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Archive for December, 2009

The Economist carries a great article on Japan and the culture of rice growing, marked by rituals and the painstaking detail that goes into growing rice.  Rice is linked to centuries of family traditions and Japanese values.  Humility is a virtue the Japanese hold dear: “The heavier the head of rice, the deeper it bows”. In our rat race we have forgotten humility.

We all want to have the best car on the road, surge ahead first and show road rage when someone cuts us.  Woe befalls an aged driver moving at the right speed on a road.  We all will curse him or her and shake our heads in disgust and zoom past him showing how fast and agile we are.  Will we all be fast and agile forever?  We have forgotten sincere Thank you’s, Please’s.   What we have left is a soulless, meaningless grimace and a murmur at best.  And we all want more money, power and jewelry than our neighbor, don’t we?  And show it off as much as possible.

Hell broke loose when Barack Obama bowed too deeply to the Japanese premier.

The Japanese Bow

Hello, if one is richer and more powerful, it’s not bad if he bows deeper.  A nice story from the Arabian Nights talks of a king who returns a bow to a common man.  He wanted to be one up on the common man did not want anyone to think he was less humble. Truly, humility is a forgotten virtue.

The Genesis Chapter 2 says that the Lord created the cat as a balance to the dog.  Adam’s Guardian Angel complained to the Lord that Adam was getting too proud – “Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility.”  The Cat that Lord created would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility. God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. And Cat did not care one way or the other J  For God’s sake, why does it take a cat to teach man humility?

Lord Krishna’s childhood friend, a common and poor man called Sudama called upon him at his palatial well guarded mansion, after several years.  Guards would not believe this poor, ragged man was a friend of Krishna.

Krishna the king humbly welcomes poor friend Sudama

Krishna heard of this and ran and embraced his friend and eagerly ate his favorite puffed rice dish that Sudama’s wife had sent for him.  Krishna never forgot his poor friend and treated Sudama with utmost respect and humility though he was the rich king of Dwaraka.

Looking at today’s corporate world, makes you wonder – Do humility and faith have a place in business?  In MBA schools and in all of our training for interviews we are told to be aggressive, tout our accomplishments and blow our trumpet as hard as possible about our work and achievements.  Some wonderful insights on humility and its impact on companies are available in this MSNBC interview with the CEO of Greenleaf Center, Larry Spears. Empathy, humility and self-sacrifice, Larry Spears says, are the marks of a true servant-leader. According to Spears, recent examples include Jimmy Carter and South African religious leader Desmond Tutu. Spears also points to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt.  When partners, consultants and directors of McKinsey & Co. were asked how they elected Rajat Gupta as their CEO in 2004, McKinsey specified humility as a key criterion.

It would seem then, that the value of humility is not diminished in any way in personal life and business.  A simple test can show you how humble a person is.  Count the “I, me, mine” words from a person in any conversation and compare it with the “You, your, we” words used and you will know that someone much better.

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A highly skilled mason was retiring.  He had built hundreds of great houses for his boss.  He was weary and looking forward to retirement. His boss asked him to build just one more wonderful house for someone special.  The mason was not happy.  He had lost interest in building  great houses, though he was fit.  He agreed reluctantly and built a not-so-great house. The walls were weak and the roof was not great.  His quality of work was unusually poor.  As he bid a goodbye to his boss, his boss handed him the key of the same house which he built last and said – this was my farewell gift to you, my friend, I hope you like it.

Our Attitude affects everything. The Fast Company magazine is a fantastic place to read about Attitude.  You can read some fascinating stories on attitude at Fast Company.com; notable amongst them is the Zappos Story and the Amazon story.  Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill – that’s how Southwest Airlines hires people.

The Gita has the most profound material on attitude that you can find.  This verse recited by Lord Krishna, “Karmanye vaadhikaarasthe maaphaleshu kadachana” is a real punchline on attitude.  It’s meaning – “You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results your activities, and never be associated to not doing your duty.”   Do your duty with detachment to end results and results will automatically follow, is what it means. A fast paced, almost fiction like depiction on Lord Krishna and his teachings can be downloaded for free here.  You won’t be bored and the intricacies of the plots are truly amazing.

The latest issue of Fast Company has a very stirring editorial note on Attitude.  He describes how the young Facebook, Twitter generation folks are overturning corporate hierarchies and building businesses.  They don’t respect and couldn’t care less about corporate management structures and have scant regard for listening to deadbeat managers about what cannot be done and how we cannot do something.  They are adopting novel but simple ways to get things done.  It leaves larger corporations gasping for breath. He talks about the celebrity Ashton Kutcher’s attitude and how he is transforming the media landscape.

In these gloomy recession days, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s talks and book on “The Power of Intention” could also bring some cheer and a change in attitude.  Give it a try.

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