Innovation, Now!

The continuing financial Tsunami has ceased to make waves. We ought to have seen it coming but were too scared to open our eyes. Like we’ve done in the past – all we’ve ever learnt to do is to solve problems based on ‘fitting historical patterns’ – we believe that we’re at the bottom of the economic downturn and things will look up from here on. Anybody noticed that the slide has been going on since September 11, 2001? And we’re satisfied waiting. The time for innovation is here and is urging us to do something – differently.

Talk to technology and business people and they will tell you that innovation is a tool. Therefore researching a need and then developing a solution to address it is called innovation. Then why call it innovation, why not keep calling it R&D? Are we simply using the word because it sounds nicer? Continue reading

Innovation 101 – Rethinking Poverty: Affluence is not a prerequisite for creativity

“The minds on the margin are not marginal minds”. The most powerful statement I have heard in a long time. I urge everyone to watch this no-holds-barred TED video (opens in a new window) where Professor Anil Gupta, founder of the Honeybee Network makes point after point about grassroots innovation and how our great need for one-size-fits-all business models fall miserably short of what is needed.

Professor Anil Gupta, Founder - Honeybee Network

In his own words, here is how he started Honeybee

And one day — I don’t know what happened — while coming back from the office towards home, maybe I saw a honey bee, or it occurred to my mind, that if I could be like the honey bee, life would be wonderful. What the honey bee does: it pollinates, takes nectar from the flower, pollinates another flower, cross-pollinates. And when it takes the nectar, the flowers don’t feel shortchanged. In fact, they invite the honey bees through their colors. And the bees don’t keep all the honey for themselves. These are the three guiding principles of the Honey Bee Network — that whenever we learn something from people it must be shared with them in their language. They must not remain anonymous.

“They must not remain anonymous.” If you listen to the ‘silent’ pieces of his talk you hear frustration, helplessness, trauma, longing and urgency in equal measure. He espouses a fairness test that he first applies to himself before he preaches.

Professor Gupta, may your tribe increase!

The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101

This morning’s HT Business piece “Can India become the Coca Cola of the BPO sector” by my friend N. Madhavan, (twitter: @madversity) shows how India is steadily cornering the ‘back-office’ business. His article got me thinking about whether this has happened by design or is the kind of happy accident that made India an IT superpower by the Y2K paranoia of the west. Here’s why.

The Indian service industry is fast mastering the art of Negative Innovation. When they try to add value they end up becoming a nuisance.

Negative Innovation Case #1: 0.75p for Voice SMS, Value Added Service (VAS) –  Airtel.
I scroll down my list of contacts and call N. Madhavan. Maddy’s on another call so this ‘friendly’ VAS kicks in telling me I can leave a voice sms for him. Easy! So what does it ask me to do? Without hanging up, I have to dial his TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER followed by STAR or HASH (I don’t remember which) and VOILA!!! . . . I can leave a voice sms for him. #Fail. I was telling someone the other day that if Airtel could show me ONE . . . O N E person who had ever used the service, I’d eat my words now and forever more. VALUE for whom? Continue reading

Innovation 101 – The Jugaad phenomenon

This post is meant for those of you who have set up automated alerts for the new magic word ‘Jugaad’, the most fashionable innovation thread about India these days. Several innovation ‘gurus’, management experts, authors have latched on. The common thread – they’re mostly based in the US and are of Indian origin. The more equal of us. Keith Sawyer calls it a ‘fad from India’ and that’s exactly what  it is.

Business Week* reports on a management fad from India, that goes by a Hindi slang word, jugaad (say joo-gaardh). It means “an improvisational style of innovation”. It’s “inexpensive invention on the fly”. It sometimes has negative connotations, like cutting corners. The idea is that it doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy; it’s just good enough to satisfy immediate needs.

>>*See the comments at the end of the article.

Don’t be fooled – Jugaad is jugaad and innovation is innovation. Jugaad is a dangerous mindset – you heard right, a mindset. You ‘fix’ things by simply putting together bits and pieces, never mind that they don’t fit or that the final product is unreliable, unsafe, whatever. When something goes wrong, you can always use the excuse of not having time, resources, skills, etc. After all you did achieve ‘cheap’, didn’t you.

Maruti Gypsy 2020?

Continue reading

Overthrowing the incubation regime

From an earlier post Business Incubation 101 that forms the preamble of my incubation idea. Thanks for all the offers of support – shows me that the idea resonates with many.

1. First bring the academia out of the safety of the cocoons we’ve woven around them. Have them check out what the world looks like. Today’s world. Today’s India.

2. Next, focus towards incubating ‘people’. They should be the real focus. Find real mentors. People that have been in the entrepreneurial world even if they have failed. They are the best teachers. Not professors of colleges. Don’t talk about incubating business. Leave that to the Western world.

3. Next, teach people to fish. No point in teaching fishing in your living room aquarium. At least walk them out to a brook. Pick up all the university incubation centres and physically put them off campus. That’s where the world exists. Not in the time warped government funded institutes.

Entrepreneur-ism is not socialistic. And capitalism doesn’t necessarily mean greedy or mercenary - especially in the context of India’s ethos. Make entrepreneurship an attractive lifestyle and stop being condescending irrespective of the preamble of our constitution. That goes for all those holier-than-thou bankers and VC’s.