Published on 6 June 2008, in Corporate Dossier, Economic Times

According to the Shiva Puran, Daksha-Prajapati sought worthy grooms for his many daughters, men of substance, gods who helped life on earth, like Indra, the rain-god or Agni, the fire-god. He was quite horrified therefore when his youngest daughter, Sati, of her own free will, chose a hermit as a husband – a naked, ash-smeared ascetic called Shiva who had dogs and ghosts as his companions and who lived atop a snow-clad mountain. Upset that his daughter had married against his will, and that too to a person so unconventional, he broke all relations with her. When he decided to perform a grand yagna, he invited all his daughters and sons-in-law to the ceremony, but not Shiva or Sati.

Many of us in the corporate world are Daksha-Prajapatis, who  in our eagerness to create collaborative working environments that work towards the corporate goal, include in our teams only ‘appropriate grooms’ – people whose energies match ours and who align to our way of working. We do not willingly let a Shiva in – the maverick, the iconoclast, the one who thinks differently, who seems condescending, cold, distant…..even bizarre.

Daksha-Prajapati rejected Shiva because Shiva did not fit his definition of a god. Shiva can easily be misunderstood for a contrarian, people who oppose for the sake of opposing or for a rebel or for an attention-seeker, someone who thinks he is too good to align with an existing way of being. The fact is a Shiva simply marches to the beat of a different drummer. When he walks around smeared with ash, he is not mocking the gold-bedecked, silk-clad Vishnu. He is indifferent to worldly parameters of appropriateness.

The story goes that when Daksha-Prajapati refused to invite Shiva to his yagna, Sati flew into such a rage that she burnt herself to death in protest and disrupted the entire ceremony. A great confrontation followed where Daksha-Prajpati and his guests saw the fury and power of Shiva. An uneasy peace was finally restored, with Daksha-Prajapati begging for forgiveness and Shiva withdrawing into his cave. No one was in doubt of Shiva’s might anymore but it seemed too explosive to handle.

It is only in crisis that the value of a Shiva is realized. Crisis emerges when conventional ways of working and assumed solutions fail to deliver. When problems turn out to be out of the ordinary, we need unconventional thinking: we need a Shiva. A Shiva is the kind of person who can bring a fresh new perspective. He may innovate but not deliver. He may not be as tuned as an entrepreneur to the value of his wisdom; or he may simply find the process of convincing others of the solution too much of a bother.

A crisis arose when the demon-king Taraka assumed power; the gods with all their conventional weapons were unable to destroy him. A warlord was needed, one who was fathered by Shiva.  But before Shiva could father this great warrior, he had to be enchanted by a woman. For that the gods had to make him open his eyes. So they used the standard solution – Kama, god of lust, was asked to shoot the arrow of desire into Shiva’s heart. The plan backfired. Shiva found the effects of the arrow a disturbance; he simply opened his third-eye and set Kama aflame .

Many of us believe that we can recruit anyone into the team with promises of great pay packets and pompous designations. But such transactions do not work with a Shiva, he does not need money, he does not need his ego to be propped with high flying titles. That is what is most exasperating about a Shiva. He does not subscribe to any conventional pattern of thinking. To get him on board one needs a different approach.

The gods turned to Shakti, the Goddess, who took birth as Gauri, a mountain princess. She connected with Shiva not by arousing his senses or appeasing his ego, but by simply demonstrating her determination – she meditated on him without eating or sleeping, forcing him to appear before her. She then appealed to his compassion and surrendered to his wisdom. “Marry me,” she said. He agreed, not even knowing what being a husband means, such was his indifference to worldly ways. As wife, Gauri slowly initiated Shiva in the ways of the householder – gradually unlocking his power for the benefit of the world. Thanks to her, the gods got the divine warlord Kartikeya who helped them destroy Taraka.

With Gauri by his side, Shiva became Shankara. While as Shiva, he was silent and still, with both eyes firmly shut, as Shankara, he spoke and danced, and opened his eyes. He heard the cries of his devotees and responded to them. He became the benevolent easy-to-please boon-giver. He was no longer distant.

Gauri realized that while many people followed Shiva, he was no leader. He could not be expected to collaborate with the team or motivate people or drive them towards a goal. He was raw energy, neither positive nor negative, with no opinion either way. Realizing this demons like Ravana exploited both his power and his innocence until Gauri came along.

Gauri succeeded where Daksha-Prajapati and Kama had failed. Daksha-Prajapati is the authoritarian who demands alignment to a system. Kama is a friend, an enchanter, a charmer, who convinces you to willingly become part of the system. Gauri realized force fitting or seducing Shiva into a system would only lead to disaster – eventually he would withdraw or create havoc. Therefore, even though she was his wife, she allowed Shiva to remain the wandering mendicant he was. Without changing his core personality, she was able to channel his genius for the benefit of the world through understanding, determination, perseverance and intelligence.

Perhaps in a way, we are all Shiva – individualists, creative thinkers, who function best when allowed to be ourselves. Over time we all become Shankaras, gradually getting drawn into the system, connecting and working with others, becoming part of teams and common visions. Some Shankaras even become Vishnus – totally assimilated to the ways of the world. A good CEO who knows the value of diversity, needs to ensure that his organization has the whole range of people – many Vishnus, a large number of Shankaras and a few Shivas.