MASTER OF NONE

“Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I really need it.”

India is a land of million gods and maybe more than a million godmen.  And if there is something even more all prevailing than godmen, it is the industry that godmen spawn and flourish in. What explains India’s unflinching, unending fascination for godmen?

Search for solace, purpose and meaning of their existence takes people to strange places and persons.  People form emotional connects with their gurus who promise to provide them these.  In India, gurus provide these and a lot more.

India has consistently ranked amongst the bottom one third of all countries in world on (HDI) human development index. HDI is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, gender disparity and per capita income indicators. Over the last 5 years, India has floundered between 130-136 rank on this index, on par with countries like Tajikistan, Honduras and Congo.

Dignity, social support, medical assistance, employment, food, shelter, security are the things modern Indian state refuses to offer or at best half-heartedly offers to its citizens. The Indian state is quick to collect its pound of flesh in the form of various taxes and tolls but mostly unable or unwilling to fulfil its duty to its citizens except when it is politically convenient for those in power. The sect of gurus and babas then fill the vacuum created by the missing government. Over a period of time, this association between the devotee with the Guru becomes quite strong and tenacious often easily superseding the bond that connect the people to the uncaring, distant, and unfair, Indian state.

Indians are mostly superstitious rather than religious. India has not produced any Nobel prize winner in science in the last 80 odd years – largely because of the lack of a scientific temper and environment in the country. It is not uncommon in India to find highly educated people from accomplished professions being extremely superstitious. Very few Indians have read or know about great Indian scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and The Gita. At best, most Indians have some rudimentary understanding of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hinduism is very diverse, tolerant and open to multiple versions and interpretations.  Anyone can claim to be a guru, saint, reincarnation or avatar. This is fertile ground for anyone professing to be a godman, to come in and interpret these scriptures as per their motives to brainwash gullible believers.

Indians deeply believe in personality cult in all walks of life. We are excessively crazy about personalities. From movie stars who are often worshipped by crazy fans to superstar cricketers to all powerful politicians, everyone is a holy deity, not to be questioned, only slavishly praised. Few of their followers know or talk about the work ethics or discipline of their idols, they seem more content talking about their personalities and lifestyles.

India has had a rich and ancient tradition of Guru-Shishya (Master – Disciple) culture. It’s a tradition of mentoring whereby teachings are transmitted from a guru to a disciple. The learned master helps people attain higher knowledge. In recent times, this tradition seems to have metamorphosed into an industry with godmen exploiting weaknesses of existing institutions like family, education, society to their advantage by offering instantaneous miracles and quick fix solutions to cure the dissonance caused by modern life. The stresses of modern life are triggered by high velocity socio economic transformation, dislocation of communities and the atomization of society. In western countries, rootless individuals seeking to make sense of their world drift to alcohol, drugs and psychiatrists. In India, they take refuge in godmen. Today, the godman isn’t just the miracle worker, he is also the agony aunt, family adviser, match maker, spiritual guide, psychologist and corporate consultant and sometimes a business magnate too. He offers answers, solutions, happiness, an easy path to follow in an otherwise unforgiving and cruel world. He is the anchor that roots an individual to a cause, to a community of fellow devotees. He is the believer’s moral compass.

In walks the politician who turns this already potent cocktail to a toxic and incendiary substance. In return for votes, legitimacy and visibility the politician offers the godman his patronage. The patronage from the greedy, corrupt and powerful politician allows the godman to run a parallel state, often with their own army and currency. Many godmen start seeing themselves as above the law which leads to gory and tragic consequences for their die-hard believers. Yet, these godmen are rarely held accountable, least of all by their devotees. A powerful politician or a celebrity falling at the feet of a godman to seek his blessings adds to the already invincible aura of that godman in the eyes of his believers.

And that’s how the gullible and vulnerable of India continue their tryst with gurus, babas, swamis, sadhus and saint’s till sometimes it all falls apart like a house of cards.

