rest roasted alive. The serpents beg the rain-god, Indra, to come to their rescue. But again, on Krishna's advise, Arjun uses his arrows to create a canopy over the forest preventing the water from dousing the flames. None are spared except an Asura called Maya on condition that he build for the Pandavs on the gutted land a magnificent city called Indraprasth, which goes on to become the greatest city in the world.
On one hand, Vishnu promises to protect the earth from humans; on the other hand Krishna himself indulges in an activity that damages the earth. What is happening?
These two stories draw attention to the nature of human civilization and one unspoken aspect of leadership and organization: the power of authority.
Nature is intrinsically wild – wanting to go in its own way. Nature's order is created through the game of survival. Every creature is on its own. Through strength or cunning, every plant and animal can make their own space. Those who are unable to withstand the opposition or exploit the opportunity wither away and die. Nature is thus generous on one hand, giving total freedom and all possibilities to the mighty and indifferent on the other, offering no help to the meek.
The human mind rejects this state of being. Humans have the power to reorganize the rules of nature so that life becomes more predictable and secure, and one can look beyond survival. When Pandavas declare their intention to become king, they are essentially saying they are unwilling to accept the natural state of things. They wish to domesticate nature so that all creatures align to a set of rules – their rules. This means destruction of all other rules and laws.
Nature has two parts: the mind (internal nature) and the forest (external nature) – both need to be tamed. The king ensures that the mind of his people is disciplined and aligned to his way of thinking and performing through logic, reward, punishment and constant coaching. The trees and creepers of the forest are destroyed to make way for fields and orchards where only the seed chosen by the king is planted. All other plants that attempt to grow on the king's land are declared weeds – to be pulled out and cast away. A culture is born where it is clear what is acceptable and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. The benchmark of such judgments is laid down by the king.
From one point of view, a king and leader is doing a good thing. Creating resources and opportunities for his people by laying down the law but on the other hand he is curbing freedom or at least controlling it. A king has no choice but to tread this delicate line.
In the Mahabharata, during their exile in the forest, the sages tell the Pandavas the story of Ushinara, king of Shibi. One day, a dove came to the king and begged the king to grant him protection. When the king promised to protect him, a hawk, who was pursuing the dove, asked, "What will I eat then?" The king told the hawk to eat any other dove but this one. The hawk argued that was unfair – why should other doves be sacrificed so that the king could keep his promise to his dove. The king then requested the hawk to eat any other bird or beast. The hawk argued that was unfair – why should other birds and beasts be sacrificed so that the king could keep his promise to his dove. "Then eat me," said the king, offering pieces of his flesh. These were placed on a balancing scale so that the hawk got flesh equal in measure to the dove's weight. To the astonishment of the king, the dove was so heavy that he had to give up almost all the flesh of his body.
Typically, the story is narrated to extol the virtues of the king Ushinara's kindness and sacrifice. But there is an underlying wisdom in this story. In nature, hawks eat doves. By introducing the human virtue of kindness into the natural law, the king could not make both the hawk and the dove happy. Either the dove had to die or the hawk had to go starving. Since neither was acceptable, the king had to die. If kings have to thrive then someone will benefit and someone will suffer. King's authority cannot make everyone happy – either the animals will thrive or the city will be built. This tough lesson is taught to the Pandavas when the forest of Khandavaprastha is burnt to make way for Indraprastha.
That being said, the scriptures repeatedly tell the story of Vena, a king who so excessively plundered the earth, that the sages were forced to kill him using a blade of grass that they transformed into a potent missile using magical mantras. Then the king's corpse was churned. All negative aspects of the king was cast away and a purer, more noble king, Prithu was created. The gods declared Prithu the new king by giving him a bow. The earth, still reeling under the impact of Vena's reign, refused to let the seeds sprout and the plants flower and bear fruit. Taking the form of a cow she ran away and Prithu chased her on his chariot, his new bow in hand. "If you kill me, all life will end," said the earth-cow. Prithu then lowered his bow and begged the earth to feed his subjects. He promised to be a king who treats the earth as a cowherd treats a cow. He will love her, protect her, nurture her. In exchange she will provide milk and dung that will be the food and fuel of human civilization. She will be Go-mata, the cow mother, and he will be Go-pala, the cow keeper.
Thus Prithu realizes the bow was given to him by the gods not to hunt the earth down or to domesticate her and strip her of her wildness but to learn the importance of balance. A bow is useless if the string is too loose; it will break if the string is too tight. Likewise, a king has to balance – his desire to control and domesticate nature with the wisdom to let nature be and thrive freely. A good king knows when to stop: how much of the forest should be burnt and how much should not. How much alignment he should seek and how much freedom he must give.

