Jugaad not the answer to India's problems: Vijay Govindarajan

Vijay Govindarajan is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on strategy and innovation.  G. Seetharaman caught up with him on the sidelines of a conference.

A file photo of Vijay Govindarajan (Photo: G Keshav Raj) A file photo of Vijay Govindarajan (Photo: G Keshav Raj)
Vijay Govindarajan, Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, is an engaging speaker. That's partly because the metaphors he uses to put across his management ideas range from Rajnikanth films to the high jump. He was in Mumbai on Monday, January 28, to address a conference on innovation, his area of expertise. G. Seetharaman caught up with him on the sidelines of the conference. Excerpts:

What is your take on the innovation we see in India?
I don't find Indian companies terribly innovative. In the last two decades (since liberalisation) we have played the efficiency game. Our performance gap was so big you could grow by closing that gap. If you were the only car manufacturer and there was a long queue to get your car, you didn't have to be innovative. Now is the time to focus on innovation.

Does the Indian concept of jugaad help innovation efforts here?
I don't consider jugaad the answer to India's problems. Jugaad is making do with what you have. It's improvisation. A few days back I was in Chennai and my iPhone stopped working. So, my maid there just shook it and did something and it started working. This is jugaad. What we need is breakthrough innovations. Narayana Hrudayalaya (multi-speciality hospitals) is not jugaad. We need such innovations, which are scalable.

You have spoken about how companies should be measured as much for their forgetting curve as for their learning curve. What do you mean by that?
Strategy is about leadership in the future - you need to selectively forget some things. It depends on how you see the future. If there are things you do today that do not fit into your plan for the future, you should forget them.

How crucial are best practices to innovation?
I think best practices are easy to adopt. There are management consultants who have expertise in different sectors. If you are a financial services company and you go to them, they will look at the best practices in another financial services company and tell you to follow them. You can't innovate that way. Best practices should give way to next practices, for which you should look outside your sector or business. For instance, to improve its turnaround time, Southwest Airlines in the US studied the Daytona 500 (NASCAR motor race) to see which racing companies were able to turn around cars that had accidents on the track.