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.

Optimization Vs Innovation

Any organization needs growth which can come through optimization or innovation. Innovation needs destruction. Creation of new path is difficult. It involves risk. It can’t happen every day. After trying multiple ideas, only few succeeds. Outside environment like competition or technology decides need of optimization and innovations.
Optimization needs more efforts however less risky. Optimization of process, system, or organization needs consistent effort for survival. Organizations depute army of change managers to fuel this need.

Both optimization and innovation are simultaneously happens in any system. Their ratios may be different. Growth goddess needs them. Product cycle curve is fixed (S Curve). Tech products are more vulnerable to environment. They need more innovation. Faiths like religion needs less changes. They work on written or unwritten constitutions.

Complacent organization has less life time. US companies have seen it. Business has shifted to China or India at the name of optimization. Cost reduction is consistent need for survival.

On global front, countries are investing less on higher education (innovation). Politics, security, and economics have taken over need to innovate by human. We need more budget allocations and focus on education and innovation. There should be idea centres/cafes then bookish education. Google has made bookish education less useful. Creating products for future generations is need of hour.

Triz and Politics – Part I

I find politicians are most creative people. They create people and solve them to grab and maintain power. Just putted their strategy in triz principles

S.No Principle Sub Principles Politicians Examples
1 Segmentation a) Divide an object into independent Parts Divide world in Caste, Creed, Religion, Region, 
b) Make an object or system easy to disassemble Local organizations units which are easy to disassemble and work at voting areas. Moveable branding –advertising.. 
c) Increase degree of fragmentation Divided world in uneven area and districts. 
Fight lower level elections like municipality and village penchact to keep power intact at lower levels
2 Taking Out a) Separate an interfering part or property from an object or system Kicking non loyal people and 
Side-line people with scan tainted image 
3 Local Quality a) Change an object or system from Uniform to non- uniform Exceptional handling all the time,
Keep some issue unresolved and area disputed
b) Make each part of an object in condition most suitable for operation Try to optimise resource utilization..
People with nice diplomatic image work with nice people
Some people make verbal attach from direction of top
c) Make each part of an object fulfil a different and useful function Allocate ministries to loyal subordinates and colleagues.
4 Asymmetry a) Change the shape of an object to asymmetrical Create religion or caste based asymmetry in people 
Give subsidy or reservations to people with high vote percentage 
b) If an object is asymmetrical change it to extreme Further subdivide people on minute difference (like in even Muslim countries people are divided on Sia and Sunnis ) 
5 Merging a) Bring closer identical parts to perform parallel operation Based on their interest , they bring countries (like European Union) together 
b) Make operations contiguous or parallel Single currency to smoothen trade. They sign pacts with other friendly countries to streamline trade. 
6 Universality a) Make a object to perform multiple functions Give multiple roles to single person. In India , single man handle 3-4 ministries.
b) Use standardized features Copy best practices in global arena in voting, trade, and political negotiations
7 Nested doll a) Place one object or system inside another Resource optimization done by keeping woman wing or youth wing, etc 
b) Make one part pass through a cavity in the other Common resources or thread to manage all small parts
8 Anti Weight a) To compensate for the weight of an object or system , merge it with other systems Keep substitutes for critical resources. If a leader reach at retiring age – change it with next grown up resource
b) To compensate for the weight of an object make it interact with environment If someone has got more power.. move it to party from government. Give him challenging role with less powers
9 Preliminary anti action a) Ant actions to control harmful effects Left loopholes in rules made by parliament or them only..
b) Create Forehand stresses in an object that will oppose unknown working stress Put curfew in case of violence
10 Preliminary action a) Perform , before it is needed, the required change of an object Independent aligned before government formation
b)  Pre arrange objects at most convenient place Announce policies just before elections