Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, June 10, 2011

A young girl and her father were on a pilgrimage. When they reached the temple of Shiva, her father said, “Lets collect bilva leaves and dhatura flowers and offer them to Shiva to show our devotion.” This is what the father and daughter did. Then, they reached a Vishnu temple, and her father said, “Lets collect tulsi leaves and offer it to Vishnu to show our devotion.” This is what the father and daughter did. Then they reached a Ganesha temple. On the father’s advice, the daughter offered blades of grass. At the temple of the Kali, the daughter was told to offer neem leaves and lemons. At the temple of Hanuman, she offered sesame oil.

The daughter was confused, “You say all gods are actually one.” “Yes,” the father confirmed. “Then why different offerings to different gods?” “Because,” said the father, “Each form is different and different forms need to be told the same thing in different ways. Each time we have expressed our devotion but the vehicle of communication has changed depending on the preferences of the recipient. That is why:  the wild bilva and poisonous dhatura for the hermit Shiva, the fragrant tulsi for the romantic Vishnu, the rapidly regenerating grass for Ganesha who was resurrected with an elephant head, the sour lemon and bitter neem for Kali who consumes all things, negativity included, and sesame for Hanuman, the mighty wrestler, feared even by death.”

Often we want to communicate an idea to our customers. But we do not pay adequate attention to the method of communication. The method chosen should be the function of the customer. Different customers need different methods. But most corporations find the idea of customizing methods of communication rather inefficient. So they try to come up with an efficient standard method of communication, often at the cost of effectiveness.

Vishal had learnt in a training workshop the value of an ‘elevator speech’ to express his idea to a customer in less than a minute. He had used it many times. But it never had the desired effect – an appointment with the client. He wondered why. His colleague who had greater success with the elevator speech asked him over a cup of coffee, “In which language was the elevator speech for Mr. Masand?” English, said Vishal. “But you and I both know Mr. Masand prefers speaking in Hindi.”

At that moment the penny dropped. While speaking to the customer, Vishal was focusing on what he wanted to communicate and not on how it was received by the customer. Communication is not so much about the idea but about the customer. The method of communication depends on the capacity, capability and intent of the customer, and not so much on the capacity, capability and intent of the communicator. The reference point is the customer and not the communicator. This is often forgotten.

That is why the same devotion is expressed differently for different gods: bilva for Shiva, tulsi for Vishnu, grass for Ganesha, hibiscus for Kali and sesame for Hanuman!