April 4, 2006

Can Great Innovations Happen in India?

Posted by Bizaholic | 11:53 PM | , with 6 comments »

Atul has written something interesting on Innovation and India.

Well, I feel that India and Indians have still a long way to go before we produce earth-shaking, life changing, path-breaking, billion dollars innovations. The problem is neither with Indian brains nor with existing conditions in India. The barrier to innovation lies in our collective mentality that discourages innovation. Despite having world class institutions like IIT, IIM, AIIMS, IISc, etc., we are yet to produce a decent number of remarkable innovations. We have the talent, we have the institutions, and we have the right environment, yet why we lag behind in innovation? The problem is in the way a child is brought up in India. From childhood we are conditioned to conform rather than confront.

Innovation is a creative process. And creativity is loud, wild, and non-conformist. Creativity is all about breaking rules and established norms. It’s about challenging the status quo and asking “why this” and “why not this” all the time. It’s about putting a pair of wings to your thoughts and soaring high in a creative paradise where nothing seems impossible. But if someone behaves like this in India, he/ she would be immediately branded a day-dreamer or an irrational person. That’s the problem. Majority of Indians love to live in the comfort of known and hate to venture in the exploration of unknown.

As a child, if you memorize whatever is written in the book and ask related questions, it is fine. But the moment you start asking seemingly absurd questions or questions for which the answer is unknown, you are told to shut up. Any question that increases the level of discomfort is discouraged. As a child, we ask a lot of questions but when there is constant suppression of the natural questioning process, we ask lesser and lesser questions as we grow up and by the time we are grown-ups, we are already die-hard conformist.

Even our process of learning is flawed. Focus is on rote learning rather than applications and critical analysis. We are lovers of theory but poor in practice. In India, it is more important to exactly reproduce Newton’s three laws in the examination hall rather than understand the real life dynamics of Newton’s law. You will not be considered worthy of anything if you have poor grades (because you didn’t memorize text books) even though you might have loads of real knowledge on the subject acquired through assimilation and critical analysis of the practical aspects from sources other than text books. I even feel that this reverence for text books is also a culprit in India’s performance on innovation front. If you revere the text books so much, it is highly unlikely that you will ever dream of challenging all those theories printed there. This is another way of conditioning of the mind to become a conformist!

So, we grow up to become intelligent, educated people who know whatever is known to the world. We have loads of raw intelligence. We do great work wherever manipulation of known to get a desired result is required. We are great foot soldiers who follow the established norms, directions, and practices in the most optimized way. We excel where we have to conform. But very few of us excel when we have to confront and those few are known in India as “rebels”. These are the people responsible for whatever little innovation we have done till now. These are the people who have “creative intelligence”, the prerequisite to path breaking innovations.

To usher in an era of high quality innovation in India, the first thing we need to do is to overhaul our education system. We need to have an education system where our children could explore things without fear. Let them dabble in various things before they make up their mind about what they are best at and what they want to pursue. Inculcate a habit of questioning in our children. Let us not do anything that suppresses the natural curiosity of our children. Let them soar in the flights of imagination. Let our children be free from the “fear of failure”. Let them fail and learn rather than not fail and remain unlearned.

Children of today can make India an innovation powerhouse tomorrow if we give them an atmosphere to develop “creative intelligence”. India and Indians have everything except a missing link that is required for great innovations. The missing link is the critical mass of “creative intelligence”.


  1. Nutty Professor // April 5, 2006 at 4:41 PM  

    Couldn't agree more Mayank! It's the attitude which can only make us climb the altitude. Sometime you really wonder - with all the claims that is being made about India having a large pool of skilled manpower etc. (watch any newschannel or read any newspaper - all the Murthy's and Premzi's) in the last more than 100 years history of nobel prize - we haven't been able to make a single invention. We dont even have a pen to call our own
    (look into your pocket- its reynolds etc.). IT powerhouse which we are - the wipro's and Infy's of India have not ben able to come out with even a simple product (am not talking about OS's etc - not even a KB product like word processor, adobe etc.). BTW Finacle can't be called a product by any definition.

  2. Ajit Chouhan // April 5, 2006 at 5:52 PM  

    I guess we discussed this at length in our last debate on coolbihari...We need to break the rules to create a new playing field for innovation based learning.

  3. Atul // April 5, 2006 at 9:17 PM  

    Thanks Mayank for taking this discussion forward. Neat analysis. Just want to reiterate that a whole ecosystem for Innovation is needed. Education, Prosperity, Funding, Culture of Risk taking. All of these have to come together. The good news is that it is coming together and as Ajit rightly said in his response to my post, we will see the results soon. Isi jeevan mein.

  4. Mayank Krishna // April 7, 2006 at 12:50 AM  

    I too feel that we can overcome all self made hurdles to bring in an era of innovation in our country. Of course, a lot of changes will be required. But the crucial change has to be in our attitude. And some recent developments do indicate that a gradual shift in attitude is taking place among youth in India.

    So let's be optimists and contribute our bit.

  5. Rajesh Kumar // April 26, 2006 at 11:03 PM  

    Can innovations happen in India? Yes they can. Parents must stop living their ambitions through their children and let them dream. The live-your-dream-through-your-child is a sure shot mechanism of destroying creativity. For this to indeed happen in India, parents and teachers have to let children be what they are, and let them grow up in a more free and enabling environment. My views and anyone is free to disagree.

  6. Mayank Krishna // April 26, 2006 at 11:24 PM  

    Completely agree with you. We Indians have a strong inclination to live our dreams through our children.

    For true innovations to happen, we need to let children play with their natural talent. That would be much more fruitful.