Business Sutra |5.2| Crossing the Vaitarani: Passing Knowledge to Next Gen

Business Sutra |5| Education

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

The first presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation: its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective. In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership: Role of the leader, Context of the leader and Leadership in different business cycles. The third episode relates to the Business Ethics and Morals:  business ethics and dilemmas, relationship between owner and the organization  and The Right (Dharma) – the Ramayana way and the Mahabharata way. The 4th episode deals with Conflicts, of the Board and the CEO and that of the means vs. ends.

The present episode takes unto the realm of Education, for which we have covered  the basics of education to the (potential) leaders in Ram’s Education  in the first part.

The second part now deals with coaching and the next, the third one with student motivation.

Business Sutra |5.2| Crossing the Vaitarani: Passing Knowledge to Next Gen

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”

– Charles Darwin

The change that is under the scanner here is the change in the role of a manager in his / her progression up the organizational ladder.  In all the real life situations, the present set of competencies may not be fully relevant for the success at the next stage. Therefore, in practice, the incumbent is trained / coached/mentored during the transition stage of changeover from one stage to the another,

In Coaching through transition, not just through change, Susan Grandfield notes that ‘for change to be effective and achieve its goals, a transition needs to occur and that takes time. Change can be fast (i.e. a new process for doing X is rolled out across the business) but transition is slow (i.e. people fully engaging with the new way of working).

Time is precious, and managers are under pressure to deliver results as quickly as possible. So, the danger is, that they don’t give themselves, or the people they manage, sufficient time to make the transition. Which requires them to “let go” of the past first, before they can fully embrace the future.

It’s not that when change happens we should forget the past and cut all ties with it. After all, it is the past that has got us to where we are now. So, there are elements of what we did well in the past that should be brought with us into the future. However, if clinging on to the way things were done in the past means you have one foot in the past as you step into the future, it is unlikely that you will be able to fully make the transition into the new way of doing things.’

One can find volumes of literature in the Western Management theory and practice related to planning / training / coaching /mentoring during the succession transition. It is not feasible to cover references to all such material in this article.

Devdutt Pattanaik uses the metaphor of river Vaitarani, the mythological river that separates the mortal world and the world of bliss that an individual has to successfully navigate through, in order to reach the higher plane of the life after the end (death) of the present life on this mortal world.

In the Segment 2 of the episode 5 Devdutt Pattanaik takes the Indian mythology’s perspective of this transition phase of Crossing the Vaitarni : Passing Knowledge to Next Gen

From a corporate or an organization or an enterprise’s perspective that is almost   one most important thing, and that which enterprises are constantly working to  achieve, is that the people who are currently in positions of power train and impart their knowledge and their understanding to those who are their likely successors.  That exchange of information / knowledge / experience transfer is not almost always perfect.

If you say the purpose of an organization is growth, the growth being the primary word. How do I grow? Normally growth is seen physically, in economic terms in terms of growth of Lakshmi. So my salary has to increase: my top line and bottom line at the company level have to increase. But, let us take another currency which also exists in India. Lakshmi is not the only currency; there is other currency as well – the Saraswati, the knowledge. So every person who walks into an organization is suddenly exposed to a whole load of knowledge as he does his work.

Now he says I want to go to the next level. What is going to the next level mean? If you look at from an Indian mythological perspective, we are saying that you know what the role that I’m performing I have done the best I can, I have lived it.  Now I want to take up a new role. in a way, I have to shed the old role and take up a new role. The shedding of the old role can be equated with death. So when you die, in India you cross a river called of Vaitarani. So when I am saying I have been a good executive, so I die as an executive so that I can be reborn as a manager. But why should I be allowed to move on to the other Shore unless I have created a replacement for myself, because otherwise you are indispensable? Just as you were made an executive by someone else you shall make someone else an executive before moving on to the next role as manager.

So if you look at an organizational hierarchy, it is really one generation after another generation, and each generation is obliged to the previous generation and to the next generation. So there is a telescoping of ambitions across generations. This is what one is trying to achieve and this is how the ashram a system came into being.

In Ancient India they’d said that if you would go to live for hundred years, divide your life into four phases. The first phase is when you are a student. In the next stage you are a householder and in the third phase you are retired. Then, in the fourth phase you’re a renunciant – you’re a sannyasi . Now look at it metaphorically what it says in the first phase you gain Saraswati, in the next phase you use the knowledge of Saraswati that have got to gain Lakshmi. Having done the householders’ life, what do you mean by retirement, because that is a 25-years-span which is result of dividing 100-year life into i four equal phases. The retirement is not walking away from everything. It means passing on the Saraswati that you have gained to the next generation. Only then you can move on to the next phase of renunciation. Renunciation is moving onto whatever you want to do.  It is kind of a cyclical process which is happening. In this retirement stage, I am talking to the next generation, preparing them to grow.  I give Saraswati and move on to the next stage.  So who grows? The new trainee is growing and in turn I am growing because otherwise I can go on not take the next position. This is like a perfect wave that is happening where if Saraswathi has been given Saraswati is being taken.  That is what has been called the growth. As  a result, Lakshmi is also being generated.  There is growth at an intellectual level as well as in an economic level.  That is what organization aspires.

I mean the whole idea of creating a separate training department is absurd because who has the knowledge?  It is the person in the field who has the knowledge, not someone sitting in the classroom.  Coaching is intrinsic to growth and that is what the Vishwamitra story in a way. He says that he has been a great king called Kaushik.  He now wants to be Vishwamitra, a friend of the world. So he is saying that I will pass whatever I have learned to this young promising Prince called Ram and then move on.

But not all of us can be Vishwamitra. You call this a perfect wave. But the thing about corporate power or power in the workplace is that the more you know the more power you have, in turn, more indispensable you are or less dispensable you are. Therefore the incentive to pass this on to successive generations and empower them as well is very very low, because then it makes me less important.

Absolutely. The whole idea is we think knowledge is power. So I don’t want to give it. The reason I give it away is because in the process of giving it away I learn many more things. Saraswati is wonderful, unlike Lakshmi.  if I have one rupee coin and I give it to you. Now you have one rupee coin. We exchanged one one rupee coin and both of us are still left with one rupee coin. But if I have an idea and you have an idea and we exchanged two ideas we both have two ideas. So, the wonderful thing about Saraswati is it doubles.  So if I want to increase my understanding of Saraswathi the best way to improve my understanding of any subject is to teach. What happens is in the process is I figure out human dynamics, we figure out why does a person not want to study, because it’s so obvious. This is the way you negotiate and you will realize that the person in front of you is not learning. The teacher, by observing the student and his resistance to learning, figures out human dynamics;  he understands how difficult it is to teach to someone who  not obliged to learn. So you have to work very hard to make the subject attractive.

It is incumbent upon the teacher to  find ways to help the student learn, as much as it is incumbent on the student to find ways to learn.

Let me rephrase this slightly. What I will say is that in the process of giving Saraswati I figure out the art of becoming attractive. Per force I focus on creating the honey and the students will come like the bees. The focus is on creating the honey and not in attracting the bees. The bees will come. Now that is the growth that I get when I am passing on my knowledge to the other. You gain and I gain. You gain some knowledge, you get the data but I gain the wisdom ……..

At this point, the discussion moves on to the subject of the next segment.

The essence of the discussion is that by training / coaching / mentoring your next generation during the transition phase, you are also destined to gain the wisdom, that in turn will help you to move on to your next stage higher echelons of management ladder and enhance my competence to face the future challenges more effectively..

In our continuing journey of Education in Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra, we will move on to the 3rd part of 5th episode – Vikram and Vetal.

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.