Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Are US and India made for each other?

Do the West and East ever meet? No but maybe they will be a complete whole together. Maybe they will be together to complement each other for their strengths and weaknesses. Yin and yang? Maybe.

The two cultures have many commonalities and differences. While analysing these, there is a risk of stereotyping and loose generalisations. However, these when viewed from a broad level can be said to be true of their cultures. We also have to factor in that in the last decade the Indian culture has been undergoing Westnerization. This is however, in my opinion, more at the urban educated segment and cannot be said to be true of the mass in general.

In US there is a greater emphasis on analysis, whereas in India it is skewed towards generalizations. In US people are more objective while in India people are more subjective. When we look at the subjects that have flourished in the US they are primarily those of science, technology or economics and related subjects which lean on analytical depths. On the other hand, the Indian contribution to the world has been largely in the realms of the philosophical and metaphysical. When it comes to discussions and decisions, say on business, Americans bank on facts and figures to make inferences, while Indians are comfortable going by perceptions and intuitions.

In the US, materialism is at the core of the culture whereas Indians have been historically been preached to shun materialism; though this has been changing in the last decade or so. Frugality, either due to poor economic conditions or Hindu philosophy is a way of life in India. In the US ostenatiousness is a way of life. Success is measured in terms of wealth. Both sides have had their share of problems coming from this cultural characteristic. Rampant consumerism and materialism led to spending beyond means, pldeging of the future for the sake of the present. Whereas the frugalism, in its negative conotation, did not push people to achieve and create value or wealth, depriving of prosperity to a large segment of population.

In the US individualism is strongly advocated and nourished whereas in India indivisualism is still not highly encouraged, though we cannot claim that Indians partonise collectivism overtly. In US transactions are purely business or professional whereas in India people put emotions before these. Probably, this is the reason why Indians find it difficult to say NO. Incidentally, this an area which can be countered from the fact that almost all the social networking sites have come from the US and are also most popular there. How can one then say that Americans are more individualistic when they are championing networking. In my opinion the argument against such an interpretation come from two points.

One, social networking came from a void - a void of not being socially that well connected. In Indian culture, people are socially well knit at family, friends and social group levels. So in a way there was anyway no need for one more strucutured mechanism of networking. Two, in America networking is very strong when it comes to business and professional cause. Whereas Indians are pretty poor at this while they are good at the social level.

Locus of control, are more likely to be internal and external in American and Indian culture, respectively. Results are perceived to be in the control of the individual, whereas the results being out of control of one self is common in India. On the positive side, the internal locus of control, has pushed people to be accountable for their actions and incited them to act. On the negative side, this has led to brashness and arrogance with lowering of acceptance of other side of the story. For the Indians, the external locus of control led to greater level of acceptance but has also held them back from pushing themselves harder or more intelligently.

We examined some of the differences in the cultures of the two nations. Now we explore some of the common characteristics.

Yet there are some very strong commonlaities. One is that both the cultures have accepted and have lived with pluralism. Acceptance of differences based on various social, regional and religious factors is very high. In India there are many factors of differences compared to that in the US given its longer history. Language, for example. The number of languages is mind blogging for any one nation. Then there is this commonality of entrepreneurship. We have seen flourishing of ability to take risk, innovate, create value. Of course the scale and the level of entrepreneurship is far higher,evident from the GDP and also the command over most successful organisations. Only now are Indian businessmen acting at global scale. Both Indians and the Americans have been very comfortable in venturing out to other geographies and the remotest corners of the world. Even in the remotest or remote part of the world, one can find a sardar or a malayalee.

India and the US can together be a strong team. A team like that of good bowlers and batsmen. Or mabe a good team of husband and wife, with each supporting the other to bring the best in the other and ensuring that neither is spoilt by his or her own limitations. India and the US, however, have not had a very healthy relationship in the past, particularly from the stand point of the Governments. Ideological and geo-political matters kept them from trusting each other. Slowly, however, economics is leading to a better partnership at the people level.

A higher level of participation between the two natures given the differences and the commonalities will go a long way for people of both the countries and the people of the world.