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Devdutt Pattanaik writes on relevance of mythology in modern times, especially in areas of management, governance and leadership. Trained in medicine, he worked for 15 years in the healthcare and pharma industries before he focussed on his passion full time. He is author of 30 books and 600 columns, with bestsellers such as My Gita, Jaya, Sita, Business Sutra and the 7 Secret Series. He was a speaker at TEDIndia 2009 and spoke on Myths that Mystify, East versus West. His TV shows include Business Sutra on CNBC-TV18 and Devlok on Epic TV. He consults organisations on culture, diversity and leadership and also consults various television channels and filmmakers on storytelling.

In our conversation, Devdutt spoke about how he transitioned from the world of Medicine and Healthcare to the world of mythology. He recounts the teaching methodology of some of his professors in medicine which, he mentions, laid the foundation for him to be curious about the world around him. We spoke about his take on flourishing in the gig economy (I quite didn’t expect the metaphor that he went on to share here). We spent some time talking about his views on transitioning effectively across the various stages of life and what lies behind a successful coach and a healthy coaching relationship. He uses the concept of rana-bhoomi and ranga-bhoomi to explain how leaders should think about focus and perspective and balance the short-term & long-term.

Published in March 2018.

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Early formative years

Devudutt talks about the profound influence of some of his teachers when he was studying medicine. He elaborates that they would often push him to think about the Why behind various elements beyond the what (anatomy) and the how (physiology). He mentions how that has discipline of asking the Why question has influenced his thinking and his approach towards mythology.

Transitioning from Healthcare to Mythology

Devdutt talks about his journey after graduating with a degree in medicine. He mentions that he didn’t have any childhood inclination in Mythology and he first used the word Mythology in a deliberate sense somewhere in the 1990s. He talks about how he started gravitating towards mythology in an organic fashion including writing several books and the TED talk in 2009. He mentions that he was in the Pharma industry till about 2007 after which he became the Chief Belief Officer at Future Group and possibly committed to Mythology as a career.

Being effective in the Gig Economy

Devdutt talks about what it takes to thrive in the Gig Economy. At the surface level, quitting a steady job and taking the plunge to be a player in the Gig Economy can be attractive and seductive. Devdutt cautions people against the peril of ignoring Goddess Lakshmi in the pursuit of passion. He talks about the criticality of securing of a Gomata before diving into the wild world of marketplaces and gigs.

Dealing with various life transitions

Devdutt talks about people transitioning from being a Parasuram (rule follower) to Ram (Role Model) to Krishna (Coach) as they go through their career. He discusses the distinction between the western model (that he says is substitutive) and an Indian model (that he says is cumulative). He refers to how sometimes children in family businesses aren’t exposed to adequate real-life experiences before they join the business.

Effective coaching process

Devdutt talks about what leads to an effective coaching relationship. He describes the complexity of a coaching process and mentions that the onus is often on the Coachee to tap into the database of the Coach and extract the value. Several leaders see Coaching as linear relationship where there is a pre-defined process which leads to an outcome. He emphasizes that the reality is quite different from that.

Focus vs Perspective

Devdutt talks about the distinction between Focus (Rana-bhoomi) and Perspective (Ranga-bhoomi). He talks about how when you adopt focus, you see the world from your perspective while when you have perspective you see it as a whole without boundaries. He links this to the business context and talks about the distinction between the healthy side and the dark side of capitalism where companies often over-emphasizing adding value to shareholders (often at the exlusion of some of the other stakeholders that could be impacted).

Building Habits vs Enhancing Awareness

Devdutt talks about the distinction between building habits and enhancing awareness. He mentions that habits are often relevant only in a certain context and it is critical not to become a slave of the habit. He also elaborates on the notion of “Darshan” and “Para-jiva” and makes the distinction between self-awareness and awareness towards the other. He urges us to think about what we would do when presented with Sophie’s choice (where you have to pick between two equally deserving alternatives).

Understanding fear to decipher beliefs

Coaching is often about understanding the deeply wired beliefs that drive leadership behavior. Devdutt shares that understanding people’s fears might provide insights into people’s beliefs. He talks about the fears that often puts people on a hedonistic treadmill with materialistic markers along the way. He also talks about the notion of staying relevant and talks about the notion of rendering yourself irrelevant consciously as we move through life, something that people are often not open to dealing with.

Building perspective and judgment

Devdutt talks about the distinction between sarpa drishti (focus, short-term) and garuda drishti (perspective, long-term). He talks about how there is merit in having a certain rhythm with which one wears each lens. He talks about the churn that happens between the two when you toggle between them rather than looking at them sequentially. He also talks about the merits of having clarity of the role you are in (CEO, Board, Owner –etc.). He mentions that often, a lot of confusion ensues because people aren’t clear about the role they have been entrusted with.

Building story telling capability

Devdutt breaks down story-telling and shares his perspectives around how we could become story tellers. He mentions that story-telling is often about turning a hard fact into emotion through plots and characters. He also emphasizes the need for brevity in corporate story telling. He shares a secret around how he tests for conceptual understanding of a story. He asks the narrator to share a long story such as Mahabharata in 1 line. He mentions that you quickly know if the other person “gets it”.

In Summary - Playing to Potential

Devdutt makes the distinction between the market wanting a certain type of fruit (phala) and each one of us being a certain type of seed (beej). He uses this framework to talk about how we could make a choice around changing ourselves or the market we address as we seek to fulfil our potential.

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