Despite several engineers graduating each year, the IT product industry faces a dearth of creative talent. Here’s why.
Ever wondered why India did not invent Apple, Samsung, Google or LinkedIn? Why are there more project managers available than product managers? Why, unlike the West, are we unable to create innovative products? It is because when the rest of the world was busy innovating for a better life, India’s larger focus was on managing its manpower and employment issues. That is why, the IT service industry has been booming in India, while the IT product industry, that needs innovation as the core, makes up only a little chunk of the IT market share in the country.
Why is that the IT service majors in the country hire in thousands every year, whereas the IT product organisations struggle to find talent? There are a gamut of reasons that underplay the existence of creative talent in India, especially when it comes to the IT industry. There is a robotic level of performance that the best of professionals have achieved. Yet, there is a lack of creativity and innovation in thought. To understand what lies behind this, it is important to look at the core of the concern.
To begin with, unlike in the US where the schooling system ensures that students go out and explore, and the teachers are just facilitators for learning, the academic framework in India is designed such that it makes students attend classrooms, read, learn and grasp. This is the first step to killing creativity. Abhishek Jha, director-global human resources, e-Emphasys, says, “With the kind of schooling system we have in India, one doesn’t truly acquire the skill to look beyond the obvious, which is why the future talent is also oriented that way. Whereas, product companies need very creative talent, which is a difficult find here.”
Secondly, the general mindset in India is to avoid risks as far as possible, which is also why for a long time entrepreneurism wasn’t very common here. Having said that, IT services and maintenance are more risk averse as compared to the IT product sector. Creating a product requires time, effort, and investment along with a significant gestation period for success. This calls for more patience, perseverance and an innovative risk-handling mindset, which makes it difficult to find good talent for the industry in India. It is because of these reasons that despite so many engineers graduating each year, the IT product industry still struggles to find creative talent.
The general mindset in India is to avoid risks as far as possible – IT services and maintenance are more risk averse as compared to the IT product sector.
In fact, our economy is designed such that job security is more important for people than innovation. Unlike a capitalist economy that encourages innovation through pushing entrepreneurs and industrialists, ours is a socialist economy, which by design, pulls people on the top further up and pushes the people at the bottom of the economy, further down. Add to this the fact that our major intent is always to create more jobs and ensure employment and job security.
As a result, organisations avoid terminating people on grounds of unsatisfactory performance. Rather, they show empathy and let people continue. In a capitalist economy, on the other hand, termination is not taboo. It’s uncommon for people in India to get fired or even take a few months of voluntary break from work. Jha says, “This working style, where there is no downtime for one to reflect and find time for one’s interests and hobbies, completely retards creativity.”
Not many organisations like Google support their employees in spending a part of their time in a year to pursue their interests and innovate in the area; and even pay for doing so. Employees in India can’t ever mention that they are underutilised, even if they are, as they fear being seen as underperformers. However, in other countries, people are supposed to work only up to 80 per cent of their capacity, saving time and energy for personal interests.
Another factor that hampers a product mindset in Indians is that we are a labour-intensive country, where manpower is easily available for most chores. Jha explains, “The demand–supply issue in the West has naturally put pressure on the system to create more innovative products.” For example, he says, “vacuum cleaners were never a hit in India as people easily find manpower to do the job, whereas in the US, where domestic help is not conveniently available, people create, innovate and buy such products to ease their lives.”
In India, cheap labour is readily available for most jobs, which leaves no motivation for people to think beyond and create such products, which is why, not many great products come out of India.
To add to this, even the perceived aspirations of talent in India are a roadblock in their own creativity. As Jha shares, “Ask any beginner at the IT service industry about their aspirations and they would want to be a project manager and then lead teams.” “The core of our existence and aspirations is to lead people. We want to be at the helm of affairs, which for us means we don’t want to do things but prefer to delegate,” he says.
On the contrary, most creative heads, designers and successful product managers work in isolation. In fact, a creative idea is not something that can be fully delegated. Product managers in the IT product industry can oversee small teams for building an innovative product but cannot disseminate or delegate work as can be done in the IT service industry. This is something that directly defies people’s perceived measure of success — that lies in the number of people they command.
Now, there is definitely a need to change this mindset. This can be done by targetting the roots of the issue. It needs more industry partnership and collaboration with schools, tie-ups with colleges and more chairs in institutes that fund and encourage creativity. In addition, Jha says, “The IT service industry must constantly engage with talent to ensure that they are on the higher side of the value chain, creating opportunities for them to think beyond their usual work regimes.”
Even if that is not a business mandate for the IT service industry, given a chance to innovate, people in the services can also be creative and make a difference to their usual day-jobs. To conclude, as Jha puts it, “It’s not just about creating an innovative product but organisations must set people up for success in its true sense.”