For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain – Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek

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RE-IMAGINING A NATION

“If you can’t see past my name, you can’t see me.” – DaShanne Stokes

Unity in diversity has been a recurring age-old theme in public discourses in our country. I think most of us would remember writing essays on it in school. The theme is faithfully repeated and emphasized upon in every Independence Day and Republic day function by assorted politicians, national leaders and celebrities.  Many others also speak about it at cultural festivals, fancy dress competitions and other such functions.

There is no doubt that some diversity is a good thing but it cannot be the defining virtue of our country. No nation was ever founded on the differences it contains. Celebrating our diversity doesn’t mean much apart from empty sloganeering and feel good factor. We must seek, instead, to celebrate what we have in common. Diversity is not static. It can turn on itself in no time. The single biggest reason behind most social conflicts is diversity itself.  As recent events in Karnataka and other parts of the country have shown, identity politics thrives on particularity of differences – linguistic, ethnic, religious etc.

Many people give the example of America as a melting pot nation full of diversity. Often, we are told – America is a nation of immigrants. While that is true since most Americans can trace back their ancestry to atleast 30 different geographical regions where their families resided before immigration, however, the general emphasis in that statement is on “immigrants” and not on “nation”.  But America is not just a nation with a collection of people from random nationalities. America is defined by a common culture, a core set of beliefs, principles and a language. Though English is still not the official language of the country, it is the de facto national language and a full 96% of Americans speak English. The most influential movie industry, Hollywood, churns out cinema almost entirely in English language. Education system in the US follows a standardized testing and grading scale whichever part of the country one might be in. Same set of National holidays are observed throughout. Traditional American food and beverages are available everywhere.

Renowned political scientist and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, Robert Putnam conducted a massive study on diversity and found that greater the diversity in a community fewer people vote, less they volunteer, less they trust their neighbours, fewer close friends they have and less they work on community projects. The things that go up in diverse societies are: more TV watching, more protest marches and more choices of cuisine. The message was loud and clear: our differences make us weaker.

Infact, there is overwhelming evidence that nations comprised of people who do not share common core cultural values come apart, often violently. There are plenty of examples of countries being torn apart by irreconcilable differences of ethnic, sectarian, religious and linguistic groups who have failed to find a way to turn this mosaic into a melting pot.

There is also growing evidence that principle of equality (treating every human being as equal regardless of their ethnic, religious, linguistic backgrounds) is being replaced by principles of diversity where all cultural identities must be given public and government recognition. This leads to people being treated differently which fuels a sense of exclusion which in turn triggers a competition for resources, wealth, jobs etc on the basis that their group is more vulnerable and excluded than others. There is a perverse incentive to assert one’s victimisation by others, rather than build alliances.

New age diversity politics is the mirror image of old age racial thinking. We see people’s ethnicity and cultural background first and foremost and their often diverse talents and interests, last.

So is culture as divisive as it is made out to be by the proponents of diversity politics?

Most people when asked what is culture will mention things like music, art, literature, festivals, sports etc. All these, in my opinion, bring people together and are not inherently divisive then why is there so much talk about “disrespecting the culture”, “my culture vs your culture”?

When two cultures share the same solution to the same set of problems, there is no conflict but when the solutions are different, one culture may resist, sometimes be even openly hostile to the solutions offered by another culture. Such disparate solutions within the realm of economics, politics and ethnicities crystallize over a period to become incongruent ideologies. These differing ideologies which cause friction and divisiveness between cultures, at times are foolishly celebrated as diversity to be proud of and to be cherished.

 Our goals should be to seek and celebrate a common national culture and values out of all the disparate elements, a culture that is dynamic but remains true to the core values of our nation.  Through that cultural identity will lead a path to a more rewarding and richer goal of being an Indian first.

“You cannot be happy if your primary identity is that of a victim, even if you really are one.”  ― Dennis Prager

Dangerous Minds

“Amateurs loot banks. Professionals set up one.”

In a social experiment conducted a few years ago by OCK TV, two men posing as homeless persons begged for food from well to do, upwardly mobile, educated, corporate types on Wall Street in New York City. Unluckily for them not one person budged. Infact, at times the two men were also abused and threatened. Moments later, another person from the same OCK TV social experiment team purchased an entire pizza pie and give it to a real homeless man. Shortly after that, one of the two social experimenters from OCK TV who was disguised as a homeless person sat next to the real homeless man with the pizza pie. The social experimenter told the real  homeless person he was hungry and asked if he had an extra slice. Without hesitation, the real homeless man happily shared his meal. A man who had hardly anything to share showed compassion and consideration far greater than his wealthier counterparts. The experiment showed that generosity and empathy are quite often found not with the well to do and educated but with the ones who do not have enough to share.

