Featured Article: How to Win the Hearts and the Heads of CEOs

Feature Articles / January 2011

R. Sridhar

Editors Note: This paper narrates the authors excitement in being able to find a convergence between his Orange Organizational Identity and his yearning to merge his Purple and Blue selves that don’t find expression in the business context. The Indian mind has been both luaded and criticised for being very flexible. What is not often understood is that a Green and Yellow underpinning that impacts the BLUE-purple form of Indian society. The average Indian can easily look at very different points of view and try to assimmilate them. This vesatality is evident in the authors attempts to dialogue with the two celebrated Carnatic Musicians and evolve a method of working on innovation. Both the Carnatic Musicians are exposed to modernity in their educational process apart from being disciples of their Guru. They also share the enthusiasm to find an application of their art into a modern setting and play with that possibility.


R. Sridhar

This article is about how three creative people—2 musicians and an innovation coach—went about creating a unique business innovation workshop. One of them—the innovation coach—recounts what happened and how he was surprised by the way they worked together. There are interesting observations about creating something unheard of, leadership, team working, thinking!

Sometime in 2006 T. M. Krishna, a leading Carnatic Musician, wrote to me about a coffee table book he was working on, along with Bombay Jayashri another leading light from the field. I read it with interest but some how forgot about it later. In January 2007 Krishna wrote to say that the book was published and it was launched by none other than the then President of India, Shri Abdul Kalam.

In February I was traveling to Chennai and I wanted to buy the book. I was planning to send it as a gift to my daughter in the U.S. I sent an SMS to Krishna enquiring about the availability of the book. It was available in Landmark and couple of other bookshops. I picked up a copy as soon as I landed. Little did I realise then, that book would lead us on to something very exciting.

I read the book that night. I did not know that there was a third person who had co-authored the book with Jayashri and Krishna. It was Mythili Chandrasekhar, a senior advertising professional from a leading advertising agency, JWT. I always had an impression that most coffee table books are great to look at but were often poorly written. Voices Within (Bombay Jayashri and T.M. Krishna. Voices Within Carnatic Music: Passing on an Inheritance. Bombay: Matrka, 2007, ISBN: 81-7525-555-2, $90.00, includes free airmail shipping—http://www.vedamsbooks.com/no49738.htm) proved to be an exception. For someone interested in Carnatic music it was “un-put-downable”. Jayashri and Krishna describe the life and times of seven all time greats from the Carnatic music field—seven maestros who left an indelible mark on the landscape of Carnatic music. Their contributions were unquestionable. It was fascinating to read about the character and the idiosyncrasies of each one of them.

As I was reading the book I began to realise something else was happening. I was beginning to unconsciously compare these maestros, their principles and practices with some of the modern day business icons in the country. To my delight I found several parallels between what the maestros practised and what people like Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Ratan Tata and many others did to excel in their businesses. As I dug further I realised that the book was a treasure trove of insights on creativity, innovation and change.

It was probably 2 AM when I finished reading the book. It was incubating in my mind throughout the next day. Then I did something on an impulse. I sent an SMS to Krishna.

“Just read your book. Maybe we could do something with it as a business workshop. Would you be open to try something new?”

I got a classic Krishna reply “Sure. Why not?”

I called Krishna the next day and told him about what I had in mind. A Business Creativity Workshop based on the book. All I wanted was a meeting with him and Jayashri. I would fly back from Mumbai to Chennai once again, specially to meet them. We met a week later in one of Krishna’s favourite coffee shops.


First Meeting

Here I was with two of India’s most sought after musicians. I had carried with me a couple of books—the tool kit I use in my Creative Block Busting workshop and other reference material. I explained to them why innovation and creativity were becoming important issues for business, how my own workshops were doing well, and why I thought there was an opportunity in doing something together.

Jayashri and Krishna

Jayashri and Krishna listened carefully and finally Krishna spoke “But what exactly do you have in mind?”

“Take a look at this.” I showed them their own coffee table book with my highlighter marks and margin notes. Jayashri gasped when she saw that. Nobody writes on a coffee table book. I explained how some of the things I was picking up from the book could become useful principles for business creativity. There were plenty of examples: How one of the maestros connected with his audiences. Or how another challenged the limitation of his musical instrument and changed it. Or how another took her music beyond the shores of this country to the UN.

