A few years ago top notch American Research Company came up with the finding that the next global economic powers will be the Indian Elephant and the Chinese Dragon. Energize your team with patriotism. Let them not forget that in the 1770's we had 25% of the world trade. We plummeted to 0.5 per cent of world trade and now we are slowly climbing to 1.2 per cent. We need to conquer the world market with huge blow back innovations like sachet shampoos, the Nano, $20 cataract surgeries or a computer with 3 mice. India is the largest laboratory for bottom of the pyramid innovations for the poor. Most countries cannot come up with such reverse innovations, created by the poor but used by the rich. This is because each of these innovations are good for a sustainable Earth. Our planet is being threatened by the greedy energy guzzling lifestyle of affluent nations. Our innovations, driven by economic necessity may really help us save planet earth.
It is important to involve everyone in identifying problems in the system. Give everyone a chance and encourage them to throw light on problems. Once main points are identified, it becomes easy to deal with them. The problem finding exercise will be facilitated by using the 6 M’s – Men, materials, machineries, methods, markets and money.
Sometimes people state the symptoms and not the problems. For instance, consider the question, ‘How to build a better mouse trap’. How much better it would be to ask, ' How to keep mice out of my space?'. This could throw open the field to gas, poison or improving hygiene. The first question would ensure that the person is obsessed with architecture of mouse traps. Scarce resources could be spent on mouse traps which would not really get rid of mice. Get everyone to ask the right questions and identify the core problems together.
Identifying and formulating the problem is the most difficult part of creative problem solving. Very often we state symptoms of the problems and end up wasting scare resources chasing the illusionary "golden deear of the epics".Management then becomes so emotinaonally commited to the wrong path, that we can end up moving faster and faster along the wrong road. It is like a man who drills an oil well, in a bad spot. More and more money is spent with no resulting strike. But those involved, refuse to fill up the unproductive well and move on to a new location. They continue throwing good money after bad, because they do not want to admit that a mistake had been made initailly.
King Janaka tilled the soil with his own hands and he was also the greatest knowers of Truth of his time. Digging with his own hands he found the greatest gift of his life from the Earth Mother, his beautiful daughter, Sita. The CEO and his top team should be closely involved in the innovation initiative. There is no use asking the rank and file to use innovation thinking tools, when the CEO does not bother to learn them or recognise them when they are used. Thinking tools are effective only if they are regularly used and become a natural way of being. Participation by top management is critical in an innovation initiative. Swami Vivekananda said "It will not do to merely listen to great principles. you must apply them in the practical field , turn them in to constant practice".
Finally lead from the front. People do not see what you say but what you do. "The wind of grace of the Lord is blowing on forever and ever, do you spread your sail" Swami Vivekananda. Get down ,lead from the front,participate.
“The world is just a gymnasium in which we play; our life is an eternal holiday’
First install the positive field in your company, where everybody is full of a joyous, ‘Can do’ spirit.This is the ‘field’ in which creativity and innovation works best. Playfulness enhances great ideas.
The environment of creativity is a supportive and nurturing environment,where everyone feels free to play, to be intuitive and bold. It is the environment that encourages people to be creative, be silly even, to take risks, and to think outside the box. There is around every organization, a field, which is positive or negative. This field begins within the individual.
Each person has within him a field that is positive or negative. The development of an inner field, a mindspace that is positive, is key to creativity. Continuously developing and pouring in positive emotions creates a positive field within which, a person interacts with others who bring in their own fields. Those who operate in positive fields suffused with love, compassion, laughter, courage and wonder, are likely to be more creative while supporting others to be at their innovative best. In order to present this concept more clearly. I have used the ancient Indian concept of the Navarasas – the nine emotions.
Learning to enhance the positive field and reducing the effect of the negative field is an important part of creativity and innovation. Thinking out of the box is possible only in a positive field. The positive field is sustained by certain tools and behaviour: verbal, tonal and non- verbal. It is a win-win field. Within such a field, all who operate together are enabled and nurtured.
“ The essence of creativity is a willingness to play the fool, to toy with the absurd,only later submitting the stream of ideas to harsh critical judgement. The application of the imagination to the future therefore requires an environment in which to safely reflect, in which novel juxtapositions of ideas can be freely expressed before being critically sifted. We need sanctuaries for the social imagination.”
