Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Innovation: Local or Western?

In a recent debate, Peter Thiel, well known technology Venture Capitalist, made a comment that India and China need not innovate anything, rather they need to just look at what is successful in the West and copy that. A good write-up on why this approach is wrong is written by YourStory

And today, Hindustan Times has written about Prof Anil Gupta, who had moderated the panel discussion on innovations at Emtech 2010 (in which I was a panelist) and his work on discovering and popularising Indian innovations. The list of some innovations that have made a huge impact on the ground, but are totally indigenous and popularized by Prof Gupta must be an eye opener for Peter Thiel. I think none of these could have been thought of in the West.

I believe that each region comes with it's own separate challenges. I have seen this happen before - the West looks at solving problems in an entirely different way from the way the East does. This is not to say that one of these methods are better, but only to say that each place has a different set of constraints, and for the best solution to the local problems to emerge, the solutions have to emerge from places where the local constraints are best known. For example, taking the case of Vortex ATMs, I think the greatest innovation is not the reduced cost of ATMs, but the fact that due to its lower power consumption, the back-up time is greatly multiplied. The optimized solution for power constraints emerged only because the solution emerged from India, which faces a lot of power problems.

Similarly, the solutions like the cycle powered washing machine could also only emerge from places where making regular washing machines are a problem - places facing a lot of power cuts.

Hats off to Prof Gupta for his tireless efforts in spreading these ideas and popularizing them. May the local inventors thrive.


  1. a very valid point of view.
    saying that countries like india dont need innovation and just need to copy the west is a very fleeting and shallow statement.
    innovation should definitely be based on needs. we need innovations that can give solutions to the grass-root level.to make the lives of millions better, we need innovations that are stemming from a proper understanding of the problems that necessitate them.

  2. @Sowpar
    The 'proper understanding of the problems that necessitate them' come only by being exposed to them, and hence I think innovations for Indian conditions would have to come from places of similar conditions

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