Birth of the Concept

Then I made a suggestion. “What if we had a workshop like this? A one day workshop. In the first part the two of you perform a concert, with proper accompaniments. In addition make a lecture demonstration. You explain the key principles of innovation from the maestros through music. In the second part I will use those very same principles and connect them to business.”

Jayashri seemed very excited and said “We must take it all India!”

As we went through the coffee table book we noticed that a few common things emerged. For example, all the seven maestros displayed an extraordinary attitude. It was a willingness to change one-self to achieve a goal. Some of them demonstrated a unique knack to understand the pulse of their audience and shape their concerts accordingly. In some other cases we saw their native intelligence at play. They sensed how changing times were affecting audiences. One of them went to the extent of restructuring the concert format. The more we examined the life and times of these maestros the more we discovered their amazing qualities.  These qualities led us to put together a set of principles of innovation and excellence.

Then Krishna pointed out something. In a way it is a revelation. The seven maestros intuitively practised these principles. This happened at a time well before we were exposed to management concepts, MBAs or Harvard of the world. Thus the thinking was truly original and very Indian in ethos, too.

Jayashri said, “We must use Indian names for these principles, to capture this spirit. Let us not use any jargon or cliches from today’s management literature.”

These two comments led to an articulation of the key principles in a very interesting way. The swara names (musical notes) became the reference point for our expressions.  Krishna clarified that it would be seven principles and one overarching attitude.[3]

“What is the role of music in this workshop? Is it about Carnatic Music, or the Carnatic Music Maestros? Or something else?” Jayashri raised this pertinent point.

I looked at Krishna for his views. “I think it is about all of this” was Krishna’s view.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“I agree. However our focus is on the key principles of what we have learned by studying the life and times of these maestros. We must use music to help people unwind. There is a spiritual quality of the music people must experience. Otherwise mere talk of the principles would be lifeless. It is about the maestros because we are deriving the principles from what they did. That is fine, too. What can the participant take home and put to use? The seven principles.”

“Great. So we build everything around the seven principles.”


I can carry on with this story of what Jayashri said, what Krishna pointed out or what I did. There is indeed a great story there. However, for me there is a more powerful story on how three creative people created something from concept to market in a matter of just four months.

The Key Players

Among the three of us Jayashri and Krishna had already worked together in producing the Voices Within coffee table book. They had excellent rapport and shared a vision for carnatic music. The book was one expression of their vision.  They had also collaborated on many other projects.

I knew Krishna a little but did not know Jayashri (only knew of her and her incredible music). We had never worked together on anything. Krishna was the youngest, Jayashri slightly older and I was the oldest. But no hierarchy or seniority emerged based on this.

Krishna probably knew a little bit about my work. He also sang at my daughter’s wedding.

We were not yet an established team.

What Brought Us Together

We never stated this as a clear ‘shared vision’ as one might expect. I think all three of us were excited by the possibility of doing something unheard of. It seemed dangerous, impossible, somewhat crazy and the thought of succeeding in it gave us a heady sense of exhilaration. This excitement was evident in all our meetings and discussions (we did not have too many of them either. We had three planning meetings and one final action meeting before the ‘D’ day.)

However,  I think all three of us understood what this workshop could mean for each us. For Jayashri and Krishna it could mean taking Carnatic Music beyond its predictable boundaries. For me it could mean a clear positioning as an Innovation Expert in an unexpected way.

How We Worked Together

Every time I have worked in a team, there was a felt need to have one of the members take charge as a leader. None of us felt this need and therefore our team did not have an assigned or assumed leader. Each of us took a lead depending upon the situation. Frankly, if I had not experienced this way of working I would have written this off as wishful thinking. In a way it was somewhat like their concerts. Each artiste had a role to play. There were times we played together. There were times we worked on our own—solo.

