Saturday, October 30, 2010

Order from Chaos ?

See this popular video on driving in India
Looks chaotic - no signals , no traffic policeman or even a roundabout - but yet the movement is multi directional and goes on . Wonder how it happens ?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Facade of Jugaad

'Jugaad' has become a buzzword to indicate an Indian way of providing solutions .Management academics, the media and journalists now use it often with the Economist publishing an article on it .

For those new to it ,Jugaad (a Hindi word) simply means an improvised quick fix arising from ingenuity, just-in-time solutions , typically in a resource-starved situation and sometimes by bending rules or breaking the law . Essentially they are solutions for the short term and does not solve the problem permanently.

Innumerable articles and comments have been come out both in favour and against this 'Indian' trait . Some endorse it wholeheartedly as a method which is producing results while others have not taken it seriously treating it as the next new fad or as a hype .

How have Indians acquired this trait ?

Jugaad looks at quick fix solutions . First , Indians have become habituated to work in the short term and taking short cuts . This is often at the expense of other people or a permanent solution. This means that the problem could re-occur in which case you use the same Jugaad to re-fix the solution rather than looking for the root cause and solving it . One reason why people take to it is that a short term solution is easier to implement keeping in mind resource requirement , planning and getting approvals from higher-ups.

In general , Indians have been used to results , products or services which probably do not meet the expected quality. Often ,one is expected to adjust to these imperfections and get along . Of course , there are exceptions but these are fewer when compared to the majority .

Bureaucracy, complicated / impractical rules and an slow or unworkable legal system have only legitimized taking short cuts and it is little wonder that Jugaad thrived in it .Those who knew how to apply it were very successful and others emulated them .

The Jugaad mindset

Though 'Jugaad ' has a negative connotation can such a mindset be useful ? It can be - particularly in crisis situations . But we must understand that the outputs may not be of the best quality and the solution may not be sustainable in the long run .

The problem is that often 'jugaad' is being misinterpreted as a substitute for a systems approach and planning . Just because it ends up producing novel products or results it is confused with organized innovation .

Jugaad and Innovation

Jugaad is sometimes being used as term to denote the process for low-cost innovation or 'out of the box 'solutions . Consider these examples

General Electric - a hand held ECG which has reduced the cost to less than $1 per patient.
Tata Chemicals - a water filter based on rice husk - initial investment $24

There are many other examples quoted in the Economist including Tata's Nano car . These comparisons with Jugaad are misplaced and to do so will be belittling the planned effort that gone into these ventures . Some in India and also the west have simply found it convenient to romanticize the method and christening as then next new find from India .

From a manager's viewpoint , Jugaad can be considered a kind of 'workaround' . A workaround denotes the methods followed when events occur which has not been planned for - because of improper planning or are difficult to do so because outcomes are uncertain . Jugaad can never be a substitute for planning.

It is time to call a spade a spade . Let us relegate Jugaad to the rightful place where it belongs and not treat it as a panacea for all management problems . Surely , the Jugaad mindset is useful - in crisis management , during execution to take corrective action and in workarounds to solve problems . But , to equate it to organized innovation ,systems approach or planning will be a gross mistake .

Notes :

1 . First break all the rules- The charms of frugal innovation Apr 15th 2010 From The Economist print edition
Why praise jugaad? It's bleeding us by Swapan Dasgupta 29 Aug 2010


Saturday, October 16, 2010

India Circa 1 AD

Are you surprised to know that India was the largest contributor to the GDP of the world in the year 1 AD ? - At least I was when I first read about it in an article. Not only that , upto about another 500 years , the subcontinent was at its zenith with regard to science ,technology , art and literature .

Let us go through a bit of history to understand the context . According to the calculations by Angus Maddison, from the beginning of the common era until the early 19th century, China and India accounted for around half of the global GDP. Starting from 4th and 3rd centuries BCE almost all of the subcontinent was part of the Maurya Empire . Much later northern and central India was united in the 4th century CE, and remained so for two centuries under the Gupta Empire which is called the Golden Age of India . During the same time, and for several centuries afterwards, southern India, under the rule of the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas, experienced its own golden age.

The high points of this period In India were considerable cultural creativity with magnificent architectures, sculptures and paintings. The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata and Vatsyayana .Science and political administration reached new heights .Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and set the region up as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, Malay Archipelago and Indochina. The earliest available Puranas are also thought to have been written around this period.

For much of this period, China and India were independent countries and technological leaders.Until around 1450, China and India were technologically more innovative and advanced than Europe. Both the countries were very well knit with the rest of the globe .

