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Udaipur: The Joy and Power of Third Cities

Muscular claims of the “Mumbai is the new Shanghai” ilk are far-fetched at best and downright mendacious at worst.

They also betray a fundamental weakness in psychology that suggests that we must always strive to be something different than we are and, further, that the paths other countries choose to follow are necessarily better than ours.

India surely is imperfect but it is, after all, India, with its unique mix of imperatives and constraints– Shanghai is Shanghai, New York is New York, and, well, Mumbai is Mumbai. If that’s not a sufficient number of tautologies, then I have a fourth one to throw at you: Udaipur is Udaipur. Or not. Because every city has two definitions. One that is fodder of perception and one that is, well, true.

As a visitor to India (I live in Seattle) and as an Advisor to companies world-wide, I will admit to being absolutely convinced that India’s “Third Cities” like Udaipur (by population-no disrespect meant) are incredible hotspots of innovation, courage, and ability. And, after all, these are three of the core aspects of any milieu of innovation. If you add education, capital, and a basic degree of human dignity, you get the 6 attributes that create real (and sustainable) success.

Take the company Advaiya, which I advise. It’s a home-grown Udaipur company with some key tie-ups with U.S. and European companies.

There, about 75 technologists, writers, creative, and managers work assiduously on projects for international and domestic clients both. The energy at the company is infectious.

In just one day, I discussed start-ups, Hadoop, Windows 8, Android, iOS, and the future of the Google-Microsoft battle. Oh, there’s more. This company is looking the benefits of Microsoft Azure versus Amazon Web Services, and is talking-up crowd-sourcing as a core model for employee feedback.

The company is distinctly Indian- and distinctly Udaipur; the employees’ English is tinged with an unmistakably Udaipur inflection and the sensibility is far more humble than a similar Mumbai or Delhi company’s would be.

The city is wonderful. Beautiful, scenic, filled with pleasant people and good restaurants. The hotel is efficient and very comfortable; not quite opulent, it’s great for business and pleasure travel both. The traffic in Udaipur is eminently manageable.

Yes, it’s India. The roads aren’t all well-paved and the lead-in to the IT Park is strewn with a random assortment of detritus. No big deal really.

I am writing this in a very nice conference room. In about 5 minutes, I have PR companies coming in; I want to put Advaiya on the map- to allow it to occupy its rightful place in the pantheon of dynamic-if-medium-sized companies in this part of India. After all, these folks have delivered incredible projects for Microsoft, Google and others and have just signed on 3 European customers in one week.

Yes, Advaiya – In Udaipur. Put your perceptions away for a moment; embrace reality.

All places have biases. In India, we think of Bangalore as Silicon Valley. We forget about Austin, Seattle, Silicon Alley in New York, Atlanta, Denver and other hubs of innovation.

Perhaps we ought to embrace our third cities. Don’t change them. Embrace them. They are fine without us. We need them.

 

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