Book Review: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management

Book: Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Number of pages: 437
Price: Rs. 695

Business Sutra: A Very Indian Approach to Management I was looking forward to reading Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik. I was intrigued by his designation at the Future Group: Chief Belief Officer. Pattanaik clarifies it in very beginning, “My job was to neither judge nor change beliefs; it was simply to articulate them.” And that for me set the tone of the book.

Business Sutra uses stories symbols and rituals drawn from Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology to illustrate a wide variety of business situations one needs to tackle while running and nurturing a successful enterprise. Pattanaik argues that belief drives behavior, which drives business. The why, how and what. Or intent, task and target. That is the essence of Business Sutra.

According to the author, modern management systems are more focused on an objective institutional truth, allowing little scope for individual truths and personal imaginations. And while the Indian economic, political and education system are rooted in Western beliefs, Indians themselves are not. This leads to a dichotomy of sorts and a sense of alienation from the workplace. For example, he highlights how the Western world is more rooted in order, unlike the Indian style of functioning.

Pattanaik connects mythology and management in an attempt to simplify the complexities and pressures of a dynamic, fast-changing workplace. Taking cues from Indian mythology, he takes apart the mindset of a typical workplace to reveal gaps and opportunities for learning, promoting inclusive growth, harnessing the power of the mind and imagination and appreciating individual passions. Therefore, he stresses on a very Indian approach to business, celebrating plural truths and the human capability to expand the mind.

He does not seek to sell a particular framework or prescribe a specific set of methods to increase business revenue. Instead, in his words, “Every idea in this book is a dot that the reader can join to create a pattern.”

The book serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of Indian mythology, some familiar, some not-so familiar. Pattanaik repeatedly emphasizes on the difference between varna and jati, reminiscent of sociology lectures in college, and highlights the multiplicity and plurality of the gods in the Indian pantheon

He equates all business with yagna, the ritual, as described in the Rig Veda, and places all business activity within that framework.

The book is a collection of sutras (an aphorism or a terse statement), derived from the vast depth of Indian mythology. He constantly refers to Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, Indra and various other gods in the Indian pantheon, illustrating their traits, strengths and weaknesses, and juxtaposes certain incidents in the present-day workplace scenario. He leans heavily on the use of examples to drive home an idea. But he clarifies that the case studies highlighted are just “imagined tales.” Imagined yes, but fairly believable.

With the sutras, Pattanaik attempts to cover all aspects of the professional life – personal, individual growth; collective, inclusive growth; building trust; decision-making; emotional turmoil; exploitation; organizational hierarchy, business uncertainties; profit generation; learning and development; ethics; the latent power of thinking; tackling change; nurturing talent; compliance and rules; crisis management; ego tussles, etc.

Reading each of them was a delight. They are short, crisp and to the point (not longer than 3-4 pages each), and carry an example at the end. The author stresses on the importance of striking a balance between the forces of nature and tackling perceptions. There are numerous references to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, placing the epics in a whole new light. I now have renewed respect for Hanuman and his devotion toward Ram.

One also gets a better sense of the inter-personal dynamics at play in our day-to-day workplace interactions. We all operate with a different set of motivations. Therefore, we also seek a different result.

The book feels like a heavy read in its initial pages, where it traces the history and legacy of Indian culture, in comparison to the Western world. But Pattanaik is a patient and detailed writer. He takes care to avoid loose ends and provides the reader with the complete picture, as the risk of sounding repetitive. His language is simple, but the ideas can get slightly complex, requiring some rereading. But it’s a breezy read once you’re past the introductory chapters. Read a few sutras at a time, pause, repeat.

There is a complete list of the sutras at the end of the book, with page numbers. There is also a “Business Sutra Vocabulary,” which lists down the meanings of non-Indian words used in the text, in their business and conventional contexts. Both, very handy features.

Pattanaik also lists down how one can choose to reject this text. Read it.

Business Sutra, with its many ideas and thoughts, isn’t a book you will want to rush through. Take your time with it. Read, pause and reflect. Some incidents you will be able to relate with right away, some will require some introspection. Some pages, you will nod in acknowledgement.

Read it with patience and an open mind. Take it up, one sutra at a time, see what you can glean from it and walk away with a renewed perspective on life.

Rating: 4/5

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