Sunday, August 9, 2009

Towards An Indian Management Style

Management being a culturally determined discipline exhibits flavours peculiar to the genius of the people, inspite of its universal scientific structure. Thus we have American Management, European Management, Japanese Management etc. The overall concern of management is creating value for stakeholder's money and time. And of them customer is the king. This requires technology and design innovations on an ongoing basis. Worker motivation also is important. There has to be an investment-capital friendly entrpreneurial environment.

India, as it is poised on the high road to economic boom, has to learn to integrate the modern management values and practices with its ageold integral worldviews and human objectives. Environment, family, spirituality, ethics and social justice are important survival values that humanity pursues and management science cannot and shoud not ignore those values in its wealth creating activities.

Indian Management is in the crossroads. It can remain rooted in its present orthodox paternalistic mode, breeding corruption and inefficiency, and perpetuating poverty or take bold steps to open the economy to market competition, individual enterprise and to the challenges of global standards. No doubt it will be a painful process.

Growing up is always a painful experience. This does not mean that government has to go passive and remain a moot observer. The state must play critical role in ensuring infrastrucure building, social justice, law and order, individual freedom and above all reaching every citizen with food, health care and education. What is required is a partnership between government and private initiative. Sixty percent of Indians are abjectly poor, living below the poverty line, whose daily income will be less than fifty rupees. Another thirty percent may be called the middle class, with a percapita monthly income of 5000-7000 rupees. The rest ten percent of Indians are super rich. Goverment's focus should be on the bottom sixty percent poor. Government must ensure that the disposable income of the middle class grows and that the rich finds it profitabe to invest in India. This requires broad tripartisan class consensus in India's political culture and economic thinking. Individual thinkers, think tanks, media and grass root workers have to join hands to create such a dialoguing and focussed society. This is what is meant by the phrase 'towards an Indian management style'.

14 September 2004,
Los Angeles

The Game of Dice and Constant Risk-taking

Mahabharata and Indian Management
Selections from papers written by
Swami Bodhananda

The Game of Dice and Constant Risk-taking
...'Akurvata' is in the past tense and means 'did do'. Dritarashtra asked Sanjaya: "What did my sons and those of Pandu do, assembled in the sacred ground of Kurukshetra, etching to fight?" In fact this incident occured on the 9th day of the battle after the fall of Bhishma and the war turned in favour of Pandavas.

...I would like to bring a few points to your notice just for the sake of perspective. There are three motifs in the Mahabharata which flovours the story and its philosophy of life.

First, the ideal of yagna- the Raja suya in the beginning and the Asvamedha in the end. In both these rituals the king first fights to aquire enormous wealth and then distributes all that wealth among his cityzens.

Second, the game of dice. The king is obligated to risk and wager all his wealth and possessions in the game of dice. Third, war. It is kshatriyas duty to fight incessantly to expand his kingdom and subdue his enemies.

Life is constant risk taking, recklessly thrown to the uncertainities of chance, and the passion to die with boots on.These are ideals of a Kshatriya. He is mainly interested in power and fame/kirty. It is the Vaisya's duty to create wealth through agriculture/krishi, husbandary/goraksha and commerce/vanijyam. The Brahmin is responsible for creating knowledge and ethical values and dissemination of those values. And the sudras, constituting 80 percent of the population, were split into many castes according to their crafts. When we read Mahabharata this socio-political-economic template/varnasha dharma has to be kept in mind.

Today India is pursuing a competitive market economy and parliamentary democracy where every citizen regardless of gender, religion, race or language are constitutionally guaranteed equality of opportunity. We read Mahabharata for insights about human nature and mind and interpersonal dynamics in the pursuit of power, wealth and fame. The actual knitty-gritty of wealth creation-distribution-consumption is not the core of this study. And high level management and leadership are essentially a matter of power or decision making and risk taking/a mind set of living dangerously and in total freedom.

Can you give us some analogies from the corporate world for zero sum games and win-win situations? The key negative words are ‘arrogance’, ‘greed’, and positive words are ‘coexistence’ and ‘collaboration’. A paltry settlement is no settlement and Pandavas would not have long been happy with that kind of a humiliating situation.

Can there be any better advice to today's manager?

