The Dramatic Contrasts of the New India

Harvard Business Review

February 25, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

I am a frequent visitor to India. On my last trip, I was struck by the dramatic contrasts between people and places that exist side by side.

In the cities, I saw a longing for extreme opulence — countless ads with rich people living lavish lives — next to the reality of extreme poverty — countless shanties with poor people living harsh lives.

In the colleges, I saw a longing for advanced education — and the justified pride that comes with a degree from IIT or ISB — next to a longing for wisdom — with the justified pride that comes from being heir to a centuries-old quest for knowledge about life that is so deeply ingrained here.

In the faces of professionals, I saw the new West — focused on money, constantly working, leaving their extended families, doing whatever it takes to get ahead, eating meat, and drinking wine. In the faces of worshipers at the temple, I saw the old East —focused on life, staying with their extended families, doing whatever it takes to stay alive, eating vegetables, and drinking tea.

With gain comes loss. With moving forward comes going backward.

There are obvious benefits that come with “progress” — advanced education is a blessing, poverty is painful, and material possessions certainly make life more comfortable.

There are also obvious costs.

I don’t have answers, just questions:

1. What is being gained in the “new” India? What is being lost?

2. How can today’s Indian professionals achieve the material success of the West without losing the wisdom of the East?

3. For readers from the West: What is your experience of professionals from India? What can you learn from them?

4. For readers from India: What is your experience of professionals from the West? What can you learn from them?