Ten types of Innovation – Concluding notes

With article on Bigbasket, the ten part innovation series comes to an end. When I understood the innovation types (created by Doblin) way back in 2011, my idea was to apply it from Indian context and make case studies fitting various types. It took two long years for me to complete this series with decent satisfaction.

Innovation has gone beyond building a particular product or service. By building something different doesn’t guarantee a business success, whereas ensuring customer derives value will. India, unlike some of the developed countries, is in the cusp of transformation where we have both traditional old school thinking and new school of thinking co-existing with each other. This made my inquiry to innovation all the more interesting. As and when I observed some innovative way to serve customers, I started mapping them back to Doblin’s model and came up with this whole series spanning across industries.

Please find URLs to individual posts as follows:

BOOK REVIEW: My journey – Transforming dreams into action

Abdul Kalam
Transforming dreams into actions

Author: APJ Abdul Kalam

Price: 195 INR

For most Indians, reading about Abdul Kalam and his work is always an inspiring item. Post retirement, he started off his journey into writing by scripting his auto-biography titled ‘The wings of fire’, followed by some popular books like Ignited Minds, Envisioning an empowered nation, Turning points etc. Most of them talk about his early life in Rameshwaram followed by his experience with various defense and space research organizations. Another popular theme in these book is about “Vision 2020”, where Kalam is been articulating India becoming super power by 2012 by achieving excellence in technology, rural transformation, self reliance and self sustainability.

In this latest book ‘My journey – Transforming dreams into Action’, Kalam has followed pretty much the same canvas but gone into very small and specific stories. Unlike his previous books, he has chosen real life anecdotes and shared deeper learning from them. Growing up in town like Rameshwaram with very high aspirations and dreams is not very easy situation to handle. With lesser resources and exposure, Kalam need to go thru lot of struggle and build his career brick-by-brick. The most inspiring part is about him overcoming umpteen numbers of challenges and overcoming them with very strong vision and value.

For example, he explains how he became a working person at the age of 8 by supplying newspapers in Rameshwaram and struggle associated with it. Every day he would to get up at 4 AM followed by his morning tuition and prayers. In order to support his family Kalam takes a part time job of distributing newspapers to Rameshwaram household. Thanks to some policy change, Chennai-Dhanushkodi passenger train which carried daily newspaper bundle from Chennai removed Rameshwaram station from the list. This resulted in Kalam doing every day stunt by catching paper bundle thrown from a moving train at Rameshwaram station. Kalam will then go on distributing them after which his school day would start. In the evening he would finish his homework and complete settlement of newspaper daily account with his cousin who gave him this opportunity. It was quite obvious to see the amount of stress and pressure he might have gone thru as a 8 year old boy, but the way he put it across along with key learnings is simply amazing.

There are multiple similar stories related to his profession filled with struggle and failures.  Inspired by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Kalam and his team went on building Indian space story from the scratch.  He recalls how his professional career is similar to his early life in Rameshwaram – Lesser resources, Limited knowledge, larger challenges and a passion to win. Taking references from Bhagavat Gita to Thirukkural, Kalam mentions how he taken inspiration from these great ancient text to lift him up when things went wrong due to mistakes.  There were some repeated stories (ex: Church in Thumba becoming ISRO office, thanks to the local people), however they are always inspiring ones to hear again and again.

Unlike his previous books, Kalam kept this one very simple which can even read and understood by a high school kid. Definitely worth reading!

Innovation – Type 10 – Customer experience innovation [Case: Bigbasket]

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.

Simple and effective User interface

The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.

Prompt alerts

While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.

Service delivery guarantee

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.

Return policy and wallet

During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.

In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.

