This review is the first in a new offering by ThinkChange India, where we review recently published books, articles, reports and other substantial works we feel are relevant to the fields of social entrepreneurship and innovation. Unlike most of our other content, these posts may not be limited only to India but hope to educate all of you on cutting edge ideas that are shaping how people think today.
In this issue, Vinay Ganti is reviewing Sramana Mitra’s Vision India 2020 (available in e-book form at Smashwords). Vinay also interviewed Sramana via phone, and you can read the interview here. So without further ado, here is our review:
Sramana Mitra is no stranger to innovation or entrepreneurship. Her career has navigated her through numerous startups, some of which she founded, others where she consulted and even more of which she has written about and interviewed for her blog and other books. In her most recent work Vision India 2020, Mitra has marshaled much of these experiences and coupled it with an unflagging optimistic spirit necessary in any true entrepreneur. The book is more of a collection of short vignettes, each focusing on an innovative idea addressing a wide host of problems or needs she identifies within India. All in all, the compilation spans 45 ventures, all with hypothetical names, business models and results.That’s right, Mitra in her infectious positivity includes the success stories of these ventures even though none of them actually exist. To do this Mitra employs a style she refers to as a ‘futuristic retrospective’, in which she writes as if the year is already 2020 and so the ventures have had anywhere from 10-12 years to germinate. This approach definitely had its effect during my read. To take things further, Mitra wrote each piece in a first person point of view, providing a realistic anchor within each. Mitra unabashedly wants people that read this book to think big and look beyond the pitfalls. At times this approach felt a little saccharine to the tongue, with the optimism teetering on embellishment, but overall the tone worked for me. Along these lines the first person approach made Mitra out to seem like a superwoman, who ideated and implemented solutions to all of India’s problems, but I allowed for this given the fictional nature of the book.
The book itself comprised of six topical sections — Technology and Technology-Enabled Services, Infrastructure, Rural and Slum Development, Healthcare, Lifestyle Brands, and Entertainment. Each section while independent also spilled into others as Mitra highlighted potential crossovers and synergies that could be realized among various ventures. One interesting outgrowth of the format was that at times ventures that had yet to be described would appear in preceding articles. At first blush these inconsistencies seemed annoying, as you did not know the details of the idea. However over time these instances actually added to the reading experience as it emphasized (either intentionally or by accident) the nonlinear nature of innovation, and the importance of culling ideas not only vertically but horizontally as well.
It is here where I felt the book really came through in spades, especially with its writing style. Very few books attempt to “show not tell” what an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship would look like. Mitra does her best in doing this by consciously trying to tie the otherwise separate pieces together, recognizing the importance of driving a robust culture for innovation throughout the DNA of the country. Mitra also took great effort to keep things as real as possible despite the futuristic retrospective — every person mentioned in the book is real and someone invested in the idea of driving innovation in India. In a similar fashion to alternative history novels, Mitra has built an idealized India grounded in actual human beings and experiences.
Finally, it was truly refreshing to be reading a book on innovation and entrepreneurship written by a woman. The world of startups is often viewed from a testosterone driven, go-go-go world of masculine drive and one-upmanship, and often times the importance of deep introspection and meaning is lost behind debates over scale, valuation and so forth. Now, Mitra in no way shies away from these technical aspects to entrepreneurship and in fact does so with as much if not more competence than any of her peers, male or otherwise. Nevertheless, there was a salient sense of empathy and self-awareness in her writing that does not always emerge form the works of male authors and to that I give her great credit in staying true to her own voice while writing a compelling narrative.
Overall, I found the book a pleasant read — an interesting combination of a guilty pleasure and educational experience. While you might be remiss from learning any specific skills from this read, anyone who feels as though they want to be an entrepreneur someday would benefit greatly from this book. Mitra’s uncompromising spirit and unquestioned faith in the power of entrepreneurship and innovation should provide an excellent guide to the necessary constitution for any successful startup founder.