In the holy hindu book-the Bhagvad Gita – Lord Krishna (one of the supreme gods of the Hindu pantheon) contemplates that the world is Maya – literally meaning “Illusion”. Lord Krishna gave this discourse since encapsulated as the Bhagvad Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra when his protégé Arjun was depressed at the prospect of having to kill his cousins and relatives during the Mahabarata War. Thousands of religious Hindu scholars ever since those ancient times have been interpreting the “Bhagvad Gita” and trying find ways of explaining what the Lord Krishna meant by “Maya”.
The commonest of all religious interpretation is that the real world is an “illusion” we should be prepared to go to the so called “otherworld” and because the real world is an “illusion” we should be detached from the happenings of this world thus encouraging penitence and sacrifice. While I am no religious scholar I now lay claim to explaining “Maya” to the current generation and what it can mean for us in the world business.
“Maya” although in its real literary translation is illusion – as when caused by hypnosis, magic and other esoteric methods, the meaning of “Maya” can be considered to be a state of “apparent reality” – you think and true believe that this is the reality without making an attempt to understand the “actual” reality. And the common belief of an entire population or a group of people on this “apparent reality” makes us believe in the “Maya” of this world. This difference between “actual” and “apparent” is alteration. So what you believe to be true is not true but the reality has been altered to make the apparent visible and actual hidden. So how do we achieve this state of “altered reality” – for thousands of years leaders of societies have been using “Perception” and “Suggestion” as means of achieving this “altered” reality.
In this context “Perception” is your belief of the reality achieved through your cognition of the outer world through interpretation of messages available to you. The other layer of perception is the “assumption” and “convention” of interpreting these messages, a large part of which happens through education. These assumptions and conventions are quite deep rooted and well entrenched in societies and difficult to shake off. While “Suggestion” is the art of knowing the commonly established “assumptions” and “conventions” used in interpreting messages and thereby creating and communicating the right set of messages to achieve a certain desired cognition of reality by those who receive the messages.
Explaining the “alteration” of reality
Do I make it sound complicated – let us take a couple of stories.
One is a story which my grandfather use to recount of an unfortunate incident which happened in the village farm. There was this farm worker who was working on setting up the haystack and as he built up the stack with unprotected hands – he noticed something in the hay cut his wrist with two small marks and blood started oozing out. He could not notice anything abnormal and “perceived” that some sharp blade of grass must have cut his skin. He dressed his wounds and continued to work as normal without any problem. A few months later when the haystack was being emptied, the same farm worker was working on the same haystack. As he removed the hay, buried under the hay he found a long dead snake. Out of sheer shock that it was actually a snake which had bitten his wrist months back, he immediately died.
So what happened in this case? A rational interpretation would tell us if the snake had actually bitten him and if the snake was actually poisonous he would have died within few days of the snake bite and there was little chance being able to live all this months. And if he had actually lived all these months there was no problem with the snake bite, and a dead snake can actually cause no harm. But that is “actual” reality and not the “apparent” reality of that farm worker – which said “if a snake bites you, you have to die” – by dying in a state of shock he was only fulfilling the terms of this apparent reality. Let us understand why he was shocked by dead snake.
How did the “alteration” of reality work in this case?
o Assumptions : A Snake always bites a man
o Conventions : Snake is Poisonous
o Suggestions : “If a snake bites you, you have to die” (this could have been through childhood stories , what other people told on the farm or what his parent told him)
o Apparent Reality – I was bitten, there was a snake in the haystack, the snake in the haystack was the one which bit me, if a snake bites I have to die, and therefore I will die.
Let me introduce you much simple example. A little girl was asked where money comes from. She answered – “Go to the ATM, insert you card, press a few keys and presto you get money” – She had no idea that money had to be earned and ATM only distributes money from you bank account. It only gives you what you actually have.
How does the “alteration” of reality work in this case?
o Assumptions: ATM gives you money whenever you want it.
o Conventions : Money is in the Bank and to get Cash use the ATM
o Suggestions : “Let us go to the ATM and get some Cash” ( Common conversation heard in the family)
o Apparent Reality – Whenever I am need of money, I have to just go to the ATM use my card and get the cash.
