Monday, June 21, 2010

Jyotiba & Savitri Phule’s girl school (1851): A radical innovation

Think of radical innovation and you are likely to conjure up images of telephone, electricity, airplane, computer, car, Internet etc. These are indeed great innovations. But not all radical innovations are anchored in technology. Girl school started by Jyotiba Phule in 1851 in Pune was radical by whichever definition of “radical” you use. Jyotiba’s wife Savitri was the headmistress of the school. She had to use two saaris; one for the road during which cow dung and mud would be thrown at her. And the second saari was for the school use. What were the challenges faced by Jyotiba, Savitri & team while running the school? And how did this innovation come about? Let’s see a few insights that come out from the report of the second annual examination of the girl school held on 12th Feb 1853. It was attended by 3000 people including 20 British patrons and 30 notable Indian citizens of the times.

Let’s start with some data. The school had 9 girls on the first day when it started and had expanded to three schools all in Pune with 237 girls on its roll by 1853. The average attendance was a little less than 200 (84%). Salary expenses were Rs.760 and administrative expenses (rent, books, benches, etc) were Rs.610. This includes prizes in the forms of books worth Rs.177. The school got Rs.900 from government (Dakshna fund) and collected Rs.1072 through subscriptions. The report mentions – The progress exhibited by girls was far greater than that made in any Boys’ schools during the same period.

If absenteeism and performance wasn’t a big challenge then what was it? One issue was that the girls were “loaded with valuable ornaments” and had to be escorted to and from school by the peons. But the biggest obstacle comes out in this paragraph – A few of the girls who were then at the head of their respective classes have ceased to attend in consequence of their marriage, and the whims and caprices of their fathers and mothers-in-law. It will thus be seen that the custom of the early marriage offers the strongest opposition to female education to this country. The committee, therefore, proposes introducing into the schools under their management, the system of stipendiary scholarships, to induce the poorer parents or fathers and mothers-in-law, to allow their little girls to attend the schools. This is, however, a partial remedy.

Where did the money come from? Unfortunately, not much support came from wealthy Indians. Education for girls especially from lower-cast was against Hindu scriptures. Sponsorship came primarily from the British well-wishers like Sir Erskine Perry, Ex-Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Bombay, Major Candy, Principal of Poona College and E. C. Jones. Slowly a portion of Dakshna fund, originally meant for Brahmins only, was being given to the school.

How did they sell the concept to the moms? We don’t know. But perhaps we can guess it from the following sentence – The prejudices against teaching girls to read and write began to give way to the general desire of mothers to get rid, during the time of work, the annoyance of their little ones. So if you were to prepare an ad campaign for the school what would you do? “Hassled by the troubling little girls at home? This is your best chance, send them to school!”


Mahatma Phule samagra vanmaya (marathi) – Complete works of Mahatma Phule compiled by Y. D. Phadke, published by Govt. of Maharashtra, 1991.

Wikipedia on Jyotiba Phule and Savitri Phule.

Mahatma Jotirao Phooley, Dhananjay Keer (Google books)

India as a hub for low-cost experimentation: my favorite theme from 6th India Innovation Summit 2010

India is known worldwide as a hub for low-cost execution especially in IT and BPO sector. But India as a hub for low-cost experimentation? Well, if some of the stories from 6th India Innovation Summit 2010 held at Taj Residency in Bangalore last week (17-18 Jun) is any indication, it certainly holds a promise. What kinds of experiments are happening in India? And where do we need to do more work? Let’s explore these questions in this article.

Microsoft started a research lab in India in 2005 and Dr. Anandan MD of Microsoft research presented their charter in the first India innovation summit held in June 2005 at Leela. In the fourth India Innovation Summit held in 2008, Assistant MD of Microsoft Research Kentaro Toyama presented their work in the field of education. In one of the projects, a visiting research scholar, Udai Pawar (son of NIIT’s Rajendra Pawar) was trying to address a typical challenge in India where you have multiple children crowding over one computer screen. He asked, “Can we attach multiple windows and mice to a single computer?” Learning from this project has morphed into a Microsoft product called multipoint server 2010 which was launched this year and guess what is the initial target market for the product? The USA. Also it is worth noting that the early prototype was demonstrated in 2006 and it has taken Microsoft 5 years to go from research project to a finished product. Innovations typically have long cycles and jury is still out whether the multipoint server will be a success. But the point is India did contribute as a low-cost experimentation center in this story.

From education let’s move to healthcare, a sector that is craving for innovations in India and abroad. Preetha Reddy, MD, Apollo Hospitals mentioned a number of experiments in this field. Today India does around 2000 telemedicine interventions per day, perhaps the highest in the world. We serve people not only in India but also from Africa, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Clinical trials for stem cell research are happening in India. Preetha mentioned that a low-cost 150 bed high-end acute-care hospital can be set-up in a smaller city serving 100-200 villages nearby with less than Rs.20 Cr. Folks from China, Africa and Korea are visiting to find out how this low-cost model works.

