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India can be a world leader in innovation: James Canton

James Canton, CEO AND MD of San Francisco-based think tank, Institute for Global Futures, and author of the celebrated book, The Extreme Future, believes technological advances and innovation will be the big drivers of the global economy in the 21st century.

Print Edition: February 24, 2008

James Canton
James Canton
James Canton, CEO AND MD of San Francisco-based think tank, Institute for Global Futures, and author of the celebrated book, The Extreme Future, believes technological advances and innovation will be the big drivers of the global economy in the 21st century. He will be speaking at the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2008 to be held in Mumbai between February 13 and 15. In an e-mail interview with BT’s T.V. Mahalingam, he discusses key trends over the next decade and the leadership opportunities that they offer to India. Excerpts:

What are the key trends that will shape the world over the next decade?
I wrote about them in my book, The Extreme Future— advanced tech convergencenano-bio-IT-neuro-quantum, accelerated climate change, longevity medicine, alternative energy, globalisation and cultures in conflict, a population explosion and the global innovation economy. The future growth of India will be a vital strategic trend that will shape the decade. How India deals with poverty, healthcare, energy and increased population will be a model for the rest of the world.

What changes can be expected in healthcare, financial services, life sciences, energy, security, workforce, climate change and globalisation?
Massive, radical and accelerated change will define every sector of society. Of these, two large knowledge management opportunities will emerge and India could play a vital role in them by leveraging its strengths in IT. The first is the management of cities. Megacities, with populations of 10 million or more, will number over 100 by 2020 or before. The management of essential services—from energy, health, security, weather, transport and sanitation— will require an integrated IT infrastructure that must be developed to manage very complex systems and logistics. The second opportunity is in not just business process outsourcing (BPO) but business process transformation— remapping business processes for better service, invention and productivity.

Is innovation going to be the big driver for 21st century organisations?
The global innovation economy will be the leading and most important driver of the future organisation and nation-state. India has an excellent opportunity to be a world leader in innovation. Advanced tech tools—internet 3.0, quantum info systems, new pharmaceuticals, new energy sources and clean tech will all require high-performance innovation. Indian companies have the unique and historical opportunity to leverage these innovation tools and transform global markets. The future is knocking on India’s door. Invest in this future, I suggest.

What must companies do to encourage innovation within their domains?
They must cultivate individuals, teams and alliances that can invent new paths for producing value, solving problems and finding solutions as well as learning about domains other than their own. If you are in IT services, look at entertainment or manufacturing. Visit different worlds to bring back innovations.

What role must industries and governments play to build an ecosystem of innovation?
To create an innovation ecosystem, we must embrace a new way of thinking first. An excellent example of radical innovation is Ratan Tata’s People’s Car (Nano) that was introduced recently. At first, everyone trashed the idea as impossible. Last year, when I met Ratan in Asia, he told me he was going to first figure out a way to innovate and break down the barriers in the people’s minds so as to make them believe it was, indeed, possible. He proved it was possible by believing in a radical idea. I told my clients that Tata’s example should inspire innovation everywhere— not just in India.

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