By Devdutt Pattanaik

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.

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