Sunday, July 26, 2015

Theme, Thread or Passion: What drives Successful Startup Companies?

The startup phenomenon, it appears, is gathering pace in India. Startup, in fact, is emerging as a concept different from entrepreneurial business. Entrepreneurship, as we know, has been in existence for as long as the history of business. Trade or service, design or manufacturing, and sales or marketing, entrepreneurship has been the foundation of today’s successful corporations. Entrepreneurship has been synonymous with spotting business opportunities and building a delivery infrastructure for them. Typically, an entrepreneur focuses on building a big business that can continue to thrive. All entrepreneurship is not about innovation or being first time to market. It is also about doing things better than others, and excelling in both well-trodden paths and in uncharted territories.

A startup, on the other hand, is fired by an entirely different consideration. He or she seeks to convert his or her product or service idea into a technically feasible and commercially viable practical proposition. A startup founder does not typically start off with the objective of setting up and growing a business to a certain scale and scope; his or her interest is solely on product development and proof of concept (POC). In fact, POC is the key milestone, and in some cases, even the final milestone for some startup founders. The latter class of startup founders would even consider selling away of their startup companies immediately after POC as a perfectly legitimate goal. That said, risk taking and attempting something far beyond one’s resources permit is a common factor between a startup founder and an entrepreneurial founder.   

Thematic matrix

Startups are usually based on matrixes of certain core themes. Uber was started on a matrix of cabs and aggregation, Paperboat on a matrix of contemporary packaging and traditional Indian beverages, Lunch Box on a matrix of nutrition and delivery,  TravelTriangle on a matrix of value addition and customization, Knowlarity on a matrix of voice application and cloud hosting, Bluegape on a matrix of customer idea and digital printing, Reportbee on a matrix of data analytics and performance mentoring, Grey Orange on a matrix of robotics and warehousing, Paytm on a matrix of customer loyalty and monetization, Zomato on a matrix of search and review, and so on. There are two aspects, however; almost all modern startups are powered by software and Internet. As with all industrial activity, one thematic start-up prompts several follow-ons.

Not all startups may have a unique thematic matrix but all do have a thematic matrix, for sure. Successful start-ups use thematic matrix to look at established products or services differently. Uber applied thematic matrix for something as simple as cab services while Knowlarity applied thematic matrix for modern information technology solutions. That’s where startups score over classic entrepreneurial companies which typically look at product-market spaces. Startups do not look at available product-market space for entry; rather they look at redefining or recreating the space. The intersection of the two dimensions of the thematic matrix leads to redefinition as is the case with Paperboat or Lunch Box. Certain dimensions of thematic matrixes are more universally applicable than others; for example, aggregation and analytics. So is the power of Internet and software.

Common thread

Every individual may have skills but only a few have ideas that could utilize their skills. Even fewer have clarity as to how their ideas and skills could be dovetailed to create a product or service, and eventually a business. Those who possess the common thread of skill, idea and clarity tend to be better placed as startup founders. There is yet another set of education, experience and experimentation forming another common thread. Typically, startups are co-founded as multiple common threads are needed to make the product or service idea work, from design to delivery. The introspective ability to identify and the intuitive ability to feel the common threads is an important component of startup development.

Given that the actual universe having the skills, ideas and education, experience is large, the key to expanding and enhancing the startup ecosystem is the ability to develop as many common threads as possible. The startup system is full of examples that reflect startup founders discovering their common threads in successive iterations. What starts as a supply of nutritious food for school children can evolve into supply of nutrious food to elderly and later to all age groups. Experience in aerospace and experience in food may combine to establish a startup that delivers food through proprietary drones. At times, common thread need not be only between the founders or employees of a startup. As Reportbee illustrates, teacher-student connectivity forms a common thread through what may be viewed as evaluation. Thematic matrix and common thread constitute the core of a startup.

Uncommon passion

Passion is an often misused word. Increasingly, it is being reflected to categorize individuals as leaders and followers, entrepreneurs and professionals, and so on. Passion is actually more universal. A doctor who works the most hours to save lives is a passionate doctor. A doctor who speaks up for patient rights and clinical integrity is also a passionate doctor. So is the case with an engineer who toils to complete his design project and the one who swears by quality of design than mere timelines. In all these instances, the individuals are sacrificing something, be it family life or lucrative career. Passion, to be distinguished from hard work and diligence, faces its litmus test when it has to face the test of sacrifice. From freedom fighters to entrepreneurial icons, passionate people would typically have had periods of sacrifice. The same is the case with startup founders who invest most, if not all, of their savings (sacrificing regular employment) in their ventures.  

