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Driving innovation via collaboration, clusters and centres of excellence

Driving innovation via collaboration, clusters and centres of excellence

Almost all B-schools will teach you to use innovation as a strategic tool to skim the market, drive premium products and margins but the key question everyone faces is: How to innovate?

Ankur Anand
Innovation is the talk of the town. Many organisations, people and even students preach innovation and list it as a priority.

Still, it is one of the most abused and misused words. Some want to join the bandwagon as they don't want to be seen left out and treated as old school, while others are inspired by the likes of Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Graham Bell and others.

Almost all B-schools will teach you to use innovation as a strategic tool to skim the market, drive premium products and margins but the key question everyone faces is: How to innovate?

The government is keen to build enterprises of tomorrow by harping on the 'Make in India' initiative, the tech industry is abuzz with 'innovative' startups that are flourishing in the country but nobody pays heed to the process of innovation. Are we really what we preach? What does it take to innovate? Does it occur just as a Eureka moment or can there be a more scientific method that can be applied to foster innovation?

Observe some of the most innovative organisations and you will notice something different about them. Innovation is not preached, it is inculcated and ingrained in their culture. Nobody speaks of innovating, rather it is in their DNA to innovate and it happens so naturally that it becomes a commonplace practice. Some of the lessons that we can learn from such organisations corroborate the view that innovation does not occur by chance or through advocacy but through a well-crafted, meticulous and an in-depth process.

Some of the leading innovators emphasise collaboration. The key idea is that people should collaborate to share and appreciate pain points, look for solutions and break the shackles of formal structural approaches to exploit the creative sides of their brains and come out with out-of-the-box ideas.

It illustrates that for innovation to take place it is essential that people interact as often as possible and work in collaboration to build upon their ideas and translate them into products and offerings. There is significant contribution of the technology culture and collaboration that took place in the Silicon Valley and led to the emergence of several leading organisations. Apple is one of the most notable examples.

Another key aspect is to follow a more scientific approach. The Design Thinking philosophy is gaining momentum across the globe for its approach towards the various problems faced by a multitude of organisations, societies and people across the globe. Radical ideas rest not in the mind but in the problems. To really create path-breaking products, one needs to dig deep through the superficial problem statements into the basic tenets of the actual problem. Understanding the roots of an issue generates insights that are the fodder for innovation. For that to occur, one has to immerse deep into understanding the customer or the user and understand the rituals and consuming behavior to identify areas where one can improvise.

Lastly, innovation is many a time treated as a complex process that leads to a complex product. Many designers, marketers and engineers tend to make complicated products on the pretext of innovation. Simplicity in its true essence is intriguing and one of the most complex tasks to achieve.

As the Indian economy prepares to enter the league of developed economies, there is a lot to be done to foster the growth of industry. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we need to focus on driving growth through innovation in technology, manufacturing and services sectors. We need to create clusters specific to each domain, be it aerospace, electronics and semiconductors, heavy machinery or any other industry.

The key to the success of the IT service sector in India, apart from intellectual ability and cost advantages, is the development of clusters in the cities of Bangalore, Pune and others. It led to the development of an ecosystem, comprising infrastructure, skilled manpower and intense collaboration. The whole is always greater than the sum and this is what we need to follow if we need to put India on the map of innovation in products and services.

Further, it is believed that capital is the most essential requirement for startups to flourish. I counter that argument with the following reasoning. A high potential entrepreneurial idea needs not just capital but more importantly the support structure of infrastructure, manpower and support systems-it enable the idea to flourish.

Once it achieves its potential and gains momentum, it will find its own way to the paths of glory. the critical element is the initial period of nurturing and developing the startups. The government must create incubation centres that provide facilities such as office space, administrative and support staff, facilities and other essential requirements for budding entrepreneurs. Industry bodies and institutes of excellence have to play the pivotal role of facilitating the idea and propagating this further. The cluster oriented approach propagated by several countries such as Morocco, Mexico and several European countries is a fine example that befits the idea.

We also need to get away from the notion that innovation must occur only at the premises of highly reputed top tier institutes such as ISB, IIMs, IITs, NITs and others. These institutes must play the vanguard role, becoming the torchbearers of fostering and developing enterprises, creating models that can be replicated across other institutes in the country. These institutes must function as the pillars of support and guidance to others following a top-down approach.

The point is, when you know that eventually you have to reach your destination, why wait and exhaust yourself by making a run for it. Instead start walking towards it right now!

(The author is a student at the Indian School of Business)

Published on: Feb 17, 2015, 7:49 PM IST
Posted by: Aseem Thapliyal, Feb 17, 2015, 7:49 PM IST