TEDIndia snapshot — Mythology and market

Interviews 7 Comments

Published November 16, Hindu Business Line

It is not often that you meet a person who takes you back in time to the bygone ages, to Alexander and the gymnosophist on the banks of the Indus, and to the early days of the clash of civilisations. But Devdutt Pattanaik, Chief Belief Officer at Future Group, believes in looking at modern life and even business through the lens of mythology.

According to him, mythology is a collection of stories that construct the cultural understanding of people. People can be understood through their mythology, he says. He talks of a world that is logical, factual, scientific, linear and standardised, and of another world that is emotional, personal, contextual and individual. “Different people see things differently, and hence when Alexander met the naked wise monk, each thought the other was a fool,” Pattanaik says.

And when one says ‘my world’ is better than ‘your world’, civilisations clash, he adds. The world or way of life one believes in is shaped by what the person has heard, learnt and has been made to understand, says Pattanaik. For example, Alexander has heard about Homer’s Iliad, about Achilles, Janus and Theseus, and he has been made to believe that if he is in a race he must win, and only if he lives an extraordinary life will he go to Elysium, as well as in the concept of one life. On the other hand, the gymnosophist has read about Rama and Krishna and Bharat, and has been made to believe that nothing lasts forever, even death. He believes that life repeats itself again and again, and the same life is lived infinite times till one gets the meaning of it all.

Using this analogy, Pattanaik goes on to say that because there is this basic difference in the Western and Indian way of thinking, the best business practices developed in Japan, the UK and the US will not work in India. To be successful in India, one must enhance sensitivity to Indian beliefs, he adds.

“Business is the result of how the market behaves and how the organisation behaves. And if the organisation behaves in such a way that it will make the market happy then the market will reward it,” he says. “But for that the organisation will have to understand the beliefs of the consumer.And once it understands that, it must work with the belief system and try to empathise with it,” he says.

In the west, people look for money and growth opportunities in a job. But in India, it is also about a sense of pride in working with a particular organisation. A job gives an Indian a social status and emotional security, Pattanaik says.

The traditional western business models are based on institutions and processes, and people are secondary to it. But in India, one will have to transform people rather than transform processes, he says. “For example, Indians do not like taking instructions. The moment you tell an Indian what to do, you are touching a very raw nerve.You will have to make him feel as if he is the idea generator. Only then will he take ownership of the task. But this shift is not easy,” he adds.

  • ganesh.v

    Well Said Devdutt g.,

    The true touching line of many Indian workers who are Loyal to the organisation they are working and feel it as if there family.

    Indians do not like taking instructions. The moment you tell an Indian what to do, you are touching a very raw nerve.

    “You will have to make him feel as if he is the idea generator. Only then will he take ownership of the task. But this shift is not easy”

    there is a western saying “Love your job but don’t love your company”.

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    As usual very good article. Mr. Patnaik’s understanding of mythology is excelent.

  • Annon

    Great Talk!

    For a long time I have been looking for an article or a presentation that briefly introduces India in a perspective that matches mine: “It is all in the perspective”.

    This was perfect. You could also refer to the theory of “framing” in political sciences, it is pretty much what you are saying in an Indian way.

    Loved it!

  • Anil

    I have heard a lot of one view of the world and never heard a the other view, especially from India. I was disappointed that there is not much being heard by the “One” world, which needed to understand and assimilate the other. What a talk and I think this needs to be multiplied. Fantastic to know that there is someone who is thinking about these stuff. Congratulations and all the best.

  • The TED talk by Dr Devdutt is truly outstanding, particularly the way he concludes after he introduces the two completely different belief systems and refuses to advise anyone to choose which view is better. The way he has concluded is quite amusing too, the indian side-way head shake, which everyone is so accustomed to hear from their western counter parts.

  • Abdul Hameed

    I like the presentation on TED talk. Bravo


    In the vedanta, the market place is the centre where people (Upabhogta) come to exchange their “vishayanubhooti” an experience derived from consumption of objects capable of giving satisfaction.

    “Vishayanam anukoolye sukhi dukhi viparyaye”

    When the sense objects are favourable, based on the consumption (an object/the rendering of a service, etc., in the primary, secondary or tertiary sectors of the economy) of it, one experience happiness (sukha). When the experience is opposite, then one experience Dukha, the opposite of happiness”

    In order to have an experience, the triad of an experience has to be met.

    “Trishu dhamasu yad bhogyam bhogta bhogascha eva cha”

    The objects (Bhogyam), the experiencer (bhokta) and the relationship between them (Bhoga).

    In the consumation of such a triad, the bedrock of an economy takes place in the form of Yoga Economic Model thru the “Pancheekaranam” viz. the pentamourous combination of the five yogas:-

    1.Upayoga – upabhogta consumption, consumer – 2.Udyoga – utpadan ( value addition) utpatti – enterprise, industry, production –

    3.Viniyoga – distribution of the products “Utpada” for consumption –

    4.Sahayoga – cooperation, coordination – the root of (Yuj) organisation –

    The gnana yoga – Knowledge.

    i.e. Upyogat – Udyoga – udyogat – viniyoga

    and the integrating principle of sahayoga,

    gnanayoga (knowledge economy).