Sunday 19th May 2024,
Sandeep Mann
Indian Business Culture
a paper written in humor and not to be taken seriously

Individualistic, Non-planner, Dreamer, Intuitive, Ambivalent, Nimble are the key characteristics of Indian Business Culture, epithets coined as expansions of letters of the word Indian. Business transacts in the bedrock of society, so trying to develop a feel for the business style of a nation has to be necessarily accompanied by efforts to fathom its society.

Indians are very individualistic. This may be read wrongly by the proclaimed Mecca of individualism, the US of A, but Indians are definitely more individualistic, or let us say self-centered, albeit in a wrong way. Most Indians fail to see beyond their routine life, what concerns them is what happens in their lives, their immediate lives. He could be driving a big limousine or even a small car, and would take immense pains to keep the car clean from inside, but would think nothing of tossing a banana peel or a chewing gum wrapper onto the road, you see the road is not his. You can find spit stains on all city walls. There is an attempt to get ownership of historical monuments by etching one’s name on the building fascia. It is easy during election time to get a voter’s franchise for one odd bottle of local liquor, the bottle towers bigger than life than the supposed belongingness to country. The traffic road sense is atrocious, a nation of “I must reach ahead of the other guy syndrome”; ironically, a nation of laggards. This individualism does stretch to family, but not as much as is a typical Japanese known to. The typical man on street believes he needs to tend to only his issues and that governance is not his domain; so he posts his accountability audit only during election times. Even very literate Indians are usually not aware of what proceedings are ensuing at the Parliament level. This distancing from social issues is gauged by almost a nil proportion of population sharing its experiences openly, very few Indians, if ever, pen autobiographies. In recent times, when the entire world seems to have been caught in the viral of floating blogs and thus broadcasting to the world one’s views, very few here are aware of what blogs are even in the IT world. The media too focuses hugely on local reporting, according a namesake coverage to global issues. It seems to be a very self-sated society.

Without trying to present this social background as a causal factor, we can say that most Indian businesses are lost inwardly. The key belief is if we are efficient in our operations, we shall sure win the market. This hard involvement in within factory walls affairs and soft cursory attention to externalities makes many businesses strategically weak. Most firms have a token participation in various industry associations and fora, being outright dismissive of such platforms, though the need for lobbying is intensely felt. Industry cartels are virtually unheard of though rumors abound at least about oil industry and the cola segment. Post liberalization, many Indian businesses have found it difficult to scale to foreign markets. In fact the small scale sectors, esp. handtools and toys etc. have already gone through a terrible phase of flooding by aggressive Chinese influx.

Many Indians have proven themselves on the global firmament, but they are few. The concept of planning afar is alien. Life is lived more on a day to day basis. The penetration of insurance cover is extremely low: a certain event like death or probable one like old age infirmity is rarely planned for. No study has come to our notice, but we find most earning members haven’t bothered to draft a will. The needs are generally pitched at minimal, so why bother about tomorrow that much. Oddly, the proclivity for savings is high. The way Americans and Germans junk gadgetry and white goods every three to seven years would give Indians blues. People cling on to refrigerators for many decades, though the same stickiness to cars is now decreasing. Wastage is paradoxically abhorred but only in a visual sense: if a cookie falls on the round, most likely it will be picked and brushed of its dirt/germs and eaten, but water/electricity draining without utility is rampant (you can’t see these commodities getting wasted; though many urban inhabitants, so used to unscheduled power-cuts, carefully monitor electricity consumption when dependent on power-backup devices like inverters. This again shows individual-centered interest protection, after all it is you own inverter). The cookie reminds of a government order asking a candidate for village elections to show proof of his having built a walled toilet as one of the eligibility conditions. Hygiene sense is developed, but idea is to keep body clean, why invest in infrastructure for the same.

Sameways, Indian business, it seems doesn’t appreciate the concept of vision and mission. These are at best, lovely wordings indited on brass plaques hung on factory portals. This all may be liberally said about SME (small and medium enterprises), but can also be said of many large business houses. Budget statements are off-hand prepared documents, growth plans are dressed up to look nice and impress the media and the stock market, government compiled scenario policy documents are creative writings of inspired bureaucracy, and so forth. Slow execution of planning is a bane: by the time a highway’s four-laning is commissioned, the traffic load demands six-laning. There is almost hero worship of any Pied Piper who professes to have visions of future, especially there is mass herding to hear a futurologist management guru, all the more better if he is a foreigner. Even business decisions are many a times configured to suit astrological advice. Myopia is the order of the day. With management literature’s increasing onslaught on perils of short-sightedness, businesses crave to be ready to meet future head-on, but they lack necessary tools and mindset to delineate the future. It can be just wished that they are somehow competitively reactive, forget being proactive.

