"All is well! Repeat after me!"
"This is your own country! Give it some time."
This was the nature of the conversations I had with myself one week into my move back to India. Five months ago, I made a big bet on my future when I had decided to move back to India after scurrying across the US, Europe and Asia for the last 16 years. I'd never worked in India before, and people warned me of the professional risks I was taking. Some of my friends even said I would soon be packing my bags and returning.
The "jugaad" mentality is nothing but an element of what a certain part of the world calls "disruptive thinking."
I ignored the naysayers. The draws of contributing to India's growth story and moving closer to my family were too strong. I simply had to do it.
In the beginning, I was surprised that I could find my own country and culture so challenging. I felt like an expat adapting to a new country and new work environment. However, months into my assignment I could more objectively differentiate between perception and reality. Not only was I able to deflate some of the common myths about the country, but also I saw a different angle to the dichotomies that helped me adapt faster.
Competitive but result-oriented
Indians are generally competitive. But you can't really blame the people. We are a population of 1 billion competing against a very limited pool of available opportunities, not to mention that these opportunities have to be drawn out from a system that is corrupted and bureaucratic. So in the end it is indeed survival of the fittest.
This challenge also makes Indians extremely result-oriented. Whether it is the fear of losing the job to someone else, or to ensure empowerment, my teams here are extremely focused on results. I feel I have to almost sprint to keep with the pace here. I don't remember last when I had worked on a deadline that was due for more than 24 hours. The downside is that I see people here compromising on their work-life balance to a great extent in order to meet their professional targets.
Argumentative but harmonious
Indians are generally accused of being rather loud, and it's true—our decibels can go up several notches while having a discussion. If you are not used to it, this can initially throw you off and can come across as peevish. The more I observed, though, the more I realized that this is about the style of our delivery more than anything personal. For me this is no different from Italians who use hand gestures while talking or the Japanese who use their head and upper body to show their agreement during a conversation.
I have had experiences where I walked into meetings only to see them turn into heated arguments. But the arguments never crossed the line and for the most part there is consensus and even harmony at the end. It's a different thing that soon after these meetings, I usually crawl in a quiet corner to take a deep breath and unwind. That quiet corner is often referred to as the ladies' room (or toilet as we call it here).
Hierarchical but decisive
Having worked with various cultures across Southeast Asia, I have found most eastern corporate cultures to be hierarchical. This could partially be attributed to the history of imperial rule. In India, hierarchy often tags along with its two cousins: bureaucracy and inefficiency. My experience has been different in my company—the hierarchy has translated to quicker decision-making and faster execution that sometimes keeps me on my toes 24x7.
The big problem with hierarchy among India's corporates is that people take senior management's decision as a command and rarely try to challenge it.
As a leader, the hierarchy also allows me to directly influence the organization culture and expedite the positive changes I desire. However, the big problem with hierarchy among India's corporates is that people take senior management's decision as a command and rarely try to challenge it. I once overheard someone preparing a speech of a sort. When I asked what it was about, he said he wanted to ask his boss to allow him a week off during a peak season and was practicing what he was going to say.
Chaotic but creative
Unorganized structure and processes (or the lack of them) can make problem-solving difficult. In my organization, chaos is something that is embedded into the company's culture. We are constantly in a flux.
At first, I felt lost but then I realized that in the midst of chaos lies the breeding ground for creativity. The teams I work with somehow innovate new ways of doing things almost every time we are in middle of a crisis. The "jugaad" mentality is nothing but an element of what a certain part of the world calls "disruptive thinking." To be honest, this is what keeps my adrenaline going.
While these observations are not statistical representations of all corporate cultures across the country, they broadly reflect my experience so far. The positives have outweighed the negatives. I love my India. I also love my dilemmas. I'm happy to have become a new kind of NRI—the Newly Returned Indian.