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Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

ashokbhatia

Movies reflect what is happening in the society. In some cases, like literature, they also hint at what could be in store for us in the days to come. They not only influence what happens in the society, but also take a harsh look at its ills – including their own! There are a number of spoofs, created by some of our best known dream merchants, which reveal the level of maturity the film industry has attained.

Somehow, movies examine only some segments of the society; that too, mostly along predictable lines. Politicians, cops, industrialists and others are mostly depicted in a stereotyped manner. Business and management have so far not merited much attention from our film makers.

If business has been captured, it has mostly been depicted to be ruthless. Catering to mass appeal, the film makers have propounded the belief that big money is invariably bad. The fact…

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Finland is a country which has smoothly embraced rapid change from being an agrarian economy to being a knowledge economy. Innovation happens to be a key priority. India, on the other hand, is still grappling with the disruptive changes that the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution bestows on its citizenry. It has earned global acclaim in the realm of “Jugaad”, which could be translated as either Informal Innovation or as Frugal Engineering.

INTERNATIONAL MINDS in FINLAND (IMiF) is a global community of 500 plus inquisitive souls whose IQ (read Intelligence Quotient, also Inquisitiveness Quotient) is rather high. It believes in co-aggregating and creating value in/with/for Finland. The community works with the single purpose of soaking in as much knowledge and wisdom as they possibly can from our vast universe. To this end, the community provides a platform for such persons of universal good will who would not mind sharing their knowledge and experience with them.

And that is how it came about that yours truly recently had an opportunity of interacting with some of the finest minds in Finland. While more than 500 luckier souls comprising the community continued to play the roles assigned to them in life elsewhere, a motley group of 5 singularly unlucky ones had to undergo the trauma of listening to some boring stuff dished out by yours truly. Their risk taking appetite surely deserves kudos.

While Lorena provided administrative support, Ludwig (Mylly´s CEO), Alexey (A professional who has mastered some of the intricacies between Russia and Finland, even in terms of logistics), Roman (IMiF´s Chairman and founder of TPOINT), Olavi (Young at heart, though an officially retired university professor), MARCO (co-initiator of IMiF) and Tim (An international business person), assembled at Mylly, a cultural centre at Kotka, to hear what yours truly from far off India had to convey.

Title of the talk

Surviving in the Corporate Jungle.

Key Takeaways

Analysis Paralysis

The role of intuition in decision-making can never be underestimated.

Meeting bosses half-way through

It is crucial to help one’s boss to keep his blood pressure under control.

Female Power

It pays to have gender parity at the work place.

His Master’s Voice

Avoiding being a Yes-man pays. Senior managers have the responsibility of registering dissent.

Overstaying One’s Welcome

Does the flight of your career appear to have rough weather ahead? Press the EJECT button in the cockpit.

Managing Stress

Build inner resilience. Meditate regularly. Do not allow garbage to get collected in the mind. Carry out a cleaning exercise every single day.

Quotients

Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Quotient are fine. What we also need to develop and use in business is our Spiritual Quotient.

Work Life Harmony

Avoid becoming a slave to technology.

Of Production, People and Ethics

Various leadership styles emerge. Charmless Charlies. Missionary Zealots. Road Rollers. Armchair Revolutionaries. Crazy Conformists. Sponge Comforters. Incumbent Chiefs. Super Chiefs.

Details can be accessed here.

A comment from one of the five wise men

Why is SQ (Spiritual Quotient) so very important in decision-making?

Being spiritual means one takes decisions which create a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Ethics and Values also come into play. In the long run, brand equity grows. So does shareholder wealth.

An example from the Tata-Benz collaboration during World War II was cited. Details can be found here.

(Others skipped discussing any other ideas, so relieved they were that the ordeal of listening to yours truly was finally over!)

The global nature of management thoughts

Managerial thoughts transcend national boundaries. Possibly because the principles of setting up and running an enterprise happen to be universal in nature. The core of the psychology of a manager also does not vary from country to country.

It is great to be able to share some experiential insights with, and also learn from, senior professionals who operate in another business environment and in a distinctly different work culture.

