This is the first of the Laws of Innovation: Everything changes - people, products, companies; Men, Materials, Machines, Methods, Markets and Money (6M). The decision to change is in your hands but there are challenges to growth.
Innovation is about transformation. Imagine a block of ice. It is cold, solid, and transparent. But it is not a block of ice forever. It melts and flows across boundaries. Water follows its own logic which is very different from the logic of ice. Water goes to many places, has many adventures, but always comes back to its own nature – cool, beautiful and still. If you heat it, it boils; keep heating, it gets airborne by becoming steam, steam that knows the freedom of the skies, steam that cannot be held captive. Add pressure and it can rotate turbines to generate power.
Transformation is what happens to a drop of water when it is touched by the magic of sunlight. It becomes a rainbow. It is what happens to a seed when it starts the journey to become a mighty banyan tree. The banyan tree is not an improved seed, just as a butterfly is not an improved caterpillar or a rainbow an improved drop of water. By definition, innovation is taking interesting ideas and transforming them into usable solutions for solving business problems.
Turning ordinary men into matchless warriors full of the enthusiasm to win, can definitely improve performance. Gandhiji did just that using his magic mantras to infuse courage into the freedom struggle : Do or Die, Quit India, Vande Matharam.
Among the nava rasas, chivalry is key to the life of a warrior: a corporate warrior is no different and needs real courage. Wonder is developed from courage. The rapture of courage is produced by means of energy, perseverance, optimism, presence of mind and kindness. Courage and bravery are definitely feel-good emotions. Courage is represented on the stage by firmness, patience, heroism, pride, zeal, valor and wit. Bravery fills you with enthusiasm, energy and spontaneity. Bravery is not just bravery in war. It is the small, everyday acts of courage that each of us is called upon to manifest in the face of obstacles. The ability to sacrifice, which is the core of emotional intelligence, is a part of the Veera Rasa. The ability to persist in the face of difficulties is a part of this. To meet the jealousy and pettiness of the world with gentleness, humor and fearlessness, is part of it. Brilliance and elegance belong to the true warrior who aligns himself with the powerful forces of goodness. ‘Josh,’ wakefulness, energy and boundless enthusiasm are an expression of this energy.
Checklists help to generate ideas in a systematic way. Once a problem is identified, teams can use checklists to explore all areas and issues that are associated with the problem. They help the team think and are often in the form of questions. Many of the mapping tools, like 6 M, are just like check-lists encouraging you to be systematic in your approach.
The simplest tools include checklists like Kipling’s famous ‘5 good serving men’ - the questions which, why, where, when, how and who. Thinkers from Plato onwards have developed hundreds of thinking tools which are as easy to learn as the three Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic).
Sanctuary 3 is a tool to generate alternativeness. When a system is working well, as a matter of routine this can be used to encourage you to think of alternative ways of doing it better. This is an important and interesting tool to prevent stagnation.
Imagine a Company caught by high cost during a downturn. Now develop five ways to reduce costs. For example:
1. Ask people to work for three days a week.
2. Encourage people to take an unpaid subbatical.
3. Encourage working from home or telecommunicating.
4. Get customers to sell to other customers for a small fee.
5. Get vendors to deliver materials and parts on the assembly line.
Sanctuary 2 is very similar to attribute matching by putting together dissimilar ideas and expert solutions from different fields.
Example: Look at the attributes of say a motor car to get some fresh ideas on education. This allows for a whole group of new creative ideas.
The attributes of a motor car and how it could apply to education are:
• It moves – The Syllabus could move with changing times (say every 5 years)
• It should be regularly filled with petrol – Teachers could receive regular training inputs
every year at a retreat.
• Different energy sources are now available i.e. petrol and electricity – Arrange for regular inputs from alternative sources, maybe ideas from people in government or agriculture, or nuclear physics.
• It can carry people – Parents alumni and public could be involved in an advisory capacity.
• Enclosed space -- Put different types of people together in close proximity and enable them to share ideas in a time bubble away from others.
• It provides a good view of the country - Teachers and Parents must have a good view of
the latest techniques in other countries. Eg. Tie-up with a school from UK.
• It has four wheels – Inputs could be regularly collected and activities should be planned
for the 4 stake holders : parents, teachers, old students and existing students.
Sanctuary 1 is used to protect an impossible idea from immediate destruction. The plan is to protect the idea. For example: Problem: Parking on a busy road is a problem due to overcrowding and lack of adequate parking space. Wild Idea: Drivers with license plates ending with odd and even numbers should be encouraged to drive only on alternate days.