Back in 1964, a famous musical hit the movie theaters all over the world – My Fair Lady. In the movie, Professor Higgins, a snobby, old British guy in Sherlock suit tries to “improve” a simple, flower selling girl, Eliza Doolittle, by educating her on how to talk smart and dress well. In the process of getting better, Eliza loses her identity and her independent mind to become a smart, well-spoken yet pliable, vulnerable machine in the hands of a small minded, misogynist man – all in the name of education.

The history of biggest heists and crimes in the world reveal that most of them were committed by highly educated, well to do, well placed, white collar people who had everything going for them in life. From our very own, Rajat Gupta (Chief Executive of McKinsey) and Peter Mukherjee (CEO of Star TV) to Dennis Kozlowski  (CEO of Tyco), Nick Leeson (Barings Bank, Britain’s oldest merchant bank), Kenneth Lay (CEO of Enron), Bernie Ebbers (CEO of World Com), Bernie Madoff, all the way to the original white collar scamster, Charles Ponzi. Cumulatively speaking these white-collar criminals swindled atleast 100 billion dollars and caused job losses to the tune of hundreds of thousands. I can’t think of even one regular criminal or gang of criminals who can match up to this rogues’ gallery.

The thing is that Education may give you Knowledge, Intelligence and Confidence but it does not necessarily give you Character, Empathy and Wisdom. And the latter three qualities are what makes a person a true leader and a valuable member of the society. Those three qualities have nothing to do with how well educated, well traveled or well arrived in life one may be. Infact, Character, Empathy and Wisdom are qualities which are distinctive of an individual’s nature, disposition, temperament, mentality and psyche.

Mind you, not for a moment I am suggesting that one should not strive to be educated or even literate. All I am saying is that just because one is well educated or well read does not mean, one is also virtuous.  As Mario Puzo wrote – a lawyer with a briefcase can steal a lot more than a thousand men with guns.

So next time someone calls you “uneducated”or “semi-literate” it might not be such a bad thing after all.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values”

What Women Want

I don’t know who coined the phrase – Behind every successful man, there is a woman. But I suspect it was Thomas Munro.

Some two centuries ago, Mr Munro, a settlement officer and collector in South India wrote a letter recounting how one farmer “cannot afford to pay his usual rent because his wife is dead, who used to do more work than his best bullock.”

Rabid exploitation and hatred of women is deeply entrenched in the Indian society. The roots of this hatred run bedrock deep and are directly proportional to the extent of our vehement denial of this misogyny.

Misogyny – harder to spell, easier to practice

The moment one mention’s the word misogyny, pat comes the counter – but we worship women as goddesses in this country. Alas, nothing could be farther from truth. We don’t worship women as goddesses, we only worship goddesses as goddesses.

Thanks largely to this sort of denial and some twisted justifications provided by the self-appointed guardians of social morality, we have become oblivious to the fact that the condition of women in the country is steadily deteriorating.

Thomson Reuters Foundation and World Report surveys show India as the 4th most dangerous country for a woman, in the same league as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo. At least the Taliban in Af-Pak are open about their disdain for women. But Indian society is hypocritical. We worship goddesses and yet fail to protect women from crimes and then blame them too for bringing it upon themselves. Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.

No woman, no cry

Our hatred for women starts even before they are born. Female infanticide claimed 50 lakh girl babies in India in 2016. Yes, that is 13,700 murders every day.

45% girls are married off before the age of 18. 10% teenage girls are already mothers. The country probably has, in absolute numbers, more teen mothers than almost anywhere else in the world — a rough calculation would put the figure at about five million.

70% of Indian married women have faced domestic violence at some point or other.

Honour killing numbers are up from 28 in 2014 to 251 in 2016, almost 800% jump.