So what went wrong ? Why did both economies go downhill between the early 18th century and the late 20th century ? Firstly , western technology was a factor . Once the industrial revolution came along, followed by the information revolution, mere size mattered less. First the Europeans, then the Americans leveraged technology to blow out GDP on a per capita basis. Steam engine, internal combustion engine, silicon made up for size. is the rise of Western technology at about the same time. It was for the same reason till about 200 years ago India and China could leverage their huge population and numbers determined output .

Secondly , both India and China were victims of colonialism? After 200 years of foreign rule, Indians were so afraid of neo-colonialism, that they kept their country closed to foreign trade for another four decades. However, it is to be remembered Western technology could only flourish because colonies provided cheap raw materials and labour and huge free markets (that were controlled by the West's millitary-industrial complex) Same for China, who kept China closed for three decades (since the end of Japanese occupation)

Friday, October 15, 2010

CWG New Delhi 2010 - was it a success?

All over - newspapers ,media and of course the officials are all raving about the 'success' of the CWG . Just 2 weeks ago they were all at it with daggers .What changed ? Actually , nothing ! The real problem is most people have no clue on how to define success , neither do they know what is required to make the games successful .

Let us start from first principles - in order to define success - what were the games expected to deliver ? What was the job of the Organizing committee along with the host govt with the support of the Intl federation ?
  • First - to set up best in class facilities for conducting international level events in sports .
  • Second - to provide comfort and ease for participants and spectators
  • Third - to provide some amount of entertainment especially visitors to the host country .
Wait a minute ! is winning ( or losing ) by the host country or an other country a mark of success for the games ??? - No at all - That is not a success factor for the games !

On all the above 3 areas - the only area which could be considered successful is the entertainment - Thankfully this was handled by professionals - who had history of conducting such events for the movie world and so it worked well.

What went wrong with the first and second category? they were not given to professionals - an event of this magnitude cannot be handled by bureaucrats and politicians ( more so with so much of opportunities for corruption ) .

Sadly project management took a back seat - obviously with vcry little processes in place . Instead of having professionals do the job - - it was mistakenly thought it we could pull it off by routine management .

There is no sense in falsely patting ourselves for our extraordinary ability to handle crisis and making 'jugaad' a practice for everything . At what cost , stress and quality ?(not to leave out bad publicity )

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Team work and Indians

Most will agree that Indians have shown a poor track record when it comes to team work ( and cooperation ) . There are innumerable examples. If we consider sports Indians are world champions in individual games like chess , cue sports and have done well in wrestling ,archery and boxing . None of the team based sports like soccer , volleyball , hockey (cricket is not a team sport in the real sense ) have Indians in the lead . Why have we succeeded in software and pharma research, because in both areas, people can work on their own, figuring out algorithms or molecular structures. The negative conclusion: Indians don't work well in teams. Indian diaspora working and living outside India whether in the US ,UK or Africa have not been able to get together and the Indian government has not also facilitated this effectively . This is in sharp contrast to the Chinese where a major part of FDI into China is from overseas Chinese.

When the Japanese came to work in India to develop the Maruti Suzuki car, a joke went around that one Indian was equal to 10 Japanese: Indians were very smart, capable and dedicated individuals. But 10 Indians were equal to 1 Japanese: Indians lacked team spirit and co-operation.(Refer article by Sam Pitroda)

A popular metaphor related to team work is that Indians have a ‘crab‘ mentality . If someone is trying to climb higher and achieve more, the others just drag him down. The signal that the others send out is, " I wouldn't do it; I wouldn't let you do it; and if by chance you start succeeding, we will all gang up and make sure that you don't get to do it." (Refer article by Sam Pitroda)

Why are Indians are so poorly endowed when it comes to team work ? A peep into history and culture will unravel the mystery ….

History is replete with many examples of our lack of team work . Porus lost to Alexander .So was the case in India – China war of 1962, ….and one of the reasons for the British to come into India ( Refer Gurcharan Das - India Unbound )

The genesis of the problem could be traced to the hierarchical and feudalistic system followed in the Indian sub-continent for ages. Today’s India was once a huge number of smaller princely states or kingdoms where feudalism and hierarchical social system was prevalent everywhere . Seniority and with it power and influence were the main tenets for doing just about anything .The caste system which was designed to be an excellent tool for resource allocation and productivity got corrupted and hijacked into serving subservient ends and dominated cultural and social practices . So while India imbibed the democratic system and could do away with the Maharajas , but the basic cultural and social practices could not be changed overnight ( understandably , as progress would obviously be very much slower in a social context )

A fall-out of the hierarchical and feudal social structure and work culture is the emphasis on respectability and status between white and blue collared workers or physical and mental workers . Granted ,that this feeling is not the same around the country and it differs from place to place in terms of sectors , however it still exists as a basic ethos .

