Saturday, August 24, 2013

2 dimensions of innovation maturity: creative confidence and incubation effectiveness

A couple of month’s back I presented a 5-level assessment framework based on our book 8-steps to innovation. It depicts characteristics of an organization as it goes from level-1 (Jugaad) to level-5 (Excellence). One question that I got asked on this was, “What are we trying to improve in the first 2-3 levels? And then in the next 2-3 levels?” This article is a response to this question. It presents a two dimensional view of innovation maturity – the first dimension being “creative confidence” and the second dimension being the “incubation effectiveness”. I believe it provides a simplified and yet useful view of innovation maturity. Let’s first understand the two parameters and then the sequence of focus.

Creative confidence: Creative confidence represents the capacity of the organization to identify and frame problems and create responses (ideas) to the problems. One popular proxy parameter for creative confidence is “idea per person per year” and another one is “participation” typically measured as a percentage of employees giving at least one idea in a year. An ultimate test of the creative confidence is, “Does janitor submit ideas to improve things?” Of course, creative confidence for a senior manager or a Product Architect would involve different type of problems and solutions than that of a fresher.

Incubation effectiveness: This parameter measures the effectiveness with which not-so-small ideas get incubated and selectively implemented to create business impact. Organizations create a separate lab to incubate typically large impact ideas. Sometimes an incubation team sits within a business unit and another team sits outside the business unit – under corporate umbrella. A lead indicator for incubation effectiveness is the total value of ideas under incubation and a lag indicator is “percentage of revenue coming from ideas incubated in last 3-5 years”.

Kaizen vs Lab corner: If you are in the kaizen corner, it means you are generating & implementing lots of small ideas. However, you are doing a poor job of incubating big ideas. If you are in the Lab corner it means you are doing a good job of incubating big ideas but doing a poor job of improving existing products / services. In the Daily-rut corner you are doing neither. Ideally you want to be in the Excellence corner.

An innovation journey could begin in any of the two directions. However, I feel that helps to build a critical mass of people (say 30%) confident of innovating. This increases the chance of sustaining the initiative. We have looked at how organizations like Cognizant build creative confidence. In the next few articles I want to explore what it means to run incubation centres effectively.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My 3 take-aways from “Design Thinking, Creative Thinking and Innovation” workshop at SPJIMR

 I got an opportunity to participate both as a student and as a co-facilitator in a 3-day workshop “Design Thinking, Creative Thinking & Innovation” held on Jul 18-20 2013 at S P Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai for teachers of Management schools in India. 57 teachers across India – from Schillong to Udaipur & from Kashipur to Trichy participated in the workshop. The workshop was co-lead by Prof. Srikant Datar of Harvard Business School & Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan of IIM Bangalore. Prof. Vidyanand Jha of IIM Calcutta was also with us as a co-facilitator. The workshop provided a perspective on challenges and opportunities on how creativity and innovation can be introduced in MBA curriculum especially in Indian context. Here are my 3 take-aways:

Creativity and innovation as a horizontal: At the end of each day, there was a discussion on how relevant such a course would be for MBA curriculum in India. This involved experience sharing from the participants and facilitators who have been teaching this course in some form or the other. Would there be a demand for such a course? Does it add value for the placement? Questions like these were raised and discussed. One thought that emerged out of this discussion was that various aspects of this course – be it design thinking or creativity or innovation – can be inserted into existing courses. In fact, some of the participants were doing this already. Prof. Atanu Ghosh (IIT Bombay), Prof. Bhaskar Bhatt (IIT Gandhinagar), Prof. Cedric Serpes (Goa Institute of Management), Prof. Dwarika Prasad (IIM Kashipur), Prof. Parag Meshram (School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi) and Prof. Rajat Agrawal (IIT Roorkee) shared their experiences on how they had modified their marketing / strategy / design related courses to include tools and methods related to creativity & innovation. For example, Parag’s students had re-designed toilets for extreme situations such as Kumbha-mela, Dwarika’s retail marketing course involves running a cafĂ© in the Kashipur campus, Rajat’s students improved the design of cycle rickshaw in Roorkee.

