Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik and Modern Management infused with Mythological concepts seem to go hand in hand. He has always been at the forefront of exploring and breaking paradigms when it comes to looking at Mythology in the country or for that matter Management as well. With his new book, “Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management” he shatters all myths and at the same time urges you to look at management from a different perspective. The Indian perspective which cannot work sometimes on Western ideologies given the vast difference between Eastern and Western philosophies. Keeping this in mind, I decided to interview him and this is the result of that interaction.
1. Myth and Management. How did you think of connecting the two?
Myth is subjective truth. Management is about people. Every person has a subjective truth. So connecting the two made sense. Of course, if you think of myth as something to do with fantasy and religion then this connection seems incredible. Myths of the world are maps of the human mind; they reveal how different cultures approach life. Reading them helps us understand different societies.
People are slowly realizing that management has long ignored the culture lever making it rather
2. Modern concepts of Management do not seem to recognize Mythology and its importance. How do you tackle this in your role as a Chief Belief Officer?
Modern management is based on science and mathematics. So it is assumed to be rational and universal. Only an outsider knows that it is steeped in Western thought, which is strongly shaped by Greek mythology and biblical mythology, something the West will vehemently deny. You see, the fish never sees the water. The bird does. As someone who has been studying mythology for years, this was so obvious. When I mapped it to business, I realized all the problems of business could be traced to this mythical root. When I presented it to business leaders, the ones who always sensed the difference intuitively loved my work. Then at the 2009 TED conference, the popularity of my talk indicated that everyone in the world sensed the relationship of culture and management principles, hence the exclusion of non-western cultural ideas.
3. What was the motivation behind “Business Sutra”?
Modern Management follows the biblical paradigm of defining the Promised Land (target) and moving towards it by following Commandments (tasks) or the Greek paradigm of challenging authority and forging a new path as hero (innovation and leadership). I wondered what Indian mythology would reveal. And I saw a whole different approach to targets, tasks, innovation and leadership.
4. This book is very different from your other works. How much did the book take from you and in what sense?
This was tough as it meant making a journey from Western management to Western mythology to Indian mythology to Indian management. I had to explain basics of management to those familiar with mythology and basics of mythology to those familiar with management. Mythology was especially tough as most books on the subject are written by European and American writers whose understanding of the subject is rather poor because of the Western linear bias.
5. You have almost created a niche audience for mythological books. How do you think they are accepting a book about looking at Indian Management differently?
I have a good readership in Management because of my columns in Corporate Dossier (Economic Times) and my CNBC-TV18 show, Business Sutra.
6. “Business Sutra” breaks barriers all the time. Almost breaking paradigms. Was this intentional to the writing of the book? How did the book structure come along?
Well I did not seek to break barriers. I just wanted to draw attention to the incompleteness of current scholarship in matters related to management. Management today assumes that the military model followed by the Roman army and Jesuit missionaries is the ‘right way’ to do things. That sounds scary. At the heart of it seems to be about conquest (read growth) and domination (read leadership).
Something does not feel right about its spirit. Is an alternative discourse allowed? We want to propagate violent worldviews and there is a trend to dismiss alternate worldview as unrealistic and exotic. That is not healthy and not very wise either.
Structuring the book was very tough as I had to explain the meaning of belief, connect belief with mythology and then business, draw attention to Western mythology whose existence is for all intent and purposes denied, and then show how it was different from Indian mythology. One then had to enter the new world of Kama, Yama, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and Daksha, and of Laskhmi, Saraswati and Durga. While most readers are sort of familiar with many of the words/ideas of the book, they do not either all the words, or understand it in depth. So there were challenges at every level.
6. Devdutt, the writer…
Writes every day for 2-3 hours…weeps at how little or how badly he has written….and struggles to make his ideas understood.
7. Devdutt, the Chief Belief Officer. How does he make sense of madness at the workplace? Where do the sutras then begin to show the way and how?
The workplace is not mad. We sign a contract which is essentially voluntarily domestication. For a payslip we do what we are told to do. But as humans we yearn for visibility; the organization is unfortunately not interested in our intelligence, only our obedience and our performance. So we feel invisible, restrained, frustrated and angry. We yearn for freedom and when that is not forthcoming, we
bitch about the organization, or indulge in politics, in order to feel special and powerful.
The sutras of the book aim to widen the gaze of the reader, understand what is actually happening at the workplace, the invisible currencies that are being exchanged. It is not just about target, tasks, rules and wealth, it is also about power and identity, something we rarely connect with the business world.
A workspace can become a battleground, if we don’t see what is happening beneath the superficial behaviour. Or, it has the potential to become a playground, where each one of us is growing as we do our tasks and reach our targets.
8. When does management begin and when does it take over what we have grown up with and believed all along?
Management today expects humans to give up all values they have at home and adopt new values in the office. This sounds bizarre but that seems to be trend. The assumption is that we have to articulate values; else we are value-less. We live in an age of political correctness where we have to say and do the right thing, whether we believe in it or not. This schizophrenic approach to work and life is supposed to make us more efficient, but it does not. It fractures us and the fault lines have started to show across organizations, industries and societies.
9. What is next on the cards?
I never interview and tell….:-) but we do have 330 million gods to write about and many more business practices to explore.
And thus ended, the fascinating talk with Dr. Pattanaik. It was truly a fantastic experience for me.