Thursday, 21 March 2013

Samartha Bharat Parva : Talent, Technology, Tolerance

I do not see into the future; nor do I care to see. But one vision I see dear as life before me: that the ancient Mother has awakened once more, sitting on Her throne rejuvenated, more glorious than ever. Proclaim Her to all the world with the voice of peace and benediction..... SWAMI VIVEKANANDA

Talent, Technology & Tolerance : Dr R A Mashelkar

What are the three things on the basis of which we can carve out our future for us in the 21st century?  You will always find me quoting three things by the way. It’s like Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram!  In my judgment, they are three Ts– Talent, Technology and Tolerance. Talent – this is in evidence here. What India is going to leverage is this talent -Indian talent. If you know you look at different countries, they grew because of different things at different points of time in their history. For example, the United States of America – it was roads and railways, Britain – it was textiles, Denmark – milk and milk products, Sweden – it was timber and timber products, Middle East – it was oil. And if you ask me what is the “oil” for India in the 21st century, I will say IT and when you would say Oh! IT means Information Technology. No, I am sorry, IT means “Indian Talent”- all of you. That’s what is going to make the 21st century India’s century.

Then, of course, Technology is absolutely transformational.  I am not just talking about what we did in space, defense, atomic energy, etc. but technology which can make a difference in the lives of the people, technology that is inclusive, technology that cares for the under privileged.

How do we smartly use that technology? Look at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), for example. On one hand, if you go to Hinjewadi in Pune, you will find there, very proudly, the fourth fastest super computer in the world.  It is developed by 80 young kids. I visited them recently.

This achievement has taken place at the top of the ladder. For the bottom of the ladder, that means for those millions of poor and illiterate Indians, TCS has developed computer based functional literacy (CBFL), which can make illiterate women read a newspaper within 6 to 8 weeks at a cost of just 100 rupees. Entire Medak district in Andhra Pradesh has become literate by this. More than one lac people have become literate in six different states – in six different languages.  It has been used in South Africa – with the same astonishing results.

If we all launch a National Mission by using computer based functional literacy, this entire country can become literate less than five years, not 20 years. And can you imagine what difference it will make to create that “enlightened democracy” that I was talking about. So, when I talked about the talent first and then technology, this technology is not for making those super computers, which can simulate nuclear explosions, or which can do the most complex fluid dynamic calculations.  But I am talking about a technology that makes a difference at the bottom of the pyramid- inclusive technology.

And the last is “tolerance”. What is tolerance? Tolerance for failure, tolerance for risk taking, tolerance for ambiguity. Today we talk about Silicon Valleys success with great admiration, but this success is not just because of the talent and technology that they have but because of the tolerance that they have. Venture capital flourished there, risk taking comes naturally there.  Venture capital has assumed the meaning of “adventure” capital there.

Somehow, we have become an intolerant  society as far as risk taking and as far as the failure is concerned. Is there a success without failure? Have you seen a small child walking without falling? No. But somehow or the other, we are not tolerant to failure.

I keep on going back to cricket.  When Ajit Wadekar won the test series in early seventies against England, the streets in Bombay had lined up but just a few years later,  when he came back after losing the series, there was stone throwing!  Is it fair? Tolerance, I think is going to be an essential part, -tolerance for all the religions, castes, creeds, socially deprived, economically deprived. So, I believe that the new India that you have to build is on this  solid fulcrum of talent, technology and tolerance.

Tolerance for ambiguity is very critical by the way. If you see the real story behind Microsoft, somewhere there is a romantic story about the tolerance for ambiguity. Bill Gates recently got an honorary doctorate from Harvard and he narrated an experience. He declared himself as the most successful dropout from Harvard University. Then he said, in his early days, when the hardware manufacturing was started by a company in Albuquerque, he phoned them up and offered to supply them the software, half expecting that they would keep the phone down because he was just a student, who was calling. But they did not. They asked him to come after a month. Bill Gates says. ‘Thank God! They said come back after a month because I had not actually developed the software’, when I had called them.  So, you see plenty of  ambiguity here.  It is in terms of what Bill Gates did because he offered the software which he was yet to develop. And ambiguity in terms of the company in Albuquerane in accepting the offer by an undergraduate student -  they did not keep the phone down because he was a student. The rest is history, the rest is Microsoft, the greatest software company, which made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. So, I believe that talent, technology and tolerance are the key to success.   

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