Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Innovate or perish

N.D. Batra

Be creative and grow rich

A recent IBM ad, a company that has been trying to re-invent itself as the foremost global solution company, talks of “houses that make doctor calls,” sensitive cars that enable you drive safely, “power grids that fix themselves” and “silos that talk to each other,” and much more.

I am still waiting for some solution company, Bangalore, Inc. or something, to make a bold statement, Hey, we know how to predict where the next terrorist attack after Varanasi would occur. It should be that simple: If computers can predict precisely where a tornado would hit, they should be able to predict where the next terrorist attack would occur. I am sure India’s scientist president Dr. APJ Kalam and the young IIT geniuses would agree with me: For every problem, human or technological, there must be a software solution. Be creative or thou shall perish.
In any case, this is an age of smart ideas. Ideas are potential assets. Creativity matters and would set India apart.

Just think what businesses are doing to stay in business. There’s a new frenzy for reaching customers through newer modes of communications, including product placement in television programs.
The busiest shopping season in the United States has always been Thanksgiving through Christmas, but for businesses it is too risky to depend solely upon the holiday season for profitability, market share or even survival. Which has led advertising and marketing agencies to find creative ways of persuading buyers to open their wallets.
A decline of even 1 percent in holiday sales ripples through every trailer park and leaves many people shivering in the cold. So shoppers are being offered unprecedented discounts on sales of all kinds of goods from cars to carpets to offset a bad holiday season, if it were to occur.

Any idea that brings the shopper to the mall and persuades her to fill up the shopping cart is an invaluable asset. The United States desperate seeks ideas that can make things happen, whether it is to catch Al Qaeda operatives; or to persuade the shopper to take out the credit card and spend whether she has the money or not in the bank.

But how do you turn an idea into an innovation and bring it to the marketplace? “I am your idea,” said an Accenture blurb sometime ago. “One day you’ll look for me and I’ll be gone.” Ideas are ephemeral unless you grab them and make them do something. Make ideas work by sharing with people who know how to turn them into innovations and tangible goods.

Occasionally in social gatherings, someone would buttonhole me and say: India has some of the world’s brightest economists, why can’t their ideas be turned into something that would speed up economic growth in India? At such moments I nod in wonderment. India is full of bright minds, indeed! And they would be returning to India especially with the introduction of dual citizenship, a brilliant idea that would generate unprecedented opportunities for investment in India.

Besides, every time there is some discussion about India’s economic growth, naturally China’s sustained economic growth of 8-10 percent during the last two decades comes up for comparison. Two decades ago both the countries were struggling at the same level of poverty. But one day the Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had a bright idea. Capitalism is good, he mumbled after returning from a visit to the United States. Make money, not revolution. And the floodgates of entrepreneurial spirit opened up in China, even without political freedom.

Keith Bradsher of The New York Times wrote sometime ago that China, “by quickly converting much of its economy to an unfettered and even rapacious version of capitalism, has surged far ahead…. China has high-speed freeways, modern airports and highly efficient ports that are helping it dominate a growing number of manufacturing industries.” In a matter of years, China has become a manufacturing hub of the world, sucking most foreign direct investments. Once all roads led to Rome. Now all sea-lanes lead to China.

China’s miracle is not based on any grandiose economic theory, but on a few simple ideas: Excellent law and order conditions; good transportation and communications facilities; and the courage to let the people make money. In short, the Marwari and Gujarati spirit.
Ideas have no boundaries. You can take them from one field and make them work in another, for example, from the battlefield to the marketplace.

Americans are good at this; for example, American advertisers are using Jean Piaget’s theory of child development, sensory experiences and visual stimulation to sell EZ Squirt Ketchup to grownups. Said Alissa Quart in Wired, “Piaget is only the beginning. Just as the pharmaceutical industry steers medical research, marketing and advertising are beginning to guide the way scholars investigate brain functions, perception, and language.”

Consider, for example, cognitive science, a multidisciplinary area that includes psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and computer science. At the highest level, it is associated with the study of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, but at market level its ideas are being increasingly used to study ”the psychology of acquisition and the science of material desire,” for better marketing and placement of products, anything from toys and cereals to jeans. That’s creativity.

Many of us do have qualms about turning the academia into a handmaid of the marketplace but in the United States various fields of intellectual endeavor are not sealed shut from each other. Ideas flow from one field to another and flourish wherever they find the best applications, whether it is the shopping cart or fighting terrorism.

