Are we like this only?

Understanding (and shaping) India

My ramblings on understanding needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used to understand what motivates people. It classifies human needs into 5 levels.
1. Physiosological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Pyschological needs
4. Esteem needs
5. Self Realization needs
Key to this theory is that a person cannot move up this pyramid until his/her needs at the previous level have been taken care of. I can think of several instances where this is not true.
  • Someone who skips their own meals in order to save up enough for their child’s education. A physiological need is given lower priority than a safety need.
  • A person going on a hunger strike until his/her demands are met is abandoning a basic need (survival) for a self realization need
  • A person standing in line in the hot sun to buy an iPhone is abandoning a basic need (being out of the sun) for a self esteem or self realization need
  • A yogi depriving himself of basic needs in the quest of spiritual enlightenment
  • A student who immolates himself for a cause
While some of these examples may be flawed, they serve to highlight two key weaknesses in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  1. It assumes a hierarchy where one may not exist. In each country and culture, there may be differences in groupings and priorities.
  2. It assumes that Man is rational. Firstly, what is rational for one person is irrational for someone else. Secondly, even a person who is thought of by most as being a rational person will act irrationally on occasion.
People will abandon rational behaviour, and consequently Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,  under several conditions. These conditions can be brought about by others through rabble rousing, PR, advertising and news media.
Perhaps, it is best to not apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to individuals (incidentally this is what it is intended for) and individual cases. Instead, it is probably more useful for understanding how groups of people (e.g. the different Indias) are different from each other.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | models, needs, rationality | 1 Comment

India drops to 41 out 130 in Global Innovation Index

I came across this  LiveMint article today that says that India has fallen 18 ranks to a woeful 41 out of 130 countries.

I am not  too concerned with India’s actual rank in such rankings. Others will argue about whether the metrics and methodology were correct or consistently applied. That is not an argument I want to get into because frankly it does not matter if the rank was 15 or 100. The bottomline is that when it comes to innovation, we have miles to go. Maybe someone can do some jugaad and bump up India’s score,  but that won’t make our system more conducive for innovation.

Raj Nair (disclaimer: he’s my dad), when asked in an interview in L!ve (a publication from IIT Bombay’s School of Management) what role he thought the government can play to promote innovation in India said, “it can stay out of the industry and innovation will happen automatically”.  (You can read the whole interview here).

While I agree that government should butt out of  innovation, there is a lot it can do to make sure that innovation is not hurt — like transparent policies, fighting terrorism, investing in energy, infrastructure, education, law and order, and healthcare. Ideas can foster better in an environment where physiological and safety needs are met (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

That’s what the government can do. Meanwhile, private industry needs to be a little more ballsy and try to achieve the untried instead of mimicking the developed world.

Edit: Please see these well written articles on the same subject:

1. The world’s engineers, but not the architects!

2. Can India produce billion dollar innovations?

January 27, 2010 Posted by | india, innovation, needs | Leave a comment