Weirdly, with Maslow’s bottom levels not finding satisfaction, Indians live in a dreamworld. Superego is pumped up like anything. Hoodwinking voters by selling a dream is a politician’s pastime (what else can a politician show in absence of actual progress). Election manifestoes are crammed with placeboes. Most dreaming is an idling process, wishful thinking being more like what happens. Concrete legs beneath the dream castles are not there at all. Dreams are the soporific agents that permit sound sleep after a tough day in the field. They have been fed a diet that India has a rich cultural heritage and that their army is the bravest and that India is a potent force in world politics; all of which may be true, but most Indians aren’t informed about all this. Plain vanilla beliefs have been pushed down the throats. Most Indians carry religious scriptures based concept of past, know almost nothing of battle complexities and have nil knowledge of world politics; but it is good to live in a rosy world, so what the heck. Hero worship and personalities build-up drive dynamics of national politics.

This reflects in businesses not having meticulously prepared blueprints for future. At business level however, the instinct to make it big is quiet visible. This makes the state of being busy in business pleasurable, discounting for operational hassles and irksome regulatory bodies. The rank and file of bureaucracy is corrupt, and it is well nigh impossible to take business forward without froward appeasement of interfering elements. Now though one may indulge in dreams oneself, the same done by others is mocked at. Employees traditionally do not value future ESOPs perceiving these to be very intangible uncashable stuff. All business people love to brag of their business well-being, of high employee satisfaction, that their product is quality-wise great, that they are employing corporate governance. Again, the idea is to keep one’s conscience look clean.

Analytic thinking is too laborious and probably not needed, and armed with this conviction, Indians take impulsive intuitive on the spur decisions. The students never work on many drafts of the assignment they need to submit, they will rather write just one copy, in a frame of afflatus (divine inspiration) or copy another’s (simple plagiarism). Even in sports, the reflex player is loved, the systematic one is snubbed. The cars and mobikes are handled more on feel basis than on technical grounds, most drivers can’t look at the engine area and point a carburetor from an oil pump. Elaborate verification of antecedents at marriage time is uncommon, extreme reliance is done on a half an hour interaction assessment, that is it.

Business is primarily gut-feel driven. Even if in-depth market research has been undertaken, the CEO would most likely go by his gut-feel, let it be contrary to what the data spews up. Recruitment interviews are non-format and spontaneously managed. Employee background verification is a yet to develop function, what is written in the resume is believed to be true and reference checks avoided lest they upset social/business relationships. Number-crunching is an unknown art, even at B-school level of instruction. Maybe it is because the deep pockets needed to fund R & D are not there, but nevertheless common sense evaluation and interpretation is assumed to be adequate in arriving at decisions. It could be the land offers paucity of relevant information and so one has to make do with intuitive extrapolations, but why guesses when guesstimation should be used! Politics and nepotism too snuff out analytic thinking, the objective being winning specific personality’s yes than arrive at sound objectively defensible conclusions.

Then Indians are middle path ambivalent people, it is difficult to extract an extreme posturing from them. Maybe they themselves believe there is good in both yes and no, in both right-wing and left-wing approaches, in both moving ahead and staying put. Their agreement overtly expressed maybe after all a solid no! Generally it a nation of shy non-assertive people, who do get aggressive when prodded. Life can go on and on and suddenly any religious or other fomenting flares into riotous behavior.

Thus business too is non-assertive. In alliances, transparency is usually missing; not that intent is malafide, rather commitment is definitely there, but the attitude is to ‘not say something that might hurt’. And this munificence over a long period makes differences creep in. At initial stages, all is accepted, or shown to be acceptable, whereas it is not. And the good-natured support falters gradually. So it is best advised to have periodic sessions of ‘release’ of pent-up apprehensions than have them explode in your face all at once. Similarly, extreme or controversial positioning is avoided, even if business sense demands it. Again the idea is not to alienate anyone by offending his sentiments. This may seem like respecting other’s or customer’s sensibilities; actually it is non-willingness to take up a confrontationist stance. There exist binary code, one for self and one for others; and all reckoning is done like this. So whenst one’s own conduct s justifiable because care was being taken to not hurt others, similar conduct by others is taken as lack of openness. Punctuality is cherished but also self’s delay expected to be condoned (IST, the Indian Standard Time is dubbed the Indian Stretchable Time!). This ambivalence makes Indians great in partnerships, but also tricky people to co-exist with. The driving canon is the spirit of the understanding, not the fine print in written contracts.