- Alvin Toffler
‘There is no harm building dream castles in the air. Now just put foundations under them’ said a philosopher. Not only is there no harm in dreaming, it is a critical element in creating the reality you want. In the era of silent movies, Harry M.Warner, Warner Brothers said ”Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
Dream the impossible dream and make sure your whole team dreams the same clear dream. Gandhiji said “Poorna Swaraj!” or Total Freedom! The minds of 350 million Indians were focused on that magic word , Freedom! He burnt all the bridges with the implementation mantra ‘Do or Die’.
If you want your company to pursue stretch goals you need to do this two step maneuver:
1. Create a unified dream
2. Act to finish.
Ideas are easier. Implementation is the killer!
You see things: and you say ‘Why?’
But I dream things that never were:
and say ‘Why not?’ - George Bernard Shaw in Back to Methuselah
Companies need to innovatively design their future when they are doing well.
Learning enactly how to get ideas,develop them and implement them as innovations requires discipline and direction. The journey can lead you to new strategies, new products or even new ways of working and managing .Practising the step by step tools, that lead to innovation, for 90 days can ultimately lead you to the reinvention of your entire organization. Whether it was an IAS Officer like SR Rao who transformed plague ridden Surat into one of the healthiest cities in the world or the Tata’s making Nano the world’s most inexpensive car, everything starts with a dream goal, an impossible vision which, ignites the imagination. ‘The journey of a thousand leagues starts with a single step’ says a Chinese proverb. The journey to transformation starts with your decision to chase a stretch goal,to reach for the distant star!
'Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity'-
Michael Porter , Harvard Business School.
Companies which are innovation stars, do better in the market place. This has been proved by research,which also shows a clear link between better innovation practices, employee involvement and customer satisfaction. A higher market share in the hallmark of an innovative company.While everyone knows that more innovative companies are more profitable, why do more companies not embrace the roadmap to innovation? The answer is simple. Innovation does not happen by wishful thinking. Commitment,resources and a whole new mindset is required, long term to create the culture of innovation. Top management buy-in involvement of the whole organisation in planning , a system to sift through suggestions, tame wild ideas and a system to reward innovators, do play a role. Only the best companies manage to do all this.
Stress The Killer: Beware
The twenty-first century will be the century of the Mind. The Mind is man's last unconquered frontier. The Upanishads describe it as fast, fickle and uncontrollable, like a dozen swift horses travelling at breakneck speed. Mankind is paying a steep price for failing to learn more about the Mind before embarking on the race for success in the new millennium. Stress is the price we pay for success. Stress stalks the precarious climb up the corporate ladder.
Transformation is what happens to a drop of water when it is touched by the magic of sunlight. It is what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Or when a tiny seed becomes a mighty banyan tree. Yet a butterfly is not an improved caterpillar, or a rainbow an improved drop of water. A tree surely bears little resemblance to a seed. Innovation can be the secret ingredient that transforms your company.
Innovation is about new ideas. Creative ideas may be new but they need to be tamed to work in the corporate world.Take a wild idea like zero cost. Start the process of taming it by enclosing it in a sanctuary where it cannot be attacked but only developed. Suspend judgement,postpone reaction,extend effort. Get your team to start thinking about impossible goals and making them possible bit by bit to the extent possible.Challenge them to turn every cost centre into a profit centre. Walmart turned inventory into a profit centre by getting its suppliers to deliver on the shop shelf 40 minutes before it was sold and paying them after 6weeks. With a single stroke they could eliminate warehousing,logistics and even stacking on the shelf. Remember the laboratory of the mind can test a hundred alternative futures at very low cost.
Each of us have a strict censor board sitting in our minds. Whenever an unusual idea pops up, the censor board sits up in horror and suppresses it before it can throw us open to ridicule. The censor board protects us against laughter and contempt. As a result, only two hundred year old, run of the mill ideas pass through this formidable filter. Consider all these statements that were considered nonsense.
• A person can communicate with 173 countries simultaneously at the click of a button.
• Men can fly like birds.
• Photographs can be instantly printed.
• Marriages can be fixed on the Internet.
“There is no likelihood that man can ever tap the power of the Atom” said Robert Millikan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1923.Often nonsense, a silly question, playing the fool ,can all lead to breakthrough ideas. A wild idea tamed, can be a brilliant innovation.
I watched 'Coco' a movie about the great fashion designer Coco Chanel. When the whole world of glamorous women wore jewels and silks and colours to fussy excess, she created the little black dress - a total minimalist contrast to the current trend. A way of dressing that said clearly - "Less is more!" Perhaps the total lack of resources she experienced in her childhood in an orphanage, made her use adversity to make a style statement, where she used to telling effect what little she had. Innovation is often born of adversity. That is why India with over 250 million people , has the opportunity to create minimalist, inexpensive designs for the world.
