Thursday, June 16, 2011

India and her traits

At the personal level , traits determine human behavior . In an organizational context these are conditioned by work culture , location of the organization , its people and the environment . Traits are about mindsets , they are not goals, capabilities ,processes or requirements (Benko ,Macfarlan). Traits , are characterized by unique qualities or practices which can be identified with certain groups , organizations or even nations .  They are long term in nature and have been developed  in the context  of the local culture and would vary with the geographical location  . As examples we can observe the culture of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley  which is not commonly found elsewhere or is different from even well known research institutions like Harvard , Oxford or Cambridge . For the very same reasons we have the Germans who are known for manufacturing products with precision , the Japanese for their excellence in quality , the Chinese for low cost manufacturing and the Indians for crisis management .
Can traits be developed ? Fortunately , yes ! But, they could take a long time since behavioral changes are required. An example where traits were learned from others and developed is the philosophy of prevention as compared to inspection or emphasis on quality during production rather than after the product is manufactured  .This trait is commonplace in many organizations today whereas once this was followed only by the Japanese .
What traits do Indians exhibit ? What are they  good at ? And where do they need to improve ? Traits can contribute to a positive outcome ,could have a negative connotation or they could be both . Let us look at each one of them in some detail .(Positive or Negative factors indicated as a prefix against each trait) .
(+) Diversity
Accepting and managing diversity is a buzz word today , more so in the western world  . For instance, in the US , being a nation of immigrants , it is now well accepted that one needs to accommodate different cultures to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace . This concept is promoted proactively within organizations by accommodating the aspirations of different groups . In India such measures are hardly necessary . For many years people here have lived and grown with diversity . The pluralistic nature of society is probably unlike anywhere else in the world with  different religions  , languages ,customs etc .The spread of food habits ,fashion,  (particularly female) television and movies (Bollywood) in last few decades has only improved the cohesiveness among Indians and has enhanced the feeling of ‘Indian-ness’.
The ability of Indians to adjust easily with other cultures is also one reason for Indian diaspora to inhabit practically all parts of the world whether it be Africa ,the Middle East, Europe, Caribbean , Australia or America.
(+ -) Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurs are there everywhere and in all parts of the world . What distinguishes an Indian entrepreneur from others ? or in other words what positive traits do they show and where do they need to improve ?
The unique and special qualities that we can see in Indian entrepreneurship today can be traced to historical antecedents .Originating primarily from traders who have learnt to excel in the short term , take risks and capitalize on opportunities . These have been dominated predominantly  by business families like Marwaris , Parsis , Gujarathis in the north and Chettiars and Nadars in the south . Industralization came in much later and became a natural progression for these business families . Only recently have  professionals or those who been traditionally salaried employees have taken the risk and jumped into the fray as entrepreneurs .
When India moved towards industrialization in the 50s and 60s and towards globalization  in the 80s and 90s business families contributed in setting up manufacturing  units .They were adept in providing goods at low cost with necessary adaptations and  developments . This is not to say that their success was also a result of the ability to exploit the era of shortages and the licensing system of the government to the maximum , since competition of free market type was not prevalent .Later on came the services sector . The growth here was contributed not by the traditional business families but from the new found ability of professional and the salaried class of erstwhile employees to get into entrepreneurship . Fuelled by some support from the government , they had a low threshold limit for entry .Unlike manufacturing which was dependent on infrastructure , The IT sector did not need infrastructure and were able to exploit opportunities very well giving rise to the well known success of services sector in India .
Looking at history , it makes us wonder that in 1 AD , India ‘s  proportion of GDP was the highest in the world .( Sabharwal)  America, which entered the fray later caught up and by 2001 became the top runner surpassing Europe . A significant trait exhibited by the Americans was the importance given to innovation by their business community and organizational support system for it from the government . Where does India stand here ? Initially as a trading community and later on as part of a controlled and mixed economy there was hardly any incentive to nurture long term innovation . The government also far from helping in the matter had till recently , a suspicious attitude towards business and industry.

Over the last five decades  whatever successes India has made in innovative products or services  has been more in developing adaptations rather than in breakthrough innovation . Here the manufacturing sector is ahead of the services where some expertise is visible in the consumer or industrial markets. The Indian IT industry -successful and so well accepted globally  , has  not made any  headway in product development. In contrast , Indian industry in other sectors say consumer , defence ,space research , automobiles ,pharmaceuticals and chemicals have shown successes though the scale is much lower than of other industrialized countries  . How do we explain this ? One explanation can be that be that while manufacturing industries owned and managed by traditional business families successfully migrated to a long term perspective , professionals in services sector were yet to understand and embrace product development ,marketing and risk taking . They had not yet graduated from being employees or providing services to managing more complex business initiatives which involved greater investment and higher risk .
What particular qualities or traits do Indian businessman or entrepreneurs have which make them successful not only in India but in the other parts of the world ? The key characteristics are adaptation, low cost consciousness ,staying power and family support .The last two are an outcome of a mindset of typical small businessman or trader and have been set over the years by family oriented businesses . This is in sharp contrast to the current lot of entrepreneurs who are coming in from the salaried class . It is not surprising that they are taking time to move from an employee to a business mindset .
 (+)Family orientation
India is a family oriented country . Personal lifestyle , social patterns , the work place and even politics are influenced by it . Historically and traditionally the family has been the unit of social structure. So at work , it not uncommon to find the extended family or friends being used for networking for getting things done rather than follow  formal channels . Very much like the chinese trait of guangxi ,relationships have more importance and usually becomes the first step in getting any issue or problem resolved . This is very unlike the west , where rules ,procedures and processes are given prominence .
A family orientation has many advantages . It becomes an anchor point in times of crisis and helps draw emotional sustenance . It develops the attitude of ‘give and take‘  and making  adjustments. This has contributed to the trait of adaptability . At times the family could be of help in collective decision making though traditionally it has been hierarchical .
However, surprisingly , the orientation of strong family ties have not percolated or permeated to the community . So often ,one finds excellence within a family or at home but scant consideration for the community . As examples , one can find spotlessly clean households but unclean sorroundings on the roads and apathy  towards community issues . This trait by Indians has also been seen as seen as their inability to look beyond their immediate needs or disregard community hardships at the cost of their own self interest .
One reason given for the lack of natural community orientation is because Hindu religious thought accepts a multitude of gods and and goddesses with any number of variations and options when it comes to praying or understanding or practicing .This ranges from devout followers of rituals and practices to agnostics or atheists . For Hindus ,religion has been a personal and individualistic affair and unlike Christianity or Islam , Hindu religious functions and rituals have largely done at home and not at the community level . However many religious Hindu or neo-Hindu institutions has come up in the last century which has helped drawing out religious and spiritual thought towards community well-being .Prominent examples at the pan india level  are the Satya Sai Institutions ,and Ramakrishna Mission The strong family orientation sans community orientation seen in India is in sharp contrast to the west where strong individualistic traits are given prominence with commensurate attention to the community , while family orientation takes a back seat .
Since Indians do not have a natural inclination towards community orientation  it has to be brought about by external means or by some champion who spearheads the entire initiative .In Gujarat ,though a predominantly business community , it still needed an external agent like Dr Kurien ( a malayalee) to get them together and create Operation Flood and the milk revolution . During the freedom movement Lokmanya Tilak started the practice of ‘Ganapati Visarjan “ or immersing the idol of ganapati in a river or sea as community practice , only to rally people together . The argument that I am making here is that similar to the way the West is working towards helping diversity in the work place , Indians needs to work towards creating community based practices and institutions and this is has to be done proactively as it does not come naturally to them .