THE MYTH­I­CAL COM­PANY

This book ar­gues that the mod­ern CEO can learn a lot from In­dian mythol­ogy

India Today - - SPORT - By Dhi­raj Nay­yar

In 2012, only eight In­dia com­pa­nies fea­tured in For­tune mag­a­zine’s global list of the world’s largest com­pa­nies. Four of those were pub­lic sec­tor be­he­moths in oil which op­er­ate in gov­ern­mentcre­ated mo­nop­o­lis­tic con­di­tions. Only Re­liance, Tata Mo­tors and Tata Steel make the list on merit. Clearly, In­dia Inc, which has taken con­sid­er­able strides in the last two decades, has some way to go be­fore catch­ing up with global peers. Of course, the key ques­tion is what is the best strat­egy to adopt to catch up? Should In­dian busi­ness ‘ copy’ suc­cess­ful mod­els from else­where or is there a uniquely In­dian ap­proach to man­age­ment?

In his new book, lead­er­ship guru Dev­dutt Pattanaik builds a case for a very In­dian ap­proach to man­age­ment, based on lo­cal cul­ture and an­cient mythol­ogy. At the core of his new man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy is the con­cept of be­lief, which he says is ig­nored by Western man­age­ment science be­cause it is sub­jec­tive, in­tan­gi­ble and not mea­sur­able. In Western man­age­ment science, the em­pha­sis is on be­hav­iour and busi­ness. The for­mer de­fines the mea­sur­able task for a man­ager while the lat­ter de­fines a mea­sur­able tar­get. There is no in­cor­po­ra­tion of in­tent ( or be­lief). It is as­sumed that cer­tain be­hav­iours au­to­mat­i­cally re­flect cer­tain be­liefs. But in re­al­ity, there could be a dis­con­nect. “Re­spect ( in­tan­gi­ble be­lief) may man­i­fest in po­lite­ness ( tan­gi­ble be­hav­iour), but po­lite­ness may not al­ways re­flect re­spect,” ex­plains Pattanaik.

That is not all. Pattanaik ar­gues that man­age­ment science is ac­tu­ally not as ob­jec­tive as it is made out to be but is in fact based on sub­jec­tive truths as seen by the West. Ac­cord­ing to the author, the fact that tasks and tar­gets are put be­fore peo­ple is a de­riv­a­tive of the Protes­tant work ethic. The les­son from In­dian mythol­ogy, whether sec­u­lar or re­li­gious, is that peo­ple can ac­tu­ally come first. There is value in bosses prais­ing their subor­di­nates reg­u­larly for their work as long as the praise is for real. It builds a sense of se­cu­rity and mo­ti­vates.

The book is a tour de force of In­dian mythol­ogy and the rel­e­vance of var­i­ous sto­ries, rit­u­als and char­ac­ters to con­tem­po­rary man­agers. The author is crit­i­cal of mod­ern Western thought which dis­misses mythol­ogy as ir­ra­tional and un­sci­en­tific. You may agree or dis­agree but the re­al­ity is that man­age­ment is not as much a science as an ex­er­cise in un­der­stand­ing hu­man be­hav­iour. And since hu­man be­ings do not al­ways act in a ra­tio­nal man­ner— the nascent field of be­havioural economics has al­ready proved that— it is worth look­ing at sup­pos­edly non­sci­en­tific but philo­soph­i­cally sound wis­dom.

Of course, the taste of a pud­ding is in its eat­ing. The author is chief be­lief of­fi­cer at Kishore Biyani’s Fu­ture Group which is not a poster boy of suc­cess and is in fact search­ing out for­eign ( Western) in­vest­ment for sur­vival. Need­less to say, Pattanaik in­sists this book is a re­flec­tive, not pre­scrip­tive ex­er­cise. But man­agers have lit­tle time for long- term re­flec­tion in a highly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. Also, it is wrong to por­tray man­age­ment science as a Western mono­lith. The Ger­man model, based on close em­ployer- em­ployee re­la­tion­ships and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing of wages and ben­e­fits, dif­fers from the bru­tally com­pet­i­tive Protes­tant work ethic- based An­gloSaxon one and the Ja­panese model ( based on con­cepts like life­time em­ploy­ment) dif­fers from both. In the end a suc­cess­ful man­ager needs to im­bibe the best from every­where de­pend­ing on the con­text. The im­por­tance of an imag­i­na­tive mind— so ev­i­dent in In­dian mythol­ogy— will al­ways help.

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