Business Sutra |9.2| Creation of Hierarchy

Business Sutra |9| Discrimination

We have covered five episodes of Devdutt Pattanaik’ TV serial on CNBC 18:  Business Sutra.

The subject of Episode 9 is Discrimination. In order to decode this complex problem, Devdutt Pattanaik takes up gender discrimination in the 1st segment.

Business Sutra |9.2| Creation of Hierarchy

With the help of Wikipedia, we first take a quick look at the basics relating to the term: Hierarchy:

The definition of hierarchical is something that is organized in terms of rank, or where rigid distinctions of power are identified and complied with.

A hierarchy (from the Greek hierarkhia, “rule of a high priest”, from hierarkhes, “president of sacred rites”) is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being “above”, “below”, or “at the same level as” one another. Hierarchy is an important concept in a wide variety of fields, such as philosophy, mathematics, computer science, organizational theory, systems theory, and the social sciences (especially political philosophy).

And we will now look at what we can see what the terms Social Hierarchy or Organization Hierarchy should tell us:

Social hierarchy: A fundamental aspect of social organization that is established by fighting or display behavior and results in a ranking of the animals in a group. Social, or dominance, hierarchies are observed in many different animals, including insects, crustaceans, mammals, and birds. In many species, size, age, or sex determines dominance rank. Dominance hierarchies often determine first or best access to food, social interactions, or mating within animal groups… Social hierarchies provide a means by which animals can live in groups and exploit resources in an orderly manner. In particular, food can be distributed among group members with little ongoing conflict. Another motivation for group living is mutual defense. Even though subordinates receive less food or have fewer opportunities to mate, they may have greatly increased chances of escaping predation.

A hierarchical organization is an organizational structure where every entity in the organization, except one, is subordinate to a single other entity. This arrangement is a form of a hierarchy. In an organization, the hierarchy usually consists of a singular/group of power at the top with subsequent levels of power beneath them.

We have one article which sounds nearer to the title of the topic of discussion today:

Why Hierarchies ThriveHarold J. Leavitt – Back in 1989, Peter Drucker predicted that the businesses of the future would be modeled on a symphony like Mahler’s Eighth∗, where a single conductor leads more than 1,000 musicians and singers without any intermediaries or assistants. A decade later, Gifford Pinchot asserted that hierarchical organizations “based on dominance and submission” would soon be replaced by communities that are more appropriate to our high-tech times and postmodern selves… But the truth is that in almost any large organization, the boss’s whim, no matter how absurd, becomes law. Hierarchy remains the basic structure of most, if not all, large, ongoing human organizations. Many of the large organizational “dinosaurs” have demonstrated impressive adaptability. More important, though, hierarchies deliver real practical and psychological value. On a fundamental level, they don’t just enslave us, they also fulfill our deep needs for order and security. And they get big jobs done. It seems more sensible to accept the reality that hierarchies are here to stay and work hard to reduce their highly noxious byproducts, while making them more habitable for humans and more productive as well.

So, it is time now to look at what Indian mythology has to on the subject, as interpreted by Devudtt Pattanaik, in Segment 2 – Creation of Hierarchy – of the episode 9.

If, as per mythology, male and female both are equal where the gender discrimination comes from? If genders were used only to represent ideas, if the male form was used to represent mind and leadership and the female to represent matter and organizations then who vitiated this atmosphere of equality and decided that one was lesser than the other.

Inequality is a human construct. In nature everybody is equal. Nature treats everybody equally. If you are fit, you will survive, if you’re not fit you will not survive.  So nature is the great equalizer. The bowl of rice treats man the same way as it will treat a woman.  It will satisfy the hunger of the hungry man as it will satisfy the hunger of hungry woman.  So nature is the great equalizer, but human beings have constructed culture. Now, while we created culture why did we create culture: to be better than animals, to be more involved. In the process, something went wrong. The animals need to dominate, and so do humans, too.

So we have not fully given up or shared our animal skin?

Yes, so to speak. But why do animals want to dominate? They want to dominate to survive. Because if they dominate they have access to more food, etc. Why do humans want to dominate? Because they want for the survival of their imagination, their imaginary self that they have where they want to feel more important than others. Therefore, what we do in culture is that we create structures which give one group of people a more dominant position than others.