Innovation – Type 9 – Brand [Case: Decathlon India]

Decathlon
Decathlon

It’s time to catch-up with ten part innovation series. The Ninth type of innovation on Brand is about how offerings are expressed to customer to their benefit. It’s been quite a bit of challenge to identify a right case for this innovation, finally nailed it with Decathlon sports India. Decathlon entered India as a sports goods retailer, primarily catering to high end customers by having closed membership association. This was partly due to their positioning and partly due to retail industry regulations in India. Over a period of time they changed the way their brand is expressed to customers, which has made Decathlon as a popular brand today.

To start with, Decathlon instrumented making their employees as brand ambassadors by hiring sports enthusiasts for specific departments. Say if you are passionate cyclist, then you will be hired and made as cycle department sales person or supervisor. Naturally this makes a huge difference to a customer who walks into the shop to buy a bicycle. Given the pre-existing expertise and passion, naturally the sales person will understand customer needs better and ensure they are suggested with proper options in comparison with the person who don’t know anything about cycles. Added to that these employees are positioned well in their marketing communications, hoardings and future job hire needs.

The store and employee appearance also establishes a unique brand image among customers. Unlike other stores, Decathlon’s real estate size is relatively large in order for customers to try out various sports goods (ex: cycles). However they ensured their internal store arrangement (ex: racks) is very simple with lesser investments in order to optimize cost. One gets ‘no-nonsense-I-get-what-I-want’ feeling by entering any of their stores. Their employee appearance (ex: French beard with trendy hair-style) is also something different that I have observed in comparison with other places.

When Decathlon entered India, it was not open to all retail customers. One needs to get membership in order to shop from them, which got repositioned now. It is not open for all retail customers. By targeting upper-middle customer segment, they are able to establish Decathlon as a synonym for quality with decent pricing. This repositioning and communicating right message also changed the way Decathlon is perceived among common people.

In summary Decathlon changed the sports expression by innovating around their brand – in terms of store design, employee appearance, profile of employees and positioning. Globally they have been existing for more than three decades, but by adapting to some of the local challenges, they are well positioned their brand in sports goods retailing.

Book review: Employees First, Customer second

Jwritings - Employee first, Customer second
EFCS - Vineet Nayar

Author: Vineet Nayar

Price: 499 INR (Audio version of the book)

Employees First, Customer Second (EFCS) is creating buzz for a while now! Coined by HCL vetranVineet Nayar, this term has created a bunch of different interpretations, perspectives and discussions. I picked up audio version of this book from Reado, mainly to bring pace  to my reading habit. Listening to audio book, especially in busy city traffic conditions, makes it a enriching experience by putting better use of time. Also audio book helps to read book faster than the traditional printed books. I used to be an advocate of buying books in printed form and have them as my priceless possessions. Thanks to the busy schedule at work and home kindled me to explore innovative ways to keep my reading habit alive. EFCS is the first audio book I have heard (long time back I did similar stuff with one of the Tamil books, by having them listen during travel), so listening to an English audio book is also equally interesting experience.

Coming to EFCS book, author Vineet Nayar shares his transformational journey in HCL using EFCS framework. HCL, one of the top notch software services companies in India, steadily lost its stream both in business and people elements.  HCL was not considered as a preferred employer by many of people due to not so favorable work environment. Based on his experience by meeting HCL employees Vineet felt many key issues, which pushed him to make transformation in HCL by implementing EFCS. Fundamentally Vineet believed what he describes as ‘value zone’, which is nothing but an employee linkage with its customer. This critical zone where  customer interacts with software service organization like HCL to get the necessary assignment done. For customers, they see the software company and its value generation thru its employees who are interfacing with him/her. So from the organization perspective, if employees in the value zone, who can be enabled and empowered, would result in more value for customers. In order to take care of its customers better organizations need to work with their own people, to put them first before customers. Because every action they do eventually gets converted into value for customers thereby maximizing many things which include employee satisfaction, customer value, revenue, profitability etc. This doesn’t mean providing a second-class treatment to customer, but in order to give them first-class treatment, employees of the organization needs to be taken care.

