Different Expressions

Business, Indian Mythology 10 Comments


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!

  • Wajekar Shrikant R

    I agree with the point stressed in the above article. All corporates are forgetting that customising the activities/ processes are putting customers into difficulties and this might affect the relation and profitability of the corporates who fail to understand this.

  • Darshan

    This article came in the very correct time and moment, I was to take a communication skills session for my team, and was preparing for the same, this served as an eye opener and will definitely use the example in the training, thank you very much…
    Just love the way you see things differently.

  • Quite liked the way message was delivered.

    Though everything stated was correct, but customizing communication basis customer needs lot of things like – bandwidth, tradeoff between successful delivery of communication, Cost incurred & results achieved.

    Perhaps in peer to peer or one on one communication this can be implemented, but when communicating in a B2C or B2B space, this becomes a non starter.

  • C.Rajavel

    100% correct message.

    When this is linked to our belief then it is taken 100% too.

    If approach to gods need to be different then it has to be for human too.

  • Chinmay Bande

    Very true.
    When I train different sets of youth on entrepreneurship even if my module (content) is same everywhere,the way (msg. vehicle)has to be different depending upon audience;

    For example:
    -10 th pass youths who are going to be part of distribution model of big corporate
    -B school students

    One cannot use same language/examples/games etc. so entire approach changes as per audience.

    This article explained in very nice way this whole concept by connecting it to offerings to different gods.It’s a lot easier to express and understand the idea in this way.

  • optyagi

    mr dev, you have narrated the simple logic in avery simple way. while communicating people generally forget the customer and keep on communicating without evaluating its effect and generally they fail.you are really nice choice of the future group.

  • akash dixit

    Yes Sir ( Dr.Devdutt ).it is 100% correct.

    The reference point (Coustomer) always needs to be kept in consideration while communication.

    Judgment to understand what exactly is needed by customer is really very important.

    All the explanation will be of no use if customer does not understand it.

  • krishnan subramanian

    dear Devduttji

    excellent piece on communication and also a rationale for the different flowers/offerings made to different gods


  • Ritesh K R

    liked the article very much…speaking in ur words devduttji,” The reference point is the reader and not the communicator.”

  • I came across your website today and I simply loved the articles that you have published here. I was always wondering how to make my training sessions in office interesting, now I know how you do it! Thanks.