Experiential learning techniques: We learnt many creativity techniques by doing fun exercises. I particularly liked two exercises. In the first exercise, we had to tie our hands with a rope and the partner would do the same except that the rope would be chained with my rope. Our job as a pair was to get ourselves untangled. It looked so difficult until you know the solution. That brought me face-to-face with the knots in my thinking and highlighted the importance of framing of the question. The second exercise involved making as tall a tower as possible using 20 spaghetti sticks and a masking tape. The condition was to have a piece of marsh mellow on the top of the tower. Less than half the teams had any tower standing – let alone a tall tower. This exercise beautifully brings out my favourite principle “Doing the last experiment first”. (See the winning team and their tower of spaghetti in the picture).

Becoming an innovator & an enabler of innovation: The workshop ran two threads – one on “How to innovate effectively?” and the other thread on “How to enable innovation?” Both threads complemented each other. When you try to innovate, you appreciate the role of an enabler. And when you are trying to enable an innovation, it helps to understand the mind of the innovator. When a teacher is trying to introduce a new course, it is a form of innovation. There will be resistance to change from various stakeholders. I had a better appreciation of the complementarity of these two threads after the workshop.

Kudos to SPJIMR folks for making this workshop happen. They did an impressive job on the organization front. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Schumacher’s Burma visit and the birth of Buddhist Economics

Professionally, Fritz Schumacher’s Burma (now Myanmar) visit in 1955 was a failure. Hardly anyone from Burmese Government paid any attention to his advice. However, on a personal front, it was one of the most insightful projects in his life. It resulted in arguably the most influential essay Schumacher wrote viz. Buddhist Economics – which redefined the concept of progress. What happened in Burma? What did Schumacher learn? Let’s see in brief.

Fritz Schumacher got an invitation to visit Burma as an Economic Advisor in 1955. By this time, Schumacher was trying to synthesize various seemingly disparate strands – Gandhi, Buddhism, energy supplies of the future, industrial development and “war on poverty”. The visit provided a great opportunity to experience the East and feel some of these elements first-hand – especially Buddhism. One of the core questions Fritz carried with him was, “Can one really help Burmese without harming them?”

After a few days in Rangoon, Schumacher wrote to his wife Muschi, “There is an innocence here which I have never seen before”. Pretty soon he realized that poverty and backwardness weren’t the real issues Burma was facing. It was the way the West was altering the aspirations and concepts of “development” of Burmese people which he found scary. Burmese people had few wants and they were happy. He realized that the wants make a man poor and that made the role of the West very dangerous. He urged Burmese government not to pay excessive attention to industrial development as advised by the Western experts. He felt that focus on self-sufficiency especially rural development was crucial. Nobody paid any attention to this.

What might have been a discouraging experience was more than compensated when Schumacher got an opportunity to learn meditation in a highly respected Buddhist monastery of Burma. His first exercise was only to watch the rising and falling of his abdomen sitting in a monk’s cell. The monks taught him how to cope with the distractions; merely to note them but not to follow them. The next stage was to walk up and down the monastery garden concentrating on each movement of his body as he walked. The stillness he experienced towards the end of the course was something he had never felt before. He wrote, “I came to Burma as a thirsty wanderer, and there I found living water.”

Schumacher felt that the economics as defined in the West was based on materialistic progress. It encouraged expansion of wants. In fact, big car, big house, big salary were indicators of progress. He felt economic progress is good only to the point of sufficiency, beyond that it is evil, destructive, uneconomic. Secondly, he felt there is a need to make a distinction between “renewable” and “non-renewable” resources. He looked at development activity robbing earth of its non-renewable resources as regressive.

It has been over forty years since Buddhist Economics was proposed. The GDPs of India and China have soared since then. The wants of the countrymen represented especially by the scale of scams in India have soared too. Robbery of non-renewable resources is progressing well. Net-net, have these countries become richer or poorer?

Photo source: , A severely burnt Buddhist monk receives treatment after clashing with police while protesting against Chinese backed copper mines in Northern Myanmar (Nov, 2012)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

At 41, Fritz Schumacher learns how to think

Economist Fritz Schumacher is famous for his bestseller “Small is beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered” first published in 1973. His daughter and biographer Barbara Wood has titled chapter 16 of his biography Alias Papa: A life of Fritz Schumacher, “Learning how to think”. Schumacher wrote to his parents in 1953, “I have a feeling that I will look back to my forty first year as a turning point for the rest of my life.” The transformation was so dramatic that within a short time rational & scientific thinking Schumacher was writing to his mother asking for the exact time of his birth so that his friend can create his horoscope. What happened? How exactly did his thinking change? Let’s see in this article.

