(From left) Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin in a still from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. ‘Holy Grail’ is replete with management and life lessons. ((From left) Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin in a still from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. ‘Holy Grail’ is replete with management and life lessons.)
(From left) Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin in a still from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. ‘Holy Grail’ is replete with management and life lessons.
((From left) Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin in a still from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. ‘Holy Grail’ is replete with management and life lessons.)

Bookish wisdom

There is no myth, personality, or classic film out there that has any profound management lesson for you that you don’t already know

Last week we discussed incisive strategies on how not to get Vikram Pandit-ed in the office. Today I am glad to say that last week’s column was very well received. Already hundreds of readers have written to tell me how their offices now feel much more insecure, and how they feel as if they are constantly under surreptitious observation.

Thank you all.

After the column was published last week, as usual I shared the link on various social networks. One reader on Facebook said, and I am paraphrasing, “Many of these strategies can be found in the Mahabharata, which is an excellent source of management fundas."

I have always been an admirer of the Mahabharata ever since childhood, and no doubt this feeling is mutual. I have enjoyed this great epic in all forms: TV serial, Amar Chitra Katha, as retold by C. Rajagopalachari, as analysed by Irawati Karve in Yuganta and, most importantly, as adapted for a modern audience by JRR Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.

So I was pleased. But then I suddenly remembered something: NOTHING IN THE WORLD IRRITATES ME MORE THAN PEOPLE LOOKING FOR MANAGEMENT LESSONS IN RANDOM, UNRELATED PLACES. AND THEN WRITING BOOKS ABOUT IT.

For instance, I remember this period when I was in engineering college when everywhere I looked there were books telling me how to channel the lessons in Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. “Manufacturing with Musashi", “Better Quality Management through the Book of Five Rings", “How Would Musashi Clear The Infosys Interview?".

Eventually, I went and bought one of these books. Only to read passages such as this:

“Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things. As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground... These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard."

Thank you so much Musashi.

Or this:

“In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness."

Ok Musashi, you sit down here while I go get help.

Ever since, the very sight of a “Management Lessons From" type book that tries to force-fit some poor, unsuspecting famous personality, ancient epic or classic film into the ways of the cubicle life makes my skin crawl.

I have nothing against the authors of these books themselves. Good for them. After all the gullibility of people is nature’s Darwinian way of nourishing the shrewd and resourceful.

But I can’t stand most of those books. Or the subtle hypocrisy this entire genre thrives on.

It is as if there are desperate managers thinking to themselves: “Everyone is quitting. Profits are dropping. Stock price has plummeted like a Chinese Olympic diver. If only Lord Krishna, Leonardo Da Vinci, Ayn Rand or Chairman Mao would give me some urgent management tips."

No, you fool. Everyone is quitting because you treat them like rubbish. Your profits are dropping because your products are rubbish. So make some good products, treat people nicely, do some mild insider trading and everything will be fine.

Unfortunately most managers and business leaders can’t recognize common sense if it punched them through their face and right out the back of their heads. They prefer to hear it from myths, legends, Samurai warriors, TED talks and dubious spiritualists.

Trust me. There is no myth, personality, or classic film out there that has any profound management lesson for you that you don’t already know.

Except, maybe, for one: Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Humour me for a second here. Now there is general consensus that Holy Grail is one of the funniest films of all time. It marks some of the finest moments in the careers of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and the rest of the Monty Python cabal.

Also, if you’ve seen the film, you know that very little of it actually makes any sense at all. But in fact Holy Grail is replete with management and life lessons. Let me point out just one or two.

Take, for instance, the opening credits sequence. Where the actual credits are subtitled with what starts off as Swedish, but then degenerates into an utterly distracting parallel comedy track.

The business advice here is simple: You can temper the impact of any message of any gravity by subtly inserting humour into the delivery. A very good tip for anyone who works for Nokia.

Or look at the scene where the Knights Who Say Ni demand a shrubbery from the lead protagonists. This is a nonsensical request. But it is said with such gravitas that the protagonists immediately oblige.

Yet again an obvious business message: It doesn’t matter what you demand from your subordinates. As long as you demand it unflinchingly and with great gravitas. They will deliver.

This is just a few examples. Holy Grail is packed with many more tips for the enterprising manager. If only somebody would write a book about it...

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.

To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama

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