I was born and raised for first four years of my life in a village called Mandhana, in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in India. My childhood memories are pleasant and connected deeply to the soil and its people. The seasons were an important part of my life then, I remembered the change of seasons by the fruits and food that got made at my grandmother’s home. The smell of drying mango filled the warm summer wind. My visits to the temple for yummy prasad were very frequent, I would visit the temple more than twice a day, just for the prasad. The prasad in turn for me was a magical potion, which would get all my wishes fulfilled. At night I would lie under the sky and watch the patterns made by the stars. We had charpais (beds made of rope and had wooden legs), during those days, the beds would be put down only in the night, and as soon as the sun rose, the beds would be up too. This gave open space for running and doing other household chores like grinding, drying of papad etc. We had no furniture, only old wooden or aluminum trunks. Whole day we would play in the mud or with the farm animals. My favorite place was a huge store room of grains in our house, me and my friends would climb on the grain mountain and slide down, when no one was around. Those years of my life and later the summer vacations spent in my grandmother’s house nourished my soul and made my roots grow strong into the soil.
Some of us often wonder, why systems and processes, which have worked in other countries don’t seem to work in India. I have thought about this many a times. I have observed that in organizations, many systems are put in place, many trainings done, but still after some time they just become a farce. Data inputs may happen but validation and qualification remains at large.
When I started my career as a scientist and was supposed to be responsible for such validations and qualifications. Soon I started becoming aware of what was working and what wasn’t. I began to realize that systems efficiency depended on the organizational culture, and this is not as simple as it seems. It actually depended on the background of the people, the region and country they belonged to. This I have no research to prove but enough experience to hypothesize and write. Let me bring a very simple example from our society to you, Queuing up is a simple system put in place to resolve the issue of crowds. But this system works very differently in India. A queue is a system designed to allow better crowd and time management, who ever comes first is served first. In western countries this system may work as designed. People will queue up as they come, in order of the time they come in. However in India, a queue is a complex social system. It doesn’t matter what time you come, if you have the right contact, that person will queue up for you and others in your family. It is a great networking space, a space where you can show your affection for another by standing up for them. It may sound strange but this is an honest observation. Holding seats for friends is a strong value, so queuing up doesn’t make sense in India. Senior citizen queues also might have a similar role, where the senior citizen enters and holds space for rest of the family members or friends, who may arrive much later. You see relationships and standing up for them is more important than following systems. Building and maintaining relationships is a value, a very Indian value. So even though the queue may initially look like it is serving the purpose, it can hardly follow the rule of first come first serve.
An Indian queue system is adapted to Indian values, you need to understand and accept it as it is. Also systems are said to be self running and are not people dependent. But in the Indian context people decide the efficiency of a system and wherever people are, the subconscious will show up in their behaviors. A queue system would work beautifully in India, if only you have several people supervising it. This people plus system cost drives communities and organizations crazy. The need for belonging, acceptance, relationship, respect, emotional connect seems high in the Indian culture. When the subconscious needs all this, then, which need is the system fulfilling. Adopting systems from the west, doesn’t fulfil the Indian needs and hence most of the systems remain dysfunctional. Instead of adopting a system if we could ‘Adapt’ systems, which fulfil the Indian values, I think the system will work beautifully and will be self sustaining. The Dabba wallas did not base their system on six sigma, but it became a case study for six sigma. It worked because it was indigenous and designed by people who were to run it. Organizations and communities should focus on implementing simple systems created by people, rather than spending time and resources on systems that will take a long time to implement and are also not cost effective. I know the so called standardisation will get affected, but let us leave that to the moulds and machines. Any system involving people should take the people along.