Why is curiosity important for success?

Continuing on from the previous blog on the Kunal Shah’s thoughts on “how we can make India better?” Let’s continue.

What is the struggle in India from the perspective of outsiders, i.e. NRI, foreigners etc.?

My conversations with various people who have either travelled to India or have heard from others who have crossed led to similar conclusions. They have all concluded that there are a lot of beautiful aspects like culture, spiritual sensibilities, empathy, sense of warmth and friendliness in general, but people here have way too many internal battles to fight. Everyone has an ego, and their sense of ego is so strong that it echos my previous point of status-driven vs wealth driven society. Most people here are fighting for “respect” in their life and career. Attracting wealth or earning more money is portrayed very negatively. In movies, if you see, the villain is generally the rich guy, and the hero is the poor guy. Barring the melodrama, it has somehow shaped up our lives in so many ways that we have ideated that being rich is selfish and wrong. And coming back to the “respect” part, most Indians mask the “ego” message behind wanting more respect. Unfortunate but true.

Yuval Noah Harari’s intuition from the book – 21 lessons from 21st century

Honestly, I have partially read the book, yet to complete but some points in the book makes so much sense. Do give it a read but till then….

The society adopted religion, capitalism and everything else to collaborate at a large scale. But when we collaborate at large scale automatically, some people become more successful. Unless we accept the wealth divide and think how he is more successful than me, the “Crab” mentality creeps in (check the crab story in the previous part). Astonishingly we won’t care about that we all are more prosperous than before because wealth is not zero some whereas status is zero some. So, we pull people down. One of my mentors told me that in this country we make someone big (as in, an icon, inspiration etc.) and then we bid him/her goodbye like a goddess being immersed in the river after Durga Puja. So, when we look at any affluent person here, they always fold their hands. That’s the reason flashing wealth in this country is terrible. So the question I ask you as well as myself is- why are we like that? What if we all became wealthy? What if everyone’s income grows? That is how some country’s income has gone from $2000 per capita to $50000 per capita. But, sadly, we are not accepting that part of the mindset.

Now coming to the point – will we go back in time, i.e. the gig economy? Let’s take a small example- the person who entertained, i.e. the movie stars, dancers, performers were more impoverished than the person who got entertained. Think about it!! Interesting right? But slowly as they found distribution and 400 people could watch something, the coin flip. Isn’t it? Then came the cinema, now the internet, i.e. web series, youtube, Instagram and TikTok. That’s only because distribution is significantly high now.

The future belongs to the curious. The ones that are not afraid to try it, Explore it, Poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.

Similarly, if we talk about education- why can’t Physics be taught by the best teacher in India to everybody in this country? That’s a tough question to answer because then everybody will like physics, but what happens to all the other millions of teachers that are out there teaching exceptionally poorly? This creates wealth for the teacher, but education was never a wealthy profession. If we notice all the teachers on Youtube, they are actually entertainers because they make physics really interesting. But in our times, teachers weren’t entertainers because they had power, they had respect. Point is, this will create a very different society and people will say – “A lot has changed withoin a short time.”

Problem is, can we stop the change now? Covid-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the future. We can’t stop it, and therefore countries will behave differently, families will behave differently, and we don’t know if the world needs so many people. There is a documentary about new inventions where its shown that before the cars were invented, the horse population was on a “bull” run. As soon as the car came, their population went down in 10 years because we didn’t need so many horses. It’s terrifying because human beings are not horses. So, suddenly if we give them free income will they be happy with it. (refer to my Universal basic income blog)

We are entering into scary possibilities that we don’t have the mechanism to prevent civil unrest. We are assuming that “Oh! Everything will be fine.” But what if covid-19 has killed 50% of jobs because earlier we used to take a cab to work. But now millions of drivers aren’t earning enough. So, the moment a country becomes emotionally charged, you do not know what outcome it creates. It may behave like a mob after that. So, imagining India reaching 2060 will be a journey of tremendous pain. There is an entrepreneurial thought that comes to my mind- whosoever has made it big has gone through crisis times. It’s a similar story for countries as well, look at any country which is a powerhouse in the making today.

The AI wave that’s been happening. Will we have the next “Facebook” from our country?

Various experts, entrepreneurs, investors as well as Kunal Shah has very little hope on that, due to multiple reasons. Naturally, the country as always has lost its best talents to the global audience. My friends from graduation, my colleagues, my cousin who has been in the US, Europe, South-east Asia for the past 3-4 years, when asked whether they would be coming back, answered a decisive  “NO”. But the same question when asked in a survey of Chinese students resulted in an answer that they are all going back to China. So, our smartest brains are going to leave the country. Here the tricky part of socialism comes in. If you feel as a taxpayer, the government isn’t rewarding you back, i.e. the metro cities contribute to a lot of tax, but the funds allocated back to the city is very very low because we are a population of 1.3 billion people. We have to take care of everyone. This makes one feel that one should just leave.

And now with advanced technology, you can actually be anywhere in world while remaining connected. For example,- Facebook can employ an Indian in Columbia. My cousin once told me that Infosys has hired and settled a bunch of Indians in Belgium for a project in South America, Africa etc. So, the world is going to get mismatched, and new matchmakings are going to take place. This is obviously alarming but beyond imaginations of many due to utter ignorance. So, can we build these companies? Talent, audacity, money and product mindset is formidable here.