This can lead to the idea that each car would receive special facilities only on certain days of the week. This would encourage pooling and a shift of leisure time activities to times when the congestion is less. By placing a fence around an idea and allowing it to develop without immediate attack, even though it might seem an impossible solution at first, it allows everyone to think around the subject and discover ways to make it work.
Once a new product idea germinates, it needs time and space for participants to grow and develop that idea. The immediate reaction is to remove all elements that make the product new and different. Most groups will rush to protect familiar aspects of the product. If it is wild idea, there will be a concerted rush to domesticate it and retain its age old and familiar attributes. Fiercely protect the wildness of the idea by enclosing it in a sanctuary. Allow it to roam free in the sanctuary for a few days. Don’t touch it. Remember if everyone loves an idea, it is probably an old one. The Sanctuary is a tool that can be used to protect all germinal ideas. It involves inventing or shaping the future together in a protected environment. It is a radical new approach.
A germinal idea requires the sanctuary of a mindspace that is totally nurturing. It requires a space to grow so that its wildness is not nipped in the bud. Who knows what weed will become the coffee bush? Develop sanctuaries for wild ideas. Let the wilderness flourish in a totally non-threatening atmosphere. Let the ideas grow high and tall. Leave all pruning for later. New ideas need to play freely, like crawling, naked babies with no discipline. Suspend judgment, postpone reaction, extend effort.
Hindustan Lever has its innovation centers. Cognizant has budgets for its mavericks and no stop signs within those budget allocations.
Ask all participants to make an impossible wish – zero cost, zero rejections or doubling productivity. Then proceed to tame them bit by bit by using the innovation tools already learnt, like 6M. This process can be extended as you learn all the tools. So, go ahead and spend time setting impossible goals and developing wild ideas.
‘For every problem there is a solution that is simple, attractive... and wrong’. Beware of obvious solutions!’ Arthur Clarke
It is worth remembering here, that the rules for thinking are totally different from the rules for doing. You can set up a 100 million dollar factory in your mind, study the mathematical implications and destroy it without losing a single dollar. However, as soon as the first brick is physically laid, or the first employee hired, you start losing money.
Do not analyze your thoughts during idea generation. Remove all boundaries. Apply analysis only in the fourth stage of the creative thinking process. It is ideal to train trainers in the thinking tools and then encourage them to deliver training to the teams.
When you take the germinal product into a protected test market observe the way it is used by the customer. Try different versions of it, if possible. For example, Godrej are carrying out hands on experiments with customers in different retail formats whilst developing furniture that customers can accept as easily as the furniture made by the local carpenter.
Use the following map to recreate your product. This map can help you identify key elements in product development. Use existing facilities to refine products in the market place.
Once a new product idea germinates, it needs time and space to grow and develop that idea. Insist that unfamiliar, strange, unusual elements are developed. Support the Champion, tone down the attackers. Work on taking it to market fast on a small investment with the possibility of a profit. Don’t try to create the perfect product in the lab.
The immediate reaction is often to remove all elements that make a product new and different. Most groups will rush to protect familiar aspects of the product and if it is wild idea there will be a concerted rush to domesticate it and retain its old and familiar attributes. Fiercely protect the wildness of the idea by enclosing it in a sanctuary. Allow it to roam free in the sanctuary for a few days. Don’t touch it. Remember if everyone loves an idea, it is probably 200 years old!
Let your teams use this map to help create an experiment in the market place. Carefully calibrate the product creating a careful balance between what the customer wants and what the competitive market will bear. On a new product, make small investments. Change and react to what happens in the market place. Like a potter uses his hands to shape wet clay, refine your product as it makes its way tentatively through the market place.
Remember, a kite can only be tested when it flies. Don’t keep your product too long in the laboratory, launch it, test it and improve it as you go along. Be hungry for early profits. Let the product evolve to achieve customer delight.
Reflections and actions
Workout a new source of revenue fro ma just introduced activity. See how you can turn a cost centre into a profit centre.
Put your clothes cupboard at home in order.
Buy a healthful powder to add to milk for a quick to burst of energy
Whilst the product or service may be quite similar it is possible to differentiate your product by offering a unique service. Airlines may be the same, but Kingfisher Airlines differentiates itself with the way helpers take care of your luggage -- the way the passenger is treated as a ‘guest’. Hospitals may be the same, but ‘Our working is an offering to God’ motto at the Satya Sai Hospital in Whitefield Bangalore differentiates it from more commercial institutions.
Use this diagram to revisit existing product service packages and explore how you can further differentiate your product or service.
Action: Explore services that can make your product unique.
Building relationships, with suppliers, customers, press and other stake holders, is key to the success of your innovation initiative. They cannot be built overnight, only when we need help. Relationships have to be a carefully nurtured 365 days a year exercise.