We are one of the worst offenders when it comes to sexual harassment, eve teasing & rape. Despite 90% of such incidents not being reported, there were 35,000 such registered cases in 2016, a jump of 90% over the previous year.  7 out of every 10 women has faced sexual harassment at work place.

And in continuation of the legacy from Thomas Munro’s time 200 years ago; where the jobs require free labour, that is, no payment for work done, 90% of the work force consists of women. However, where there is paid work, women constitute only 10% of the work force.

So was the Indian society always like this or did things change for the worse at some point in time?

We were like this only

During the early Vedic period (2500 – 1500 BCE), available data shows that liberal attitudes and practices pertaining to women existed during this period. Women actively took part in religious and social activities. They had freedom to choose their life partner and marriage was not regarded compulsory. Daughters were not considered a liability. However, the society was still patriarchal and male dominated. Husband had a superior position in society compared to wife. Polygamy was allowed. A widow could remarry but only to the brother of the deceased husband.

The high status that women enjoyed during the early Vedic period gradually started declining in the late Vedic period (1000-500 BCE). Women started to get confined to the house. Excessive importance was given to concepts such as purity and cleanliness. Sons started becoming the sole heir of family property. A woman’s place was her home and bearing sons to continue the family lineage was her prime task. Women were kept constantly under the control of men and slowly started losing the right to education and knowledge. This downfall coincided with the era of our great epics – Ramayana & Mahabharata.  These two great epics still exert a considerable influence on the Indian society. Sita is the epitome of an ideal Indian woman, a woman who surrenders her desires and ambitions to follow her husband, one who never questions her husband and does what she is told. Draupadi from Mahabharata exhibits more courage and freedom yet she is used and abused by the menfolk of the family and only god could save her. Then we have Gandhari again from Mahabharata who blind folds herself and lowers her capabilities to meet those of her husband.

The period between 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. or the Manu Smriti period was one of progressive deterioration in the position of women. It is Manu’s code that has had the most negative impact on Indian women for countless succeeding generations. Even today, it is Manu’s laws which keep millions helpless in the confines of Hindu orthodoxy. Despite a few odd passages here and there about glorification of women, by and large his laws place women socially on a level with the lowest of all groups in society, the Sudra. Manu’s social codes and sanctions left their marks permanently on the future status of the Indian women.

From 1000 AD onwards, Muslim invaders took control of the country. During their reign, position of women became even worse. Polygamy and Purdah were two of the most important social institutions of the Muslim conquerors of India. Strict enforcement of purdah system meant seclusion of women from men who did not belong to their immediate family. Therefore, opportunities to educate women reduced considerably leaving them at the mercy of rigid patriarchal values and practices. Hindu civilization also stopped progressing and got caught in blind faith and old customs resulting in propagation of regressive practices like Sati, Jauhar, Child marriage, female foeticide, Devadasi system etc.

Its only when the British started an era of social reforms with the abolition of Sati in 1829 AD alongside tireless efforts of prominent Hindu social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Jyoti Ba Phule is when this decline was arrested. However, as the data put forth by me above shows, we have a very long way to go before our treatment of women will classify us as a civilized society.

 Long walk to freedom

Among other things such as education, law and order, equal rights etc the key to improving women’s status in Indian society is the internalization of the concepts of freedom and dignity. Freedom means each person in every role respects the other’s liberty and dignity. This respect is accorded at work, home and at public places. Unfortunately, concept of freedom and dignity are not yet known in India, leave alone internalized. The idea that women should choose their life, their attire, their career, their faith, their partners, their jobs, to have an offspring or not, their future: this idea is anathema to most Indians. Seventy years have passed since India gained independence and still we don’t have even a rudimentary understanding of the concept of freedom. Unless that change happens, women will continue to be slaves of an outdated thinking and the country will continue to be one of the most wretched places on earth for humanity.

“You can’t beat women anyhow and that if you are wise you don’t even try to”- William Faulkner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kids are All right

The school and college board exams are around the corner. Capitalizing on that a sugary, fizzy, harmful for health, multinational soft drink manufacturer has recently released an ad campaign called “Release the pressure” where it appeals to parents to stop pressurizing their children to study harder and do better in exams. At the time of writing this blog, this ad on the company’s official YouTube channel had already clocked a million views, an indication of how successful the campaign has been. Many industry big wings and experts too have hailed the ad as “thought provoking” and “powerful”.