So, what’s missing? Personally, I feel a disciplined approach to low-cost experimentation is missing. Hardly anyone at the conference spoke about the cost and speed of experiments they are conducting and how it can be improved further. Systematic experimentation needs creation of sandboxes or innovation platforms. Thomas Edison supervised 2774 experiments on the electric lamp during the spring of 1884! The point is not that the number was 2774 but that Edison was rigorous in tracking the costs and speed of experiments he supervised. Hope to see more of such rigor going forward in Indian organizations.

Related articles:

A look at Tata Nano through “Dynamic innovation sandbox” lens

4 levers of systematic experimentation: story of Wright brothers

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jamsetji Tata’s method of innovation

Imagine you hit upon what you think is a great idea this morning during the shower. You tell it to your friend over a coffee in the morning or your boss during your hi-hello encounter and you don’t particularly get an encouraging reply. But you are still optimistic. And you say, “OK. Let me check with a few more people”. How long do you think you are likely to stay with it? A week? a month? a year? a decade? Well, Jamsetji Tata stayed curious with the idea of Steel Plant for 17 years! I call this stamina – curiosity stamina and Jamsetji Tata had tons of it. In fact, it was a hallmark of his method of innovation. Let’s look at three things I find most interesting about Jamsetji’s innovation style. We will start with the curiosity stamina.

In 1882 a German geologist, Ritter von Schwartz, wrote a report that the best situated iron ore deposits were in Chanda District, not far from Nagpur where Jamsetji had his Empress Mill. Warora nearby had coal. To start with Jamsetji took samples of both to Germany for testing. The coal was found unsuitable. The mining terms offered by the government were too restrictive. For the next seventeen years Jamsetji kept track of minerals in India. In 1899, Major Mahon gave a report that India was ready for the steel industry. Mahon suggested good quality coal from Jharia coalfields in eastern India and iron ore from Chanda & Salem district, Madras Presidency. Lord Curzon liberalized the licensing system. Jamsetji lost no time to make his second foray into steel. I like what Einstein has said, “It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.”

How did Jamsetji get ideas? By wandering around … not only his factory or city, but the entire world! Jamsetji traveled extensively from Far East in Japan and Australia to west in Europe and US. He visited Japanese silk industry, steel towns in the US, hydroelectric plants of Westinghouse at Niagara Falls and industrial exhibitions at Germany. Everywhere he went, he asked, “Can we use this in India?” Wherever possible, he brought innovations home. He started a silkworm farm in Mysore based on Japanese techniques. He was the first to electrify his home and to equip it with latest in European plumbing. He was also the first Indian to own a gasoline car in 1901. That was 2 years before Ford Motor Company was founded! In an earlier article, I have articulated 3 sources of innovation: pain, wave and waste. If Mahatma Gandhi knew how to feel the “pain” of the masses, Jamsetji had mastered how to surf the next “wave”.

There was one thing common between Gandhiji and Jamsetji. It is to think “big” and “far”. Both were great systems thinkers. However, their approaches were diametrically opposite. While Gandhiji approached problems from grass root levels, Jamsetji approached it from the apex. He knew that if he can create a place where Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, Satish Dhawan can be groomed, India at large will benefit. That is how IISc was born.

So tremendous "curiosity stamina", "constantly surfing the next wave" and "using the apex of the system as a lever" were 3 things I find unique about Jamsetji's method of innovation.

Source: For the love of India: The life and times of Jamsetji Tata, by R. M. Lala.

Related articles:

Innovations in Jamsetji Tata’s Empress Mills at Nagpur

Innovations in Jamsetji Tata’s Empress Mills at Nagpur

In R M Lala’s words Jamsetji Tata “launched his real career as a textile magnate” at the age of thirty five when he established Empress Mills in 1874. By then, he had visited China, helped his father start a trading firm in Hong Kong, spent four years in England keenly observing the textile industry and spent many Sundays at Dadabhai Nauroji’s house in London absorbing stimulating discussions on political reforms in India with stalwarts such as Badruddin Tyabji (the first Indian barrister in Bombay). What kinds of innovations did Jamsetji catalyze in Empress Mill? Let’s explore in this article.

In 1870s Bombay and Ahmedabad were the Lancshires of India. Jamsetji, perhaps at his dad’s suggestion, set out to put up his mill where the cotton came from. After getting his proposal for a land in Jabalpur turned down, Jamsetji went to Nagpur where he found a suitable land. Jamsetji hired two assistants: One, Bezonji Mehta, an uneducated self-made man who had learnt the art of managing in the railways. The other was an English technical expert James Brooksby (CTO?). Initially all the machinist and foremen were from Lancashire. Jamsetji ascribed the success of Empress Mill to these two men and tended to underplay his own role.