Co-founded startups rank high not only on thematic matrix and common thread but also on passion. Unlike the first two, passion is an emotional attribute influenced by both intrinsic personality and extrinsic social factors. Presence of a co-founder who can compensate for or reinforce the passion quotient certainly helps in creating successful startups. At the same time, founder exits or leader churn in startups the moment they become successful is indicative of dilution of passion quotient and entry of familiar organizational dynamics of big corporations. It is important that founders of startups view passion as more than effort to successfully deliver their idea into POC but bind the organization into a hub of passion, where each supports the other, and in the overall achieves a fair work-life balance. Thematic matrix, common thread and uncommon passion (TTP) integrate as the basic motive force of startup success.

Idea banking, Crowd funding

For a thriving startup ecosystem, a proliferation of ideas is critical. It is heartening that graduates of premier institutes are increasingly ideating during their final years and are prepared to forsake lucrative careers to pursue their ideas. Some others are shifting gears from regular employment to startup ecosystem. Educational institutions should make idea cells as important as placement cells. Corporations should also be willing to give sabbatical to their executives to pursue their startup ideas. Luminaries should mentor startup projects even when they are in active service and are able to provide positive influence. They can pick up niches from the value chains of their businesses which can be reinforced with startup ideas.

A review of India’s successful startups show that with investments ranging from a few thousands of rupees to a few lakhs of rupees, several startups have succeded. With angel investors and next stage investors adding their financial mite in the second and third stages, startups blossom as full-fledged corporations. The most difficult stage is the first stage. There are more TTP platforms waiting to become startups than have actually become. A liberal crowdfunding investment environment could make a significant difference to India’s start-up scenario. Crowdfunding enables more differentiated startups to come into being as organized financing typically tends to focus on successful domains. It is also important for consultants to retool their consulting templates to chisel startup proposals in a manner that attracts investment.  
Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 26, 2015    


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Epic Sweep of Rajamouli’s Baahubali: A Towering Show of Indian Competence and Enterprise

There are somethings in life that need to be seen, heard and experienced to believe them. India’s Telugu magnum opus movie “Baahubali: The Beginning” is one such phenomenal achievement. Taken simultaneously in Tamil as well, and dubbed into Hindi and Malayalam, Baahubali was released globally in 4,000 screens on July 10, 2015. The fantasy period film, billed as the most expensive Indian movie ever made at USD 40 million (Rs 250 crore), has opened to rave reviews and blockbuster collections, crossing the Rs 250 crore mark in the very first week. It has won the appreciation and approbation of ‘who is who’ of Indian Cinema. The movie that has been in the making for over three years is the dream, passion and magic of its director, S S Rajamouli. Singlehandedly, as the leader responsible for screenplay and direction, he conceptualized and catalysed a mammoth planning and execution effort to bring Baahubali onto the screens. In Rajamouli’s and Baahubali’s success lie certain inspirational guidance for Indians and Indian organizations who despair that India cannot match up to international standards. The film demonstrates that India can indeed take quantum leaps to match or exceed the best that the world can do.    

In terms of scale and scope, Baahubali has set new records. The film was canned in specially created sets, fields and expanses of Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad (RFC) as well as in Oravakal Rock Gardens in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, Athirappily waterfalls in Thrissur, Kerala for over two years. The film had a preceding one year of preproduction planning. What started as a single movie became a two part movie given the multi-generational story narration, with a sequel “Baahubali: The Conclusion” committed upfront for release in 2016. Some highlights of the movie relate to the gripping narration of a story involving warring brothers (across two generations) for Mahishmati kingdom, one brother being good and the other evil and the triumph of good over evil, breath-taking visuals of waterfalls, expanses and hills of India and snow mountains of Bulgaria, nearly 5000 visual effects shots that enhanced the scale and depth of visual splendour, unprecedented aerial and multi-dimensional shots of the mammoth set of Mahishmati fort, installation of a massive 125 feet high and 8 tonne weight statue, over 20,000 uniquely designed weapons, and use of 110 acre space in RFC with 2,000 artistes for a year for battle scenes. At least seven key actors dedicated themselves to the movie for over two years while 25 national awardee technicians worked on the movie exclusively.

