Start-up: Ek Haath ki Taali.

Someone asked me randomly one day that who was my favourite character in Mahabharat? As a reflex I said — Eklavya. This name just surfaced as I heard the question, though the guy was expecting something more traditional like typically Arjuna or Krishna or whatever….hence he promptly asked me — Why? why Eklavya !!??

Eklavya to me is a seeker of knowledge. He represents a Start-up founder, most Coachable Mentee who is open to taking chances, innovate and learn from mistakes. He is an epitome of perseverance and passion. He represents the best qualities of any Start-up founder…he represents the Aum, the Amen and the “anaahat naad” known as “ek haath ki taali” — clap with a single hand.

This is why as Osho says, Eklavya, in the Mahabharata, could sit alone in the forest without worrying about the master Dronacharya refusing him. The master simply refused, but the disciple was ready, insisting on becoming a disciple. So what could the master do? One day the master discovered that the disciple had defeated him. Eklavya had made a clay idol of the master and was practicing archery in it’s presence. He was obeying the clay idol and touching its feet.

When Dronacharya heard that Eklavya had become very adept at archery, he went to see. He was surprised…not just surprised, he was frightened. He was upset because Eklavya had become so well-practiced that Arjuna paled in comparison.

Is this something a master would do? Does a master still see any distinction between disciples? No, he must have been a businessman, with his mind on the market. How can a master of Kshatriya warriors accept a commoner? He must have been very afraid of society. He must have been a pillar of this society and lived therefore within its restraints. He must have been narrow-minded. Such foolishness!

And then the ultimate dishonesty: when Eklavya’s skills were evident, Dronaharya was shaken because he wanted his disciple Arjuna to be known to the world. Eklavya was also in some sense his own disciple, but without his assent. The master felt at a loss. The one he had taught with heart and soul, had put all his efforts into, was insignificant in comparison to this man — who had only made a crude clay statue of Dronacharya with his own hands and had attained great skill practicing in front of it. As it was a customary practice for the disciple to offer a gift to the master, Dronacharya said that he wanted Eklavya to cut off his thumb and present it to him.

It was very strange — Dronacharya was not ready to consider him as disciple, not ready to give instruction to Eklavya and mentor him, but he had the audacity to ask for a gift for being his master! But Eklavya, being an amazing disciple, did not refuse to give to the man who refused to initiate him. He immediately cut off the thumb and gave it to Dronacharya. Dronacharya had asked for the thumb of the right hand — it was cunning politics to have him cut off his thumb: then Eklavya’s archery would be useless.

Hence a question worth asking: In the end, who failed? Eklavya or Dronacharya?
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At a recent TiE Mumbai event, one common thread of our discussion was about ‘failing fast’ and also that we must learn how to fail gracefully and move on.

It seems all of us are placing the onus of success and failure on the shoulders of young start-up founders. They have been the victim of “Chatur” syndrome of the film 3 idiots — “not me but you Raaaajjuuu”.

Most Start-ups struggle as they do not get opportunity to engage with the customers to evaluate the right product market fit. They do not receive start-ups with open arms and allow relevant start-ups the opportunity to initiate the Proof of Concept (PoC) with organisations, be it Government departments, large or small companies. Not because the start-up may fail, but because we do not have enough courage, mandate or authority to sign the dotted line and allow start-ups to engage with their organisation.

In this game of “Passing the Parcel”, we resent to hold the buck and are shamelessly passing the blame of failures on to the start-ups. This is a cultural issue, a societal issue, it is ingrained in us that we go only after success and avoid associating with any failures. With so much of evolution of human mind, we are still living in the quadrant of “I am Right & You are Wrong”. The Innovation ecosystem can be built by embracing failures and learning from them. The DNA of Silicon Valley was built more by these learning from failure than by just celebrating successes, and even customers and investors supporting failed start-up to bounce back and rise again.

But we find many decision makers and leaders in the following category –

पंछी की पीड़ा पर जिसने बढ़िया शेर सुनाया है
अभी-अभी वो एक तंदूरी मुर्गा खाकर आया है –

(The guy who speaks on the pain of birds, is the one who has just eaten chicken tandoori for his feast.)

We see most decision makers / CXOs behave like Dronacharya as they never give any opportunity to start-ups and are totally risk averse. They have to build the character, courage and mindset to encourage start-ups, work with them, learn to accept failure of their own decisions, selection of technology, start-up ideas and move on even if the intended solution does not work out in the end. Such failures are to be taken as a part of R & D expense, learning experiments and should be encouraged, without tagging the decision maker guilty and associate their appraisals with it in a negative way, the Company Management also has to get evolve to such levels. In comparison, SMEs would be more open to work with startups than the large corporate or governments. Because if these trials are successful, it will be hugely beneficial for the departments, companies and also most importantly for the start-ups….only then the vision of START-UP INDIA, STAND-UP INDIA be fulfilled.

Like Eklavya , our Start-ups are clapping with one hand…Let’s join our hand too !

नज़र को बदलो नज़ारे बदल जाएंगे,
सोच को बदलो सितारे बदल जाएंगे;
किश्तियाँ बदलने की ज़रुरत नहीं,
राह को बदलो किनारे बदल जाएंगे ll

Nazar ko badalo, Nazaare badal jayenge,
Soch ko badalo, Sitaare badal jayenge;
Kishtiyan badal ne ki zaroorat nahin
raah ko badalo, kinaare badal jayenge.

Just change the way you see the world, newer opportunities will unfold newer horizons.

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