How can the Indian State Govern Better (3-2-1 by Story Rules #67)


Welcome to the sixty-seventh edition of '3-2-1 by Story Rules'.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let's dive in.


𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

Impressive growth by China on car exports. Wonder which countries are the key importers...


A thoughtful and nuanced opinion on perhaps the most accomplished yet polarising leaders of our time.


Seriously, how could you say just 'time'? :)


📄 2 Articles of the week

a. 50 things I know by Sasha Chapin

(Hat/tip: ROTD by Saurabh and Swanand)

This listicle has some surprisingly insightful thoughts.

Don't create from a place of "that'll show 'em":

I’ve worked with hundreds of unhappy creative people, and I can boil down most of my transferable insight into one sentence. I know that it feels horrible to create from a place of defense. For example: you will find it exceedingly difficult to write if your motive is trying to convince people that you are not dumb, or not boring, or if you’re hoping that you will not offend anybody.

Immersive travel is mind-opening:

I know that travel is valuable because most knowledge can’t be written down. The most crucial info about a society is how it feels to be there—the rhythms of street life, where and when people eat meals, how gender works. You can read a million things about Japan without knowing the bodily experience of walking around in a truly high-trust society, for example.

People need to make their own mistakes to learn:

I know that people are too eager to recommend their current lifestyle and disavow their developmentally important previous decisions. For example, you will notice people who had a lot of casual sex when they were young saying later that committed relationships are obviously superior to dating casually—neglecting to notice that their wild young days were psychologically necessary for them.

I liked the frame of appreciative and evaluative experience modes:

I know that there are two modes of experience: appreciative, and evaluative. Concrete example: let’s say you’re listening to a piece of music. Are you sinking into it, awash in emotions? You’re in the appreciative mode. Are you the mixing engineer, listening to the snare hits to make sure they’re consistent? You’re in the evaluative mode. Much of sanity, and happiness, consists of finding the right mode for the right moment. The appreciative mode is terrible for debugging your business plan. But the evaluative mode is terrible for having a first date. A lot of capable, intelligent people suffer because they do not have the ability to switch out of the evaluative mode, or even notice that they’re in it.

b. 'Trends for consumer-brand founders in 2024' by Arindam Paul

Arindam Paul is the co-founder of Atomberg (the fans and electric appliances company). In this long tweet he shares some insightful thoughts for those building consumer/tech brands in India.

He says that though India is perceived to be a value-conscious market, design is more important than you think (maybe because of the visual nature of social media marketing?):

Design has become one of the most important reasons for purchase, even for purely functional categories. Never in my wildest dreams, I would have imagined the primary reason for buying a feature loaded mixer grinder was the compact form factor and sleek design. Gone are the days when brands with outdated designs could win. From bags to gas stoves to apps to luggage, meaningfully differentiated designs are here to stay and win. Zouk and Mokobara are great examples of this phenomena.

On that note, digital channels rule:

Digitally influenced sales in every category is growing at breakneck speed. Consumers are evaluating and seeking more and more information before making a purchase. This evaluation often starts online. And it isn’t just Google and Youtube. More and more searches are beginning and ending on Amazon and Flipkart during the evaluation phase. It is no wonder that both have become advertising monsters. The number of people who discover and even switch existing preferences during this evaluation phase is increasing exponentially. Brands that dominate the evaluation phase will emerge as huge winners. Reviews on Amazon, Reviews on PlayStore and Reviews on Youtube

He says that kiranas would survive the onslaught of quick-commerce (e-commerce will struggle though):

Q-commerce is here to stay. But I think they are a much bigger threat to e-commerce and semi-organized/ organized offline retail. Not to Kiranas. Because of their very low cost of operations and adoption to India tech stack (WhatsApp chats for orders, UPI for payments), Kiranas will survive.

🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. 'Karthik Muralidharan and the Bureaucrat’s Burden' on The Seen and the Unseen with Amit Varma

Now that the election hype is over, you should listen to this fascinating conversation between Amit Varma and Karthik Muralidharan (author of a new and to-be-seminal book called 'Accelerating India's Development: A State-Led Roadmap for Effective Governance') to understand what really ails the Indian state and how to reform it.

Karthik, who is a distinguished Economics Professor at the University of California at San Diego, is a phenomenon. Not only is he an accomplished academic, he is also in close touch with the messy real-world through his research and more importantly, his advocacy and advisory work.

In the podcast conversation, Karthik likens the Indian state to an old Ambassador car from the 1950s. Most often the nation focuses on who gets to drive the car (by winning elections) or how much fuel it needs (through taxes and budgets). But, as Karthik says, unless you change the car itself, you cannot get better outcomes.

I liked this pithy formulation

Karthik: Manish Sabharwal said this very nicely, 'government has an execution deficit, private sector has a trust deficit, civil society has a scale deficit'

The remarkable part of the book (and the conversation) is the set of practical 'implementable' solutions that it details out.

