Devdutt Pattanaik on The Indian Approach to Business at TEDxGateway 2013 – Transcript
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Devdutt Pattanaik – Author, Mythologist, Speaker
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.
Human hunger is different from animal hunger in three ways. First, quantitative. I’m not just hungry for today’s food; I am also hungry for tomorrow’s food, and food the day after tomorrow, and the food after 10 years and the food after when I’m retiring and food for my children and ten generations from now. So I’m going to save and save and save and hoard and hoard and hoard and insure myself because I want to be assured of food every day for the rest of my life and even in the future after that.
Human hunger is also qualitatively different. We’re not just hungry for food; we’re also hungry for status, for power, for property. Animals have territory. But they can’t bequeath territories to the next generations. We need property that we hold onto and pass on to our children and our children’s children and their children.
And the third point, and the most critical point is because humans have imagination, we also have empathy. I can be sensitive to your hunger. I can feel your hunger both quantitative and qualitative, and that’s what makes humans unique. And that’s what underlies these three promise lands.
You see, Indra believes that my hunger matters first. Shiva believes I can outgrow my hunger. Vishnu says, your hunger matters first. The question is, which hunger matters first? Your hunger or my hunger? In the business world, which hunger matters first? Is it the shareholders? Is it the employees? Is it the customers? Is it the vendors? Is it the politicians, regulators, society, environment? Whose hunger matters first?
And ask yourself – in a relationship, whose hunger matters first? Parent’s or child’s? Husband or wife? Relative or stranger? Yours or mine? And when — you had a happy relationship — ask the question, the rhetorical question — ask ourselves, look your answer here.
You see, most of us are born Indra. And we say your hunger only matters if you satisfy my hunger. Or, if after I have satisfied my hunger, only then your hunger matters. And this is how most people are, that’s how we are designed.
But what is celebrated in the Hindu mythology is the idea of satisfying your hunger so that I can outgrow my hunger. And therefore you have temples, not to Indra — you have temples for Vishnu and Shiva. In fact, they are seen as two-sides of the same coin: Hari and Hara. By satisfying your hunger, I’m outgrowing my hunger. Now this is not a vocabulary you see in business schools and business books. Of course, the cynic will say, outgrowing hunger, that is theoretical; it cannot happen. That’s a first cynic alert. It’s theoretical, it’s meant for people who wear orange robes, not for business suits.
Second cynic alert — if I’m going to focus on your hunger, then it’s a recipe for exploitation. Because the moment I say focus on other people’s hunger, what about me? I’ll be exploited. So it doesn’t work. No, it doesn’t work.
So we come to the third cynic alert which is — there is only one reality and that is my hunger. My hunger matters first. That’s a reality. That’s the only reality and we’re taught reputedly this is the only reality. Yes, it is reality in the animal kingdom, not necessarily in the human kingdom. We do have the capability of outgrowing our hunger and focusing on other people’s hunger, which brings me to my 3B model. You see, in management nobody takes you seriously unless you have a model.
So I have a model, I call the Business Sutra, which is, basically says, as is your belief, so is your behavior, so is your business. Jaisa vishwas, waisa, bhayavawar, waisa vyapar. If you believe that my hunger matters first, you will create a battleground, then there will be prosperity but no peace. If you believe your hunger matters first, then there is a possibility of creating a playground – the ranghabhoomi where there is prosperity with peace. And statistically you can say which way the businesses are going right now. There is a possibility – a remote possibility but a possibility, nevertheless, of creating prosperity with peace where you focus on other people’s hunger.
So now ask yourself: what is your belief, for when you choose your belief, you create your promised land. It can be swarg where hunger is indulged. It can be kailash where there is no hunger. It can be vaikun, where everyone’s hunger is satisfied and my hunger is outgrown.