The walls of innovation

It requires sustained effort to move innovation from a poster on the wall to conversation and action in the hall

Founding Fuel

[By École polytechnique - J.Barande, under Creative Commons]

Dear friend,

Innovation is a core value in several organisations I happen to frequent. Now, Innovation is an evergreen value. I mean, who can argue against innovation? It keeps energy alive. It hums of hope and drips promise. Yet, organisations that aim to get innovation woven into their DNA come a cropper. That usually is not for want of intent. 

To move innovation from a poster on the wall to conversation and action in the hall, requires sustained effort.

The typical drill organisations go through come from familiar farms. Someone outlines the importance of innovation. CXOs make stellar speeches on the importance of innovation. Many a time, training programmes on innovation are organised and every one wonders why nothing changed at the end of the year.

Sometimes, a project team is formed to work in isolation and to come up with recommendations. For a while, there is action, noise and conversations. The team makes progress and are much in news. Until a pressing problem like a declining quarterly revenue or a quality issue usurps collective attention. And then like a star who fades into retirement, the project team sinks to an obscure corner. 

This is a classic case of priorities of the present engulfing important options for the future. 

I usually ask a few questions to understand if innovation is truly valued or is a value for value’s sake! First the easy bit. How much money was spent on innovation? Organisations will have a story or two about the projects that the money spent resulted in. The second area of inquiry is estimating how much time got spent on the idea of innovation, by whom and doing what. That usually is a revealing picture.

The third one, the one that we spend time on, is understanding the trade-offs the organisation faced while working on innovation. For example, was an experiment stopped if sales were down in that quarter? At another level, is the organisation willing to make a few mistakes or is it keen on getting it right the first time? How are people who ran failed experiments treated? Does success score over experimentation?

Clues that tell a compelling story emerge from this inquiry. We understand the distance between what is sought to be a way of life and what actually is!

The most sincere intent fades if there’s no courage to make hard trade-offs. Even when the hurdle of courage is crossed, many falter to cross the chasm of established culture, routines and inertia.

Speaking of routines, my colleague Charles Assisi has an interesting piece on routines. He signs off with this line: "But as that saying goes, routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition." It is a different take and one that must be given time in this age of disruption. 

The thing about the age of disruption is that it is becoming quite routine! Every age thinks that it is getting disrupted faster than the one that went before. We need to sift through the cesspool of noise and make sense of the disruption. That is one reason I look forward to NS Ramnath's column. He has never disappointed. I didn't know, for instance, that the commerce on the internet was illegal till 1993! History teaches us many a lesson. Hegel said, “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history.”

And finally, a fantastic conversation between Charles Assisi, Anand Deshpande and Amit Ranjan that brings the importance of ecosystems to the fore. A reality check on the state of entrepreneurship, with a ground up understanding of complexities involved and a sprinkling of optimism.

Innovate we must, as we work our way through critical challenges in complex times. Our work at Founding Fuel puts us front and centre of the emerging narratives on innovation. It is hard, sustained work that innovative organisations put in. In the absence of such work, you are left with the writing on the wall.


Kavi Arasu

For Team Founding Fuel

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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