This is an article that was commissioned a few months ago but doesn’t seem to have been published yet so I thought I’d share it with you right here 🙂
In the beginning was the Internet: and lo, it sprouted portals and more portals, and spun an ever-expanding Web, which grew to cover the earth, and the skies, and the oceans. And people reached out to each other through email, chat and blog alike, spending ever more time communicating. They moved from PC to laptop, and from handheld to smarphone; from Outlook to Facebook, and ICQ to Orkut. They had less and less time to meet, to commune, to make love, to eat. The next step was the virtual world, where relationships, meals, sex and even rain (or rainbows) could be experienced in the comfort of one’s bed or armchair at home. And people stopped stepping out into the sunlight, homes shrank into cubicles, keyboards were light-projected onto the nearest flat surface, while phone keypads were embedded onto wrists, with data transfer enabled through microchips embedded behind one’s ear!
A post-Orwellian nightmare or a cogent reality of the near future? Be that as it may, there’s no denying that our world is morphing with a rapidity that no age has ever seen. Seems like we age a generation each decade; instant obsolescence the order of the day.
Still waking up each morning to don a suit and catch the tube to work? How positively antediluvian! Don’t you know that the guy who you’re doing business with is already out to lunch — in China? Pull on those sweats, fire up the coffee perc, and drag your always-networked laptop into bed, coz that’s where the new businesses run from.
Today, an international clothing giant need not own more than a room with a computer to effectively manage a supply chain that spans five nations and provides to thirty countries. The term ‘global’ is now more the norm than the exception for any business that hopes to make its mark on the world market. We live, and function, in an all-pervasive, interconnected, interactive global economy. This requires that we become increasingly sensitive to rapidly shifting paradigms, not only in the way we address the growth of our enterprises, but in the way we use technology and network diverse groups of individuals from many different cultures, and also in the way we perceive and address emerging and emergent economies.
Thousands of years ago, ancient rishis in India outlined the concept of a global family, and with it, the global citizen. “For one of broad vision and expanded consciousness,” they said, “the entire world is one family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.” Today’s world, it would seem, would bear them out. It’s perfectly normal for a teenager in Kota to be playing online games against opponents from Brazil and Denmark; nor is it strange to spot Levi’s-clad youth strumming guitars and humming songs from Michael Learns To Rock in villages in Nagaland. At the same time, yoga and ayurveda enjoy unprecedented popularity in America and Europe, while ancient Vedic techniques like agnihotra are being used by eco-friendly farmers in Peru! Today we get our phones from Finland, our home theatres from Korea, our clothes from Sri Lanka, our breakfast cereal from USA and our salsa lessons from Mumbai. As I type this, a friend peers over my shoulder and quips, “You should add, ‘And everything else from China!'”
But have we truly attained this state of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam? Have these advances in telecommunications resulted in a generation of youth who are sensitive to other cultures and religions, and in leadership that is broad-minded, compassionate and foresighted? Has easy access to knowledge inculcated an increased sensitivity to the state of our planet and its resources?
On the contrary, societal and domestic violence, terrorism and religious fanaticism are at an all-time high. Warning bells have been ringing for some time now; climate change, global warming, increased incidences of depression and road rage, of starvation and obesity, of jihad and the war against terror.
Not long ago, I was at a workshop in Chicago; spotting me in my comfortable kurta-pyjama, a robust and rubicund gentleman asked where I was from, and when I mentioned I was from Mumbai, he asked me quite seriously, “Is it true they have tigers and elephants there?” “Sure,” I replied, “and the places where they live are called zoos!” How is it that, in a world which is without boundaries, such huge chasms exist between people, populations and cultures? Our global village is far from being a global family just yet.
To play any game well, it is necessary to know the rules and play by them. Today, the rules of the game have changed, be it in the realm of economics, politics, corporate and even personal life. Too many people continue to define themselves by the world they lived in twenty years ago, and when they find themselves wanting, they tend to divert the blame onto convenient external factors. It’s just a matter of time till this ferments into a sense of inadequacy, frustration or just plain old existential angst.
A rather portly Sufi saint sat by the riverside, calmly contemplating the nature of life, where a mischievous village lout spotted him. Creeping up from behind, the youth landed a sharp slap on the back of the Sufi’s bulging neck. Stung with pain, the Sufi leapt up and grabbed the boy’s collar and was about to strike him back, when the boy said, “Wait! Are you not a man of knowledge?” “Be that as it may,” said the Sufi, “what of it?” “In that case, answer my question first; was the sound of the slap created by my hand or by your neck?” The Sufi thought deeply for a minute, and then with a cheerful smile, gave the boy a resounding slap across the face. “You may live in the world of theorization my friend,” said he, “but I live in the world of experience.”
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the extent to which this world of ours has changed, and will continue to change. Cut to today’s corporate world, and a very interesting scenario is playing itself out. To be recognized as a market leader, a company needs to have a simultaneous presence in many markets across the globe. No longer is it sufficient to slowly build up a niche and have a gradual spread from one country to another; today’s world wants to see you in many places at the same time. This means that cross-border alliances and strategic mergers are no longer undesirable or unconventional, but rather an absolute necessity. This means that one must possess the skills to function in a variety of cultures, switching roles several times a day. As a consultant/trainer, I come across several instances where Indian companies send talented executives on projects abroad, only to run into a wall of cross-cultural communication gaps. It’s one thing to learn about something on Google, but quite another to experience it firsthand. Tabla maestro Zakir Husain once told me, regarding his remarkable ability to blend effortlessly with musicians from all over the world, “To really understand a person from another culture, you must first break bread with him.” Many companies now invest a lot of time and money in exposing their executives to lifestyles in different parts of the world. This helps broaden their outlook and allows them to function comfortably on the global stage. This isn’t an easy process, as many a harried HR head will tell you. Barriers are not dropped in a day, conditioning is hard to reverse, and most of all, accepting that the world around you is not what you have long held it to be, does not come easy. One must necessarily be flexible as well as pragmatic.
For instance, a sector like banking has evolved from a culture of stuffy suits in stuffier clubs, to a technology-driven, do-it-all-from-your-cellphone model of customer convenience. Ask your schoolgoing child if he/she knows how to balance a passbook, and they may look at you incredulously. And sure enough, they may never be required to do this in their lives – why waste time on learning it in the name of “clearing their fundas” when they should actually be preparing for the next wave of technology? Perhaps its we who need to “get with it” and wrap our reluctant brains around this emergent lifestyle.
Truly achieving this level of cutting-edge savvy requires a strong spiritual component in one’s life. Two aspects of spiritual life have a strong bearing on corporate life; one, it promotes an attitude of striving for excellence, without succumbing to the stress that it usually entails. Two, it brings a broader perspective, which gives one the flexibility to function with equal facility in each rapidly changing scenario. I always recommend that people who are pressed for time, or are expected to consistently deliver a high standard of performance, must learn to meditate. No offense intended to many sincere spiritual practitioners, but don’t you think that a person with very little drive or too much time may not need to meditate at all? Dealing effectively with stresses, developing a broad vision and flexible approach to one’s work, interacting with ease with people of varying outlook and persuasion, and most importantly having a finely honed intuition to complement one’s burning desire to reach the top of one’s profession.