I’ve never thought of myself as much of a people watcher, or as a particularly reflective person when it comes to the social interactions I observe around me. After spending a month and a half in Mumbai as part of Capgemini’s Extended OnBoarding program, I had learned to stop and appreciate the wealth of insights I could gather from the people all around me. Some of the lessons I learned and cultural revelations I had during my time in India become apparent quickly in the course of daily life. Coming from the Southeastern United States, it took me less than a week to experience the awkwardness that ensues when you try to hold a door open for a native Indian. It took me even less time to begin to appreciate the confusion that would surely follow any comment an Indian coworker makes while accompanied by the “Indian Headbob”. With such an information overload up front, it took me some time to begin to uncover deeper truths about India and the Indian culture.
My breakthrough came when I realized that the conversations and interactions between Indian Capgemini employees all around me held a wealth of deep insights about Indian beliefs, social practices and business culture. I became a people watcher, and soon began documenting some of the more interesting comments I overhead in the Capgemini offices and elsewhere. Creepy right? It gets worse. I started writing down quotes I heard from instructors, coworkers – pretty much everyone. Let me share some of the more interesting insights I took from the situations I observed and the people I came into contact with.
“Life is full of challenge, and it is beautiful”
I overheard this one out in maze of cubicles that is the Capgemini Mumbai #3 building; it came from two guys sitting next to each other at a desk working on something together. I was immediately startled by how two guys were getting so much satisfaction out uncovering an issue in whatever process or code they were working on. I started to think maybe that could be an underlying feature of Indian culture that makes it such an incubator of talent in technology fields. In the US we often see issues that arise in our daily life as annoying little interruptions, things that shouldn’t happen in the first place. One of these guys felt the need to vocalize his acceptance that challenge needs to be an inherent part of your day, and without it life would have less meaning.
“God gave us one mouth, but two ears. For what? Listening.”
I got this one from an instructor during courses to become a certified Business Analyst. I’ve heard versions of this before, and it might seem cliché, but Indians really take this to heart. You never feel rushed when communicating with your Indian counterparts, and you’ll usually find yourself doing much of the talking. This gets misconstrued as timid quality and is often looked down upon by Western business people. I see it as a genuine sign that your Indian counterparts really wanted to understand the issue at hand, and at the same time, they truly want to understand you. For all you New Hires soon to be traveling to Mumbai, stop and have some conversations with the coworkers you meet. Being a good listener is incredibly beneficially as a consultant, not to mention in life in general. The guys you’ll be with really want to know who you are as a person, and I promise it would be incredibly beneficial if you stopped and got to know them too!
All right, I cheated on this one. This isn’t a direct quote, but an IT term used over there that I never stopped thinking about. When a system is ready to be phased out, Indian’s refer to the process of replacing it as “sunsetting” the system. I heard this a few times before I really stopped to think about it. We would describe replacing an old system as an update, a phase out, an improvement – but Indians describe the end of an outdated system’s existence as a sunset. Much of traditional Hindi and Buddhism (both of which I got to experience and learn much about during my time there) are based on the cycles of life, nature, and the human spirit. I saw this term as a unique manifestation of their cultural and religious beliefs in the workplace. IT often seems like a dull and lifeless field, but it’s quite incredible how the Indians can give life to the 1s and 0s with the words they use to describe their work.
There aren’t enough words to try to capture all of the things I learned from the observations I made in Mumbai. There wasn’t even enough time in the day for me to capture them while I was there, as hard as I tried. My advice to future Capgemini New Hires, or anyone else who gets the honor of spending an extended amount of time in that amazing country, would be to stop and observe the people around you. Capgemini strives to put people first, and I would challenge you to do the same with your time in India, no matter what the goals of your trip originally were!