Defining Sethism

Besides the well-understood issues of capital constraints, budget deficits and lack of planning, the economy is chained by Sethism

Ask economists and planners what ails the economy; the general response would be in fiscal and monetary terms. What is not so well understood are the detrimental behaviours exhibited by our society as a whole. This piece attempts to define one of the significant ones – the affliction of being a Seth.

I am taking the liberty to add ‘ism‘ to ‘Seth’ to best describe the specific personality traits or symptoms which need to be understood to be able to diagnose those with this disease.

Before I share the symptoms, let me say that I have many friends and acquaintances who are business owners and who are not plagued by Sethism.

In fact, Sethism is not limited to business owners.

There are strong candidates for this affliction within the ranks of politicians, important institutions, bureaucrats, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and many other professions. In fact, many senior members of these honourable professions exceed business owners in many of the following aspects.

Hence, it is to be kept in mind that the disease is widely spread and treatment may require a broad national consensus.

What follows is a list of symptoms displayed by those diagnosed with Sethism.

An employer who hires you but decides to do everything themselves

It was Steve Jobs who said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire them so they can tell us what to do.” The local Seth is unfortunately ignorant of such wisdom.

Those who have worked for Seths, will tell you that the Seth proceeds to define exactly what you need to do to be of service to them. There should be no problem with that as professional managers do the same and it is good that there is clarity on what is expected. In any case, Micromanagement is prevalent in many organisations so this is no big deal.

But then, soon after, the next step emerges – you will now be told about how and when you are expected to do what you need to do. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical, but typical, Seth-driven process;

You are a top manager in an organisation that needs to hire against a vacancy. You are expected to do so and the same is agreed in a discussion with the Seth.

A few hours later you will receive a voice note saying please interview Mr Xyz. You think Xyz would be one of the candidates so, yes sure, you will consider them.

You will then receive the next voice note in the next 30 minutes that Mr Xyz is willing to join and will cost Rs xx per month and is also available to start by such and such date.

You are also asked to meet Mr Xyz and finalise the deal. And of course, you can share your opinion!

Someone with limited memory

To describe a Seth as having a good memory is an oxymoron. A Seth is incapable of remembering what they have said in the past. This is a pure DNA requirement and you cannot qualify to be a Seth if you are able to recall the past, especially your own words.

If a Seth remembers, he will not be able to change track when it suits him and this is considered a fundamental flaw in Sethism. A Seth must think differently in the evening about the same subject as they did in the morning.

This morning-to-evening-to-night shifting of opinions keeps people around them guessing and then agreeing to completely opposite positions – at times within a matter of a few hours.

People who believe in shifting positions and quick U-turns would easily pass the Sethism test.

 Someone who believes everything they hear

 The Urdu idiom “kaan ka kacha hona” fits the Seth mentality better than my English translation in the caption above. This connects to the point about taking U-turns, Seths tend to agree with anything and everything they hear,

This is probably because they don’t really listen or do not consider anyone else’s opinion important. They will nod their heads and proceed to act from the latest bit of information their brains acquire.

They do not have principled positions and long-term views about much in life.

 A boss with fear of an employee disagreeing

You cannot disagree with a Seth. A Seth has attained much in life and is full of wisdom, and the need for self-praise is hardly required when there is an army of people sucking up. 

Disagreeing with the Seth is taken as a mark of disrespect. Especially if this is done in the presence of other people. Meetings with Seths and their teams are mostly occasions described via the parable of the emperor without clothes!

The Wharton professor Adam Grant calls the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) the most dangerous for organisations.

By the way, HIPPO also corresponds to its animal namesake known for having a big mouth and little ears meaning that they are prone to talking much and listening less.

 Someone who hires people to read their email

This is one of my favourites. Seths do not have the time or inclination to be comfortable with information technology, with one exception – the whatsapp voice note! It is amazing to see how proficient they are with Whatsapp voice notes and I sometimes wonder what they would have done if it was never invented.

Unfortunately, its invention has meant that Seths do not need to read or write or indulge in any habits which could help them reflect and review their thinking.

 Commonly afflicted with attention deficit disorder (ADD)

The attention span of a Seth is limited largely because they believe in consistent multi-tasking. They have limited time available for any single subject and refrain from in-depth understanding of any subject.

The lack of focus and depth means their impact will be limited and one would not expect them to build anything truly meaningful and sustainable.

I am sure there are several other symptoms, and I could go on. However, I hope readers are now aware of what to look for and can uncover the rest themselves.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes Seth from Egyptian mythology; “Originally Seth was a sky god, lord of the desert, master of storms, disorder, and warfare — in general, a trickster. Seth embodied the necessary and creative element of violence and disorder within the ordered world.”

Apparently, our Seths have drawn from this description when practising destructive behaviours. If the land of the pure is to find solutions to its economic malaise, it must also find a cure for Sethism, sooner rather than later.

Asif Saad
Asif Saad
The writer is a strategy consultant who has previously worked at various C-level positions for national and multinational corporations


  1. Well said Mr. Asif Saad. I can still recall my experience (albeit limited, fortunately) in a Sethia org where Seth sb had his own dedicated elevator.


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