Rationalizing Greed

Business 19 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, December 24, 2010

Kubera, the king of Yakshas, is the treasurer of the gods. One day, he paid a visit to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva, the hermit-god, where he met Shiva’s elephant-headed son, the corpulent Ganesha. He thought to himself, “Ganesha clearly loves food and Shiva can clearly not afford to feed him to his heart’s content.” So as a favor to Shiva, Kubera offered to feed Ganesha one meal. When Ganesha accepted the invitation and entered Kubera’s kitchen, the Yaksha-king said, “Eat to your heart’s content.”

Kubera regretted these words. Ganesha’s appetite was insatiable. He ate everything that was in the kitchen and still asked for more. Food had to be bought from the larder and then from the market. But Ganesha was still hungry. “More please,” he said raising his trunk. Kubera had to spend all the money in his treasury and buy all the food in the world to feed Ganesha but still Ganesha was not happy. Finally, Kubera fell at Ganesha’s feet and begged him to stop, “I don’t have enough food to satisfy your hunger. Forgive me.”

To this Ganesha said, “You really think food will satisfy hunger! The difference between you and my father is that you seek to provide more food while he seeks to reduce hunger. That is why I sit in his house and not in your kitchen.”

The corporate world is all about increasing availability of food, not reducing hunger. It happens at all levels. Tanmay is a team leader in a BPO. His boss pulled him up after receiving complaints from his team members that he was overworking them. When asked why, Tanmay said, “I need to stretch my bonus.” Why? “Because I want to buy a car.” Other team leaders had bought cars without overworking their teams. The average bonus was clearly enough. “I know that, but I want an SUV.” When asked why he could not be happy with a smaller car that was easily affordable he replied cockily, “It does not suit my status. Besides, if the company can have stretch targets why can’t I?”

The only way to go up in the corporate world is by generating more food. It begins with B-schools where success of both the B-school and its students is measured by the value of the placement offers. It continues as rainmakers get faster promotions and the demands of shareholders keep rising. A good company is ultimately measured on the basis of its balance sheet and its market capitalization, and by the cash it generates to the satisfaction of the shareholder. Naturally, every executive who works in such an organization believes his paycheck should have the same growth rate. Talent retention often involves paying more money and offering ESOPs. It is only a question of time before greed and growth become synonymous.

But food only fuels hunger. We want more and more because there is always a greener pasture out there. We want more and more because our peers in other organizations, our batch mates in other companies, are earning more. It is through wealth we value organizations. It is through wealth we value individuals. Modern industry has created a world where hunger is celebrated, which is why no compensation will ever be fair or adequate, and no revenue or profit or valuation will ever be good enough.

Tanmay’s desire for an SUV cannot be explained or controlled rationally. His killer instinct, his demand for more, will sooner or later be rewarded and encouraged, because that is the value that we are imparting across organizations. Contentment remains a dangerous anti-growth concept in the corporate world; it is seen as complacency. Management wants employees to be content with the compensation that is doled out but management is never content with the revenue earned: next year, we always want more.  This is why, unless the leader takes a firm stand, no matter what Ganesha says, organizations will continue to invest in Kubera’s kitchens and no one will seek the wisdom of Shiva.

  • Puja Gandhi


  • Sriram Peri

    As an anecdote, it is clear where the modern organizations are putting their efforts. If one seeks the wisdom of Shiva, would that organization survive? Your thoughts will be appreciated.

    • Gaurav Ahuja

      Yup, if the focus of people in the organisation is growth of other employees and customers rather than their own growth. They will anyway grow automatically.

      • Jaya

        All this depends on what you consider growth for employees. Keeping the employee happy at the detriment of the company if not good as is focusing on the company goals at the expense of the employee. For example over-working the employee doesnt work just as giving them bonuses even if they dont work would. Yes giving them free bonus etc would make the employee happy but it will not work for the long term survival of the company.

  • Dora

    Well Said!

