Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Building a challenge-book (step-2): An example from an IIMB session

Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan and I co-facilitated a session on innovation at IIMB week before last based on our “8 steps to innovation” book. Participants in this session were entrepreneurs or second-third generation business owners. Businesses varied from Agarbatti (supplying to 80 countries) to clutch gears to Agro-products to Medical equipment to jewellers to payment gateway – in short quite diverse. One of the exercises we did was to generate a challenge book.

One thing that struck me is that each of these participants had a lot of clarity about the key business challenges. For example, the power problem in Tamilnadu and union problem in West Bengal is reflected in the challenge book. When we do a similar exercise with mid-level managers in large companies group, they don’t necessarily exhibit similar clarity. This may be so because they are far removed from the business decisions. We had explained to the participants about the 3 characteristics of a good challenge statement (1) emotional appeal (2) concrete goal and (3) hooks for imagination. The first draft of the challenge book we generated is shown in the picture above.

My analysis of how some of the challenges (selected randomly) fulfil the three characteristics is given below.

A few observations about the challenge book:

A challenge meeting all three characteristics: “Prototyping in a non-IT startup takes a few weeks. Can the time be brought down to 3 hrs?” This challenge appears to meet all three characteristics. The challenge author also had know-how about how much a 3-D printer costs and how much it can bring down prototyping time etc.

Blue-sky challenge: Enhancing customer satisfaction is an important challenge for many businesses. In fact, “customer delight” is part of core values for most of my customers. However, it hardly reflects in the actions demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. This is the reason a challenge to “enhance customer satisfaction” may be looked upon as an empty rhetoric. “How do we connect with international customers?” is a challenge meant to reach out and satisfy international customers better. It looks more focused.

More solution, less challenge: “ERP” gives an impression that there is a need to implement ERP solution. This could very well be the case. However, why that is required is not clear. Perhaps information about which parts are coming / when is not available easily. Perhaps products delivered are not reaching on time. It might be a better idea to focus on the challenge than on the solution.

The analysis is not meant to judge the challenges as good or bad. It is only meant to give an indication of further improvement – perhaps by framing the challenge better.

I asked the author of the challenge “General rural employment through sustainable business” if this was related to his business. He said it is not. However, he said he is passionate about this challenge and would like to pursue it along with his family business.

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