Move Fast and Break Things
It’s hard to deny the fact that we live in a society that is very technologically determined. The theory of ‘technological determinism’ means a society’s development and culture are all based on technological development. When looking at countries like India, the concept of technological determinism is very important in understanding under-developed countries and how technology plays a vital role in the development of these societies. While India is notorious for churning out software engineers and other various technology related services, many people in the western world still look at Indian society like it is uncivilized and barbaric. With a population of over one billion, and a nation that is only 70 years old, a shift to a more agile economic approach would benefit this rapidly growing country. By adopting a “move fast and break things” methodology, and turning to a bottom-up economy, India can greatly increase its potential as a nation and ultimately align itself amongst the western powers.
Renowned Indian mathematician and historian, Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi, writes in “Problems of Science and Technology in Under-Developed Countries” that before we can even move to the “planning” stage of developing for under-developed countries, we must first understand the context, which Kosambi divides into three categories: 1) Political, 2) Economic, 3) Sociological. Each category holds an equal amount of importance to understanding the context. Kosambi stresses that the “political situation is all-important” because ultimately it is them that will be planning and executing the development strategy. Most under-developed countries were under third party rule so the fact that these nations are behind is warranted. When talking about the economic context, Kosambi states “most of our countries lack the necessary resources for development along with the actual manifestation of development: electric power supply, factories, railways and shipping roads, motor transport, airplanes, and of course, consumer goods and decent housing.” When looking to develop in under-developed countries, one of the most pressing questions that often come up is “does the country have the sufficient amount of low-tech needed to implement other technological advancements?” Lack of infrastructure in under-developed countries make it hard to begin building other much promising technologies if the foundation isn’t set. This was one of the issues the World Bank faced when entering countries in Africa that didn’t have the necessary means of basic tech to begin building the needed technologies. Michael Goldman, in the video ‘World Bank as Knowledge Provider” talks about the difficulties of developing under-developed countries. Lastly, Kosambi’s looks at the sociological context and states that understanding the society that you are developing for is something that should greatly be considered. Kosambi states, “Under-developed countries need a planned course of development, which necessarily implies a planned economy.” He uses an example of how Indian cities, at that time, were modeled after some of the biggest western cities such as New York, London, and Paris — yet you’d leave these cities and suddenly it was as if you had entered another world. The amount of disconnect amongst cities and rural areas in India had a staggering difference. While a planned economy isn’t a bad approach, its important to note that the world Kosambi lives in is much different than the one that emerged many years later with the rise of computers.
How do you develop for tomorrow in an under-developed country? This was the challenge that would come into the hands of anyone that took Indian office. Author C.K. Prahalad had an idea about stimulating growth at the bottom of the pyramid rather than utilizing a trickle down economy. “What is needed is a better approach to help the poor, an approach that involves partnering with them to innovate and achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where the poor are actively engaged and, at the same time, the companies providing products and services to them are profitable.” (27) Prahalad understands the value prop in creating opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid. He understands that by focusing on the bottom, India as a nation can seamlessly grow stronger. You’re only as strong as the weakest link. Prahalad understood that in order for India to align itself with western powers, they needed to focus on the poor. Prahalad, in one stroke, covers all of Kosambi’s categories of context when he discusses India’s 400 million poor people. “The policies of the government for the first 45 years since independence from Great Britain in 1947 were based on a set of basic assumptions.”(30) He states that India’s interactions with the East India Company and colonialism “played a major part in creating this mindset.” (30) The poor had been exploited for the majority of their lives and had never really had an economy that catered to them. For India to develop it’s under-developed regions, a great emphasis needed to be placed on the bottom of the pyramid. In 1978, the IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Program) was launched in India to bolster income and self-employment among the poor. By having a bar that every Indian strives for, rich or poor, India can better develop the necessary technologies to advance not only the major cities, but rural areas as well.
Fast forward to present day, India is looking to shake things up and focus more on startup culture to rival those situated outside India. ‘Startup India,’ a campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to keep Indian produced engineers at home and nurture their startups with government incentives, tax benefits, and plenty of funding. Kosambi talks about how resources are taken away from under-developed countries by outsiders, similarly, Prime Minister Modi has realized the disadvantages that are created when the best engineers from India leave for foreign land. By shifting focus from a planned, top-down economy, India is quickly giving way to the bottom-up approach and is ready to move fast and break things!
Questions for future
- Do you think focusing on the poor in India can help them, wholly, become a better country?
- Can India sustain a startup cultural that can rival the Silicon Valley?
- Can India implement an “American Dream” in India and offer younger generations the ability to prosper like many Americans do when they come from abroad?
Prahalad, C. K. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Pub., 2005.
Kosambi, D.D. “PROBLEMS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN UNDER- DEVELOPED COUNTRIES.” Problems of Science and Technology in Under- Developed Countries. Accessed March 16, 2016. http://www.oocities.org/bhupindersingh2/ddk/ssp/problems.htm.
World Bank as Knowledge Provider. Performed by Michael Goldman. World Bank Tribunal, 2008.