Earning before learning – Did Indian IT Kill Innovation & Entrepreneurial Spirit?

“Package kitna hai?” (What’s the compensation?)

That’s the typical question asked when a fresh college grad joins a company or when a techie/newbie with 0-2 year experience is looking to “switch”. The story doesn’t end here. First 7-10 years go by in taking these jumps before the talented guys throw in the growth towel and say:

Bas ho gaya. Ab isi company mein settle ho jaate hain. Kahan nayi company mein phir se apne aap ko prove karenge : I am done with job hopping. It’s time to settle. A new company will mean proving myself again.

What’s wrong with this picture? Some would say, it is (or was) an opportunity to grow and make money and the talented people took it. Good for them! But the question is what about the opportunity loss of what they could have learned in a smaller company or a start-up? What about the loss of appetite to grow once the society tells them, “Voh settle hai” (they are settled in life).

This mediocre run from a state of being nowhere to being in an ordinary position in search of an incrementally “better package” without the learning is what in my humble opinion the talent killing phenomenon which sets the stage for innovation destruction.

I come from a Marwari family where some say business runs in the DNA. An interesting fact published by TOI a few years ago was that 2% Marwaris control 35% of the business in India. How did that happen? Is it just the DNA or there is something more fundamental in their actions that encourages people to take risk and look for opportunities to fully realize their talent?

I take an instance from my childhood. My father would tell me

Dukaan par baitho. Khaali mat raho. Kuch seekho” (sit at the shop and learn something instead of wasting time doing nothing).

Or my uncle would say

Kuch kaam kar le pehle, seekh jayega tau aage jaake kama bhi lega (First learn something. Once you learn, you will be able to earn).

Earning was never in the equation in early years of a young lad’s career. Only learning was encouraged.

In contrast, when we look at today’s generation and the great disparity that India continues to build, the only question most people are asking, “package kitna hai”. Most people have stopped asking  “Kaam kaisa hai? Kuch seekhne ko mil raha hai ki nahi?”Kill Innovation

I am not the guy standing with a black flag against the IT industry. This is the industry that I have spent my last 17 years. Hence, I feel qualified enough to comment on this industry. With the rapid expansion and mass recruitment to establish manpower factories, the IT industry has taken the entire new gen talent by a storm and sucked everyone in. I remember our campus days when the only requirement for students to sit in a campus placement was >50% marks regardless of specialization. If you came from civil engineering background, it didn’t matter. You were still good for the IT services industry. This went on for close to two decades. And the result: most new-gen talent ended up in IT services industry. They lured people with good packages, killing whatever tiny desire a few among them had to realize their full potential. Killing whatever little risk appetite they may have had. Killing the tiny little spark, which could have potentially created an innovation revolution. The fundamental thought of learning first got replaced with earning first, at the same pace as the concept of earning and spending got replaced by spending and paying EMI (link to EMI: The entrepreneurship killer).

Today, when we are the crossroads where the rapid expansion of IT services industry is starting to show signs of sluggishness, people are starting to talk about IT products and innovation. People are now asking why hasn’t a Facebook or a Google come out of India. But, wait a minute. Where is the talent pool to take India to this next frontier? If someone tells me that the upcoming generation is where the innovation will come from, I won’t disagree but I would also ask them this question: What is our education system producing today? Hasn’t the desire to ‘earn first’ muddied our system? Don’t a majority of students get into engineering because “Usmein scope bahut hai” (it has a lot of potential) and the parental generation still suffering from the “Life mein settle hona mangta hai” syndrome sending their kids in the wrong direction? How much of this will become an impediment in making India the innovation leader in the world?

There are pockets of innovations happening in IT hubs like Bangalore, and NCR but they are still largely driven by returning Indians. And they are still far from levels where we see constant creation of global level product companies. The US, Germany, China, even Israel continue to stay ahead of us by a huge margin. We still hope the new generation takes this up as a challenge but we have still not looked at one of the fundamental reasons why innovation is such a huge challenge in India. Why this change in basic behavior where earning is of paramount importance is still hampering our growth in a very big way.


[About the Author: Mitesh Bohra has been working in the software industry for last 17 years in the US. Bohra is a serial entrepreneur and founded his first company in 2000 with two close friends. He currently runs Savetime Technologies, a  healthcare care information services company. Connect with him at LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.]

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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