With this basic principle, Vineet goes on executing EFCS by taking few important but bold changes in the organization. To start with, he gets his top 100 leadership team to buy in this concept of EFCS by creating what he describes  as ‘blueprint’ meetings.  Initially most of the senior leader were not able to buy in this idea with ‘yes, but….’ Thinking, but over a period of time, they start seeing the value of doing such things customers. Second, Nayar believes in order to implement EFCS successfullym, he need to build trust in the organization at all levels. In order to open up conversation with employees, he creates an internal two-way transparent web based system called ‘U and Me’ by openly making conversation with employees. Employees at any level can open conversation with the CEO (Nayar himself) or any of the senior leadership team. In case of specific questions, pertaining to a business line, the corresponding leader would provide the response. When this started off, initial days were more of making it as a compliant box, but over a period of time it turned out to be a platform to build two-way transparent conversation for building trust in the leadership. After attaining certain level of maturity, Vineet opened up this platform with a new item titled ‘My problems’ where he started seeing suggestions/inputs from employees for the issues faced by him with respect to competitors, business changes/challenges, media etc. He started getting very creative and workable suggestions from employees from all the level, which in turn created more belief in the leadership among employees.

Third, internal systems were tuned to support/empower and aid people in the ‘value zone’. For example business support functions like HR, finance, operations etc, need to be tuned for getting support to the business needs by creating a ticketing system with automatic upward escalation. This also broke the traditional power center concept by truly tuning the organization to be people centric, thereby eventually passing on the value to customers. In the same lines, Vineet opened up business results (revenue, profit, current status etc..) data of individual businesses as a transparent information across the organization. Every individual group/team were able to clearly see where their team/business stood with respect to other organizations. While this created some initial issues (ex: information leaking to the press, as HCL is a public listed company) but this created a sense of urgency and bias to take action for improving the situation. It took about four years time for Vineet to implement EFCS in multiple phases and he also explains the benefit/results of this framework in terms of revenues/profits/employee satisfaction. By taking certain big bold steps like EFCS, HCL is transformed into a multi billion dollar organization with capability to handle larget client base with higher criticality.

When such large scale tranformational changes are implemented, any organization will have its mixed response from people side. When I talked with some of my HCL friends about EFCS they were not so excited but admitted that it did had impact in the way HCL has done business. It required lot of courage backed with common-sense to float something like EFCS, but Nayar’s no non-sense common sense approach was really interesting to challenge stereotype management thinking.

Aakash (Ubislate 7Ci) review


Aakash - Ubislate 7Ci - Review

I purchased Aakash few months back, thought of writing review on multiple aspects. To give a background, Aakash is an ultra low-cost tablet innovated and manufactured by DataWind. This organization also partnered with Government of India for distributing Aakash with subsidized option for school students, which is expected to transform education. My main requirement was to have an ultra-low cost tablet for my four year old daughter, mainly for viewing videos from YouTube. I was not bothered about anything else, so the requirement was very simple and straightforward.

Purchase experience

Pros – Made an online purchase from Datawind’s website (http://www.ubislate.com/) by placing order for Ubislate 7Bi model which comes with resistive touch screen with 3000 INR. Since they operate with razor thin margin, there is no credit card option. Only debit cards are accepted for free shipping. If you are paying by cash (on delivery), additional purchase charge is added. Overall purchase flow was smooth similar to popular ecommerce websites.

Cons – Please don’t go by the service level guarantee they claim in website (ex: 48 hour shipping). I got a call-back after about two weeks of placing the order regarding confirmation. The call center executive by default started talking in Punjabi + Hindi mixture as they are based out of Amristar. Surprisingly executive mentioned Ubislate 7Bi is out of production, but they will ship me an upgraded version (Ubislate 7Ci with capacitive touch screen) with no additional cost. I happily opted for it; shipment reached me a week later. Totally it took three weeks of shipment time. Some of my friends also mentioned about delayed shipments. So if you are looking for faster shipping with immediate use in mind think twice before opting for Ubislate.