Indians are truly resourceful nimble people, though in a short-term sense. They have lived over centuries with minimal economic growth, small set of needs and low appetite for long term planning. So what makes them click is their massive adaptability, their knack to come up with perfect short-term remedies to demands and challenges of daily life. North Indians even term this as an ability to come up with ‘jugaad’, a quickie unorthodox way out. Not knowing technical concepts, a scooter not catching ignition, is shaken a little and lo!, it actually starts off. A television set not showing clear picture is given a mild slap on its top and somehow the problem disappears; if it still persists, a slap on the sides would do the trick. Literacy is low, though the government resourcefully touts up a high figure. Surprisingly, the official touchstone for determining whether one is literate or not is an Indian’s ability to sign his name and count money (indeed a very sketchy definition). The English language proficiency so well hyped by media is marred by very formative grammar skills and accent problems. Police force keeps a semblance of law and order through play of wits.

This nimbleness is an asset of Indian businesspeople. They can negotiate most complicated of situations with this bent of mind. Start-up capital is harnessed by tapping a few friends and relatives, institutional financing is not raised that much. Any meddlesome regulatory requirement is not combated by doing the right thing, you influence the government official and get a go ahead. Most thinking is carried in the head, a very disrespectful culture for those who believe in documentation, Indians being secretive people. Tax evasion is masterminded in collusion with finance experts. Labor unrest is best killed at source, win over the trade union leader. Instance has been reported wherein change of leadership at helms of a state public sector brought increased capacity utilization fetching laurels and kudos, deeper probing however revealed the production level was still as in foregone years, just that the registered capacity of the plant in books was lowered significantly. Consequently, work moves on, life goes on, but issues live, to raise their head again and again, morphing variously. The young BPO and IT salaried generation is very western in outlook and more systems tuned. Even many states in south have people who are friendly to systems in society. The north Indians are disruptive by nature, possibly a front for their aggressive outlook. The gujaratis are seen to be very finance savvy.

Thus it is a challenging set-up: the resourceful of the investors would gain wonderful mileage, whereas the fair one playing linearly by the book would keep on running into walls. Things are changing; the risk aversion set in by constrictive regulation easing with flexing of policy. Large scale facilities are coming up with internationalization of business. Historically, we have to keep in mind that Indians sought God, Glory and Gold within the country. Welcome to the land of spiritual contentment which won 5.3 billion US $ FDI inflow last year, creating a massive media glare at Davos and all sorts of international fora; forget that Vietnam got 9 billion only for its tourism sector.

Authors: Amit Kapoor and Sandeep Mann

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Century of Invisible
Posted in BRICS countries by thinkvast on February 6, 2010 Edit This

Let this century be dedicated to the invisible. This may not be the panacea of all ills challenging mankind, but shall surely take all mankind to better coping levels. And if the trends are to be seen, will-nilly this is anyway going to happen; so why can’t world bodies, NGOs and governments impart greater momentum to this.

Traditionally, most of mankind has reacted more to the overt, treating the invisible with frivolity, or doubt. In the myoho spectrum, the manifested ho has deserved cognizance of a higher level than the myo, the unfathomable largeness that stays unmanifested. However, whatever progress has come to man has come because few men always responded to the invisible, the hidden. Trying to make most of mankind on the planet shift its awareness levels towards the so called non-obvious or invisible shall equip accelerated progress.

Let us see the various aspects which require thought and action.


In many societies, when an eatable falls on the round, it is picked, brushed and then eaten. Conventional living reacts to the gross, the apparent. If your water is muddy, it is definitely not potable; if it is clear, so many humans wouldn’t think twice before having a drink from it. Similarly, the small is considered non-alarming whereas the big is intimidating. Let all this be changed. Let men be sensitized to the muscle the unseen bacteria and viruses carry.


A casual sex act is seen as a one off, and the assumption is made the so called AIDS is not going to raise its head. Spitting. defecating in open (across Africa, Asia) are treated as routine and not harmless. The less probable is deemed impossible to happen. Quantity is respected, quality is not bothered about. The hardware is worthy of paying for, the software should come free is an attitude that needs change. In all this, the point of view needs modification.


