ACT Essay: Ignoring Innovation is Closing Windows of Opportunity
There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake and it is becoming everyday clearer that the solution of any problem can never be obtained on racial or national or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humanity, nay, the whole of life, with its scope
This was Vivekanada's prophecy in 1897, a century ago. Advances in science and technology, and the consequential complex cause and effect interactions with the agriculture, industry, economics, business, trade, politics or culture, have truly brought us to a stage where diabolism is really felt in many walks of life. Trans-border flows of ideas, images, knowledge, goods, services, capital or people are taking place on an unprecedented scale, despite the fact that most societies are still clinging to many age-old concepts of governance, domination, controls, tariffs or denials.
Even while the grand vision is true, the nitty-gritty of actual living poses many problems and challenges, to individuals, groups and societies. The impact of global competition is felt by domestic industries brought up in a protected regime. Questions naturally arise whether the doors are opened too early and too fast. Many institutional mechanisms such as financing mechanisms, regulatory bodies, social welfare systems or indigenous technology development systems are being severely jolted. Aspirations for following the rapid growth models and consumption patterns taking place elsewhere are also having an impact on local infrastructure in the country. There are increasing problems of urban environmental pollution. Multiple lobbies and pulls and pressures from different groups in the country are also creating a confusing picture.
How do we face these challenges before the country? No country can easily follow some other model, that too at a different period in history. So we have to learn, to innovate with our own systems.
Innovation is somehow inhibited in our country in a number of ways. Most of those who control the levers or our economy. The administrators, business persons, financiers, diplomats, and those in charge of public accountability systems. Are often allergic to or intolerant of failures and, therefore, are afraid of innovation. Even when their experience shows that they have reached the end of the road, many prefer to keep their engines on at idling speeds, rather than explore new paths. For any new idea that is thrown up, the standard questions are: Has anybody done it elsewhere in the world? What is their experience? Is there any experience of doing it in India?
Others experience often dominates our thinking. We tend to forget that the persons, the business houses or administrations which had earlier experimented may not always share with us the details of their experience and they themselves may have innovated further steps based on their experience. With our penchant for caution, we of-ten emphasize experience over innovation. If we have to be successful in the rapidly changing world of today where, as Mr. A. RJ. Abdul Kalam, puts it, Strength respects strength. He should learn to treat knowledge-based experience and innovation as two sides of the same coin. Such an approach is especially useful where we have considerable gaps in our knowledge base, which essentially means we have lagged behind in building up an experience base through innovations.
This is particularly true of the technology scenario in the country, where we lag behind significantly in many areas. Around the world, most firms most firms who are world leaders now have built up their technological strengths through an assiduous process of continual and incremental innovations. In this process, they may occasionally be benefited by a few breakthroughs, giving ‘them a considerable lead over their competitors. It is often difficult for the late-comers, who try to imitate the leaders, to bridge the gaps easily. Many researched studies indicate that imitation is often as difficult as innovation in such competitive environments. So most Indian firms, who have large gaps in their present technological strengths, have to learn to tap the’ experience base of others rapidly as well as learn to innovate simultaneously.
For example, having missed the opportunity of venturing into large scale microelectronics production about two decades ago, most Indian firms or laboratories may find it difficult to attempt it now when investment for a viable microelectronics production facility would cost $1.5 billion. But there is a reasonable experience base in the country to produce system level products using microprocessors. We even have experience in making parallel processors or supercomputers. We also have a fair bit of experience in application software.
But we need to learn to venture forth in a big way and not limit the innovation to a minor level. We have suffered pilot plant syndromes too long. Innovation in order to capture and capitalize on our strengths would mean instituting several measures, easier access to finance: Many special zones to attract industries; promotion of competitive research; facilitation of potentially bright newcomers in their early days of start up arid so on. A few failures out of these should not deter us. They can form the experience base, for further correction.