The Age of Ideas

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The 11th edition of CavinKare-MMA Chinnikrishnan Innovation Awards function 2022 was held on 22
October 2022 at IIT Research Park Auditorium, Chennai. Mr Alok B Shriram, Senior Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, DCM Shriram Industries Ltd, was the Chief Guest. He presented the Innovation Awards 2022 and addressed the audience.

I not only congratulate the winners of the awards but also the nominees. It is truly a case of ‘the best of the best.’ It is a tribute to the foresight of the management of CavinKare that they have instituted an award for innovation more than a decade ago. It is also a tribute to our government that they are encouraging youngsters to think out-of-the-box to try and create new and disruptive products, services and technologies which are changing the face of not only business, but also how we live. They also encourage people to fail and resurrect themselves. Failure is no longer a blot but a stepping stone towards success of new and emerging ideas. The most important facet of innovation is perseverance to see the idea through to commercialisation, to accelerate growth trajectory and power India to prosperity.
Defining Innovation

Innovation has a very wide definition. Innovation is anything that proposes an alternative to something that is done in a certain way, brings economic and behavioural benefits, solves problems, or makes people’s daily lives easier. It can be related to a product, service, process, market, means of production, technology, or anything else that brings about a change that becomes sustained. For innovation to take place, people and companies use the countless possibilities that technology offers. Technology is the basis that supports and enables all types of innovation. Without good tools, innovation can come at the wrong time and your business loses its potential to scale. Remember, to innovate is to go beyond and exceed the expectations of stakeholders and the market. For this to happen, you need speed, quality, and precision. When a sector, segment, or brand decides to innovate, it contributes to the development of society as a whole.
Advantages of Innovation

In practical terms of a commercial organization, a company that innovates, mainly in its processes, gains many advantages, such as:

  • Keeping processes organized: By being innovative in how you perform processes, especially if you use technology, you create standards and systematize the best work method. This is crucial for strategies to be successful, results to be achieved, and goals to be reached.
  • It develops creativity: With innovation, a company shows that it is open to changes and that employees can contribute with new ideas and see in practice the benefits new things can bring to the day to day.
  • It helps increasing the business’s competitiveness: By adopting strategic resources, a company becomes more attractive to customers, partners and talents; and gains a competitive advantage in the market.
  • It helps in increasing productivity: Innovation proposes more effective processes, more production control, effective strategy, and more engaged employees.
  • It adds value to a product or service: When you innovate, you boost the marketing of products and services, because you bring something different and unique for your target audience.
  • Finally, innovation helps in increasing profits: With more productivity, a more attractive business, and more effective management, emerges. Your business will consequently see greater profits.

Three Types of Innovation

Companies need to become solution providers rather than solution acceptors and transform know-how to know why. Our innovators and scientists need to be catalysts; and businesses need to be the engine for translation. Essentially, there are three types of innovation: radical, incremental, and disruptive. They may vary depending on the niche, market, brand essence, services, and products offered. If your company wants to innovate, it’s important to know these varieties.

  • Radical innovation, as the name suggests, really changes the circumstances of your company, whether in terms of market or of business dynamics. It can occur due to a complete change in a company’s positioning, work method, processes, services, and products offered, or how it relates to customers.
    An example of radical innovation would be smart phones. When they were released, mobile phones already existed, but smart phones included features that changed the market and made it more popular ultimately pretty much eliminating simple mobile phones.

  • Incremental innovation adds new features to a product, brand, or production methods without promoting a very drastic change.
    It is usually an evolution of an innovation already implemented by the brand that complements and offers improvements, be it to employees, customers, or features of a business.
    An example of incremental innovation is Gmail, which was created with the purpose of sending emails quickly – but over time, different features were added to improve the customer experience and make it more useful and competitive.

  • Technological and behavioural changes have favoured the emergence of disruptive innovation in recent decades. This type of innovation follows the market more than a specific brand, product, or service. It can be leveraged by something a company has offered and, as a result, made their name, but, in general, it’s a scalable change that reaches many people at the same time.
    Such disruptive technology such as EVs have changed the face of automobiles / transport. The market value of Tesla is greater than the next three auto giants like GM, Ford and Toyota put together.

Examples of innovation
Product innovation brings something new to the market. Television, for example, was something innovative when it was invented, bringing image, sound, and entertainment into people’s houses. It was a radical innovation that, with acceptance of the public, became disruptive and over time began to rely on incremental innovation. The whole world followed the release of different kinds of TV: colour, cable, flat-screen, and, today, smart TV.

Next is service innovation. A visible example of service innovation is food delivery. For a long time, in order to eat something from a restaurant, customers needed to walk into the place or order takeout. That’s when the market innovated and offered delivery service, so that customers could order whatever they wanted with just a phone call. Over time, it became possible to order food on websites, and now we can order food on mobile apps at our fingertips.

Innovation in production processes. Here it is interesting to highlight environmental awareness. Many cosmetic brands, for example, innovate by implementing cruelty-free processes that don’t involve animals. Today many innovations for social causes are becoming businesses, such as reclaiming waste flowers from temples. The flowers are being recycled to extract oils for perfumes, the basic waste is used for agarbathis and final waste for fertilizer.

