E.F. Schumacher’s famous book is Small Is Beautiful. It got him universal acclaim as it challenged the world-view of development, in general, and the role of technology, in particular, as was never done before. But with due respect to the celebrated economist, and in all modesty, I must say that had he spent more time with persons involved in starting and running their small industrial units (leave aside the wonderful prospect of his starting one in this country himself), he would have certainly written a light-hearted sequel to his epoch-making book, and would have called it Small Is (also) Amusing!
Years ago, when I started my own small factory, one story which I had read in my childhood kept coming to my mind again and again, Count Bobby’s Adventure of Shooting Rabbits. Count Bobby, a village simpleton, returns home one day from his shooting expedition and his friends ask him how was it. He replies, “Bad. I couldn’t shoot a single rabbit.” “But how is it possible? It’s very easy to shoot rabbits, they always run in zigzags,” say his friends. “Agreed, but when I shot at zig, the rabbit was in zag, and when I shot at zag, the shrewd little animal was promptly back in zig,” says Count Bobby. For quite some time, I thought, Count Bobby was an imaginary character created by some clever writer. But after spending some 35 years in small industry, I now know that Count Bobbies do actually exist. They don’t shoot rabbits any longer, thanks to the prevailing environmental awareness. They start their own small industrial units, instead!
The moment you enter the wonderful world of small industry, you find zigzags all the way. You have to comply with scores of government regulations, cope with countless inspectors, maintain a vast number of statutory records, and keep filing various returns. In addition, you have to deal with prosaic union leaders. And, then, if any time is left at all, also manage the core activities of your business! Apart from this rather minor difference of detail, the satisfaction and pleasure you, as a modern Count Bobby, now derive from your non-violent adventure is, in fact, far greater than what you could have ever got by shooting rabbits, or by shooting anything else for that matter! And as a bonus, you get a rare opportunity to observe the interesting, and often quite amusing, incidents taking place all around you.
An unorthodox managing director of a company manufacturing measuring instruments, for instance, was always worried that he was not giving enough importance to the love of nature, and that the industrial scene, generally, was becoming too materialistic for his liking.
Suddenly, a brilliant idea came to his mind. He started sending a bunch of sweet-smelling, fresh flowers with every consignment of the instruments he manufactured. All his customers, spontaneously and wholeheartedly, shared his selfless love for nature, their Quality Control Reports reading Flowers accepted. Instruments Rejected. The MD, however, was not at all disheartened. At the next meeting of the Board of Directors, he valiantly defended his action saying: “Small sacrifices must be made in order to achieve higher goals in life!”
Such strange people, however, are not the monopoly of small industry. You find many of them in large industry as well. In fact, small industry acts as an ideal observation tower for dispassionately watching the interesting world of large industry, outside.
An executive of a large multinational, for example, was greatly impressed with the Internet and its potential to widen the spiritual landscape of industrial managers. So, instead of wasting time doing the routine work of his department, he immersed himself in the quest for higher knowledge, sat glued to the computer, and started e- mailing daily excerpts from the spiritual sayings of one great thinker of the world or the other to his official contacts. Unfortunately, the CEO was not so evolved spiritually, and rashly asked him to go.
But such earthly actions do not affect truly great personalities. Obligingly, he quit the job, but to this day continues to send the sacred Gems of Spiritual Wisdom to all, including the contacts of his old organisation. They, of course, were not responsible for his quitting in any way, so why deprive them of their possible spiritual enlightenment? What a divine gesture!
Really, the world of small industry is a world of challenging situations, and hilarious experiences. Well, it does have its ups and downs. It does, of course, involve entrepreneurship, capacity for out-of-the-box thinking, willingness to take calculated risks, and, indeed, hard and unending work. But if one has an inquisitive mind, sharp observation, a level head, and, above all, a keen sense of humour, one will enjoy it immensely.
After all, every cloud has a silver lining but too many people miss it because they are expecting gold!
(The writer is an entrepreneur and Founder Trustee of Arbutus, a leading NGO working in Education for Sustainable Development. He lives in Pune.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)