Vinay Kanchan
Guest Article

Lord Krishna and the art of creative thinking

Our guest author unravels the timeless wisdom of Lord Krishna to reflect upon the modern marketing practices of today's dynamic business world.

This week celebrates Krishna-one of the most enigmatic and interesting deities in all of Indian mythology. His life and exploits kept us riveted both as children and adults. And in this era, where creative thinking and innovation are the need of the hour; his example can serve as an inspiration. But only if one learns to see things the right way.

Because, ‘darshans’ or moments of epiphany, come primarily to those who keep their eyes and minds truly open and endeavour to dig that little bit deeper. On that note, India’s most beloved charmer has some pertinent insights to offer, when it comes to really taking things ‘out of the box’.

Descending from the ivory tower

Krishna is the eighth ‘avatar’ of Lord Vishnu. What that means in a sense, is that the ultimate divinity decided to create a version of himself, to go down on earth, be amongst its people and address the challenges of their era. In advertising and media terms, one might be tempted to call this an edit for a specific market and time.

If the Rama avatar, which came before, was catered to the Treta Yuga, Krishna was designed for the Dwapar Yuga. There was a need for this because the problems of humans could only be solved by developing a better understanding of them, at the absolute ground level. That is much more possible when one chooses to live amongst them.

This is something that those who work in brand and product innovation can seek to emulate. Often ideas and concepts are generated in glorious isolation. Far removed from the harsh realities that exist in the market. With no real empathy for the lives of the prospective customers in question, or insight into what are the obstacles they are seeking to overcome.

This is why observing the customer at close quarters is so very important. Engaging them in deeper conversations, getting to appreciate what makes them tick, and watching them go about their business, should always assume the proportions of a necessary ritual before any kind of ideation activity is embarked upon.

Else, it would be akin to playing the flute to an empty auditorium, whilst expecting adulation and applause.

Appreciating creativity as a pyramid scheme

Krishna indulged in some daring ‘white collar robberies’ when he was a child. The ‘white collar’, due to the fact that the things he was stealing were curds and butter (white eatables), and they did tend to spill, leaving tell-tale stains on his attire.

However, in all seriousness, there was an important principle at work in these bold heists. Krishna used to get his friends to form a human pyramid, and make his way to the prize, climbing atop their shoulders. It is endearing to think that divinity itself, had to enrol human support to achieve such a modest goal. And therein lies another insight.

Creativity and innovation, usually are associated with the efforts of a lone person typecast as an eccentric genius, who prefers isolation, dabbles around on his own, and one day comes up with something miraculous. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a team sport ethic to creativity, sometimes even without the inventor realising it.

Creators often use the efforts and work of those who have attempted the same task before, as guiding posts. Newton’s famous “standing on the shoulders of giants” quote, corroborates this.

Also, getting anything of consequence out in the world necessitates enrolling the efforts of many-often with specialisations other than one’s own. For every CEO, stepping out alone on stage to launch a new product; there is an entire choir of engineers, designers, financers and marketers, who have made that walk in the spotlight possible.

Leveraging metaphors and analogies

King Jarasandha was a formidable adversary. The Pandavas needed to vanquish him, even before the Mahabharata began. Through some facile strategic planning, Krishna manages to get Bheema and Jarasandha to engage in a ‘fight to the death’ wrestling match. Bheema finds Jarasandha impossible to kill.

That’s until Krishna, having probably researched the enemy (in pre-Google times), offers a subtle hint. Knowing Jarasandha was born as two halves, and was subsequently put together; Krishna tears a leaf (some stories indicate a twig but let’s not branch off) through the middle, and throws the two pieces in opposite directions. Needless to say, the subsequent actions of Bheema acting on that clue, bears fruit in the contest.

Analogies and metaphors are the lifeblood of the creative process. Much progress can be achieved by asking oneself, “What old thing is this new thing going to be most like?” This kind of approach allows a framework for conceptualisation and helps easy comprehension and transmission of what could be a complex idea. For example, a lot of the early thinking around the atomic structure was based on the similarity with the model of the solar system.

Brand messaging has often leaned heavily on analogies. The famous CEAT Tyres commercial showing cheese being grated, providing a vivid display of what rough roads do to one’s tyres is one case in point. There’s also Hutch’s memorable usage of the pug, to represent a network service which followed one everywhere. Analogies and metaphors do make important points, with far greater bite.

Vinay Kanchan, a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’
Vinay Kanchan, a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’

Bending the rules

Krishna looked at everything with a spirit of play. Conventions were there to be toyed with. This is reflected in many anecdotes from his life. Famously, during the Mahabharata, when Dronacharya asks the ever-truthful Yudhishthira if his son Ashwatthama is dead, he replies “Ashwatthama, the elephant, is dead”. Krishna blows his conch to the precise synchrony of the “elephant” word being spoken, drowning it out. At another point, Arjuna vows to slay Jayadratha by sunset the next day or kill himself for being unable to avenge his son.

As the day wears on, Arjuna is unable to get to his target. Krishna creates a temporary illusion of darkness, which tricks the Kaurav army making them drop their guard. When he makes the light return, things are already too dark for Jayadratha. And these are just two tales from an impressive portfolio.

Creativity and innovation entail a certain amount of disruption. Assumptions have to be dismantled. Boundaries are to be hurdled over. Rules, often arbitrarily put in place, should be there to be broken.

Rules often get confused with the reality of a situation. They prevent alternate perspectives. They shut the doors on possibility. But it is in the act of stretching the ‘rules’, and exploring how far one can go, that innovation can be found. And it could even begin with small pushes against the norm.

Think about how the cabin crew of Southwest Airlines, made inflight announcements such an enjoyable experience, by simply unleashing their sense of humour and imagination. What was once considered ‘mandatory’, and to be delivered in a sombre tone, was redefined as another opportunity to get customers to love the brand even more. For Krishna and other great innovators, the Golden Rule is that there are no rules.

Painting a bigger picture with purpose

Just before the Mahabharata begins, Arjuna begins to develop doubts over why he should take up arms against his cousins, elders and teachers. He is paralyzed by these anxieties. This is when Krishna narrates the Bhagavad Gita. The beauty of this discourse is that he does not get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly Arjuna must do in battle.

He tells him about the importance of good to always triumph over evil for the world to continue its course. He informs him about his place and duties as a warrior in the scheme of things. He infuses an unshakeable sense of Arjuna contributing to a much larger cause. And so on. That, greatest of all ‘pep talks’, has Arjuna inspired, with his sights clearly set on victory thereon.

This is an era, where, whatever people are doing, it is essential they feel that their work is making some kind of difference to the world. That ensures good companies become great ones. And people stay motivated to keep swiping their participation every day. This is why the great innovative companies of the world have embraced larger purposes, right from the get-go.

Google strives to make all information on earth, easily accessible to everyone. Thus empowering more people than ever before. Arvind Eye Hospital has a succinct “to eliminate needless blindness” in its vision statement. Galvanising world-class innovations around outreach, product development and pricing. An inspiring purpose can provide the fuel for creative people to try that much harder to truly make a dent in the world.

These are, but a few insights, that the mischievous and enigmatic flute and Sudarshana Chakra twirling maestro, etches when it comes to creative thinking. There are many more, to be sure. All we need to do is employ his services to steer the chariot of our own journeys. In the quest for innovation and otherwise. That could be a really creatively fulfilling ride.

(Our guest author is Vinay Kanchan, a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’)

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