Yesterday I was watching Devdutt Pattanaik talk on TED about East vs. West – The Myths that Mystify. I am a big believer in the power of stories and actually going through a process of understanding my own cultural mythology and basic stories these days. In a world that is turning more and more global where cultures clash almost on a daily basis, the understanding of our differences and the respect for the other is becoming more and more important. Pattanaik does a wonderful job in explaining some of the basic concepts that shape the Indian culture, and while theses are generalizations, I do believe that there are some truths in them (especially after reading Outliers). I highly recommended you watch this talk whether you plan to work in India and with Indian people or not as it casts a light on our own perceptions, assumptions and what shapes them.
However, one point resonated with me more than any other point in the talk. In the beginning of his talk Pattanaik tells about an Indian legend where the gods Ganesha and Kartikeya enter a contest. Who is the first that will go around the world? While Kartikeya flies around the world, Ganesha goes around his parents seven times. The he declares himself winner. When asked to explain, Ganesha says: “Kartikeya went around the world but I went around my world”.
The message that Pattanaik is trying to convey is that there is a difference between Indian and western cultures. While the west looks for rules and truth (the world) Indians have several truths (my world). We have to understand how these differences present themselves when these two cultures clash.
I think the idea of my world, your world and the world is even more profound and common. We actually deal with it every day. People tend to see the world through their own eyes. They perceive themselves and their actions as more important than they actually are. And they perceive things through personal lens. When they meet somebody else with the same disposition, they have a hard time to accept that there is a different world from theirs.
As managers, we try to create “the world”. An organization or team with culture, rules, assumptions and yes, even stories and mythology. This “the world” that we are creating is not only in a clash with our own personal world, but with other people’s world. Every day we experience a clash of cultures and worlds. Creating “the world” of an organization or team is a difficult job. We have to let go of our own perceptions of how things should be done. A world cannot be forced. It has to be developed. It has to be co-created. It has to grow out of partnerships.
As managers we need to remember that each employee has a world of his own. We need to remember that his world is different than ours and different than “the world” we are trying to create. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Different does not mean wrong. The challenge is to acknowledge the differences and find similarities and connections between the worlds in order align them.
So, next time you talk to an employee try to think about this war of worlds. Ask yourself – what is my world, your world and the world.