Strategies on Kurukshetra

A study of the 18 day war described in the Mahabharata reveals many strategies that can be used to win in the Corporate Kurukshetra. This article focuses on some of the ploys used by Krishna to defeat the Kauravas who with eleven armies outnumbered the seven armies of the Pandavas.
Of the 18 days of battle, 9 days were indecisive. For victory, it was critical that Bhisma, the old but very able commander of the Kaurava forces, be killed. So Krishna decided to make Shikhandi ride on his chariot alongside Arjun. Shikhandi was born with the body of a woman which later transformed into the body of a man. Bhisma believed that a creature such as this was a woman and so refused to raise his bow against her. The Kauravas protested her entry into the battlefield but the Pandavas saw Shikhandi as a man. Arjun had no qualms about using him/her as a human shield, raising his bow at the invincible Bhisma and pinning him to the ground with hundreds of arrows.
Bhisma can be seen as a man who is paralyzed by his own interpretation of a situation. But any situation can be seen in many different ways. By taking an alternate stand, it is possible to defeat anyone, especially if one's foe does not agree to one's stand. He will be so busy arguing the flaw in your interpretation, that you will have all the time in the world to overpower him.
Drona, the commander of the Kaurava army after Bhisma, was a ruthless killer, who broke Pandava morale by killing Arjun's son Abhimanyu and even making his soldiers fight at night, against the rule of war. To defeat him, Krishna spread the rumour that Ashwatthama was dead. Ashwatthama happened to be the name of Drona's son and Drona was extremely attached to him. Ashwattama was the reason for Drona's life. On hearing this rumour, his heart sank. Was his son dead? Yes, said all the Pandava warriors surrounding him. Yes, said Krishna. Drona turned to Yudhishtira, the most upright Pandava. Yudhishtira knew that the Ashwatthama being referred to was an elephant. Still he told Drona – either a man or an elephant, Ashwatthama is surely dead. In the din of the battle, looking at the petrified face of Yudhistira, Drona was convinced that his son was dead and that Yudhishtira gave him the strange answer to break the terrible news gently. He lowered his weapons. Taking advantage of this, the leader of the Pandava army raised his sword and beheaded Drona.
Drona can be seen as a man who is extremely attached to something personal. To break such a man down, that which he is attached to must be destroyed. Or at least he must be given the impression that it is destroyed. His obsession will cloud his judgment; he will not bother to delve deeper and check the facts. This is strategy used by Iago when he tells Shakespeare's Othello that his wife has been unfaithful to him. There is no truth in it; but Othello is eager to believe the lie because he finds it hard to believe that a fair maiden such as Desdemona can possible find a dark man such as him attractive.
Shalya who became commander of the Kaurava army on the last day, had according to the Indonesian Mahabharata, a demon that came out of his ears every time he was attacked. This demon became stronger if the attack against Shalya became more intense. To defeat Shalya, Krishna suggested that Yudhishtira fight him, not with rage but with love. So Yudhishtira walked towards Shalya with great affection. The demon in Shlaya became so weak that it could not even come out of Shalya's ears. When Yudhishtira came close to Shalya, with no malice in his heart, Yudhishtira raised his spear and impaled the last leader of the Kauravas.
A powerful lesson here. There are people who become strong in confrontations. Such people must never be confronted. Their point must not be validated through arguments. The best way to invalidate them is to simply agree with them. This unnerves them. They come prepared to face all arguments and, in the absence of any, feel disempowered. Confused, they become vulnerable. People around him, seeing there is no one aruging their point will feel withdraw. Thus through agreement can a point of view be destroyed.
Barbareek is a little known character whose tale is told in many folk Mahabharatas. He was the son of Bhima by a snake princess and was stronger than all five Pandavas put together. Not wanting him to join the Kauravas, Krishna asked him for a boon. Barbareek was too nice a man to say no. So Krishna said, "Give me your head." Barbareek immediately severed his neck and offered his head to Krishna with one request that he be allowed to see this great battle from a vantage point. Krishna therefore placed his head on a hill that overlooked Kursukshetra. At the end of the war, the Pandavas asked him who was the greatest warrior in the battlefield. Barbareek replied, "I saw no great warrior on the battlefield. All I saw was Krishna's discuss whirring around cutting the heads of warriors and their blood washing the hair of Draupadi, who had long ago been publicly disrobed by the very same warriors."
It is a good idea, in the middle of corporate political wrangling, to step back and see who is provoking the fight and stoking the flames. Often the two parties involved fail to realize that out there is another man making them fight for his very own agenda. So ask yourself – are you fighting your own battle in Kurukshetra or are you a pawn in someone else's much bigger game?

Marketing Maya

One day, Drona summoned two of his students, Yudhishtira and Duryodhana. "Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really bad man," he told the always-nice Yudhishtira. Then turning to the ever-angry Duryodhan, he said, "Spend a day in Hastinapur and find me a really good man." The day passed. Drona waited for his students to complete the search. Finally, at sunset, the two returned, but with no one accompanying either of them. "Well, where are the men I asked you to find?" asked Drona. Yudhishtira replied, "I scoured the city and went to every house. I met every man, woman and child. I really looked for a bad man but at the end of my search, I am convinced that everyone is the city is actually very nice. There is not a single bad person in Hastinapur." Duryodhan replied, "I don't agree. I too scoured the city and went to every house. But everyone I met was a scoundrel. Even the children. There is no good man in Hastinapur." Drona heard both and remarked, "Yeh sab maya hai." This is all maya.
Yeh sab maya hai. All of us have heard this phrase sometime or the other. It is one of those wonderful quips that always evokes laughter, perhaps because deep down we agree with the truth of the statement: ultimately all things that we crave for and cling to are maya, delusions resulting from ignorance and prejudice.
But contrary to popular belief, maya does not mean delusion. The word has its roots in the 'ma' which means 'to measure'. Maya actually means 'that which is measured'. When someone says yeh sab maya hai, they actually mean our understanding of the world depends on the measuring scale we subscribe to. Yudhishtira's measuring scale failed to identify a bad man in Hastinapur. Duryodhan's measuring scale failed to identify a good man in Hastinapur. Their opinions about Hastinapur said nothing about Hastinapur but about the measuring scales they subscribed to.
There is no universal measuring scale since measuring scales do not exist in nature. Measurement is an artificial concept, created by man, for man, in order to organize and structure the world around. It is we who have created notions such as 'second' and 'minute' and 'week' thus dividing time into manageable components. It is we who have created 'kilograms' and 'pounds' and 'metres' and 'yards' to gauge the size and weight of matter. None of these concepts are natural. Why should seven days make up a week? Why not eight days? Someone decided seven days should be the unit of time. All measurements are cultural. Someone decided that length must be measured by kilometres all over the world. Americans disagreed. They still prefer miles.
Measurement scales are necessary because they help us compare things – this is longer than that, this is heavier than that, this is hotter than that. With comparison comes evaluation and judgement. Some things become more desired. Others become more valuable. And when things start becoming more desired and more valuable, then Marketing comes into being.
Marketing is typically defined as the business process by which value is created, transmitted and exchanged. Since value is dependent on a measuring scale, marketing is ultimately all about spinning the web of maya.
Once upon a time, when there were no mobile phones. Just possessing a telephone instrument was good enough. Then came mobile technology. A new measuring scale emerged: go the phone or make the phone come with you. With the new measuring scale emerged a demand which Nokia fulfilled by 'connecting people'. Everybody was connected. Well, not every body, only the rich. Then Reliance came and democratized the mobile. Everyone could own a mobile – from paper vendor to the taxi driver. The need for a new measuring scale was felt – one that would distinguish the rich from the poor. Motorola swung into action and spun the maya of slimness: a mobile was better if it was slimmer and best if it was razor sharp! Sony Ericcson's spun the maya of another measuring scale: that a true mobile phone is one that even clicks photos and makes music. Ask yourself – wherefrom came these values? What makes you happy or unhappy about your handset? Is it natural phenomena or artificial construction, and you will realize the power of maya.
The concept of maya can be quite empowering if used well. Imagine yourself going to a job interview. It is a great company. And you are eager to get the job. You are under stress. Are you good enough for them? You spend hours on your resume and spend hours on your possible answers. And you are most relieved, even obliged, when you get the job. But why are you obliged? Wear the maya cap and you will find a different view of the world entirely, one which is perhaps more empowering. Ask: why were you called for the interview? Could it be because the organization found itself lacking in something and was seeking a value that you helped fill? If that is the case, why are you feeling as if the organization has done you a favour by hiring you? Is your being hired not a case of a symbiotic exchange of value between an organization and an individual? What is an interview ultimately? Nothing but a process by which one finds out if an organization meets the requirements of an individual's measuring scale (salary, perks, designation, role and responsibility, career prospect, job satisfaction) and if an individual meets the requirements of an organization's measuring scale (knowledge, skills, attitude, experience). It is the great maya exchange.
The notion of maya plays an important role in negotiations. No matter what is offered, you begin by devaluing it. "I don't think it is worth that much." Thus the seller is put on the defensive and is forced to justify the value he is offering. You accept or reject his defence depending on how much you are willing to pay. A smart buyer always devalues an offering to bring down the price. A smart seller always begins by questioning the measuring scale currently followed by the potential customer. "You must be satisfied with your current mobile handset, I am sure. But…." After a few rounds of arm wrestling, the value exchange that satisfies both is signed and sealed. That is good business.
Come to think of it – is there any real value out there? Value is a perception and so it all depends on who you are. For a Shiva, nothing has any intrinsic value. So he shuts his eyes to everything in this world except that which sustains him. For a Brahma, everything has value and he keeps chasing all things. In religion Shiva may be a great ascetic while Brahma may be a god unworthy of worship. But in the material capitalistic world, the self-contained Shiva is a threat, whose existence is best denied, while the eternally unhappy Brahma is the most valued of customers.
In between is Vishnu who knows that ultimately, it is he and none other but he who gives value to the world. That mobile phone, that job, that concept, that product, that service is as valuable as he makes it. He knows that different people experience the same world differently because their construction of the world is based on the measuring scale they follow. Hence, he goes around creating value, sometimes by using the prevalent measuring scale and at other times, by creating a new measuring scale altogether. He is Mayin, he who spins the web of maya, the ultimate marketer.