It is all about the psychology of desire that transforms an idea into an asset; turns driving a car into love and adventure; turns zeros and ones into an outsourcing industry. And the same psychology of desire could also read the desires of terrorists before they hit again.


  1. China had done much better than India in most areas before reform. The success of the reform does not base on nothing. It is based on the solid foundation laid down by the first generation of the PRC.

    Even under the enbargo from both capitalism and socailism blocks, China acieved 7.4% economical growth in average before the reform. Much higher than what India achived at the same time even India could always get assistance from both UUSR and western countries. Forether more, China had much better education and public health system, That's why China had much lower illiterate rate and much higher life expectancy than today's India. Also because China had self-reliance policy, China made much more progress in the science, industries, infrastructure, and agriculture. For example, China could make SSN before the reform. Even it was for military, but that standed for China's achivement of the science and industry. Today domestic SSN is still India's dream. China could make N-bobs and rockets in 1960s. India made the same thing at the end of 20 centuray. China could make fighters and tanks, even designed our own before the reform. That's still india's dream too. in 1970s, iron and steel production stood for the industry development. China could make more iron and steel than India can make today. China could make much more grians than India on the less land. That's a huge diference. Don't forget, China was much poorer than India in 1950s.

    The difference between India and China came from before the reform not after. That's many don't what to acknolodge.

  2. Keep a civil tongue.

  3. It's cheap to say creative or innovation for improving economy. Everyone knows that.

    The prolem for India is that they don't have the self-reliance mentality that will accumulate and improve their know-how before the strong competition from the strong outsider. For example, India only invest 0.77% of their GDP in the R&D, which means only around US$5 billion can be allocated int he research and development. China is investing 1.3% of her GDP in the R&D today, which translate into almost US$30 billion. A lot more than India's. Even this, Chinese are very critic to the gov and complain about the R&D. Chinese gov will increase the percentage to more 2% soon.

    With much more investment in the R&D, China is doing much better than India in most of areas in the science and tech. For indians, they can only say they have a good software industry which depends on foreign market. Chinese are doing pretty well in the domestic market. Actually, China and India have the similar size of software industry today. But Chinese know more know-how in-deepth in the software since CHina had more solid foundation. For example, Chinese own Chinese version DOS (CCDOS) are much better than M$'s and more popular in China. China had her own database system and own programming langauges. China's 748 project (Started in 1974 and release the first version in 1980s) for laser printing system which combined the software and hardware was a big success and still mastering the printing system in Asia who use the Asian languages such as Japan, Korea, Tailand.... China can make super computers that can run at more an 10 trillion FLOPS. China is one of the very few countries in the world can make such kind of system which need both software and hardware knolwdge. China today is working on 100T and 1000 trillion FLOPS systems that was planned to complete before 2010. India can only buy the similar system from IBM and HP. Do you see the difference?

    When we talk about hi-tech, we means not only software, but many others. For example, robots, laser, superconductor, Nano, Quamtum communication, ..... In all of this, China is one of the leaders in the world already. It's very funny to hear that "Indians more creative and innovatove than Chinese" such and such.

    Talking is very cheap.

    English is not important in the economy. Germany, Japan both don't speak English. But they are so strong. It's funny to see that Indians are so proud of their Inglish. hello-hello call-centers with Inglish accent are never the futire of a country of the size of India.

    Indians need be more open to politics. Both socialism and capitalism have their good side and also bad side. Chinese is pushing gov back some what to the socialim now after more than 2 decade of market reform. We realized many problem from the capitalism, such as the income gap, the rights of the poor. Chinese gov is taking the advice and people's requirement. For example, compulsary education (9 years) will be completely free in 2 years. Farmers don't need pay any taxes and fees, a public health system which combine the capitalism and socialism will be impleted in China soon.

    Another big problem for India is the huge and still fast-growing population. Some Indian "Export" are misleading their listerners and say, India will have more labor force in the future and then will be better in economy and use japan and europe as examples. That's totally wrong. A country's competiveness depends on the labors's productivety not the number of the labors. Let alone the fact that India has so many people who are waiting for jobs

  4. Well Said, Well Said. Sir this is Bryan Harr, just thought I'd check out your blog. Senior Seminar 06!!