One big advantage of being late is we can learn from the mistakes of early movers. We can leapfrog.
We are already leapfrogging in some sectors, but are still painfully slow, ignorant or indifferent in many others. The telecom revolution of the last decade is a good example of how millions of Indians have leapfrogged from no phone to mobiles, skipping land lines. Banking is another sector which is leapfrogging so much that many Indians in smaller towns & villages will soon directly adopt online & mobile banking, avoiding bank branches altogether.
Such leapfrogging in multiple sectors has interesting ‘lollapalooza effects’ – multiple factors acting together, often in non-linear fashion, resulting in big dramatic transformations in other areas. For example, mobile internet & online payments is transforming other sectors like entertainment & shopping.
But we soon run out of such good examples.
The most significant leapfrogging we should attempt is an area which is impacting the majority of us – Urbanization. More & more people are moving to cities. The quality of life in most Indian cities is abysmal today.
Urbanization includes housing, transport, water, leisure, entertainment, law & order, industry, waste management, environment, and so on. We should leapfrog in each of these areas.
Consider urban transport, as an example. Many cities in the developed world today are moving towards a car-lite & road-lite transport system. It’s quite clear traffic-jammed cities degrade environment, pose safety risk to commuters & pedestrians, impact people’s health & fitness etc. And we can’t just keep growing our road & highway infrastructure. We need to design & build cities with an efficient confluence of mass public transit, roads & highways. We should discourage car ownership, ramp-up public bus & rail systems, encourage walking & cycling to work and school, decentralize offices, encourage remote working, design cities to avoid mass-commuting across long distances during peak hours, and so on – all leading to a better quality of life.
The Smart City projects show promise.
Will we execute well? Can we leapfrog?