When Jamshyd Godrej's son Navroze entered the family business in 2007-08 he was all of 25 years. When he was asked whether he and his cousins (Nisa and Tanya) were different from the previous generation, he had quipped: "We are cooler than them." Seven years later, he maintains that their generation is much cooler than their parents'. In an interview with Ajita Shashidhar, Navroze Godrej, Executive Director, Strategy and Innovation, Godrej & Boyce, says: "When you say design and innovation, people think of products, but it is much more than that. We do business design, we design the supply chain, the way it gets built and the communication around it. It's a much more holistic approach to design." Excerpts:
Q: What has been your major contribution to the Group as the head of the innovation centre?
A: To create a culture of strategic and innovative thinking in the organisation, many different fronts had to be pushed. It's really been a long journey of working with the people, working with the senior leadership, setting up programmes, having a lot more strategic discussions and engaging with the company at multiple levels. It's been a comprehensive set of activities that we have done and we need to do a lot more.
We have a healthy discussion right now, a healthy debate internally on innovation and strategy. I think the leadership is much more open to far-reaching thinking now than what they were even a few years ago. That's largely because we have made some big bold moves by setting up spaces like the innovation centre which are really leading the discussions. We have lots of continuous debates with business heads and we bring people into the innovation centre regularly to have workshops, to incubate projects and do many things that have resulted in a shift in the mindset. It's because the leadership is forward looking and we have lot more confidence now, as we are in many high-growth and high-potential businesses, and we have set some ambitious targets for ourselves. We have also given people a lot of freedom to think innovatively.
Q: What does innovation mean to you?
A: What really interests me is the cultural transformation - the work that we have been doing on building a common language around strategy and innovation. It has happened top-down through the leadership and bottom-up. The bottom-up approach has also been instrumental in this change through initiatives like the Sprint programme that we have done. We invited all employees to submit ideas and we incubated those ideas at the innovation centre for three months, ranging from cooking appliances to recycling of waste, to looking at resources and services for transit population. It was a mix group of ideas and because we had allowed everyone to open up and give their ideas, we had people with 20 years of experience as well as those with just six months of experience working together. This really created a rich work environment.
Q: What kind of ideas did Sprint generate?
A: There was an interior designer in our furniture business who decided to look at scrap materials that come out of all our manufacturing facilities. She worked with a group of students in Mumbai to create furniture from that scrap. That was an innovative use of material that would actually get discarded. So, it was an innovative approach to build a business by not using traditional methods. We are going to launch a line of furniture using scrap, but what was great about that was that it was a very collaborative model and that's essentially what the innovation centre is all about. We work with all our businesses, we look at synergies across all our businesses, and we look at how businesses can collaborate much better. So, it is a collaborative business.
For instance, we work with the security business and electrical business and, we say, 'can we look at synergies?'. Things like these are leading to a cultural transformation, it's leading to change in the way people approach work, the way the company is looking at the future. We are excited about ideas coming from our own employees.
Q: Are there any innovations that you are proud off?
A: You have to look at innovation in the context of business growth and user aspiration. We have set fairly ambitious targets for ourselves as a Group, growing 10 times in 10 years and maintaining our position of being one of India's most trusted brands. In order to do that we need to invest heavily in the future. We need to keep thinking about who, we are, and what businesses we are in.
The other aspect of user aspiration is really about understanding India, understanding user needs and immersing ourselves in people's daily lives, and looking for new ideas and new insights from the world around us. This has driven us to establish this space, because growth will not come unless we think far enough into the future in a way that is new and innovative. The innovation centre is about working with businesses on their three-to-five year strategies. We have projects that are further out, which are more speculative, which are more research-driven.
We also have projects which are implementation-oriented. A lot of the work done here is primary research - a lot of ethnography-led research, immersing ourselves into environment and people's daily lives. We have identified six areas that we are interested in: security, connectivity, productivity, lifestyle, health, energy and wellness. We explore everything there is about these areas through ethnographic studies. In security, today we think of physical security, securing environments, securing documents or valuable objects. Going forward, there may be a new definition of security that might emerge and we need to understand that. By understanding people's perceptions we will design better safes, and better locking systems.
In fact, one of the solutions that we have come up with in the security space is a simple innovation of giving access to your video door phone from your mobile, by sending a simple text message. If there is somebody at your door it will enable you to either respond to or ignore the alert, and may even allow you to unlock your door. In India neighbours are big a support system, but what happens when you are travelling? Can you give your neighbor access to your home? Suppose you want some mail delivered by the postman to your apartment, you can use this app.
We are looking at several projects in rural markets. Chotu Kool has been very successful. It has emerged as a completely new business model innovation for us, by looking at changing the whole distribution of this product - the way it is sold, the way it is manufactured. The latest version which is being launched has also been manufactured through a decentralised process, where we have partnered with local craftsmen and artisans to create skins that allow people to customise Chotu Kool. This innovation is one of inclusive growth, which is looking at involving communities and NGOs in the distribution of the product. We recently partnered with the postal department to distribute the product. The post office gains a percentage on every product they sell.
Q: How big is your team at the Godrej Innovation Centre?
A: A small team of 20 work full time and around a 100 work on time-bound projects. They are from businesses and they get deputed for a certain period of time. They come from different backgrounds, including design, marketing, research, business engineering etc. We believe diversity will produce the best work.
Q: You recently set up the Godrej Design Lab. Can you talk to us about that?
A: Godrej Design Lab is meant for independent designers to partner with the industry and create their own concepts. We launched the design lab and had 10 independent designers partnering with Godrej on some very interesting concepts for home decor. For the design community it is an opportunity to engage with a large manufacturer, and actually prototype their concepts, learn about manufacturing and take concepts and convert them into a viable, manufacturable, marketable solution. This year we looked at home décor, but in the next few years we will be looking at other areas, too, where design can make a difference.