Churning out Lakshmi

The ultimate goal is profit. Call it anything you want: bottomline, topline, market share, capitalization, equity, dividends, incentive, growth. It is what ultimately counts. It is why leaders are sought by organizations. Leaders are the ones who are able to mobilize the organizational resources to generate wealth. They are Vishnus engaged to churn out Lakshmi, the mythological embodiment of profit, from the ocean of milk.
Lakshmi, the bejewelled goddess of wealth and fortune who sits on a lotus, is the most popular goddess in India. Her image can be found gracing most households and business establishments. Everybody wants her. Her footprint is often painted on doorways pointing inwards because everyone wants her to walk towards them. Leaders exist to make this happen.
Unfortunately, Lakshmi is Chanchala, the fickle one. Few can predict where she plans to go. Sometimes her movements are predictable. Often it isn't, confounding the most astute of analysts. Exasperated by her whimsical ways, some have concluded that Lakshmi is cockeyed – she looks one way but often moves the other.
But there is one thing scriptures are sure: Lakshmi will always move towards Vishnu. She is drawn to him. Vishnu is Shrinivas – 'where Lakshmi resides'. He is Lakshmikanta – 'beloved of Lakshmi'. What is it that he does that makes him attractive to fortune? If leaders can discover this, they too can become Vishnu; they too can become magnets of Lakshmi.
In all of Vaishnava literature, Vishnu is never shown chasing Lakshmi. Two groups of minor deities chase Lakshmi. They are Devas and Asuras.
Asuras live under the earth and Lakshmi is addressed as Patala Nivasini, a resident of the subterranean reasons because the ancients realized long ago that wealth in its most primal form – minerals and plants – comes from under the ground. Asuras are deemed demons because they cling to Lakshmi and will not let her go. She is Pulomi, their daughter and their sister.
The Devas, who live above the ground, as fire and wind and sun and sky, have to fight to release Lakshmi. Observe how all primary wealth generating activities are violent – the tilling of soil, the harvesting of crop, the threshing of grain, the smelting of metal. This 'value generating violence' is described in mythology as the war of Asuras and Devas, the hoarders and distributors of wealth, the demons and the gods.
Devas transform Pulomi into Sachi, the consort of their king, Indra. But Indra, in his recklessness, knows to enjoy Sachi but not retain her – the fickle one moves away rapidly, leaving Indra's paradise shorn of all life and beauty. Indra begs his father, Brahma, to help, who in turn directs the gods to Vishnu, who advises them to take the help of the Asuras for only the Asuras possess the magical Sanjivani Vidya that can regenerate what has been lost.
Thus Devas can draw, distribute and spend wealth but they cannot create wealth. Who are the Devas of the corporate world? Could it be the flashy marketing and sales guys who go around getting the business, generating demand for products and services? In that case who are the Asuras? Are they the product makers and the service providers? Can production/service exist without marketing/sales? Can the sky-gods exist without earth-demons?
No, they cannot. Vishnu, the leader, knows this and therefore sides with no one in particular. He knows that the two make up the force and counterforce that will churn Lakshmi out from the ocean of milk. The trick is the ability to balance the two sides of the team. A tilt one way or the other will be disastrous. It will cause the churn to collapse.
Devas are guided by Brihaspati, god of the planet Jupiter, who in astrology is associated with logic, rationality and mathematics. The guru of the Asuras is Shukra, god of the planet Venus, who in astrology is associated with emotion, creativity and intuition. Brihaspati's logical approach makes him balanced; he is therefore visualized as having two eyes while Shukra, whose intuitive approach makes him imbalanced and unpredictable, is visualized as having one eye. Like the Devas and Asuras, even Brihaspati and Shukra are pitted against each other. It is the battle of logic and intuition.
The corporate world is full of Brihaspatis and Shukras, the logicians and the magicians. The former prefer excel sheets, the latter prefer power points. The former usually have a finance background, the latter are part of sales and marketing. People with a business school or science background are encouraged to become Brihaspatis but people with an arts background and in creative fields are encouraged to stay Shukras. Brihaspatis are often preferred in corporate organization because their language can be understood, controlled and predicted. Not so with Shukras. They are shunned until one realizes that survival depends on that wild and crazy 'out of the box' idea.
One can understand why Devas led by Brihaspati are deemed 'gods': they live above the ground, are bathed in light, are clear, transparent, logical hence understandable. Asuras led by Shukra, by contrast, lived under the ground, are unseen; their intuition and creativity is unpredictable, unfathomable, uncontrollable, making them mysterious and magical. Asuras threaten us, make us insecure. Therefore they are demons. Please note that in Hindu mythology, unlike in Biblical mythology, demons are not evil creatures – Hindus have no Satan. They are children of Brahma just like Devas. The divide between them is not moral or ethical. They are complementary forces of nature.
A true leader is able to harness the various forces around him to create an effective and efficient wealth-generating churn. He makes them complementary, not antagonistic. He works with both Brihaspati and Shukra, logic and magic, objectivity and subjectivity, He is able to get the best out of Asuras and Devas, product-creators and value-givers. He is sattva guna – the principle that balances the two other extreme principles: inertia/tamas of the Asuras and the agitation/rajas of the Devas. He is both rational on one hand and intuitive on the other. He respects flashy presentations but also knows the value of a robust excel sheet behind it.
While doing all this, Vishnu never bothers with Laskhmi. He is almost indifferent to her. And that is why, perhaps, she chases him. She becomes his crown, his throne, his parasol and footstool. She makes him the king by serving as his profitable kingdom. One must be careful though. Lakshmi is not a faithful wife. Leaders often forget that success is drawn not to them but to their action. The crown follows the position not the person. To keep Lakshmi walking towards them all the time, it is important that a leader always stay a Vishnu– always balanced, always focussed, always impartial, always detached.

