[Photograph courtesy Mint]
The beauty of Kiran Karnik’s book Crooked Minds lies in its simplicity. If you merely browse over it, you won’t notice any mind bending insights. But that is exactly where Karnik’s genius lies. He has disguised the insights in simplicity. Quite clearly, this must have taken enormous amounts of hard work, effort, and endless thinking.
This began to unravel itself only as I started to engage with him around the book. It soon becomes obvious that there is a sophisticated mind at work that has thought through a lot many issues contemporary Indian policy makers and entrepreneurs face. It is not a theoretical treatise either, but one that is grounded in reality and takes a pragmatic perspective of the future. The narrative is rich. It weaves through Indian history, the reality that India is in now, navigates into contemporary terrain, drills into what views policy makers, organisations and individuals ought to take as things are, and then looks into the future. All of this, without sounding pretentious or having a word of jargon embedded in it.
I must confess I came at it sceptically. In the first instance, the title was misleading. The moment I saw Crooked Minds, I had made up my mind. I had assumed that this is yet another treatise around jugaad—a school of thought that subscribes to an attitude of innovation which argues “anything goes”, so long as it can be made to work in the Indian context. I have philosophical and moral disagreements with that concept because I think it unsustainable. As it turns out, Karnik does not subscribe to the idea of jugaad either. So what does he mean by Crooked Minds then? And what is his idea of innovation? The stage was beginning to get set for a conversation that would dive into his book and his experiences from the real world as well as where he had drawn his hypothesis from.
It reinforces that adage: Never judge a book by its cover.
The original intent was to focus on that part of the book where he drills down into what makes an organisation innovative. But as the engagement got deeper, it was clear I would lose out on a lot of what lies embedded in his mind and what he has left unsaid.
For instance, is the idea of Make in India a good one? Ought it to be reframed for India’s sake?
Everybody talks about patience and the virtues of incremental innovation. But given where India is right now, the country needs to leapfrog. Why aren’t we then talking disruptive innovation and more ideas like India Stack and Aadhaar?
When it comes to leadership, what does it take to be an innovative leader? How do you walk the thin line that makes for a good leader who invests for the long term and a sustainable future, even as he keeps an eye on the short term to keep shareholders happy?
We ventured outside the domain of his book into his tenure at Nasscom and the nature of Indian IT companies. What is it about these entities that they cannot create products as we understand product companies? Will a Google ever emerge out of India?
And why are the Chinese envious of Indian entrepreneurs?
Between what lies in his book and the hour-long conversation with him, of which I enjoyed every minute, I emerged richer.
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