Innovation for the sake of innovation – Devdutt

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, September 09, 2012

I own a medium sized auto component company. How do I build a culture of innovation in my company? Is there an Indian mythological context to Innovation that I could embrace in my organization?

First a more fundamental question: do you need to innovate? Will innovation improve your topline or bottomline?

Innovation is the new management buzzword. A few years ago it was all about compliance and quality control and alignment and de-risking. Now, it is all about innovation. Why? Because that is what the market needs. But which market? The Indian market, or the global market or the Western market? Since most of our textbooks are written by North Americans and Europeans, we assume that needs to the West are Indian needs too.

In India, we innovate, or rather improvise, all the time (the ubiquitous jugaad), because resources are always in short supply and because we Indians, by our very nature, are rule-averse. We hate complying. We like to do things our way. But jugaad is typically not designed to be replicable. It may be, but that is not the intent. Innovation has a lot to do with replicability.

In Western mythology, the independent freethinker was identified as a goat. In Greek mythology, he was the goat-legged Pan, the innovator, the source of pandemonium, who caused disruption. In biblical mythology, that valued compliance, hence sheep, the goat was the devil. In India, depending on how earnest the leader is, people decide if they want to be the sheep or goat. This can be seen as adaptability.

In Indian mythology, we have heroes who follow rules (Ram) and defy rules (Krishna), villains who follow rules (Duryodhan) and defy rules (Ravan). If breaking of a rule benefits us, we call it innovation. If breaking a rule does not benefit us, we call it defiance, and insubordination. We want to have Krishnas in our team, not Ravans. We want innovative ideas that work for us. But why should a team member share an innovative idea with you? Will you give him a share of the profit? Will you reward him with a bonus or perk or promotion? Or do you expect them to innovate for love of the organization?

If you wish to create a culture of innovation in your concern, first clarify the reason you are doing it. Ensure you are not just a mimic, doing it because others are doing it. Make sure it makes business sense to have new ideas. Often, you do not need innovation. At best you need innovative ideas to do the same old monotonous job with continued enthusiasm.

Secondly, you have to ask what does your team get by innovating. Reward innovation. Celebrate the one who comes with a new idea, encourage it even if you realize it may not be viable, and see how quickly an organization of sheep turns into an organization of goats. Indians do not respond to instruction or process; they respond to passion and emotion. To create an ecosystem of innovation, everyone in your team needs to feel you ‘genuinely’ celebrate it.

Question remains: if they turn into what they assume is an innovator, will you be able to handle the pandemonium that follows? Will you see them as Krishnas or Ravans?

Innovation or Improvisation – Devdutt

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, Jan. 18, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about innovation in the corporates during the last 5-7 years. We have even heard about the Indian Jugaad mentality as a way of innovation. I was just wondering if Indian mythology has any such concept of “innovation”.

Since ancient times, Indians have always believed that nothing in this world is static. Everything is changing constantly. Even Indra, king of the devas, is not sure how long will he enjoy Swarga; the war-mongering asuras are always at the gates of paradise. Nothing is certain. Everything can and will change. It is an accepted reality.

By contrast, the West believes in a stable world order – a Promised Land, a Mount Olympus, where things are stable. There is talk of periodic dramatic disruptions – the revolution! But these happen after long periods of stability. Change represents a change of guard – for example from colonial powers of the 19th century to post-colonial republics of the 20th century.

As is the notion of change, so is the notion of creativity. In India, since change is continuous and of low amplitude, creativity is also continuous and takes the form of improvisations. In the West, change is discontinuous and high amplitude, spikes that demand super-creativity, the innovation that changes the system forever and heralds a period of relative stability before the next revolution.

Thus India has an ‘improvisation’ mindset that is comfortable with lack of clarity, predictability and certainty that enables one to cope with the continuous changes of life. The West has an ‘innovative’ mindset that is uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and seeks to create a new world order and an improved sense of stability.

The West functions on the basis of dependable systems. A logistics firm in the USA takes it for granted that the maps are correct, the roadways are organized, the signaling systems work, the octroi collection rules are respected. But an Indian logistics firm has to function taking nothing for granted: there is no guarantee that the maps are correct, the roads are being repaired, the signals are working, the octroi is being collected as per rules. There are so many variables that the only way to survive in India is to depend on the ‘improvization’ or jugaad mindset of the truck driver. Else everything will collapse.