User experience:

Overall build quality and packaging looks good, especially considering ultra low-cost option.     Ubislate 7Ci comes with 7″ touch screen, Wi-Fi interface, 512 MB RAM with Android ICS (v4.0.3), which matches my requirement of YouTube viewing using home wireless Internet.  Typical device sign-up is done with Google ID worked seamlessly. I was able to immediately install many applications from Google Store, without any major problem. The out-of the-box experience was really good.

However after using the device for some time, I observed applications took long time to load, even basic browsing became a pain. On a frequent basis, I need to use their “killapp” option to clean up unwanted processes to free up some memory. By default all applications gets installed into device internal memory, by moving some of them into external SD card (comes with 2 GB storage) made my device reasonably faster.  Battery backup also very poor, device hardly works for 2-3 hours at a stretch. Many occasions I found booting screen doesn’t show up after charging the device and I ended up doing “plug-and-pray”. This also makes me wonder if the device would ultimately stop functioning some day or the other!

Transforming education?

Aakash was projected as the tablet for transforming education in India by using ultra low-cost plus internet connection as a “one-stop” solution. I have serious concerns on how it can really help school students. Given the not-so-favorable user experience (mainly power backup & speed) adding, slower internet connection (especially in rural areas) would make the experience even worse. By the time I write this post, there are enough and more articles in the web about how this device is already failing big time in mass market adoption. Even though there is a definite market opportunity, once again bad execution failed to capitalize the opportunity. It will be another version of Simputer story.

Bottom line – Don’t buy this device, I am repenting for buying it. My daughter is not using it at all, continue to use home computer or smart phones for watching YouTube!

Focus on the effort… as much as the result – Another perspective

This is the second part of my earlier blog “Focus on the effort… as much as the result” – http://jwritings.com/?p=562. In case you have not read that, I would suggest that you do before proceeding to read this.
While that blog presents a good picture of a project with high stakes, riveting rush by the team culminating in a nice photo finish (almost cinematic), there are some disturbing questions too. Why did it take until 2:00 pm on the release date to figure out that there was a long list pending? Shouldnt there have been appropriate checks and balances in place (especially since this was a release that multiple regions were looking forward to)? Shouldnt the stakeholders (folks who had made commitments to customers) been sounded off earlier that there could be a slip (in which case they could at least fore-warn the customers that there MIGHT be a delay)? What if the release had not happened even after all the effort?

Is this similar to our infamous Commonwealth Games experience where weeks before the games were scheduled to start the supervising committee found stinking toilets and unpainted stadiums and deplorable athlete village? Isnt it interesting that even a senior Indian official compared the whole Commonwealth Games fiasco to Indian weddings where things are chaotic right up till the last moment before miraculously falling in place in the nick of time? Has our Indian psyche trained us to see this whole episode as a “victory from the jaws of defeat” rather than a “last minute frenzy to barely manage to deliver after screwing up all along”. Even in this case, wasnt it passion and a heroic slog by the highly charged team that delivered the win rather than a methodical and systematic process?

Now if I have to weigh both sides and choose which of these two set of qualities – passionate and heroic sloggers vs methodical and process driven marchers, I would lay more emphasis on, I would much rather pick the former. Now I am not talking about these as mutually exclusive traits, but more as the dominant characteristics of the two sides.

Here is the reasons for my choice:

Software product development is inherently unpredictable. While you can do a reasonable job of approximations earlier during the development cycle, hard release dates pretty much “emerge” during the later stages of development. After about 12 years in product development, with 8 of those as a Product Manager, I have very rarely released a product exactly on the planned release date – and I have never felt bad about it. One of the best part of this job is the opportunity to say, “I dont mind if this product is launched a few days later, but I want the wow effect”. There are always last minute changes – enhancement that you want to add for the “wow” effect or a database query optimization that’s going to deliver faster customer response times – that you did not plan for when you wrote the specs 4 months back, but want it now!!!

