TECH TALK: As India Develops: Vision and Will

If Vision is the art of the long-view, Will is the determination to make it happen. India and Indians need both. For much of the period since our Independence, we have taken short-term, half-baked measures. The results are all around for us to see, and we can feel it every day around us – be it something as trivial as the non-existent numbering of the buildings on a road which makes it hard to find new places or the construction and annual re-construction of the roads because we just cannot seem to do them right. India needs a Few to think things right, get the standards in place and then for the others to follow. As Atanu Dey puts it:

I think the time has come to speak of little things. Things that add up like little grains of sand and little drops of water. Individually, they seem irrelevant and inconsequential. But they matter very much in the end.

Economists like to remind people that learning by doing is a very powerful device. If you are at the forefront of some technology, the only way to learn is by doing and making mistakes and so on. But I believe that if you are not at the cutting-edge, then learning by imitating is the way to go. It does not require a rocket scientist to keep ones eyes open, note very carefully how others have solved a specific problem, and simply copy that solution if it is applicable. That way you don’t have to pay the price of having to discover the solution and yet you get the benefit of having the solution. This is the advantage that can come of being a late-comer. Among siblings, it is often the case that the second born appears to be sharper than the first born because of this learning by imitation.

Atanu adds:

The larger point is that standardization matters. It eases the friction that accompanies transactions which increase as an economy develops into a more complex web of interactions. Reducing transaction costs is what increases the pie because transaction costs are sheer losses (or dead-weight losses) that benefit no one. In a village economy, street addresses are not needed because everyone knows where everyone is and what he is up to today. In a city of a few million people and a few hundred square kilometers of buildings, one has to be more systematic.

We need better technology, not necessarily ICT with its computers and cell phones and internet and world wide web. By technology I mean know-how — how to do stuff. The know-how exists. One just has to observe and learn and adopt. But observing, learning, and adopting takes thinking and effort; it is not as easy as simply buying a bunch of computers and firing off Microsoft Windows.

Where does all this connect with Vision and Will? Heres the point: India needs a collective to come together and agree on the basic things that we need to do (build the Vision), make these as standards that everyone will follow, and then see through the execution across the country. Be it the way we educate our young or the way we build our roads, be it the way we keep our streets clean or number them, be it the energy solutions we adopt or the broadband that we deliver what India needs is to pick and choose the most appropriate ideas and then roll them out nationally. We need the innovation in the thinking, and not necessarily as much as in execution.

There is no danger of a monoculture here that fear may be valid if we had the base infrastructure in place. But we are starting from so far behind and have so little time to put in place development that is uniform and not just in pockets that we absolutely need to get to scale very rapidly across the length and breadth of India.

Tomorrow: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

TECH TALK As India Develops+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.