Mahabharata and Indian Management
Selections from papers written by
Swami Bodhananda
Can there be any better advice to today's manager?
...In the corporate world what matters is market share, customer satisfaction, share value, innovation and quality products. This creates fierce competition among corporate players. Though the above are the declared objectives of all players, corporate governance takes to many undesirable stratagems to gain market share and profits. As the saying goes,' everything is allowed in war and love'. Companies consist of people with varying interests, backgrounds and expectations. To knit them together and motivate them to pursue a shared goal is difficult involving many compromises. Both these tasks lead to unethical practices.

The old problems of ego, arrogance, intolerance and greed creep into the civilized corporate world. In India we have the additional problem of poverty and the resultant corruption- using public office for private gain or taking with out contributing in the name of social justice. So leadership has many contradictory challenges- to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and illness; to develop infrastructure; and to create an entrepreneurial mind set. Indian corporations have to operate in such a constrained environment.

These problems are systemic, not just individualistic; cultural than ethical, political than economic, leadership than managerial, theoretical than practical, strategic than tactical, long term than short term, has to deal with the big picture than tinkering with small issues. India is like Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist who suffers from a debilitating motor organ disease. India's legs and heart are week, but the brain is in excellent condition. India's legs are the 700 million poor, the heart is the 200 million middle class and the head is 100 million upper class and professionals.

India lives in three layers. Dialogue and collaboration between these three layers are important for purposeful and sustained growth. Our effort to create an Indian Management style will have to take all these factors into consideration. Essentially corporate management is an upper class activity, but they don't have much voice in determining the political environment, which is influenced by the lower and middle class people.

Duryodhana's arrogance and stubbornness has to be understood in this light, like even the Indian corporate world has to deal with the arrogance and irrationality and populism of the Mayavati-s, Laloo-s, Paswan-s, Mulayam-s, Mamata-s and Jayalalita-s as well as the stubbornness of the Leftist Marxists and the Trade Unionists. If Dritarashtra were not born blind he would have been the king and Duryodhana would have been natural heir to the kingdom. But that was not to be. Duryodhana felt cheated by fate and became bitter, jealous and vengeful. In a materialistic culture where there is no inner discipline or acceptance conflict is inevitable. Duryodhana's intolerance led to war and the more accommodating Pandavas won.

The lesson I learn from this collaborative, win-win, policies are always better than intolerance and zero sum games. Pandavas were forced to play a zero sum game and at the end all lost heavily in terms of men and material. The Mahabharata war was a case of mutually assured destruction [MAD]. Hitler's were a zero sum game as well as that of Pakistan in the Bangladesh war. Can you, Give us some analogies from the corporate world for zero sum games and win-win situations? The key negative words are 'arrogance', 'greed', and positive word is 'Coexistence' and 'collaboration'. A paltry settlement is no settlement and Pandavas would not have long been happy with that kind of a humiliating situation.
Dritarashtra had a weakness for his son which was genetic and psychological. D felt guilty that because of his blindness his son was denied his natural right to the kingdom and his wife Gandhari was denied sight and the pleasure of seeing her children grow up. It was this guilt that made D indulgent to his son Dryodhana and turns a blind eye, literally and figuratively, to his misdemeanors. Poor Dritarashtra deserves our sympathy. Indian wisdom tradition brings Vidhi/fate in the understanding of fateful events whose denouement follows the inevitable twists and turns of a Greek Tragedy. Now, my question is: is there any thing like this vidhi/fate/karma concept in the corporate vocabulary to understand certain decisions taken- like the BJP decision to go for general election before schedule- which lead to inevitable disaster. In such situations only spirituality can come to your aid at least in absorbing the shock.Recently I read that there are three requirements for success - 'Competence', 'concept' and 'connections'. The last requirement is very important for business success anywhere in the world. And there are economic and practical reasons too for that. It is said that in B-Schools what you pick up is just connections and nothing else. Now my question , How you s distinguish between using connections and nepotism? The Kaurava model was successful in the case of the delinquent Samir Jain of Times of India taking over the reins after his father who increased business from Rs. 250 crores to Rs. 800 crores in five years. Can we have a SWOT analysis of the Kaurava model that is universally practiced? Capitalism and the corporate world thrive on inherited wealth and power. What is the role of professional management in all this?...

Who will be the sacrificial lamb - hero- in business wars? Is he the one who takes risk, incubate and commission new projects and if it doesn't work pack up and leave as per the exit plan or B plan? Where will you place Abhimanyu in a business model? I am sure such heroes are the initial trailblazers after who march successful men....