Visualization + Detailing

S S Rajamouli may have directed only nine movies in the past but with each movie has won accolades for making films each increasing levels of uniqueness in thematic content and differentiation in film making. Baahubali, however, represents a quantum leap in his directorial style and story narration. Verily, it is his most intense effort in bringing high technology visual effects with sweepingly successful impact to the Indian cinema to date. According to Rajamouli, the story has been developing with him for seven years, with key roles emerging adding drama and emotion to the story. That he has been able to accommodate eight key characters in pivotal roles and have both hero and anti-hero almost as powerful equals and yet narrate the story in a silky smooth fashion reflects his competence. Rajamouli has amazing clarity in narration, and a rare skill in aesthetically translating to the screen what he visualizes.

Rajamouli is detail oriented and meticulous in his work, and never takes his viewers for granted. Some of his directorial tweaks are out of the box yet very logical. There is a scene in the movie in which the hero tattoos on the hand of the warrior heroine as she sleeps on the riverside dipping her hand in the water; an alert warrior, she is not disturbed by the underwater calligraphy as several small fish are seen to dabble with her hand simultaneously. In a follow-up tattoo scene, he is able to repeat it on the warrior girl even as she is ready to shoot an arrow by bringing on a green slithering snake onto the arrow, and making her stay frozen and fixated on the snake until she is able to release the arrow with the snake.  It is this capability of Rajamouli that pervades throughout the movie and makes the period fantasy look and feel not only visually grand but also emotionally inspiring, transporting the viewers into the mythical kingdom and the life with the protagonist characters.

Specialization + Integration

Specialization with integration ensured end-to-end success for the movie. As Rajamouli states, selection of, and dependence on, the most appropriate technicians and artistes has paid off handsome dividends. The faith in the completely fictional story developed by Vijayendra Prasad was the bedrock of the movie. The heads for visual effects (Srinivas Mohan), cinematography (Senthil Kumar), art (Sabu Cyril) and costumes (Rama Rajamouli) are not only the best in the field but they gave also their best to the movie. Each expert had absorbed Rajamouli’s visualization and narration, and produced expected output. Sabu Cyril drew more than 20,000 sketches in the pre-production phase. The Art department became a design studio and construction factory for developing the unique sets of fort, weaponry and sculptures with contemporary construction materials sporting period look as well as colour schemes reflecting historical times. The cameraman, Senthil, is an expert in use of sophisticated digital cameras, drones, cranes, blue mat and slow motion technologies. He is an adept at enhancing physical camera capture with computer graphics and visual effects.

Srinivas Mohan is the master CGI and VFX Supervisor of India who played a major role in Baahubali’s success. His work on 1,500 feet high waterfalls, snow avalanche, war sequences, beheaded walk, statue installation, and aerial shots of Mahishmati fort (to name just a few) with the latest software and multiple visual effects studios resulted in unprecedented visual grandeur for the movie. Rama played a stellar role in designing costumes to various lead actors that are appropriate for the period film, providing authenticity. Costumes and actors enhanced mutual impact. The costumes of warriors, kings and commoners reflected authenticity that is vital for a period firm. They were ably supported by music composer, M M Keeravani, stunt choreographer team led by Peter Hein, dance choreography led by Prem Rakshit, sound engineer P M Satheesh and editor K Venkateswara Rao, among others, to make each and every scene an extraordinary audio-visual experience. And to add to the novelty, a completely new language called Kilikili was created by the lyricist Madan Karky to be spoken by Kalakeya tribe! The key in all this was that each of the functional specialists were narrated the movie vision and visual expectations by Rajamouli, and each absorbed and responded to the expectations, and worked in an integrated and symbiotic manner making the whole far richer than the sum of the parts.