On looking back I think some of these things helped:

1. We were comfortable with ambiguity, but not vagueness.

Let me explain. Our concept was not vague or ambiguous but there was no certainty about the outcome. Interestingly, I had not exhibited such tolerance for ambiguity in the past. This was a new experience for me. Because Jayashri and Krishna were comfortable, I was comfortable. This was the first time I derived my comfort from the comfort of my partners. I used to derive it from my sense of control and propensity to lead the group’s thinking.

2. Our willingness to change and take on new roles.

Jayashri and Krishna had to become expert communicators apart from being outstanding artistes.  I had to be a creator, coach and a facilitator and not be a traditional consultant.

3. Our willingness to take risks.

Frankly, our big risk was not to do with money. We were putting our collective reputations on the block. However, the big picture made the risks seem worth taking.

4. Two sides of a coin—passion and objectivity.

I remember our meetings, phone calls and e-mails. Passion and objectivity were two balls in the air. At any point of time each one of us would be alternating between passion and objectivity.  Here is an example. I was passionate about creating an unforgettable experience for every participant who attended the workshop. Jayashri was objective and kept asking about what the participant would take home as a learning.

5. Willingness to accept the skepticism of people, but not be distracted by it.

In fact we converted skeptics to become our collaborators. We encouraged skeptics to tell us everything that can go wrong with the workshop. Why won’t people attend the workshop? Why won’t the concept work? Why won’t people understand the principles? What will stop them from using these principles back at work? Why won’t people accept management lessons from Carnatic Music Maestros?

The more we courted the skeptics, the more we realised the way we needed to shape the workshop.

When we launched it first, our tool kit had only the coffee table book and a creativity workbook. For our second workshop we added a brainstorming game. For the fourth workshop we added a business fiction to help participants understand how to play the brainstorming game. Jayashri kept teasing us about this, “What has the workshop given birth to this time?”

(Click here to see some pictures of the workshop in progress : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mumbai-India/Voices-Within-Business-Innovation-Workshop/280411022284?ref=ts

If you want to dig a little deeper and also see a 20 minute clip about the workshop click here: http://www.ideasrs.com/vwbizinnovation/index.html )

6. Our willingness to follow the principles that emerged to create new features of the workshop.

Our feedback from our launch in Mumbai was exceptional. 95% of the people thought that the workshop was an outstanding success. It was intoxicating read the comments.

Krishna was curious about the 5%. What did they say?

Participants felt that they had no opportunity to put the principles to work. They would have liked some team work, an opportunity to present their ideas, etc. My first instinct was to dismiss this as herd mentality and predictable behaviour. If they came to learn, why do they need air time? Jayashri brought a sense of balance into the discussion, “What if we practised Sa – Sruti here?”

So we accepted that we must build in elements of participation, team work and sharing. I was still uncomfortable. That night I remembered a famous quotation from a hollywood script writer “Always give the audience what they want, but never in a manner they expect!”

So we created a brainstorming game using the seven principles. Each table had seven players and everyone got an opportunity to play.  Everybody got airtime. Everyone had an opportunity to work together and build on each other’s ideas and put up a group point of view. So Sa – Sruti worked.

We noticed one problem when we introduced the game. My instructions did not seem clear enough about the process. So I applied Pa – Prasna. “Why can’t we ask them to explain the process and we respond. That led to a completely new development. We created a business fiction that demonstrates how the principles were used by an organisation tackling attrition. Each participant read the story; the group discussed how the company used the process. They then presented it to us. Bingo! Their explanations were clearer than mine!

How do we handle post-lunch stupor?

We applied Ma – Misram. We combined a little bit of business, fun, and lots of prizes. We started the post-lunch session with a business quiz. We created 15 business situations. Participants had to explain which principle applied to each situation. There were plenty of discussions, laughter and prizes from Jayashri and Krishna. This helped them clearly understand the principles.

Our learning as faculty was continuous. At one stage in the post-lunch session we found that participants were grappling with concepts, but were still not confident. Krishna just stepped in and instinctively used Pa – Prasnaˆ: “What if I were a participant and not a faculty member?” He then started asking me questions that he always wanted to but was not able to articulate as well. He challenged me, pushed me to the wall and generally made my life difficult. Participants loved this little interlude and were rooting for Krishna.