This is especially true in case of start ups where priorities change fast, demands from a large customer can require you to rejig or do a course correction and you are constantly trying to do more with less resources and shorter time.

With best checks and balances and processes in place, you will still have your share of “2:00 pm on release day with a long pending list” days (the frequency pretty much depends on the pace of your business)…. and on those days, you’re seriously better off with a team that’s willing to go the extra mile than a team that’s dissecting what went wrong with the process or how many times the requirements changed.

NWritings

Gandhi and strategy of procrastination

Recently I was in a conversation with one of my friends about ‘doing right things at the right time’ in our careers. Interestingly he made a statement ‘Procrastination is also a very important factor. While in some cases procrastination is considered to be a delaying or lazy act, it is important for us to spend quite a lot of time on few critical roles, develop deeper understanding about right things’. Upon pondering deeper I started asking few questions to myself — Can procrastination be a strategic act? If yes, what are the benefits of that? Has anybody done it successfully in the past? Has it yielded significant results? Accidentally I started connecting this thought process with many of the key events happened in Mahatma Gandhi’s life. Let me delve into few historic facts and derive some interpretations.

For most of us, who understand Indian history to a decent extent think Gandhi and his Satyagraha strategy is key behind India getting independence from the British. After being ruled by British for more than a century (by foreign rulers for more than one thousand years), India has become the largest democracy in the world. However very few of us understand the roots of Satyagraha and how Gandhi stumbled upon this strategy. The root of Satyagraha traces back to 1893 when Gandhi, a young barrister from India travels to South Africa being employed by an immigrant Indian to fight a civil case. The same year another very significant incident happened Gandhi’s life, when he was thrown out of the train at Pietermaritzburg station, citing his skin color as the reason. As a shy barrister with so much of self-doubts, Gandhi couldn’t digest this incident. At the same time he didn’t take any immediate decision (say complaining to the local police station) to address this issue. Rather he procrastinated and wanted to understand the deeper aspects of the ‘skin-color’ issue.

Upon deeper discussion with Indian immigrants (who were mainly labor class) in South Africa, Gandhi understood the discrimination issues of fellow Indians. Even though he understood the issues relatively better, he was not sure about launching fight against the British that too in an alien country. The only option left with him was to unite all immigrant Indians (with support of some locals) under one umbrella, device a strategy and then fight against the British. This lead Gandhi to another logical question – How to unite all Indians, who are so different by design? Just by looking into the smaller chunk of immigrant Indians he could clearly see multiple religions (mainly Hindu, Christian and Muslim) and languages (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu) which differentiated them at elementary level. However Gandhi considered them all to be Indians, taking a lifetime view that ‘Indianness’ transcended religion and caste, before which the concept didn’t even exist in most of the people’s wildest dreams. He believed he could bridge historic differences, especially regarding religion by taking care of the broader ‘Indian’ view. The South African experience also exposed handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realized he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa.

Gandhi came across multiple such issues and challenges during his stay in South Africa. It took him a long period of 21 years (1893-1914) to systematically strategize, experiment and implement various aspects of Satyagraha. Since his vision was to find out a sustainable yet effective fighting mechanism with diversified set of people (as mentioned above), he felt nothing other than taking the non-violent approach could help. Before taking every small step, Gandhi deliberated a lot, internalized many key points and then went ahead executing them. For most of them it looked like Gandhi was wasting his time (rather procrastinating) by not taking a few critical decisions on time. However, over a period of time the Satyagraha strategy manifested as a mammoth civil rights moment in South Africa, which made the all the difference to immigrant Indians.