 

(Notes:

IMiF can be found:

In the public presence https://www.facebook.com/internationalmindsinfinland

In the private presence

https://www.facebook.com/groups/INTERNATIONALMINDSinFINLAND

Presentation based on my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, the English version of which was released recently.

This is how you can lay your hands on the Portuguese version of the book, launched in Portugal during March, 2016.)

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In emerging economies, rapid urbanization poses unprecedented challenges. A positive spin-off of the same appears to be an acceleration in the rate of innovation.

Perhaps, urban spaces enable the coming together of creative minds, thereby fuelling innovation?

Here is a thought-provoking post on the subject.

understanding innovation

In their quest for the commonalities and differences between cities and companies, Geoffrey West and his team came across the crucial interplay between those two social structures. And from those findings, we can see that the role of cities in innovation is a lot stronger than we usually realise.

A grand idea

The heart of the matter is superlinear scaling, a unique characteristic of cities that has no analog in biology or in other social systems: a city with double the number of citizens will generate more than twice as much wealth, will be more than twice as productive, will deliver more than twice as much innovation. This phenomenon occurs regardless of city location, and it has massive effects.

If you think about the development of a specific city that grows over time, we can predict that by the time it reaches twice its current size, its wealth generation, productivity and innovation…

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Here is an excerpt from a book titled ‘Future Proof Your Business‘ by Mr Prakash Seshadri.Book Future Proof Your Business Cover

Realistically speaking, we are always on the verge of a slow down or a flat economy. In the past, CEOs made serious mistakes in trying to cope with a slowing economy. Here is a list of What Not to Do.

All of them hurt innovation. Unless you really want to compete on price, the ability to do sustained innovation is the one competitive edge left. Innovation is the driver of performance, growth and stock market valuation.

Here are the 10 worst mistakes you can make in a slow down that will hurt innovation:

1) Fire talent

Cutting back on people, especially really smart, high-priced people, is a quick way to cut costs. It will hurt companies who follow this way. Talent is the single most important variable in innovation.

2) Cut back on technology

It is being reported that companies are already curbing investments in technology to save money; banks especially. The rise of social networking and consumer power means that companies have to be part of a larger conversation with their customers. This means big money spent on IT.

3) Reduce Risk

Innovation requires taking chances and dealing with failure. Recessions push managers to be more conservative. They need to fight this instinct.

4) Stop New Product Development

Saving money often means cutting back on new products and services during an economic downturn. This hurts companies when growth returns and they have fewer offerings in the marketplace to attract consumers.

5) Boards Replace Growth-Oriented CEOs with Cost-Cutting CEOs

Sudden declines in revenues and profits often lead boards of directors to search for managers with experience in pinching pennies. That’s what appeared to happen recently at Bang & Olufsen. Penny-pinching CEOs don’t have the skills to grow, when growth returns.

6) Companies Retreat from Globalization

It’s expensive to expand globally and managers often save money by cutting back on emerging markets. It’s a big mistake. Emerging markets are sources of new revenue, business models, and talent.

7) CEOs Replace Innovation as Key Strategy

By turning defensive, top managers take innovation off the top of the official agenda and replace it with systems management and squeezing costs. The entire organization follows. It is extremely hard to reverse this when growth returns.

8) Performance Metrics Are Changed

To save money and cut costs, managers shift employee evaluations away from rewarding riskier new projects toward sustaining safer older goals. Risk-averse behavior follows. Again, this is hard to change.

9) Hierarchy Is Reinforced Over Collaboration

Sudden drops in revenue and profit often lead companies to panic and mobilize to stem the decline. The need for fast decision-making often leads to a return to command-and-control management. This alienates creative-class employees, young Gen Y and Xers and stops the evolution of corporation organization toward a flat, collaborative, open source model.

10) Retreat into Walled Castles

Cutting back on outside consultancies is seen as a quick way to save money. Yet one of the key ways of introducing change into business culture is to bring in outside innovation and design consultants. They know what companies across a broad range of industries around the world are doing to promote change. Not receiving this information can hurt a company’s global competitive position.

Winners always emerge out of slow downs and they almost always beat their competition on the basis of something new. Apple worked on iTunes, iPod and its retail stores during the last slow down and came out swinging once growth returned to destroy its competition. Apple didn’t make any of the top 10 innovation mistakes. Your company shouldn’t either.