This turned to be a nice animated interactive session. Once they saw Krishna’s approach they realised that they had the permission to ask any question—nothing was insignificant.

Moment of Truth

I was talking to one of the participants during the workshop for the Tata Group. He was the MD at one of the group companies. What he said was interesting “The only way to test this in a real life situation, at work. A workshop is about learning. Work is about doing.” Therefore, I spent a day with his executive committee and 20 managers helping them crack a strategy issue, using the seven principles. The group had a great time working together and proposed solutions that were quite different from their routine approaches.

After the workshop the MD of the organisation dropped me home. He said, “It was  amazing to see what happened today. It is obvious that the seven principles are working. We need the discipline to work together systematically, to use these principles effectively. You can’t make music just because the seven notes are there. We have to consciously use them in the right manner. The same is true here. The other issue is skillful facilitation. It is vital for the success of this way of thinking.”


We believe that what we have created has universal relevance. It cuts across cultures and management styles. Carnatic Music is not a barrier. On the other hand music lubricates minds that are jammed and rusted. That the participant does not know music or is not familiar with this genre does not matter. Our various workshops including one in Zurich to a bunch of Swiss entrepreneurs and consultants has proved this to us.

We started this as an off-beat experiment. We are delighted that it has relevance to business in the context of leadership, excellence and innovation. What gives us joy is that the seven principles are turning out to be gifts from the seven maestros to the world of business. In their wildest dreams they would not have imagined their impact people’s lives beyond music. We believe that the seven principles are universal enough to go beyond business too! So our next version could be for children!

Bombay Jayashri Speaks about Her Experience in Creating and Conducting this Workshop.

“This seemed like an onerous task but then we got the answers from the masters. We just had to be true to our art and enjoy our work of music and communication. It could well have been a lecture demonstration on an intricate composition. Once we adopted this view the task did not seem daunting anymore. The universal appeal of music, its ability to elevate people and transport them to a unique experience helped us to get rid off habitual ways of thinking that the managers had. It was this that enabled them to look at their new learning on excellence and innovation with enthusiasm.

“The seven principles we demonstrated are universal and can apply to any field of human endeavour.  The world of business is no exception. It was a great experience to see this being reinforced through this workshop.”

—Bombay Jayashri

T. M. Krishna Speaks about His Experience in Creating and Conducting this Workshop.

“For any artist the process of creativity and innovation is part of a larger process of the art itself. Many times artists never see these changes till they actually happen. We as musicians have always viewed these greats in Carnatic music as entrepreneurs. The reason is that they went where no other person ever dared to go, both artistically and professionally.   They created, changed, modified, questioned, challenged, took the untrodden path, never feared faliure, because they believed in what they did.  Even when they did fall they got up stronger and richer from the experience. From this thought was born the book Voices Within—a tribute to these maestros and their spirit.

“When we came up with this workshop concept, we realized that everything that these maestros had done was relevant and important to every human being, irrespective of what their area of work was. Innovation is not a new phenomena of the 20th century. To most thinkers innovation is something that happens constantly. These musicians were no different. Many times we do not seem to connect business and art.

“We wonder how art can be a business, but the truth is that actually the reverse is more true and probably more relevant. Business is an art. By this I don’t mean art as a metaphor for manipulation, but art as a process of creation and connection. When business loses this, it ceases to be what it should be. The best way we thought of reigniting this flame is to learn from the masters who breathed and lived it. These seven great Classical Carnatic musicians. This is the Voices Within Business Creativity Workshop.

“My personal challenge in creating and conducting this workshop was to engage an audience who were not familiar with Carnatic Music. We had to build a bridge that made sense for them, without ever appearing to thrust Carnatic Music upon them. Yet we had to use the music to open their minds and deliver a unique experience. The moment of satisfaction was when people (95% of them knew nothing about Carnatic Music or us) approached us (Jayashri and myself) and asked us so many questions about Carnatic Music and regretted that they had not been exposed to it before.  That was testimony that Carnatic Music is indeed ready to break its shackles to reach more and more people. This workshop was an unusual vehicle to do that.”