In 1883 Brooksby, while on home leave, came across ring spindles invented in America. Jamsetji bought two ring spindle frames and set his team with Brooksby to work them as an experiment. The stated speed of 6000 revolutions was soon exceeded and ring frame produced 9000 to 12000 revolutions. Ring spinning was yet to catch on in Britain. In fact, Jamsetji’s supplier Platts, who were at that time world’s largest supplier of textile mill equipment, refused to produce ring spindles and stuck to older technology – mule spinning. Jamsetji changed the supplier to Brooks and Doxey and replaced mule spindles with ring spindles. To perfect the technology, every defect was reported to the supplier. By the time Platts adopted the new technology, rivals had caught on.

Innovations at Empress Mill weren’t restricted to technology adoption. In fact, lack of skilled and semi-skilled labor was perhaps a bigger challenge. Workers would be absent for sixty days a year due to festivals and for several days during harvest times. Absenteeism was 10 to 20 percent a day. Jamsetji & team set about to make workers’ life easier. A Provident Fund Scheme was introduced in 1886 and pension fund was introduced in 1887. Accident compensation scheme was introduced in 1895. Most of these came before Factory Act of England making certain measures compulsory. Empress held an annual prize day were workers turned up in colorful holiday attire for performance recognition. As many as 1000 workers were called to the platform to collect prizes of gold and silver watches and chains, armlets, medals and bundles of cloth.

In Jamsetji’s words at the opening of the extension of Empress Mills in 1895, “We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous, or more philanthropic than other people. But, we think, we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of our shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of our employees the sure foundation of our prosperity”.

Source: For the love of India: The life and times of Jamsetji Tata, by R. M. Lala.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Role of manager as an innovation catalyst: story of Toyota’s Takao Umezu

“Good Idea” (GI) club was established in 1972 when six gold medal winners of Toyota’s idea management system began to meet regularly. What started as just a place for like-minded people to meet soon expanded in scope to exchange creative ideas and give talks. Here is a story of Takao Umezu from Kamigo factory’s second machining division on how his manager got him interested in giving ideas (adapted from the story in 40 years, 20 million ideas by Yuzo Yasuda).

“Just a minute, Mr. Umezu, Do you have any free time later on today? If you don’t mind, I’d like to see you about something”. This is what my foreman said to me one day as I was getting ready to go home. I hoped it would be a restaurant or yakitori shop. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a hall with sign that read, “Second Toyota GI club example exchange meeting”. I was disappointed.

I was in for a surprise when I looked at the front where presenters were seated. One of the presenters was one year junior to me in my high school. When it was my friend’s turn to speak, my heart began to beat faster, just as though I were the one giving the talk. I was surprised again. The content of his improvement, the charts he used and the delivery were excellent. I felt it would be great to be able to implement the kind of change he had talked about. From then on, I started walking around my workplace, searching intently for anything that might be an opportunity for improvement. Unfortunately, not even a single idea occurred to me.

Then one day, my foreman came over to me and scolded me in a loud voice: “Hey, is that work hard to do?” To tell the truth, it really was. But I had simply gotten used to the fact that it was hard to do. Was that a hint for me to suggest an idea? On the following day, I suggested to my foreman that if a certain kind of tool were used, the work would become easier to do, and he made the arrangement for it right away. Things improved, but before I could relax, my foreman said to me, “By the way, have you filled out the suggestion form?” I didn’t know how to fill it out, so I spent all night working on it. When I gave it to my foreman the next morning, he said, “Oh, this is good. You’ve really done a good job writing this up.” Because of his words, I was no longer apprehensive. The award I received was only $5, but it made me extremely happy.

A few days later, as I was continuing to make several improvements, I ran into a problem that my idea alone could not solve. So I consulted my foreman. He said, “Umezu, this problem has deep roots, but it looks as though it is worth tackling. If it can be solved, it would result in making great improvement.” After implementing the improvement and verifying the results, I quickly filled out the suggestion form. But my foreman’s reaction was unfavorable. He said, “Unless the quality of the form corresponds to the suggestion content, people on the screening committee will not understand it well and your idea won’t be rated well. What about the current situation? What was causing the trouble? What methods should be used? How much will it cost? What about benefits? Can you show how much money will be saved?” The prize I received $40 for this idea was a lot more that I had expected.

Soon I was submitting more than 200 ideas per year. It had become one of my daily routines, on getting home from work, to take out the notes I had jotted down while working and fill the suggestion forms. In case I took it easy, my wife would say, “Have you already finished this month’s quota?”

It took me three years to receive the bronze prize from the day I attended the first GI club meeting. I joined the GI club the same year. I received a medal in three consecutive years. Soon I started playing more responsible roles at GI club and became the chairman in 1985. Over a period I got convinced, “It is important for leaders to take the initiative.”