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Straight from the Specialists

Making your mind up in India

By Wally Olins
October 18, 2011

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

When I tell people at a dinner party in London that I’ve just been to India — which I sometimes do because I’m frequently in India and I lived in Mumbai once — people very often say to me, ‘Oh, how wonderful! I went there once. India’s so spiritual isn’t it?’ So I reply ‘Well, it probably is, but not the bits I go to’. By which I mean Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and all that — bustling, busy, commercial and industrial India isn’t remotely spiritual. Or am I missing something?

I work all over the world. I notice how patterns in business vary between one country and another. I love working in India and I love being in India but it can drive you potty. Spiritual? No. Frustrating?  Definitely. I don’t just mean the appalling infrastructure and the absurd bureaucracy, I mean behaviour patterns inside corporations.

What I notice most startlingly about clients and potential clients in India is not spirituality but chaos sometimes leading to indecision. Are they indecisive because they are chaotic and trying to do too many things at the same time or are they seeking spiritual guidance? It sometimes takes literally months for people to make their minds up to go ahead with things. Now why is this? Is it because the chaos leads to timidity? Certainly not.

On the contrary, Indian companies are self-confident and aggressive. Is it because everybody argues with everybody else? Yes, partly. But it isn’t only that. I’m not really sure why it is. The tendency to procrastination seems to pervade everything, starting a job, agreeing to a fee, agreeing to the strategic thinking, agreeing to the visualisation of the work, agreeing to the implementation programme. All of that seems to take an enormous amount of time. It makes life very difficult.

And then when it’s finally agreed, it has to be ready NOW. Tomorrow is too late. It’s true we’ve been arguing about it (whatever it is) for three months — but we need it AT ONCE.

Every national pattern is idiosyncratic. In Germany, for example, people are not quick to make their minds up but, once they do, they get on with it. American companies, especially the big ones, are meticulous, decisive, go by the rule book. Everything has to be analysed and quantified, sometimes till it’s half dead, but at least you know where you are. In France, you have to understand the internal politics — what’s going on behind what appears to be going on.

And, in Japan, clients are also very slow to make their minds up. They are full of passive, unspoken conflict and, because of the language barrier, they sometimes appear to be impenetrable but — once they start — boy, do they go!

I wish things got started a bit quicker in India — perhaps I should look for some spiritual guidance.

Comments

so so so so so so (completely) agree with the author of the write up….it can be totally annoying to do business in india..not only does decision making take time (sadly enough people are scared to take ownership) but also trying to haggle over money overlooking the value the business gets is overlooked. sad it is…and spiritual india is a myth made by international media – come and see the state of our politicians – hogging for media time doing everything else but developing the nation – going on a fast is the latest trend :) and if by chance the politician is taken behind bars, they are released after couple of hours citing health issues and then the media follows that and writes about it – very disturbing all of this :)

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