Innovation is about doing things differently. The surfire method is to think about the exact opposite of what everyone is doing. As VP Marketing, Apollo Hospitals group,I noticed that hospitals used to be a place for the sick. We turned it upside down and made Apollo a place for wellness with a multitude of check-ups. People worldwide who were well came to remain well, making it a household brand.
"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." - Albert Einstein
I believe that while creativity is something that is intrinsic to all humans and can be triggered off in a variety of ways, innovation requires that companies consciously create conditions where strategic and organisational issues are creatively resolved through the involvement of people. In my opinion, there are three essential conditions that can stimulate innovation in organisations. They are:
a) A culture that empowers people.
b) Recognition for innovative thinking.
c) Prevalence of outstanding leadership.
Too often, however, companies are unable to elicit the involvement of their people because there has been no conscious effort to share the 'larger picture' with everybody. Commitment, which most industrial leaders claim is lacking amongst today's employees, is directly related to the extent of sharing information and to the extent of trust that is created thereby.
A formal system of recognition and public encouragement for innovative thinking, goes a long way in communicating what the company expects from its members.
Organisations that demonstrate high levels of innovation are those that share belief that things can always be made better than they are today.
Normally in organisations, services and in production, the person who is not that creative but is a team man is a better person than the other. Of course if you have a very creative person who is also a team man, you get the best of both the worlds!
To us, innovation is at the heart of what it takes corporations to create and sustain leadership. It has far more to do with continually challenging the status - quo and pushing for corporate self renewal, than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.
Many managements are involved in fire fighting and solving urgent matters which have developed into crisis situations. Time needs to be set apart to study alternative solutions to the banks of problems that lie under the surface of a running organization, constantly fighting for time. Don’t fix it, if it aint broke’, say the Americans, meaning do not change, if it is working well. This is disastrous advice in the present context of rapid change. Alternatives have, necessarily to be developed when things are going well. Status quo is the gateway to overnight obsolescence. Innovation should be planned when things are going well. When things are going badly, when survival itself is an issue, no one has the time or energy to look for alternatives.
In the past, traditional, Indian managements maintained a shroud of secrecy regarding the company’s achievements, particularly its financial performance. Today it is well established that informed participants are better than unwilling victims sacrificed for the company’s profits. Sharing knowledge and profits have gone a long way in achieving better performance. Many companies have introduced performance based incentives as a key component of their salaries.
Productivity depends on performance feedback, as does the innovation. There is no incentive to think outside the box, when no one listens or cares. Positive affirmation is the key to ensuring that people stretch to think innovatively. 360 degree feedback provides young innovators an opportunity to give their bosses clear feedback on a less than conducive environment. A system to clearly map individual competences and provide consistent timely feedback, can result in providing appropriate training when required.
Incorporating the customer’s voice into a product is one of the most important methods of ensuring market led innovation. Often the companies assume they know what customers want. But fashions change and so do customer tastes. Nestle, found in the 80’s that their market share for chocolates was plummeting. They conducted a TCC or Tapping Customer Creativity, that is, when customers (school children) and officials of the company, learned tools of innovation in a non-threatening atmosphere and explored the field. It was found that modern children did not like chocolates which were too sweet. They also wanted some health benefits from the chocolate. The result of incorporating these suggestions is history – Nestle made a dazzling comeback with chocolates that were less sweet and were garnished with biscuits and nuts.
Cutting edge technologies were considered among the most important areas for ensuring success of the company. Merely incorporating cutting edge technology can make or mar a whole industry. When the flourishing textile mills of Coimbatore failed to keep pace with the cutting edge technologies adopted by the Japanese, the whole industry went into doldrums. Conversely, when Tirupur technocrats decided to incorporate world class spinning technology, this small Tamil town found a place in the world class facility for spun knit wear.
I believe that while creativity is something that is intrinsic to all humans and can be “triggered off” in a variety of ways, innovation requires that companies consciously create conditions where strategic, organizational issues are creatively resolved through the involvement of people. In my opinions there are three essential conditions that can stimulate innovation in organizations, and these are:
• A culture that empowers people
• Recognition of innovative thinking, and
• Prevalence of outstanding leadership
Too often, however, companies are unable to elicit the involvement of their people, because there has been no conscious effort to share the “larger” picture with everybody. Commitment, which many corporate leaders claim is lacking amongst today’s employees, is directly related to the extent of sharing of information and to the extent of trust that is created thereby.
A formal system of recognition and public encouragement for innovative thinking goes a long way in communicating what the company expects from its members.
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.