Ignoring the small stuff; focusing on Values in business

By Ashok Bhatia (2018)

The short half-life of all things material

If Marie Curie had decided to become a human resources professional at some point of time in her sterling career, she would surely have had something to say about the half-life of so many things:  Interpersonal Relationships, Joys and Sorrows, Promotions, Increments, Awards and other recognition which come one’s way all the time. Even insults, abuses and rebukes hurled at managers by their bosses, whether in private or in public, would have invited a comment or two.

Consider this. When one is about to join a company, a sage looking junior executive responsible for handling one at the selection stage would invariably paint a rosy picture about the state of affairs. One would be shown the kind of awards won by the company while discharging its Corporate Social Responsibility mandate.

If selected and upon joining, the demo version would continue right into one’s induction period. A honeymoon phase would invariably follow. All would be hunky and dory. Till the day, of course, when the boss would call one in, look her in the eye, and suggest that she start preparing for a bigger challenge – something like camping on the Mars and peddling the company’s goods and services out there. The scales would then start falling from one’s eyes. The warts would start becoming visible.

Likewise, when a special promotion or increment comes one’s way, a short span of happiness and exhilaration is bound to lift one’s morale. However, with the passage of time, the recognition would start losing its sheen. Challenges in the new position would weigh one down.
 Ask a canteen boy who is suddenly promoted as a canteen manager. Ask a production supervisor upon whom fate has smiled and who has suddenly found himself promoted to the level of a production manager.
 Ask a sales representative who finds himself elevated to the rank of a sales manager. There is a good chance that most of such promotees, having found their level of incompetence, would start ruing the day they got promoted. To their utter horror, they would discover that doing a job with their own hands was far easier than getting others to do the same job. Bosses who had originally pushed for the promotion of these souls would be looking sheepish and diffident in such group meetings where the performance, or the lack of it, of the promotees would be on full public display. The management may eventually come to regret the decision to confer a promotion on such souls.

Or, take the case of a bloomer having been made and the resultant rebuke delivered by a senior. If the same is delivered in private, it could lead to some soul-searching and perhaps some improvement in the future handling of similar assignments. Once the basic feedback is ingrained within, the incident may tend to get relegated back into one’s consciousness. However, if the same feedback is delivered in public, the impact would be much higher. A feeling of guilt, shame and remorse may come about, leading to poorer performance on the job.
 One could then be caught in a downward vicious cycle. A feeling of revolt and revenge may also pop up. Depending upon one’s sensitivity levels, the incident may remain in one’s active memory for a long time to come, leading to a drop in self-esteem and self-confidence.

The common thread in all these occurrences is that nothing is of a permanent nature. Life keeps throwing bouquets and brickbats one’s way. The impression created on one remains a function of time. That is how, wise men say that ‘Time is a great healer.’

Of reversal of polarities

Yet another feature of mortal things is what experts in the science of magnetism would thoroughly approve of. This one pertains to reversal of polarities. A person, an object or even a relationship which happens to be positive at one point in time could easily become negative at another point in time.

A boss who happens to be a role model could one day metamorphose into a villain in one’s career. Over a period of time, unstinted support from her could vanish and assume the sinister shades of vehement opposition to whatever brainy scheme one comes up with. The underlying reasons could be many. An inner sense of insecurity in her. A mere suspicion that you are in cahoots with a senior of hers she takes a jaundiced view of. A personal issue which has made her lose a sunnier outlook about life. Likewise, a much coveted transfer or promotion could eventually prove to be an albatross around one’s neck. Unforeseen dimensions could open up when handling the situation on the ground. When wisdom dawns, one might realize exactly what the boss meant when she looked one in the eye with a steely eye and surmised that the only person who she thought could gleefully take up a challenge of that nature would have been one alone! The glamour which appeared to have been associated with the event gives way to a sense of entrapment. A sense of despondency overtakes one.

