Bottom-up Innovation

WorldChanging has a post by Jeremy Faludi:

Doors of Perception is a biannual conference put on by the Dutch ministry of Education, Culture and Science; it is a collection of designers, technologists, and other creative people from diverse fields. This year it is held in Delhi, and the theme is Infra, meaning infrastructure, but its about a range of ways in which technology and innovative design or ideas can help international development and general worldchanging. The first days most interesting presentation was by Solomon Benjamin, a researcher/consultant from Bangalore…

Benjamin described how the most innovative places in India, the places where new technology and manufacturing starts, are slums. There is almost no infrastructure, and certainly no help from government; in fact, most activity is underground in order to avoid taxes and general governmental disapproval of things that werent part of their plan. These entrepreneurs have no capital, evolving their own methods of financing; they also have no IP law. And yet whole clusters of interdependent companies sprout up making things that are found nowhere else in the country (computer cable mfr.s were his main example).

And it turns out this phenomenon is not unique to India. He pointed out an example in New York, and I would say the same is true in reverse of Silicon Valley–its explosion of innovative companies created an unplanned, unregulated city-sprawl. Its not a slum, but it does have the highest concentration of Superfund sites in the country. This brings home the point that innovation causes social problems as well as benefits.

Benjamins talk reminded me of a characteristic of many non-industrialized nations that I think will push India ahead in the future: everything here is patched, hacked, and customized. You have to do that, because theres insufficient infrastructure to support the products you use, and because peoples needs are always far beyond what they can buy. As a result, everyone here is a hacker, meaning everyone is an innovator…Having everyone in your country start with a hacker mindset will help you leapfrog from cheap-labor-source to vital-technology-hub.

The barrier to such leapfrogging is infrastructure, and as technology become more self-contained, more mobile, more peer-to-peer, infrastructure becomes less and less necessary.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.