For India to become an innovation leader, the first thing we need to do is encourage dreamers. Today, we do everything possible to convert dreamers into realists. We teach the hard sciences instead of cultivating imagination by teaching the humanities. We tell youngsters that their elders know best, so they squelch any original ideas they may get. We push them into secure careers that will produce modest but predictable success, and we forbid them to gamble their futures on unproven ideas with huge potential.
So, we produce improvements to existing products, but not groundbreaking solutions. Automobiles, manned flight, computers and mobile telephony had to be dreamt and imagined before they could be developed. Only when we allow our dreams to drive and direct our creative energy will we produce successes on the same scale.
Next, we have to care about people outside India. India is a huge, growing market and there’s a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Some inventions created in and for India, such as the Jaipur Foot, have earned global acclaim.
However, we will never beat the world unless we compete based on its standards. Our innovations will never be recognized by the world until they meet the world’s needs. We will never meet those needs until we understand the challenges, aspirations, preferences and habits of people outside India.
Third, we must adopt the scientific method. Rarely do I meet anyone willing or able to design experiments to test hypotheses. Instead, I have observed a strong bias toward gut-driven action and reliance on precedent to deal with every situation. Thus, our output either replicates the past or flails into the future.
The responsibility to implement these three changes lies with each of us. Let’s change ourselves, our companies, our academies, and especially the way we train our children so that India may fulfill its untapped potential for world-beating innovation.
Additional reading on this topic: The 25 Best Inventions of 2015