In this landmark book, best-selling author,
leadership coach and mythologist Devdutt
Pattanaik shows how, despite its veneer of
objectivity, modern management is rooted
in Western beliefs and obsessed with
accomplishing rigid objectives and increasing
shareholder value. By contrast, the Indian
way of doing business-as apparent in Indian
mythology, but no longer seen in practice-
accommodates subjectivity and diversity, and
offers an inclusive, more empathetic way of
achieving success. Great value is placed on
darshan, that is, on how we see the world and
our relationship with Lakshmi, the goddess
Business Sutra uses stories, symbols and rituals drawn from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology to understand a wide variety of business situations that range from running a successful tea stall to nurturing talent in a large multinational corporation. At the heart of the book is a compelling premise: if we believe that wealth needs to be chased, the workplace becomes a ranga-bhoomi-a playground where everyone is happy.
Brilliantly argued, original and thoroughly accessible, Business Sutra presents a radical and nuanced approach to management, business and leadership in a diverse, fast- changing, and increasingly polarized world.
Devdutt Pattanaik has written over twenty- five books and 400 articles on Indian mythology for everyone from adults to children. Since 2007, he has been explaining the relationship between mythology and management through his column in the Economic Times; the talk he gave at the TED India conference in 2009; and the show Business Sutra which ran successfully on CNBC-TV18 in 2010, besides numerous other lectures at Indian universities and management institutes.
T rained to be a doctor. he spent fifteen years in the healthcare [Apollo Health Street) and pharmaceutical [Sanofi Aventis) industries and worked briefly with Ernst & Young as a business adviser before he turned his passion into a vocation and joined the think tank of the Future Group as its Chief Belief Officer.
In the monsoon of 2008, I was made Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group. The idea behind this unusual designation was deliberate and simple: to startle people and make them see the critical role of belief in business.
There was the risk of being mistaken for a pastor, a guru or a priest, for many equate belief with religion and spirituality. Some were even convinced that my role was that of an evangelist or a propagandist: to help the organization manipulate the beliefs of employees and customers until they were more enterprise-friendly.
My job, however, was to neither judge nor change beliefs; it was simply to articulate them. The intention was to expand the mind of those involved in business so that they could see the misalignment between business practices (that they blindly followed) and the beliefs of people (that they remained oblivious to). When the mind is expanded, we are able to see more frameworks, understand the world better, take better decisions, ones that ensure a viable, sustainable and happy business.
Belief is subjective truth, my truth and your truth, the lens through which we make sense of the world.
Animals do not have beliefs. Animals want to know if the other is food, a mate or a threat. Humans, however, are consumed with notions of what is true (sat yam, in Sanskrit), good (shivam) and beautiful (sundaram). Belief establishes these. Belief enables us to qualify people as heroes, villains and victims. Everyone believes their subjective truth to be the objective truth, and clings to it firmly, as it determines their self-image and their self-worth.
Belief plays a key role in business: it determines choices and propels the decisions of buyers and sellers, regulators and shareholders, investors and entrepreneurs, employers and employees, vendors and customers. It determines how we do business, and what ultimately gets done.
As is belief, so is behavior, so is business. This is Business Sutra, We can call it the 3B framework. Sutra is a string that connects the dots; here the string connects belief with business.
Management science, however, steers clear of belief. A child of the scientific revolution and the industrial era, it shuns the intangible, subjective and non-measurable. It pays greater value to objectivity. Hence, greater attention is paid to institutional values, arrived at by a team through consensus following a logical process. These belong to no one but every constituent member of the institution is contractually obliged to adhere to them, even at the cost of personal beliefs, at least during office hours. Organizational values are mapped to particular behaviors: the assumption is that certain behaviors reflect certain beliefs. This assumption allows the pretender to thrive in corporations, for as long as you are polite or mindful of protocol and respectful of rules, no one really cares what you feel or think. Belief may express itself in behavior, but the reverse may not be true. Respect (intangible belief) may manifest in politeness (tangible behavior), but politeness may not always reflect respect.
When corporations speak of growth, they speak of institutional growth not individual growth. And growth is always seen in terms of accumulation of wealth or equity or skills, never in terms of emotion or intellect. By doing so the corporation invalidates the personal, celebrates the professional, and creates the divide between work and life. This is what dehumanizes corporations, and is the root cause of many of the problems facing organizations today: from lack of initiative and lack of ownership to the lack of ethics. Failure to recognize this is the greatest shortcoming of modern management studies.
Despite the veneer of objectivity and logic, management science is itself firmly rooted in a cultural truth, the subjective truth of the West, indicated by its obsession with goals. Targets come first, then tasks, then people. The value placed on vision, mission, objectives, milestones, targets and tasks in modern business practice resonates with the Greek quest for Elysium, the heaven of heroes, and the biblical quest for the Promised Land, paradise of the faithful.
This is not surprising as the purveyors of management science are mostly engineers, bankers and soldiers from twentieth century North America, which is deeply entrenched in the Protestant work ethic, a unique blend of Greek and biblical beliefs. And like all believers, they are convinced that goal-orientation is logical, hence the universal solution to all business problems. But it is not so. In fact, there are cultures, like India, where this goal-orientation is seen as a problem, not a solution.
This is obvious to any student of mythology. But who studies mythology in a world where most managers are engineers?
Belief is the seed from which sprouts every human enterprise, every culture, every act of human kindness and cruelty. Every belief is irrational and hence a myth. Therefore, the study of stories, symbols and rituals to decode the beliefs they communicate is called mythology. There are secular mythologies in the world, such as the stories, symbols and rituals of a nation state, or a corporation, as well as religious mythologies.
For the believer, his belief is objective truth; he therefore rejects the notion of myth, and shuns the subject of mythology, a key reason why belief remains an invisible unacknowledged lever in modern business practices. We convince ourselves that our beliefs are rational hence right, while those of others are irrational, hence wrong.
To have beliefs, we need imagination. Imagination springs from the neo-frontal cortex, or the enlarged part of the brain that is located behind the forehead. This exists only in human beings. Some animals, like the dolphin and the chimpanzee, may imagine, but nothing on the scale that humans can.
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