T. M. Krishna

Carnatic Music

The origin of Carnatic music, or the South Indian classical music can be traced back to the age of the Vedas. Bharata’s Natya Sastra, from around the 5th century A.D. and Illango Adigalar’s Silapadigaram of the 2nd century AD, are the earliest recorded documents available on the theory and performance of Indian classical music. This tradition has a rich heritage and is perfectly attuned with Indian culture.

Over the centuries Indian classical music has evolved into two distinctive streams namely Carnatic Music and Hindustani music. Indian classical music’s biggest contributions to the world of music is the concept of Raga and the tremendously evolved rhythmic variations through the concept of Laya.

Ragas are melodic concepts which have a clear and definite identity. The swaras or notes which cluster themselves together to form these identities, are the pillars. The Raga uses these pillars to build aesthetic beauty by bending these notes, creating spaces in-between them, pacing them, decorating them, creating forms with them and linking them.

Laya is the aesthetic idea of time and rhythm. Its not the measure of time but the concept of time which drives any line of melody. When this is put into a structure its called a Tala or rhythmic cycle. In the concept of Laya and Tala Indian classical music has evolved multiple ideas and mathematical variations.  Today these are used worldwide in many other musical traditions.

The Carnatic Classical idiom is mainly practiced in the Southern states of India. The distinctive quality of this idiom is that it is a melodic system that is primarily a vocal music tradition (though you do find instrumental solo concerts.)  Carnatic music is known for the unique and rare balance it strikes between compositional music and improvisational music. This system has over nine different compositional forms and at the same time provides every performing musician space to create and innovate new musical tapestries within the boundaries of its structure.

Improvisations are performed in various ways using lyrics, swaras, the melodic idea and mathematical possibilities. The unique aesthetic of Carnatic music is derived from its usage of very minute, subtle and complex melodic embellishments known as ‘gamakas’. Its only in Carnatic music that you find this extent of the usages of these embellishments that gives it a sound that is completely its own.

Carnatic music has compositions in mainly four languages, Sanskrit, Tamizh, Kannada and Telugu. A carnatic performance is commonly known as a Kutchery (concert). In what can be considered one of the most beautiful examples of fusion in music,  the western violin is an integral part of Carnatic music performances with the violinist being the main accompanying artist for a vocal recital. The violin has been completely adapted and integrated into the Carnatic tradition. The percussion instruments include instruments such as Mrudangam (two sided drum), Kanjira (a small tambourine), Ghatam (a unique clay pot), Moharsing (mouth harp). Some of the other melodic instruments used in this system are the flute, veena and nadaswaram.

Useful websites on Carnatic music





The Seven Maestros of Carnatic Music²

Here are the seven maestros who left an indelible mark on the field of Carnatic Music.

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890 – 1967)

He was the one who set a new direction—the margadarshi. The one who introduced the modern day kutcheri format and was forever changing it.

TN Rajarathnam Pillai (1898 – 1956)

The one and only Nagaswara Chakravarthi, The Last Emperor, the one who fought to give his musical instrument its rightful place and whose influence went way beyond his instrument.

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908 – 2003)

The Grand Old Man of Carnatic Music who had the longest presence on stage. He influenced not only the music, but also its organisation and administration.

GN Balasubramaniam (1910 – 1965)

The revolutionary, he introduced a style all his own and opened unknown vistas. He generated a new kind of audience fervour hitherto unknown.

Palghat Mani Iyer (1912 – 1981)

The first and the last word in South Indian percussion, he was considered a time keeper to the entire system.

MS Subbulakshmi (1916 – 2004)

The First Lady, she gave Carnatic Music a place not only in the national fabric but also in the international arena.

TR Mahalingam (1926 – 1986)

The maverick genius, he went where very few before him dared to tread. He unequivocally gave a completely new dimension to a piece of bamboo called the flute.

The Secrets of the Seven Maestros³

What exactly did the maestros do to make a mark for themselves? How did they create such an impact? How did they make a significant difference? What are the principles they followed, even if intuitively?

The essence of what the maestros practised is a combination of certain attitudes and principles. They never articulated them explicitly. They were implicit in whatever they did—in their beliefs, attitude and action.

