A few hours ago, I was watching one of my all-time favourite movies “Swati Kiranam” (Telugu) starring Mammootty, Radhika and Master Manjunath (of Maligudi Days fame). The film narrates the fictional story of a singing prodigy whose creativity is steadily snubbed and snuffed out by an established classical singer under the garb of mentorship.
For me, the movie has three different take-aways:
1. Those of us who look for role models elsewhere would do well to draw inspiration from the glorious tradition of Indian Classical music which has produced perfectionists of the highest order.
2. Barring exceptions, raw unhewed creativity, without the benefit of mentorship, can only produce a few flashes of brilliance. Mentorship is imperative for consistent creativity.
3. Mentors must protect themselves from being afflicted by jealousy/envy.
“Consistent creativity” may sound oxymoronic thanks to the spirit of mavericism which has come to be associated with creativity. “Consistency” has probably become synonymous with lack of imagination and “standardization”. If “consistent creativity” is re-worded as “disciplined creativity”, it has too rigid a connotation and may not find favour with many.
That said, if one were to set aside all hair-splitting on semantics, and instead were to focus on the essence behind “consistent creativity”, one would understand that what is sought to be conveyed is a sense of responsibility which must go hand in hand with creativity. In other words, the truly talented/gifted ones must utilize their potential to the fullest possible extent, with a broad world view characterising the use to which such talent is put.
Responsibility/duty, contrary to the popular notion, is not a burden on “talent”. In fact, it builds a foundation which helps talent withstand negativity in the form of criticism motivated by vested interest and baser emotions like jealousy. A sense of responsibility gives talent a direction, instead of letting talent dissipate its energies in frivolous myopic pursuits or ego-trips or a game of one-upmanship.
Importantly, a duty-based approach to talent ensures that exhibitionism remains at bay, and the cause or purpose remains supreme. This is critical because talent, if not tempered by duty, is frequently mired in self-obsession and self-edification.
As for mentorship and mentors, the first and foremost qualities expected of them are a large heart and a broad mind, which are alive to and not unhappy with the prospect of finding a protégé who is better than the mentor himself or herself can ever be. Those who cannot keep jealousy at bay must never don the mantle of a mentor because not only does jealousy harm the protégé, it also pushes the mentor down a disgraceful path.
A good mentor, in my opinion, never imposes his or her mentorship on the prospective protégé, instead he recognizes the right of the protégé to accept or reject his or her mentorship. Voluntary acceptance of mentorship, to me, is a sign that the protégé respects both the mentor’s individual capabilities and his ability to act as a mentor. The pivotal role played by such voluntary acceptance is often ignored in a blind pursuit to “collect” protégés.
Voluntary acceptance of a mentor ensures that mistakes committed by the mentor are not interpreted by the protégé as the mentor’s lack of proficiency. Instead, they are treated as errors which are but human, and are hence not indicative/demonstrative of the mentor’s lack of talent. This window of error is necessary to avoid loss of respect, and consequent ego tussle between the mentor and the mentored.
Unfortunately, these issues, which are integral to human resource management, do not appear to engage our attention as much as they ought to, when we speak of harnessing creativity for innovation. Sustained innovation calls for repeated introspection on how we handle creativity, and re-statement of values which we treat as cornerstones of an ecosystem which promotes innovation.
I look forward to hearing from our readers, especially those who have real-time experience in handling talent in their establishments.