The web of relationships creates the networking required for success in problem solving. Great relationships with your stake holders make the process of achieving ‘stretch’ goals interesting and exciting.
So make this day for the 3 Rs - Revisit, Review, and Relate.
Revisit the mission statement of your company and review the progress of the projects with special reference to building and enhancing relationships :
• Within the commando teams
• Between Innovation spirals
• Between the steering committee and the spirals
Make sure that there is no turf protection.
Knowing the customer is a long term process. Keeping your finger on the pulse of customer trends can ensure consistent profits. Here are some of the systems that could help build and understand lifetime relationships with the customer.
Encourage the teams to go out and meet customers. Let them get a hands on experience of how customers really think. Let them organize in-house interviews and focus groups with customers.
Interviews and focus groups can give a lot of information. They can help customer’s participate in reinventing processes and products. Management by walking about (MBWA) is the hands on way to find out what the customer feels day to day. Research and surveys give you information. But customer aspirations and fashions change. Those who are not in close touch with their customers may be too late to react to new trends. Barrack Obama became President of the United States by contacting 5 million people on the internet. He collected far more funding than powerful old timers like Senator Mc Cain and Hillary Clinton.
Raw data needs to be interpreted in terms of customer needs. The way McDonald’s responded to change in the attitude to health and concerns about obesity by providing low fat and salad meals shows a proactive attitude to change in customer needs and tastes. This naturally leads to protecting profits.
The concern for the environment is another issue where the auto industry has to take customer focused decisions. During an economic down turn does a big gas guzzling car become almost vulgar? Are people ready for electric cars? Is the Rs. 1 lakh Tata Nano poised to grab world markets?
Study the needs hierarchy. Is it true that on the brink of the economic precipice, people are more concerned about surviving, than about impressing the neighbours? There is a whole new economics of recession. Study the emerging trends and get advice from experts.
Reflect on your findings. Study broad demographic changes and question where a global major should invest? In India with its largest number of young people or China with its aging population? How should Indian companies change their strategies to deal with the explosive youth power? Will inexpensive luxuries become more popular?
‘Empowering people is the most effective way to create profitable companies’ says Mr. Thyagarajan, legendary founder of the Shriram Group of Companies in Chennai. He brought workers into management, spent a lot of face time with them. ‘They made it happen,’ he says. His methods are simple.
Cut out all non value added activities
Engage each one of the workers, including the contract labour, by uniting them for a common cause.
‘How can you solve the problem with the same tools that caused them?’ He brought in a good CEO and made him accountable. The strategy worked and profits began to flow in. ‘I always found people who could do things. Then I empowered them and left them alone!’
Shriram Chit Funds was started in 1974 with 4 chit fund companies focusing on truck operators. Now, its volume of business is Rs.27,000 crores. They have 1,000 offices dealing with all areas of finance. Mr Thyagarajan proudly states ‘We have an emotional bond with 20 lakh customers over the years.’
When asked why he started with 4 companies at a time when Small Business Units (SBUs) were not popular, he explains, ’Each area had a CEO who had total freedom. Growth was faster, because each CEO felt more energized. We, south Indians are suspicious of anyone who grows too fast. This strategy also kept the company out of envy’s radar. I was able to call forth a “Start-up” attitude. Once I was sure of the leadership, I maintained an attitude of tolerance towards mistakes’. The SBUs worked very well and grew quickly.
Customer creativity enables the company to negotiate new products with customers. It is the kind of process that reinvents the future. For instance, customers were not even aware of the possibility of a Walkman. Only an intense negotiation between top management, manufacturing and customers could have created it.
Customer interaction can be induced by the following:
• Management by Walking About (MBWA) is the most appropriate way to ensure that the customer’s voice is built into products and processes.
• Advisory committees of opinion leaders can be an effective method of keeping one’s finger on the pulse of public opinion.
• Focus group interviews to enable customers to explore ideas with skilled facilitators, trained to go below the surface of suggestions and complaints.
Be willing to test ideas in the market and correct them in the market place. Don’t wait for perfection on the drawing board. An idea is like a kite. Fly it, to test it in the wind.
Keep a low key. As the Zen thinkers say, be like an underground stream, not like a rocky mountain face. Competitors are alerted and more likely to attack a mountain.
Co-operate instead of confronting.
Keep initial budgets small.
Reach out for low hanging fruits. Be hungry for results.
Be impatient for profits.
Learn in the ruthless university of the marketplace.
Reach for the untouched and the unreached. As first mover, make full use of your advantage.
Be patient with teething problems. De-bug as you go along.
Good is the enemy of Better.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.