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Innovating Amid Uncertainties

Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder and former Vice Chairman, Infosys on uncertain times giving rise to new leadership and innovation, his book Against All Odds: The IT Story of India, and much more

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We are faced with many uncertainties in the world. In the short term, they include the Ukraine war, rising inflation and slowdown of economic growth, meltdown of cryptocurrency startups; and in the medium term they include climate change related extreme weather events, decarbonisation and a shift to green economy, and so on. But it is in uncertain times that new leadership emerges and hence best opportunity to leverage innovation. For instance, during Covid, digitisation accelerated, and collaboration-enabling businesses like Zoom, and UPI-powered digital payments in India really took off. 

Uncertainties and Innovation

Indeed, uncertain times are a hotbed of innovation. They provide nations opportunities to accelerate economic growth. For instance, in the first half of the 20th century, the World Wars provided the opportunity for the US to leverage its factory-based manufacturing. In the second half of the 20th century, the Cold War drove advances in digital computing and created new industries that gave rise to many entrepreneurial firms. Innovations driven by uncertainty propelled the US to become the largest economy in the world. Similarly, in the 21st century, India is poised well to thrive in these uncertain times. 

Y2K & India’s ITeS Boom

I have discussed in my book Against All Odds: The IT Story of India how the Y2K context turned into an opportunity beyond the immediate bug-fix to power the growth of Indian IT services in the 21st century. Currently, there are so many emerging technologies like AI, robotics, 5G, IoT, 3D printing, nanotechnology, and gene editing, and these can be leveraged to create new products and services and reimagine existing industries. 

Let us consider some healthcare scenarios. Real-time, image-guided, and robot-assisted surgery can help in assessing the area of procedure, monitoring the tools in 3D, and updating pathophysiology knowledge of the targeted tissue in real-time. This innovation is at the intersection of AI, robotics, biotechnology, telecommunications, and clinical domains. Expert doctors can successfully direct surgeons hundreds of kilometers away in a remote area to perform a gall bladder surgery using 5G network. This makes possible new healthcare delivery models at very different price points. There are many more such innovations that will define the future of the 21st century. We need to harness these in India’s context.

India an Island of Stability

Even when the world is passing through uncertain macroeconomic phase, India appears to be relatively stable. This is a good time for us to push our innovation agenda based on our national priorities. Development should help achieve broad-based and balanced economic growth for all citizens, regions, and across sectors. This implies embracing new technologies. This also means fostering tech-powered innovations and developing new models at the intersection of these emerging technologies and domains like healthcare or education or financial inclusion or citizen government services. Finally, this also means upskilling our workforce. These will be facilitated by a shift in the structure of our economy to one that is more formal, rules-driven at the same time innovative, and facilitating different forms of investment.

The current global uncertainty provides India an opportunity to usher in a phase of technology driven disruption, a chance to leapfrog, and take a lead. This will prepare the foundation for India to emerge as one of the largest global economies by 2047.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 11 Feb 2023 kris gopalakrishnan

Kris Gopalakrishnan

The author is co-founder of Infosys, Chairman of itihaasa Research and Digital, and Axilor Ventures

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