“MAYA” at Work
The above examples were meant to make you understand the conceptual aspect of reality “alteration” lets move on to a serious example which has had global repercussions.
In 2003, Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) prompted and triggered the US-Briton invasion of Iraq and toppling of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Almost three years have passed, Saddam Hussein and most of his loyalists have been arrested and put on trial, and those who were not were killed in war or escaped. The US has installed a crony administration in Iraq. For last three years the Americans and the British troops have built bases in Iraq and captured all the bases of the old Baath army. But even after three years and interrogation of the entire Iraqi Baath army and dictatorial set up, there is still no sign of finding any of the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) possessed by Iraq which was the reason for launching the war.
How does the “alteration” of reality work in this case?
o Assumptions: Iraq possesses WMD and WMD in hands of a dictator like Saddam is bad for the World. ( This assumption was since corrected through a change in the “Comprehensive report of the special advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD” which says that a passage on “Suspected WMD -related dual-use goods and procurement transactions” contained errors – you can check this on the official CIA website)
o Conventions: “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) are harmful to this world. Nobody has found what the actual tangible representation of this WMD. The Washington Post quoted historian Paul Fussell on the subject: “A machine gun, properly fired, is a weapon of mass destruction. We’re pretending that only awful and sinister people own weapons of mass destruction. We own them, too. We just call them something else.”
o Suggestions : In this case fairly simple and straight, and very bold – “Iraq has WMD” – A few memorable suggestive phrases were
“In one place — in one regime — we find all these dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront…. In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.” – President Bush Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, September 12, 2002
o Apparent Reality: A dangerous and world threatening Iraq regime with massive weapons of mass destruction which can be used at the will of Saddam Hussein and if US army does not invade Iraq – America would be under threat. ( The actual reality was that after 1991 Saddam was considerably weakened without will or means to do harm to anybody other than himself, if the US had not invaded he would have been toppled by his own men)
By now you would have come to appreciate the concept of “apparent reality”. But the question remains what all this means for you in your life and business. The concept of creating “Maya” has been well used by advertisers for ages to sell fairly useless products by creating an apparent reality that we can’t do without these products.
A fairly simple fragrant bathing soap is sold as a beauty for women by using popular movie stars. For many decades now the most popular actress of the time is used to endorse this soap. How does the reality alteration work here?
o Assumption: If I am not beautiful I will not be accepted therefore I need to constantly look for ways to make me beautiful.
o Convention : Movie actresses are the most beautiful people in society
o Suggestion : Movie actress uses this soap – so she is beautiful- if you use the same soap- you also become beautiful
o Apparent Reality: Using a particular bathing soap can make you beautiful. (While the actual reality is soap can only clean your body and cannot alter your looks)
Advertisers are probably the most blatant exploiters of “Maya” and keeping you happy in an illusory world but there are different ways both positive and negative through which the concept of apparent reality can be used for various situations in business.
Positive Uses of “Apparent” reality in business situations:
There are many positive uses of creation of an “apparent” reality through the correct uses of “suggestions” and “perceptions” in the world of business. Our innate understanding of these concepts will arm us to be or not be successful in our daily conduct of business. I will use a couple of real examples on how this is done and can be achieved. Most business leaders have used these concepts intuitively, but the not so talented and those of us who do not come in the “category” of born leaders can also use these concepts. In the following passages, I will consciously avoid the references to sales, marketing and advertising which happen to be most overt users of such concepts and thereby I may not add any particular value to readers.
Consider entrepreneurs, let us face it accept a few – no entrepreneur is born rich – they are into what they are doing to get rich, to their merit they have a vision of what they want to be and clarity on how they want to do it. But their plan cannot be achieved alone; vision and clarity are of no use unless you get financial backing from bankers or other capitalists. You cannot build a company without having good people work for your dream, and therefore need to build a team. But think of it when you actually start, why anybody should fund you and anybody trust their own future and future of their families by working for you. If you want to actually build a healthy and profitable company, you better have good reasons for both. But how can you have one when you just start with ideas and concepts, and there is nothing tangible you can show. In these cases let us try and arrive at the suggestions or “suggested messages” which need to be conveyed in order to achieve your objectives.
