Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How organizations are scared of talent

Recently got the following mail which uses a story from Hindu mythology to analyze corporate behavior.

Rishi Ashtavakra was called Ashtavakra because his body was deformed and twisted in eight areas. He was cursed by his own father, Kahoda. While he was in his mother's womb, he had overheard his father converse with his mother on the nature of Vedic truths as expressed in various Vedic hymns.
Even before he was born, he had understood the secrets of Vedic hymns so well that one day, from his mother's womb, he spoke and corrected his father. "Perhaps," he said, "the same hymn can be interpreted in this way, father." Rather than being appreciative of his son, the father was annoyed. "May this over-smart child of mine be born deformed with eight twists in his body," said the father.

Kahoda went to the court of king Janaka to participate in a public debate. The condition of the debate was that the loser had to die. Kahoda, who thought greatly of his wisdom, participated in the competition but he lost the debate to a sage called Bandi and was forced to kill himself. When Ashtavakra grew up and learnt about the
fate of his father, he decided to participate in the same public debate in Janaka's court.
He won the competition and Bandi was forced to bring Ashtavakra's father back to life. Thus Ashtavakra not only avenged his father's humiliation, he also brought his father back to life. Janaka commented that Kahoda was lucky to have a son as brilliant as Ashtavakra. To this Ashtavakra said, "While you, Janaka, appreciate my wisdom, that very same wisdom had made my father insecure."

This ancient story draws attention to the envy of the father for his son, or the envy of a teacher for his student. Kahoda is the boss, the coach, the mentor, who nurtures talent under him. Ashtavakra represents that unusually bright student one sometimes gets to coach or mentor. It takes a lot of self-assurance for a mentor to admit that the student is better than him. By the law of averages, such brilliant students are few and far between and when they make themselves known they usually face great hostility from those around them and especially the mentor. Few mentors like Janak can handle a student who is better than them.

The best minds come to his court and thrive. In a world of corporations, when a junior can overtake his senior, coaches and mentors are often threatened by team members. The result is an organization which is full of many more Kahodas than Janakas, to the detriment of Ashtavakra. Organizations have to constantly ensure that leaders are more like Janakas and less like Kahoda because the future fate of the organization depends on the brilliance of Ashtavakras

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