Dedication + Development

No new amazing task can be accomplished by merely following past achievements. Breakthrough achievement requires not only dreamy passion, extraordinary vision and innovative strategy but also development of high performing talent with new skillsets that can enable quantum leaps in execution. However, dedication to the cause comes first and development next. The life of Rajamouli mirrors the lives of several self-made leaders, rising from the constraints of oscillating poverty and common community to pinnacles of visualization and expertise. As Rajamouli says the stories of Hindu epics such as Mahabharatam and Ramayanam narrated by his grandmother in his childhood left a deep impression on him to create such epic sagas on the celluloid. Each of the key actors in the movie, Prabhas as Baahubali, the hero, Rana as Bhallala Deva, the warring brother, Anushka Shetty as Devasena, Tamanna as Avanthika, Ramya Krishna as Sivagami, Nasser as Bijjaladeva, and Satyaraj as Kattappa dedicated themselves to the movie fulltime all through without any distractions or other career options. All of them placed once in a lifetime opportunity of Baahubali higher than alternative and possibly higher revenue opportunities.

Prabhas and Rana learnt sword fighting and horse riding as well as marshal arts, endured serious injuries, followed stringent diet and exercise patterns to reflect the challenging requirements of their roles, from looks to skills. Each of the other actors also underwent gruelling makeovers to match the requirements. Thousands of stunt artistes from all over India were housed and trained in RFC for the battle scenes for over a year. Yet, the whole team functioned as a family with shared food, domestic attention and camaraderie. The core team of Rajamouli, Rama, Vijayendra Prasad, Keeravani and Sri Valli belonged to a common family but succeeded in enveloping the hundreds and thousands of workers in a similar familial atmosphere inspired by a common cause. Producers, Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni placed unwavering faith on Rajamouli despite this being an extraordinarily high budget film for India.  Dedication and development must come with a canopy of gratitude. Rajamouli gave the credit to director K Raghvendra Rao as the presenter of Baahubali because he gave Rajamouli the first break in independent advertisement and commercial television serial making. The first frame of the movie pays homage to the Telugu cine stalwarts who passed away in recent times.       
Leap, unbounded

The success of Baahubali spawns far beyond the success of a movie in India; it triggers a sense of national pride that India Can! Every Indian in the faraway shores of USA today aspires to see the movie and feel proud that India can conceptualize and make such world-class celluloid epics. Baahubali inspires that India can match world standards in conceptualization and execution of mega projects. It demonstrates that Indian talent that works for international companies can produce a completely Indian product bettering world standards. It teaches that the rich history and ethos of India are indeed of epic potentialities even contemporaneously. Baahubali also underscores a leader’s sagacious and bold role in scripting a future of unseen and immense potential. Almost invariably, the leader who achieves dramatic transformations dreams big. As Rajamouli admits he likes to dream of larger than life images. However, he has the tenacity to persevere till he is able to launch on his mission and translate them into physical realities. No one had any expectations when the project was announced in 2011 that Baahubali would be the high technology visual spectacle that it has been shaped into. It is easy to develop an Avatar in a Hollywood ecosystem which routinely makes Jurassic, Terminator and Avengers series. However, Baahubali proved that an Avatar level film making is possible in India too, and that too at quarter the cost of a similar Hollywood movie. Indian leaders have to only dream of building infrastructure in India as in US, Japan or China and there could be no reason why India cannot indeed build such infrastructure (Incidentally, a movie of Baahubali’s vision and scale required the scale and scope of the infrastructure of Ramoji Film City). 

Dreaming a greater future and raising the bar continuously is an essential enabler for world-leading development. The key lesson from Baahubali for India’s build for the future is that India has the necessary competencies for world class design, construction, manufacture, and delivery. What is required is visionary leadership that can dream big, visualize the dreams, detail the visions and deploy leaders who can execute the parts and finally deliver the project as a whole. If one individual as Rajamouli can deliver a magnum opus which is truly a world-class Indian movie, clearly other endowed leaders and administrative entities and business organizations should be able to create world-class infrastructure and deliver world-class projects in India in their domains. The three formulae identified in this blog post as the key drivers of Baahubali’s success, Visualization + Detailing, Specialization + Integration and Dedication + Development, constitute the unique alchemy for India’s quantum leaps of the future. If the Baahubali momentum is maintained in its follow-on part, referencing the movie as Indian Avatar may be passe; future Hollywood movies could be referenced as Hollywood’s Baahubali! Prior to release of Baahubali this could have been a bizarre statement but today it is a logical aspiration. So must be the aspirations to discover new laws and theorems, innovate new science and technology, make global products and services and build new infrastructure, ENTIRELY AND INDIGENOUSLY IN INDIA, COMPLETELY WITH INDIAN TALENT.    

Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 19, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Robin Sharma Teachings: Using Time, Lasting Learning and Humble Mastery

Robin Sharma is a passionate and committed speaker who shares several of his thoughts pro bono. Amongst various teachers of management and coaches of leadership, there is probably no one else who renders his advice freely in both transactional and monetary senses of the term. He also rather walks the talk. It is not uncommon for him to make and release videos of his teachings even when he is on tours. In a recent multi-country tour, for example, he has released a video (The Princess + The Bentley) on how to achieve success and remain successful through certain precepts. While one may say that all of these constitute a carefully crafted global brand building exercise, one cannot deny that there could be nuggets of wisdom that could appeal to, and influence, persons with an open mind.

Interestingly, Robin seems to believe that activities which do not add value in terms of personal and professional success need not, and should not, be performed. For him, intellectualizing one’s mind is more value adding than entertaining it. He, therefore, comments in the recent video that rich people have large televisions while successful people have large libraries. It is, of course, a moot point if success and richness are not correlated with each other! He even goes to the extent of rebuking Angry Birds game watching although viewed from another angle Angry Birds is a stupendous example of how creativity can result in great success in today’s Internet driven world. Be that as may, the author of this blog post felt that three of his teachings in his recent video resonate well with his own views.

Using time

Robin says, not merely in the latest video but in many of his others, that every moment of time is precious. According to him, the value of time is realized by a person when he or she has a purpose in life. Without purpose, one may seem to be doing many things but more often than not they could all constitute nothing but a meandering way of life. Very recently, history has been made by Telugu (an Indian regional language) director, S S Rajamouli when he completed the most magnificent and expensive movie epic “Baahubali” and released in over 4000 screens globally to rave reviews. Anyone who tracks his directorial life can see the purpose in his life of being differentiated and distinctive in terms of each of his directorial ventures to date. Importantly, each has been more unique than the previous one.

Again very recently, another Indian made history when Sania Mirza won the Wimbledon’s Women’s Doubles title. Her life too was one of purpose, from the time she displayed her tennis prowess in regional tournaments. Time is a great enabler and calibrator of continuous improvement. A purpose as great as scaling the Mount Everest cannot be accomplished in a day; rather it requires continuous efforts and improvements, day after day. Each morning and each evening, we need to appreciate what we set out to achieve and what we have achieved, respectively. A mighty production like Baahubali may take two years to make but the whole process has an embedded higher purpose and ceaseless mastery. Time is a silent enabler and relentless critique of our purposefulness in life. There can be no better mirrors for transformation than a calendar and clock!  

Lasting learning

Robin says, very rightly so, that one can never finish with learning in one’s life. This is what Indian scriptures teach us too. Continuous learning and unceasing practice lead to mastery but mastery has no limits. The last year’s neurosynaptic chip or the latest 7 nm chip of IBM chip demonstrates how new and nano technologies have provided tremendous computing push to chips. Apparently, and in reality, there exist no limits or boundaries to knowledge. While certain fundamental laws could be immutable and timeless, experimentation and development would result in continuous new learning streams. Continuous learning leads to all-round benefits, even as it ushers in new ways of doing things and makes a few redundant, if not obsolete. As Japanese society demonstrates, taking personal and round the clock care of impaired elderly is a must but the task can now well be performed by humanoid robots, programmed for the purpose.

Learnings may not always be new. In fact, several lifetime lessons may simply be embedded in oneself without immediate deployment. One must be thoughtful and mindful as well as introspective and reflective to rediscover, revisit and redeploy them as new occasions demand. Learnings become virtuous when they are reinforced by neural triggering processes. For example, this blog post itself is triggered by Robin’s video, triggering a combination of Robin’s teachings with author’s own beliefs. The ability to keep mind free, as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore held, is an important facet of continuous learning that lasts a lifetime. It is left to the individuals to as to how open one would keep one’s mind free to be able to absorb continuously learnings even as one is required to being decisive.