In summary it took 21 years for Gandhi to find out the ‘right thing’ for Indians where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills which were critical for him to re-build Indian National Congress from the scratch back in India. After returning back to India in 1915, he implemented the same approach which eventually resulted in Indian independence in 1947. In total Gandhi spent 53 years for Satyagraha, which almost occupied his whole life. By looking into Gandhi’s life and his political struggle clearly indicates me that what is perceived as procrastination from many of us, can very well be a powerful strategy. The very fact that India exists as a single piece, in spite of so many issues talks the power of Satyagraha’s effectiveness.

Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR

Let us talk about Integrity – by taking couple of recent examples that I came across.

Scene1: Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR

After a long break, I have started driving my two-wheeler to work. One of the indirect benefits of driving motorcycle (apart from saving time in Bangalore traffic) is the opportunity I get to observe people and some interesting conversations among them.

Last evening I was pulling into fuel filling station as my vehicle was in reserve mode.  Unlike normal days, I need to wait in queue. The gentleman before me was getting little restless and I understood he works for one of the multinational companies (now let us call him Mr. MNC) by looking into the access card and laptop make (clue – both were having name).  The queue did move in few minutes, incidentally I happened to observe the conversation between Mr. MNC and pump worker who fills the fuel.  Mr. MNC filled petrol for 200 INR (for his Honda Activa) and started negotiating with the worker to provide him with a bill of INR 2000. He also requested him to provide a bill without mentioning date of sale and insisted to write it as “Diesel”, even though he was filling “Petrol”, that too for 1/10 of the bill amount.

After getting the “fake” bill from the worker, Mr.MNC gave him 100 INR as a tip and quickly drove out of the station. Initially I was little puzzled but understood what Mr. MNC was trying to do – produce fake bill and claim tax or perquisite benefit from the organization.

Scene2:  Core technical books for LKG kid

We have been purchasing lot of books for my little one in order to develop healthy reading habit. One fine day my dear wife asked me an interesting question “I heard from our neighborhood friend that her hubby’s company reimburses books purchased for kids. Not sure if your organization provides such facility. Since we are spending quite a lot for our little one, won’t it be cool if somebody reimburses that?” Again I was puzzled for a minute and gave her a simple answer “Let me check this and come back”. I was pretty sure there is no such benefits provided by my organization, but I wanted to be double sure as I don’t want miss on any benefits that I am entitled for J

After going thru the organizational tax claim policies, I couldn’t find anything related to books purchased for kids. However I was able to find a related item, where money spent against purchasing technical books and journals can be exempted from tax by producing bills to my organization.  I updated my wife back about tax claim policy and asked her to check again how our neighborhood friend is able to claim the money. Kicked by curiosity, my wife checked with her friend and the answer she gave me was really shocking. Her friend’s husband’s company also have the same policy (i.e. reimbursing technical books), however she has stuck a deal with nearby book store (as they are regular customer) that they will provide a fake bill with some technical books names, even though they purchase LKG books. Here you go – another form of Mr. MNC!

Even though these two cases might look small, they expose a huge underlying issue related to integrity. Given a smallest amount of opportunity even educated, well paid knowledge workers are ready to compromise their integrity even though the financial benefit (gained in form of tax exemption or perquisite) could be merely in thousands of INR. Of course, one can put a counter argument saying the whole country is corrupt (means billions of people with no integrity), what’s harm in me doing some small things like this? In my opinion somebody “else” is doing wrong is not a passport for “me” to do the same, when I have all the choice to do the right thing. When it comes to integrity there is no argument of “small or big”, rather it’s the matter of “exist or doesn’t exist”.

The objective of me writing this post is not to say somebody is doing something wrong, but to expose a new dimension of a well rooted problem. In most of the cases, every software professional gets an opportunity to travel abroad (to developed countries) and appreciate basic things working in a corruption free manner. However when it comes to our own country, we don’t seem to appreciate it and become the wrong example by doing activities mentioned in the above two stories.

