Good Ideas for US businesses from India?

I’ve recently noticed a few  articles on a related theme – lessons that American businesses can learn from India.  Experiences in another culture or country are often the source of innovative ideas, and tapping this idea stream is one very good reason for developing a truly globalized business model (vs. a multi-country business, where each region operates as a silo).   All too often, American businesses can, like the stereotypical American tourist, focus on what they do better, and ignore the opportunities for learning from other countries.  We tend to assume that because a developing economy has more poverty or poor infrastructure, that they are “behind” the US and there is only a one-way learning process (see some of the comments on Navi Radjour’s article, mentioned below).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I wrote about one example of this at John Deere here.  Here are some other examples in recent articles:

In an HBS blog post, Navi Radjour wrote about this concept broadly, arguing that ‘the US must learn to receive India’s “smart power” as much as it is willing to bestow its own onto India.’ He then went on to cite two examples – SELCO in the clean energy sector, and Aravind Eye Care hospitals in the healthcare sector.  These are examples of companies that have developed an innovative product (or process, in Aravind’s case) to greatly reduce costs, which expands the market for these products dramatically.  I don’t think either company’s products are directly transferable to the US market as is, but there is an opportunity to leverage the products or ideas to offer lower cost rural electricity and eye surgery in the U.S.

In another example, Gunjan Bagla wrote about how much better the customer service is on Indian airlines (at least, Kingfisher and Jet Air), versus on American airlines.  This is true of the quality of service in many Indian businesses targeted at upper income segments, such as department stores, hotels, car services, etc.  I think this is partly because these services are really luxury services in India, while they are commodity services in the U.S., and are able to support a higher level of staffing and customer attention.   Nonetheless, if I were in the airline business, I would look at Kingfisher and Jet Air along with Singapore Airlines and Southwest Airlines as great examples to learn from, regardless of the country in which they practice.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece earlier this summer discussing the values and lifestyle of the generation of Indians who left India in the 60s and 70s as a positive example for others to follow in the current economic crisis.  The piece had the same nostalgic tone as those written about the values of those who lived through the Depression in the U.S., yet it was interesting to see a positive spin on the limited resources in India at the time.

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