Avatars of Vishnu

Vishnu is amongst the most popular manifestations of God in the Hindu pantheon. But curiously, there are very few Vishnu temples across India, the most popular, where he holds his four symbols, the conch-shell, the lotus, the mace and the disc, is that of Tirupati Balaji in Andhra Pradesh and Badrinath in Uttaranchal. Fewer still are temples of Narayan, the sleeping form of Vishnu, the most popular one being that of Padmanabhaswami in Thiruvanantapuram, Kerala. People mostly worship Vishnu in the form of Ram, the king and Krishna, the cowherd-charioteer. These are Vishnu’s forms when he walked the earth to reinstate order. Since Vishnu is the God responsible for sustaining the world and keep things running, one wonders if these different forms are indicative of the different roles a leader has to play as he leads a team or an organization.
The sleeping Vishnu or Narayan is associated with a time when creation has not begun or is just about to begin. Vishnu sleeps on an ocean of milk that is still. No waves, no currents, no movement. He sleeps in the coils of a serpent with many hoods. Only when a Cobra is still can it coil itself and spread its hood. By showing Vishnu sleeping in the coils of a hooded serpent, the artist is clearly representing absence of movement. The name of the serpent, Adi Sesha or Ananta Sesha, alludes to time because Adi means what exists before the beginning, Sesha means what remains after the end and Ananta means endless. Thus the sleeping Vishnu represents that moment before creation when all is still. It is the time of dreamless slumber, Yoganidra, when Vishnu is not even aware of himself, let alone his surroundings. Only when he wakes up will creation begin – time will start to roll, space will unfold, the ocean will be churned.
The sleeping Vishnu alludes to latent leader within all people that has not yet expressed itself. This latent leader is awaiting self-discovery. Or the leader is preparing to lead. Before starting any project, a leader is Narayan – still, contemplating, making plans, thinking, observing, analyzing, preparing but not acting. Some leaders do not believe in planning at all – they just take the plunge and handle problems as they come along. Others plan too much and remain Narayan, sleeping, never waking up. The best method is to visualize the entire project through with the team – making notes of predictable problems and making contingency plans for the same and having done so, going ahead with the execution. Unpredictable problems being unpredictable cannot be anticipated.
When Narayan wakes up, he becomes Vishnu and sits alert on the hooded serpent at first and then when creation begins and plans start to get operationalized and resources start getting mobilized, he leaps on the back of his eagle, Garuda, that flaps its wings and travels above the skies and beneath the seas. Garudha holds a serpent (time) firmly in his talons – indicating the sense of urgency that every project demands. This is a leader supervising the execution of plans using his conch-shell to communicate his vision. His disc which rotates around his finger is a reminder to all that review is critical to ensure everyone is focused on the outcome. The mace and lotus are symbols of rewards and punishment that keeps everything on track. When all is well with the world, Vishnu returns to sit on hooded serpent and watch things unfold. But when trouble erupts he rides the eagle, to do battle against disruptive forces.
But even this is not enough. Different situations are associated with different problems each of which demand a different solution. Hence, the avatars.
When the project is about rescuing an organization that is in the brink of collapse, he becomes the sensitive fish, Matsya, who navigates the boat full of life and wisdom to safety.
When the project needs brainstorming and cooperation between opposing even hostile factions he becomes the stabilizing turtle, Kurma, which holds aloft the spindle that can be used to churn the ocean of life.
When there are many ideas floating around but no base on which they can be applied or implemented, he becomes the boar, Varaha, plunging into the depths of the sea, getting his hands dirty, and bringing up the foundation (land or venture capital or regulatory changes), which can nurture all ideas.
When rules are established but there are many finding ways to slip between the rules, he becomes the dreaded Nara-simha, part man, part lion, outsmarting the smart troublemakers and preventing any disruption within the organization.
When people refuse to respect their respective roles in society, when Asuras choose to occupy even the earth and the sky, more than the space allotted to them, he becomes Vaman, the dwarf who transforms into a giant and shoves the king of Asuras back to the nether regions where he belongs.
When people break the rules, he rises up in righteous outrage as Parashuram, abandoning the peaceful ways of a priest who raises the axe and hacks the law breakers to death.
When rules continue to be broken, he as Ram, tries to become the model king, and by upholding the law even at the cost of personal happiness, inspires people to do the same.
When rules are upheld only ceremonially and not in spirit, he becomes Krishna, bending and breaking and redefining rules, choosing to be kingmaker rather than king.
When intervention is pointless and the best way is to provoke self-realization in the organization, he becomes the ascetic Buddha (according to some scriptures) and Balarama (in other scriptures), who though mighty refused to fight in the Mahabharat war.
Finally, when the situation is beyond repair, then as Kalki, riding a white horse and brandishing a sword, he systematically breaks down the existing system and prepares for a new cycle – a new organization.