I beg to differ.

The intentions behind the ad are surely noble considering that National Crime Records Bureau reports show that exam pressure and pressure to perform are leading causes of depression and suicide amongst teenagers.  What the campaign could have done better is that instead of asking parents to step back, release the pressure and let the children be, talk about how Parents could help their kids understand that stress is inevitable but the response to stress need not be. And that Life is all about coping with challenges thrown at them every day.

Look, the world is a tough, mean, nasty place and it is not going to get better anytime soon.  So here are some ways in which Parents could help kids handle stress better:

 Balancing Act – Do not overload the kids with multiple extracurricular activities. Keeping them busy always is not a productive way of coping with life’s challenges. Its ok for kids to be bored. Instead of keeping them out of your hair, you could plan more activities as a family. Maybe bond over meals and games and trekking expeditions in nature. You should restrict screen time for kids. Less of technology, less of TV, more of outdoor activities is good for their sleep. And kids who get enough sleep are likely to be less irritable and better able to handle stress.

Set an example – Stress, like smile, is contagious. If you as a Parent can’t handle your own stress, your kid will never learn to either. So the next time you are having a bad day, it’s ok to tell your kids why you are upset so long as you can put the situation in perspective. Your kids will also learn to communicate their feelings better. Sometimes, talking, listening and sharing is all that is needed to help a child. Thus, stress stops being a taboo word. Kids therefore begin to understand that stress (sometimes) happens.

Don’t Release the pressure – Stress is body’s response when it is forced to operate outside its comfort zone. Unfortunately, we as Parents don’t do enough to push our kids outside of their comfort zones rather we spare little effort in creating comfort zones for them. Parents must resist the temptation of jumping in and fixing things for their kids too soon. By doing this, parents try to release the pressure but inadvertently end up sending a message to their kids that says – I don’t think you can handle it, so let me. Instead, Parents should remind their children that it is all right to fail, to be uncertain, to be uncomfortable – it’s all a part of their learning, growth and development.

Warriors or Worriers? – Genetics research has shown that stress is not as simple as we have assumed yet it is also much more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long term stress, short term stress can help children perform better. The cure therefore isn’t necessarily less competition, sometimes it is more competition, but of the right kind.

Dopamine in our brains coaxes us to a reward and thrill seeking behavior. In other words, when we fall in love, satisfy that secret craving, lust for that fellow human, win at gambling, do drugs or alcohol, copious amounts of Dopamine is released in our brains. Soon our brains get addicted to it and force us to indulge in behaviors which will release more Dopamine.

There is a gene in our brains called COMT which plays a large part in why some kids excel under competitive pressure and others just wither away. COMT gene’s function is to remove the dopamine (stress induced or otherwise) from our pre-frontal cortex. Pre-frontal cortex is that part of the brain where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts – in short, a sum-total of expression of our personalities.

There are 2 varieties of COMT gene: one that removes the dopamine fast and the other removes it slowly.  Research has shown that under normal circumstances, people with slow dopamine removing COMT gene variant are better at reasoning, solving problems, figuring out complex stuff and determining future consequences.  People with fast dopamine removing COMT gene variant, under normal circumstances are laid back and lackadaisical. To such people, everyday mundane tasks are boring and underwhelming, it doesn’t excite them enough to stimulate the sharpness of their mind which they are capable of. However, under stress the situation dramatically reverses itself. The person with the fast dopamine removing COMT gene variant performs better under stress. Therefore, kids who perform best in normal conditions may not be the same people who perform best under stress. Stress is good for some kids but those who are vulnerable to stress are at a disadvantage.

Remember, children do not think, act and handle stress like adults do. It’s our duty to help them identify, express their feelings borne out of stress and empower them to use positive remedial behavior.

Theodore Vail once said – Real difficulties can be overcome, it’s only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.

