Good management can be better than new tools & inventions

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Sometimes all it takes is better management, not new tools/solutions. Management of oneself, one’s methods, thinking, practices, habits. However, that requires a shift in behaviour, and a bigger effort up front. Newer technologies most often than not are developed to give instant improvements in productivity, gratification, etc. without thought to or regard for overall sustainability or long term implications.
I remember in patches a conversation I had one evening with my father when I was a young teenager where he was at pains to defend the industry he had grown old in. A micro celebrity in the Indian fertilizer industry who brought in many commercially successful incremental innovations to the production process & technology of DAP, a kind of chemical fertilizer, my father had been motivated to enter the chemical industry thanks to Mr. M.S. Swaminathan’s evangelizing of the Green Revolution in India and the patriotic fervour that it triggered in the son of a freedom fighter.
After nearly two and a half decades in the industry believing that chemicals (fertilizers & pesticides) and hybrid seeds were crucial to solve India’s, and the world’s, growing hunger problems he was beginning to doubt the sustainability. Probably it was triggered by what the science text books where nudging me to ask my father that evening; that chemical run-offs were poisoning the ecosystem and making the soil unsustainable. Probably because he was hearing too, first hand, from his farmer brothers-in-law the problems with hybrid seeds and how these were drowning them deeper into debts.
And then cutting ahead a decade later, during the early days of Ch1blogs (our internal blogging platform), the then admin cum developer behind the platform, Senthil, shared a little known fact which had been found in the records of the East India Company, still available for research in the UK. Apparently, 200 years ago, Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu, just outside of Chennai, had more average yield of rice per hectare than even the highest yielding districts of Japan, etc. now. I did some further research and read some notes & journals but could not find anything other than references to farming practices and management principles. And I left it at that, dispirited that there was no magic technology from the past that could revive our current yields; like how Shruti Hassan rediscovers Damo’s genetic engineering technology and recreates it to awaken Suriya’s genetic memory in the Tamil sci-fi thriller movie “7-aam Arivu” aka 7th Sense.
Being a technologist & breakthrough/disruptive innovator I was looking for a technical solution. It went with my mind-frame then, to create new social technologies that would disrupt how business was done so that it would become more sustainable & beneficial to the society rather than merely leeching off it. I however became aware that social required nothing more than some practices from existing business management principles and technology was the last bit of it, if at all required. None of the nouveau solutions we built in the ensuing half a decade made much of a dent though the potential was high. And the maxim of “People -> Process -> Technology” was then no longer a sound bite for me. It dawned on me that this was the order in which things needed to be changed for lasting effects, not the other way round.
Many a times we are so caught up in creating a new app to solve a problem that we miss the easy solution existing that requires no investment other than the effort required to change the way people looked at things or did them. Probably because we are a group that is required to build them, probably because our goals are measured thus. And thus we probably miss the point that at the end of the day, we need to solve the problem, not build a new solution.
But there is hope yet for good management principles in increasing the average yield of many crops across the globe, especially in small farms, using a method called SRI (System of Rice/Root Intensification). Though denounced by western administration and foundations as well as scientists, it has been showing growing success in various Asian farms. And it requires no expensive chemicals or GM (Genetically Modified) seeds.
If any scientist or a company came up with a technology that almost guaranteed a 50% increase in yields at no extra cost they would get a Nobel prize. But when young Biharian farmers do that they get nothing. I only want to see the poor farmers have enough to eat.



Can you think back a bit and share if you find any instances where you might not have to actually build a solution to solve a problem or get a job done?

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