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  • To understand the business of mythology

  • and what a Chief Belief Officer is supposed to do,

  • you have to hear a story

  • of Ganesha,

  • the elephant-headed god

  • who is the scribe of storytellers,

  • and his brother,

  • the athletic warlord of the gods,

  • Kartikeya.

  • The two brothers one day decided to go on a race,

  • three times around the world.

  • Kartikeya leapt on his peacock

  • and flew around the continents

  • and the mountains and the oceans.

  • He went around once,

  • he went around twice,

  • he went around thrice.

  • But his brother, Ganesha,

  • simply walked around his parents

  • once, twice, thrice,

  • and said, "I won."

  • "How come?" said Kartikeya.

  • And Ganesha said,

  • "You went around 'the world.'

  • I went around 'my world.'"

  • What matters more?

  • If you understand the difference between 'the world' and 'my world,'

  • you understand the difference between logos and mythos.

  • 'The world' is objective,

  • logical, universal, factual,

  • scientific.

  • 'My world' is subjective.

  • It's emotional. It's personal.

  • It's perceptions, thoughts, feelings, dreams.

  • It is the belief system that we carry.

  • It's the myth that we live in.

  • 'The world' tells us how the world functions,

  • how the sun rises,

  • how we are born.

  • 'My world' tells us why the sun rises,

  • why we were born.

  • Every culture is trying to understand itself:

  • "Why do we exist?"

  • And every culture comes up with its own understanding of life,

  • its own customized version of mythology.

  • Culture is a reaction to nature,

  • and this understanding of our ancestors

  • is transmitted generation from generation

  • in the form of stories, symbols and rituals,

  • which are always indifferent to rationality.

  • And so, when you study it, you realize

  • that different people of the world

  • have a different understanding of the world.

  • Different people see things differently --

  • different viewpoints.

  • There is my world and there is your world,

  • and my world is always better than your world,

  • because my world, you see, is rational

  • and yours is superstition.

  • Yours is faith.

  • Yours is illogical.

  • This is the root of the clash of civilizations.

  • It took place, once, in 326 B.C.

  • on the banks of a river called the Indus,

  • now in Pakistan.

  • This river lends itself to India's name.

  • India. Indus.

  • Alexander, a young Macedonian,

  • met there what he called a "gymnosophist,"

  • which means "the naked, wise man."

  • We don't know who he was.

  • Perhaps he was a Jain monk,

  • like Bahubali over here,

  • the Gomateshwara Bahubali

  • whose image is not far from Mysore.

  • Or perhaps he was just a yogi

  • who was sitting on a rock, staring at the sky

  • and the sun and the moon.

  • Alexander asked, "What are you doing?"

  • and the gymnosophist answered,

  • "I'm experiencing nothingness."

  • Then the gymnosophist asked,

  • "What are you doing?"

  • and Alexander said, "I am conquering the world."

  • And they both laughed.

  • Each one thought that the other was a fool.

  • The gymnosophist said, "Why is he conquering the world?

  • It's pointless."

  • And Alexander thought,

  • "Why is he sitting around, doing nothing?

  • What a waste of a life."

  • To understand this difference in viewpoints,

  • we have to understand

  • the subjective truth of Alexander --

  • his myth, and the mythology that constructed it.

  • Alexander's mother, his parents, his teacher Aristotle

  • told him the story of Homer's "Iliad."

  • They told him of a great hero called Achilles,

  • who, when he participated in battle, victory was assured,

  • but when he withdrew from the battle,

  • defeat was inevitable.

  • "Achilles was a man who could shape history,

  • a man of destiny,

  • and this is what you should be, Alexander."

  • That's what he heard.

  • "What should you not be?

  • You should not be Sisyphus,

  • who rolls a rock up a mountain all day

  • only to find the boulder rolled down at night.

  • Don't live a life which is monotonous,

  • mediocre, meaningless.

  • Be spectacular! --

  • like the Greek heroes,

  • like Jason, who went across the sea

  • with the Argonauts and fetched the Golden Fleece.

  • Be spectacular like Theseus,

  • who entered the labyrinth and killed the bull-headed Minotaur.

  • When you play in a race, win! --

  • because when you win, the exhilaration of victory

  • is the closest you will come to the ambrosia of the gods."

  • Because, you see, the Greeks believed

  • you live only once,

  • and when you die, you have to cross the River Styx.

  • And if you have lived an extraordinary life,

  • you will be welcomed to Elysium,

  • or what the French call "Champslysées" --

  • (Laughter) --

  • the heaven of the heroes.

  • But these are not the stories that the gymnosophist heard.

  • He heard a very different story.

