LESSONS FROM THE PAST 13: Help Crabs Jump Out!
In October 1999, I had written about an old building in my neighbourhood, which still exists in 2021, in the same condition. It has been neglected by the owner, who receives just Rs150 as monthly rent from each of the six tenants in this two-floored apartment building, built in about 1956. 
The tenants will not move out, nor allow the rent to be increased. Nor will the tenants cooperate with each other to maintain the building, manage the common areas and services like water, or the large area in front filled with weeds and puddles, instead of what could have been an attractive garden. 
The final result: a ghastly projection of non-cooperation. Each flat on each floor is painted a different colour, even on the outside. Some have open balconies. Others have enclosed them with a brick wall. Still others have enclosed them with grilled lattice work. 
The result? A jumble of colour and design, which is obnoxious to anyone passing by, who has even a miniscule sense of aesthetics.
What is it in the Indian psyche that makes us so exclusively self-centred?
The housing cooperatives in Mumbai are where there is evidence of the least cooperation. I used to chair one society where our company had an office. It had been decided at an annual general meeting (AGM) that every unit will pay a flat fee per month for general services like security, janitorial, and maintenance et al
The society has produced a negative profit and loss statement (P&L) for 10 years, because three out of the 30 units feel that the charge is unfair, and their units are a little smaller than the other standard units. They insist on being charged on a per sq ft basis. In the meantime, they pay nothing at all. Not even what they feel they should be charged and under protest. 
The result?  Lakhs of rupees are owing to the society and all the other 27 members are inconvenienced. 
What is it in the Indian psyche that makes us so exclusively self-centred?
Some time back, I tried to get two Indian consultancy firms together, to give a joint proposal for a very large project initiated by the government of India. The chief executives (CEOs) of both companies agreed to cooperate.  They felt it was a good idea and that they had a much better chance of winning the bid for the project if they went together than if they quoted individually. Neither of them had the complete range of expertise singly, but together, they did, and in ample measure. 
The CEOs, therefore, asked their resident managers (RMs) in Delhi to get together and develop a proposal for submission. The RMs refused to do this, each felt that they could manage the project individually. There was no need to cooperate. 
They submitted individual quotes for the assignment. Both lost. The project work was awarded to a large transnational consulting firm. 
Some years ago, I asked another consultant to help me with a project I was doing for a multinational company. We agreed on the role to be played; the number of days; the metrics for measurement of results and the fee. All went well for two years. The contract was not renewed for the third year and I wondered why. In a few months, I knew. 
The consultant, who was working with me, had approached the CEO of the client company, and offered to do the job himself, at a lower fee. Surprisingly, the CEO agreed. My associate had cut loose and had built a direct line of communication.  
In a few years, the company sank and was finally sold. It was not just because of the consultant, but because of poor, unscrupulous and unprincipled leadership. This was reflected even earlier, with the CEO agreeing to working out a separate deal with my associate!!
Again, I asked myself - what is it in the Indian psyche, that makes us so self-centred?
And then I saw hope. It was a good sign. At the national conference of Automotive Component Manufacturers Association on 6 September 1999, Ratan Tata said:                                         
“Industry must go beyond the boundaries of a country to forge relationships and form transnational corporations of its own.”  
“We did not get together as an industry, as the Japanese would have, for a national project, which would have created a milestone of national achievement, despite possessing abundant skills and nascent technology unused so far. There was need for urgency, with Indian manufacturers putting aside their emotions to shed the fragmented nature of the industry and work closer with its manufacturing counterpart and demonstrate its innovative capabilities.” 
It is now 2021. Has the big change happened? To my mind, the direction is right, but the speed is too slow. If we can increase the speed and spread of the networking, cooperation and competition, we can greatly increase the success levels of corporations and the contribution to the nation. 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
Meenal Mamdani
2 years ago
I suggest that this is a result of massive trust deficit in all levels of society. Indians are reluctant to take any action lest they be duped by the other party. One sees this in all spheres of life in India, public and private.
It is possible that by now this has got so ingrained in the Indian psyche that there is no possibility of change. On the other hand, the same individuals function in a cooperative manner in the US provided they work in a cosmopolitan setting involving individuals who are from all over the world.
But when Indians, first generation immigrants, get together to form civic associations, their working is dismal, more often than not; no transpareny, no accountability, a my way or the highway attitude of the leaders, thus ending with the society or assn splintering into numerous smaller groups within a few years.
I was wondering if this could change if justice could be obtained in a public and swift manner. If I don't trust you but from necessity must work with you then I will be far more willing to participate if I can be assured of swift justice if you cheat me.
We talk of reforms in various sectors, banking, education, health, etc.
We must insist of judicial reform, to start with on the civic side and then criminal side. That will unlock the potential of individuals and organizations, whether private or public.
Replied to Meenal Mamdani comment 2 years ago
You are right..a major improvement is required in our system of justice.
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