There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the midst of a revolution when it comes to information. It has never been this easy to create, distribute and consume information in the world. This is also the reason why the models associated with creating, distributing and consuming information that we have taken for granted don’t often apply anymore. As a former dedicated devourer of information from mainstream sources I find it fascinating to roam around Youtube’s ‘Most Popular’ section and discover interesting things much before it bubbles into the mainstream sources. Information flow has certainly changed and we are only in the very early stages of a major transition.
This revolution also brings with it unavoidable pitfalls that accompanies the dismantling of any existing system. The pre-internet era was one of only a handful of players who could produce and distribute information. Competition was not rampant and as a publisher you had to compete only with a handful of established players. The current landscape is vastly different from that time. Everyone is competing with everyone else, from being the most read to being the fastest. As the gatekeepers of information multiply, unlike the earlier times of a few, it is no longer sufficient to be an established brand to be read widely anymore.
Consequently, there is a now a perspective or a theory to address any requirement/bias, no matter how oddball that requirement/bias may be. This glut of information has led to a situation where we mistake information for knowledge and knowledge for wisdom. This is best illustrated by an example. I may be well informed about the numerous scams and corruption scandals, but my knowledge of how the scams are taking place is certainly not as good as my information about. Lastly, my wisdom about why these scams are taking place (other than popular trivial generalizations) is non-existent. Yet, in today’s world, since I am well-informed about the scams, I consider myself now knowledgeable and wise about these things.
This blurring of lines between information, knowledge and wisdom has also generated a need for quick-fix bits and morsels that confirm to the popular bias of the day. Since the popular perception on that front is a picture of only corrupt officials, a perpetually suffering population and a world that is horrible to live in, most of the information that tends to get published and distributed also toes that line of thought. If you read the news, browse the opinions voiced by the readers online, it will appear that the world is more like a vision of hell as mentioned in various mythologies and that there is no good left in the world.
A cursory look at our own lives will prove that is not the case. Yes, life can often be tough, but it is certainly not as bad as what people had it ten or hundred years ago. We enjoy facilities and features in our day-to-day lives that our parents’ generation could not even have dreamt of. For every instance of corruption, there are tens of hundreds of people who now have a chance step out of poverty and make something of themselves in the world. A fair world is not one that provides a pre-packaged world with all the benefits to its inhabitants. A fair world is one that provides the essential tooling and infrastructure that anyone who is looking to breakthrough can make use of.
But, the wash of popular information these days will tell you otherwise as it makes for spicier, sensationalist material. For instance, we may know more about the PMGSY as something that is mired in various difficulties. It is easier to report on the failures (which, there are many) in the project, but there is little reporting on how much it has worked too. If you travel in the rural areas of India, you will find these roads going off in different directions. Yes, the quality of execution leaves a lot to be desired, but these programs have also put into place roads where none existed before. Yet, after being ‘well informed’ our recollection of all this will be that the program is another disaster.
Similarly, we have overfunded start-ups, VCs who don’t understand the companies and a million other difficulties. The corporate sector is full of undeserving middle and senior management people, the markets are massively manipulated and doing business here often feels more like a punishment. But, these are all problems that is hardly surprising in a country which could not deliver basic telephony or healthcare for a huge number of people even as recently as 10-years ago and we still have not been able to deliver that to vast chunks of our people. While we constantly keep looking at the Valley, Wall Street and the West, we often don’t recognize that there is tremendous value we can provide towards genuine problems we face in India.
For instance, I do not consider the current e-commerce wave in India as a disaster. For me, these are the early babysteps our market is taking towards moving slowly away from a system heavily dependent on cash and non-existent price discovery. Growing a greenfield market has significant costs involved purely towards educating the market. Yes, not every e-commerce start-up that is there now won’t survive after 5-years, but it is wrong to assume that what is going on right now has little value. In the past 5-years, the ground that we have covered in generating business online is laying the foundation for what will happen five years down the road. That is value, only that it may not be value in the form we like to think about.
This fact about generating value applies everywhere. In the consulting businesses it can often be extremely frustrating to deal with the realities of our country and the people and its organizations. But those realities are a fact of life here that we need to overcome to unlock the value we can provide. A genius painter sitting on a rock, painting a fantastic painting in his mind is only as good as the rock he’s sitting on. To paint, he may need to arrange for canvas, paints, brushes and so on. Maybe, the artist is too poor to buy what he needs. Often, in life, triumph is what follows after you overcome adversity. We have a vast number of adversities to overcome, but we also have a vast amount of value to unlock here.
How we eventually unlock that value may not be a pretty process, nor may it be the most efficient one, but we have to keep chipping away at it, in every possible avenue we can. That will only happen when we have a change in mindset from expecting people around us to do things and bring in the change to doing those things ourselves (no matter how small those things are).