(Here is a link to a teaser of the book:http://imojo.in/crpeqy)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/of-idleness-innovation-and-the-peter-principle)

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XEROX

There are innovations which have an irresistible mass appeal. A brand name thus ends up becoming a generic name of a product class. Xerox is a ready example in the same genre. All those who take creativity and innovation seriously would notice that such developments happen only because someone identifies a latent demand and proceeds to do something about it. An organization culture which enables such endeavours deserves to be complimented and replicated.

X, Y and Z

The art of managing people has been analyzed in great detail by theorists in the past, and commendably so. McGregor was bang on target when he came up with the X and Y approach to managing people. Also, Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton came up with their Management Grid concept, where the X axis has “Concern for Production” and the Y axis has “Concern for People”. This proved to be a very useful tool to classify leadership styles.

Yes-Men

Yes-Men

With due respects to the brilliant work done by those mentioned above, one would like to make the concept of a Management Grid more contemporary by adding a new dimension, Z. This axis covers our “Concern for Ethics”.

When it comes to corporate governance, most businesses are driven more by greed than by the norms of propriety. Compliance with statutory provisions and indulging in tax avoidance rather than blatant tax evasion are given a short shrift. As a repercussion, we end up having more controls and complex laws, thereby making non-compliance even more attractive.

The good news is that there are indeed enlightened businesses and right thinking managers who score high on the Z axis as well. Such businesses have been around for more than a century and have done well for themselves; they have also given back to society in terms of advanced medical facilities, support to fine arts and sports and several other CSR initiatives.

YES-MEN

They are to be found in all spheres of life. They have perfected the art of boosting the sagging morale and ego of their superiors, thereby securing better perks and intangible benefits for themselves. Due to close proximity to their bosses – whether perceived or real – they end up being king makers.

Smart bosses easily figure out how to remain at an arm’s length from them. The tricks they use to steer clear of yes-men: a discouraging body language, asking for hard evidence for all the charges being levied against someone who is absent and generally berating them on select occasions in public.

Zombies

Zombies

ZOMBIES

A vast majority of professionals decide to be ‘passengers’ and not ‘drivers’ in their careers. They are happy to behave like headless chickens, strutting about sounding very busy but with meagre results to show. Typically, they outsource the thinking part to brainy birds around them and lead a mentally sedentary but self-contented life-style.

Call them file-pushers, clock-watchers, head clerks or what you will – they do serve a useful purpose in keeping big bureaucracies running like well-oiled machines.  They can also be groomed to become devoted followers for charismatic and dynamic leaders.

ZOO ORGANIZATIONS

Organizations where the top management believes that any suggestion for improvement in a department emanating from another department amounts to interference and sacrilege tend to become like zoological parks. All subject experts get confined to their ‘cages’ or ‘enclosures’. Forays into another’s territory are frowned upon. This is a sure shot recipe for nipping creativity and innovation at the work place.ZOO ORGANIZATIONS

The biggest casualty of course is the hapless customer who has had the misfortune of buying a product which turns out to be defective. The incessant running from pillar to post he/she is subjected to ends up creating a market ambassador the organization could surely do without.

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At present, the term GDP in India appears to have come to represent our collective Gross Despondency Perception. Our economists and statisticians can perhaps cheer up the hapless and overtly depressed citizens. They can do so by overcoming their obsession with pure materialistic growth. There are several ‘intangibles’ as well as ‘tangibles’ which can get added to the quantitative measure of our progress. For all you know, they could end up depicting a rosier picture which would also be closer to reality.

The following invisible facets of GDP could do with better visibility in the public domain:GDP Housewife

1.   Grand Domestic Pampering 

Household chores performed by a vast majority of the better half of our citizenry continue to remain invisible even to prominent economists who take such services for granted at their own homes. Home makers surely deserve a better deal. Without their contribution, the wheels of our economy would grind to a complete halt in no time. Home management services are provided by them 24×7. There is no doubt that they possess a high degree of multi-tasking skills. Also, their inventory management techniques always ensure that there are no stock-outs in the kitchen when uninvited guests suddenly pop up over the weekends.

