Published in Corporate Dossier ET on Nov 11, 2011.
The enemy army was almost at the gates. The city would surely fall. The only solution was to get Akbar to lead his soldiers. Mansingh ran into the palace to fetch the emperor and found Akbar in the garden listening to Tansen. Birbal stopped Mansingh from entering the garden. The emperor did not want to be disturbed. Tansen’s song ended. Akbar asked him to sing another song. An impatient Mansingh said, “The city is on the verge of being destroyed and he is listening to music ! What’s wrong with him.” Birbal retorted, “He is not listening to music. He is figuring out battle strategies.” “What nonsense, all I can hear are the notes of Tansen’s wonderful voice. No strategies there.” Birbal laughed, “That is why Mansingh, you are merely a commander and Akbar is the emperor.”
Wisdom comes from the oddest of places. Ideas can come from anywhere. The difference between a pathfinder and a follower is the pathfinder’s ability to see similarities between even the most distinct domains — music and battle strategies, for example. Followers are unable to understand the underlying principle and so need clear domain-specific examples.
When Michael moved to Mumbai to take up a job at a pharmaceutical company, he realized that rules that worked back home in Germany would not work in India. When asked why, he said, “Oh, just look at how Indians eat!” Nobody understood. He explained, “In Germany, a proper meal is a course meal: soup, starter, main course and dessert. You eat what the chef cooks. But in India, a proper meal is a thali: all dishes are served simultaneously, the sweet and the sour and the pungent and the crispy. Everyone mixes and matches the food differently. So what one person puts in his mouth is very different from what another person puts in his mouth. This is the ultimate in customization. A culture like this would not be comfortable with rules. People here would always like to bend the rules to their convenience, unlike Germany where we enjoy following rules. I have to work harder here to get everyone to align and comply.” Unlike most expats, Michael figured out a way to work with his Indian colleagues without being autocratic or authoritarian. He was wise enough to see common patterns between office behavior and the way we eat food — true hallmark of a pathfinder.
During interviews, Narendra would ask the interviewees about Bollywood. As they spoke, he would see how they analyzed the plots and the characters and the stars and by that he would be able to figure out how their mind functioned. Did they think originally? Did they follow the trend? Were they trend followers or trendsetters? Were they open to suggestion? Were they opinionated? Were they arrogant? The study of principles that are not impacted by the domain is known as tattva-gyan.