Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
This is the second article in the series, In Search of Organisational Soul. Readers may access the first article at the links below, presented in four parts.
Man’s economic and political motives have always predominated the study of history of business. For example, in the book The Living Company an evolutionary history of business is presented, almost entirely based upon the economic factors:
“…there have always been three key sources: land and natural resources, capital (the accumulation and reinvestment of possessions) and labour. The combination of those three creates the products and services that society needs for its material well-being. During most of human history, the critical factor of success was land: those who could dominate and possess the land were guaranteed the controlling role in creating wealth…. a dramatic shift took place between the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the twentieth century—a shift from land to capital as the primary factor in generating wealth. The addition of more capital to the process of creating material wealth led to considerable increases in the effectiveness and efficiency of technological and commercial activity….Sometime over the course of the twentieth century, however, the Western nations moved out of the age of capital and into the age of knowledge.”[i]
Such a view that only looks at the objective factors playing out in the world of business, without considering the more subjective aspects such as the role of human psychology in business, is primarily a Western view. In this view, the three production factors – land, resources and labour are substitutable, and success defined as maximum profit is determined by an optimum combination of production factors.[ii] Labour in this view is also regarded as a commodity. Employee layoff is the most commonly used cost-cutting measure employed by a majority of organizations, suggesting the dispensability of workers whose worth is often measured only in terms of the revenue they are able to bring for the organisation.
In ancient India, we find a different historical view:
“In ancient India vitta included wealth, riches, prosperity, management, finance. It was given a preeminent position and formed a part of the national development. It was recognised that economic well-being does not depend only on the material resources. The entrepreneurial class, the Vaishya had a significant role to play in the organisation of the society. The emphasis was not on consumption, on acquisition and possession. It was on spending, sharing, giving. Thus the Mahabharata advocates in unmistakable terms the patronage of commerce and trade – “The power of production in the Vaishyas should always be encouraged. They make the realm strong, enhance agriculture, develop its trades… A wise king should be favourable to them. There is no greater wealth in the kingdom than its merchants.”
“But in the ancient Indian wisdom economic development and wealth maximisation were not the aims in their own right. Progressive socio-moral fitness and increasing commitment to the Law of the Right were held as its culminating ideal. Dharma, Artha, Kama were not ends in themselves, but were a means to a nobler end. That end was Moksha, liberation from the littleness of our mortality. The trader was also accompanied by the sage, the warrior, and the labourer.”[iii]
What characterises the Indian ideal of Vaishya, which is one part of the four-fold system of Chaturvarna, is its equal or perhaps greater emphasis on an appropriate psychological-ethical capability development among the entrepreneurial, merchant classes in addition to their more material contribution to the economic well-being of the society. This subjective view of the nature of business and its rightful place in the overall social setup is now finding a new form in modern times.
A slow shift towards the subjective can now be seen in the modern business world. As we tried to show in some of our earlier series of articles titled ‘The Organisational Cycle,’ the gradual move away from the use of more objective approaches such as scientific management toward more humanistic management practices serves as a good example. Additionally, in leadership studies also we are seeing a greater trend toward identifying more subjective characteristics that distinguish successful leaders. For example, in the bestselling book Good to Great,[iv] the authors conclude that the characteristic traits of great leaders were: blend of personal humility and professional will, vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, exceptionally high personal capability, etc.
One of the most striking examples of this shift toward subjectivity in business can be found in the case of Aravind Eye Care System. Right from its inception based upon a conscious subjective vision of its exemplary founder, Dr. V, who was driven by his unflinching faith in his spiritual gurus (Sri Aurobindo and the Mother), to its unique experimental approach of combining the most scientifically proven work-flow processes with a deeper attitude to work as service to the Divine, Aravind has led the way in integrating deeper psychological and spiritual focus with the world of successful business. The leading ideal guiding the work at the Hospital is:
“Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must also be the joy of doing something beautiful. Being of service to God and humanity means going well beyond the sophistication of the best technology, to the humble demonstration of courtesy and compassion to each patient.” [v]
While most modern businesses are nowhere near this kind of ideal which speaks of ‘being of service to God and humanity,’ it will be a fallacy to assume that such type of business organisation which values a deeper subjective approach to individual progress through work is not viable elsewhere. One clear example is found in the work of Dr. Gullapalli N. Rao, who gave up his medical teaching practice in the United States and returned to India to establish a state of the art hospital, named L.V. Prasad Eye Institute along the lines of the deeper values and principles behind the work of Aravind Eye Care System.
 The author and his team started with over 1,400 companies. They examined their performance over a forty-year period and selected eleven companies, which had outperformed in their segment. The team tried to seek answer to the questions “Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?”
 Aravind Eye Care System was founded in 1976 by Dr. G. Venkataswamy, a man known simply as Dr. V. In an eleven-bed hospital manned by 4 medical officers, he saw the potential for what is today, one of the largest facilities in the world for eye care. Over the years, this organization has evolved into a sophisticated system dedicated to compassionate service for sight. Aravind now serves as a model, for India, and the rest of the world.
 According to Subroto Bagchi, author of Zen Garden: Conversations with Pathmakers (Penguin India, 2014), 15 million patients have received state of the art treatment free of charge at LV Prasad Eye Institute.
[i] Arie Geus. 2011. The Living Company: Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle edition, pp. 23-24.
[iii] R. Y. Deshpande. India and the New Millennium http://www.auromusic.org/online%20books/articles/RYDeshpande/IndiaNewMilllenniumRYDeshpande.html
[iv] Jim Collins. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. Harper Business.
[v] Arvind Eye Care System. http://www.aravind.org/default/aboutuscontent/genesis