Self-help management workshops are usually a polite perk—a way of giving our local Dilberts a break from their daily tedium to schmooze and snooze. But a recent business creativity workshop broke the mould and had an audience of senior executives riveted. There wasn’t much business babble. Rather, two Carnatic musicians—Bombay Jayashri and T M Krishna—and ‘innovation coach’ R Sridhar described how the attitudes and principles that define a musician apply as much to business.
How, you may ask, would M S Subbulakshmi’s lilting voice be relevant to a sales executive’s strategy? What could a corporate CEO learn from T R Mahalingam’s flute? Can classical music offer management tips? Well, why not?
Especially in these out-of-the-box times, when management pearls have been sourced from the most unlikely places—the dabbawalas of Mumbai, the blockbuster film Lagaan, and our semi-literate but stunningly successful railway minister, who recently regaled an IIM audience on the value of “milking a cow properly”.
Indeed, if Laloo has something to offer a business manager, why not MS Subbulakshmi?
The workshop drew from the life experiences of seven maestros from the South, and distilled their work into a list of principles which were implicit in their achievements. Each of the ideas could find resonance not just in the musical context, but also in the workplace.
Take the principle of sadhana, described as “a penance that seeks to change the self…a yearning for a different state beyond mediocrity”. Each of the artistes practised intense sadhana and made sacrifices to achieve their goals. They had to take risks and suffered some discomfort. What, Mr CEO, are you willing to change about yourself to achieve your objective, is the question.
When describing the principle of sruthi, Jayashri asked the audience present to listen to the drone of the tanpura. The repetitive and mesmerising sound, she said, connected every person in the room. It connected the artiste to the audience. Connection, she pointed out, was the most important thing—the stage performer had to connect with his or her audience. Someone like Subbulakshmi connected with her audience through her spiritually uplifting music, which touched a particular chord with people and took them into their inner selves. On the other hand, percussionist Palghat Mani Iyer would use silent spaces effectively, creating anticipation followed by resolution for his audience.
Who is the equivalent of an audience in a business situation? In marketing, it is the customer; in HR, it is a current or prospective employee. In every situation, there are stakeholders, and the businessperson must learn to recognise their pulse—what do they love? What do they hate? What do they wish they had but do not have today?
Ritu refers to season, or trend and change. The maestros defined the ‘seasons’ and challenged them as well, creating new trends. Like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who saw audience attention spans changing, and hence shortened the traditional pieces to prevent Carnatic music from dying out. Subbulakshmi saw that it was the day of the talkies and she popularised Meera bhajans by playing Meerabai in a film. She lived at a time of great nationalist fervour, and also reached out to the masses through patriotic songs.
One of the more interesting principles is nava-akaanksha or wishful thinking. An idea is never too crazy. There should be no censorship (like ‘The boss won’t like it’ or ‘It’s a terrific idea but ahead of its time’). The idea may be against the law of the land, but that’s what the maestros did. In the 1930s, the biggest complement a woman singer could get was: she sings like a man. M S Subbulakshmi changed all that. She had the guts to bring femininity into vocal performance and changed a woman’s place on stage through her unique charm.
The workshop draws from a handsome coffee-table book called Voices Within. The book, written by Bombay Jayashri and T M Krishna, along with Mythili Chandrasekar, brims over with archival pictures, and tells the stories of seven Carnatic maestros—the forces that shaped them and the spirit of achievement that guided them.
Who knows? Perhaps we may start seeing a few suits ditching their golf games and floating into the Dadar-Matunga Cultural Centre for some early morning ragas.
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