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The creative age is coming

The creative age is coming
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First Published: Sun, Jan 03 2010. 09 21 PM IST

Out of the box: The scooter flour mill designed by Jehangir Painter from Jalgaon, Maharashtra, now made famous by the film 3 Idiots, is a perfect example of jugaad.
Out of the box: The scooter flour mill designed by Jehangir Painter from Jalgaon, Maharashtra, now made famous by the film 3 Idiots, is a perfect example of jugaad.
Updated: Sun, Jan 03 2010. 09 21 PM IST
According to author Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind , Marshall Cavendish, 2008), the present knowledge age was preceded by the agricultural and industrial ages. What is coming ahead is the creative age, the conceptual age. This promises to be a period when right-brain-driven, creative people will play a major role in economic development. It may just be what plays to India’s strengths.
Out of the box: The scooter flour mill designed by Jehangir Painter from Jalgaon, Maharashtra, now made famous by the film 3 Idiots, is a perfect example of jugaad.
The global lexicon has been enhanced by guanxi from China and kanban from Japan. India is about to introduce the world to the word jugaad, which connotes a makeshift, quick and dirty solution to a problem. When used in north India, the word borders on the pejorative. Thanks to references by both The Economist and BusinessWeek in the last two months, the word is acquiring a positive and endearing international status. Innovators and academics such as Dublin City University professor Gordon McConnell, author of a forthcoming book The Strategist Who Wouldn’t Play Chess, want to know more about jugaad.
Chaos and challenge are at the heart of human adventure and creativity. In the 1870s, when fox hunting was popular in the Nilgiris, Pennell Elmhirst wrote about its exhilarating effect that “to gallop over this virgin turf is a delight and this sport is genuine”. During the 1920s, when mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he made so many attempts to climb Mt Everest, he replied, “Because it is there.” Whether in sports, science or the arts, man has been attracted to the rush of adrenalin and the creative.
Uncertainty and ambiguity, curiosity and experimentation, failure and discovery, all of these are common to the creative process. Whether you call it jugaad or technology, the list of practical, Indian innovations is amazing. And the list is growing at a fantastic pace.
Ahmed Khan, managing director, KK Plastic Waste Management Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore, has built 1,200km of roads using, hold your breath, 3,500 tonnes of waste plastic from landfills. It is green and it also makes better roads. “Such roads withstand monsoons and everyday wear better than the traditional pavement,” reports The New York Times. Girish Bharadwaj of Ayas Shilpa, Karnataka, has built around 66 suspension bridges on the west coast of India, many within just four months, at an incredibly low cost. Dr Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore, offers cardiac operations in the price range of $1,000 at the low end to $3,000 at the top end.
The Tata Nano car at $2,500 has been applauded by the whole world. The October 2008 launch of the Chandrayaan lunar orbiter was accomplished for just $80 million, the cheapest ever from the six-country satellite club. India is the only country in the world to use EVMs (electronic voting machines) to elect around four million legislators to Parliament, the state assemblies and panchayats every five years. Some election or the other is always going on.
What enables such relevant and breathtaking solutions to incredibly challenging problems? Most of the solutions turn out to be difficult-to-replicate innovations, even if some of them are not considered groundbreaking in the common perception. One thing is for sure, they are real solutions to real problems faced by real people.
The huge DNA inheritance that India has is the creativity of its people; there is a terrific tradition to build on. The rich diversity of cultural and knowledge influences embedded within the society is a fabulous asset. Paradox and ambiguity are part of everyday existence in India. To cope with these paradoxes, the Indian mind has evolved into being highly adaptable.
Mega weddings with a few thousand attendees are organized without a rehearsal—Westerners find this amazing. Churches, mosques and temples coexist, adjacent to one another, and peacefully for the most part; multi-faith festivals are observed publicly and with deep sentiment as, for example, after the 26/11 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel in Mumbai: Zoroastrian, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Hindu prayers were offered.
Massive chaos in city traffic is created and dissolved through mysterious exhortations such as “thoda adjust karo (please adjust)”. Around six million people congregate for a fortnight during the Kumbh Mela festival, in the management of which creativity coupled with experience is displayed, time and again.
India is blessed to have most of the five Cs that promote innovativeness in a society: chaos, challenge, creativity, communication and canalization. India has a visible surfeit of chaos and challenge, which pumps up the creativity. Indian society has a long-standing tradition of free communication, open debate and fierce argument, something that China cannot boast of. However, India needs to canalize its huge creative energy in a productive way by becoming more process-oriented.
Social scientist Richard Florida of George Mason University, US, has argued that the “creative class” is the core force of economic growth in the future world economy. The creative class is the new and emerging segment of knowledge workers, artists and intellectuals, who will transform whole societies from agro-industrial to more complex hierarchies. They are not so left-brain-oriented as accountants and engineers, and they balance the left brain with their right brain by arriving at out-of-the-box ideas. The creative class has been on the rise for more than 40 years with the global economic shift to knowledge, according to the professor.
Wide range: Dr Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore, offers cardiac operations in the price range of $1,000 at the low end to $3,000 at the top end. Photo: Ryan Lobo
Three Ts drive the rising impact of the creative class: technology, tolerance and talent. Using these three vectors, Prof. Florida has mapped countries on his Global Creativity Index. The first four countries are Sweden, Japan, Finland and the US. The emerging giants feature in the lower half: China (36th), India (41st) and Brazil (43rd).
There is no need to get defensive about the study or its methodology. India scores reasonably well, not brilliantly, on the first T (technology), thanks to the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management. To improve its position, India has to improve in the second T (tolerance)—become even more open to self expression and a wide range of social groups—and the third T (talent) because only 6% of the population holds a bachelor’s degree, according to Prof. Florida.
Reverting to the prediction of the oncoming conceptual age, the author Pink argues that the right-brain approach leans more towards the conceptual than the analytical, more holistic than reductionistic. Such leanings play to the Indian intellectual tradition compared with the West, whose intellectual tradition is based on Greece and the Age of Enlightenment. “Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, these six senses increasingly will guide and shape our world,” says the author in the book.
Jugaad is king in the conceptual age. Awake India, for the prize will not fall into your lap; you have to prepare for it.
‘JUGAADS’ I HAVE SEEN
• When I joined Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL, now Hindustan Unilever Ltd) in the 1960s, Tomco (Tata Oil Mills) had launched the detergent Magic, Swastik Products had launched Det, and HLL had launched Surf powder. They were good products but there were no plastic buckets in homes to soak the clothes. HLL (and Tomco and Swastik Products) encouraged Brite Plastics, Kolkata, to make plastic buckets and promoted plastic-bucket ownership through the company sales force to accelerate the adoption of washing powders instead of washing cakes.
• I once stopped for tea at a small wayside shop in Ramnagar, Uttar Pradesh. The service boy insisted on speaking to me in broken English. When I asked him why, he said that he wished to go to America. That required him to pass Toefl (Test of English as a Foreign Language). To pass Toefl, you need to know only 400 English words. He was practising with me!
• Traditionally, three-wheel tempo vehicles dominated the last-mile delivery of goods in urban centres in India. They were inexpensive, small, load-carrying, manoeuvrable vehicles. Around 2000, Tata Motors management asked why a four-wheeler could not do the job better. In addition to all the advantages of the three-wheelers, a four-wheeler could be more stable. The company engineered and launched Tata Ace, a runaway success.
The author is executive director, Tata Sons. These are his personal views.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Jan 03 2010. 09 21 PM IST