Innovation goes bananas

Innovation is difficult to define – it perhaps even defies definition. We may be better off not even trying to. Can innovation be taught? Short answer, no. Can wisdom be bought? DITTO.

Courses in innovation are being created without any focus on the human being. Today’s innovation bandwagon focuses on philosophy, methodology, tools and what not. I ask a simple question. “Do you not need something more than education and training to be a musician”. Basically, can anybody become a musician or does s/he have to be one in the first place? If I simply teach musical notation after which you practice strumming for 6 hours a day, can you become a guitarist OR do you have to be a musician before I brush you up?

Are there some intrinsic traits or talents or experiences that are prerequisites for innovation?

Think about it!!!

Everyone and their mothers have laid a claim on innovation. People are writing books, setting up schools, designing methods, building tools, conducting seminars – basically riding the wave of innovation that has caught the fancy of an ever unsure business world. Some of them are calling innovation the ‘growth driver of the future’. Great phrase, sounds nice but someone must tell me what that really means to what I’m doing today. It looks to me that the first worlds have once again put the cart before the horse. Institutions and individuals alike have been trying to wrest the innovation initiative from the rest of the world. A senior manager who works for a multinational came back from an innovation seminar in Dubai and commented, “Interesting stuff but the irony is that every consultant is talking about India but has no insights or experience or is at best very superficial. I think it is a tremendous opportunity for someone to step in and raise the game”.

While he’s talking about it from his own perspective, the issue seems to be endemic. It is not only the India context that’s missing, it is about not putting forth a context at all.Is there a need for a context? Definitely so.

First of all, innovation is less about philosophies and tools and more about making all the connections needed to create value concepts. Second, value concepts can have no value if you seek to place them outside their contexts. Third, the end-user’s experience is the only way to measure the effectiveness of innovation. Finally, no one specialisation is good enough to effect the user experience. It is all about internalising the wisdom of centuries and then going about externalising them in the contexts of time and space. India (I won’t apologize for this streak of patriotism) is perhaps the only civilisation that has all the resources needed for innovation to happen sustainably. Including human beings! Remember, our IT professionals are called resources by our overseas customers.

India is a plural noun. Our pluralism shows through in the wealth and diversity of our traditions, crafts, science, literature, art and now, technology; it provides all the ingredients that any one society needs to lead the innovation charge ahead of the rest of the world. Yet we still look westwards for ‘innovation domain expertise’ and their so-called gurus willingly oblige us by making our pockets lighter.

India is uniquely poised. But are we ready to take on the world? I am not about to suggest that we become arrogant. I can suggest however, that we look into our own heritage to rediscover our identity. We must be able to showcase the depth of innovation that has existed through the ages in our society. We must show the world that building the human capability to innovate comes before tools and methods. The spotlights should turn towards the values of innovation before expecting innovation to provide value.

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3 Replies to “Innovation goes bananas”

  1. “…is perhaps the only civilisation that has all the resources needed for innovation to happen sustainably. Including human beings!”

    Going beyond patriotism (I am also an Indian 🙂 ) Can you tell me why this statement? If we consider China, what does it lack in terms of people, technology, arts and culture, science…

    Also maybe without being a musician first a student of music cannot become a great musician but definitely after lessons for years and a lot of practice he can play guitar a lot better than most out there except the really great musicians.
    Maybe what you are referring to more is the spirit of innovation. Definitely education cannot deliver the spirit of it to students ‘trying’ to learn innovation.
    What do you think??


  2. Priyanka,

    First of all thank you for your insightful comment.

    In my view, Eastern civilisations, including China, have much more to offer in the field of innovation than our western counterparts, especially if the fruits of the endeavour are to be consumed in our local contexts. I believe this has to do with our proximity to diversity on a daily basis.

    Coming to China, one their political system does not seem to encourage free thinking or, for that matter provide empowerment to individuals – which is a key prerequisite for innovation to flower. Second, compared with India, their society is much more homogeneous. Do they have 20-odd languages, multiple classical dance forms, co-existing religions, etc. etc. That’s what I meant by “all”. Not to take away from my belief in interdependence … that would be ideal – a combination of Indian diversity, China’s structure and US business ideologies. Throw in a bit of color from Latin America. That’s what my dream for global innovation looks like. But if I had to pick a nation that can innovate sustainably, I should think India would win by yards.

    Your clarification about the musician example is well taken. Thank you for adding this valuable perspective.


  3. Nice one, Sunil..basically, the “tools and methodologies” approach essentially tries to say “Let us make art scientific” (Also translated as: Why are other people not like me? (and) How do I go on being myself while achieving results like the other guy?”
    In the end, a lot of this has to do with “glorification” of innovation — which is in order in a society which frowns upon new ideas, unless its source is elsewhere!


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