Thursday, October 4, 2007

Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are

An interesting and sometimes scathing, self-introspective look at "Indians" by an Indian,V. Raghunathan . Some may call it supercilious and others self-flagellating, but there are no doubts that it is controversial and thought-provoking.

Comments like this are sure to raise a few hackles : Privately, Indians are reasonably smart -- in fact, we are as smart as anybody else -- but publicly we are dumb. Our ability to understand the need for cooperation is very low. We believe that cooperation and selfishness cannot go together -- which is not true. We also tend to be very fatalistic in our outlook. We give excuses such as, "What can I do alone? Everybody else is looking out for himself, so why shouldn't I?"

But then, a little introspection and self-criticism shouldn't hurt.

An interview with the author published at IndiaKnowledge@Wharton :

In his book Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are, V. Raghunathan writes about a farmer whose corn won top awards year after year. When a reporter asked about the secret of his success, the farmer attributed it to the fact that he shared his corn with his neighbors. Why, the reporter wondered, would the farmer want to share his seed when those neighbors also competed with him for the prize? The farmer's reply was, "The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grew inferior corn, cross-pollination would steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors do the same."

That Indians often fail to act like this farmer is the principal theme of Raghunathan's book. Using examples as varied as their tendency to drive through red lights to their failure to protect the environment, Raghunathan argues that Indians often act in ways that focus on winning immediate gains at the expense of long-term benefits. What makes Raghunathan's approach unusual is that his argument isn't a moral diatribe: He employs game theory -- a branch of mathematics -- and related concepts, such as the prisoner's dilemma, to present his case. A former professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Raghunathan in 2001 was named president of the ING Vyasya Bank. He now works for the GMR Group as managing director of GMR Industries, the group's agri-business division, and CEO of the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation. Raghunathan also teaches game theory and behavioral economics at the University of Bocconi in Italy. To relax, he repairs mechanical clocks.

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