Once Upon a Time in a Far Far Away Galaxy

Napoleon Bonaparte once said – what is history but a story most of us have agreed upon.

Our most precious memories and experiences have a story behind them. When meeting old friends or loved ones we sit down and talk about the good old times and soon enough many interesting stories pop up. Our favourite movies and advertisements tell stories that resonate with us.

Stories have existed since long before recorded history. From Aesop’s fables, Jataka’s, Panchatantra, Karadi tales to a modern-day Steve Jobs, each one of them told us some unforgettable stories. With the passage of time, the desire to hear stories hasn’t changed, nor has the longing to tell stories.

Today, kids can barely sit through a class, but spend hundreds of hours devouring Harry Potter books. Hardly 15 minutes into an office meeting and everybody is either yawning or spaced out or fiddling on their phones but the same office goers can sit glued to their screen for hours together binge watching the latest show on Netflix. Stories are the best way to connect with people. Stories inspire, teach, delight, empower and entertain. Stories are less likely to be resisted and more likely to be shared. In whatever form, they’re created and whoever its creators are, great stories always hit home.

Storytelling is critically important for leaders. Because, first and foremost, leaders are in the business of selling. They are selling a vision, a project, a dream, a place, a need. In short, they are selling a better and brighter future.

Infact, way back in 1970, Nike designated their executives “Corporate Storytellers” as part of their corporate culture. The stories the company leaders told ranged from recounting the company history to inspiring tales of people simply getting things accomplished. By helping their employees understand the company’s past and culture, these stories helped Nike shape its future. Imagine hearing the story of Nike founder Bill Bowerman labouring away in his workshop one afternoon when he gets an unusual idea of  pouring molten shoe rubber into the family waffle iron and voila the famous Nike waffle sole is born! The telling of stories like this reflected “the spirit of innovation” at the shoe company.

A good story holds our attention. It makes us marvel with awe and wonder at things we imagine. It touches us and makes us captive. That’s why stories are such incredible communication tools for leaders.

So how can leaders become better at story telling?

Open your mind and ears –  Whether they know it or not, every single person has a story to tell. Listening to people and observing them is the constant source of new stories. If one approaches people, places and conversations with an open mind one can find hidden nuggets of umpteen interesting stories.  Everyone and everything has a story to tell so long as you are keeping an open mind.

Practice, practice, practice – Prepare beforehand. Run it in your head. Pause to explore its appeal, catch lines and visuals. Steve Jobs could turn his MacWorld keynote talks into an effortless art form only because of his intense preparation and gruelling rehearsals.

Don’t get too detailed – While it is important to provide some details to create an immersive experience for your audience; you must ensure those details don’t stand out so much that they detract from the story you’re trying to tell. Steer clear from graphs and charts and tables. No one remembers that stuff. There’s nothing more mind numbing than hearing a bunch of facts and figures, numbers, jargons and buzzwords bombarded at you. There is a reason why sports is far more popular than science. Sports is a story but science unfortunately is mostly information, data, proofs and equations. Therefore, when faced with a receptive audience resist the temptation to wear your “guru” hat.

Twist in the tale – Surprise your audiences, make them curious. Even better shock them. The twist in the tale need not always happen at the end. A paradoxical opening statement can instantly grab the audience’s attention. There is nothing more boring than a predictable story. Add an element of flair, drama, emotion and conflict to your stories otherwise people will view your stories as just an annoying interruption.

Authenticity is keyYour stories need to come from an authentic place. You must tell your stories with unflinching honesty. Half-baked transparency is boring. Flaws make stories interesting, and more relatable. Also , don’t censor out the naughty bits.

Today, there are more stories to tell than ever. But ironically, storytelling is slowly becoming a lost art in many businesses.  Everyone has become so attuned to creating dreary, dull, yawn inducing slide show presentations. This is a habit leaders need to snap out of immediately. Stories can also be a life saver too as Scheherazade found out much to her relief in Arabian Nights.

A good and well-presented story is successful in reaching its objective and remembered long after over others. Reaching its listeners, holding the interest and crossing all age barriers is the impact of an effective storytelling.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them – Ira Glass

Make him an offer he can’t refuse

This line taken from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather written way back in 1969 is probably one of the most recognized and oft quoted lines from any book. Simply explained the quote means “you will have to do as I say because I know your price (pressure point)”,  with the subtle menacing threat of unmentioned consequences just lurking underneath the surface.

