Corporate Lessons from a Comedian

M.R. Raghu
Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sometimes comedians can make serious sense! The other day I was watching an interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGw3nMw3wx4) with Vadivelu by Divyadarshini (popularly known as DD) in the famous “Koffee with DD” show in Star Vijay. Vadivelu is a legendry Tamil comedian, and is an institution by himself for the space he has carved out with audience through his unique wit and humour.

While the intention was to get entertained by Vadivelu through his humorous responses, I was suddenly stuck by something that he said in the middle. When queried on the three things that he had learnt in his 25 years of acting in Tollywood, he responded as follows:

1. I learnt my acting while in the industry
2. Never trust what people say in front of you
3. You can sustain only so long as you produce successes. You are out once you fail

Let us run this through in the corporate world and see how much it resonates.

Lesson 1: Learn while you earn

The corporate world expects you to have sufficient qualifications and experience before being trusted with a position. It expects you to come completely prepared so that you can fire from day one; hence, this clamour for credentials from superior institutions (the IITs and IIMs) and the craving to have star corporates in your CV as part of your experience portfolio. The corporate world perceives the function to be a job and a process to be driven smoothly. If only it were wired along the lines of the movie industry which is tolerant for someone like Vadivelu to learn while he earns, it could have produced many more leaders today and that too with more creativity. There is certainly a lesson to be learnt here.

Lesson 2: Never trust what people say in front of you

Vadivelu opines that it is nearly impossible to decipher the true intentions when people say something to you. In other words, they may shower laurels and praises about all your past achievements just to appease your ego, while on the back they may shamelessly bite you. The challenge lies in detecting that, and finding your winning ways. While this applies to most fields in our lives, it is particularly evident in the corporate world especially as you climb higher in hierarchy. However, the intensity of such false allurements may be less in the corporate world, especially in surroundings where professionals are engaged. The need to be ethical may force few to be upright in terms of feedback and they may not resort to “back biting”, but that would be a minority I suppose.

Lesson 3: You can sustain only so long as you produce successes. You are out once you fail

It is true that performance is expected from all of us. We are rewarded when we excel and punished when we fail. However, in the movie world, this logic is applied very cruelly. In other words, only performance and performance alone, matters. Legacy cannot support you even one bit. I see this being applied in several fields like sports, medicine, etc., other than government bureaucracy! In such a scenario, learning from failure becomes equally, if not more important, than to clock success.

In summary, lessons are available all around us, even from a comedian!

M. R. Raghu, CFA, FRM is the Head of the Research Unit and Senior Vice President at Kuwait Financial Centre MARKAZ.
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