Team work requires not only good leadership but also followership . While Indians accept the need for the former the latter is rarely understood . A hierarchical mindset , status consciousness and deficiency in some qualities - respect for others, openness, honesty, communication, willingness to disagree, resolution of conflict and giving importance to the larger goal of the team (Refer article Sam Pitroda )instead of the individual or personal agendas - all these contribute to the poor showing in being team players .

Saturday, February 6, 2010

People , process and compartmentalization

The debate on People v/s Process is an an ongoing exercise and some feel you need a combination along with Technology ( at least in today's times ) to make things work .

Looking at it from a East -West perspective , the West is considered to be more process oriented, an average person will tend to follow rules and look for an orderly way to work things out and is generally organized .It is not surprising that over a 100 years during his US visit Swami Vivekananda found that they had excellent organization skills which was deficient in India .( This lacuna continues even today ) .

The East in contrast is considered more relationship oriented - which has perplexed many in the West though now they understand it far better . In China it is called Guangxi or relationship building . In India it is similar though my own understanding is that it is less structured and required more at operating levels and day to day transactions . It is necassary for getting anything done - from routine day to day transactions - at the bank , in schools , government offices etc . There is no element of corruption or 'grease payment' involved in these transactions , it is just that knowing a person because of family connections , friendship or sometimes just an acquaintance increases the comfort level between the parties involved .

In today's world this relationship orientation finds conflicts with the practice of organized or process oriented working ( which is a western concept and hardly imbibed by most Indians ) .Indians have resolved this by working in their own way and yet achieving what they set out to .All along they may not strictly follow any process or may even by pass it but yet achieve outputs and quality . If there is a process in place or rules prescribed to be followed , these are used not to enable a systematic way of working but only to comply and possibly record in terms of documentation which is done meticulously . This conflicting dichotomy between procedures and actual work is so well accepted that it has pervaded all forms working and public life be it of workplace , home or in dealing with the community or government institutions .So, rules exist , but are not followed or are disregarded.

This practice , attitude or trait may imply that most Indian institutions or businesses will at best be mediocre . Paradoxially it is far from the truth and this surprises an average westerner or even many Indians . On all fronts , be it education , business or industry we can see pockets of excellence and this is being noticed more and more now . How can we explain this ?

I call this ' compartmentalization ' - Indians are quite comfortable when they achieve excellence in one area but not able translate it in other areas which are very much part and parcel of their lives . So, they may achieve the highest grades in school or the university but unable to practice it in their work . One finds the world best companies which have achieved awards for the best quality but in general the quality of products or services is far inferior . Cleanliness starts and ends at home and personal hygiene is very high whereas public cleanliness is a far cry . One can go on and on with so many examples ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Elephants , tigers and dragons

Many authors have used the elephant as a metaphor to describe India (though some authors choose to use a tiger ).

While the tiger is quick , nimble and fast , the elephant is slow , has great capacity and seem to be sure in the long run .

Recently , Dr Manmohan Singh in an address at the Pravasi Bharati Divas meeting implied that we need to have patience to see results as he compared India to an elephant.(The Hindu , 9 Jan 2010)

The four Asian Tigers are Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore,South Korea had exceptional growth rates between the 60s to 90s and graduated to advanced and high income economies.Learning from them other countries have followed suit - Philipines ,Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand sometimes being considered as the New Four Asian Tigers.(Wikipedia)

Various other authors have used the metaphor of an elephant for India . While India may never roar ahead like the Asian tigers, Gurcharan Das argues, it will advance like a wise elephant, moving steadily and surely, pausing occasionally to reflect on its past and to enjoy the journey (Das, India Unbound)

Relating to manufacturing , is India an elephant or a tiger ? (Hulten,Srinivasan) . The authors analyse and conclude that if larger-scale Indian manufacturing industry could be isolated and extracted from the Indian subcontinent and relocated to an island or peninsula of its own, it too might well be considered part of the Asian Miracle.

Talking about elephants and tigers what about the dragon ? - The metaphor commonly used to describe China ! India with China have shown exceptional growth under very different environments and reasons .

It will be interesting to watch how India progresses in the next decade .