 2.   Gross Dramatic ProduceGDP Tagore

Why neglect works of entertainment, literature, music and art works? The movie industry keeps churning out pot-boilers one after the other. Over the years, only the bar of success at the box office keeps getting raised. Television has already blossomed into a primary source of entertainment for the masses. Both the mediums have transcended international boundaries and gone global. India boasts of prolific writers across all languages and there is no reason their contribution to the social thought process should get neglected. Creative personalities and achievers of all kinds have added value to the Indian identity – right from Rabindranath Tagore to M F Husain, from M S Subbulakshmi to Pandit Ravi Shankar, from Munshi Premchand to Vikram Seth and from Lala Amarnath to Saina Nehwal. The relative soundness of the Indian IP regime can facilitate the inclusion of this parameter in the GDP computation without much fuss.

 3.  Groovy Digital Products

With broadband getting rolled out across the country, and with spectrum sales eventually coming out of the depressing shadow of scams GDP Aishwaryaand judicial overreach, the Indian economy would soon start getting digitalized at a faster pace. Digital experiences are slated to improve in terms of reach as well as quality. This sector can boast of a unique range of intangible assets of its own. Such developments can only be ignored at our own risk and peril.

4.   Great Domestic Patience

Yet another soft power which remains ‘invisible’ to the Homo economicus (as opposed to the Homo reciprocans) amongst us is the religiosity, the innate bent towards spirituality and the resultant bias towards non-violence. The patience displayed by most of our denizens in dealing with shoddy civic facilities, super-slow public services and systemic corruption is perhaps a result of our social mores which are steeped in spirituality. By ignoring this facet, a great mechanism to handle setbacks in life is therefore left out of the reckoning.

GDP R&D

5.   Grand Design Patronage

R&D expenditure in the private sector is another area which deserves attention. Admittedly, we are far behind in the realm of innovation and design. But we do have the potential to catch up with the rest of the world. If such expenditure is considered an investment in the economy, a more realistic perspective would emerge.

6.   Green Development Plans

In the relentless pursuit of economic growth, we are guilty of drawing more than we replenish to Mother Nature. Whether it is mining, spectrum-sharing or water-management, we are taking myopic liberties which would prove very expensive, if not irreversible, in the timesGDP environment to come. Green initiatives taken to compensate for the loss of natural resources surely merit inclusion in our scheme of things. The aggregate value of ‘production’ should surely be adjusted to reflect the permanent damage caused to our fragile environment.

Considering intangibles in macroeconomics data is not a new idea at all. Way back in 1908, Thorstein Veblen, a sociologist and economist, had used the phrase ‘intangible investment’ to cover everything from innovation to promotion and advertising. At a business level as well, the proportion of tangible assets backing up a brand could be a miniscule 5% of the overall value of the brand.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis of US has recently created history of sorts by publishing a revised series of public accounts which include the R&D investment in private sector as well as original works of art such as films, books and music. As an example, for the period from 2002-12, the new data shows an annual average growth rate of 1.8% in place of the earlier declared rate of 1.6%.

We have a number of institutions, bodies, statisticians and economists who can surely propose a more balanced way of capturing the realities of the Indian economy. The data may not be easily available and may have its own share of initial controversies, but the attempt would certainly be an improvement in the right direction.

PS: Whatever little I understand of Economics, it is due to the learning received from late Prof. S P Singh, a friend, philosopher and guide. This article is merely a humble tribute to the great person. 

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Whenever you pass by the desk of a colleague in office and see him staring with blank eyes at nothing in particular, you may 'The Thinker' : Rodinbe wrong in assuming that he is either worried about his upcoming annual appraisal or concerned about the academic performance of his kids. For all you know, like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, he could simply be withdrawn into himself, in a rather introspective mood, and trying to unravel life’s managerial mysteries which appear unfathomable at normal times.

One of the profound mysteries is that of facilitating innovation. History of major breakthroughs tells us of at least one factor which prompted the coveted ‘Aha!’ moment – a spot of idleness. Not the kind of idleness which is a trademark of laziness, but the dynamic type where the mind, firing at all six cylinders, suddenly decides to take a break, looks at its own self in a detached manner, delves into the realms of the sub-conscious and comes up with a gem of wisdom which had eluded it so far at the conscious level.

