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India is different!

Do not reinvent the wheel. If someone somewhere has done it well before you, replicate it – that is the present day business mantra. Knowledge management and best practice sharing are accepted norms in businesses these days.And with our high technological and communications capabilities, it is as easily done as said.

But here is a different perspective. It says that India has done well in many industries because it has not followed the norms, and often tried and tested methods, of similar industries elsewhere.

They’ve learned to question the basic concepts of their industries, an attitude born of collective experience. For decades after achieving independence in 1947, India imposed severe restrictions on the capital private companies could tap, the technologies they could import, and the foreign exchange they could hold. So the best ones learned how to devise ingenious, low-cost solutions to their problems and even reimagine industries such as software services.

I tend to agree. India is different and things that work there often tend to be different from those elsewhere. Acknowledging, accepting and using those differences to the best advantage have been instrumental in many of India’s success stories. The article goes onto cite many examples of radical Indian business models, including Bharati’s deep outsourcing strategy, Tata’s On-Demand cars and ITC’s e-chaupal (electronic town square).

Even if you dig one level deeper and look at the day to day workings of a company, India is different and in my opinion, that has stood us in good stead. A friend who works in an MNC and has to deal with countries all over the world used to gripe that all their businesses in all countries can be compared in one single excel table, save India – because India has to be measured by different metrics and almost always had anomalies. Systems that Indian subsidiaries of MNCs use tend to be home developed rather than the usual one-fit-all model that is forced upon every other country – because development is cheaper in India and the end product is much better customized for local needs. Often faced with lower budgets (before the recent realisation of India’s potential by the rest of the world), Indian companies have really learned to scrape the bottom – “waste not want not” is ingrained into most Indians even at a young age – and they grew up to be great at managing costs and finding new ways to streamline processes to maximise efficiency.

On a personal front too, I have always felt India is secluded. When I am outside of India, I watch world news. When I am in India, I watch Indian news. And no one really seems to care all that much about what happens outside of India – at least not to the extent that the rest of the world is nosey about the remaining rest of the world. Now, I admit this could be skewed, because when I am in India, I am usually in vacation mode and not really concerned about world events. But then no one else seems to be that concerned either. I cant say if the seclusion and independence of thought has been more good than bad. But if it has in some way contributed to the many indigenous innovations, it certainly is not all bad. And more importantly, the concept of not reinventing the wheel may not be redundant, but at least keep enough distance to see if the wheel is the best fit for your car.

Posted in India on August 19, 2005

9 Responses

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  1. havoc says

    I would say India is going to be hit by the standardization wave sooner rather than later. Standardization can be a sharp double edged sword. Standardization might bring quality but it also creates a generation of “dont ask, just do”

  2. Surya says

    It will be a pity if standardisation enters India in a big way..India’s strenghts lie in her uniqueness. Hopefully, we will adopt a balanced standardisation, when the inevitable happens.

  3. Bala says

    Surya, Loved the first part of your post. I recently read about eChaupal and was very impressed with the innovation that really betters life. Was very inspiring.

    As for the last part of your post, from what I have seen, Indians are better informed about the rest of the world than the world is of India or other developing/third world nations. Hindu, IE, TOI, etc do real well on that front. And who can forget Prannoy Roy’s “The World this Week”. As for Western media, it is mostly biased – reflected very well in your post and my post It covers what its government wants its people to hear. And the few times it doesnt, usually results in retactions and apologies!

  4. Efby Antony says

    I disagree. To see the difference, all we have to do is to compare the product quality between the pre & post liberalization era. The Indian model has been predominantly the socialist model envisaged by Nehru, which only served to destroy wealth and create over-bureaucratic institutions. The radical Indian business models that you are talking about are by and large the contributions of successful Indian entreprenuers. It has nothing to do with our collectivist inclination. I believe that if we had followed the ‘norm’, gradually, right after independence rather than abruptly, post 1990, we would have been in a much better position now.

  5. yum yum says

    I mostly agree. India and China and to a large extent US, Japan etc are different. The US was able to set the standards and to some extent Europe follows slightly different standards.

    If Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China can stay different so can India. India’s large domestic market will mean that it will be able maintain its uniqueness. In fact it is only countries that have created their own paths of development that have been able to grow in a sustained manner something which the Southeast Asian countries did not do.

    Finally, India’s socialist years were a form of stabilisation of a nascent country that definitely did not feel ‘Indian’ completely. If you doubt that ask the Tamils, Sikhs etc. It also created an independent base that is now standing in good stead for us.

    PS: Any opinions about the Left Party, West German attitudes towards East Germans and the outcome of the coming elections?

  6. paappaan says

    I agree with Bala. In US, all the news is local. It is very difficult to get printed news about other places in the world unless you subscribe to the New York Times, or more than 5000 people die in a catastrophe.

    In India (esp. in Kerala), we get all the inetrnational news even in the vernacular dailies; and, people are aware of the global events as well. When I lived in Trivandrum some 15 years back, I remember seeing a wall-writing (“chuvarezhuththu)” that said “Support the Shining Path guerillas” :-) I don’t think you would see such a writing in any other country except Peru (where the Shining Path guys used to operate).

  7. Pramod says

    Those following this topic might find this reading interesting – From Across the Board/Conference Board: The Indians Are Coming: How management thinkers from India are changing the face of American business.

  8. Mangesh says

    Not sure on how much Indians are gaining out of these changes. We are mainly a service industry and provide cheap resource to the developed countries. We still are far behind in entrepreneurship. How many Indian brands are truly global? Agree that policy of not re inventing wheel is productive but promoting original ideas is equally important which is predominantly missing in Indian companies.

    Question is not how much global news we are exposed to but do we really have appetite for them? Only limited number of Indians made a mark in global arena. This situation reminds me of India cricket team where we have individuals with best performances and records but as a team we are far behind. In my opinion India needs original ideas and group of entrepreneur’s for real big leap. Copy (CC or even BCC) can’t be a solution for long run.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. India Is Different | DesiPundit linked to this post on December 27, 2008

    […] is different when it comes to business processes and practices. Is it necessarily good? You […]

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