'Everything that fundamentally changed the way the world lives today was conceived, invented, built and marketed by the American youth under the age 20!'
It is indeed, a powerful statement that makes you stop and think. Actually, all major fields in the world are led by the youth. Greta Thunberg, who was just named Time Magazine’s Person Of the Year, is leading the global environmental movement at the age of 16. Malala leads global human rights at the age 18. Salman Khan leads global education through Khan Academy that he started at the age of 18 and Mark Zuckerberg has donated Rs. 2 lakh Crore to charity before the age of 30! One can go on and on with familiar examples like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Serge Bryn, etc. who have changed the very fabric of society through Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, PayPal, and many other innovations.
Indeed, the Present belongs to the youth. As it is, 60% of the global population is under the age of 25. It is a globally connected world with the same information on every smartphone and no language barrier. It is now creativity and innovation-based economy and the opportunities are on a global scale. It is a level playing field where the capital chases talent and rewards are enormous. The whole world is your playground!
One puzzle remains though, that invites introspection. If there is no information/knowledge and intelligence gap, why is there such a stark, day&night performance gap between the American and Indian youth?
When the American youth are inventing and innovating, leading the world in every field from technology to social media to the human right to charity, why are the Indian youth looking for low-end jobs in Call Centers and the only significant invention here in the past 30 years was the 'Missed Call'?
Indeed, this requires scrutiny and frank discussion. First of all, if there is no knowledge or intelligence gap and capital/investment chases ideas, then what makes American youth so successful in innovation and creativity based fields? I think it is all in the attitude and mentality rather than any special gifted talent. The American youth is very open-minded, global in their thinking, progressive in their social attitude and actual behavior. They don’t believe in color, race or religious discrimination. They are very strong on gender equality and respect for women and most of them are non-religious. They are very strong in volunteering and charity, thus following a global, humanitarian philosophy.
But what does all that have to do with business/material success and happiness? Well, everything! In the innovation and creativity based economy, its mind over muscle and open-minded thinking over closed-minded, backward-looking attitudes that win the day. Open-minded and accepting people think ‘out of the box’, are creative thinkers and accepting of new and unconventional practices, ideas and people. They are not bound by any conventions, strict cultural or religious norms of Do’s and Don’ts and in a fast-changing and technology-driven world, that makes them the leaders, innovators and confident, happy people; not to mention, wealthy too! The fact that they donate most of their wealth to charity shows how wonderful, good-hearted and happy human beings they really are.
So now, how do the Indian youth rank on all these counts? Well, not even close. It is obvious that there is a huge performance gap vs. the American youth despite having the same information, intelligence and access to capitals. But why? Again, the answer lies in their attitudes. Indian youth, for the most part, are conservative, mired in backward-looking mentality, bound by strict religious, caste and sub-caste based edicts and norms, very low on gender equality and more interested in the past rather than focusing on the future.
Such close-minded people cannot be open to new ideas, be innovative or creative. Minds filled with hate of others on religion and caste basis, negative thinking and chained by religious and ritualistic practices are not capable of scientific temper, free-thinking, and unconventional action.
Societal and cultural norms further restrict their degrees of freedom, thus nipping creative thinking in the bud. In fact, older cultures tend to be rigid and punish free thinking. Outdated narratives like age=wisdom, obedience=good behaviour and questioning status quo=disrespecting culture, etc. further suppress youthful energies and spirit, creating armies of disheartened yes-men and sheepish followers for the fear of retribution for being different.
The biggest downfall and a factor that pulls all of the Indian youth down is the total lack of gender equality as a result of indoctrination while growing up in old, male-dominant culture. There is a premium on macho behavior for young men and young women are brainwashed to be subservient in the name of being a 'good girl, daughter, wife or sister'. They have totally missed the paradigm shift in the global economy from muscle power to brainpower.
In a creativity an innovation-based economy that thrives on collaborative work even at a distance and EQ supersedes IQ, women fare a lot better than men and both genders have to realize this. Unfortunately, the Indian youth are oblivious to this seismic shift and continue to follow the old culture mentality, thereby suppressing the more creative and innovative half of the society.
In fact, all social and cultural norms try to reinforce the old narrative of subservient women under the name of religion, caste, and tradition. Contrast that with 70% of American youth not believing in any such religious or cultural norms and instead opting for a global, humanitarian view. Only such broad and open-minded people can think of new ideas, new ways and innovate. The results speak for themselves!
No wonder the Indian youth, despite their intelligence, have only been creative in trying to circumvent the system, skirt the strict social norms without standing out and just getting by, rather than any bold and outstanding, creative thinking. How then, can they be innovative and creative leaders and be happy and successful human beings?
So, what are the solutions? Well, someone has to break the dam and snap the chains of traditional, backward attitudes. In fact, isn’t that the specialty of Maharashtra? Shivaji Maharaj and Sant Dnyaneshwar led revolutions at the age of 16! But need not go that far back. The most successful and richest Marathi tech lady today is Neha Narkhede, at the age of 30 and she did it all in just 3 years. How about the biggest musician in the world (who was 100 times more famous than Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussein, AR Rehman, etc.), Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara in a Gujarati Parasi Family) who captured the world at the age 25? How about Kshama Sawant from Pune who changed the entire political landscape in America with the concept of $15/hr. Living Wage, that is now the cornerstone of all social and political discourse? Will the Indian youth take inspiration from these role models or still be muddled with Galli politics and backward-looking traditional, ritual bound mindset?
There are indeed examples to follow right here. All over India too, many people like Ritesh Agarwal of OYO, Biju Ravindran of BYJU are now worth 1 lakh Crore just in a few years, starting from nothing. So, when there is a will, there is away. The key to wealth, happiness and success is right in your hands—Progressive Thinking!
The million-dollar question is, how many of the Indian youth will have the courage to break the chains of traditional thinking and launch on a progressive path. Let’s see.
(Ceremonial address at 28th convocation of Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon delivered on 4th January 2019.)
- Sunil Deshmukh
(Author is a U.S.A. based philanthropist and Corporate leader of Wall Street. He is the Originator of prestigious 'Maharashtra Foundation Awards for Literature and Social work'. His E-mail id is email@example.com)