2009 – The top 10 list ?

This is the time of the year when there is a rush for a top ten list for everything- the top events of last year, top ten places to visit, top ten movies to watch, top ten watering holes, top ten restaurants etc etc. However critical we might be of the utility of such a list, the attractiveness of any top ten list cannot be ruled out. I don’t know what makes the top ten list so famous- is it the compactness of the information ( we know we have to read only ten items to understand what is the best in  the category) or our obsession with rankings and seeking conformity ( we do feel happy and inclusive if we have visited one of the places or eaten in one of the restaurants. In fact there is an article on the net- Top 10 reasons why ‘Top 10’ lists are so popular.  I am providing the hyperlink for the same.

Given my recent interest in behavioural economics and human irrationality, I would say because human beings do not have an ‘absolute value meter ‘but always tend to evaluate things by comparison (for example, you might say you bought a Samsung TV because it gives you more features than an LG TV at the same price, even though you may not use some of the features), the top ten lists give us a reference point, they tell us how most people are behaving, how I am faring compared to the rest – how does my favourite restaurant compare to the list etc. Given this I sometimes wonder at the marketing potential of such lists to generate and divert crowd to a particular destination.

So I kept wondering what made my top ten list. I did not do extra ordinarily well in my career or my personal life. They both kept on dragging at the same pace and I was worrying about both of them in no way less. The more I thought the more troubled I became. I did not have a top ten list. Or rather I did not have a top ten list I could be proud of. On the other hand I realised, for me if 2009 has to stand for something- for one particular thing, it has to stand for humility. It was the time when I decided to look outside my cocoon at the extra ordinary feat of extra ordinary men and women- people who have followed their passions, worked extremely hard and still are. I was always an avid reader. But for me each book or each movie did not just remain a piece of entertainment but an authors or the director’s journey. Watching Avatar was no longer limited to a surreal, psychedelic experience but to the vision and the creativity of a person who could very well choose mediocrity but decided to push himself into producing a true masterpiece. Or the last article I wrote about Randy Pausch and the extraordinary determination and grit shown by a man suffering from a terminal disease. True we are standing on the shoulder of giants. Today I write about one such interesting person.

Recently Sourindra ( a close friend who is doing his Phd from Cambridge) shared with me a few TED lectures ( I strongly recommend you visit http://www.ted.com/ ). One of them was that of Devdutt Pattanaik. The kind of work he is doing is so unique that I could not resist the temptation to share. And as I read through his thoughts around beliefs and behaviour in the context of business I could not agree more.

Mr Pattanaik has been appointed as the Chief Belief Officer for Future Group.  As per him the role ‘involves solving corporate issues by trying to bridge the gap between company values and personal values’. The concept is really interesting – business emerges from behaviour while behaviour emerges from beliefs. Beliefs emerge when values are internalised.

I will reproduce here the first paragraph of an article Outlook Business called The atheist turns to mythology

The Future Group is looking for Duryodhanas. No, the group is not auditioning for the role of the evil Kaurava for an in-house Mahabharata play. Nor is Future Group EO Kishore Biyani planning a plunge back into showbiz with ideas to film Indian mythology’s greatest epic. But the hunt for Duryodhana is on, nevertheless.

“Duryodhanas are employees who play by the rules but whose intentions and integrity are questionable. They are the ones who come to office before time, leave after time, but spend the whole time in office playing solitaire,” says Biyani with his characteristic wry humour. “I have asked my departmental heads to look out for such Duryodhanas,” he adds.

Duryodhana is not just another catchy way to describe employees who play hooky. It’s a part of a whole new lexicon that the Future Group is working hard to create. To achieve this, Biyani has hired a mythologist. Dr Devdutt Pattanaik will help create a vocabulary, symbols and, eventually, a unique style of communication drawn from Indian mythology to achieve Biyani’s ultimate goal: make retail a religion across the length and breadth of the group. His formal designation: Chief Belief Officer.

I feel Mr Pattanaiks views on mythology, sacred stories, symbols and rituals are a very holistic take on what our sacred texts have tried to convey. The Ramayana and Mahabharata for example just don’t convey the victory of good over evil. Mr Pattnaik says that the epics are actually stories of the different complexities and different situations/ dilemmas one faces in a life time and interpreting them as stories of good Vs bad are an oversimplification.

On being asked how he sees his role evolving as an artist, writer or a corporate person (http://devdutt.com/my-interview-in-sunday-hindu), he puts its very succinctly.

All three, I hope. I see little differences between the three roles. I communicate the beliefs of our forefathers through word, art and lecture. Some I do through books, some through corporate workshops, organisational development and personal interactions. These are all manifestations of a single thought, an intense desire to share this fabulous inheritance full of profound wisdom that our ancestors shared with us through stories, symbols and rituals. Blinded by science and logic, we have not been able to appreciate the depth of ancient wisdom. We have stripped ourselves of the technology of mythology that has made our culture in particular, and all cultures in general, what they are.

I am attaching a couple of his lectures. Enjoy.

1. TED Lecture

2. Epics are extremely sophisticated and they tell us repeatedly to take decisions contextually and be responsible for the decisions


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