Clearly the core issue neither money nor desperation. It is done consciously with 0% guilt associated with it. On multiple occasions I have seen people producing fake medical bills, house rent allowance receipts, resumes with fake experience, claiming the role that an individual actually not done etc. These things definitely provide short term benefit but how it can be sustained over a period of time? After globalization there are umpteen numbers of knowledge workers (who earn a lot in a comparative scale) but end up doing basic things incorrectly. In my opinion India has a long way to go to build world class professionals. Especially when such fundamental issues are there it is really hard to call ourselves as world class. What better way to bring in change than by setting the right example? Let us not worry about our corrupt politicians or bureaucrats. Let us do right things to have a better next generation professionals.

Cultural Differences – how much of a say should the state have

The recent news of the Norwegian authorities deciding to remove 2 children (the older about 3 years old and the other barely an year old) of Indian origin from their parents is pretty interesting – and I’m sure very agonizing for the parents and the relatives. The following have been sited as the grounds for the Norwegian authorities’ decision.

One, they felt that the children were overfed. They concluded that when a child was hand-fed, it was tantamount to force-feeding.

Two, they noted that the children displayed an emotional disconnect with their parents.

Three, the son Abhigyan apparently displayed erratic behavior at school.

Four, officials who came to investigate objected to Abhigyan and Aishwarya sleeping in the parental bed.

Five, the mother apparently slapped the son at one point – but she did not repeat that once she knew Norwegian law made violence against children illegal.

While points 2 and 3 are really hard to comment on (depends on what you call “erratic behavior” and how you describe “emotional disconnect”), points 1 and 4 are pretty much the norm in Indian families – with 5 being quite prevalent, though on the decline. Finger feeding and children sleeping in the parental bedroom and quite common and in fact not doing these is typically frowned upon in India. An rare slap to a child is actually viewed as a “release” by even the most forward thinking parent in India.

Enough has been said in the media about the cultural difference and I do not want to dwell on that – yes, Indians and Norwegians have different perceptions of what constitutes good child raising. Period!!!

Now, the interesting question to me is, to what extent can the state go to impose their view – on their own citizens and then on citizens of other countries. From what I read, the Norwegian authorities have held the children under their care for more than 8 months or so (long after the parents have offered to leave the country if the children were re-united) to the extent that the helpless parents have now turned to the highest Indian authority – The President, to impress upon her Norwegian counterpart. Surely, the Norwegian authorities should see reason when India’s highest citizen throws her weight behind the parents and presses for the children to be re-united with the parents.

I also wonder what the tone of the Indian President’s communique to her Norwegian counterpart was – was it on the lines of “You can separate all the Norwegian families that you want as per your views, but would request you to refrain from imposing your views of child raising on Indian parents” or was it on the lines of, “Many of the charges against the parents are pretty common in India – and we in fact believe that some of these, finger feeding and kids sleeping with parents in particular, are actually beneficial and promote better family bonding”

To me this seems a clear case of the state taking upon itself authority far beyond their calling. To what extent can a state go to penalize people who do not subscribe to the its views. Can a state that believes in vegetarianism separate kids when parents feed them chicken soup (or conversely penalize parents of vegetarian kids for denying the children well rounded nourishment) or can a state that believes in non-violence separate kids when parents allow them to watch Tom and Jerry.

A one-size-fits-all “best practices” for child raising just do not exist and a lot of what is good and what is not is largely determined by parental choice, cultural factors and other local customs. In these circumstances, for a state to remove infants from their parents and place them under separate foster homes seems pretty draconian.

Im not suggesting that the state turn a blind eye to Child Right issues, but how much supervision should the state provide and to what extent should the state be involved in ensuring responsible parenting?

NWritings

PS: A good read at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9035776/India-and-Norway-in-diplomatic-spat-over-children-taken-into-care.html – the comments are actually more interesting, as usual

http://www.norwaynews.com/en/~view.php?72T8954QR74833u285Tie844PN3887Xj76IHo353K9L8 is interesting too.