The point of it all

The Olympic motto 'Citius, Altius, Fortius,' is Latin for 'Swifter, Higher, Stronger'. The roots of this ideal of continuous relentless improvement lies in the ancient Greek world, where the Olympic Games were a sacred ritual. Through participation, and especially through winning, the athlete reached the 'zone' that brought him closer to the gods. That was the whole point of the games – to be better than what one was, breaks the assumed limitations imposed on man by the gods.
It is this ideal that governs businesses today and propels the desire to be bigger, grow faster, and ride up the value chain. Our business models do have their roots in Western business practices which in turn have been shaped by ancient Greek ideals. Business leaders are heroes, like Ulysses and Herakles. They are expected to go where no one has gone before on great solitary adventures, creating new markets, penetrating old ones, fighting the demons of opposition and emerging triumphant. The whole point of the game is to win – to outlast the competition, to rise above mediocrity, to create new horizons, to shatter old boundaries. Little wonder then that the Greek god of business and trade was Hermes, who had wings on his sandals, always on the run.
But why do we assume this to be the universal model? When Alexander came to India and said that he wanted to conquer the world, the local sages asked, "Why?"
These sages must have been familiar with the Jain story of Bharata, who conquered the whole world and then ordered stone carvers to climb up the Mount Meru, the mountain in the centre of the world, and carve on its peak his name, declaring him the first one who conquered the world. The stone carvers climbed the mountain but returned soon after, their faces glum. "We cannot do it, sir," they said. "Why?" asked Bharata. "We cannot explain, go up and see for yourself." Bharata climbed the mountain and when he reached the peak he found every inch of the peak covered with names of former kings, each one declaring, "I too conquered the world." Suddenly, Bharata realized the pointlessness of any achievement. The event forced him to sit back and reflect on life.
The same story is retold in Hindu mythology in a different way. Indra wanted Vishwakarma, his architect, to build him a palace befitting his stature as king of the gods. A great palace was built but Indra found it was not good enough. "Make it bigger, grander," said Indra. So another palace was built. Even that was not good enough. A frustrated Vishwakarma went to Vishnu who promised to sort things out. Vishnu approached Indra in the form of a boy and took a tour of the palace. "Very good," he said, "Very good indeed but not as good as that of the other Indra." The remark intrigued Indra. "What do you mean, the other Indra?" he asked the boy. And the boy explained, "The Indras who existed before you. The Indras who will exist after you. The Indras who exist right now in other worlds." And Indra said, "What do you mean? Are there others like me?" And the boy said, "Of course. Countless others." Suddenly Indra felt small and insignificant in the grand cosmos. He was but a grain of sand on a beach of Indras. With this realization, his life became less about aspiration and more about introspection.
While Indians celebrated the cyclical nature of life, the Greeks despised the very idea. For the Greeks hell was becoming Sisyphus who spent all day taking a rock up the mountain only to find that the rock had rolled down at night, forcing him to do today what he had done yesterday. Glory came when one broke free, did something different and new. This made man a hero and assured him a place in the Greek heaven of the Elysian Fields. Greeks broke free from the monotony of existence by achieving something spectacular in the material world itself. But for Indians breaking free meant breaking free from the material world itself. Unlike the Greek world where the point of life was self-actualization, the point of life in the Indian world was self-realization. In India, the great question was never 'how can you be swifter, higher and stronger' but 'why should you be swifter, higher and stronger?' If introspection revealed that the point of one's actions was indulging the ego, then one was a fool, further entrapping oneself in the mire of materialism. The wise man worked not to indulge the ego, but to triumph over it – and this happened when one truly and sincerely works for others.
A business leader may argue that current business models are about others. That it is not (only) about ego and greed, it is also about creating jobs, democratizing wealth, and about survival. It is our responsibility to help more and more people live a better standard of life – hence we need to grow. And we must keep running ahead of the competition before they gain ground and overwhelm us. Both these viewpoints reaffirm that we are increasingly subscribing to the Greek way of thinking and less to the Indian way of thinking. No more is life a cycle, now it is a flat road where we are being chased by demons. If we run fast enough we will reach that wonderful place where there is no poverty, no strife, no competition. Such beliefs only bemuse Indians sages, for they believe you cannot change the cyclical world, only your viewpoint.
Is the Indian belief in fate and rebirth the reason why Indians are not so aggressive? Is that why Indians seem happy despite poverty? Is that why Indians are so comfortable bending the rules – how does it matter anyway? Is that why Indians are so tolerant of everything, even terrible infrastructure and bad governance? Is that a good thing? Do we want to change – become more Greek? Not passive sages but pro-active heroes?
As the world gets smaller, we are being led to believe that there is only one game to be played, with only one set of rules and one set ideals. We are being asked to be swifter, higher and stronger. We are basking in the glory of young achievers and following the footsteps of global winners. But sometimes, maybe sometimes, we need to take time out from the Greek world and ask ourselves this very Indian question – wherefrom comes our ambitions and where is it taking us? Maybe the answer will create a workplace that is less paranoid, less aggressive, less stressed and more at peace with itself. And that may not be so bad.

No Right Answer

Vikramaditya, king of Ujjain, pulled down the ghost or Vetal who swung upside down from the branches of tree that grew on the edge of a crematorium ground. "If you can bring this creature to me," a sorcerer had told the king, "I can turn him into a mighty slave who will do all your bidding. But remember, while you are carrying Vetal, you must never speak. One word from your lips and he will fly back to his tree." Vikramaditya swore, as he walked towards the tree, to keep his mouth shut. The Vetal did not mind this, more than happy to fill the silence with an entertaining tale:
Once upon a time, a king was performing the funeral rites for his father. As he was about to drop the funeral offering in the river, as ritual demanded, three hands rose from the water to receive it. The first hand belonged to a weaver, to whom the king's mother had been forcibly given in marriage. The second hand was of a priest who loved the king's mother and had made her pregnant. The third was of a warrior who had found the king abandoned on the riverbank and had adopted him and raised him on his own. "Now tell me Vikramaditya," said the Vetal, "On which hand should the king place the funeral offering? On the hand of his mother's husband, on the hand of his biological father or the hand of his foster father? On the hand of the weaver, the priest or the warrior? If you know the answer, speak and complete the story, or the sin of keeping a story incomplete will cause your head to burst into a thousand pieces."
Can there an objective answer to this question? In modern times, a child's father is determined by a biological paternity test but the results can be dismissed by the legal adoption process. In the Mahabharata, however, marriage was most important in determining paternity. That is why Pandu is identified as the father of the five Pandavas even though he did not make either of his wives pregnant.
The story of Vikramaditya and Vetal draws attention to the fact that in the world not every question has an obvious objective answer. Many questions demand subjective answers – a call. And the man who makes the call is the leader. He is Vikramaditya.
Ruchika is a Vikramaditya. She runs a chain of boutique stores selling high fashion. She has an immediate task at hand: to select a model who will appear in hoardings and print ads over the next six months. The budget is huge and before her is a complete SWOT analysis including the cost of the top models, the market perception of each of the models, their current brand equity, and future trends. Ruchika knows that in selecting the model, she will effectively be selecting the brand image of her stores. Does she want to continue with the image that exists? Does she want to change it? What will be consequences of this creative decision? Will it change the quality of footfalls to the shops? Will she get the teenage crowd or the family crowd? Her choice of model will influence many things. She turns to her finance team who give her the financial implications of her business decision – the optimistic and the pessimistic picture. There is no consensus in her design or sales team. For some the cool new model matters, others prefer the classical, and then there are those who want to be radical.
For all that talk about taking a decision as a team, Ruchika knows that ultimately she will have to take a call. If only she had the luxury of not saying anything. But then Ruchika realizes, she has not been made the head of the organization to keep quiet. She is the leader. She must use her intelligence and her intuition and arrive at a decision, howsoever subjective it may be, a decision that will affect the future of her company, her employees, her customers, her balance sheet and ultimately her own career. She must think, she must decide, she must speak. And her decision will not please everyone. They will oppose her, criticize her, pull her down when her decision does not yield the desired outcomes. She will have no one to blame, no one to hide behind. The buck stops with her. That is the price of kingship. That is the curse of Vikramaditya.
Vikramaditya always gives an answer but in different versions of the tale, the answer is different. Sometimes, valuing social institutions as the key to social order, he chooses the legal husband, the weaver. Sometimes, giving due cognizance to caste hierarchy, he declares the priest as the father. And sometimes, valuing the role of emotions, he convinces himself and the Vetal that the warrior who raised the king is the true father. There is no right answer. There is no wrong answer. Everything depends on Vikramaditya's values – what according to him is right, what according to him is wrong. Values determines the nature of Vikramaditya's judgments and hence the quality of his kingdom.
If Vikramaditya believes that his judgment is objective, then he is only deluding himself. All decisions are molded by frameworks and contexts – all frameworks are constructed and all contexts are interpreted through the subjective lens. Data helps but to a point, not beyond. That is why we cannot have an organization without kings. Ujjain is a prosperous city because Vikramaditya takes the right calls, or rather he takes calls that he feels are right and which turn out to be beneficial eventually. That is why Vikramaditya is a great king. Every king can take a call - but only a great king can take calls that consistently yield the desired outcomes.
Right or wrong, Vikramaditya has to speak, and let the Vetal go, and start the process all over again. The day Vikramaditya has no answer, the fantasy of the sorcerer who will turn the Vetal into a super-slave will take over and the reality of the brilliant king and his fabulous decision making abilities will come to an end.
Thus there is no one way to be Vishnu. It all depends on the context. Underlying this theme is the notion that everything is cyclical and impermanent. Organizations have to change because the world around them is changing. And with change, leaders have to change their way. They have to decide whether they are expected to be Narayan or Vishnu or Ram or Krishna or Kalki and act accordingly. Parashuram was successful in his time; Ram was successful in his time. Sometimes the same situation can have two different forms of intervention depending on what one aspires to achieve. Thus while Krishna provokes the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra, his elder brother, also Vishnu, albeit not as famous, chooses not to fight.
The lesson: when you are going to office today, ask what avatar today's situation demands. And while doing that be a Narayan for tomorrow.

