Down To Business: When National IT Pride Devolves Into Stereotypes - InformationWeek

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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: When National IT Pride Devolves Into Stereotypes

Americans excel at this, Indians fall down at that. Well, we all have our strengths and weaknesses independent of perceived "cultural" predispositions.

Remember when the conventional wisdom was that Japan Inc. would go only so far because its people aren't creative enough, that they're just a bunch of clever copycats? Today, Japanese applicants receive more U.S. patents than applicants from any other foreign country--in 2008, more than three times the number granted to individuals and companies from runner-up Germany. Yet there are people who still view Japanese companies as master imitators rather than champion innovators. Old stereotypes die hard.

Now the rap, especially in certain American IT circles, is against India Inc. The stereotypes are usually couched in a "cultural" context: Indian IT workers are highly trained and sometimes highly skilled, critics concede, but they have difficulty (because of "cultural differences") moving beyond the specific responsibilities or documentation they've been handed.

"Part of it is due to the way of education, where they are brainwashed into believing the written word without looking at it critically and trying [to] improve things," offers one blog commenter who claims to have experience working with Indian IT pros. "So the knowledge acquired is extremely limited, with anything slightly adjacent being considered out of scope. The disadvantage for clients is that they are kissing goodbye all chances of continuous improvement."

Stereotypes go both ways, apparently. Vineet Nayar, the highly respected CEO of India-based IT services provider HCL Technologies, recently told a New York City audience of about 50 customers and partners that most American tech grads are "unemployable." Why's that? Americans looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with conceiving the next big thing and getting rich, Nayar maintains. They're far less willing than students from developing economies like India, China, and Brazil to master the "boring" details of tech process and methodology--ITIL, Six Sigma, and the like. As a result, the HCL chief says, most Americans are just too expensive to train, despite the Indian IT industry's reputation for running the most exhaustive training programs in the world.

Imagine if the CEO of a U.S.-based tech company marched into Mumbai seeking a bigger share of the country's multibillion-dollar market and declared the locals to be unemployable and untrainable. A culture of innovation isn't inconsistent with one that values attention to detail.

But also re-evaluate your own predispositions. Does the Indian culture of hard, persistent work really discourage original thinking? In the United States, the accomplishments of federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, management consultants C.K. Prahalad and Ram Charan, and scores of other business and technology thought leaders suggest otherwise. India itself is teeming with entrepreneurs in business intelligence, mobile and wireless, biotech, consumer Internet, and other fields. Are they just cultural anomalies?

Stereotypes can carry grains of truth, but let's move beyond sweeping generalizations. This round-the-clock economy will require companies to have multinational employees who collaborate rather than just hand off bits and pieces of work to one another. National origin and background (and culture) still matter, but as competitive advantages rather than excuses for not integrating teams and plowing forward. National pride is one thing; myopic nativism is another.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief
[email protected]

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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