Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 2: “Grandiosity and Shame”

Café Coffee Day founder #VGSiddhartha death revealed the debt crisis in India. It also revealed an empathy crisis of the world we live in. 

Frozen TV Screen in a Cafe Coffee Day

When a self-made, socially-committed entrepreneur commits suicide, we are left with an unexplainable void. In my last blog (Death of an Entrepreneur: Our collective Blindspot), I explored how we all are becoming the part of the invisible forces, within our social ecosystem, that makes and breaks an entrepreneur.

I received many responses from other entrepreneurs, bankers, tax officers, psychologists and artist. They resonated with the blog and shared how they feel stuck and helpless in the ecosystem that accounts for the death of talented and conscious entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Some of the readers knew Siddharth personally. They shared stories of his commitment to uplift underprivileged communities, educating youth and his diligence to pay off all his debts. Yet, he ended up seeing himself a failure and killed himself.

Interestingly, some readers saw it differently. They hold Siddharth as a defaulter who took the system for granted and killed himself when questioned. They wonder how can one have empathy for those who default the system and fail their dependents. This contrast in viewpoints made me wonder why do we fail to see and feel the ecosystem that we are part of. How do we get obsessed with the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor, while, the script and the scriptwriters go unnoticed?

Perhaps, how we see the world depends upon what lenses we wear. Do we tend to look narrowly at immediate parts or we look at the whole? Do we look mechanically at structural/ logical elements and externalise responsibility? Or we also look empathically at emotional/cultural dimension and take collective ownership of what happened?

This made me draw a matrix to map all response. There seem to be four distinct viewpoints:

Narrow mechanistic view (Fault-finding): Holding the entrepreneur accountable for his or her wrong decisions and lack of responsibility. From this viewpoint death of entrepreneurs like Siddharth is a result of their own mistakes and failure. They misuse the system and fail to deal with when questioned. This is similar to the patriarchal, alpha male paradigm that blames the entrepreneurs (the masculine provider) for defaulting the system and shames him for making his family or tribe suffer.

Systems mechanistic view (System-analysis): Holding the system accountable that’s victimising the entrepreneur. This viewpoint shifts attention from the individual to the whole system and analyses the structural and policy dimensions. Many business leaders and politicians have been speaking from this viewpoint, when they refer to tax-terrorism and insensitive policies by the current government.

Both the above viewpoints on left side of the matrix, are logical and persuasive. But they lack empathy. They look at the issue and try to quickly fix it by holding either the entrepreneur or the system accountable. They don’t put themselves in the situation. To understand the right side of the matrix, we need to step into shoes of the entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Something we were able to do when we created a Social Presencing Theatre based systems map (refer last blog)

Narrow empathetic view (Mental-wellbeing): Reflecting on the mental and emotional stress an entrepreneur undergoes that makes him take such drastic step. Those holding this viewpoint empathise with Siddharth and call upon other entrepreneurs to take care of their mental well-being. They advocate that entrepreneurs must have close friends and professional support to help them through these situations. 

Holistic empathic view (Co-sensing and transforming the ecosystem): Reflecting not only on the emotional struggles of the entrepreneur but the larger field that co-creating the suffering. Those holding this perspective are like gardeners who go beyond sympathising with the dying plant and attend to the whole ecosystem. They feel the collective pain and reflect on their own role in co-creating the mess.

The holistic empathic view reminds of something my teacher and systems thinking guru Peter Senge told me ten years back.

“You cannot change a system unless you see your thumbprint (role) in creating it”.

This quote changed my perspective in life. Unless we see how we are creating the current state of suffering, we will only remain helpless victims of the same. And victims have no power to change the system anyways. From a holistic systemic viewpoint, we all are interconnected. We can see how we are co-creators of the capitalist economy that creates, exploits and kills entrepreneurs like Siddharth.

As investors, we are only invested in higher returns on the capital we invest in. We create pressure on enterprises to take the risk and return higher dividends. We don’t care anything about sustainable practices of the enterprise or well-being of the entrepreneur. Together with banking system, we have co-created a short-term, individualistic growth culture cares little for people or planet.

