Push and Pull

Business 9 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, October 22, 2010

Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, of Hinduism, holds in his hand an Ankusha, or elephant goad. This is an instrument used by mahouts to control elephants. It has two parts attached to the tip of a short iron bar: a sharp tip and a hook. The sharp tip is used to goad the elephant forward. The hook is used to hold him back. The sharp tip pushes and the hook pulls. Thus the two parts of the instruments have opposing goals that enable the mahout to create balance and get the best out of his elephant. An Ankush can be seen either as an instrument of a leader or the two arms of an organizational strategy.

Ramanthji uses the principle of Ankush intuitively in his small business that manufactures bore well pumps. When he talks to his sales and marketing team, he tells them to be aggressive when they are in the market and offer whatever price it takes to dominate the market. But then when he sits with his finance team he insists that they check and challenge every price the team offers in the market. This twin action creates a perfect balance. The sales and marketing team push prices down while the finance team insists on pulling it up. There is friction between the two teams and what emerges is the best compromise that enables Ramnathji to not only dominate the market but also get the best price in the market.

Had the finance team not been there to ‘goad’ the price, the sales and marketing team would have ‘hooked’ the price down without considering the long term impact of such a move. Ramnathji wants the sales and marketing team to focus on customers and competitors and not think of pricing strategy. He wants the finance team to focus on pricing and costing and not think of customers and market. But he is wise enough to know that all things are inter-related. So he has implemented the Ankush strategy to get the best from the two arms of his organization.

He even uses this strategy to get the best out of people. There are days when he praises his team for all the work they have done. Then, without warning, he blasts them for being complacent and slow. His team does not know when they will be ‘goaded’ and when ‘hooked’. And so are always on their toes, trying to do the best possible, feeling inspired when praised and determined to prove Ramnathji wrong every time he admonishes them.

The Ankush works because everyone in the team trusts Ramnathji. They know he has their welfare and welfare of the company in his heart. He has forced them to break all apparent limitations within themselves and obstacles in the market. He is to them like Ganesha, the god who rids the world of all hurdles, powerful when he needs to be and lovable all the time.

  • Amazing as usual; how seamlesslessly you merge organisational theory with mythology. I really love the length of the internet also.

  • Dude

    Nice Article, I always liked your insight. It makes me think another point of view, not necessary to prove right or wrong. Here is my point of view:

    Animal instinct in human needs to be control and threaten to be punish if invoked. The Ankush in Ganesha’s hand symbolize this characteristics. Leaders need to use different leadership theory based on the context and situation. Leadership is also about holding the power of punishment or at least the people can see the Ankush and get reminded about the punishment that can be implemented by leader if they dare for bad behavior, It controls the team performance and company’s reputation.

  • Suresh Chirra

    It’s really amazing. Your research towards stories, symbols and rituals making us to think everything towards mythology. You are really doing a lot to us.

  • Indranath Banerjee

    Great one…

    However isn’t it that the measure of the usage of this instrument towards either “goading” or “hooking” would also be important which otherwise could make the desired result of balance totally opposite ?

    So to use it correctly u have to have the skill of “The mahout” only

  • Professor. Dr. Sajal Kabiraj

    Dear Devdutt,

    Greetings ! It is really amazing the way you synthesize information and co-relate management concepts with mythology in a lucid manner.

    It really helps one remember and recall the management concepts faster because of the familiarization of examples and synergization of the same with Indian culture,ethos, mythology & spirituality.

    Keep the good work up !

    Thank you,
    Sincere Regards,

    Dr. Sajal Kabiraj, Full Professor, International Center for Organization & Innovation Studies (ICOIS), Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, P.R. China.

  • Even though we learn lot of things about how can one should lead his life or busines, but after some time we tend to forget it as our attention is drawn to some other lessons.
    This story is nicely explaining, as to how our approach should be.It a good reminder.

  • mjason

    Other way of interpreting Ganesha having a Ankusha is:

    Ganesha is a supreme leader, i.e he doesn’t have anyone above him as leader. He has the instrument to control himself in one hand since there is no one above him to control himself. Therefore, each leader should have checks & balances within himself so that his actions do not have adverse reaction.

    The above is as explained by Suki Sivam. if you get a change listen to his speeches on leadership, he explains the above in 10 minutes very clearly.

  • Namaskar!

    Really loved the explanation of the symbolism behind the Ankush and the narrative explanation of Ramanthji.

    I have a few doubts.

    Towards the fag end of the narrative you state:

    “The Ankush works because everyone in the team trusts Ramnathji.”

    What happens when the leader uses the Ankush in an environment where trust has not been established beforehand? Will the leader be able to wield it at all?

    How does Ramanthji handle the arguments that are bound to arise between the sales & the finance teams?

    Is this concept applicable for larger organizations too where you not only have a king, the CEO, who might enjoy the trust of the employees, but also have many nayaks too, the middle management? Can the middle management wield the Ankush in their realm?


  • Dear Devji,

    Your article is highly enlightening, not only regarding the significance of ANKUSH, but also with regard to its application to business and management. At the same time, I beg to differ with you regarding the strategy of Ramnathji. What pays in the long run, is the policy of transparency within the organization but not the policy of Hide & Seek. A day may come when both the finance and marketing teams may lose confidence in their boss, and leave it to him to decide the final price. What is needed is a perfect understanding between the finance team and the sales team, and their, together, having confidence in Ramnathji. The finance team should inform the sales team the manufacturing cost of their product, and the margin of profit expected. The Sales team should check from the market, the price at which their competitors are selling the same product in the market. Both in consultation with Ramnathji should fix a competitive price of their product.