Zoom in, Zoom out: the big positive trigger in India?

Zoom in, Zoom out: the big positive trigger in India?

In March 2011, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the much-celebrated editor of the Harvard Business Review, wrote a seminal piece on leadership titled ‘Zoom In, Zoom Out’.

She said that ‘the lens through which leaders view the world can help or hinder their ability to make good strategic decisions, especially during crises. Zoom in, and get a close look at select details — perhaps too close to make sense of them. Zoom out, and see the big picture — but perhaps miss some subtleties and nuances.’

‘Zoom buttons on digital devices let us examine images from many view­points. They also provide an apt metaphor for modes of strategic thinking. Some people prefer to see things up close, others from afar. Both perspectives — worm’s-eye and bird’s-eye — have virtues and pathologies. But they should be vantage points, not fixed positions. Leaders need multiple perspectives to get a complete picture. Effective leaders zoom in and zoom out.’

Why am I reminded of this article as I think about positive triggers in the Indian economy? Well, two recent events are responsible for sowing the seed. The first was the Prime Minister’s address at the Niti Aayog Governing Council meeting where he urged us to commit to an India where in 15 years, all citizens will have houses with toilets, two-wheelers or cars, power, air conditioners, and digital connectivity. Lofty, but inspiring! Also, for the first time in my memory, things that were hitherto viewed as a luxury, are now considered a rightful expectation of living standards for our people. It’s the big picture to guide the nation.

At about the same time, I heard a story where during a meeting in the PMO, Mr Modi asked about the procurement of stationery. When he heard it was all done by individual departments, he suggested that it be done centrally since it would deliver greater bargaining power and financial savings. The Prime Minister of the country worrying about stationery? Can it get more micro than this?

These two dramatically different sides of the current leadership reminded me of Ms Kanter’s article ‘Zoom in, Zoom out’. There is enough that is going right in India, but there is enough that is not. Even if I were to ignore the ‘cultural issues’ and focus on the economic, the optics are worrisome. Raised voices of organisations like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, their open criticism of the Niti Aayog, expansion of price controls, and the continuing actions against civil society are just a few issues that can raise doubts around where India is truly headed.

But if I step back for a moment, what gives me hope is the ability of the current leadership to think macro and micro simultaneously. If one observes without bias (or equal bias for both sides of the coin), I am tempted by the view that India has never been better poised from an economic growth standpoint. The ‘outcome orientation’ of the Prime Minister without the ideological baggage of previous leaders, places him in a unique position to deliver results. I recognise the dangers of such dependence on one individual, and that the change is far from systemic yet, and therefore believe we still need to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. We have some distance to travel before this trend becomes irreversible.

For now, though, the Prime Min­ister with his ‘zoom in, zoom out’ ability is the most positive trigger on the economic horizon. That is my opinion, but what do you think?

Anuradha Das Mathur, Editor, CFO India