As the government, we want to control and claim higher taxes. We citizen elect governments and become part of the impersonal machinery that puts undue pressure on entrepreneurs. I recall how voters celebrated the demonetisation and GST policies while so many small scale entrepreneurs struggled to survive. It was painful to see an entrepreneur friend of mine breaking down financially and emotionally during that period. 

As employees of these enterprises and banks, we want job stability, salary raise and secure lifestyle. We don’t know the risks and burden an entrepreneur takes to feed his enterprise. As family and friends, we often want the status quo of lifestyle to continue. Praising the patriarch and never letting him off the hook. As a community, we shame and blame if they fail their role as providers. Makes it difficult for entrepreneurs like Siddharth to retreat, surrender or restart.

As a society, media and consumers, we have co-created a narrative of “grandiosity and shame”. We feed on rag-to-riches, alpha, hero stories. We inspire our youth to think big, dream big, and leap beyond their own bearings. We have created systems that seduce them do so through low-risk loans, venture capital and so on. 

We first feed them to the “grandiose” narrative. A few may succeed, temporarily. Sooner or later they fail. Then we trigger the “shame” narrative. Shaming them for failing the system, the family, the community, their own image. Some sneak away unceremoniously out of the limelight. Some bear it all and commit suicide.

 

Something in this story reminds me of the 2017 biopic “The Mercy“. It is a real-life story of a  businessman, Donald Crowhurst, from the United Kingdom. He had a beautiful family and a decent lifestyle inspite of his struggling business. He got seduced by the grandiosity narrative and, in spite of being an amateur sailor, he applied for the Golden Globe Race to sail solo around the world without any stop. Media made him an instant hero. Investors put their money to help him build a new boat. Rest of us projected our unlived hero dream on his frail shoulders. A few weeks before his journey he realised that he has bitten more than he could chew. As a technologist, he was certain that his new boat would fail. Yet the media refused to listen, investors got hold of his house mortgage, everyone put pressure on him, and he, himself, could not fail his family. And so he went on the expedition. Though he sailed half way around the world, impressive for an amateur, he could not return as a failure and face the shame. He jumped in the sea and committed suicide. When the news of his suicide reached his wife and children, media surrounded their house, hurling insults and demeaning him. At one point his wife opened the door and said

“I don’t know if my husband slipped and fell, or if he jumped… as you’re now saying. But I would like you to rest assured, that if he did jump, he was pushed. And each and every one of you here had a grubby hand on his back. Every photographer, every sponsor, every reporter, every sad little man who stands at a newsstand to feast on the scraps of another’s undoing. And once he was in the water, you all held him under with your judgement.

Last week you were selling hope, now you’re selling blame. Next week you’ll be selling something else.

But tomorrow and every day after, my children will still need their father. And I will still need my husband.”

 

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

——————-

Gratitude & Dedication:

I was inspired to write Part 2 of this blog by Shamnad Basheer. A spirited soul, a legal academician, social entrepreneur and innovator. I had met him and fourteen other inspiring legal professionals at a gathering in Kerela organised by Agami last month (some of work is reflect in Part 1 of this blog). 3 weeks back, Shamnad was travelling in the region where V.G.Siddhartha came from and shared inspiring stories encouraging me and others to “step beyond atomistic thinking and reconnect with the whole we are part of”. Unfortunately, Shamnad died in an accident on way back from Chikamangaluru on 8th Aug 2019. In a short span of few weeks, he inspired me to keep activating the ecosystem of goodness. Unfortunately, he is not here to read this piece. 

~Manish

 

Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 1: “Our Collective Blindspot”

When a plant dies, the gardener does not blame the plant. He checks the soil, water, sunlight, in short, the ecosystem that helps a plant nourish or perish.

VG Siddhartha, the founder of Cafe Coffee Day (CCD), committed suicide. He has been known as role-model, self-made, successful business entrepreneur. Industry leaders remember him for his sincerity, dedication, and commitment to social upliftment. CCD grew rapidly and became a brand known as Starbucks of India. Newspapers say that he was under heavy debt and broke down from continuous harassment from government and banks. Three days back, he went missing and left a letter on social media. The letter reflects his good intention and his breakdown to the institutional pressures.