Innovation in the business model is very common in startups. An example would be marketplaces. Virtual stores like Amazon mediate between buyers and sellers and change the way we shop. Another example would be virtual banks. Today, there are many financial institutions with no physical facilities for customer service and whose transactions are all performed online.

Technological innovation is the most evident kind of innovation. The advance of technology brings about many opportunities. Thinking back a few centuries, the Industrial Revolution springs to mind as a good example. It changed production methods in companies, work methods, and even workers’ lives like the Ford / Toyota production systems. In a modern context, though, the primary examples are the internet and smartphones, which revolutionized not only products and services, but also the society’s behaviour. Technological innovation, as we see in the case of Industry 4.0 technologies, enables us to take steps that would otherwise be unachievable with human power alone.

Logistical innovation. For a long time, it would take up to a month to receive a letter by mail. For international products, it would take an average of three months. To change this, companies and distributors innovated emails, logistics, creating storage points and strategic distribution centers. Today, there are apps to hire delivery services and even delivery drones!

Marketing innovation. Ways of acquiring new customers have evolved, and we’re seeing more and more innovations in marketing. Sometimes, the way you advertise can be innovative. With the creation of social media, for example, lots of brands innovated by advertising on those platforms instead of newspapers and television.

Organizational innovation. Organizational innovation brings several other kinds of innovation. They concern structural changes and practices that improve productivity, services, products, and processes. Post-covid, work from home is an example of organizational innovation, as are management software, customer service chatbots, and trainee programs, in which employees get to know all departments of a company before actually working in one of them.
Being innovative may seem like something unusual that requires you to be extremely lucky or a genius. But it can actually occur in any company, big or small, and in any sector. The stages of the innovation process are simple, and to innovate you must have a system and repetition.

Innovation Stages

  • Generation of new ideas: What are the opportunities in the field? What hasn’t been done yet and would actually change a product, service, or company?
  • Evaluation: What’s necessary to put this into practice? Is it possible? and How do you make it viable?
  • Experimentation: It’s vital to test your ideas and identify what really works and what needs to be improved.
  • Marketing: Has it reached the sweet spot? It’s time to offer to customers what before was just an internal project.
  • And finally, follow-up: Keeping track of what has been implemented is important to understand public acceptance, audience, and strategy. To do that, feedback is essential.
    We also need context. India must focus on use of technology for innovating in Rural India. If our farmers progress, we can feed the world. If food processing is pushed to Rural India, it will help prosperity and reduce urban pressure.

Just think of the biggest innovations that have happened over the ages: They may not sound so major but they were world changers, if you think about them in the context of the time period and the technology available. To name some of them:

  1. Fire was a discovery but innovation which changed the way we eat/heat/ and developed industrial uses.
  2. The wheel – changed the way we travelled.
  3. Printing Press – changed elite education to mass education.
  4. Penicillin saved unfold lines.
  5. Radio Imaging helped diagnosis to be accurate and non-invasive
  6. Mass production line – Ford / Toyota created jobs and made cars affordable.
  7. Computers – cannot say enough.
  8. DNA – Medical/ forensic / leaps and bounds.
  9. Internet – Democratisation of knowledge.
  10. Fast Food / Home delivery/change the way we dine and socialise.

At the same time, innovations do not have to be high tech. Two examples are: The wheels on luggage change the way we travel and the basketball net. Each changed the course of mankind in a totally disruptive way. It made life better. The innovators were criticised, but as the innovation gained acceptance they were heroes. However, innovation did not end with this first discovery. It is only the start of transformation. Improvements were continuously made. What has changed is the speed with which new innovation is coming through. Also, now it is becoming more democratic. The entry barriers are falling. A few hundred years ago, when we were an agrarian society, then the changes were small and did not afford the chance of creating major wealth between a good farmer and average farmer. In the industrial revolution it was better but still limited by capital and time.

Age of the Idea

Now, it is the age of ideas. Here, the limitation of capital and time is broken down. The ability to create wealth for society in huge amounts is limited by ideas and creativity. We see this now more than ever. That is why we see huge disruptions everywhere such as:

  • Home delivery has changed the shopping & restaurant
  • Fast food like Burgers / Pizza changed the way we eat.
  • Uber—the largest taxi service provider, which does not own a car.
  • AirbnB
  • Battlefields without soldiers—drones/cyber attacks
  • Samsung and iPhone become the world’s largest camera makers.
  • Tesla and other EV car companies take on status quo of established carmakers.
  • New age companies dominate the stock market valuation now.
  • India’s use of IT to help the aam aadmi and administration has been applauded the world over. IMF has lauded India for its welfare program powered by UID / Aadhar and technology

We need to harness the idea from solution acceptance to solution development. Out IT professionals are coveted the world over. They need to bring about innovation in India. It’s not good enough to have a good idea. You must believe in it and have the perseverance to see it through to market. Then the trick will be scalability. With today’s enormous reach generated by the Internet it is possible, but the challenge is the clutter and short attention span of the customer. Now, to become a wealth creator does not need a huge capital or asset base. All it needs is an idea, perseverance, and great use of technology. Innovation will rule the future. Don’t be afraid of failure and don’t sit on your past laurels.