Wednesday, September 29, 2021

My takeaways from “Strategic management of technology and innovation”

I just finished teaching a course “Strategic management of technology and innovation” at IIM Bangalore. This was my third time in the last three years. I enjoyed teaching the course and learned a great deal in the process. I have several takeaways, but here are three that stand out in my mind right now.

The title grows on you: I inherited the title of the course from Prof S Rajeev who had been teaching it for fifteen years. Thanks to the suggestions from PGPEM chair Prof Gopal Mahapatra and PGPEM program manager Sandeep Kudachi, I got an opportunity teach it. I initially thought the title had too many loaded abstract words and thought I could shorten it later. However, over the last 3 years I have begun to appreciate the three dimensions of the course – innovation management, management of technology and strategic thinking. And I hope to build on them further.

Process vs people/outcome: As the above image shows we ended up studying innovation stories of a number of innovators / innovation leaders. However, we kept our focus on the learnable process rather than people characteristics. This was a side effect of my process bias. While I understand how inspiring Steve Jobs or Elon Musk could be, I am not convinced one can become like one of them. In fact, we did study a case of Elizabeth Holmes who tried to become like Steve Jobs, at least outwardly. However, even in the Theranos case, our primary emphasis was “How to detect innovation frauds?” Along with success stories, we also studied failures (e.g. Fabmart) and work-in-progress (Vimeo) stories. In fact, the theme “learning to fail with comfort” was running throughout the course.

Culture friendly approaches: Taliban government came to power while the course was going on. We asked, “If you were hired as a consultant by department of education in Taliban government, what suggestions will you give?” If you suggest, “Empower women”, it may not go far. Our cultural biases influence our absorption capacity.  The same goes for every organization because each has a unique culture. And hence we played special attention to learning to design culture friendly approaches. One way is to learn from the internal bright spots – things that have worked within the same culture in the past. In case of Taliban, one such starting point could be to dig out bright spots in education from 1996 to 2001 when Taliban was in power.

Thanks to the amazing infrastructure IIMB has invested in, I got to experience the hybrid mode of teaching for half the course. In hybrid mode, half the students were in the class and the other half were online and they would switch the following week. Many students felt in-class interactions – with teacher but more importantly with other classmates – were far more effective than in the online mode. Especially for my teaching style where in-class group discussions are important, hybrid mode made a big difference.

Availability of the online mode also offered opportunities in inviting guest speakers from other towns (Mumbai) and countries (US). It was great to hear perspectives from a technology investor (Ravi Aranke, SVP, Cloudera), a serial entrepreneur (Yezdi Lashkari, Founder, Flexmoney) and an intrapreneur (Shailesh Prakash, CIO, Washington Post). All of them are my classmates and it was a joy to see them doing wonderful stuff in their field and inspire students.