Maybe there is more to the business story that we will know in days to come. Right now, as a social witness, I am saddened to see a life gone. Like many entrepreneurs of the capitalist economic system, he took too many risks, grew too fast and collapsed.  We can blame him for impractical decisions and being too aspirational. He blamed himself for the same and took away his life. I wonder why he did not use his political connections and flee the country like many others. Maybe he was too thin-skinned to not take responsibility for his actions. But wait a minute. Is he the only one to be blamed for what happened? Is he the only one failed in this story? 

Coincidently, two weeks back, I was working with a group of social entrepreneurs and innovators from the legal field. They were convened by Agami to reflect on how we could transform the current legal system in India. One of the cases we worked with was about “how Alternative Dispute Resolution could help financial institutions resolve disputes with loan defaulters?”. 

We used Social Presencing Theatre (SPT), a contemplative social art practice, that helps in making visible the hidden dimensions of our current systems challenges. After understanding the complexity of our challenge we identified key stakeholders and co-created a social sculpture (a systems map) representing how these stakeholders are stuck in the current reality.

Our systems map had two main players— “the bank” and “defaulters”, who were influenced by other stakeholders including lawyers, the justice system, financial institutions, family etc. While we mapped the inter-relational dimensions of the legal system around the bank and defaulters, the map also illuminated the systems blindspot— the powerful financial system that produces and promotes capitalist web and punishes when one falls out of it. Somehow the players representing “finance system”, including government & investors, remained almost invisible to other players. They were powerful and kept controlling others indirectly, while the rest of the system struggled to work with the stuck between demanding bank and struggling defaulter. This made us wonder— who creates the defaulter in the first place? 

In the case of CCD, VG Siddhartha was the good-hearted “defaulter”. He was created and destroyed by the crony capitalist systems that we are part of. Unfortunately, we have co-created a capitalist economic system that thrives on rapid growth and risk-taking of individuals like Siddharth. And when they struggle, we call them as “defaulters” and suck every ounce of spirit till they drop dead.

We all are part of this system. We don’t think twice before demanding high dividends from our shares invested in these corporations. We want our coffees and products cheap and of high quality. We, just like those impersonal banks and demanding tax authorities, are least invested in the success or failure of the one who is creating value for us.

No loan-seeker goes to banks intending to become a defaulter one day. No bank professional wakes up intending to harass an entrepreneur. We all are equally stuck in same system. We need to ask— what are the deeper systems that are promoting the values of unchecked growth that leads an entrepreneur to a point where they have no option but to fail or flee? A change at that level would ask us to step beyond our current sectoral role into larger systems transformation role. Something that is much more complex, collaborative and necessary.

Afterthought: (added on Aug 3, 2019, after a conversation with few friends): While entrepreneurs and bankers are obvious stuck players in this situation, there are powerful, impersonal Invisibles. This includes demanding investors, regulating government and mindless consumers. All demanding higher returns, seeking higher control and extracting higher value. None of them cares for the well-being of the entrepreneur. They need “more” and are “happy” as long as the business entrepreneur serves their demands. Together they promote and control the ego-driven, limit-less growth paradigm that seduces, creates, exploits and kills an entrepreneur.

We weave the carpet for our heroes to rise
We set up the guillotine for them to be sacrificed
While the higher throne remains unchallenged and smiles
Who needs a warrior once the kingdom survives!

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

 

Gratitude:

I am grateful to the Agami team including Supriya, Keerthana, Artika and my co-conspirator, Sonali Ojha.  In these moments of sadness, Agami brings hope by gathering 15 path-breaking young social innovators who are committed to transforming legal ecosystem in India. The pictures above show them in action— mapping the ecosystem by activating the wisdom of the social field. 

Indian Leadership Crisis- a compromise of conscience!

This election is a political manthan (churning) that has surfaced a deep leadership crisis in India.

In their race for power the current political leaders have shown their worst— ego-centric, manipulative, self-obsessed leadership that exploits emotions, religion, defence and public institutions on name of stability and victory. They hide development failures behind war, religion or caste rhetoric. Is this the leadership we want, to govern our country? 

When questioned, all the logical supporters come with only one consistent argument— “we don’t have any other option!” 

It’s like saying— let’s keep feeding on slow poison cause we don’t have any other healthy option. Or keep burning fossil fuels and poisoning our air cause we don’t have any viable option.

