LESSONS FROM THE PAST 12: Are Indians Too Individualistic?
The city of Mumbai is crumbling under the weight of about 16 million people, that is, over 1% of India’s population. Half of Mumbai lives on the streets or in slums. The road system, the public transport of rails and buses, the water and power supply, and the sanitation, just cannot take this. 
 
The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is the largest municipal body in the country, and boasts the highest revenues. In fact, its revenue is higher in quantum than the revenues of some of the smaller states in the country. But the BMC, as it is called, is also reported to be a cesspool of corruption. Most of the administrators and elected corporators feel it is their right to have a hand in the till and grab as much as they can, so they have enough money for their retirement; or to contest the next election, and a little more. This is public knowledge. 
 
I still remember that when the civic elections were announced for 16 February 2012, there was a wave of excitement. The atmosphere was still electric with memories of Anna Hazare’s historic fast for the introduction of the anti-corruption Bill (Lokpal Bill). Here was an opportunity to get out of the grip of political parties and professional politicians for whom politics is a commercial ‘revenue earning career rather than a service to the community’. Groups of concerned citizens with high integrity and good intentions got together and formed Mumbai 227—an organisation to put up respected, concerned citizens to fight the elections in the 227 wards of the city. But can respected citizens get together and work as a team?
 
There are arguments about the selection; about the selection committee; there is understandable inability to field candidates in all the 227 wards; there is inability to fund and, therefore, a limitation on publicity and other expenses: all the problems that come from bringing individuals to form a coherent group, with each one pulling in a different direction. A role model, and an anchor—the first citizen candidate to win at the last election, immediately left to start his own party. A new political party—Lok Satta—with the same objectives as Mumbai 227, has put up 'clean candidates' and will fight both Mumbai 227 and the political parties on its own.  
 
Cooperation, coordination, team working, to serve a common cause, seems to have no place on any agenda. Is it any wonder that politicians may finally have the last laugh?
 
And this is true of cooperative housing societies (CHS) too. I am a member of three such. Most members are so self-centred and reluctant to give an inch for the common good, that these societies need to be renamed—Non-Cooperative Societies!
 
It is evident from the amount of research done in our laboratories and the number of patents filed. The number is so small compared to, say, China. Good research needs good teamwork, which may be severely lacking in our research effort. 
 
This is also evident in our sports, where India excels in individual sports—billiards, rifle shooting; tennis; badminton and chess. It begins to become difficult when it comes to doubles in tennis and in badminton. It becomes worse in hockey and then even worse in cricket, when they talk in hushed tones about the rift between MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag.
 
It is said that Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese work much better as teams. Indians tend to be individualistic. Perhaps they are. Perhaps we must make a big effort to change- at least in situations where teamwork is critical and important to success.
 
We have known about Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in Japan—where MITI coordinates the work of all exporting organisations and makes sure that one Japanese company does not undercut the quote of another company in foreign projects. This ensures that both the company, and more important, the country, gains. There is willing cooperation among competitors! 
 
We have also known that Japanese companies cooperate to run common training programmes on different post retirement careers, for their employees who are due to retire. This approach makes it more economical for each company, while at the same time, helping to build relationships between participants from different companies, who may not have the same interests. 
 
We know about the development of ‘chaebols’ in South Korea, the gigantic conglomerates where each company within the conglomerate actively helps the development of another, so that ultimately the ‘chaebol’ will succeed. The phenomenal growth of S Korean economy can be attributed to this concept of cooperation. 
 
When it comes to India, we normally relate the story of the jar of crabs, which has no lid.  They are Indian crabs. Any crab trying to jump out of the jar, will be firmly held back by the other crabs. These other crabs have no ambitions and are content to stay where they are and maintain the status quo. What a pity. But this must change, if we are to move forward as a nation. 
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)

 

  • Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

    User 

    COMMENTS

    tillan2k

    1 month ago

    If Indians knew how to work in teams they would not have been slaves for 1000 years. Whether Alexander or Babar could defeat 5/10 times armies simply soldiers could not sit and eat together .. India cannot succeed in technology as it involves team work while Science can be single hand work. u would hardly see army regiments name by caste or community any where except India

    REPLY

    rebbapragada

    In Reply to tillan2k 1 month ago

    The Indian Army is a professional fighting force and draws its strength from the cultural traditions of its people and training. Wherever names are used they serve a critical purpose to boost the morale of the men. But, all Units and Regiments deploy people drawn from the various corners of India. Fighting wars in the modern times involves very sophisticated technology and each Infantry soldier involved in combat is fully supported by a specialized team of combatants drawn from the Artillery, Engineers, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Signals, Medical Corps, Armoured, Aviation, and etc. No soldier fights the war all by himself.

    manojkhare

    In Reply to rebbapragada 4 weeks ago

    Dear sir, did Indians set up the army? No, it was the British and for many years it was fighting for the colonizers against Indian kings. Let's not self aggrandise so much.

    sundaras1957

    1 month ago

    Well written and apt article addressing we Indians by the experienced writer. Escapism is the mindset we have developed since time immemorial. This nature that exists with majority of us is being gainfully utilised by minority population of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats etc in the name of democracy. An experiment has to be made as an example to hand over BMC to military to see the results at least for 2 years without any interference from this “minority population “.

    REPLY

    manojkhare

    In Reply to sundaras1957 4 weeks ago

    The other trait Indians have is looking for miracles and godmen to solve the tiniest collective problem. It's people who repeatedly vote in the corrupt and the criminal, and ignore the performance they crave, whether it's local elections or state or national. There are no quick fixes here, I'm afraid. We just have to learn to respect each other and develop some concern for common good. Not too demanding, is it?

    We are listening!

    Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.
      Loading...
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email

    BUY NOW

    online financial advisory
    Pathbreakers
    Pathbreakers 1 & Pathbreakers 2 contain deep insights, unknown facts and captivating events in the life of 51 top achievers, in their own words.
    online financia advisory
    The Scam
    28 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
    Moneylife Online Magazine
    Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
    financial magazines online
    Stockletters in 4 Flavours
    Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
    financial magazines in india
    MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
    (Includes Moneylife Online Magazine)