Category: Indian innovation

‘Out of the box’ thinking. How big is this box?

This an oft repeated cliche to encourage people to think differently. But it has been abused so much that its verbal definition has become very murky.

Simply put, anything different or out of the ordinary, contrary to accepted norms and processess can be defined as ‘Out of the box’. This definition was sufficient in the past. But todays connected world has forced us to do a rethink.

Earlier the box in reference was limited to your family or friends circle, town, state, college or country. Your box was very, very small, local and contained. It was easy to be applauded as an innovator if you just voiced an idea you had read in an obscure publication to a group who hadnt. Believe me. I have been doing it for ages. This was an era when information was at a premium. Those who had acquired it, brandised it and encashed on it.

But try that today and you will see everyone, including your veggie vendor, reaching for their smartphones to verify the veracity of your claim. Google has made life tougher for those who try to modify, embelish, tweak, plagiarize and rechristen ideas and try to pass it off as their own innovation.

I would like to use two photographs to define this concept specifically in the Indian context.

open cardboard box isolated on white background - rendering
Out of the box – Indian context



matrushka dolls
Matryoshka – nested russian dolls

A word of caution for all those Indians who carelessly refer to all and sundry as innovations.

Indians have to start competing with the world. It is no longer sufficient to copy an old idea, Indianize it and pass it off as an innovation for a local audience. Every idea and concept and action will be judged on a global scale. Maybe not by Indians, but the world is watching and maybe snickering.


Shashi Tharoor is wrong. Indians cannot innovate.

This post was long pending and lazily taking form. But a particular incident accelerated its publication – a few tweets exchanged between me and Dr.Shashi Tharoor MP, Diplomat etc.

sashitharoor_1st tweet



[I have been trying to hear his speech but have been unable to do so due to a tech glitch. Not sure if it is at my end (I stay in India) or the host site. Will keep trying. In the meantime I checked for the speech. But they haven’t put it up yet.]

Now the meat of this post. At the outset I cannot accept a superficial opinion of how well India is innovating based on an armchair expert’s understanding of what innovation is. Such well meaning people have unwittingly caused more harm than good. We have been subjected to this lie for centuries. A look at our history (err-mythology?) and our text books which perpetuate this lie are proof. This lie which has been bandied about recklessly for centuries has made us complacent. What we need instead is a jolt of reality, a shocker to wake us from this reverie.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor is basically a well read, well educated, widely traveled diplomat, author and nouveau politician of certain repute. The fact that his only claim to the Indian tag is ancestry and matrimony may be the only dampener. That not withstanding, he should, like many other celebs and politicians, realize that they are basically ‘media magnets’ at such events (Launch of the India Innovation Institute – University of Toronto) . Not experts on each and every institute and organization they inaugurate. What if Mallika Sherawat assumes she is an expert on cancer just because she once inaugurated a cancer hospital.

Why did Shashi Tharoor make this statement? What makes him and his ilk experts on innovation? Why do they mask our lack of innovative spirit as globalization? Is innovation so simple and pedestrian to define and judge? Has such careless talk of big, earth shattering innovations scared and prevented the Indian tinkerer from experimenting? Have such references set the bar too high? What is innovation?

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Thank You – Fiskars

Tailoring. Would you call tailoring, skill or technology? It is a subtle combination of both. If we are talking of custom made clothing, you still need a human to skilfully take measurements, mark and cut. Then technology takes over and helps sew it all together. But before sewing was mechanized, there were seamstresses who possessed the skill of sewing and knotting.

But not so long ago in India, tailors had to have another skill. A skill which would take several years to master. This was the skill of cutting cloth. Not the measuring or the marking, but the very simple act of using a scissor on a piece of cloth. But how did this become a skill? We all do a pretty good job of it today on the very first try.

We Indians never thought of scissors as a machine deserving a high degree of precision. For us it was just 2 pieces of some metal, sharpened at some angle and connected with some bolt or rivet. There were only 2 sizes available for the 2 well known uses. A bi-metal giant, 10-12 inch long, for tailoring and a narrow one for cutting hair.

The bolt or rivet would always loosen after the first few uses and this was when you needed skill. Lots and lots of it. It really was an art, needing all the dexterity possible by human hands – and then some more.


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