Fair enough, the only other strong political opponents come with their share of corrupt history. They lack credibility or gravity demanded by a large democracy like ours. Then there are those who are neither corrupt nor inefficient. They have demonstrated development results in their constituency but they are small players and relatively inexperienced to manage complex national politics. 

Where does this lead us to?

A compromise. 

Not just for a political leader but a compromise of our own voice, values and conscience. 

“We don’t have another option”— is not a narrative of choice. It’s a narrative of a victim. It’s a narrative carefully created by those in power by ridiculing the opposition to hide their exploitation. 

“We don’t have another option” is a political game and it not true for those who design it. A political party has a choice about whom they give tickets to contest elections. The party chief endorses that choice. He gives sanction to that kind of leadership. Now think of all morally-corrupt, hate-promoting, criminal choices that the party chiefs have sanctioned. It’s the kind of leadership he stands for. He could have said “no” and stood his ground. It’s a choice he has made and it’s the choice we are making if we don’t see the game we are being fed to. 

If you discover that the class teacher and other staff in your kid’s school are corrupt, incompetent and abusive, what would you do? Will you hold the Principal and Management accountable or keep singing Principal’s praise and ignore the mess that he is creating? Will a good speech by the celebrated Principal, about how the school won lost pride in last football tournament, and, how they are better than previous management, cover up for their lack of focus on what matters— quality education for your child? What if you raised the issue and the Principal and staff called you anti-education, anti-national and hinderance to their leadership? If all this happened to our own kids in a school, wouldn’t we hold the school leader accountable for results and for those they give power to? Will telling our kids that “we don’t have better option” be enough? 

 

Seeing the binary game of compromise

We are forced to choose between corruption of resources and corruption of character. One threatens our development by exploiting public resources. Other threatens our democracy by dividing us on basis of religion, caste and nationalism. At one end we argue against re-distributing wealth to the poor as freebies. While on the other, we don’t mind the politician-capitalist-nexus that gives free access to a few capitalists to exploit our resources and control our lives.

Stuck in this binary narrative we end up choosing political leaders half-hearted (conscious compromise) or devoted (unconscious compromise). “This leader is our best option” (devotion/ bhakt narrative) is another way of saying “we don’t have any other option” (adjustment narrative). Either way it’s a compromise. It only serves the power-accumulator, weakens opposition, shuts the dissent, kills creativity, threatens democracy and divides a community into a binary of staunch-supporters-vs-anti-nationals. 

Why do we get stuck in this game of limited choice? Why we loose the capacity to see the grey? And courage to be vulnerable about our limitations? Why do we end up giving all our power to a few leaders and feel helpless about our own destiny? 

We are in middle of deep leadership crisis. And we can’t overcome it unless we learn to see thru the game and call out the corruption of either kind. We may have limited choice about political parties but we do have choice about what political narrative we buy. We can choose our own leadership as citizens and hold our political leaders accountable. 

 

We need a new leadership narrative 

I recall the community leadership development work I was doing in tribal villages of Melghat. We were inviting community leaders to step forward. When I translated “leader” to “neta” in Hindi, everyone in the room stepped back. I learnt that we see “neta” as someone who is corrupt, ego-centered, exploiting and even criminal. When I tried give examples of Gandhi or Bose, they appeared too idealistic for our current times. The current examples of political leaders only inspired youth to accumulate power, show might and eradicate other religions and nations. There was no way people could relate “public leaders” to community based service. This is worrisome. This leaves a void for corrupts to exploit. This is the way current leaders make corruption, power-hoarding and communalism a new normal. 

Our country needs a new leadership narrative. A narrative where political leadership honours humanity beyond communal or caste divides, pursues development before nationalist politics, and, puts community service ahead of their political aspirations. We need leaders who are honest about their limitations and collaborate with people across societal divides or ideologies to create policies that benefit all. We need leaders who are vulnerable enough to admits their mistakes, courageous enough to invite and listen to opposition and critics, and humble enough to give credit to people who make change happen. 

We need leadership that stands on moral grounds and can say No to their own party when greed or power overtakes; who can take full accountability of their position including the ones they select to lead and the mishaps that take place in their command. 

We as citizens need to redefine what kind of leaders we want. We need to start now. Name the leadership qualities or practices that we want and what we are not okay with. Voting is only a beginning. Naming, developing and holding self and other accountable is a long-term daily work. 