Monkey-Leaders and Cat-Leaders

Akbar, the greatest of Mughals, was addressed as Jahan-panah. The word means 'Shelter of the world', Was it a title meant to boost the ego of the great emperor of India? Or did it contain the people's expectation from their leader?
A leader is supposed to be the 'shelter' – protector, defender, the one who creates the environment where one can thrive. He is supposed to provide physical shelter, intellectual shelter, emotional shelter and economic shelter. He is supposed to help you become a better person. Now, that is a huge responsibility on a leader. Leadership then become not just a functional role; it becomes a deeply spiritual role, because it demands one draw out the best in one's followers. Leadership is then an exercise, not in power, but in love, where power is but a medium.
When Sarita joined an animation studio, she was surprised to find a boss like Tulika who spent hours with her trying to find out what motivated her, what excited her, and giving her work that both challenged and excited her. Sarita felt she mattered and gave her best to Tulika.
Sarita felt that Tulika was a better boss than Prithvi, her previous boss. She felt Prithvi ignored her, never really spent time with her, in fact was quite indifferent to her. But was he?
Prithvi's style of management was clearly different from Tulika's. Like Tulika, Prithvi deeply cared for Sarita's well being – but he was not that obvious. He ensured that Sarita only got work that brought out the best for her. He never let the rest of the organization take advantage of his team. He shielded his team from office politics and ensured they worked regular hours and did not stay back late. When Sarita came to him he answered all her queries and taught her a few more skills. He was never angry when she made mistakes. In fact, in company meetings, he held himself responsible for all his team's shortcomings and gave them full credit for all successes.
Prithvi was a more reactive boss. Tulika was more proactive. But both were, without being aware of it, serving as 'shelters' to their respective teams. Who is better, the proactive-boss or the reactive-boss? The former seems more emotional and caring. The latter seems distant, even indifferent, but is always available in times of crisis.
Similar thoughts emerged in South India, in the 11th century, as acharyas such as Ramanuja, were transforming the abstract and highly intellectual Vedanta philosophy into a more concrete and emotional Bhakti or devotional path. They wondered what should be the ideal relationship between deity and devotee. Everyone agreed that God is the shelter of the devotee but how must one behave before God or rather what must one expect from God.
Two schools of thought emerged. One school was the cat-school, which said God is like a cat and so devotees must be like kittens. The kitten just surrenders itself to its mother and the mother holds it by the scruff of its neck and takes it to safety. The other school was the Monkey-school, which said God is like a monkey and so devotees must cling to God as baby monkeys cling to their mothers. One must not let go. In the cat-school, God does all the effort, the devotee simply lets go. In the monkey-school, devotee does all the effort, God is always present, ready to help if help is asked.
In Sarita's case, Tulika is clearly of the cat-school of leadership while Prithvi is from the monkey-school of leadership. For centuries people have argued which school is superior. Leaders have to choose which school suits their personality best. Are they proactive shelter-providers like cats or are they reactive shelter-providers like monkey?
Problems start when the team is made of kittens but the leader is like a monkey or vice versa. One's expectation from the leader will never be met. Clinging to the cat is not advisable and hoping the monkey will carry you to safety will never happen. So the leader-follower relationship, like the deity-devotee relationship, can be complex, changing with context.
Equating the leader with the divine may seem blasphemous to many. But since ancient times, leaders, and especially kings have always been placed on a pedestal, higher than man but lower than God. This was seen in Egypt, where the pharaoh was called god-king. In France, he was called the Sun-king, the temporal representative of God, around whom the world moved. The king was the closest physical manifestation the common man had to God. That is why there were elaborate ceremonies associated with their ascension to the throne. The rituals elevated the man towards the heavens, after which he was expected to become less human and more divine, thinking less about his own pleasures and more about the happiness of others. In other words, rituals were supposed to make him Jahan-panah. His sphere of influence and concern extended beyond his family and friends to include everyone within his jurisdiction and even beyond.
When Shivaji was crowned king, he was given the title of Chattrapati – lord of the parasol, the one who holds the umbrella. For whom was the king supposed to hold the umbrella? For the people, to shelter them from the relentless rain of problems. Some kings run after their children with the umbrella, when the rains fall, for they follow the cat-school of leadership. Others hold the umbrella up and wait for the children to gather around them when the rains come, for they follow the monkey-school of leadership.

