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Sunday, September 19, 2021

‘This book is not about looking at the past but learning from it’: Debashis Chatterjee on ‘Karma Sutras’

The author speaks about his book, what he seeks to achieve from it and the readership he was looking at while writing it

Written by Ishita Sengupta | Mumbai |
Updated: August 25, 2021 10:26:22 am
"The future of business will depend entirely on the quality of our actions in the present," says the author.

Debashis Chatterjee, the director of IIM Kozhikode, uncovers the secret to managerial skills and decisions in his latest book Karma Sutras: Leadership and Wisdom in Uncertain Times. Using his experience of 25 years, he has penned a self-help book that will make one both reflect and ruminate. It is divided into two sections — Karma and Sutra — through which the author has first tried to contextualise thoughts and actions and then trace the actions they can lead to.

He recently spoke with indianexpress.com, about what he seeks to achieve from the book, and the readership he was looking at while writing it. Excerpts.

Your book is divided into two parts — Karma and Sutras. Was it a deliberate narrative decision?

Yes, it was. The narrative was designed to demystify the word ‘karma’ from the age old connotations it has acquired. The word ‘karma’ does not mean fate, as is popularly understood. It simply means the context that you find yourself in at work. Simply speaking, karma is context. It is the context you find yourself in as a consequence of a chain of thoughts and actions. The current situation we are facing in life and work life is a result of past thoughts.

The future of business, however, will depend entirely on the quality of our actions in the present. If I am habituated to drinking coffee, I have acquired a coffee karma. The only way to liberate myself from my coffee karma is to break the chain of habitual thinking and habitual drinking of coffee. The first step towards change is to be conscious of those old mindsets that we are carrying inside our heads about business as usual. In the first section of the book, I present the changing dynamics of management, leadership, power, authority, culture, technology and the nature of work itself that is transforming with the advent of AI and assorted technological disruptions. We see in the post-Covid world, business as usual will not work anymore, just as business school as usual will not work anymore.

What will work is presented in the form of sutras or insights in the second half of ‘Karma Sutras.’ An insight is the most critical factor in the world of uncertainty. It is like the first button of your coat. It you get that wrong; the whole alignment of buttons goes for a toss. The second half of the book presents actionable insights on personal mastery, consciousness, organisation, communication, human values and my learnings from what I describe as Nature’s Manuscript.

In the book, you have put together things that you have with over 25 years of professional experience. Looking at the past, did any of your own decisions take you by surprise?

This book is not about looking at the past but about learning from the past. I often fumbled and faltered in the first couple of managerial roles that I had in the beginning of my career. Like many talented young men and women of today I scurried through workspaces like children playfully running their fingers over the keyboard of a piano, making discordant noises rather than music. I learnt on the job though unforced errors and sometimes through severe trials. I understood precious little about organisational politics and became an unwitting victim of it. I did not know that jealousy was not just confined to sibling rivalry but was part and parcel of organisational life as well. I also had the misfortune of one of bosses fired. How I wished then that I had a mentor who would guide me along the way.

This book will serve as a distant mentor for young professionals. It is a treasure trove of simple but subtle ideas in the form of sutras. Each of us have led in some field or another as teachers, parents, managers, doctors, athletes, entrepreneurs or even as students. In all these roles we learn valuable lessons in leadership. It was a privilege to pass on some of the lessons I learnt in my twenty-five years of professional life to succeeding generations through this book.

You include stories and anecdotes to elaborate your points. How did you come to adopt this style?

Stories were always an important component in the repertoire of narratives I use in my books. My editor for the Sage series, Namarita Kathait, was keen to include the anecdotes and quotes to embellish a point or a deep insight. I think the stories will help engage the reader more than just a dry analytical piece of writing. From times immemorial stories have engaged the human cognitive space more than theories have. My writing style is borne out of this realisation.

Did you have any specific readership in mind while writing the book?

Largely young professionals were supposed to be my primary reader. However, at the conclusion of this book, I reckon that Karma Sutras embraces timeless truths on leadership that are likely to engage veteran leaders as well as first time managers. It is written in a simple language. My hope is that this book will eventually be read by a large number of professionals around the world.

If there is one thing you want to achieve with this book, what will it be?

If I have to mention that one thing that I aspired to achieve though this book, it would be clarity. In the age of data distraction and information overload, clarity comes at a premium. Whether I have achieved that clarity in conveying complex concepts will be have to be judged by my readers. However, the best I can do is to reproduce here a few lines from the foreword of this book written by the MIT guru and the author of The Fifth Discipline, Peter M Senge: “In this book he (Debashis Chatterjee) presents and explains diverse threads of ancient wisdom teachings, relating these insights to the challenges of leading contemporary organisations. He does so with remarkable clarity, simplicity and persuasiveness”.

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