Given the mythological serial - 'Mahabharat; - being retelecasted on TV, here's what Lord Krishna can teach about the craft of account planning...
The retelecast of the Mahabharat television series during this lockdown period has ushered in some pleasant doses of nostalgia. It has not only shown that ‘old is gold’ when it comes to content and ratings, but has also rekindled an interest in ancient Indian scriptures and mythology, perhaps more so in a younger generation. But among the myriad and fascinatingly diverse characters that make up Vyasa’s epic, one stands tallest in terms of influence and charisma-Krishna.
And in the enigmatic dealings of the eight avatar of Lord Vishnu, there lie some pertinent lessons for all even in the present age. Krishna, among many things, is also a master strategist, and surely his example can inspire those involved in that function today. For in his eternal quest for dharma and butter, there might emerge insights that could make us all a bit better.
Never be afraid to play around
Krishna is always associated with playfulness and mischief. Pranks feature prominently on his resume right from childhood to becoming an adult. One just has to think of the relentless milk pot breaking when young, the troubling of the Gopis, and the ceaseless toying with those around, especially grownups. As an adult, he retains that ‘inner child’. He is never far away from pulling a fast one. This is why he sports a perennially amused expression, like there’s always something up his proverbial sleeve, if shirts were available then.
Being playful immensely helps the thinking process-both strategic and creative. It lends wings to thought. It opens up possibility when all one can see are closed doors. This is why levity and humor should always be employed even in the most ‘somber’ of discussions. It brings a change in mood that often can spark interesting ideas. One of the unspoken and most important responsibilities of an account planner; is to be the orchestrator of all important conversations around the brand and business. While ensuring this always hits the right notes, there’s nothing like a bit of laughter to chaperone it to a conclusive crescendo.
Embrace a multifaceted perspective
Krishna was a ‘Renaissance Man’ much before that term had any meaning. He was the ultimate warrior, a great leader, an astute statesman, a mesmerizing communicator, a brilliant musician, a poetic dancer and an eternal charmer of women. And this is perhaps just citing a few of his many talents. This diversity of perspective and interests surely enriched his conversations. They made them more persuasive and impactful, because he had a wealth of varied references to borrow from. On an unrelated note, think of the grief his bio data would have caused any recruiter or HR department, trying to fit him in a particular role.
Many strategic discussions and presentations tend to become boring and severely monochromatic. As mentioned earlier, the onus of adding color to them always lies with the planner. This is better done when the planner herself has a myriad range of interests to borrow from, other than the expected brand and marketing strategy and management speak.
Sometimes the best way to convince others is to go roundabout; use a relevant metaphor, tell a related tale from another domain, or borrow from something the planner is passionately involved with. This makes for an interesting detour which helps revisit the same subject from a different perspective. Edward De Bono had said, ‘conversation is eventually a dance of the mind’. One surely can do no better than learn from the ultimate garba player.
Nurture the ability to communicate with everyone
Krishna, as alluded to above, plays many roles. His early years are spent in a rustic village. Then as he grows up, he shifts to more regal environments. All through, the mix of his friends is vividly eclectic. From the humble Sudama to the beautiful Radha and the powerful Pandavs, his buddies span age groups, genders and frequently even species. Krishna seems to be adept at engaging with everyone wherever he goes. He is able to get his message to effortlessly spread despite all barriers, without ever needing a WhatsApp account.
Strategy begins with an understanding of the customer’s side of things. And that is never possible unless one is able to actually talk to them. Planning these days has seemingly descended into voyeuristically observing focus groups on television sets from the safety of the adjoining room. But there is no comparison with actually being able to strike up conversations with people. This should be done almost reflexively; and, ideally for practice, with as many people as possible.
From Uber drivers to hotel chefs, casual shoppers to high flying executives; and yes, even teenagers. Such casual conversations without agendas have the potential to throw up a bank of insights-one which can be borrowed from later, typically in a crunch moment. It can lead to better customization of product and more relatable communication. People often point out to a lack to time to engage in this ritual. But we should never be in so much of a hurry, that we cannot imitate Hari.
Render great briefs that kindle inspired actions
The Bhagavad Gita perhaps stakes claim for being the greatest brief ever delivered. It is picture perfect when it comes to following the right principles. Krishna only shows Arjuna the path. He does not dwell on what Arjuna has to do. He does not dictate Arjuna’s actions. He just points him in the right direction. He keeps the door open for questions. He clears Arjuna’s mind of all doubts, and leaves him brimming with the desire to take emphatic action. He also delivers it with resplendent aplomb, transcending the battlefield and endowing his ward with a moment of ‘Darsana’. What more could one expect from a brief?
People confuse the term ‘let there be light’, made in the context of briefs; with being present in a well electrified room during the briefing. But jokes aside, the proof of a planner is in the brief. It has to be electrifying! It has to be inspired! It has to evoke an epiphany. Briefs should be clear in purpose. They must serve as navigational beacons for the direction to be travelled in. But they should never get into how that travel takes place, or what vehicles should be used. Just like Krishna left the decision of which ‘Astra’ to use at what time, completely in Arjuna’s hand. And yes, it pays to deliver it in absolutely dramatic fashion.
To be fair, there are many more insights to be garnered from the one who made flutes cool, long before Jethro Tull. This was just to start the conversation. His impish inspiration can surely add a lot of fun and energy to things. And when we ride into our own ‘Mahabharats’ everyday on the job, things might always look brighter if we engage him as our charioteer.
(The author is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst and the author of
‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’.)