They are:

Sa – Sadhana—contemplation and willingness to change the self

Sa – Sruthi—connectedness

Ri – Ritu—defining and defying seasons/trends

Ga – Guru—raising the bar, Mis

Ma –Misram—combining apparently irreconcilable opposites

Pa – Prasna—asking uncomfortable questions

Dha – Dhruva—standing apart from the crowd

Ni – Nava-akaanksha—wishful thinking, daydreaming

Sa – Sadhana

Intense Sadhana is a penance that seeks to change the self. It is the yearning for a different state beyond mediocrity.

Sa – Sruthi

Connectedness is about knowing the psychology of the audience and understanding how they define value. Value is always what the audience derives in return for the sacrifice one makes.

Ri – Ritu

Ritu refers to a season implying trends/changes. What will work next season? Who knows? However, the maestros defined the seasons and defied them at the same time.

Ga – Guru

A Guru represents excellence, and elevates the student to a different level. He is much more than a teacher or a mentor. Often, it is the Guru who pushes one to go the extra mile, even when others think it is not necessary or will not make a difference. It is about raising the bar, changing scale and profile. One needs to challenge oneself like the Guru would, to scale new heights.

Ma – Misram

An artiste’s mind is curious. It is playful and sometimes mischievous. It often wants to do the forbidden, to break the rules. It asks uncomfortable questions. It often leads to strange experiments, which combine two apparently irreconcilable opposites. The results have been nothing short of spectacular.


Pa – Prasna


A creative mind suffers from discontent. It is not easily satisfied with the present, however good it might seem. Interestingly this dissatisfaction does not lead to disgruntlement but to a healthy questioning attitude. Occasionally, it might even seem a trifle arrogant, because the authority of well-known people and practices that are well established are questioned. However, the creative mind knows no fear. It goes ahead and questions them anyway. The questions are uncomfortable, but a true artiste will face the discomfort rather than shy away from it.

Dha – Dhruva

Dhruva is about reaching an iconic status, becoming a beacon providing direction for others to follow. It is about attaining distinction with imagination, guts and grit. The only burning ambition: to make a mark, leave an indelible stamp.

Ni – Nava-akaanksha

Daydreaming and wishful thinking are two enjoyable pursuits of the creative mind. The wishes could often be triggered by the self or could be a response to something someone else expressed. Sometimes they are in response to a question that camouflages an unarticulated wish.

About the Author




R.Sridhar, Innovation Coach, IDEAS-RS (www.ideasrs.com).

Imagine an old mirror, covered with layers of dust and grime. In addition, it is unsteady. Imagine trying to look at your face and wanting to comb your hair neatly. Our minds are like this mirror. It is covered with our biases, habitual ways of looking at issues, fears, anxieties and baggage from the past. How can we get fresh, new ideas from such minds? Just as we need a hand to hold the mirror steady and wipe it clean without scratching it, we often need external help to look at things afresh.

That is what I enjoy doing most. Helping people get out of habitual thinking. Stretching their minds. Challenging assumptions. Revel at unearthing new ways of looking at old issues. Attacking what is considered impossible. Igniting imagination and opening a new world of possibilities is equally exciting. Seeing my clients’ faces when they come out with numerous new ways to look at an issue is rewarding in itself.  I believe my job does not end with helping clients think better and get better ideas. Very often managers drop good ideas at the first sign of opposition or objection to the idea. My job is to help them stay with the idea and win in the innovation game. If they win, I win. My philosophy: “Why should serious work be boring?”

3 thoughts on “Featured Article: How to Win the Hearts and the Heads of CEOs

  1. G Ananthapadmanabhan

    Those days the great musicians start the conscert with a varnam . , on ganapathi, and after 2 songs a gana raga sung in vistara , niraval, kalpanaswarams / Ragam Tanam Pallavi followed by thani avarthna. Then come the short songs, thukkada virutham and end with Madyamavati raga- Mangalam.

    Why these days Musicians deviate/ or are there flaws in the yesterdayer’s thinking and modified there from …..or are there any other reasons ?
    please reply
    Dr G Ananthapadmanabhan

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