Saturday, March 13, 2010

3 Idiots: Is it a crash course on innovation?

3 Idiots” has become the highest grossing Bollywood movie of all time. The movie has enough masaala so that anyone irrespective of age and education can enjoy it. My 3 year old nephew became a fan of the catchy phrase “Aal izz well”, my wife got hooked on to the title song and my son learnt a few funny Hindi words. I also heard someone saying, “Do you want a crash course on innovation? Go watch 3 Idiots”. Prof. Anil Gupta of IIMA, the torch bearer of India’s grass-root innovations, said in Livemint, “I hope what Munnabhai did for Gandhigiri, this film will do for innovation in India” So, is 3 Idiots really a crash course on innovation? My answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It indeed does bring out many practices and issues associated with innovation. And at the same time, it does not touch upon a few critical areas.

Let’s start with what it does bring out:

· Significance of experimentation: Joy Lobo’s experimentation and Rancho’s improvisation after Lobo’s death brings out the importance of experimentation. Such experimentation is at the heart of innovation. Prof. ViruS’ view that “Only successful experimentation deserves credit” shows our ignorance of the real outcome of experimentation – learning.

· Role of passion: Farhan Qureshi is passionate about photography; but doing engineering because his father feels so. This is a common story in Indian context. Rancho eventually convinces Farhan to follow his passion. Innovation is more like a marathon – only those who follow their passion can last the 42km stretch.

· Awareness of intellectual property: Rancho runs a school in Ladakh where he has hundreds of patents to his credit. US returned Chatur finds it attractive enough to develop partnership.

Things critical for innovation that it does not touch upon:

· Types of innovation: There are several types of innovations. Patent lead product innovation is just one of them.

· Commercialization process: Demonstrating prototypes of the ideas as shown in Rancho’s school in Ladakh is an important step of every innovation. However, a successful innovation needs demonstration of viability of business or viability of impact (in case of social innovations). The movie does not show it.

· Catalysts like communication & collaboration: “How you communicate your idea” and “How you find partners” are important skills in the innovation process. It isn’t a loner’s game like golf. The movie does not bring this out.

Note – “3 Idiots” is a commercial movie and “spreading importance of innovation” is not its objective. I enjoyed the movie. And I recommend it to anyone who can watch Hindi movies (watching Hindi movies needs certain DNA).


  1. You may want to look at this article in Mint.(
    3 Idiots also shows some genuine innovations.

  2. Thanks Mukund for the comment. The article you mentioned is indeed mentioned in the blog. I have referred to the comment by Prof. Gupta of IIMA who hopes that "3 Idiots will do to innovation, what Munnabhai did to Gandhigiri".

    Which are the genuine innovations in 3 Idiots? Perhaps we are using a different definition for "innovation". I use i-squared-p (idea + implementation + profit). Working prototypes & patents carry seeds for innovation, but are not innovations themselves.

    Also i don't know what is a "non-genuine innovation".

  3. At the outset, I agree at top level with this connotation of innovation and indeed 3-idiots captures good fictitious way of inculcating innovation to all age groups - starting from 5 years kid (my daughter). But Vinay, if you really use i squared p as definition of innovation, then yes I agree with you. But linking innovation to profit – would be a "dilution" to innovation, in my opinion. Innovation goes beyond profit because profit is a very time bound event. An innovation may not result in any business profit now but who knows after few years...

  4. Vineet,

    I agree with you. There are two kinds of innovations: (1) Innovation in the context of a for-profit-organization. (2) Social innovation. iPod or iPhone is a classic example of the first category while "Satyagraha" or "Mobile telephony" are examples of the latter. "Mobile telephony" is interesting because the society has benefited tremendously. However, it has crippled several erstwhile giants like Lucent, Motorola. As Schumpeter said in 1942, innovation is inherently about "Creative destruction". Harakiri is not a respectable path yet in for-profit organizations. Hence, profit will always be an important goal for innovations in for-profit orgs. Some may have a horizon of a year others may have it as a few years.