Innovation 101: People first

I’ve tried and cried but have not been able to find any machine that’s innovative. Neither have I found a machine that cries, or is frightened or is creative or has an ego or is greedy. Strangely enough, I don’t have to look too hard for these ‘abilities’ when it comes to people, regardless of their religion, race, cultural moorings or, for that matter, even age.

If you’ve ever driven in India you’ll often find that the ‘victim is the violator’ which means the same thing even if you read it the other way around. But when it comes to business and society, this mindset is almost universal – it’s not just an India thing – and the preachers are rarely, if at all, practitioners. Innovation (are the so-called experts listening?) is a field of endeavour that is deeply rooted in local-contexts and unless you learn the ‘cultural’ behaviors you don’t have a chance of providing any value.  

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? [… more here]

In one of my recent conversations about the ‘human dimensions’ of innovation, we were trying to define collaboration. The potential of innovation that multidisciplinary and cross-discipline teams collaborating in a globalised world is unimaginably huge. In setting the culture of  collaboration, the “Indian way” is notable. It is – at a meta level and oversimplified – founded on two basic intertwinings – inclusion and tolerance. Consequently, collaboration becomes more a heart thing than a mind thing since, like we saw, machines cannot collaborate, only people can. The mechanistic worldview and its industrialised avataar has brought us to a point where everything is sought to be defined as rules thereby throwing up a need to ‘monitor and control’. From history and the ‘weakness’ of greed-led capitalism, we now know that human interactions are better left un’controlled’. The darkest of shadows cast by the current global crisis on the future of business, bears out this point. 

Addressing the “human dimension” becomes a little easier now bringing out a simple insight – and therefore shows us how to influence meaningful collaboration for ‘mutual’ benefit –

  • “by building non-threatening, sustainable relationships as the first cornerstones that may or may not result in immediate – and/or material gain”.

Getting to unconditional trust will need time, effort and mutual respect inclusively. Key to this is tolerance for all types of cultural and individual communication styles, content, ideas, philosophies AND behaviours … viz.
 …  learning to ‘see’ between the lines.

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3 Replies to “Innovation 101: People first”

  1. Very powerful thoughts Sunil ! Motivational 🙂

    I think this should be a thought-provoking tonic for our gurus. [I admit, I possess limited understanding about this subject]

    One humble question – Can you propose some real-world framework which demonstrates the power of cross-disciplinary teams ?

    It would be great if you could demonstrate it with an example outside the ‘technology’ environment.

    If feasible, a blog-post would help.


    1. Innovation goes beyond gurus really, Daksh. Unless of course, we’re talking about the classic Gurus of yore in Indian mythology. Those were enlightened individuals that unconditionally shared what they learnt with their shishya (student) after assessing the capacity of the shishya to learn, internalise and apply the learning to his own life. It was knowledge transfer (not so efficient but most effective) in its most holistic form – call it awareness transfer – through proximate interaction and mentoring by example, things that went missing as self-centered living became more and more the order of the day.

      I’ll also think about the real-life collaboration framework for cross cultural teamwork and come back with a post (?).


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