We Indian are natives of one of the richest, wisest and oldest society. We have capacity to hold diversity and dissent as part of our pluralist, wise tradition. We are way more than the reduced, binary, either-or narrative that our leaders are dividing us into.  This election is a manthan of a new kind. Along with its poisonous painful patterns, its has also surfaced some divine amrut (elixir). Perhaps, it’s a call for seeing active citizenship as powerful as the leaders we choose. We need to role-model the public leadership we seek in at the centre.

 

~ Manish Srivastava

PS: My intent here is not just to notice the deeper games we play (irrespective of our side) but also to turn this crisis into an opportunity. What if we could co-create a new leadership narrative? What if we start role-modelling and holding our leaders accountable for the same? If you feel the frustration, compromise or apathy like many others, I invite you to name the shift in political leadership qualities you want to see & live with #callfornewleadership in comment. A journey of thousand steps starts with first.

(from the Sacred Well)

 

Related earlier articles:

 

Are we appreciating or idolising our leaders? 

There is significant difference between appreciating and idolising.

When we appreciate, we acknowledge the good in someone as we do it in ourself. We are at same plane. We learn from them. We honour both.

When we idolise, we put the other on a pedestal. We project all our good on to them. We make them demi-gods and rob them of any capacity to err like human. We free ourself from any responsibility to learn or to hold either of us accountable. 

Idolising quickly turns devotees into advocates of the one (or what) they idolise. As if they have an unconscious contract with their idol. 

Appreciation on the other hand, leaves room for inquiry. There is curiosity that’s open to both “how did you do that?” and “what happens if that does not work?”.

In appreciation there is a field of “and“. We see the gold in our leaders and we see their limitations. We see their strengths and their vulnerability. We can praise them and we can criticise them. 

In idolising, we get stuck in an “either-or” field. We assume that one can either support our leaders or be against them. We can’t see their faults and we refuse to hear any criticism of their decisions. There is no place for nuances. It’s all black or white!

Humans and societies evolve when they learn to appreciate the grey. The nuances. The field between and beyond “either-or”. When they can tolerate an alternate view and see the value even if it’s radical to the mainstream. When they are not threatened by criticism. They don’t have to defend. They resort to child-like curiosity, innocence and acceptance. 

Diversity is not merely a threat but an opportunity to learn and integrate. 

While idolising, we glorify our leaders and ignore their shadows. If they also promote the same (as most politicians end up doing), sooner than later, we have disasters, failures and corruption. 

When we are out of the spell of idolising, we fall flat on earth. Feeling cheated, exploited and used. Desperately looking for another pedestal…

from the Sacred Well
(manish srivastava)
24.10.2016

Vulnerability…

Showing up is vulnerability.vulnerability
Standing for is vulnerability.
Staying still is vulnerability.
All acts of leadership are vulnerable.
Any moment lived with authenticity is….

The most important life skill
is to stand still with a naked heart…

Feeling the softest wind on the skin;
Drenched, when rain of judgements washes us over;
Shivering, when fear shakes every foundation;
Blown away, when joy marries madness;
Enflamed, when rage comes from deepest violation;
Dissolved, when tears know no other way;

And empty, when there is nothing else to hold on…

Vulnerability is rendezvous with Self!

 

(Dec 21, 2014, from thesacredwell…

inspired by David Whyte’s recent Facebook post)

Election is over but the leadership void still exists…

First there was naivety,
They ruled us and exploited our resources.
Then there was apathy,
We were aware but powerless…
They thrived on corruption

Then some of us said enough !!!
And gathered the grassroot power of masses…
To challenge their might!

The country got polarised between 2 choices:
At one end were those who vouched for experience, stability, growth
and were okay to live with inauthenticity and corruption.
On the other end were activists of authenticity and honest governance

but lacked experience and political stability.

Between these two, there was a huge void
Both sides exposed the gaps of other
The best conversations from either ended in a compromise
“Well… he is the best choice we have”
“He may not be authentic, open, honest, inclusive but he will help us grow!”
“He may not have experience and stability but he is honest and inclusive!”