What are the methods to create this?  It is what we call a pyramid. We create a pyramid, say on the basis of color, or gender or birth…

Does mythology give sanction to discrimination of whether it is gender discrimination or cast based or birth based ,discrimination based on where you were born or how you were born or who you were born to?

As I have said repeatedly, in every show of mine, mythology is not prescriptive, it is reflective.  What does it reflect upon? It reflects that any society anywhere in the world, not just Indian society or African society, society of the Anglo-Indians, that of the Native Americans, or of the Europeans or for that matter, that of Australians, any society in the world that has a culture will have a hierarchy. There is a purusha sukta, which comes in the Rigveda one of the earliest hymns written in India which describes the organization, any organization whether it is an organization like company a corporate organization or a social organization, every organization is actually an organism and the organism has many parts. Each part is unique, in its identity and is different from the other part. It recognizes inequality because the inequality depends on the measure that you have. If I measure people on the basis of intellect, some people have more intellect some people have less intellect. If I measure society on the basis of emotions, some people are more emotional, some people less emotional. If I measure people on the basis of physical strength then some people have more physical strength and some people have less physical strength. Now which is better? Which of these three parameters is considered a superior?

More.. always..

But more of which one?

It depends on what the need of the hour.

That’s right – on the need of the hour. So, the mythology, and in Hindu mythology, the Rig Veda’s the purusha sukta acknowledges this fact. It acknowledges that there exists a hierarchy in every organization. We may use of the term it as not hierarchy, let us call that as difference. There are two different words.

An organism, as an organism, has a head, a torso, hands and feet.  The intellectual portion was considered the head, the thinker or the thinking part. The part that gets things done or the planner or the executive part was the hand. There was the part which focused on the value, the financial value of an organization which measured things constantly, where things are checked; you could call that the control systems. There are that actually got you moving from point A to point B, without which there would be no movement – that is the labor or it could be the people who execute. So you can look at this as a corporate organization – you have the design cell which designs and strategizes, you have the planning cell, you have the control cell and you have the execute cell. If one part functions better than the other the organization will not succeed. You need every part to work together.

Now, what happens is somewhere along the line one part takes greater importance than the other. So imagine a company where the finance was more powerful and the HR is ignored. It will be very strange organization, where everything is about control control control and nothing about human beings. Imagine the company where the strategic department takes all the credit, then the implementation will be terrible. That’s the biggest problem of the 21st century. If you read all the books in the market, they talk about implementation. If only implementation is focused on and strategy is not looked at, then long term will suffer. If there is strategy and implementation but no planning, there will be complete chaos in the organization.

So every part is important. But the fact is differences are there. This is where the problem starts, when one part gets more importance than the other. Then the differences gives rise to hierarchy.  We must always remember that acknowledgement of difference does not mean that it is a sanction for discrimination.

For various reasons, hierarchy has existed in the human ecosystem, as narrated so succinctly in The George Orwell’s Animal Farm’s quote – “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  As with many other things, the human beings have abused it. It may be very slight, benign or need-based to begin with, as narrated in Aldous Huxley’s The Brave New World. But over the years that abuse has taken the fully negative form and the hierarchy has become the discrimination. So much so, that today, more one tries to remove that discrimination, a discrimination of other type crops up on the other side.

In our continuing journey of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra, we will move on to the third segment Caste: The Death of Brahmin of 9th Episode, the Discrimination, in our next episode.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 / Bernstein · Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra


In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

6 thoughts on “Business Sutra |9.2| Creation of Hierarchy”

  1. Interesting, in some way it reminded me of Maslow’s needs hierarchy. Although I have always despised hierarchy in any setting, I don’t see how a business can function without it. Interesting to think of it in a relational manner. I like the comparison with a conductor managing orchestra, puts thoughts in a perspective.

    1. I also feel that in real world, one can not do away the hierarchy.
      One has to learn to live with it, such that the net effect has positive contribution.
      This statement does sound too utopian.
      But that is worth trying.
      That is the only way the concept of hierarchy in human society reach the level of the nature…..

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