“It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from simulation, stands mainly in the need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty” –Einstein, 1949, p. 19
The above passage from Einstein’s autobiography, a surprisingly expressive one, speaks of a theme that revolves around a concept that affects motivation, social factors and has a powerful impact- Creativity.
To understand creativity, few basic questions must be answered: How is creative performance different from ordinary performance? What conditions are most favourable to a creative performance? What abilities, characteristics, and social environments influence one’s creative performance?
Apple’s co-founder, Steve Wozniak, recently visited India for the Economic Times Global Business Summit in New Delhi. In an interview with the leading business newspaper, he made an interesting point about India, which raised a rage among billions in the country.
Steve remarked, “The culture here is one of success based upon academic excellence, studying, learning, practising and having a good job and a great life. For upper India, not the lower. I see two Indias. That’s a lot like Singapore study, study, work hard and you get an MBA, you will have a Mercedes but where is the creativity? The creativity gets left out when your behaviour is too predictable and structured, everyone is similar. Look at a small country like New Zealand, the writers, singers, athletes, it’s a whole different world.”
Steve also took the usual potshot at the IT services industry, which apparently lacks creativity. He added, “I am not an anthropologist and I don’t know the culture of India well enough. I don’t see those big advances in tech companies. What is the biggest tech company here, Infosys maybe? I just don’t see that sort of thing coming out of Infosys and I have done keynotes for them three times.”
In a canny response to the comment, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, tweeted: “I love it when such comments are made. Nothing like a sweeping stereotype to get our juices flowing & prove it wrong. Thanks @stevewoz Come back soon. We’ll make you sing a different tune…”
Now, we all know that Steve is correct to some extent. Our education system is more focussed on scoring good, overlooking the artistic abilities, skills and creativity.
Steve’s comment opens up an interesting debate, which can be divided into two parts. First, the need for formal education to achieve success primarily defined by the acquisition of material possessions. Second, India lacks creativity.
The first point is based on the philosophical question of what constitutes success. So, it is a broader debate. But the second comment is intriguing. Is India really lacking creativity?
To start off, we agree with Mahindra’s statement that “India lacks creativity” is a lazy stereotype, the reason being that Wozniak used superficial arguments to make the statement. The manifestations of this apparent lack of creativity, as per Wozniak, were that India hasn’t produced great technology companies, and the country lacks a multitude of professions and achievements. It’s thoughtlessness to define creativity as the presence or absence of large tech companies, or any other type of company. This dogmatic view originates as we overlook the most important element of creativity – the operating environment.
India has been a sovereign nation for about 70 years and is surviving over limited capitalism, that too just recently over the last three decades. Comparing it to a country that has enjoyed unrestrained capitalism for over 150 years is absurd. India has a nominal GDP of $2tn, and the US has $17tn, but India is growing at 8% p.a. and the US at below 2%. Owing to these numbers, India has a belief to excel like an economy as big as the US.
We believe creativity is not a guarantee against negative externalities. India has controlled and heavily regulated factor markets all over, be it land, labour, or capital. Fast and overall growth in creativity needs generous access to risk capital, which has been missing in our country for a long, long time. Our infrastructure and bureaucracy is debilitating; in addition to having rigid laws, we’re also burdened with a barrage of rules, majority of which still needs to be reformed.
Adding to the hindrances of our own, India fosters different social stereotypes related to success and failure, the role of the family and so on. All of these together form the operating environment and, more generally, the unfavourable context for creativity. And given the fact that our context is so excruciatingly different from the West, what should be justly lauded as India’s creativity is probably not the one measured by Steve Wozniak.
Today, for example, India launches satellites for several countries, including those with an economic capital much higher than India. Given its shoestring budgets, did ISRO get here without creativity? India currently has a peer-to-peer payment ecosystem, built in just a few years, with the number of users on board exceeding the entire population of several larger per capita economies. While the template creativity by the West was focused on finding why India only has 20 million credit cards, the context creativity from the NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India) created a countrywide payments backbone.
Adding on, tech companies love to talk about the numbers of monthly active users of their products and services, and how quickly they achieved it. Jio registered about 160 million users in seven months, give or take a few days. Which tech company has had that kind of an onboarding curve? Also, did Steve really say that India does not have enough singers, dancers, musicians, and writers? Is he even real?
Today, 33 percent of all immigrant-founded companies in the US have Indian founders. The CEOs of the two leading tech giants, Google and Microsoft, are Indians. It’s certainly difficult to find a progressive field, be it engineering, art, science, or medicine, that does not have Indians at the forefront. As a matter of fact, these people did not turn creative overnight; instead, they crafted an amplifying and enabling environment to capitalize on their talent. The favourable context of an industrial ecosystem, an access to capital, and the ability to take risks in the social circumstances, have impelled these people to excel. If anything, creativity is nothing without context. All in all, Indian creativity is spent on countering the negative externalities, and the people should not be blamed for it.