    In this running even policies are interpreted the different way by the managers when they want something with a simple reason that manager approval required with a star mark .

  • Niranjana nagpal

    In today’s world, contentment is not considered to be a fashionable trait and is often viewed as an excuse for laziness unfortunately.

  • I for one can’t seem to understand the moral of the story. What will happen to food if we stop eating? And will not the hunger go away if we can get infinite food? We should then work at getting an much as possible right?

    • Saurabh

      The whole idea of infinite food is absurd. You need to understand that nature’s resources are finite but human greed is infinite. So it’s a false assumption that we can get infinite food.

      • Deepankar Sinha

        There are certain people who possess powers to produce things out of thin air. They can give us infinite food. But, of course, like this article suggests, even that won’t fulfill the greed.

  • Hi Dev

    It was great as usual reading a different prospective originates from your thinking process. I do agree that Organisation donot invest in reducing hunger but increasing the kitchen size of Kuber to fulfill. But than in the absence of the same, how the growth of organisation will be measured by different stake holders after all no body runs a company as a charitable one.

    • Saurabh

      Then how come organizations like Wikimedia sustains itself? I feel that’s the model we need to ponder upon.

  • SA

    How did Shiva reduce Ganesha’s hunger?

    • By Simply increasing the contentment of ganesh.
      on a side note : A lot of corporates are now getting “happiness experts” to deal with these very pressures of greed on the human mind. A success is valued these days on money. i have suffered the pained looks of my mother who has always thought that instead of a revenue generating job of a fashion designer im working with a Charitable organisation. it is very difficult not to fall into that trap when your loved ones also expect the same out of you

    • Amaii Vijeth

      Good question!
      I feel the answer is …by looking inwards. (than outwards!) Looking outwards urges one to compare self with others, friends, peers making one feel inferior, less, inadequate if the ones compared have more (or arrogant and proud if self has more)!

      Only looking inwards can propel one to focus on one’s uniqueness (which each and everyone has without exception) and bring it out in the best manner possible. This brings joy. And if consistently one focused on it, consistently it would bring joy (irrespective of any ups and downs) and materials rewards too as the individual or corporate needs. (not wants!).

      Many corporates say “oh competition is doing this. Lets create something better” This is focusing outwards.
      If Tanmay and everyone working for the BPO focussed on their strengths, uniqueness anything could happen. Their productivity and profitability could touch new highs unknown previously. And the company could decide to gift Tanmay something much bigger than a SUV without even asking for one!!!

      Looking inwards makes one aware of natural laws and slowly with awareness one begins to follow it …then nature begins to provide that individual or corporate what they really need. Greed disappears. therefore urgency disappears. Only then can new ideas take birth …ideas that can take man closer to infinite potentiality :-)

  • hmmmm

    pertinent especially around the appraisal period :)

    i think the lesson we can learn from the story is to learn how to differentiate between growth and greed, how ambition cannot be a reason for unlimited greed.

    but this must start quite early in life. right from the stage when we push our children towards (greedily) getting maximum marks possible rather than really understanding the subject.

    • while that is the begining, we must also separate our needs from our wants. Needs that are real- not an SUV for status… These days status symbols are definitely a bigger reason for people working than simply love for their work

      • ah love! that reigning deity of the heart :) yes, if done with love everything is right. if saddled with greed, even love is wrong.


    sorry to reply so late on the post.
    i am adding an experimental tool which has been discussed by pattnaik saheb somewhere else.
    today is dusshera.
    nine days it had been fasting.mmy body automatically asks for food at 1.30 pm but except the first day it didn’t or rather i should say i didn’t.
    it is the we who demands then demands percolates through the layers.
    it is like goal setting performance review.
    but organisation should practice the “upvaasa” or “vratas” in their contextual environment to fight agaist not the hunger but towards the greed of food.

    i do admit that today by 1.30pm i got the hunger signal.
    to mix abstaining and continuing is very difficult to articulate follow and understand. may devdutt sir will put up a story to take it in asimpler sense.


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