Saturday, December 6, 2008
WHY DO WE NOT HAVE BETTER SYSTEMS?
Why can't we have better systems?, is a question most frequently asked by educated Indians out of sheer frustration at the way our systems function. Some of these educated Indians have been exposed to better systems in the west, and others have seen or heard about them in the media. Well, one thing is clear - we all agree that we need better systems. How do we get there is the next obvious question.
I believe, at the macro level there are two aspects to a system - the first is the most obvious, the design and implementation of the system and the second is the most important - the public acceptance of the system. We as a people generally show total apathy to any system, while living in India. I have seen Indians abroad meticulously follow all systems but once in India they tend to get back to their usual way. Their reasoning is that everyone else is doing it, so why not me? My question is 'what is the use of your exposure to better systems if you cannot help others less fortunate benefit from your experience, by leading the way'. What do I mean by this?
Let me start with an example. Lets take a mundane system like traffic lights. I live in Chennai and travel to other parts of the country too. The situation that I am going to describe is very nearly similar in all our cities. The traffic light system is installed to ensure that the traffic can flow smoothly & efficiently, and also to prevent accidents. In Chennai, I find that the traffic lights are world class with the added feature of time left for the light to change in a large LED display at most prominent cross roads. What is probably a design flaw is that the lights donot take into consideration the amount of traffic coming in from a particular direction, at various times of the day, leading to the red or green light remaining on for a period longer than required by the traffic. This problem is generally overcome by the traffic policeman controlling the lights manually depending on the quantum of traffic, specially during rush hours.
The other problem is that the lights continue with their red, green and amber pre-programmed sequence even during periods of minimal traffic, specially during the night hours. This causes most motorists to 'jump the light'. This is not desirable. All of us are aware of this part. Each one of us must have designed systems for our organisations or home. Did we take the time to study the specifications that the system should meet? Did we followup to ensure that the system is/ was periodically upgraded, depending on the usage pattern?
However, the other part is the more important and that is - how does the public respond to this system. Many a times I have been honked at, yelled at, while waiting at a red traffic light, sometimes by illiterate drivers, and sometimes by educated people. I never jump a traffic light. My family and friends joke about this and tell me that one day I am going to be run over by some one, while waiting for the light to turn green. I don't wish to change. I believe systems are made to be followed because otherwise no system will function, and we can keep complaining about the systems. I can reluctantly understand the illiterate driver honking, but find it absolutely ridiculous when educated people behave similarly. I thought education should help one understand things better, and also help one provide leadeship to our fellow citizens who are less fortunate than us. There are many nuances of how we jump the lights but that is not relevant to this post. There are many other systems like forming a queue - how many of us follow the queue - wait for our turn. These are just two mundane examples of systems in our daily life that we donot follow. There are many more besides these. However, to answer the question.
A system can only be as good as it's design and it's implementation, BUT more importantly, it can only function if we the people follow the system - whatever it be. In case the system does not meet the needs for which it is designed then as concerned tax paying citizens we need to take action to ensure that it is fixed, BUT short cutting the system is not prudent or desirable if we want to have better systems. Also, the more fortunate of us have to take the lead to instil public confidence in the systems that WE educated employed people have created, so that all citizens and our country benefits from better systems. It could be any system - the political system, the economic system, or the simple queue.