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Keeping the fires of innovative spirit burning

E.C. THOMAS

We should ensure that the best of us do not become available to the highest bidder

It is highly creditable indeed that India is achieving a growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent in recent years. But it is incredible that with such a growth rate and abundance of technical manpower, Indian DNA is not on the products which rule the world such as personal computers, digital cameras, cell phones, iPods, DVD players, plasma television sets or medical breakthroughs like stent.

The list is long. India has no products which have revolutionised the world scene. Or do we excel only in the development of revolutionary concepts like zero or in soft skills like computer software?

Nor do we have innovative companies such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. Our IT giants are really glorified sub-contractors to the elite corporations of the world. Our great manufacturing enterprises are just makers of products engineered by others. Even celebrated businessmen such as Lakshmi Mittal just built on existing entities.

Gates example

Recently, there was an interesting story that Bill Gates was awarded an honorary doctorate by his Alma Mater, Harvard University. Thirty years ago, he did not think twice before dropping out of the prestigious institution to promote the legendary company.

As a student, he was said to be incredulous that no one was seeing the dawn of the digital age on the horizon. Think of the spirit behind the birth of products which never existed before. What do you say of a product like iPod from the stable of Steve Jobs? We are second to none in music. How come we did not think of it?

Have you come across any young person who is prepared to drop out of an IIT or IIM to throw himself into unknown waters to follow a dream? There will be formidable parental, peer and social pressures to prevent him from pursuing such a course, even if he is willing to take a path less travelled. The brilliant fellow finally goes on to become an outstanding executive of some body else’s dream.

So it so happens that the best of the corporations of the world have Indian top executives whether they are soft drink giants like Pepsi or telephone companies like Vodafone or even technology companies like Microsoft. We are justifiably proud that our managers are seemingly in charge of the world corporations which control the modern world.

We are not tired of praising ourselves on their Indian ancestry little realising that they are mere generals on the field in wars commanded by others. Even our fine technologists follow great masters of innovation. The chief scientist of Google is Krishna Bharat who joined that company just in 1999. There are path breaking Indian scientists in great corporations of the world. Alas, we have no path breaking products.

Do we get adversely affected by the structured curriculum of the excellent Indian education and hypnotised by the security of a degree from a premier institution? Are we looking for nirvana early in life and in the process are we cursed to become high income elitist mercenaries of the great corporations of the planet and sacrifice our creative talents.

Trail-blazers

But where high academic credentials are of no significance, our products are good. In the field of cinema or fashion or art or in writing we are trail-blazers. Arundhathi Roy did not go to an IIM. Rahman did not attend any premier music institution. So is painter Hussain or Satyajit Ray. If Bill Gates had completed his Harvard degree, perhaps he would have ‘languished’ as Chairman of IBM.

Still it is not anybody’s brief that a good education is not necessary. But innovative thinking should be a part of education and encouraged by design. Venture capitalists should extend a hand to innovative thinkers. Universities should ensure that researchers continue to do research. Young persons who have dreams should be saved from the shackles of suffocating straight jacket education to think freely.

Here the parents, universities, private business enterprises and the state should form a holy alliance with a hidden agenda to keep the fires of innovative spirit burning in the brilliant minds of our youngsters.

We should ensure that the best of us do not become available to the highest bidder.



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