Humble mastery

Mastery brings a rare capability and recognition to masters as they are recognized to be distinctly superior in their field or craft. Yet, masters who are humble have consistently won better acceptance than masters who are egoistic or arrogant. Robin holds that arrogance spells failure to masters. The concept of humble mastery is important as mastery brings name and fame which could lead to certain egoistic states in masters. Here, the awareness that as with learning there is really no end to mastery could make masters feel humble. Also, masters being in the company of other masters or coaching bright disciples who could be shining new angles on existing knowledge could help masters stay humble.

Mastery over the domain has to be accompanied by mastery over one’s self for ultimate humility. As ancient Indian scriptures say, the capability of Sthita Prajna, as defined by Lord Krishna in the epic Bhagavatgita, connotes a stable wisdom that is primed by an ability to control oneself by inner thoughts and be unmoved by either attraction or repulsion as well as by happiness or remorse is the ultimate state of self-control. While mastery in a domain could be a purpose, mastery over one’s own self is also an essential purpose of life. Humility as a trait is a good shadow to have for one’s personality even as it evolves over several learnings of life.

More sharing

Like Robin Sharma does, this author shares several of his perspectives on his weekly blog post cadence. Not all would be felt relevant by all and for all situations. Nevertheless, the author believes that the more one shares intellectually the more the society benefits collaboratively. There would be anecdotal hyperboles occasionally like the sales manager of Bentley cars flying to Volkswagen factory to get a paint that is an exact replica of the world’s only one unique nail polish possessed by the princess. As with all anecdotes, the underlying moral is more important than the visible message! So is it with all passionate and positive initiatives of perspective sharing in the author’s Strategy Musings! 

Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 12, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Indian National Development Icons: Inspirations for Quantum Leaps in Socio-Economic Growth

Over the last one year, India has received favourable global attention as an attractive emerging market, potential world-class manufacturing hub and likely global economic powerhouse. Despite certain missed expectations on big-bang reforms, global investors continue to retain faith in the India story. Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ theme and the initiatives by various States to unveil new industrial policies and promote ease of doing business have contributed to a new air of expectation. While an uncertain monsoon, large debt levels and poor corporate earnings have recently taken a toll on the Indian stock markets (making India the worst performing emerging market this year) there is no panic yet. There is, on the other hand, optimism that India would clock a higher growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2015-16, psychologically boosted by the fact that India has crossed China in GDP growth rate the past quarter.

Being on an economic roller-coaster is not new to India. The amplitude of travel has been, however, increasing due to increasing global linkages. Various sectors that are linked to global trends (oil and gas, metals and minerals, shipping and construction, for example) besides debt dependent, rate sensitive and monsoon sensitive sectors (infrastructure, banks, FMCG) are particularly impacted. National economic policy must take care of the short term pressures and announce policy prescriptions that are creative and serve as “instant motivators”. The new Telangana Industrial Policy, for example, made a creative commitment on Right to Clearance of entrepreneurs and industrialists applying for setting up industries. Policies certainly would not only improve investor sentiment but also lay solid pathways to industrial progress. Given India’s industrial maturity thus far and developmental imperatives for the future, this blog post provides a new paradigm of National Icons as a reinforcing concept.

National icons

Icon is defined as a famous person or thing that people admire and see as a symbol of a particular idea, way of life, etc. Nations have iconic symbols. India has such iconic symbols that act as the National Identity Elements of India. These symbols are intrinsic to the Indian identity and heritage. Indians of all demographics and backgrounds across the world are proud of these National Symbols as they infuse a sense of pride and patriotism in every Indian’s heart. These are India’s National Flag (the Horizontal Tricolour with Wheel), National Anthem (Jana-gana-mana), National Song (Vande Mataram), State Emblem (Four Lions), National Bird (Peacock), National Animal (Tiger) and National Flower (Lotus), National Tree (Banyan), National River (Ganga), National Aquatic Animal (River Dolphin), National Fruit (Mango) and National Calendar (Saka Era).

National icons typically emerge from a glorious past and an exciting present to inspire and unite all Indians. They serve as reminders of the identity in functions and events, reinforcing the feeling of oneness. Companies have typically, for long, developed their individual symbols and logos to inspire homogeneity and focus, and promote an enduring connect with the customers and public at large. India has been creative in developing various thematic symbols for various initiatives from time to time; and so do international organizations. India’s recent Make in India Lion oriented icon is an inspiration for the campaign. As India gears up to achieve further global growth as an international economic powerhouse it would be appropriate to conceptualize certain national development icons to inspire aligned thoughts, expressions and actions for a glorious socio-economic future for India.

