In India, a Balance of Everything isn’t a Bad Thing

In the midst of the growth years in India, there is still a predominance of parents trying to influence their kids in selecting a science or engineering discipline over liberal arts, irrespective of the level of interest. While languages (especially English) are encouraged to round out the individual, with a sports activity thrown in for good measure, the profession of choice continues to be one that is ‘safe and trusted’. The result is that the kid is all hunched up trying to solve eccentric problems along the lines of Albert Einstein, sing like Norah Jones, play cricket like Sachin Tendulkar, and swim like Michael Phelps while ending up being a bit of everything. Now considering the geniuses in the consideration set, a balance of everything (even in bits) isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What we often end up missing is the evolution of that one genius who is the last frontier, even though he may still end up outsmarting the average in the field that he eventually pursues. Consider also the shaping of the supply side, our institutions, in the context of this example. While international schools are now a dime a dozen, professing the need for an international curriculum and evolved style of examinations (or rather, the lack of it), there are also specific modules on traditional Indian cultures and values to ensure that parents are not alienated.

This approach can be seen throughout Indian culture. Consider the evolution of ‘fusion cuisine’ in India. Food chains and local joints are cooking up a storm over a confluence of eastern and western cuisines – a pizza topped with baingan bharta (brinjal curry), a doughnut served on a plate with the central void covered up with Indian ice-creams, a blackcurrant flavored kulfi, South Indian dosas (crepes) served with American and Mexican stuffing are

all around to be savored. Along with food, the spirit of balance also extends to clothes that we wear – jeans (modern) and kurtis (traditional), swimwear in the form of sarees are a commonality. These choices are testimony to our inherent preferences for ‘this and that’ and the inability and sometimes, unwillingness to force a hard tradeoff.

From a societal standpoint, let us consider another example of the desire for balance. In ancient times and especially in traditional families, the marriages used to be ‘arranged’ meaning that the  parents would be instrumental in selecting the suitor for their wards. In modern times and with an increasingly busy lifestyle, many Indians are still content to ‘outsource’ the job of finding a suitor.

However, potential prospects are increasingly requesting for a courtship period to know and understand their prospective better halves. This is further supplemented by the proliferation of online portals and matchmaking services where various forms of online and offline mechanisms are being used to ensure better acquaintance and compatibility. Once again, a bit of ‘this and that’ is in play even as Indians go about making one of the most important decisions of their life.

Indians are also trying to balance between their bosses at work and happiness outside work (work cultures being very different to those in Western cultures), between their workload in office and a family at home, between the wife at home and parents (multigenerational homes are very common in India), ending at times with a nil bank balance and a lot of regret.

So what does it all mean from the perspective of doing business with Indian consumers?

1/ Offer choices and bundles: whether it is defining the feature stack on devices or structuring the commercials of a merger, make sure to highlight plausible wins in multiple different ways even if the payoffs vary with the choices. Even better, offer the option for them to build up to their own value proposition so that they ‘own’ it. This is a classic community of value maximizers and ‘more is often better’, especially at the belly of the market.

2/ Localization is overhyped: with the increasing exposure of Indians to other cultures and choices, there is a clear opportunity to insert relevant global elements into a local offering. The products and services that succeed will integrate the core Indian values in their offerings but also bring in global experiences to the Indian masses.

3/ Be creative: be it in your approach or in the offerings. In a ‘this and that’ culture, there exists a distinct band of grey area that can help expand the pie, limiting the need to settle for an acute position at the very outset.

If nothing else, the next time you are meeting an Indian and you see a lot of shaking of the head in a manner that depicts neither a clear ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’, you are probably better off not being flustered. The guy may actually be in agreement and only trying to strike a better ‘balance’ in his mind in terms of justifying your proposal.

This article appears in MISC Winter 2014, The Balance Issue

the author

Ankush Chatterjee

Ankush Chatterjee is head of projects, product innovation at Samsung India Electronics Ltd. He is based in Gurgaon, India.