Small is Beautiful
When you think of a country that’s good at innovation, the first countries that would come to our mind are the United States of America, Japan, Germany, etc. Some of the biggest businesses have started from the USA, particularly in the tech world (especially, Palo Alto), they have very strong investment markets and capital. Japan is one of the leading countries in terms of tech solutions. Germany has a really strong manufacturing base that has embraced advance manufacturing techniques to rebuild its economy. The three countries aka the center of innovation or the central have a large domestic market that they can sell to, a strong internal investment, and a huge population they can draw ideas from.
But there is innovation in the periphery; other areas of innovation. Lucy Suchman challenged the notion of central in terms of future making and tried to decentralize the idea, to refocus on the peripheries. Small countries such as Finland, Israel, Singapore, and the Scandinavian nations are more than keeping their own on a number of innovation initiatives against larger countries; by investing in science and development.
We live in a fast-paced world, where we strive to achieve greatness through our work and life. We opt for gigantism than small is beautiful, a phrase that came from a principle adopted by Schumacher’s teacher, Leopold Kohr. E. F Schumacher’s writings in ‘Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered, had the most lasting influence on my thinking( and that of many others). Schumacher’s inspiring insights on a seemingly limitless range of issues on the premise that economics should serve us, the people, as opposed to the other way around the discussion of our unsustainable economy all the way through to alternatives to capitalism, got me thinking into the fundamental purpose of our contribution towards work and life. Some of the questions I ask are, why we, as humans are greedy, envious, and stop at nothing to ensure our materialistic growth. Why do we first think of technological advancements when we hear the word ‘Innovation’? There is innovation happening in not just the centers but in the peripheries, but the innovative ideas are not taken to consideration.
“The economic calculus, as applied by present-day economics, forces the industrialist to eliminate the human factor because machines do not make mistakes, which people do. Hence the enormous effort at automation and the drive for ever-larger units. This means that those who have nothing to sell but their labor remain in the weakest possible bargaining position.” (E. F. Schumacher.1973)
Traditionally corporate enterprises have solely owned the intellectual property (IP) they utilize in the production of goods or services. They source the material for goods, manufacture it and deliver the finished goods nationally or globally. The knowledge stays with the rich. The rich become richer and the poor, poorer.
A rapid rise in inequality is seen when Capitalism and technology go hand in hand. In developing societies or communities, long-term poverty can be explained by the concept of a “poverty trap” (Carter and Barrett, 2006). Research on poverty traps focuses on understanding why some people, communities, and even entire nations remain in poverty while others have undergone dramatic changes in standards of living. The poor can extend their way out of poverty if they gather productive assets or acquire better compensation or production technologies that increase future income.
Innovation and creativity happen around us, each and every day, but it requires a certain intervention of shared knowledge for the scope of equal upliftment. “When people ask for education…I think what they are really looking for is ideas that would make the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. When a thing is intelligible you have a sense of participation; when a thing is unintelligible you have a sense of estrangement”. (E. F. Schumacher.1973)
The rapid development of technology in a developing country like ours has seen the emergence of various technologies much cheaper than in previous years. But to use the technologies, many of the users need to make a rapid technology leap.
There is a constant chase for gigantism that has contributed to unemployment, dissatisfaction with work, and lack of human relationships. People are forced to leave their hometown in search of work and crowd in cities waiting to be replaced by younger, cheaper talent or AI-driven bots.
Modern technology eliminates the skillful, creative work of human hands and brains. Being social and intellectual species, humans require skillful and productive work where they can contribute individually than continuing to do repetitive, fragmented work that drains the energy. Giving attention to people should be a top priority and not just the products or services produced.
Gigantism and automation don’t solve any real problems. It neglects those in need of development. The concept of ‘Small is beautiful, is a much-needed intervention.