The Indian Approach to Business by Devdutt Pattanaik (Full Transcript)

Full text of Devdutt Pattanaik on The Indian Approach to Business at TEDxGateway 2013 conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Indian approach to business by Devdutt Pattanaik at TEDxGateway 2013


Whenever you read management books, I find that they’re mostly written by Europeans and Americans. And there’s an uncanny resemblance between modern management and stories from the Bible.

So let’s look at the law — the Book of Exodus. It speaks of the people enslaved who were denied dignity, who were denied freedom, who were denied resources, until the prophet comes along. And then he shows the people the vision of the Promised Land, something that no one has seen. And people follow him.

They follow him across the sea, across the wilderness to find this Promised Land. And in order to get to the Promised Land efficiently, you need commandments, rules, dos and don’ts. And what is the problem that the prophet faces on the way to the Promised Land? Something which is very common in management – it’s called non-compliance. And that’s how management books are designed.

Think carefully. You begin with the problem statement. Then you have the vision, the mission, the objective, the goal, target. Then you have your tasks, your standard operating procedures, your regulations, your guidelines, your principles. And finally, you have the auditors, internal auditor, the external auditor, the government, the regulator, then you go towards the great promised land called profit.

So I asked myself the question: If modern management is based on stories from the Bible, couldn’t Indian management be inspired by stories from the Puranas? For those who don’t know Puranas, they’re ancient Chronicles where the stories from Indian mythology are contained. And I found something very surprising.

I found not one promised land, but three promised lands. The first promised land is called Swarg. Swarg means Paradise. Why is it called Paradise? Because there is a cow called Kamadhenu – the wish fulfilling cow. Ask for anything and the cow will give it to you. There is a tree called Kalpataru. Stand under the tree, ask for anything and you will get it. There is a jewel called Chintamani. Hold it in your hand, ask for anything and you’ll get it without effort. In management language, this is called infinite return with no investment. So this must be paradise. Basically you’ll get your salary without going to work.

It’s a place where hunger is indulged, your wants, your desires, your needs, anything that you want is satisfied. And the king of this land is called Indra and he’s a prosperous king. He sits on elephants and he’s happy and he’s powerful. But Swarg is always under siege. There are always wars happening.

You see if a raja or a king performs a Yagya, goes to war, Indra gets insecure and immediately seals the horse. If an asura is born, he runs to his father and says, “please kill him”. And if a rishi starts tapasya, he goes to the apsara department, and say, “Rambha, unleash yourself”.

You see, he has everything – the wish fulfilling cow, the wish-fulfilling tree, the wish-fulfilling jewel but he is insecure. So he has everything but he is insecure. Sounds familiar?

Which brings me to the second promised land, which is Kailash. It is Mount Kailash. It is a mountain of stone covered with snow. Here hunger is outgrown, it’s destroyed. Now why do I say this? For that you have to look at this image very very carefully. It’s this popular street image of Kailash. Look at it very carefully. You can see a bull – Shiva’s bull Nandi, and opposite that is Parvati’s lion. And the bull is not quivering in fear. There is no predator, there is no prey.

On one side, you see on top of Kartikya, there is a peacock. What does a peacock eat? A snake. Where is the snake? Around Shiva’s neck. What does the snake eat? It eats a rat. Where is the rat? Just above — next to Ganesha. So there you have a predator, a prey. Predator, prey but nobody is afraid. Why? Because hunger has been destroyed. There is no hunger. There is no need, there is no desire, there is no want. And therefore Shiva is always at peace.

But, of course, the goddess won’t let him be at peace. You see, woman power.

What does the goddess say? This is all fine. You are not hungry; what about other people’s hunger? What about my children’s hunger? You have outgrown hunger. But what about other people’s hunger? And that brings us to the third promised land, which is Vaikun — the third promised land. Here Vishnu is reclining on a serpent and is surrounded by affluence and abundance. But their prosperity is accompanied with peace. There’s also peace here.

Now, what has happened? What is different over here? It’s a happy playground. It is not a Ranabhoomi, it’s not a battleground. It’s a Rangbhoomi. It’s a playground. Over here other people’s hunger is taken care of. Vishnu participates with the world. He engages with the world. He is — what he does is he descends and does various rules, sometimes as king, sometimes as prince, sometimes as a lover, sometimes as a priest. This is what the Americans call Avatar.

So we have three promise lands which are based on three different beliefs. What is belief? Belief is subjective truth — your truth and my truth. And to understand the belief which underlies this promised land, we have to understand the difference between animal hunger and human hunger.

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