Focus on the process with awareness of the error free end in the background, with out unduly worrying about the result and anxiety for personal pelf is the central teaching of the Gita
Therefore, since there is no other way for a dignified life, Arjuna, Get up, fight and win, gain glory and enjoy power and wealth that success brings. Gita 11-33Can there be any better advice to today's manager? War is the last resort after sama, dana, bheda and danda. But unless one is battle ready one will not have the leisure, wits and self-confidence for employing the earlier methods of conflict resolution. Strength, tact, vigilance and the determination to win are the price of success. "It is the striped one who survives in the corporate jungle"- A judicious mix of collaboration, conciliation, manipulation and flexing the muscles according the contingency of the situation is the right solution.

About the Seminar

India is emerging as a global player in the socio-political, cultural and business world. In fact, it would be fair to say that New Indian Renaissance (NIR) is upon us. Indian companies are becoming transnational in their operations. Many Fortune 500 companies are establishing their business on Indian soil. With the Indian mind-set being spiritual and knowledge seeking, our business leaders have to constantly balance the conflicting demands of human values and modern management requirements. The need of the hour is a business-likeand fully accountable management style based upon strong spiritual and ethical values. The purpose of this seminar is to develop a genuinely ‘Indian’ style of Management that gives practising managers more options so that they can perform and thrive in the world of constant change and fierce competition – what Indra Nooyi, Chairperson of Pepsico, calls ‘Performance with Purpose’.

The Mahabharata, India’s greatest Epic, is replete with stories of leaders facing challenging dilemmas, which require difficult and high-stake decisions from among a variety of choices. While many are successful others are failures. Yet both represent a wonderful learning opportunity for us. Hence this effort to integrate modern management ideas with carefully selected case-studies from the Mahabharata to provide a wealth of insights and practical solutions to managers of the 21st century.

It is an interesting paradox that while managers themselves and theor business audience/consumers are acknowledged as being culture-specific, there is a tendency in modern management ‘theory’ to paint the whole world with the same, broad (usually American) brush. This is understandable, given that modern management came into being with the Industrial Revolution and blossomed primarily under American thought-leadership during the 20th century. However, different culture-specific styles are beginning to emerge (Japanese for example), which have proven their global effectiveness beyond dount. We also find that in today’s globalised world, where cross-cultural work is the norm, a one-size-fits-all approach is limiting in its nature.

As tomorrow’s emerging world influencing powers, it is time for India (and China) to come to the forefront and find a clear and credible voice of our own. This Seminar will initiate a serious and provocative dialogue towards conceptualising an “Indian” style of management, preserving and including the appropriate ethical, environmental and spiritual values. In other words, to bring India’s unique spiritually grounded wisdom and thought-leadership to meet the challenges of the modern corporate world.
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Here is a discussion forum to foster a dialogue on the approaches to and for Indian management.

We have been organising several conferences, seminars and meetings towards this objective. The latest in this series is the International seminar on "Indian Management for Global Effectiveness: Insights from the Mahabharata" scheduled for 19th and 20th February 2010 in Bangalore.

Swami Bodhananda identified the idea of ‘leadership’ as the major challenge in understanding and forming theories of conceptual and applied dimensions of Indian management in 1988. And true to his astute vision India for the decade that followed saw an increasing number of academic and institutional mechanisms that favoured and nurtured the concept of leadership. The formation of BRF-ML (Bodhananda Research Foundation for Management & Leadership Studies) in 1991 as a research body and its subsequent programs were inspired by Swamiji’s vision for leadership and Indian management.

Close to two decades have passed. And today we have an almost exhaustive framework to understand ‘leadership’ in the context of Indian management.

Over the next 3 years it is planned that we will focus on the 5 major texts of Indian philosophy and culture such as Manusmrti, Panchatantra, Arthasastra, Mahabharata and Ramayana. The attempt will be to evolve the foundational management, psychological and philosophical concepts underlying “Leadership and Conflict Resolution” as represented in these five books that could be considered as the five pillars of Indian management literature. A team is already engaged in writing Sourcebooks for 'leadership' with a narrative style of storytelling based on these texts. Another programme is the national award of a cash prize for the best thesis written on Indian Management, every three years.

In the past two years Bodhananda Research Foundation for Management and Leadership Studies (BRF-ML) has organised a Management in Mahabharata seminar series in Trivandrum and Cochin. For more info see;

The third in this series will be organised in Bangalore.