Some Unforgettable ‘Aha!’ Moments

Rewind to around 250 BC. If Archimedes had not decided to take some time off and soak himself in a bath tub, possibly playing with some floating toy ducks and singing along in a leisurely fashion – much to the discomfiture of his neighbors, world would have surely missed great many developments so far. There would have been no boats and ships. Countries the world over would have been dependent only on their foot soldiers and armies to defend their borders. At a more mundane level, the streets of ancient Syracuse would have missed the sight of a guy in his birthday suit running along, shouting ‘Eureka’ in gay abandon.

Visualize this scenario in 1666 AD. Newton has once again retired from Cambridge. In a contemplative mood, he is taking a leisurely stroll at Lincolnshire, in an apple orchard ostensibly owned by his mother. He has just been enjoying some tea which has had a remarkably invigorating effect on his grey matter. He sees an apple falling to the earth and starts wondering why it always has to fall down, an observation which lesser mortals like you and I would have merely shrugged off and resumed our walk. He gets down to doing some calculations and ends up giving to the inhabitants of Earth a great theory on forces of gravitation. Goes on to show what a relaxing cup of tea sipped in quiet repose in an apple orchard can accomplish.

Einstein, who left us as late as 1955 AD, was much impressed by the violin sonatas of Mozart and used to play chamber music. An inspiration for all those who suffer from absent-minded professor-itis, he pushed the frontiers of knowledge to mind-boggling levels at that point in time. History does not record a particular ‘Aha!’ moment when the theory of relativity got discovered, but the connection between the paradigm shift in our understanding of the universe and his love for music and the soothing effect it has on one’s grey matter can be readily understood. There is no doubt that the great man did not find the environment of the Swiss Patent Office conducive enough for innovative thinking.

Contemplative Downtime   

A common thread running through all these events is the presence of a unique ‘Aha!’ moment of illuminating thought, undoubtedly facilitated by a phase of idleness. Some scientists in California now say that even lesser mortals can benefit from a spot of daydreaming. This goes on to prove – if proof was ever needed – that sitting idle is not wasteful, as many whip-cracking CEOs would have us believe. A vast majority of managers, workers and students would heartily attest to the fact that difficult assignments are handled much better if only preceded by a spot of contemplative downtime. This way, they are likely to envision a more productive approach to the issue at hand, resulting into substantial savings for the organization they serve. As Tom Hodgkinson says, ‘The art of living is the art of bringing dreams and reality together’.

Globally, managements need to seriously look at the utility of mental downtime when the thinking faculties are allowed to wander freely. Rather than mistaking hectic physical activity for real efficiency and effectiveness on the job, most bosses heading a team of innovators and developers typically create a work culture which facilitates a contemplative mood. They also perfect the art of refraining from micromanaging. Nor do they abdicate. They lead simply by inspiring and standing up for their team members, whenever necessary. The result is an exponential jump in the much-coveted ‘Aha!’ moment for their team members.

Does A Rigid Hierarchy Stifle Innovation?

It has been shown that under favorable circumstances, problem solving abilities tend to improve by as much as 40%! If such moves are introduced, and further backed by tea/coffee breaks, the results could be even better. High time some ad honchos took up this clue and designed some clever TV spots for companies marketing these beverages!

In India, where the propensity to innovate appears to have diminished substantially compared to what it used to be in the Aryabhatta days, this proposition deserves far more serious thought. Perhaps our national laboratories, centers of excellence and R&D institutions need to work more days, but provide for additional tea/coffee breaks and exciting vacation binges. Going in for flatter organizations devoid of strict hierarchy could also lead to better quality of informal interactions, thereby increasing the productivity and rate of innovation. The Peter Principle is proof that organizations which put a higher premium on seniority are more likely to have a dismal record in the realm of innovation.

The Power of Daydreaming

Scientists may now claim to have discovered that the rejuvenating powers of officially sanctioned breaks are reduced if people skip off-times and use these to perform other equally demanding tasks. But the power of dynamic daydreaming was never in doubt. Our grand-parents have always held that ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy’!

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