The culture of outsourcing

February 25, 2013

I am trying to articulate a theory that I have…that one of the reasons we, as a nation, don’t accomplish things, is our culture of Letting Someone Else Do It. We always delegate whatever we can (and several things we should not) to others. Power seems to be equal to Not Having To Do Things Oneself. There are always Anonymous Minions to carry out our mundane tasks. (I receive requests from so many people on this mailing list to unsubscribe them or add on another email id!) We do not feel empowered unless we do not have to do things ourselves. What we forget is that if we don’t do it ourselves, the other person assigned the task of doing it, will not do it as well. This, to me, explains the shoddy, chalta-hai ulture that vitiates much of our industry and endeavours.

Several senior managers I know are prime examples of Why-should-I-do-it-myself personalities. Whether it’s booking tickets,organizing an office party, or drawing up an agreement…it’s the myrmidions who have to slog through the details. I know someone who had the task of organizing a reunion of class members, and shovelled the whole task on to a hapless ex-colleague, who did such a shoddy job of things that at the end of the reunion, several others were left to sort out various messes and pay bills.

This culture extends everywhere, in every home, too. When we visit someone, they take great offence if we try to help out in the kitchen or try to carry in the used plates to the sink. “Oh, no, no, why do you do this?” we ask. The implication is that these tasks are somehow inferior, and one should not ask a guest to do them. (But of course, a hired menial can do them.) This puts such a negative light on doing any chores oneself. My daughter brought home a friend once (they were both 8 years old) who asked me, “Why do you make the phulkas yourself? In our house we have servants to do it.” Having servants to do work is not bad…but looking down on the work as “meniaL’ is definitely a bad attitude, I feel.

Every mother-in-law who does not want her son to cook or clean dishes, but expects her daughter-in-law to do it, is surely sowing the seeds for friction, not far in the future. Every mother who trains her child, whether son or daughter, to believe that cleaning and other household chores are beneath one, is laying the foundation for a lot of unhappiness and maladjustment. But…we continue to do so. How many Indian children do I know, who routinely do their share of household chores? Very, very few.

Every housewife knows, for sure, that hiring maids (and usually underpaying them) ensures that housework is shoddily done. But it’s such a prestige issue not to do it herself, and to blame the maids for bad work. Some of the mothers and grandmothers I know won’t even go outdoors to play with the children, but will send the child with a servant. No wonder the child comes back filled with the mindless gossip it hears.

The culture extends to the servant class, too. My maid, when I was hiring her, said, “But I won’t clean toilets”. She was flabbergasted when I told her I do clean my own toilets and the toilets in my daughter’s home, too. “But how can she let you do that?” she exclaimed….the underlying tenet being that cleaning toilets is not a job that one should do. Who, then, should do it? Of course our society has had an answer for it for ages…the Lower Castes, who not only clean our filth, that we should clean ourselves…. but receive (instead of good rewards and gratitude for helping us) our scorn and our contempt. I know so many housewives who want servants to clean their toilets, but will not let them use them…and see no irony or injustice in that.

If there is department in the government, there are officers, who delegate the task (say, laying of cables) to their juniors, who send men on to the road, who oversee the actual labourers, uneducated, lowly paid, and uninterested, who do the task as quickly and badly as they can get away with.

I wish we’d find a way to let someone else have babies for us. If only we had been able to outsource the process of having babies, such shoddy children would have been produced, that our population would have been well controlled, or even become extinct, by now…

Until the day comes when we learn to do our own work…we are not going to be effective or successful. The man who lets his accountant “take care of everything” is soon going to be parted from his money.

The irony, of course, is that so much of repetitive, brainless work is outsourced to us to do, and in the grand name of “information technology”, we Indians do it! When we are paid, we don’t mind. Event management is one industry that thrives on people not wanting to do things for themselves. There are services abroad which will remember family members’ birthdays and buy gifts for them! How ridiculous can things get?

I laugh when I see swanky cars on our roads…with a hired driver driving, and getting the enjoyment of driving the car! “The traffic is so bad!” is the explanation. Yes, the traffic is bad because the uneducated, underpaid drivers are driving…and because having a driver is a Status Symbol.

Corruption also, I feel, has its roots in this culture. If I have to book a friend’s ticket, I may ask him to do it himself…but if I can boast that “I have a person who can guarantee confirmed tickets”, then I am breeding corruption…I am bribing that person to get confirmed tickets at any cost. The presence of touts at any of our government offices is a testament to our reluctance to do things ourselves. When I can book tickets for myself on the internet, corruption in the Railway booking process does go down…except for the fact that the Railways website is so shoddily designed that it’s better to book through an “agent”.

The minute I do not want to do things myself, a middleman enters the picture. Costs go up, efficiency goes down, and transparency in the transaction vanishes.

We do not accord any dignity to labour…and try to place ourselves above it. I’ve seen so many parents bemoaning the fact that their children abroad “have to mow their own lawns”. Some of them even complain that when they go to visit their children, they are “made to do housework like servants”. What an attitude! One, it implies that a servant is an inferior being; two, it seems to postulate that one’s child’s home is not one where one, too, belongs, and does one’s share of the work quite happily. Surely, taking care of one’s own grandchildren, or cooking for them, can’t be such a distasteful task? When one thinks of all work as being “beneath one”, of course, it is.

I have expanded my theory into a post, and if I were an MBA graduate, with letters after my name, I would write a book and Become Phamus. But…I think I’ll wait for someone else to do it :))))