In a world obsessed with Vidya-Lakshmi, Saraswati often falls by the wayside

In a world obsessed with Vidya-Lakshmi, Saraswati often falls by the wayside

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Posted22 September 2011, by Devdutt Pattanaik, The Economic Times (The Times of India (Times Internet Limited)), economictimes.indiatimes.com

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Vidya-Lakshmi is a form of Lakshmi. Vidya means knowledge, while Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. One can easily confuse this goddess with Saraswati, the goddess traditionally associated with knowledge. Vidya-Lakshmi is the goddess of that knowledge which generates Lakshmi; she is the skill that is imparted in corporate training programmes to make employees more productive. Saraswati is the goddess that enables us to have a better understanding of our world and ourselves. Vidya-Lakshmi helps generate wealth while Saraswati helps us become wise.

There were two friends who were skilled musicians. One used his music to become rich and famous. The other preferred to use his music to understand the world. For the first man, music was Vidya-Lakshmi; for the other music was Saraswati. In the case of Vidya-Lakshmi, knowledge and skills are means to an end. In the case of Saraswati, knowledge is an end in itself. When Saraswati is all about profit, she becomes Vidya-Lakshmi. When Vidya-Lakshmi ceases to be about profit, she becomes Saraswati. Which is why Vidya-Lakshmi is dressed in gold while Saraswati is bereft of all ornamentation.

In the education system today, Vidya-Lakshmi matters more than Saraswati. People study hard to get marks and to get certificates so as to get a job. It is all about professional and vocational training; it is not about fostering curiosity about the world we live in.

In the corporate world, Vidya-Lakshmi matters more than Saraswati. The purpose of learning and development and training is not so much to reflect and introspect as it is to develop skills that will enable us to become better professionals, give better output, facilitate talent development and career growth.

When Sangita, the new HR head, presented her ambitious learning and development plan to the CEO, she was shocked at the response. The CFO said, and the CEO agreed, “Can you tell us how these programmes will affect the balance sheet? I can see the cost but I do not see the impact on topline or bottomline.”

Sangita had noticed that value was given to skill based training programmes – like sales training and MS Office advanced course. Soft skills training were seen like luxury holidays, perks to be given when profits were bad and to be slashed when business was bad. Vidya-Lakshmi mattered more than Saraswati. Clarity of thought, opening up of mind, exposure to innovative modes of thinking were not seen as organisational imperatives. And the reason for this was simple. The CEO explained, “I am measured on short-term goals, not long-term strategies. I will head this company for, maybe, four years – and I am not even sure of that. Why then should I bother with long-term intellectual investment of talent, unless the board arm-twists me?”

[ The author is the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group. He can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com]

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