Wisdom for startups – through Indian proverbs!

4th Jul 2013
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One of the other hats I wear is founder of the World of Proverbs project, to document witty proverbs from different languages via books and tweets (currently consisting of three books: Indian Proverbs, African Proverbs and Singapore Proverbs).Proverbs are such brilliant distillations of human behaviour and activities through the ages that I find many of them relevant for fields ranging from knowledge management and leadership to entrepreneurship and self-help.

Many of the management principles and values for startups are evocatively captured in Indian proverbs: learn from your experience, don’t over-plan, be flexible, be creative, don’t be reckless, work hard in teams, learn from failure, don’t be too proud to ask for help, sell well, manage your money carefully, don’t borrow unless you have to, learn by doing, get new ideas by travelling, be persistent, learn from customers, start simple but scale fast, don’t become arrogant, be grateful to those who help you along your journey, and pray for luck!

Here is a sampler of wisdom for startups and entrepreneurs, through our very own ageless and timeless Indian proverbs!

Experience is as important for knowledge as education.

- Tamil proverb

If everybody pushes together even a mountain can be moved.

- Malayalam proverb

To lose is to learn.

- Hindi proverb

It is not a shame to fall but to remain fallen.

- Tamil proverb

If you really need a job to be done, be prepared to fall at the feet of a donkey.

- Kannada proverb

Listen to popular opinion but follow your own mind.

- Marathi proverb

Even the best painter starts with a blank wall.

- Tamil proverb

Be slow to promise but quick to perform.

- Kannada proverb

A beautiful vendor can even sell fermented juice.

- Tamil proverb

If all get into the palanquin, who will be the bearers?

- Telugu proverb

Nobody respects an empty pocket.

- Bhojpuri proverb

Just yearning for the fruit in the tree will not bring it to your hands.

- Tamil proverb

Personal experience is as important to follow as the scriptures.

- Marathi proverb

A second of help is better than hours of advice.

- Tamil proverb

To live on credit is to warm oneself at a straw fire.

- Hindustani proverb

Wait till you get the silk sari before you discard the cotton one.

- Tamil proverb

You must travel to gain.

- Hindustani proverb

An old patient is better than a new doctor.

- Kannada proverb

Don’t give up climbing the coconut tree when you are half-way up.

- Konkani proverb

Experience is the mother of all knowledge.

 - Hindi proverb

Do not dig a well only after the house catches fire.

- Kannada proverb

There will always be a ditch in front of a person in a hurry.

- Punjabi proverb

Wherever there is cow dung, that is where you will find your bread.

- Mewari proverb

Knowledge is higher than power.

- Hindi proverb

Elders’ advice is like gooseberries; at first sour then sweet.

- Malayalam proverb

When the student is ready, the master appears.

- Buddhist proverb

If you have good luck even an empty pot will be filled with gold.

- Tamil proverb

Self-praise is no recommendation.

- Hindi proverb

Studying is sweat, but knowledge is sweet.

- Tamil proverb

Even a squirrel can provide the help that he is capable of.

- Malayalam proverb

Let us look for gems together but remain friends.

- Sindhi proverb

You cannot cook rice well by just dreaming about rice.

- Tamil proverb

Iron and knowledge will get spoiled if they are not used.

- Malayalam proverb

When there are mangoes in the tree, stones are money.

- Hindustani proverb

One's knowledge is only a handful of sand, there is still an ocean of knowledge to learn.

 - Tamil proverb

He who gives advice should also be able to follow advice.

- Punjabi proverb

You can’t quench your thirst by swallowing your saliva.

- Bhojpuri proverb

The cow in the printed page will not eat grass. It will also not give milk.

- Malayalam proverb

There is no need to name the son before the wife is pregnant.

- Telugu proverb

You cannot cook one half of the chicken and expect the other half to lay eggs.

- Sanskrit proverb

The stomach cannot be filled with the pickings of the teeth.

- Marathi proverb

Just as the sky has only one sun, a man can have only one master.

- Tamil proverb

Of what is a toothless man in a murruku shop?

- Tamil proverb

Be like a bee, taking only the nectar from your experiences.

- Tamil proverb

Cut your coat according to your cloth.

- Hindi proverb

The ladle will be full only when the pot is full.

- Tamil proverb

The wise never starve when fools have money.

- Bhojpuri proverb

If a ship sinks, salvage the iron.

- Sindhi proverb

Learning is as hard to digest as iron.

- Hindustani proverb

Do not wait for the lake to dry to catch the fish.

- Tamil proverb

Do not kick the ladder which got you to the top.

- Tamil proverb

The nouveau-rich person demands an umbrella to be held for him even at night.

- Telugu proverb

What you know is as big as the size of your palm, what you do not know is as big as the size of the universe.

- Tamil proverb

Better poverty before wealth than poverty after wealth.

- Tamil proverb

The one who teaches is the giver of eyes.

- Tamil proverb

Strong winds may blow the tree down, but the grass will still stand.

- Hindi proverb

If you are buying a cow, make sure that the price of the tail is included.

- Tamil proverb

A picture of a gourd is not useful to cook with.

- Tamil proverb

Even water can be held in a sieve, if you wait till it is frozen.

- Tamil proverb

God gives food to every bird but does not throw it into the nest.

- Hindi proverb

An honest millionaire has dignity even in a loincloth.

- Hindustani proverb

Money in the hand is dosa in the mouth.

- Tamil proverb

The eye of a needle is empty but it clothes mankind.

- Hindustani proverb

One man's beard is on fire, and another man warms his hands on it.

- Tamil proverb

Wisdom comes after being ruined.

- Kannada proverb

Put jasmine in your hair after there is food on the table.

- Kannada proverb

Known is a drop, unknown is an ocean.

- Tamil proverb

If you have luck even your rooster will lay eggs.

- Tamil proverb

If you are ignorant at least listen to others’ advice.

- Tamil proverb

A wise man does not quarrel with his bread and butter.

- Hindi proverb

A house says ‘Build me and see,’ a marriage says ‘Try me and see.’

- Marathi proverb

Believe what you see and not just what you hear.

- Tamil proverb

Fluffy cotton can become the strongest fibre.

- Tamil proverb

There must be intelligence even in copying.

- Hindi proverb

He who does not fall does not rise.

- Hindi proverb

A wallet without money is just leather.

- Tamil proverb

The wearer knows best where the shoe pinches.

 - Hindi proverb

One plus one make eleven.

- Kashmiri proverb

The bitters of life, like amla, have sweet after-taste.

- Hindi proverb

Wade in the lake only as far as you can see the bottom.

- Tamil proverb

Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.

 - Hindi proverb

Make not your sauce till you have caught your fish.

 - Hindi proverb

Without luck, ability is nothing.

- Hindi proverb

Deeds are fruits, words are but leaves.

 - Hindi proverb

A day of experience is better than a thousand words of advice.

- Tamil proverb

[Follow YourStory's research director Madanmohan Rao on Twitter http://twitter.com/MadanRao]

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