Gods, Quarks and Squids: A Leadership Strategy to Conquer the Planet

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Image: Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

By Pooja Lakshman Rao

Eons ago, when the first wise humans appeared, they looked exactly like you and me. Well, they had questionable personal hygiene, were not even as skilled as a 5-year-old at art and spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about food (oh wait, we still do that!). But they did one thing right (or wrong?). They conquered a planet. Today, as the world is being ravaged by the death grip of Covid-19, it seems more prudent than ever to ask this question:

How did they do it?

Let’s go back in time and examine that a little bit. We have, as a species, witnessed the birth of Religion, the rise and fall of mighty empires and iconic leaders, two great wars, and too many battles. But in essence, we have not changed much. We still struggle with the same fundamental questions that our ancestors sought answers to: “Who are we? Why are we here?”

Mankind’s fundamental questions have always been “Who are we? Why are we here?” But looking at history, can we derive a strategy to conquer the planet like the first humans did?

Before the age of scientific determinism, Religion tried to answer some of these questions. The gist of these endeavours being that God created man in His image for reasons best known to Him. It seemed and still is a very acceptable theory of genesis. Moving further in time, inevitably, the baton passed on to science. Science began to delve dizzyingly deep into the nature of the world. But since the acceptance of the Copernican theory, since the proposition of the Heisenberg principle, and even since Einstein’s theory of relativity, scientists still seek a Grand Unified Theory that will help explain Everything. A God Theory. The latest one, the M-theory says that there are multiple universes and that it is a function of pure luck that the Earth, one of the rocks catapulted into space after the Big Bang, became fit for life. Fit for us. God, quantum theory or luck, whatever we use to explain our mystifying existence in a seemingly infinite, ever-expanding universe: each seems a little too disturbingly similar to the other.

In the Cosmic timeline, our theories of existence are but little bedtime stories: blips in the reel of time. Today, we don’t need proof from Edwin Hubble to conclude that the universe is expanding. That everything is moving away from everything else. Solar systems, planets, people. Today, perhaps, any leader who sets out to conquer the planet has to struggle not just with the vagaries of space and time but also the severely deficient attention span of the masses. So, how then, in this landscape, does one conquer a planet? It seems to me that the answers lie, neither with quarks nor with the heavens, but within us (the cliché had to appear somewhere!). As you read this article (well, at the close of this paragraph), close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting at your desk: a tiny speck on the Earth. The Earth, a tiny speck in the Solar System, dwarfed by the likes of the Sun and Jupiter. The Solar System, lost in a mire of cosmic bodies in the Milky Way. The Milky Way – a speck in the map of the Universe. As our perspective shifts, it seems incredible that our answers haven’t occurred to us a million times over already: we conquer the planet together. It happens much too often in our personal and professional lives that we forget the importance of the simple gestures of oneness. Often, the mantra for success in business is quoted as having a “win-win” attitude but the scramble to the top is real.

While the world is seeing a rise of nationalism, individualism, and an all-too-pervasive aloof millennial attitude, we must not forget the wisdom of the first modern men and women. I quote, again, that line we studied in our social sciences textbooks what seems now like ages ago: “Man is a social animal.” The simple strategy to conquer a planet, therefore, remains irrefutably, to join hands. It might be to make the world more sustainable, to solve world hunger, to empower women or even just to build innovative and successful businesses. Perhaps history’s most remarkable leaders saw the Big Picture you just visualised and then, never lost sight of it and, therefore, emphasized this oneness unendingly. Just think, what are the odds of your sitting here, reading this article in this Universe? History is also rife with examples of great leaders who have seen something as simple as a squid in different ways: a delicacy, an inspiration, a source of fear or even a funny hat. They have had the courage to trust their colleagues with generous amounts of faith and the vision to recognise those who stand out and think differently. They have, through simplest gestures, grown the people they want to work with. They have had an authentic, infectious passion and a sense of purpose. Most importantly, they have, humbly and patiently, stood at the top of this pyramid of talent taking all accountability for anything that goes awry and have left behind a solid unshakable foundation for posterity.

Great innovations that altered the face of the Earth, enduring religions, rich empires and multi-billion-dollar businesses were not built by machines, Artificial Intelligence or Big Data. They were built by people, for people. The archaic wise man, his predecessors, our leaders, and role models, have always advocated investing in human capital and building an organizational culture woven with the fabric of gratitude, openness, and humility. Empathize and grow together.

The answers to seemingly complex problems like today’s unprecedented pandemic are surprisingly simple in the context of the Big Picture.

Simplify. Chunk up the problem and use the immense power of collaborative working to break through issues. These are humble and yet powerful lessons we can learn from history.

“Learn from yesterday, live beyond today and invest in tomorrow.”

Does this sound too simple? It is easier said than done. But remember the world is, after all, either a pretty big rock or just a big, pretty rock.

Bio:
Pooja Lakshman Rao is an Inventor (Software Engineering), an Artist, a Reiki practitioner, and an aspiring author. She has worked as a journalist with the magazine ‘The Students Mag’ in India and has extensive experience working with IT companies like Robert Bosch, IBM, and Accenture. Academically, she has completed her B.E. and earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Her hobbies include alla prima acrylic painting, adventure sports, reading, travelling (pre-covid), and fitness.

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