In my opinion, The Godfather, the novel not the movie, remains an essential read for all entrepreneurs (present and future). Though the eponymous movie released in 1972 is regularly rated by critiques and fans alike as one of the greatest and the most influential movies ever made in the history of cinema, I have a slight preference for the book over the movie for the engrossing atmosphere it creates, the many little details mentioned and the umpteen quirky characters described who add to the slow burn yet fantastic aura the book creates as you feverishly turn its pages.

For those who haven’t had the good fortune of reading the book, here is a brief, spoiler free synopsis:

Don Vito Corleone is the patriarch of a large Italian mafia family. After having migrated from Sicily (Italy), Don commits small time crimes before gradually rising to head one of the most notorious and influential mafia families in New York. He runs his crime empire of gambling, protection and racketeering with the help of his sons and his legal counsel. Soon, a rival mafia boss, Virgil The Turk, asks Don Vito Corleone to invest in the upcoming and hugely profitable drugs and narcotics business, a request which is turned down by Don. This results in an all-out war between Virgil and Corleone gangs. Don Vito’s youngest son Michael, a former US Marine who has had no interest in the family business until then, ultimately takes over from his father and metamorphoses into a far more ruthless and menacing mob boss than Don Vito Corleone ever was.

Anyone can learn a lot about entrepreneurship from studying in a B school or by listening to TED talks type mentors or even by reading self-help books written by well-known business gurus and consultants but none can give you the insight and mantras to simply yet effectively manage business, competitors, employees and family in dead or alive situations like Don Vito Corleone could. Sample some of his advice:

“Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”

For most people, entrepreneurship means little or no work-life balance.  It is considered fashionable to slog the long hours at work or at meetings, cut off from family or friends, trying to achieve the stiff goals in pursuit of the next big thing. However, The Godfather advices that unless a person is deeply connected to his family, friends and his passion outside of work he can never have the perspective to solve problems, forge strong relationships and take smart decisions for continued success in business. Don Vito reminds us, blood is thicker than water.

“The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun”

Though you may feel better connected with your fellow white collar denizens, beware, the rowdy on the street brandishing a machete can take away far little from you than the investor, the bureaucrat, the government servant, the employee, the advisor you regularly deal with. People in high places and long reach can negatively impact your venture and your family a lot more than your average street thug.

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment”

It is easy to hate someone who has outsmarted and defeated you. But Corleone wisdom says don’t hate your enemy, instead turn your hatred into motivation. If you allow hatred to cloud your judgment you will not be able to take clear headed, rational decisions.  Hatred might spur you to take hasty, impulsive, short term decisions which could eventually backfire.  The Godfather suggests, revenge is a dish best served cold.

“Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult”

Everything is personal, every bit of stuff that happens every day affects you personally. Even that bolt of lightning striking you is personal. That bird poop falling on your freshly laundered shirt is personal.  That motorist splashing dirty water from the road side puddle all over you as you walk on the footpath is personal. And only if you let it affect you personally will you make sure no stone is unturned to keep you and your belongings safe. Only then you will take precautions against all eventualities. Only then your planning will become faultless, your security impregnable and your moves carefully calibrated. Learn from your mistakes and never ever commit them again.

“A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults”

If a friend or an associate or a partner or a client underestimates your virtue then they may not count much upon your support in tough situations. And when you exceed their expectations on those occasions the bond of friendship between the two of you will get stronger. A classic case of under promise but over deliver.

Conversely, if an enemy overestimates your faults then they think you will not be able to properly execute whatever you undertake. This makes them lower their guard and under estimate your capabilities.  This can give you an opportunity to surprise your enemy and gain advantage over them.

 

While Don Vito Corleone was not someone who could be a role model for us as far as his line of business or his ethics go but his charisma, pragmatism, leadership skills and wisdom are somethings we can surely emulate should we aspire to become successful leaders.

Behind every great fortune there is a great crime – Balzac