Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Indian way

A good piece by Anand Kurian in Business Standard, which is an excerpt from a keynote address he made recently at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad.

The Indian has always been an ingenious, inspired creature, almost cunning in making do with his scarce resources.

He goes on to talk about a problem that they tried to resolve for creating a natural lift off of dirt from dirty cloth in an advertisement.

...So we applied our nice, scheming Indian brains to the problem — we ground pieces of thermocol, painted them the colour of dirt and pasted the pieces on the cloth. We dipped it in water, the water gradually loosened the paste and voila, we had a lovely, “real” lift-off!

So some clever adfilm-wallahs in Mumbai had gone one step better than a giant multinational, right? Well, right and wrong! Because the multinational won in the last round (which, I am afraid, is what finally matters).

They took our method, put it down in their “Book of Learnings” and now, if they do a lift-off in Beirut or Borneo or Beijing (or anywhere in the world, in their far-flung empire), they know precisely how to knock the problem!

Which illustrates my point — the Indian way is ingenious but the multinational works in its well-oiled, organised way, records everything, plans patiently for the long-term and therefore, it must win in the end.

Does this reflect national character, does this hold good even in other aspects of Indian life apart from advertising?

He goes on to compare our ancient medicine and says, how there too, despite centuries of experience/expertise, documentation is woefully inadequate. Well, it is there, but not voluminous and in todays context, very few if any can read it.

Our Indian schools of medicine have evolved over thousands of years; we have observed the human body, studied it through centuries, examined it in motion and at rest, monitored it through various seasons, and at various times of the day.

Yet there is a woeful lack of verifiable data that it has provided. A doctor friend once commented when a Western pharmaceutical giant experiments with a couple of mice for three months, that test generates a mountain of facts, figures, statistics and records. Thousands of years of “have given Indian practitioners invaluable insights into the human body — but the oral tradition has meant that there is precious little verifiable data.

Of course, as “creative” people, we must learn to rely on our hearts, our instincts and our gut feel — but if we are to survive and win in today's ruthlessly competitive environment, our heads must travel along on the journey too.

The two styles are not mutually exclusive. In the Hindi film industry, look at Ram Gopal Verma. He is a pioneer, he has experimented with every genre, made each film differently and constantly pushed the audience into accepting radical departures from the formula.

The Indian IT industry has succeed because of the "Ram Gopal Verma" style, as he puts it. Every individual within the multinational Indian IT system (and documentation and processes) is an Indian and it helps the industry succeed like nothing else. Even our roads, cooking most of it relies more on intuition and less on practice and discipline. Our hockey team, cricket team are also of the same moult.

The piece ends it with

The “way of the heart” or the “way of the mind”; the Indian way or the multinational way — perhaps, as you leave this campus to explore the world outside, you will fuse, synthesise, and create a new and better way — your own way... There’s an exciting world out there, full of potential, rich with possibilities.

There is immense opportunity in getting the two together. The Indian IT industry is a good example, our shooters perhaps a second example - theres a lot more we can do if we get discipline into our creative shortcutting genius.

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