Flamboyant Villain

With ten heads, twenty arms, a flying chariot and a city of gold, Ravan is one of the most flamboyant villains in Hindu mythology. He abducted Sita, the wife of Ram, and was struck down for that. Ravan is the demon-king of the Ramayan, the lord of the Rakshasas, whose effigy must be burnt each year in the autumn festival commemorating the victory of Ram.
Yet, there is much about him to be admired – he was a poet who composed the Rudra Stotra in praise of Shiva, the ascetic-god; he was a musician who used one of his heads and one of his arms to design a lute called Rudra Vina, in honor of Shiva. When Hanuman entered Lanka, in search of Sita, he found the demon-lord lay in bed surrounded by a bevy of beauties, women who had willingly abandoned their husbands drawn by Ravan's sexual prowess. Rishi Agastya informed Ram that Ravan was only half-demon: his father Vaishrava, was a Brahmin whose father was Pulatsya, one of the seven mind-born primal sons of Brahma himself. So after killing Ravan, before returning to Ayodhya, Ram went to the Himalayas to perform penance and purify himself of the sin of Brahma-hatya or killing of a Brahmin.
Ram, by comparison, seems boring – a rule-upholder who never does anything spontaneous or dramatic. He always does the right thing, whether he likes it or not, and does not seem like much fun. It is natural therefore to be a fan of Ravan, to be seduced by his power, to be enchanted by his glamour, and to find arguments that justify his actions.
In the corporate world, flamboyant CEOs do get a lot of attention, especially if they also happen to be successful CEOs, with their very own city of gold built on rising stock markets. One is dazzled by the cars they drive, the lives they lead, their swagger, their confidence, their individual aura that makes them giants amongst their peers, powerful men like Trilochan-ji who command authority and demand allegiance. Trilochan-ji's team admires the way he can pick up the phone and get things done. He has the money to buy anybody who stands in his way. And the political clout to get all the clearances. He has, in a short while, managed to grow his business at a rate that his predecessors could only imagine. Trilochan-ji's organization is in awe of him. And everyone fears him.
By contrast, Asutosh-ji, Trilochan-ji's cousin, is a very mild man. His business has grown rapidly too, but no one knows about it, because he does not push his public relations department too much. Why? "Because press coverage has no impact on my business." He meticulously gathers data, plans his strategies with his team, empowers his directors to implement them thoroughly, keeps a hawk's eye on deviations, and ensures the numbers are met. Few would notice him in the office. He dresses like others do, uses the same toilet as his employees, loves spending his Sundays only with family, and is happiest when he can give his employees a good bonus and his shareholders a good dividend. Not the best results in the market, but much better than last year. The point, he says, is not show spikes of brilliance but a steady sustainable growth. His speeches are boring, too accurate and lacks the glamour of Trilochan-ji. And when in crisis, Asutosh-ji will not pick up the phone to call a politician nor will he look for people he can buy out; he will meticulously plan his action to solve the problem without looking for short cuts.
"Because," he says, "Short cuts always have long term repercussions and I will not risk it while am the custodian of my company's future."
It is simplistic to call Trilochan-ji a Ravan and Asutosh-ji a Ram simply because the former is flamboyant and commanding while the later is boring and task-oriented. What makes Ravan villain of the Ramayan is not his heads, or arms, or flying chariot or city of gold. It is his strategic intent.
What does Ravan stand for? He never built the city of gold – he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. He went around the world killing sages and raping women. Why? To establish his dominion – to generate fear. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister's mutilation was but an excuse; it was the desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons die and his brothers die before entering the battlefield himself. His desire for victory over Sita, and Ram, mattered more than the lives of his people.
Ravan lives only for himself. His pleasure matters the most. Ironically, he is the devotee of Shiva – the ascetic, the god who demonstrates his disdain for all things material and sensuous by smearing his body with ash and living in crematoriums and atop a desolate icy hill. Ravan may sing praises of Shiva and bow to him, but despite having ten heads is unable to internalize the wisdom of Shiva. Maybe he does understand Shiva's ascetic philosophy intellectually, enabling him to compose potent hymns, but he is unable to follow Shiva's way in spirit. For all his prayers and poems, he remains attached to power and pleasure and wealth – all things material, and all things transitory. He is no nihilist; he is simply a weak man, a talker, not a doer.
In Hindu mythology, a leader is not one who is rules a city of gold or travels on a flying chariot. It is one who lives to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Leadership is not about self-aggrandizement. It is about creating a society where people can live a full life. Ram is hero and god, not because he is a boring obedient son, but because by being an obedient son, he demonstrates his commitment to 'others'. He lives not for his pleasure, as Ravan does, but for the pleasure of those around him. And the journey is not easy – for one can never please everybody. Trilochan-ji's empire is a by-product of his desire to dominate and be feared while Asutosh-ji's establishes businesses to satisfy his internal and external customers to the best of his ability. It is the difference in strategic intent that makes one Ravan and the other Ram.

Eyes of a Leader

God may be an abstract concept but the common man needs a tangible form for this abstract concept. That is why, in ancient times, people represented their deities as rocks. That is why, when we travel across India, we find in shrines of local gods and goddesses, no elaborate imagery, just a rock smeared with turmeric or saffron or vermillion. But such imagery is too impersonal. To make it personal, in many shrines, one thing is done – the rock is given eyes, large petal shaped eyes, usually of metal. They stare at the devotees constantly from the moment the door of the shrine is opened to the time the shrine is shut. In temples, the ritual that transforms an ordinary statue into a deity is called the 'eye-bestowing ceremony'. Once the eye is given, or opened, the deity is established and alive. The murti becomes swarup, the living image of the divine. What is so special about the eye? What does the eye do? And why is the eye equated with life?
With the appearance of the eye, the stone becomes sentient - it can sense, it can see, it can respond to the world in front of it. The eye-bestowing ritual tells us something very powerful about humans, about the devotees who establish the deity. We want to be seen. We want our gods to observe us, know us, and understand us. Without eyes, how can they know our pain, our aspirations and our issues? We constantly ask God to open his eyes, see our suffering and even shed tears for us, empathizing with our situation. A leader is supposed to be like that village god or goddess: he or she must have eyes that observes the team and understands them for who they really are.
The Mahabharata tells the story of a kingdom where the royal couple has no eyes. The king, Dhritarashtra, is blind and his queen, Gandhari, is blindfolded. The result: children who feel unobserved. The father cannot see; the mother chooses not the see. The children grow up with a warped value system. Since no one is seeing them, they feel they can get away with anything. As a result the law of the jungle reigns supreme in the kingdom of Dhritarashtra. A woman is publicly disrobed and lands are grabbed by force.
A leader must see his people. He must recognize them for who they are, rather than what he wants them to be. More often than not, leaders don't have eyes – or rather they see only themselves. Their eyes are only for their vision of the world. They do not realize there are others around them with other visions of life. This lack of eyes strips them of all empathy. Everything is measured and valued against their vision. Those who align with their vision are good; those fail to do so are bad. Intellectual leaders with an intellectual outlook of things therefore look down upon people who are not intellectual. Emotional leaders keep advising non-emotional team members to transform for their betterment. Task oriented leaders do not value people oriented team members and vice versa. In other words, they see nothing but themselves and constantly seek themselves in others. They notice no one else.
Aziz knows what it feels to have a blind boss. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Aziz could not study beyond the 12th standard. A contact brought him to a garment manufacturing unit where the proprietor, Jaichand-saab, decided to make him the telephone operator because he spoke English. Aziz had no choice but to accept the position. But in a matter of few weeks, he knew everything about the garment business simply by merely answering the queries on the telephone: he knew where sourcing was done, where the finances came from, what were the customers looking for, what were the issues in the garment manufacturing business, who were the competitors. Every time he tried to talk to Jaichand-saab of a way to improve the business, Jaichand-saab dismissed him because for Jaichand-saab, Aziz remained a '12th standard pass, English speaking, telephone operator'. Blinded by Aziz's resume, he refused to see Aziz – the living, breathing, thinking, feeling Aziz. He did not see, or even try to see, the person before him.
One day, Jaichand-saab's son, Krishnachand, came to the office to help his father. Krishnachand noticed that Aziz was different from the other employees. He could answer all queries. So he knew everything, but he could he imagine? The owner's son took Aziz out for lunch. It was an unforgettable lunch: he discovered how brilliant Aziz was – he had imagination and creativity, an ability to diagnose problems and find innovative solutions. He was all excited to tell his father about the discovery. But when he returned to the office, he had to face an angry father. Jaichand-saab shouted at his son, 'Don't get too familiar with the workers!' Out of respect, knowing his father, Krishnachand kept quiet. It struck him how blind his father was. He did not blame his father: after all when was the last time his father actually saw him? One day, thought Krishnachand, he would take over the business. That day, he would make Aziz his right hand man, whatever his qualifications.
The ability to recognize and nurture talent is often missing in people who are assumed to be leaders by their respective organizations. Some leaders, recognize talent but do not know what do with it. Others, envious of talent, reject or ignore them deliberately. The character Karna in the Mahabharata is a case in point. Like Aziz who is dismissed as '12th standard pass, English speaking, telephone operator', Karna was always seen as a charioteer's son and never as a great archer by the Pandavas. Only Duryodhana who saw Karna's talent but used him unfortunately for his villainous goals. This is what happens to talented people who are rejected by the mainstream - they end up in the wrong hands. And in rage and frustration, they end up doing the undesirable.
In the Upanishads, it is said that it is an observer who creates an observation. It is our attention that creates the world around us. Thus it is the eyes of the village deity that creates the village around him. Likewise, it is the eyes of the leader that creates an organization around him. Dhritarashtra's lack of sight and his wife's refusal to see created the Kauravas. It is not so much about sight as it is about attention – how much attention do we put in people around us. We want the gods to see us and pay attention to us. Do we see people around us and pay attention to them? Do we see what they see? Do we try and align our vision to theirs or do we simply impose our vision onto them? It is time for leaders to open their eyes to these questions.

