Anything that moves

How Narendra Modi outmatched James Bond with his seaplane stunt

The prime minister touted a piece of obsolete technology as the way of the future – to the applause of his partymen and sections of the media.

Watching Narendra Modi being taken in a seaplane from the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad to the Dharoi dam in Mehsana district on Tuesday, I was reminded of James “Biggles” Bigglesworth and his cousin Algernon “Algy” Lacey, heroes of a series of novels for young readers written by WE Johns. My memory of those books is hazy, but I recall Biggles flew chartered seaplanes between the two world wars, and fought in World War IIas an RAF pilot. Looking up online, I found covers of novels like Biggles Defies the Swastika and Biggles in the Baltic that depict those planes. That tells you something about the vintage of the technology employed in seaplanes.

Seaplanes also appear frequently in the adventures of Tintin, created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé mainly from the 1930s through the 1950s. We see them in The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, and King Ottokar’s Sceptre, and perhaps others I can’t remember. The popularity of Hergé’s hero, a reporter who does precious little reporting, has waned less rapidly than that of Biggles. Steven Spielberg’s recent motion-capture and animation feature The Adventures of Tintin, in which a seaplane features prominently, did fairly well at the box-office. It was clearly a period piece with period technology, and the seaplane fit right in.

As far the history of aviation is concerned, the seaplane is a curiosity whose best days are far behind it. Its potential as a mass carrier died with the Spruce Goose, a gigantic wooden boat plane designed by Howard Hughes which retains the world record for the longest wingspan of any aircraft ever flown. The Goose made a single trial flight before being mothballed, WWII having ended during its development.

Limited use

The seaplane form has some uses today, in water rescues, as transport in remote areas, and as part of the infrastructure of exclusive island-based tourism, but the rapid expansion of landing strips has left it playing a very marginal role. Seaplanes might have become popular among amateurs and hobbyists, had they not looked so boring. The only one I’ve seen that seemed cool appeared in the worst James Bond movie ever made, 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. It was an amphibious Republic RC-3 Seabee that had been designed in the 1940s but seemed more contemporary thanks to its funky oval cabin.

Thirteen years later, a more conventional plane appeared in The Living Daylights. Timothy Dalton might have been the worst James Bond of them all, but the stunt with the seaplane is among the best in any Bond film. Being chased underwater by a bunch of divers, Bond shoots a harpoon into the side of a taxiing plane, then skis barefoot behind it while dodging machine gun bullets, hangs on to a float as the plane takes off, enters the cabin, throws one man out and subdues the pilot.

This might seem like a typically implausible James Bond scene, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the stunt Narendra Modi pulled off last Tuesday. Consider this: Modi spent a large amount of money, perhaps coming from our taxes, in hiring a seaplane when he could have got the job done as easily with a locally available helicopter. One of the two foreign pilots, a man who looked like his last job was an arms drop over El Salvador, couldn’t be bothered to wear full-length trousers for the flight, ignoring protocol entirely. The other man was in pilot’s uniform, making for a weird mismatch. Modi boarded the airplane as if it was a supersonic jet-fighter rather than a product built from decades-old technology.

Flight of fancy

Modi touted it as potentially a revolutionary addition to India’s transport network, despite a cost per passenger per trip that would put it out of bounds for everyone except the very affluent. He not only had most of the mainstream media applaud all this but also accept his party’s false claim that this was “the first ever flight by such a craft in the country”.

Donald Trump said, during his election campaign, that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and still not lose any voters. Narendra Modi is his equal in every way. He can sell the old as new, the niche as mass, the imported as indigenous, and the exorbitant as economical. One can hardly blame him for having no regard for facts, given how long he has successfully sold the lie as truth.

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When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

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Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

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  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
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As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

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To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.