That every person approaching you might carry a baggage of unsaid agendas is the current level of threat facing all humans. To be vigilant towards this and take precautionary defense steps is a genuine need, more so from people in the close circle. Most crimes and exploitations are happening by family members, friend circle and city representatives. There is no cause for taking the hyper stance, but there is no room for staying complacent either. Whatever the genesis and past social tectonic plate movements, this harsh reality is before us. And only alertness can guard us. Coming together of man in social units was need of past, this needs to be reexamined now and not adopted with as much gusto as was done centuries ago. Diversity of cultures is lovely and ought to be encouraged, yet assimilating plus points of other cultures and culling out negatives of own cannot be left to slow moving chance factors. Same ways, unmeditated and hurried junking of socio-cultural institutions that have brought us so afar has to be refrained. Deep respect for the underprivileged and disadvantaged has to be systematically cultivated.


Few intelligentsia keep track of trends and changing paradigms and then the masses get to know of these over 2-3-4 decades is definitely becoming an outdated mechanism of coping with change. All men need to become aware of sensing what the trends are, so that they can in their own way, try to proactively influence the arriving future. Mental preparedness for tomorrow is anyway a powerful asset. Also all men need to understand the dynamics of change, what causes change and what regulating/ controlling is possible; only then power of man in deciding fate shall stand applied. This all, again it is being stated, can’t remain the intellectual hegemony of few. All are entitled to seeing the ‘big picture’.


Globally we are one. Why should every human not know what causes global warming and what is upsetting global ecology. Why shouldn’t every individual self-regulate his impact on the same. Allowing masses of few nations to unleash uncontrollable damage while their governments act the protective mother of spoil brats, doing PR exercises is a stratagem that should be seen through, by both the sufferers and the practitioners. If butterfly effect has any credence, why ignore it, and that too at peril of entire humanity.


The machinations of those whose profession is to come to power of governance and prolong their staying in power need to be made visible. The concept of “subject” and “ruler” need redefinition, possibly inversion. The need for active monitoring of the rulers lest they subvert the interest of the ruled has to be instilled; the lethargy of the masses at large in handing their collective destiny to the politicians based on wishful thinking that by default the interests shall be preserved and furthered has to be forsaken. Again, the canvas of politics is no longer limited by geographies. So all men per se have to begin visualizing movements on world polity plane, no more thinking they are insulated by national boundaries.


All men have to be awakened to the virtually limitless possibilities their potential holds, and irrespective of physical, economic and social barriers. Let all feel the surge of excitement in giving solid credence to he belief that “all can” and that “they can whatever”. Accomplishments of any genre are not feudal domains of few; that there is “no chosen one” element. What is needed is self belief and smart work towards the same. En masse participation in realizing potential of man has to be exhorted for.

Strategic Vision

Fundamentally, all living has been bound to subsistence, to operations plane, thus leaving little or no planning for long term perspectives. The today and the tomorrow seem clearly in sight, whereas a one-two-five-ten year scope seems invisible and so either unworthy of being planned for or beyond capabilities of sure planning. Even commerce collectives seldom think beyond 30-40 years, whereas we already have organizations that have existed longer than two centuries. Let all these delve in the beyond times.


The selection of news stories, their titling-narration etc carries hidden media and industry interests has to be brought to fore. The fact that the information disseminators have prejudices and biases cannot be left under covers. Irrational and awe-based adopting to bits and bytes of messaging flowing in media and social grapevines has to be duly distrusted and weighed before adopting are changes required. Moderation has to be brought in ‘aping the celebrity sponsored’.


That just a fraction of mankind understands the technicals and the rest marvels open-mouthed at the spacewalk by an astronaut has to be a reaction pushed to past. Division of labor is all fine, but the threshold level of requisite scientific awareness has grown much higher than the one prevalent today is a hard fact staring us in the face. The drive against illiteracy is an imposing challenge, gargantuan in dimensions, no doubt. But the emphasis has to shift to educating the literate. You cannot pull mankind ahead by having taught science fundamentals in school and then leaving the adults to fend for themselves. Moreover, recent science announcements seems to be largely led by media sensationalizing prospect or retaining market share of industrial lobbies. It is obvious, serendipity has more or less deserted mankind, just look at last five decades in comparison to the earlier period. Only organized scientific endeavors seem to take us ahead, the complications in challenges are too many. We must all see the myopia of allowing basic research to be stifled by self-serving research sponsors. This connects up with the steady pointers asking men to replenish their skill levels every now and then, career enhancement and career preservation dynamics have changed massively.


Eventually, this may all come across as anti-establishment and too radical. It may also seem like too much of work. The problems in mass dissemination of new ideas, policies and laws too look alpine. But not to take this up as an active agenda for his century, is there any other way? The common thread across all pursuits is to make man perceive the invisible as clearly, if not more clearly, than the visible. Piecemeal action plans shall take us nowhere. Else mankind shall flounder for couple of more centuries before better discretion dawns.


Amit Kapoor and Sandeep Mann

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