Published: Aug. 4, 2021

The latest Creative Distillation podcast delivers a spirited discussion on authenticity and when ‘meaningful commercialization’ can be beneficial.

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With roots dating back to the 2nd century B.C., how can Yoga’s growth over the last five decades be contextualized in business terms? And what lessons can modern entrepreneurs glean from the growth of this movement?

In Episode 18 of the Creative Distillation research podcast hosts Brad Werner and Jeff York discuss this topic with Dr. Deborah Brown from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and Dr. Shahzad (Shaz) Ansari from the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. Professors Ansari and Brown are co-authors of the study "From Patanjali to the "gospel of sweat": yoga's remarkable transformation from a sacred movement into a thriving global market" and leading experts on the intersectionality of movements and markets.

The Evolution of A Movement

Yoga, like many movements, grew from a set of shared principles. And these principles often include an anti-markets or anti-capitalism component. So how did we get from Yoga’s original Patanjali writings founded in collectivism to the individualistic, ‘you can be the best you’ ideal we commonly see in today’s practices and studios?

To address how this paradox unfolded, York and Werner’s discussion with Dr’s Ansari and Brown delves into the early years of Yoga’s momentum.

According to the researchers, Yoga’s early leaders made conscious decisions that led to sponsorship and advertising opportunities. Dr. Ansari pointed out the need for what the authors described as ‘insider complicity’ or some insider support at the beginning of a growth phase.

For Yoga it was accepting corporate ads that helped pave the way for their growth. However, they were selective in finding partners with shared values and interests. In this case it was fitness and health, a movement of its own with its own following and its own supporters.

Podcast hosts York and Werner were quick to ask how you could go from something that was a profoundly sacred text into a multi-billion-dollar market that has had its share of good actors and bad actors.

Scaling up While Preserving Authenticity and Values

Ansari and Brown’s research demonstrates how insider complicity was an important factor in Yoga’s growth. However, questions about authenticity often arise and can fracture a movement's core base. It is a critical time that can have drastic implications on the long-term direction of a movement. Yoga’s early pioneers faced similar challenges–and all the news is not bad.

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“The paper helps the reviewer to not cast markets as something evil. So we have started talking about Lululemon, which is the sort of downside of what's happened. But not everything about yoga becoming mass scale or modified. Not everything about it is bad or evil.”

Says Shaz

In Yoga’s case the health and fitness aspect helped attract other groups and markets. Ansari and Brown pointed out that the alignment of principles can help entrepreneurs remain authentic during the scale-up phase of their venture and create ‘meaningful commercialization’.

There are examples of brands that have taken Yoga into directions contrary to its core values. The discussion on the research included examples of organizations attempting to monetize and benefit from the movement without contributing back and how it negatively impacted their growth.

Underscoring the importance of being authentic to your market. Many of these instances were exposed by individuals from the movement itself with the organization either adjusting their practices to more closely align with the movement’s principles or even failing. And in one instance it led to a founder facing criminal charges.

The Takeaways for Entrepreneurs

For the listener the research podcast offers social entrepreneurs key insights for understanding how growth can impact their organization. It also helps entrepreneurs understand the connection between authenticity and ‘meaningful commercialization’.

For Werner, a seasoned entrepreneur, the importance of authenticity was central to his perspective on the research. His advice to entrepreneurs, “You have to navigate that friction while balancing authenticity and values.”

Ansari and Brown underscored the importance of insider complicity as a first step, and there are great examples of how bringing movements to different markets can have positive outcomes. Yoga and the mindfulness movements are two examples.

York also pointed out that it is important to understand the perspective of the individuals that comprise the growing movements.

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“You got to figure out what's the self-interest angle. And that's, I think that's a lot of what happens in the study here.”

Says York

Creative Distillation Background

Creative Distillation is a podcast co-hosted by Associate Professor Jeff York, Research Director, and Instructor Brad Werner, Teaching Director for the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. Each episode distills academic research on entrepreneurship into actionable insights. This season, Jeff and Brad connect with researchers from around the globe to discuss sustainability, yoga, cannabis, Food Trucks, university entrepreneurship programs and accelerators. 

Our thanks to Dr. Deborah Brown from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and Dr. Shahzad (Shaz) Ansari from the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge for providing the journal paper that was discussed in this episode. And additional thanks to Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from California for providing a refreshing spirit to the discussion.

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