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Book Review: Mythology & Money

The book tries to force-fit mythology to business and stretches it to strategic thinking for creating wealth

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Devdutt Pattanaik is a leadership consultant and a mythologist, and also an extraordinary author. He takes stories from Indian mythology and spins them into management mantras.

The Success Sutra: An Indian Approach to Wealth is a nicely packaged book, with a hard cover and an attractive jacket, and is a perfect companion for a short business travel. The book has three layers. The first layer is that of mythology — where Pattanaik brings rich stories from ancient Indian scriptures which many of us can relate to. The second layer is the application of that story to a very common business problem that we face in our daily lives. The stories don’t give a solution but suggest an explanation and an alternative way of thinking to the reader. The last layer, which is unique about this book, is the layer of philosophy. In those stories and anecdotes are hidden extremely complex philosophical dimensions of life and human behaviour. The author uses these three layers to create a paradox or a trade-off for the reader to grapple with the situation better.

One interesting story from the book is that of Garuda, Yama and the Sparrow. An act of kindness from one of them due to the circumstances results in an unseen and unintentional cruelty towards the other. If one tries to analyse this story, it can leave a profound impact on our beliefs.

Each chapter is no more than a few pages and offers a “quick doze” for the reader. The chapters also have rich graphical illustrations that make the book a lot more relatable and interesting.

Sure, there are lessons for organisations and startups in the book. However, it falls short on some accounts. It starts with a very tall ‘if you want to create wealth, then read this book’ claim. The first few chapters outline a new way to think about creating wealth — give instead of take, sacrifice short-term objectives in order to benefit in the long term and other great messages that hook the reader. All good so far.

However, this book leaves the reader confused towards the end. There is really no clear answer to the claim. In fact, the reader will observe that the concepts of strategic thinking and decision making were force-fitted to mythology.

For example, one story outlines the dilemma of short-term and long-term decision making and then explains how the managers in corporate world will need to make compromises in order to keep the goddess of wealth happy. It is unclear how the story and its philosophical stance offers any newer way of strategic thinking than what is already known.

The Business Sutra is a well-written book that presents gripping stories from mythology with graphical illustrations for a curious reader. But in its attempt to draw out lessons, the book juxtaposes mythology with managerial lessons — which could put off the reader.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Rakesh Godhwani

Rakesh is an Adjunct Faculty at IIM-B, and is the author of What to Say and When to Shut Up!

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