The conversation focuses a lot on the human resource management aspect of the state. Here's one radical but powerful suggestion - on how to channel the energies of the millions of government job applicants to apprenticeship programs (transcripts have been mildly edited for clarity):

Karthik: ...the idea is very simple. Today, what happens to become a government teacher? You kind of get a graduate degree somewhere, and then you do a B.Ed. So, you've already got five years of post-12th standard education. Then you enter this lottery of the government job lottery (maybe you'll teach a little bit in the private school here or there)...
Now, imagine a different model... where you say that after 12th standard itself, that you will create, essentially, a four-year teacher training program that has a combination of theory and practice, where you spend about three to four months, like in a... So, imagine each district, has its own district kind of practicum-based training program. And over there, you admit, say, the top 100 or 200 candidates from every panchayat, who apply for the program. And the structure of the program is you come to the district headquarters for three months, to the training, you get your first set of classroom training. And then, for the next eight months, you get deployed to a school, ideally in your own home panchayat. So, the costs are minimized because you're living at home. And in that period, you're working as an apprentice.You are being trained in the practice by reporting to the regular teacher. But you've also got digital smartphone-enabled modules, that are being sent to you from your training program. You've got networks of peers, like, I mean, with whom you discuss some kind of form, essentially a community of practice, okay? Like, I mean, because you're teaching, right? And so, the beauty of this program is it's good for candidates, it's good for the existing teachers, it's good for the system, and it's good long-term, right?

This other idea on recruitment also promises massive potential impact and seems a no-brainer. The idea is to leverage the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission, which selects the apex bureaucrats of the country) recruitment process to enhance managerial capacity in states:

Karthik: …the UPSC is still clean, okay? so, recruitment in the UPSC is the gold standard of running a high-integrity recruitment process. So, my idea is now very, very, very simple, which is, we are running this high-quality recruitment process but we use it so inefficiently... Because you hire the top 0.2%, we'll make it into kind of the grade A services maybe top 0.02% make it to the IAS and others make it to other services so, my idea is very simple, which is that all you need to do is create kind of an empaneled list, like, you mean of saying, let's go down to the top 1%, okay, or the top 2% of the people in the UPSC list, so, these are not like you're selecting some slouches, like, these are still the top 1%, of the distribution it's just that right now you're selecting only top 0.2%, so, if you increase that by 5x, what you do is you still have a pool of incredibly kind of qualified and motivated by public service people, right?
And then what you do is you don't necessarily change kind of the current hires because you do need full-time hires... who kind of function with a mindset that they are not revolving-door people, like, I mean that they are long-term thinking about the state, that's fine, but you can take the next 4x or the next 9x if you go to 2%, like I mean you get 10 times that number and then you say, you have shown, you are meritorious you have been chosen by this absolutely objective process, and you are now on a list of UPSC and paneled kind of candidates who can be appointed on 3-5 year contracts by any government, department or office anywhere in the country...
And then what you do is you say you're going to have maybe a 3-month foundation course like, I mean, so, you know, people who go to UPSC, like who get selected have a foundation course and then they branch off into different services, because, so, IAS will have its own, IPS will have its own forest service, economic service they all have their own, but they have a foundation course, so, we'll kind of make sure that these empaneled candidates also get a foundation course maybe digitally, obviously, you've got to handle the numbers, but once you have that foundation course, then you are in this empaneled list, and then, when a government needs to augment its staffing it doesn't have to go looking for a consulting firm to find 3 bodies or 4 bodies you've got a UPSC process that has been vetted, that has got, you know, training and then what you can do is, see, in every government see, part of our problem is that when we've got massive understaffing at the frontline level, right? so, at the district collector level, I mean, a district collector handles over 50 departments, over 50 departments! So, augmenting that district collector's office with two such young professionals who are able to just kind of analyze data, make presentations, go on review meetings and they have the authority of the government, they are government employees.

Karthik is that rare academic who is also driving action. He co-founded a non-profit called CEGIS, which has been working with state governments to enhance their capacity and productivity through several projects. I have had the privilege of meeting some of the CEGIS leaders (when I was doing a workshop for them on storytelling techniques) and I was mighty impressed with their calibre and drive.

More power to Karthik, his ideas and his efforts!


That's all from this week's edition.

​Ravi

PS: Got this email as a forward? Get your own copy here.

Access this email on a browser or share this email on Whatsapp, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You can access the archive of previous newsletter posts here.

You are getting this email as a part of the 3-2-1 by Story Rules Newsletter. To get your own copy, sign up here.

Ravishankar Iyer

A Storytelling Coach More details here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ravishankar-iyer/

Read more from Ravishankar Iyer

Welcome to the seventy-third edition of '3-2-1 by Story Rules'. A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across: 3 tweets 2 articles, and 1 long-form content piece Hey, if you feel that this newsletter valuable, please forward it to your friends and colleagues who might also benefit from it! Here's the subscription link. Alright, let's dive in. 𝕏 3 Tweets of the week Source: X That's a great interview question. My response: Structure in narrative. Source: X Great tip on writing...

Welcome to the seventy-second edition of '3-2-1 by Story Rules'. A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across: 3 tweets 2 articles, and 1 long-form content piece Hey, if you feel that this newsletter valuable, please forward it to your friends and colleagues who might also benefit from it! Here's the subscription link. Alright, let's dive in. 𝕏 3 Tweets of the week Source: X Fascinating insight and typical hallmarks of lovely data-storytelling by FT. Clear message on top,...

I'm kicked to present the 25th conversation of the Story Rules Podcast, with Nitin Seth. “Storytelling is not about glibness. Storytelling is not about verbosity. Storytelling is not just about your confidence or doing it though it is an important aspect of it. Storytelling is fundamentally about the clarity of what you are saying."That is Nitin Seth, Co-Founder and CEO of Incedo Inc. and author of the recent bestseller, 'Mastering the Data Paradox’. This 600-page tome provides leaders with a...