Lot of global company CEOs are Indians. It’s not about their brain but the exposure. The fact is, all the Indians we are proud of, have changed their citizenship long ago, have lived abroad and are way more American than Indian now. In psychology, there is a concept of basking in reflected glory- we are just happy that these CEOs are Indians. Still, the reality is, they don’t have any effect on us. We have had the opportunity over the years, but we are continually losing talent. As a country, it is tough to take care of the smartest people here. We have millions and billions of people to invest on, their education, their food. The number of subsidies we have to give and the number of loans we have to wave off is too humongous to handle. So, the brain drain that is happening is scary, and it’s cool and nationalistic to say that “Apna time aayega” (Our time will come) but rationally ask yourself the question- “Kaise aayega?” (How will it come) There should be an idea or an early sign for that.

An exciting pattern I want to point out here is that, we have had Indian startups doing something, and global giants coming and becoming more prominent in the same space. Almost competing neck to neck in many cases (Uber- Ola, Flipkart-Amazon, Gpay-Phonepe-Paytm-Amazon Pay-Bhim). In short, we can’t compete with them, so how can we become global companies? The sheer ruthlessness, or relentlessness we need to make it big, and the amount of capital and talent we require, is  probably not there because great talent can work anywhere. So, are we creating a country where people would love to stay and would want their kids to be raised? Thus a small part of the nation imagine themselves to be in Singapore or Hong Kong and another large part imagine themselves to be in Africa. India has become average out of the two.

We think the solution to all this is to blame the government, but it is not in the government’s hand. The country is built by its people. All the knowledge is available on Youtube but how many people are going up and reading it? We have to continually dumb down content so that it makes sense to people. Reality is we are competing in a global world while making textbooks easier to understand, summarizing books, making videos to explain in an easier way. So what worries me is our general skillset is very, very low. This has happened genuinely because of lack of curiosity. Recent educational reforms will take at least 5-6 years to actually bring about a change. We have to constantly be aware and up to our game to which I strongly feel most degrees are too irrelevant now. But who will give this bad news to people in college right now?

What can rural kids or even us learn from Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Mark Zuckerberg?

All billionaires who have become billionaires reached there by basic principles in life- intuitions and understanding how things work. Understanding is not the responsibility of your teacher. It’s your responsibility to understand the world and how it operates. And we are waiting for parents to tell us to study or engage a teacher or take extra coaching classes. Our biggest mistake is, taking coaching classes to mug up and take these competitive exams and then thinking we are smart but have actually understood nothing. You can differ with me on this, but my question to you is why students after passing the most competitive exams fail in the first semester of an IIT, NIT or any other prestigious colleges? The point I am trying to make is you cannot make it big just because you score high marks if you do not understand. What is the business? What are the principles of a company? How many people are curious to know how Jio works? What is the revenue model? What is the average ARPU (Average revenue per user) ? Do we need an education system to teach us this? Because anyway by the time we grow up and reach there, these terms are irrelevant. You will then feel like it is a 20-year-old syllabus.

A point to ponder on- Are entrepreneurs building educational institutions? I don’t think so. They are way ahead on some of these things. So many Stanford courses are available free on Youtube. I see 2000 -3000 views on them. It is like gold which nobody is taking. Most entrepreneurs I have come across or read about have continuously tried to find out “how” but it’s funny that in the last 5-10 years the world has declined on searches of the word “HOW”.

Point is -the need and curiosity is just not there, and we are happy with status, Instagram videos posting images of food and travel. The truth of life is that not everybody can make it big. We are a country of low trust so, there will always be 25 companies who will have all the profit, 25 Bollywood celebrities who will have all the profits, 25 Apps which will have all the users. We really need to break out and create new territories.

There is a fun story that I need to share-

In India, when a person dies, the land is divided between two sons. Whereas in the west, there is a concept of first-born. So, the first-born gets the inheritance but the second born has to go and do exploration to claim his own property. So, naturally, the society became exploratory, and India kept dividing (saying that we have limited availability). In Portugal, all the explorers were given higher status than the king and were buried inside the church. So, explorers were respected. But in India, who is more respected? Bollywood stars or entrepreneurs? So, naturally, you will desire to be a Bollywood star. You would not want to be an entrepreneur because it is not cool to be an entrepreneur. Only because we haven’t made them heroes yet. Entrepreneurs are misconstrued for owning a lot of money, but nobody is making use of their brains – they are more evolved than 97% of the population.

Hence, we need to be very sure what we want. We have made a lot of people famous as politicians so many want to be politicians, enter college politics, etc.- again because of ‘status’. Interesting fact! You will see, those who are gaining status by comedy, poetry or art are eventually becoming politicians, but you will never see politicians become comedians, poets or entertainers. That is the ultimate status game. That is because we fundamentally have wrong role models. The end question is – do we want to become a wealth driven society? It’s definitely a question we need to answer, and we need to make the people who generate wealth, the heroes. We should encourage people to have stocks in the company they work for. Still, only 20 million people are participating in stock markets among 1.3 billion. In mutual funds about 25-30 million. If we can’t understand wealth, can’t understand shares or capitalism, then how can we be playing this game?

All I am saying curiosity is the pathway to success be it a career, be it art, be it business and be it personal growth. We, adults, have lost our curiosity in the midst of daily hustle believing wither we are “unlucky”, “don’t have time”, “not my cup of tea” etc. etc. But key to growth still remains “being curious”, upgrade yourself and change your perspective. Are you curious yet? Or it is still a pondering thought for ages. Let me know in the comments.

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