The order we can follow is
Desired Perception–> Societal Convention –> Individual Assumptions –> “Suggestions” to be used in messaging.
For a banker or a capitalist how can this work.
Desired Cognition of Reality: Your investment in my firm is safe and you will be able earn a god profit in a few years
Societal Conventions: There are many at work
o Investments are risky
o Healthy investments need means an ROI of X %
o Investing in known options mean “Containment of Risk”
o Do not invest in unknown options and unknown people
Individual Assumptions: This can be actually found out by interacting with the person but common assumptions which are at play are
o Younger entrepreneur – more risk
o Experience in the same field is required to start a business
o Lets go by convention and invest where everybody invests
Suggestions: To achieve the desired “cognition” of reality on the investor – your messaging framework has to contain key messages which say
o As an Entrepreneur what is my commitment on returns.
o Why being young is an advantage.
o How do I bridge the gap of experience – by building a team which has experience or using available knowledge in the field?
o What are the promised returns over fixed time frames and what is the level of detailing in my business plan to achieve this.
o How do I overcome the barrier of being unknown – by being networked with right people- so you know the same people I know, and the same people know that I have the acumen to run a business?
You will have to develop well-though out key messages which are able to answer these key assumptions and conventions and also build a desired effect. Before you actually go to the bankers test out these messages in controlled environments and check for the possible responses and whether the create the “apparent” reality you want to achieve. As an entrepreneur it is only your “vision” that exists – but for the banker it is very important to understand how well and consistently you can articulate this vision and how well you have thought of a plan to make this a reality. In other words it has to be “apparent”.
For a prospective employee how can it work? Here I talk of somebody who can actually add value to your business by either being able to develop a product or service, or bringing in the right knowledge and experience or simply being a good administrator who can run the day-to-day operations for you.
Desired Cognition of Reality: You can build a great future for yourself and your family by working for me.
Societal Conventions: Some conventions on individual success and family comfort
o Person should be able to balance work and personal life
o Should be able to provide for needs of his family or partner, including a house and common material comforts which are necessary
o Provide education for his children if he/she has any
o Be able to save enough money for old age and retirement
o The job should meet psychological needs of self-respect and self-esteem.
Individual Assumptions: There can be different things for different people
o New Company – More risk. Existing or older company – less risk
o New Company/Start Up – too much work – cannot have time for my personal life
o Now OK – what happens after a few more years where am I headed? In an Old company a career path is clearly defined.
Suggestions: To achieve the desired “cognition” of reality on the prospective employee, it is not only important that you interview him /her but also sell your dreams to the person, key messages could include
o There is risk in new company, but we have a detailed business plan which mitigates risk, you will be a key person executing this plan, so to put it straight, the only risk in this company is that you are putting your destiny in your own hands.
o A start-up has its pressures, but we are looking for people who can grow with us and we know that growth can happen if the individual “grows” so we are deeply committed to provide a person time for his own life and personal growth, we know that is best for us in the long run.
o What happens in the long run actually depends on what you would want to do in the long run, if you stay with us you could specialize in a particular area or you could grow to manage teams as the organization grows. We are also committed to remuneration and benefits in line with overall profitability, the more value organization gets we are sure that you will be able to do well for yourself.
The key thing is that if you do not articulate your dreams – you can be sure that they will remain just that – dreams. Remember you live in a world of smart people around you, although I have given you a framework for using “apparent” reality, do not ever attempt to use it alter any “perception” without adequate homework. You should know what you are speaking, you should also understand what the “perception” of the other person is, be meticulous in your planning. If you are not able to articulate correctly do not even attempt to use the above suggested framework.
Although I have used the above examples of using the concept of “apparent” reality in case of an entrepreneurial venture, they can be useful to regular business organizations as well in various activities which involve communicating to people some key messages with a desired outcome of their perception.
Desired Perception –> Societal Convention –> Individual Assumptions –> “Suggestions” to be used in messaging.
You could also use detailed worksheets before entering into such communication exercises, to chart out the above framework in your business context. You need to have a fairly accurate understanding of what the existing perception is and what is the perception you want to create. This in effect is your creation of “Maya” in the current world.