Key drivers

India’s socio-economic development will be driven by a balanced growth of a number of social and economic sectors. While agriculture, industry and services would be three core economic sectors, social and industrial infrastructure would be a key enabler as well as a key driver. In fact, the interdependence and interlinkages of various sectors makes it difficult to sequence, let alone prioritize, one over the other. Some sectors are well developed while some are yet to mature in India. In some cases, development is relatively comprehensive (steel, automobile and pharmaceutical manufacture, for example) but in some cases it is patchy (education, healthcare and housing, for example).

Given that everything develops everything else (provided a balanced development process is followed), it would be appropriate to choose certain icons which can inspire India to be proud of the progress thus far and the potentialities that need to be mastered in future. This blog post presents a framework of ten such national development icons. Some of these reflect certain matured capability of which the country can be rightly proud of while the balance are essential aspirations bolstered be certain isolated successes. It is not claimed that these are the most representative ones but these are certainly inspirational as developmental icons. These have powerful developmental force and can create cascading development impact across the socio-economic firmament.

1. National Product Icon – Automobile

India has a huge portfolio of industrial and consumer products that are domestically produced. Amongst all, no industry has achieved the level of dramatic transformation that the automobile industry has achieved. From an output of just 250,000 vehicles of all types, including a miniscule 30,000 annually of three dated cars in the 1970s, the industry has grown in scale and scope tremendously (100 fold increase!) to emerge as the sixth largest in the world with an output of 25 million vehicles annually. The industry is able to design its own new vehicles in India as evidenced by Tata Nano and Renault-Nissan Kwid. The industry is capable of becoming the third largest in the world by 2020. Automobile is truly a national product icon for India, demonstrating what the country can accomplish.

2. National Development Icon – Bullet Train

India has the world’s largest rail network. Though a government owned institution, the Indian Railways it has been able to run itself independently as if it were a corporation. Indian Railways with a network of 7,172 stations, 115,000 kms of track length over a route length of 65,000 kms, carrying annually 8.4 billion passengers and 1 billion tonnes of freight. Indian Railways is not only the lifeline of India with such a huge pan-Indian network but is an ecosystem by itself with an employment of 1.3 million and several welfare institutions such as schools and hospitals as well as housing colonies. Yet, Indian Railways needs to urgently move to the next trajectory of rail technology which is bullet trains. Bullet trains or high speed trains capable of travelling at or above 400 kmph (as in Japan, Europe or China) can dramatically transform the socio-economic status of India. 

3. National Globalization Icon – Smart Device

India had a woeful record in telephone connectivity even by the 1970s and 1980s. Today, however, India is the fastest growing market for smart phones. Over 1 billion cell phone connections exist in India, far outstripping landline connections of 28 million. With the integration of connectivity and computing as well as education and entertainment, and emergence of indigenous phone manufacturers, smart phones, or more broadly the entire range of smart devices including tablets, phablets and laptops, could be the new icon of India’s globalization. Along with hardware, Indian software may participate with a range of application supports. If scale and scope, and integration of hardware and software influence global leadership, the smart device could well be India’s National globalization icon. 
4. National Energy Icon – Power Plant

India is criticised for its woeful performance in the power sector; power, in terms of availability and cost, is identified as one of the critical bottlenecks for India’s industrialization. That said, India is one of the few countries which has a mix of all kinds of power plants, thermal (coal, oil and gas), hydro, nuclear and renewable power plants. The total power output is nearly 300,000 MW but has a huge gap to be met. Power projects apart from road projects are some of the most stalled or delayed infrastructure projects in India. As an aspirational icon, power plant will be seen over the next few years as one would accelerate India’s socio-economic development with an equal focus on energy for residential and industrial purposes. The Ultra Mega Power Projects and Renewable Energy projects would be seen as new icons of economic power for India.

5. National Security Icon – Housing

Housing is one of the fundamental needs of security for any society. India presents a very patchy and paradoxical picture in terms of housing. Some reports suggest that in certain metro areas lakhs of apartments are remaining unsold even as the demand for affordable urban houses has been facing a demand gap of a few million units. Lack of proper housing with protective structural elements is the major pain point in all of rural and most urban areas. Housing being the fundamental need and also being the most important employment provider as well as trigger for a number of industries (such as steel, cement, construction materials and paints as well as interior fit-outs), ‘housing for all’ which is a Modi Government’s Mission is an aspiration for India as a whole.

