India's $3.6 billion engineering services exports industry has now been able to catch the imagination of the world's largest spenders on engineering design, such as Airbus, Boeing, Nissan, and GE. Nissan's charismatic CEO Carlos Ghosn has even coined a term for itfrugal engineeringand has been endorsing the engineered-in-India model to whoever cares to listen.
Yet, despite acknowledging and respecting India's capability in engineering, most product makers have shied away from getting end-to-end product designed in the country. A superficial explanation has been that engineering is core to the business of these companies and it would take them some time to get comfortable with the idea of offshoring it to a far-off country.
That may not be entirely untrue as a fact, but it misses the real point. Companies like GE and John Deere have shown that doing complex engineering is not really the problem with India. The real challenge in India is to get the exterior design work that requires understanding of user behavior, cognitive models, and aesthetics. In short, the kind of things that are typically called the right brain work. In the late 60s, American psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W Sperry discovered that the human brain has two very different ways of thinking. One (the right brain) is visual and processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture and then the details. The other (the left brain) is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole. Indians have proved their left brain capability beyond doubt and today no amount of complexity is considered undoable in India. But the creative design work is yet to be done in India commercially for the rest of the world. In fact, the exteriors of the poster boy of Indian engineering in general and frugal engineering in particular, the Tata Nanoas well as of its predecessor, Tata Indicawas designed by the I.D.E.A Institute of Italy!