Wednesday 16 December 2015

Changing of Institutional Mind-set

Dr R A Mashelkar says :

We do not have the question of reaching the potential, but of exceeding the potential, going beyond it. The word limitless has a meaning. Therefore, I think that there are no limits for each one of you, on what you can change, where you can reach. So let us now talk about of "limitless ladder of excellence" and how the proper mindset can actually make you reach that limitless ladder of excellence.


About this issue of not only reaching your potential but going beyond it, I would like to share with you what I have actually seen in my life and which could be inspirational to you.  I would say it is not only the "individual mindset"; there is what is called an "institutional mindset". IIT has the mindset, All India Management Association has the mindset, National Chemical Laboratory had a mindset, and India has a mindset. And that also needs to be also addressed. Let me go back to the National Chemical Laboratory.

I was the Director of National Chemical Laboratory from 1989 to 1995.  It is a great Laboratory and is one of the finest in chemistry. We were supposed to do research and development, develop technologies and transfer them to industry, partner with them, make commercial production happen in Indian industry based on new indigenously developed technology and so on.


There are so many great achievements that National Chemical Laboratory has had in catalysis, in polymers and whole range of other areas. I had a very interesting challenge, when I took over the Directorship of National Chemical Laboratory in 1989. Any time we at NCL had done something ahead of the rest of the world and I went to Indian Industry, they would always ask me, "but have they done it" That was the Indian Industry's mindset. Have they done it means- has Japan done it? Has U.S. done it? Has Europe done it? If they have not done it, how can we do it?


So, I had a very interesting challenge.  I asked myself a simple question. What was I selling? The answer was that I was selling knowledge. Then I asked myself what is my market? My market is global. So, in 1989 I made a statement that National Chemical Laboratory would be "International Chemical Laboratory". What did it mean? It meant that my market would not be limited to India.  It would be U.S., Europe, all over the globe. 


This was audacious. I was almost saying that I would develop something and sell it to Pfizer in U.S., sell it to General Electric in US and so on. There were many doubting Thomases, who told me that the size of the budgets of Pfizer and General Electric, were bigger than India's R&D budget.  I remember telling them that it was not the size of the budget but the size of the idea that mattered. 


Size of the idea- thinking big is what matters. The beauty of the flight of imagination is that it has no limit to the height you can reach, there is no limit on the fuel that you can load, and there is no limit to the distance that you can land, excepting the limit that you set for yourself. Limitless –that is the key word. And we said we would pick on some challenges and we picked on General Electric. They were leaders in polycarbonate plastics and had 40% world market share. I said let us create something, which they had not thought of.  Their budgets were bigger than India's R&D Budgets, by the way. But I was trying to prove a theory that it was not the size of the budget but the size of the idea that mattered.


We got a breakthrough on what is called as solid state poly-condensation of polycarbonates. I am not going into the technical details, the important thing was that we had changed the paradigm by doing a reaction that was conventionally done in the molten phase to a solid phase, with lot of attendant advantages on the quality, cost, etc.  Normally, if it had a breakthrough like this, we could have published – and then it would have been common knowledge.  In the new paradigm, we didn't say publish or perish but patent, publish and prosper. Why patent? Because if I am selling something to General Electric, I cannot go to them and say I have copied it from you. They will kick me out. I have to be ahead of them. Not only that, it has to be protected by the patent in their country, otherwise they will not buy it for the fear of infringement.


At that time it was a paradigm shift because we did not have a single U.S. patent in National Chemical Laboratory in 39 years after its establishment in 1950.  We went in for aggressive patenting because it became a compulsion and without patenting we could not be able to sell knowledge to multinationals.


When we got a breakthrough in solid-state polycondensation of polycarbonate, we filed a US patent.  And we were all delighted, when it was granted.  That breakthrough was actually like putting a stake on General Electric's territory.  Impressed by this, the General Electric shook hands with us – became our knowledge partners.  It was an incredible journey afterwards.


One day Jack Welch the CEO of General Electric said, "If they are so good then why are we not there?" And they set up the Jack Welch R&D centre in Bangalore and once they set it up, there were several others who came.  And today we talk about India as a Global R&D hub with more than 300 companies having set up their R&D centres, and not small, by the way, but with 2000, 3000, 4000 scientists working in them making India a knowledge production hub.


But it all began with that little spark at the National Chemical Laboratory.  What did it prove? The same young Indians who were only doing copying-and glorious word for that was "reverse engineering", by the way, started doing "forward engineering". And the same set of people were able to actually deliver something which was ahead of the rest of the world.  What is the central point I am trying to make?  It is that by changing your mindset, you can do it. The basic mind is the same, the intellect is the same.   it's the positive mindset that has changed.  This mindset now says "I can do it – I will do it" -  and that makes a difference.

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