  • He heard of a man called Bharat,

  • after whom India is called Bhārata.

  • Bharat also conquered the world.

  • And then he went to the top-most peak

  • of the greatest mountain of the center of the world

  • called Meru.

  • And he wanted to hoist his flag to say,

  • "I was here first."

  • But when he reached the mountain peak,

  • he found the peak covered with countless flags

  • of world-conquerors before him,

  • each one claiming "'I was here first' ...

  • that's what I thought until I came here."

  • And suddenly, in this canvas of infinity,

  • Bharat felt insignificant.

  • This was the mythology of the gymnosophist.

  • You see, he had heroes, like Ram -- Raghupati Ram

  • and Krishna, Govinda Hari.

  • But they were not two characters on two different adventures.

  • They were two lifetimes of the same hero.

  • When the Ramayana ends the Mahabharata begins.

  • When Ram dies, Krishna is born.

  • When Krishna dies, eventually he will be back as Ram.

  • You see, the Indians also had a river

  • that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead.

  • But you don't cross it once.

  • You go to and fro endlessly.

  • It was called the Vaitarani.

  • You go again and again and again.

  • Because, you see,

  • nothing lasts forever in India, not even death.

  • And so, you have these grand rituals

  • where great images of mother goddesses are built

  • and worshiped for 10 days ...

  • And what do you do at the end of 10 days?

  • You dunk it in the river.

  • Because it has to end.

  • And next year, she will come back.

  • What goes around always comes around,

  • and this rule applies not just to man,

  • but also the gods.

  • You see, the gods

  • have to come back again and again and again

  • as Ram, as Krishna.

  • Not only do they live infinite lives,

  • but the same life is lived infinite times

  • till you get to the point of it all.

  • "Groundhog Day."

  • (Laughter)

  • Two different mythologies.

  • Which is right?

  • Two different mythologies, two different ways of looking at the world.

  • One linear, one cyclical.

  • One believes this is the one and only life.

  • The other believes this is one of many lives.

  • And so, the denominator of Alexander's life was one.

  • So, the value of his life was the sum total

  • of his achievements.

  • The denominator of the gymnosophist's life was infinity.

  • So, no matter what he did,

  • it was always zero.

  • And I believe it is this mythological paradigm

  • that inspired Indian mathematicians

  • to discover the number zero.

  • Who knows?

  • And that brings us to the mythology of business.

  • If Alexander's belief influenced his behavior,

  • if the gymnosophist's belief influences his behavior,

  • then it was bound to influence the business they were in.

  • You see, what is business

  • but the result of how the market behaves

  • and how the organization behaves?

  • And if you look at cultures around the world,

  • all you have to do is understand the mythology

  • and you will see how they behave and how they do business.

  • Take a look.

  • If you live only once, in one-life cultures around the world,

  • you will see an obsession with binary logic,

  • absolute truth, standardization,

  • absoluteness, linear patterns in design.

  • But if you look at cultures which have cyclical

  • and based on infinite lives, you will see a comfort with fuzzy logic,

  • with opinion,

  • with contextual thinking,

  • with everything is relative, sort of --

  • (Laughter)

  • mostly.

  • (Laughter)

  • You look at art. Look at the ballerina,

  • how linear she is in her performance.

  • And then look at the Indian classical dancer,

  • the Kuchipudi dancer, the Bharatanatyam dancer,

  • curvaceous.

  • (Laughter)

  • And then look at business.

  • Standard business model:

  • vision, mission, values, processes.

  • Sounds very much like the journey through

  • the wilderness to the promised land,

  • with the commandments held by the leader.

  • And if you comply, you will go to heaven.

  • But in India there is no "the" promised land.

  • There are many promised lands,

  • depending on your station in society,

  • depending on your stage of life.

  • You see, businesses are not run as institutions,

  • by the idiosyncrasies of individuals.

  • It's always about taste.

  • It's always about my taste.

  • You see, Indian music, for example,

  • does not have the concept of harmony.

  • There is no orchestra conductor.

  • There is one performer standing there, and everybody follows.

  • And you can never replicate that performance twice.

  • It is not about documentation and contract.

  • It's about conversation and faith.

  • It's not about compliance. It's about setting,

  • getting the job done, by bending or breaking the rules --

  • just look at your Indian people around here,

  • you'll see them smile; they know what it is.

  • (Laughter)

  • And then look at people who have done business in India,

  • you'll see the exasperation on their faces.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • You see, this is what India is today. The ground reality

  • is based on a cyclical world view.

  • So, it's rapidly changing, highly diverse,

  • chaotic, ambiguous, unpredictable.