If there is an emergency in the USA, you dial 911. Notice how even we Indians know this number thanks to Hollywood films. But what number will we dial if there is an emergency in India? There is no single number that we have. In all probability, we will call our families. In the most developed countries of the world, there is a single number that determines your identity – a social security number. In India, even the government is not sure what is that single document that determines the identity of the Indian citizen: is it the passport, the PAN, the electoral card or UID/Adhaar? The West creates a dependable cushion continuously improved by innovation. In India, we need to have a jugaad mindset as there is no system that will take care of you when you fall.

In the Bible everyone is walking towards the Promised Land: a common goal. In Greek mythologies, the talented individual is encouraged to break free from the monotony that binds the masses. Innovation comes from this Western mindset that seeks the individual to rise up (like the Greek hero) and help the collective (like the biblical prophet).

In Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Purans, everyone is walking in different directions depending on his karmic burden. Improvisation comes from the Indian mindset that helps one survive in a world where nothing is constant and one is ultimately on one’s own, with no support from anyone. It is not about changing the world and making it a better place; it is about surviving and thriving in a world that keeps changing whether you like it to or not.

Performance Management – Flat vs Extreme

I am working in a team of equally capable Black belts. Job role is same and it is very difficult for my managers to defend our ratings. Working with multiple managers is another compulsion or business requirement.  In absence of clear cut goal setting and output, In year end, my manager feel lost to defend our ratings. Salary differential in group is another dimension.

In 2011, our manager got confused and rated us all as very good. Everyone was happy as it was a non-event for all. Attitude changed in system, if you work or not, hardly matters.

Last year, manager changed and perception changed. We all got extreme ratings this time. Some got on upper side and some got on lower side. Now I am facing extremely uncomfortable environment in department. Drive and motivation are on extreme. He got maximum rise, he has to work extra. Averages rated are more silent spectator. Lower graded are looking for other function or profile. Point here is extreme rating made psychological impact on us.

Same is happening with our Indian legal system, you do crime or good work. hardly matters. Rewards and recognition of good work is missing. Anna Hazare worked hard whole life and now Media is torturing him for good work. System must reward right performance. Then only, well balanced performances will come and company/society will sustain longer.

Job market and Age

Job market has changed significantly. Earlier an employee may think of retirement from single organization. Today, retirement age is coming down. Management is injecting fresh blood at every level. An employee loose significance after 10 years in same organization unless you are sitting at very top slot. People around me are changing jobs very rapidly. IT boom may be reason of some changes. However, Infosys shocked the world by not giving increment this time citing the challenging environment. All HR policies change from good to bad times or vice versa.

Coming back to age discussion, managing mid-age career change is difficult.  We all go through it. Complacency takes over your dream. You want to consolidate the realistic dream. But this has one big downside. After 45, you hardly have any offer coming your way. You have to just rely on loyalty factor. Before reaching 45, you need to reach at core creamy layer or start some independent business. Otherwise, juniors will sit over you and will block your career growth.

Market bubbles are bursting cycle has reduced. Same is true with technology changes. One has to keep updating knowledge and should be at right place at right time which needs some dose of luck.

If you are dreaming to live productive life, you need to align yourself with current realities. Making smart changes may take you at height.

Transaction Intensity reduction vs Lean

I am working on transaction intensity reduction. It amused me as it is different from other quality methodologies. In six-sigma, we focus more on defect reduction. Lean focuses more on reduction of cycle time. In my current project, vendor keeps sending invoices against each transaction. Lean supports single peace flow. But, it is making transaction intensity very high and unmanageable at payable end.

Someone suggested single invoice single vendor per month. However, it will create batch processing. In all this, I feel it makes sense to have optimal batch sizes than single piece flow mindlessly.  Overall cost and lead time implications should be seen.

In BPO, many calls may be automated or self-answered in FAQ format which may reduce transaction intensity. Sending bus for each passenger may not serve purpose. Batching has its own advantage. It reduces change over time in continuous process.

Six sigma experts may question need for multiple purchase order, invoices, HR training sessions, or any other voluminous activity and may plan strategy to reduce the transactions itself to make them more manageable.

Banks reduced transaction through diverting them from branch to ATM, internet or mobile. Ticket window in Indian rail has been diverted to internet, cash coupon, or monthly ticket etc.