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Innovations by Corporates & Business

By Shruti Choudhari, Deputy Director, B L Kashyap and Sons Ltd.

Innovation. What comes to your mind when you hear it?

For some, it may mean the beginning of something new, for some reinventing the old and for some it would mean finding better solutions for the future. For me, Innovation is the change that unlocks new value.

Innovation literally means “A new method, idea or product”. When you Google the actual literal meaning, interestingly words such as change, revolution, upheaval, transformation, reorganizing, restructuring, metamorphosis are the synonyms that pop up. The synonyms describe the process or road to innovation bang on.

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turns into an innovation”. However, what makes innovation successful? It is not about saying yes to everything but is all about saying NO to all but the most crucial features in relation with your core.

While innovating, you unleash the potential of the idea bank around you and you harness the ideas that work for you. It is a trial and error method, wherein most times, the person causing the disruption has to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of ideas.

Innovation is Disruption. Disruption is good when you want to innovate. The only way companies can avoid Disruption today is if they were constantly doing what they did when they started the company.

If all of us in a company started thinking alike, then no one is actually thinking. Innovation should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat, as you are simply finding a better way to do things. It is an extremely arrogant way to view things if we feel what we are doing today will be good enough tomorrow.

I believe that over time, innovation can get messy. Like Bill Coughran, Senior Vice-President, Google lucidly puts it, “Managing tensions in the organization is an ongoing issue…you don’t want an organization that just salutes and does what you say. You want an organization that argues with you. And so you want to nurture the bottoms up, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t degenerate into chaos”.

In an organization that encourages innovation, the onus lies with the leaders to create an environment that unlocks the genius in people and combines them into a collective genius (as mentioned in the Harvard Business Review publication – Collective Genius)

As leaders who head the innovation process the following capabilities need to be honed:

  • Collaborate

The process of innovation needs to be collaborative because without interplay of ideas from interactions with people of diverse expertise innovation is not possible

  • Engage in Discovery Driven learning

Where innovation arises from continuously focused experimentation, often a repetitive trail & error like method

  • Make integrative decisions (Its all about Combinational Chemistry as Einstein put it)

You can resolve problems with compromise or dictatorship. However, both of these lead to less satisfactory solutions. But if you combine ideas from group A and Group B, to find an integrative solution, this tends to give us the most creative innovations

  • Promote improvisation within a structure

Ensure people are heard, and their voices are honored. A rigid structure cannot stand the test of time, and organizations, which have rooms for improvement, are always the ones that remain at the top

  • Encourage bottom-up initiative & intervene top down.

Most innovations are results of grassroots efforts. Hence the need to create a balance between bottom-up initiatives & top-down interventions

Google, Amazon, Apple & Pixar are some of the most successful innovation-driven companies, where the people are ahead of their consumers. Amazon seems to have read the future pulse of the people very accurately. Closer to home, a great example of results of innovation can be seen in HCL. Coincidently B.L Kashyap has built their first campus in Bangalore. When Vineet Nayar joined albeit reluctantly as head of HCL, he knew the role of IT in major companies was changing. He wanted HCL to become a full partner with clients in harnessing the transformative potential of IT.

Vineet Nayar entered HCL when it was trying to compete with entrants from the West. He understood that the market had dynamically shifted and hence planned his next business moves accordingly. For Nayar, with the changing business environ, the role of IT now became central to operational success. However, the people that made the company were equally important for him as well. He created a “Value Zone” which resided in the outer edges of the company. Here resources from HCL worked with the customers to solve their problems and ultimately transform their (customers) business. The new Value Zone became the new ‘Relationship Zone’ between the HCL people and the customer, where the interface between HCL and the customer became paramount.

Another interesting management tool that Vineet Nayar introduced was a three-day meeting called “The Blueprint Meeting”. This unique concept was not centered on ‘Strategy’ but included the top hundred managers of the company doing things differently. It was decided that HCL would stop doing small jobs and only focus on larger projects. His thought behind the “Blueprint” meetings was to get the house in order so that there would be no internal obstacles that would arise when they (HCL) were competing with giants like IBM. Nayar believed that HCL could not afford in-house distractions, and he was true.

Later on, Nayar also started a “Young Sparks” team, which included 30 young employees to work on new ideas. He reinvented the role of a leader and caused disruptive innovation remarkably well. He led HCL from 2005-2013 and expanded the operation to 32 countries where the company’s revenue increased by 6 times from 764 million dollars to 4.7 billion dollars.

In fact, any company you think of, as mentioned earlier, including Pixar or Amazon, think 5 steps ahead of their customer, and are constantly innovating and disrupting markets with their innovations.

Coming back to BLK, we had been growing at 20-30% annually after our listing in 2007, which set the seeds of complacency within the company. And then the downturn happened where we faced rough waters from 2012 onwards.

Failure became our Disruption.

It made us sit up and take stock of where we had gone wrong. Our biggest failure was not our process but our people. Somewhere we had lost our core competency, which was “Heart Engineering”. We were a group of people that used to bare a piece of our souls in our work and always nourished each other with support. It was time to learn from the past, improvise the present and create the future.

Taking a page out of the books of HCL and other successful Indian enterprise behemoths who have integrated the power of innovation into their business processes, we set up a plan with the help of senior colleagues to create an atmosphere conducive to growth for the present and future . We have compiled a BLK Vision #2030 for the company centred on “Change Management.” This includes becoming completely “Tech” savvy as a company, focusing on systems and their implementations, getting standard operating procedures under six broad verticals, creating management and strategy committees at various levels, creating a bank of ideas for marketing and PR strategies and finally succession planning.

Going forward it has been a conscious decision to make our ‘PEOPLE’ our foremost priority and put the ‘CUSTOMERS’ second. Internal colleague motivation, training and the study of new technologies have started taking precedence at BLK. BLK is now looking to create a niche in the construction market as a “Thought Leader” across segments. We want to be also seen as an aspirational place to work. Keeping all the above in mind, we are revamping all internal and external communication channels and intent to project the fundamental goal of the company to be all-inclusive to its people. And, in the pursuit of attaining what we have sought out to achieve, Vijay Govindarajan’s three-box solution for innovation has really come in handy. His three box approach talks about dividing innovation into:

Box 1 – Manage the present core business at peak efficiency and profitability

Box 2 – Escape the traps of the past by identifying and divesting businesses and abandoning practices and attitudes that have lost relevance in a changed environment.

Box 3 – Generate breakthrough ideas and convert them into new products and businesses.

Success in each box requires different skills, attitudes, and leadership. Of these, Innovation is the glue that binds them together to create a winning combination.

Encapsulating all of the above in a nutshell by quoting Vineet Nayar of HCL, “I believe that if the CEO always thinks he is the owner and the doer, he will not accomplish things. It doesn’t matter if the goal is flying a rocket to the moon, digging oil holes, or getting the British out of India. I go back to my three heroes (Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela & Martin Luther King). I don’t think they did anything, instead they enabled people to do what these people thought in their hearts, was the right thing to do. That is the future of Leadership”.

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