For the first two decades of his career, Schumacher was paid to think. In 1953, he was employed by National Coal Board in England as an Economic Advisor. His primary job was to study the demand & supply of energy and recommend policy changes. As a rational thinker he would consider any argument not based on facts as sub-standard. Intellect was his primary weapon and he took the job of sharpening the weapon very seriously. It meant tracking facts and figures, reading & commenting on theories from Marxism to Keynesianism and making predictions and policy recommendations. However, his faith in his intellect was to get shaken permanently in his forty-first year.

The seed was sown in a rather harmless activity – gardening. Schumacher bought a house in Caterham in 1950 and began his experiments with organic methods in his garden. He joined the Coal Board gardening club and Soil Association. Their message was simple: look after the soil and the plants will look after themselves. He got up at 6am to work in his garden before he left for office and he worked at his compost after he returned from his office. Barbara Wood notes - His acceptance of organic approach rather than the conventional chemical approach was an act of faith. It had opened door to other acts of faith. Like which ones?

During his forty minutes train journey from Caterham to Victoria (NCB Headquarters), Schumacher read on varied topics. This included Indian and Chinese Philosophy. These guys, so called spiritual gurus, were also offering solutions to the questions that bothered him – like “How to prevent wars?” However, their approach was diametrically opposite. Instead of looking at structural changes or policy changes, they identified the root cause as the “crisis of human consciousness”. In fact, this approach regarded intellect as a hindrance in resolving the crisis. This was a “bombshell” for Schumacher because everything he regarded as sacred was being questioned. 

During this time, Schumacher was introduced to the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a spiritual master. On weekends Schumacher participated in a Gurdjieff study group. The group learnt to meditate among other things. Meditation was hard for Schumacher. He wrote to his mother, “I fear that it will be more difficult for me than many others, because I have depended on the intellect to such an extent that it now tries to push itself into the forefront at every opportunity.”  In April 1953 Fritz wrote to his mother, “The crux of the matter – is the method of allowing a deep inner stillness and calmness to enter – a stillness not only of the body, but also of thoughts and feelings. Through this one gains extraordinary strength and happiness.”  

It was the beginning of a new type of thinking that stops flaunting the intellect as the most powerful weapon the man possesses.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Building creative confidence in housekeeping & model-making staff at Agastya

Can anyone innovate? Really? Even a semi-literate? I have been curious about this question. I got an opportunity to test some of these assumptions when we facilitated a design thinking workshop for housekeeping & model making staff at Kuppam campus of Agastya International Foundation. Many participants, especially the housekeeping staff members, were school dropouts. 

The highlights of the workshop are depicted in the presentation above. Here are a few things that struck me:

Photographs/videos: The participants were given cameras to take pictures of the problem areas associated within their work context. These photos were projected and a representative from the team presented the problem. I was impressed by the photos / videos they took. I was later told that one of the ladies who articulated a problem rarely speaks – even with her colleagues. So this session helped building confidence in communicating your problem.

Persistence: Shanthamma became our role model during the solutioning phase. She & her team were working on the problem where the ladies have to carry hot tea pots over a distance of few hundred metres. Shanthamma started drawing a cycle as a solution to carry the tea pot. She struggled for 20 minutes to draw a cycle but she didn’t give up. In fact, she didn’t budge from her seat while everybody else went for a coffee break. You can see her efforts in the presentation (page 15).

Experiment design: Towards the end, the teams designed 1-day and 1-week experiments. Here they answered the questions, “Which assumptions can we validate in 1-day and 1-week?” That created moments of truth for some participants. They realized, “Well, we could get started today. We can begin the journey of solving our problems ourselves.”

In the final session, Dr. Shibu listened to their presentations, encouraged them to go ahead with the experiments and offered his support. That gave confidence to the participants.

A personal learning for me came from the wallet design session. The ladies couldn’t relate to the concept of wallet or purse. Instead, they re-designed their lunch box. For some people, a lunch-box is more relevant than a wallet!

I appreciate the encouragement from Ramji Raghavan and Dr. Shibu Shankaran in this experiment. And without enthusiastic support from Janani, Subbu and Uday this was impossible! Hope this becomes a starting point for us to take design thinking at various levels in the school education system.

Update from Agastya (30-Aug-13):
These are some the ideas suggested by the workshop participants that have been implemented,

1) Washing clothes and Drying area have been allocated.
2) Temporary ID cards have been issued to the Workshop workers and they will be given a permanent ID card soon.
3) The rain water drainage problem has been solved
4) First level of VisionWorks have been cleared and its being used for better purposes.