Indians’ don’t talk. They argue. And the more they argue, the more they pepper their arguments with anecdotes, folklore, proverbs and myths to force their views on each other. Some are genuine healers. Others have made a roaring business out of rituals, preaching mythologies, quoting scriptures and shlokas. Devdutt Pattanaik, chief belief officer at Future Group, one of India’s largest retailers, and a physician-turned-leadership consultant, mythologist and author has taken spiritual matters to a higher plane by spinning business sutras and leadership mantras out of mythologies.
Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management uses stories, symbols, and rituals drawn from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology to understand a wide variety of business situations ranging from running a successful tea stall to nurturing talent in a large multinational. At the heart of the book is a compelling premise: if we believe that wealth needs to be chased, the workplace becomes a rana-bhoomi - a battleground of investors, regulators, employers, employees, vendors, competitors and customers; if we believe that wealth needs to be attracted, the workplace is a rang-bhoomi - a playground where everyone attains happiness.
But who will study mythology when most managers are engineers popping out of B-schools? Despite the veneer of objectivity, management science is rooted in Western belief. Just like the Greek quest for Elysium, the heaven of heroes, and the Bible’s notion of the Promised Land, management science is goal-oriented, obsessed with vision, mission, objectives, milestones, and targets. Business Sutra is very different from Management Science taught in business schools around the world, which does not factor in belief, because belief is subjective truth, hence cannot be measured.
The book is divided into three sections. The Introduction connects belief to business, while second part decodes Western, Chinese and Indian beliefs. It is last part on ‘Business Sutras’ that occupies more than two-thirds of the book, with 145 Sutra statements interspersed in the 12 sections and each of these Sutras is explained and amplified by an appropriate episode from Hindu mythology. This is immediately followed by a parallel and equivalent principle in management.
For instance, Pattanaik illustrates how Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Murugan and Ganesha had two wives representing two opposing ideas balanced by the ‘husband’. Narrating this, the author draws a parallel with a tug-of-war between marketing, sales and finance teams and and shows how the human resource team compensates by bringing in the human touch. “Balance is also crucial to business. A leader has to be the husband, sister and mother who balances the opposing wife, brother and son,” he writes.
Another leaf from Hindu mythology is on Lord Krishna, who is described as an innovator, one who creates rules by breaking and bending old rules that do not serve any purpose. As a parallel, the author cites the example of Mohit who breaks all rules and risk of contacting clients instead of going through intermediaries. Summoned by the CEO, Mohit makes a slide presentation on how new initiative has made a difference in a short time. The CEO agrees and Mohit prevails over his critics.
Pattanaik also indulges in self criticism at the end of this book, advising on ways to reject his theories. In defence of this unexplained apology, the author writes: ‘This is the Hindu right-wing propaganda...spiritual mumbo and jumbo... which University endorses this?”
Right from the word go, almost every alternate page in the book is illustrated with hand-made diagrams to explain concepts and sutras clear to readers.
“The book is full of frameworks, woven into each other. While frameworks of management science seek to be objective, the frameworks of Business Sutra are primarily subjective. The book does not seek to sell these frameworks, or justify them as the truth. They are meant to be reflective, and not prescriptive,” writes the author, who has tried to marry management and mythology that were parallel rivers so far unexplored.
Pattanaik does this successfully given his exposure to health and consultancy sectors before he found his new vocation.
“No framework has an independent existence outside you. Until you internalise them, they will not work. Currently they are shaped by my prejudices… to work they have to become yours…,” Pattanaik writes, warning readers to apply the Business Sutra only if it makes sense to them, not because someone else ‘won’ when he or she applied it.