Ministry of Thinking
After all these years of independence we have not done much to foster thinking in our young minds. India is a land of unlimited capabilities. Now the time has come for a Ministry of Thinking to make systemic interventions in promoting thinking with a mission and vision in place – thinking with a direction. Human capital should be rescued from being only a jargon.
I have been meeting and Interacting with people below the age of 35 across India who are graduates, use the internet, and want to follow their friends in their career choices. Less than 15 in a hundred think and decide to pursue their calling. What about the rest? Where is the thinking? Have we created a space for them to think? Public schemes, start-up drives, policies come much later. The foundation is the development of the young mind – a personal journey.
Google, Airbnb, Uber, LinkedIn, Tripadvisor, Spotify and Whatsapp and a million others provide the youngsters a secured avenue to adapt his or her skills to the common mission of a large technology corporation. But before joining the technology bandwagon, where does s/he get the space to imagine? Moreover, the youngsters need to detach from technology to focus on thinking. A study in America says that more time is spent watching Netflix than with friends. Thinking appears nowhere in the list. There is the death of idle brain time. Drivers these days can’t drive even normal routes without google maps on their phones. A few years ago, they exercised their memories to remember complicated by-lanes of old cities like Lucknow or Cuttack. But no more. During COVID our workplace and home are the same place. There is no ‘me time’ or ‘home time’. Your gadgets and you have to be on 24X7. Even sports outings are no escapes - accessorised by Apple Watches and the Fitbits of the world.
Where are you? Can you be with yourself?
The time has come when we, as the youngest community of the world, need to institutionalise thinking. An exclusive Ministry of Thinking should be mandated with the task of enhancing the thinking power of the country, from infants onward. This Ministry alone would have the potential of changing the face of this country, increasing its endowments, and making it the fountainhead of human development. Our Ministries – HRD, Education, Social welfare, Social Justice, Women & Child, Science & Technology, and others, have not been able to work on our foundation, i.e. our imagination. They are still at the periphery, even after 7-8 decades of relentless need for new thinking. Human minds are meant for creativity, but we have kept them asphyxiated.
We ought to make thinking a part of the school, college and workplace routines. There are many clubs or youth groups in colleges but there is hardly any on ‘thinking’. Our brains are otherwise overstimulated but strangely not to be with oneself and on self-thoughts. The peer pressure for youths is all about personality and the quiet introverts desperately attempt to emulate extroverts. The youths have to live with the stress of not being "true to themselves" and become physically and mentally ill. I had been ‘doctored’ in B school to place extroverts in higher esteem because they were ‘chosen’ as charismatic and self-assured. But later in life I realised that they burnt out early, suffered from lack of ingenuity and grew more and more unsuitable for changing times. Our entire work culture in the eighties and nineties was built on structuring performance around the garrulous extrovert-ism. This has damaged individuals, and quiet and inventive thinking. The quietly contemplative, well-informed and mostly from vernacular medium schooling need their space under the sun to think and nurture their originality rather than being almost forced to be swept away in the flash storm of the dominant ‘thoughtless and overvalued’, puffed no-thinks.
The way forward for our country is to create ‘chapters of thinking’ at the state, district and sub-district levels that have open-plan bits for both the extroverts or the ‘exposed few’ and the quiet people. The hackathons are getting confined to only a few closed groups. Without a deliberate national plan and interventions, more and more of our idle brain and thinking time would disappear. Our net innovations will decrease, our youths would stagnate.
An idle mind is required for innovations. Schools and colleges should allocate special classes for thinking. Critical thinking is fast disappearing. Today’s flood of non-stop and custom made visual entertainment impairs our critical thinking. In this entertainment we have everything already visualised for us. They are all image based and fast paced. Obviously, our tendency is to spend less time reading, thinking and exercising our imagination. Book reading should be a program sub-set, under the Ministry of Thinking. The public libraries need to be dusted, rekindled and their profiles raised. If done doggedly, libraries will become our “development labs.” Reading triggers imagination. As a below 29 country, our imagination could be our biggest arsenal. We need to make thinking a national practice and agenda.
Innovations need not remain confined to only the technology domain. Non technological creativity is not given the deserving status. Do you hear of any new form of writing? Painting? Dance, accorded the hype of a breakthrough? Even if given, it is rare and exceptional. Almost none, barring films, and only after proven success in the box office or the idiot box.
Thinking is the new vaccine, a preventive that would protect our economy much better than anything else. Today those who spend more time reading, thinking, and imagining will own an increasingly large advantage over those who do not think and act original. The world as we have created so far is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. Robert Gordon, an economics professor of repute, laments that “the days of great inventions are over”. Economists typically measure innovation with the total factor productivity (TFP), and sometime back he observed that “falling productivity is one of the main reasons for growth shortfall in advanced economies like the United States. It is not an end to innovation, but a decline in the usefulness of future inventions that is taking place. Moreover, the newer innovations do not seem to be benefitting all segments of society, which in turn reflects rising inequality in the advanced countries.” In India, TFP growth was 3.5% in 2016, 1.6% in 2017 and 2.4% in 2018. Our vision of a $5 trillion economy would require growing at 8% in real terms and supported by a 0.7% + rise in TFP. How do we achieve this without thinking?
No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking is what Voltaire had said famously. If English, yoga, vernacular language use, and health check ups are made compulsory in schools, so should ‘thinking’ – the most original, unique and basic human existential value.
The Ministry’s work would be to collect individual thinking and turn them to collective human capital – the only capital which is sustainable and endlessly augmentable.
(Charudutta is an author and a futurist.)