Friday, November 09, 2007

Piggybacking and leapfrogging - new growth mantras for India and China?

The upcoming issue of the Economist magazine, Nov 2 nd week 2007, will be featuring this topic in greater detail. Piggybacking , Leapfrogging or both, which is sustainable in the long run ?

Consider the following situations. A new telephone user in India buys a mobile and wireless connection. He does not know what is a land line and wired connection. A new buyer of camera, gets the new digital camera and has not seen a film roll nor does know what is film developing.. This is jumping across different stages of the development process or product life cycle cycle and straightaway reaching the forefront.

China's Chang'e I satellite has begun circumventing the moon with the intention of studying lunar environment and possibly make a landing on it very soon. India's ambitious Chandrayaan programme is planning to land on moon by 2010 AD. We have neither spent fortunes researching the space nor the machines which will take us there. Yet, we look forward to land there by passing lot of intermediate stages.

The above two cases are examples of piggybacking and leapfrogging respectvely.

Piggybacking is sitting on the shoulders of the developed countries for some time and when the time is ripe, leapfrogging to take us as afar ahead as possible has been going on for some time now. We have not yet done the leapfrogging act, other than when China and India stunned the world by exploding their atomic bombs in the 60s and 70 s respectively. Is there an apartheid in the modern world which prevents the developing world from trying out innovative things or technology for that matter even imitation or adaptation ?

This is the same strategy which India and China are presently employing in their race to development over the next fifty years. Like it or not, this is pragmatism at it's peak !!

Bypassing the Nolan stages theory or the life cycle development theory ? The fast growing countries of India and China are showing the world that if one needs to catch up with the rest of the developed world, don't try reinventing the wheel again, instead focus on where the others have reached, try to get there and then compete with them. In short, vault over the intermediate stages of development and catapult yourself to the forefront. Naturally, a very realistic approach. This leapfrogging is more ambitious than piggy backing as the leap frogging exercise can take you farther ahead than your competitors in technology and development.

Are there any shortcomings with this process ?

Piggybacking and leapfrogging is not without it's drawbacks too. Going the whole way piggybacking is not recommended as the growth will be slow and dependent on others. The hurdles which come in between can hinder one's growth. Trying to leapfrog the whole distance is also not recommended as every time you leapfrog you land on your rump and picking up from there can be tedious and painstaking.

One of the greatest shortcomings as has been seen by the author is the unevenly distributed development happening in both these countries. Only some regions or states have embraced these technologies whole heartedly or have experienced the need to change, while the rest of the country still are years back in development. This lop sided development cannot lead the country as a whole to development. It becomes a case of pulling everybody else, compared to pushing from behind. As a group we cover more distance if pushed from behind than being being pulled from front.

This uneven development has resulted in different parts of the country experiencing different rates of productivity and productivity improvement from the tools already in the market.

The second problem is that there is no firm ground to assess your present state of development and then to look at the future, because everywhere and everything is in a constant state of flux. It can be dangerous in the long run as maturity in technology or products cannot be experienced because of this constant state of flux, adaptation and growth. Unless one gets time to consolidate on one's achievements at frequent intervals of time, the process forward can be really hazy and incoherent.

The third problem is that innovation gets stunted. Imitation and adaptation rules the day and is valued. Imitation and adaptation can take us to the front but cannot help us remain there for long. If we have to retain our position as the leader of the world, a firm and solid foundation should be laid to promote innovation and creativity. Promoting innovation and creativity should be a way of life.

Because our aim is not just to reach the forefront of nations, but to remain there and provide quality, effective intellectual and innovative leadership in manufacturing and service sectors to the world. And that requires a complete revamp of our attitude and leadership styles.

But till we reach there, of course it is piggybacking and leapfrogging !!


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