Epic Gyaan: Business Lessons from Indian Mythology

The search for meaning and value in the work that we do is perpetual. Devdutt Pattanaik believes that we should adopt the strategy of our ancestors and scout for business lessons from India's rich culture of mythology, rituals and shared stories. Read on to find out how this very Indian, and effective approach to business management works.


Renowned mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik believes that the western model of doing business may not serve well in India because it operates in a different context, socially, economically, politically and psychologically. The Indian way of business is highly individualistic, emotional and relationship-driven, he says. In his latest book, Business Sutra (soon to be launched), Pattanaik attempts to show how 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. Here, he reiterates how such an approach to business leads to greater success.

The importance of relationships
In India, you cannot expect to get results in business without developing relation­ships. While an average American busi­nessman would rely more on planning and processes, an average Indian businessman relies more on intuition and relationships. While the Western model can be short-sighted (look at environmental issues) and stripped of emotion (because of profession­alism), the Indian model can be chaotic (lack of planning) and filled with irrational decisions (due to favouritism). The good thing is: the Western model creates a sense of order but demands compliance and alignment. Likewise, the Indian model gives a lot of creative freedom and an emo­tional springboard to employees in an organisation. The western model does not give great value to emotional and intellec­tual growth; what matters is economic growth and skills to enable that. The Indian model on the other hand, can create eco­nomic growth through emotional and intellectual growth, if the leader drives it.  

Inclusiveness: welcoming but inefficient 


Being inclusive of all people in an organ­isation can create a sense of belonging among employees, but it could also lead to inefficiency, if not managed properly. I believe inclusiveness is a result of the faith in the concept of rebirth in India. When you believe you live only once, your purpose in life is to do the right thing; there is no room for another way. The value of your life is the sum total of your achievements in this life. On the other hand, when you believe you live many lives then you know that the value of your life, no matter what you do, is zero because the denominator of your existence is zero. The point of life then becomes to allow introspection and strive for under­standing. It makes people more inclusive than exclusive. Subsequently, it makes organisations more diverse as they allow all kinds of beliefs to thrive, even those that discomfort them. But , this comes at a price: when everyone is included and all ways of functioning accepted, a workplace can end up being very inefficient.  

Approach business as a ranga-bhoomi, not a rana-bhoomi 
The word rana-bhoomi signifies a bat­tlefield. In the contemporary business world, all organisations function like a battlefield; modern management is, in fact, inspired by military strategies. So, we "com­pete" and "fight to win" and seek to "grab" market share. The whole approach to busi­ness is violent; the whole point is to win, stand on top of the list of market capitalisa­tion, and grow at any cost to the satisfaction of the insatiable shareholder. Is that good? Does that mean we are still animals, or even worse—eternally hungry and paranoid, never content, and mocking those who sleep in the shade after eating their fill? Entrepreneurs should instead create their company into a ranga-bhoomi which means a playground where affection domi­nates the enterprise (notice how we chuckle at the idea—it's because we have bought in the myth of the ruthless enterprise and the dog-eat-dog world). Yet, there is a possibil­ity to create an ecosystem where we grow by enabling others to grow emotionally and intellectually. This eventually leads to everybody growing materially.

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