Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, July 01, 2011
Every morning, women in many parts of India draw patterns at the
entrance of their homes using rice flour. First a grid of dots is set
on the ground, and then lines join the dots, or go around them as
curves to create what is known as Alpana in the East, Muggu or Kolam
in the South and Rangoli in the West.

The joining of dots is different on different days: elaborate on
festivals and simple otherwise. As one pays attention to the patterns
in front of houses that line a village street, it becomes obvious
different women see the same set of dots very differently. No pattern
is perfect or permanent; every day they have to be washed away to make
room for the next design. All patterns are artificial, and each one an
expression of the artist’s mental state.

Rangoli is a metaphor to understand the capability and capacity of
people in an organization. Capability refers to how the dots are
joined – how complex are the patterns. Capacity refers to the number
of dots that can be handled, the number of data points that can be
processed. The more capable artist is able to create more complex
patterns with the same number of dots as compared to the less capable
artist. The artist with more capacity is able to create patterns with
more dots than the one with less capacity.

When Rajiv joined the consultancy firm, his boss Mr. Mirchandani
admired the ease with which Rajiv could look at data points and create
a pattern of thoughts that was unlike others. While everyone saw the
same facts, his interpretations were the most interesting – finer,
sharper leading to better decisions and better implementation
strategies. Mr. Mirchandani marked Rajiv as a talent and decided to
mentor him.

As they spent time, Rajiv started resenting Mr. Mirchandani. This is because Mr.Mirchandani always
challenged his analysis and offered different points of view. “My
rangoli is different from your rangoli. Allow it.” Rajiv allowed
reluctantly. But he got exasperated when Mr. Mirchandani dismissed his
conclusions. He wondered why. “You have not considered the market, the
changing political scenario, the impact of related industries, the
shifts in the money market. Your data points are too narrow and too
historical limited to a single domain. You are not able to expand your
gaze, see five years ahead, see its global implications. You need to
add more dots to your Rangoli. You are good at joining dots but you
are assuming you have all the data points. That is dangerous. Someone
with more data points will create patterns that will be far superior
to yours.”

Rajiv realized that it was not just a question of capability (joining
the dots to create symmetrical patterns) but also capacity (number of
dots considered). To rise up the ladder, he had to be good both
qualitatively and quantitatively. He had to draw a better rangoli.