Good is the enemy of great, was the first sentence in Jim Collins's Good to Great. Lucy Kellaway said more recently, Good enough is better than perfection. Those are two seemingly contradictory ways of looking at things. (Actually, they're different, but not quite as far apart as they may seem.)
In India, unfortunately, there is a third way.
As I said to a journo recently, one first needs to do at least the minimum needed to get the job done and only then start arguing about the virtues of good versus great. I'll point you to that journo's piece later in this post but first: For those of you who're unfamiliar with India, it is common in India for people to use the Hindi word jugaad to describe the concept of making do. I detest this word. I grant that, in various unavoidable situations, resources are limited in India and one perforce has to make do with what one has. However, more often than not, this word and the entire philosophy behind it, if one can call it that, is used just to disguise (not very well) the clear intention to not even do the bare minimum.
An example: every year, the monsoon rains leave the streets of major Indian cities potholed, often flooded and barely usable. This is a major hassle for motorists and a major embarrassment for India's image. Every year also, each city's municipal authority awards contracts to contractors to repair and rebuild the damaged roads. Every year. Why? Is India the beneficiary of particularly violent hailstorms? No, just the beneficiary of shoddy work. There are some roads that are built and maintained really quite well but those tend to be the minority. The same sort of thing is seen across other areas: health, education, construction, the environment, energy... the list is endless. (See yesterday's post What was revealed when the lights went out in India)
So why does this happen? A variety of reasons:
Diversion of resources
Cutting corners for the sake of profits
Just plain not caring
Ultimately, it is a cultural issue.
What does this mean for start-ups? It means that, if one is not careful, jugaad can very quickly infect a company and become an established mode of operation. This is dangerous. When you start a company, you want to make sure its foundations are solid. This may even being a bit of a dictator on issues that you consider truly important. I myself am picky enough about the details that, if a portfolio company sends me a legal contract or a marketing brochure to review, I not only check and comment on the essentials of the document, but also hunt out and correct every spelling error and every grammatical mistake, sometimes even pointing out formatting inconsistencies. I don't impose spelling lessons on my interlocutors but still -- does my approach take it too far? Quite possibly -- but I'm in the Jim Collins camp, not with Lucy Kellaway on this one.
You also need to ensure that you control the core of what you've set out to do and that you prioritise it above all else. Once you have met minimum standards, you can start the good versus great argument, but not before.
To clarify, I didn't actually say that jugaad is good. I think it's terrible! Entrepreneurs should aim higher! Some of the quotes aren't verbatim but the article does convey the essence of my views pretty clearly.
Update: My uncle who is a professor at IIT Bombay just wrote me to say that Chapter 3 of his doctoral thesis began with the words, "Good is not good if better is possible." True!
The cycling community has called for more protection for cyclists who take to the road, and so the authorities are reviewing penalties for cycling offences.
The weird thing is, from personal experience, the vast majority of drivers in Singapore are actually quite sensible and even friendly towards cyclists. It's the few that need to be cracked down on. Except the authorities won't. "We'll cane visa violaters if we need to but if you kill someone, as long as you're in a car when you do it, ah, that's a bit of a pity. Sorry that it delayed your commute."
I just saw this piece on the Indian e-commerce industry by an Economist blogger from a few months ago. Plenty of positive news but also:
Revenue models look shaky. To secure repeat business, most portals offer incredibly low prices, payment by cash on delivery and, nearly always, free shipping. Consumers love it but companies are scratching around for ways to shed the operational burden. Ironically, the very things that have propelled e-commerce in India could lead to its downfall.
It's not just cash on delivery. An investor in a large Indian e-commerce company told me last week about some customers demanding almost unbelievably that they be allowed to pay by credit card on delivery -- stretching working capital requirements even further!
What's interesting is that the mood in India seems to have become more polarised since this piece was penned. I encounter still-fervent believers and equally pessimistic naysayers, and not that many "in-betweeners". The believers tend to be entrepreneurs, of course :-) but also some investors and other observers. I am starting to sense that the momentum is shifting to the pessimists now. End of another wave in Indian investments?
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