This is what the Gita has to say on the nature of material things:

मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदु: खदा: |
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत || 14||

mātrā-sparśhās tu kaunteya śhītoha-sukha-dukha-dā
āgamāpāyino ’nityās tans-titikhasva bhārata

“O son of Kunti, the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent, and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

Why sweat over the small stuff

The fact remains that life rarely unfolds the way one wants it to. Others do not necessarily behave as one would like them to. There are always those who would disagree with one. Things are not handled the way one would expect them to be handled. Some things work out with little effort. Others do not, even with much greater effort. So, if one chooses to fight against this strong undercurrent of life, one would spend much of one’s time in life fighting battles of an insignificant import. Instead, much like Arjuna, one could eventually choose to fight in a war which is based on the principles of righteousness.
One needs to realize that things are of a transient nature, whether people, objects or incidents. Also, what emanates positive vibes and gives pleasure today could well turn out to be a source of torment tomorrow.
If so, there is no reason for one to sweat over such transient things. One might instead focus one’s energy, time and resources on things which are have a much longer shelf life.
A hapless CEO lives from one financial quarter to the next. A gentle nudge to her Chief Financial Officer brings about some improvement in the quarterly guidance values. However, there are limits to which receivables can be stretched, inventories can be buoyed up and expenses deferred to the next quarter. Sweating over the same stuff every quarter takes its own toll on the team’s stress levels. A myopic vision gets developed. A long-term value-based view runs the risk of getting relegated to the background.

Of things which have a much longer shelf life – Values, Character

Which are the things which have a longer shelf life, one may well ask. One’s value system. One’s character. One’s attitude towards life in general. One’s own brand equity. One’s capacity to be able to handle the rough and tumble of a management career. One’s ability to take decisions based not only on big data analytics but also on intuition.
These are the kind of things which are made of sterner stuff, so to say. Vagaries of time find it difficult to chip away at these innate qualities of one. Once this core is managed well, external things fall in place most of the times. One’s responses to people and circumstances become more nuanced, thereby improving one’s managerial effectiveness.

Putting a realisation to practice

It is one thing to know about the impermanence of things in one’s life. But it is quite another to learn to ignore the small stuff and not get swayed by the immediate circumstances. Nerves of chilled steel need to be developed. A state of inner calm needs to be cultivated. A habit of calm endurance, both in pleasure and in pain, needs to be formed. Inner Resilience needs to be imbibed.

Bhagavad Gita exhorts one to do precisely this. It goes on to propose that a person who has attained this state of mental equipoise attains immortality. The principle of reincarnation comes in here.

यं हि न व्यथयन्त्येते पुरुषं पुरुषर्षभ |
समदु:खसुखं धीरं सोऽमृतत्वाय कल्पते || 15||

ya hi na vyathayantyete puruha puruharhabha
sama-dukha-sukha dhīra so ’mitatvāya kalpate

“O Arjun, noblest amongst men, that person who is not affected by happiness and distress, and remains steady in both, becomes eligible for liberation.”
Leading a vibrant life

Lord Krishna is not exhorting one to lead a monastic life which would be somewhat monochromatic in nature. He is merely saying not to get swayed by the ups and downs of life. In one’s journey towards attaining perfection, one can make the conscious choice of enduring meekly the little joys and pinpricks of life.

Here, He does not allude to a hapless endurance of the setbacks experienced in one’s career. That would indicate an attitude which has its origins in the dark recesses of the mind, harbouring such tendencies as procrastination. Instead, the reference here is to the sunlit valleys of life through which flow the rivulets of wisdom and understanding.

Consider the case of a manager who has been given a pep talk by his boss. He is now aware of the bigger picture and is fired with a missionary zeal to achieve his target. He is prepared to make many sacrifices on the way, because he has found a deeper purpose behind the task he is entrusted with. If a bouquet is received in the interim, he feels happy but does not slacken his efforts. If some brickbats get flung at him, he takes the feedback in his stride, sifts the wheat from the chaff, and chugs along till the target is achieved.

(A version of this post will appear in a yet-to-be released book authored by yours truly on Management and Bhagavad Gita)

Ashok Kumar Bhatia is an occasional author, a speaker, a regular blogger and content creator on such topics as Management, P G Wodehouse, Bollywood and life in general. Based on his 35 years+ experience in the corporate world, he is acutely aware and conscious of the need for high values and ethics in business. Almost all his articles and books have an underlying current highlighting this very theme. In him, one finds a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. He believes that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose. His blog posts can be accessed at ashokbhatia.wordpress.com.


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