Thursday, February 23, 2012


The Key to Success

(I learnt this the hard way)

Dear Reader: Let me begin by telling you a Mulla Nasrudin Story

Mulla Nasrudin had become a favourite of the King. He was a part of his inner circle and was always seen hanging around the king with the coterie of sycophants. In fact, Mulla Nasrudin had become the Chief Sycophant to the King.

One day the King was very hungry.

Mulla Nasrudin rushed to the palace kitchen and saw some cooked brinjals so he immediately served the brinjals to the King.

The brinjals had been so deliciously cooked that the King loved the taste and relished them so much that he told the Palace Cook to serve brinjals every day at every meal.

“Are brinjals not the best vegetables in the world?” the King asked Mulla Nasrudin.

“Very Right, Your Majesty, Very Right. Yes, Brinjals are the very best vegetables in the world. You are absolutely right, your Majesty. The brinjal is the tastiest vegetable in the world,” Nasrudin said, in total agreement with the King, “As you desire, your majesty, I will ensure that brinjals are served every day at every meal.”

Five days later, when brinjals had been served for the tenth meal in succession, the King who was by now fed up of eating brinjals roared in anger: “Take these brinjals away! They taste terrible! I hate them! ”

“Absolutely right, your Majesty, brinjals are the worst vegetables in the world,” agreed Nasrudin.

On hearing this the King was quite bewildered, and with a bemused look on his face he asked Mulla Nasrudin, “I don't understand. Now you say that brinjals are the worst vegetables in the world, but just a few days ago you said that brinjals were the very best vegetables in the world.”

“I did, your Majesty. But I am the servant of the King, not of the vegetable,” replied Mulla Nasrudin ingratiatingly.


Look around you, in your workplace and outside, and you will realize that the most “successful” persons are those who are morally pliable.

In the early days of my career, when I was young and full of idealism, I used to wonder why so many professionally competent, talented, efficient and diligent persons do not get the success they deserve in their careers.

Now it is quite clear to me – they lacked that key ingredient which is the sine qua non to reach the top of the ladder: MORAL PLIABILITY.

Yes, if you are morally pliable you will develop the ability to unquestioningly obey orders from your superiors without suffering qualms of conscience. 

Your bosses will feel comfortable with you and you will go a long way in your career – yes, proficiency may take you to a certain level but to rise beyond that you need that decisive ingredient in the recipe for success – moral pliability.

If you are honest, straightforward and upright you may even be labeled as an “idealist”, impractical, conceited, dogmatic, or even worse, if you stand by your principles you may be branded as a difficult person, as someone who cannot get along with others, and your career may be written off and you may be cast away by the wayside.

If you flow with the tide, bend your principles as the wind blows, you will be appreciated as a “practical” person, tactful manager, a great team player – after all, everyone loves an adaptable person with a flexible personality

This is true in most organizations – at work and also in personal relationships in a family.

Of course there is a danger in being too flexible. 

Once you practice moral pliability for a long time and make it a habit to compromise your principles as the situation demands, you may reach a stage where you have no principles left to compromise.

Yes, the sustained practice of moral pliability is bound to affect your capability for creative and original thinking. To quote Norman Dixon: A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express

I have seen this happen to so many morally pliable persons who turn into yes sir yes sir three bags full sir type obsequious sycophants.

So, Dear Reader, look around your workplace, observe your colleagues, especially the eager beaver go getter “successful” types. 

Reflect for a while and ask yourself:

Is better to be morally rigid and ethically steadfast?

Or is it better to be “malleable” and “ductile” and practice “situational ethics”?   

When I see the number of morally pliable people achieve great “success” I wonder whether this African saying is relevant here: The wind does not break a tree that bends” 

Or maybe the Ancient Chinese Wisdom “The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind”.

Or should you stand by your principles as John Quincy Adams says: Always stand on principle, even if you stand alone”.

Or is it wiser to follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock”.

Think about it and you decide for yourself what is right for you.

As an afterthought, let me add that there is a flip side to moral pliability too. 

As we discussed earlier, the first danger you may face if you become morally pliable is that you may lose the capacity for original thought.

There is a bigger danger as well.

Sometimes these morally pliable persons who reach the topmost positions in the hierarchy may bring disrepute to themselves and tarnish the reputation of their organizations owing to this very quality of moral pliability that catalyzed their ascent to the top. 

Quite a paradox, isn’t it?

Dear Reader. I have given you the key to success. I have told you the pros and the cons. The choice is yours. TO BE or NOT TO BE ... yes, To be or not to be Morally Pliable.

Enjoy your work and have a great day. Wish you all the success in your career. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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Unknown said...

Nice article. Every word is said true. Pliability is what works at work. Its upto us to decide how we choose to be.

Saru Singhal said...

Indeed a paradox, the widsom quotes in the end made the choice rather difficult.

Thoughts Synchronized said...

Wonderful post! Have been following your blog for sometime now..

Finally, after three years in IT firm I have accepted this fact . Despite knowing that it really doesn't take in too much effort but just a mere "Yes Sir", "You know better Sir", "Absolutely correct sir" when you are not even convinced to move up the hierarchy, I am unable to do so.

May be unlike them, I have a conscience to answer. :) So I chose to work towards achieving things than be simply morally pliable.