This is a story as I recall (so may be some discrepancies) of the Emperor Akbar and his brilliant minister Birbal, who was not just a very wise advisor but was also a very sharp wit.
There were some people who were envious about Birbal’s position. Once Emperor Akbar was strolling around, when a smart man approached him, and after initial courtesies, had a question for him. He asked “though I myself am as intelligent as Birbal why do you only favor him? Why can’t I be made a minister – I’m even better than him!”
Akbar says nothing, but shows the man a passer-by in the distance leading some animals. He says – ask that passer-by where he is going.
The man is very confident about doing such a trivial task. He goes and asks the passer-by, and comes back with the name of the destination city where he is going.
Then Akbar asks – what does he do? Then the man goes again, this time the passer-by had gone further. Finding the answer, he returns to inform Akbar that he sells horses.
Then Akbar says again – at what price? Then the man runs off again – still further this time – and comes back – now breathless and exhausted – again with the answer. And so on… until the man finally reports that the passer-by has simply gone too far to be caught up with anymore!
Then Birbal happens to turn up. Akbar asks Birbal that a passer-by had passed by with some animals, and if he had any information about it. Birbal gives him a detailed report, saying the trader from (wherever, … dubai 😉 ) has real good Arabi horses, and he thought that those would be excellent for His Majesty’s cavalry. He bargained and got a good price so he bought them for His Majesty.
Of course, its only a story 🙂 but if we give it a thought we will find it highly relevant in applying it to the corporate world. In India, we are still reeling from the slave mentality of the British Raj era. If someone tells us something to do, we do it. May even be very well (and then maybe we even expect to get rewarded for it). Just like the first guy who met Akbar. The first guy may have been smart and efficient, but he was only like a slave.
Birbal was so alert to opportunities that even before Akbar had asked, he had already observed, and proactively investigated, and even acted upon it! Birbal worked for Akbar, but he was not a slave to Akbar. He had independent intelligent thinking. He was a leader in his own right.
In the movie Life is Beautiful (Original Italian version Vita è bella, La (1997) directed by Roberto Benigni) a wise man explains the art of being a waiter to his enthusiastic nephew: “Think of a sunflower, they bow down to the sun. But if you see some that are too bowed down, it means they’re dead! You’re serving, you’re not a servant.” And then after a precious moment of silence, adds “Serving is a supreme art. God is the first servant. God serves men, but he’s not a servant to men!”
We may be self-employed, or employed with an organization, working under a manager, or a housekeeper at home cooking and gardening and taking care of the kids. But in any case, we need not be like a slave, we can be like Birbal – contributing actively to our project, and perhaps unknowingly, ultimately even to our country and to humanity.
That is a crucial point that is going to make a key difference. Not just to our manager, to the organization or the country, but more importantly – even to oneself.
Not many of us are in the ideal job we would like to do. A lot of us compromise a significant fraction of our life in an office simply doing things we are obliged to do. We are like a bird in a golden cage. We do not fly out because we don’t want to lose the security of our cage. We of course forgot that we have ended up in the cage due to our own countless choices in the past! So the easiest most convenient and temporarily-satisfying way to express our claustrophobia, is to crib and complain. Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran understandingly says “Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.” But then, he adds very encouragingly, “But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born.”
Basavanna though known as a poet and a philosopher, was not merely into philosophizing but had actively applied his approach when he had served in various roles from Accountant to eventually a Prime Minister to King Bijjala for many years, and had been a family man as well. He put the idea succinctly in his maxim “Kayakave Kailasa”.
Here are some ideas along these lines, surely readers you will be able to add many more based on your own experience.
Instead of being too obsessed with just our role, we need to also get in sync with the bigger picture of any project that we work on. We need to feel free to communicate if there’s something more we need from our colleagues, in terms of maybe availability or interactivity. On the one hand, one has to try to be self-reliance trying to address any issues by oneself, and on the other hand one needs to not get stuck up but keep moving by taking other’s help. So there’s a fine line of balance between these two approaches that one needs to achieve! We tend to wait on things if someone or some resource is not available, but its important that we either get back with the urgency of the matter, or do something else about it in terms of a temporary workaround or so. We often have to work within certain externally set constraints. Playing the Chinese game of Tangrams helps us appreciate the countless possibilities we can create, just using a few limited pieces!
A magnificient waterfall in Shivanasamudra is admired by all its visitors. In 1902, there was one man who did not merely admire the falls, but installed a turbine, making it the first hydel project in Asia – which is still functional now a century later! We can learn from Sir M. Vishweshwariah to perceive such potential. And that waterfall – though powerful, is relatively very limited, compared to the infinite energy, within each of us. We need to learn to recognize and harness this, in order to achieve our true potential as human beings.
Our work, however modest, is one of the opportunities we get for this purpose!