Everybody loves Hanuman

Hanuman plays an important role in the Ramayan, yet in the epic itself, he does not hold any great position. He is just one of the many monkeys Ram encounters in the forest. He is not Sugriva, leader of the monkey troop. He is not Angad, who is told to lead the band of monkeys searching for Sita. He is not Jambavan, the bear or Nila, the monkey, who are given the responsibility of building the bridge. He is projected as an obedient follower who, through his intelligence, strength and courage, wins the admiration of Ram and emerges as one of the most revered characters of the tale and a god in his own right. But at no point does Hanuman make any attempt to steal anyone's glory; while in his own temple he stands powerful with mountain in hand and feet on a demon, in Ram's temple he is most content sitting at the feet of his master, hands in supplication.
Who would not want a Hanuman in his team? One who is very good at his work, one who will do whatever he is told to do, one who will never seek either reward or recognition and one who finds validation in obeying his master.
If we go to Raju's auto repair shop, we will find that all the work is done by his Hanuman: Amol, a young boy, who has been working with Raju for three years. Amol is a natural, able to fix the most complex of problems. Raju knows he can totally rely on Amol. No job is too big or too small for Amol. He is as happy changing a tyre, as he is fixing the brakes. He does not boss over the juniors and does not feel slighted if the seniors ask him to fetch tea. If there is a problem that eludes a standard solution, everyone knows that leave it to Amol – he will, like Hanuman crossing the sea, find a way.
Yes, it matters greatly to have a Hanuman in our team. One who will not question you. One who will do exactly what you tell him to do. One who delivers no matter what the odds. One who is loyal and devoted. But is that really good?
The following is a folk story of Hanuman: Hanuman once narrated the entire Ramayan to his mother, Anjani. After the narration, an impressed Anjani sought a clarification. "You are so strong that with a flick of a tale you could have destroyed the whole of Lanka, killed Ravan and rescued Sita. Why did you not do so? So much effort and time would have been saved – you would not have had to build a bridge to Lanka, you could have avoided the war. Why did you not do that?"
Hanuman replied, "Because Ram never asked me to."
And suddenly we wonder if this was opportunity lost. Hanuman was asked to discover Sita's location; he did that. Hanuman was asked to fetch the mountain of herbs that would save Lakshmana's life; he did that. No one asked him to destroy the Rakshasas and rescue Sita. So he did not do that. One common explanation given for why Ram never asked Hanuman to kill Ravan and rescue Sita is that it was Ram's duty to rescue Sita, not Hanuman's. Ramayan is about Ram, not Hanuman. But it is not so in the corporate world; the story is about the entire organization, not just about the leaders.
In the entire epic, Hanuman proves his capability time and time again. On his way to find Sita, he displays his extraordinary power (crosses the ocean), brain (outwits the snake-demon Surasa), brawn (kills Simhika) and integrity (not resting on Mandara mountain). And yet, while everyone admires this, no one seems eager to take full advantage of it. Was this refusal to take advantage of Hanuman's abilities a divine decision or merely a oversight? Is the same being done in the corporate world?
Yes, Raju loves Amol's work. Yes, Raju admires Amol's work. But is Raju harnessing the full potential of Amol? Is his contentment with Amol's obedience preventing him from seeing all that Amol can do, proactively, creatively, independently, if he is given the freedom to do so? Ask Raju and he will say, "But I don't stop Amol from doing anything." He does not stop Amol from doing anything, but he does not encourage Amol from doing something either.
The greatest danger of having Hanumans in our team is that his actions are limited by our directions. Maybe we fear that if Hanuman thinks for himself, there will be chaos - he is a monkey after all. Maybe we fear that he will overshadow us. Hence, ultimately, only we decide the goals, we define the vision, we declare the mission and state the objective. Our Hanuman will help you realize all this. But, maybe, the goals could have been greater and grander, if we had let Hanuman do more than merely obey.
Amol once had given Raju a suggestion. "Sir, if we park our cars perpendicular to the wall rather than parallel we can keep more cars in the garage?" Raju ignored this suggestion. "Do you work," he snapped at Amol without giving his words much thought. But the message he implicitly gave Amol was that - 'I only want your obedience, not your intelligence.' Amol immediately complied. And that marked the end of Amol's creativity that would have perhaps made Raju's auto repair shop a much greater success.
This is the danger of over compliance and extreme obedience. We prevent followers from thinking and contributing. It makes business sense therefore to take a closer look at the Hanumans in our team; we just might find in their hearts a Ram waiting to be coaxed out.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Just what is Node.js? : A ready-to-code server
Use Node.js as a full cloud environment development stack : Embrace the concurrency model using asynchronous I/O via callbacks, and build a chat server
HTML5, CSS3, and related technologies : A rapid-fire guide to new and emerging web standards
Extend SugarCRM REST web services to use XML : Combine XML with SugarCRM to improve how your web services handle large data sets
Java development 2.0: JavaScript for Java developers : A Java developer's primer on JavaScript variables, types, functions, and more
Improve web application security with jQuery Mobile : Learn how to secure your mobile applications
jQuery Mobile and JSON : Learn how to create mobile web applications powered by jQuery Mobile
Building CouchApps : Create web applications stored in an Apache CouchDB database