6. National Welfare Icon – Healthcare

Every society owes to itself the duty of health and wellness of every individual. India despite its rich heritage of Ayurveda and Yoga is ironically facing some of the most disabling healthcare challenges in the world, including proliferation of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, besides infectious and cancerous diseases. The hospital and doctor network as well as access to emergency services are patchy while the aged and independent have no healthcare insurance that is worthy of mention. The country has just one doctor for 2000 people while the density of hospital beds per 10000 population is just 9 against global average of 30 and a range of 60 to 150 in the developed Asian countries. The availability of medical technicians and technologists as well as nurses and paramedical staff is also woefully low. Indian doctors and surgeons, however, have demonstrated the ability to conduct complex surgical operations and be globally competitive. This capability requires a universal coverage within India. Healthcare, therefore, will need to be the National Welfare icon in India.  

7. National Equity Icon – Education

Come May and June, India would be in the exciting phase of amazing results from school final examinations and the excruciating phase of seeking admissions in schools and colleges. Statistics apart, it is touching to come across cases of students making the highest grades despite the handicaps of underdeveloped geographies and schools, and constraints of poverty and non-affordability. Education is the fundamental driver of equity and equality in India and has helped people from indigent sections move up in terms of high positions in administration, business and industry. India is a globally competitive powerhouse in the education sector with 1.4 million schools and 35,000 higher education institutes, Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, National Institutes of Technology and several other specialized institutes. India has the capability to globalize its educational competencies even more. Education will, however, be the most potent instrument of establishing social equity in India with appropriate policy support.  

8. National Competitiveness Icon – Space Mission

If there is one sector that has gained reached astronomical heights (literally!) despite being in public sector in India it is the space sector. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been in the forefront of building and operating satellites, satellite launching rockets and satellite launching stations in India. It has not only put several satellites in orbits but recently joined the exclusive club of developed nations that has sent a satellite to Mars (Mangalyaan Mission). ISRO has the infrastructure to put its space technology for India’s industrial and economic development requirements (including communication and weather forecasting) and the ability to support the space programs of other emerging nations. India’s space mission would remain an icon of India’s national competitiveness.

9. National Sustenance Icon – Agriculture

India is still an agrarian economy. If it were not so, despite the industrial sophistication the Reserve Bank of India and the Stock Markets would not have adversely reacted to forecasts of deficient monsoon this year. With nearly two thirds of India’s population dependent on agriculture, it is clear that national sustenance is closely dependent on agricultural output. Many feel that China is ahead of India only due to massive manufacturing scope and productivity. On the other hand, agricultural buoyancy seems to have been supporting Chinese economy to a greater degree than is visible. According to a study, China has bettered India in terms of farm output (twice over), agricultural area (515 versus 179 million hectares), crop yields (double the level), capital formation (thrice over), per capita agricultural supplies (twice over), and so on. Raising farm productivity and rural prosperity would be vital for the overall Indian economy. Agriculture would continue to be India national sustenance icon.

10. National Innovation Icon – Design and Development

Innovation is first time discovery. Innovation leads to novel designs and developments. Design and development is the intellectual driver of industrialization. Given the diversified industrial capabilities acquired so far and the huge pool of scientific and technical talent base with a very young demographics, India has the greatest chance to innovate across the arenas. Instead of merely adopting and adapting overseas designs, India’s huge scientific and technical manpower should be leveraged to set up design studios for Indian industry and global industry as well. If the industry and governments put their heart, soul and investments into innovation, new product development can be an iconic part of India’s development. Starting with early stage design and development immediately, India can become a global innovation hub eventually. India’s innovation can straddle both process and product aspects. Only when India has achieved a global recognition in innovation, the fullest potential of Indian talent could be seen to be fulfilled. Design and development needs to be firmly positioned as India’s national innovation icon.

Iconic identity

Icons bring pride and ownership and inspire common identity. If the fullest industrial, social and economic progress in terms of the above 10 sectors becomes iconic, India would emerge as a truly global icon of equitable development. There is huge work to be done but India is capable of delivering on such iconic identity.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 4, 2015