We have made a choice
Lets call spade a spade
At best it’s a compromise

When the celebrations
settles in the darkness of the night
And the bones feel the real weight of tired muscles..
When all the fanfare and fanaticism is over
Leaving behind empty stadium with wavering trash…
Then, just before the sun breaks in dawn
Lets wake up…
Wake up to the job yet undone
Wake up to the responsibility that can’t be outsourced
Wake up to the voice that calls for authentic leadership

 

Election is not a elixirleadership void
The leadership void still exists…
Looking at us
Echoing our name
Calling each of us to step in
To be the leader…
Who is committed to serve selflessly
Who is courageous enough to be vulnerable and authentic
And who can hold inclusion, diversity and progress in same breath

Remember, 67 years of exploitation and 100’s of years of slavery
Was build on our own ignorance and fear
It’s time to break these patterns
To reclaim our power back from few representatives
To name the facade in the face
And hold them accountable in service of the nation.
It’s time for us to stand in our own leadership…

The world is watching its largest democracy to lead responsibly
And the ‘one in the mirror’  is calling the authentic leader within you!

A Gentle Warrior

“Gentleness and understanding create in others an unconscious willingness to be led.”

“The I Ching teaches a simple but effective method of influencing difficult people and arduous situations. It advises us first to lay aside our prejudices – our feelings of being wounded, angry, or in the right – and second to seek to understand the positions of others and the lesson that the Sage is teaching us with the situation. ” (I Ching translations by Brian Browne Walker)

I Ching is the Chinese Book of Changes that has been consulted for sage’s advice at life’s turning points. It has been an oracle to rulers & warriors for many centuries. Yesterday, while dealing with an arduous situation, I consulted I Ching and it gave me some wonderful advice that I would like to share here with my reflections.

To better understand this insight, you may take a moment to recall a difficult situation or encounter with a difficult person that you have recently experienced. I Ching presents a counterintuitive approach to leading in difficult situations. It highlights 3 warrior-like qualities: “acceptance, gentleness, and a desire to understand the lesson underneath”.

Acceptance:

We often misunderstand acceptance with passive behaviour. Instead, acceptance is an aware choice.

We are tempted to escape to future or resort to past– demanding what we expect or fighting for what we lost. Accepting the moment helps us in being present in the here & now. We accept each experience with the awareness that it is “necessary for us to learn something about ourselves and about the higher laws of life” (I Ching). Such acceptance shifts us from being a victim of the situation to engaging with it as a curious learner.

In your difficult moments, how could you practice ‘accepting the moment’ and truly welcome all that it has to offer?

Gentleness:

When faced with difficult situation and people, gentleness seems to be counter-intuitive. It appears like a softer, weaker quality that is not appropriate or possible in difficult moments. We wonder– how can warrior be gentle in midst of a war? We need to deepen our understanding about gentleness.

Best way, I have understood gentleness is through an image: a strong warrior, gently holding a sparrow in his palms. Thus, gentle to me, is full awareness of your power and therefore being gracious and mindful of how you use it. Gentleness is deep centeredness in who you are. It has an element of care, love and respect. Gentleness melts the barriers, generates trust, deepens awareness and inspires a willingness to be led.

In the difficult situation that you are confronted with, could you gently hold the other person, their point of view and their deeper needs?

Desire to understand the lesson beneath:

When we are confronted with difficult people, we feel stuck. We slide into victimhood and externalize the blame. Its natural. It helps us, temporarily. All we want is to unstuck ourselves but we end up being, further entangled.

I Ching advises that all difficult situations and people, come to our life to teach us deeper lessons about ourselves and the higher laws. They become enablers in our journey to wholeness. Like Kekai helped Ram in his journey from being an obedient prince to becoming a warrior king and realizing his divine inspiration.

When we engage with tough conversations with this belief, we connect with our deeper longing and inspire others to do so. Each moment and each person becomes our aide and cotraveller and we feel liberated from the helplessness we were stuck into.

What are you longing to learn in this moment? What lessons for personal growth is this situation bringing to you?

I Ching further alarms that what you are inside will be experienced by other people. If you are accepting, gentle and understanding within, they will experience that, even if you are quiet. If you are not experiencing it within but just putting up a facade of being gentle or accepting, they will experience your facade leading to further stuckness and powerlessness.

This new way of leading is an inside-out job!

Sacred Well