A few decades back, when I, along with some friends, started our Management Consultancy practice in the field of Strategic Planning, it was a relatively new concept in the Indian industry. After a preliminary introduction to the organization, our engagement with the company generally started with a Brainstorming session with the senior management team. I was fully aware that many of the participants were skeptical of this process. After all, how could an external consultant- who did not have any in-depth knowledge of their Products, Technology, Markets or Competition- be of any meaningful help to them? It was a genuine concern and had to be addressed. For this purpose, I took help of a well-known story from the Indian Mythology – called “Samudra Manthan”. The word literally means “Churning of Sea” (In Hindi, Samudra means the Sea and Manthan means churning). Many of my friends would be familiar with the story hence I give it below only in brief.
The Story of Samudra Manthan
A long time ago, there were two opposing forces who were in continuous battle for gaining control of the Kingdom of Heaven. They were called Devas (demigods representing “good”) and Danavas (literally monsters representing “evil”). The battle waged for many years with no one coming at the top. Finally, ‘Lord Vishnu’ suggested that they find “Nectar” (Amrit), which had the power of bestowing immortality on any living being. It was to be found if the Devas and Danavas, together, churned the Great Sea.
Thus, began the great churning of the sea or “Samudra manthan”. (Interestingly, I saw a giant sculpture at the Suvarnabhumi Airport at Bangkok, Thailand depicting the scene of the Samudra Manthan). For churning, you needed a Churner, a rope to rotate the Churner with, and a solid base on which the Churner could rest. The holy Mount called “Mandrachal” was selected as the giant Churner. The great celestial serpent called “Vasuki” was chosen to be the rope used for churning. The back of a giant Turtle (an incarnation of the God) was used as the solid base on which the Churner rested.
With the Devas and Danavas at the opposite ends of the rope (like a tug of war) they churned till, one after the other, 14 priceless objects came out from the Sea. One of the first objects to come out was a very toxic and lethal Poison (called Halahala). It was so powerful that it started burning the whole creation. When nobody knew how to control it, Devas and Danavas requested Lord Shiva for help. Lord Shiva agreed to drink it for the sake of saving the Creation. Lord Shiva was a great “Yogi”. With his Yogic powers, he could neutralize the poison and hold it in his throat. It is said that due this, his throat became blue and hence he got a new name “Neelkanth” (in Sanskrit Neel means Blue and Kanth refers to the Throat).
The last object to come out of this great churning was the pot full of Nectar.
The story goes on further but for our purpose, this portion of the story suffices. (Those interested in knowing more could search Samudra Manthan on Google).
Using this story to clarify the role of an external consultant
Referring to the story of Samudra Manthan, I would tell the group before the brain storming session, “The answers to the long-term strategy always exist within the organization. But they are not visible, as they may be present within different corners of the organization (like the Nectar was in the Sea or like Butter is in the Milk). And to bring these answers out in the form of a cogent strategy, we need to churn the thought process of the senior management team. To facilitate this churning, one needs an external churner, and I (as an external consultant) was performing that role – by throwing provocative questions, bringing examples from other organisations, guiding structured discussions. The external consultant would also effectively neutralize the deadly poison, which often gets generated in the process, through an unbiased discussion. I was sure that if this churning was done well, the group itself would be able to discover a valid and meaningful Strategy, relevant to their organisation”. This normally helped in clarifying the role of external consultant.
Churning as an important process in our personal evolution
Later, as I reflected on (or churned the thought in my mind) the concept of churning (it could be called by various names like deep thinking, reflecting on our experiences, Hindi word Chintan), I realized the importance of this process in Human Development. Almost all scientific discoveries have been results of “Churning” of observed phenomenon by the Scientists.
Churning has been particularly useful in deriving simple theories of life from observing happenings around us. In this respect, I am a great fan of Saint Poet Kabir Das who was born in the 15th Century in India. He was an illiterate weaver but has written extensively about deep eternal truths of life by observing and reflecting on everyday happenings in nature. In one of his couplets he says, “In this world, everyone is ready to help one who is Strong. But the same person does not mind harming one who is Weak. To prove his point, he gives an example from nature – of a gust of wind, which snuffs out the fire of a candle but feeds the forest fire.”
And the journey of life is also nothing but a massive churn of emotions and relations. If you have the right enablers (churners), or friends and relations as sounding boards, it ensures that when one encounters the many storms of life, the experience can result in something good.
In the sea of life, with unwavering faith, optimism and constant churning, we can neutralize the poison of bad experiences and eventually derive its Nectar.