Innovation has become a rage. And why not. Surveys have shown that business leaders now consider it far more critical to their company’s success than issues such as wages or taxes. Still, most firms haven’t come to terms with the fact that random and wasteful that innovation often is, it requires enormous creativity to institutionalize this randomness and nurture professionals who know when and how to take ideas to the marketplace.
Not surprisingly, many companies talk about it, but don’t have much to demonstrate. That could be the starting point—demonstrate what you desire by way of funding, setting goals, allocating resources and responsibilities, reducing risk (companies can take their pick).
Most corporate innovation networks exist as externalities, when the need is to actually have the top leadership build an environment of trust and figure out ways to reward the senior management, and the rank below, by evaluating their promotion and perks against a metric that defines innovation in their specific context.
Clearly, that doesn’t happen today. Most innovative ideas remain deprived of funds either because they don’t gel with the existing competencies of the firm or are not aligned with the current corporate strategy. This is particularly pronounced in the technology sector, where, ironically, the scramble for innovation is the hardest.
Hitting impressive numbers quarter after quarter is important, and needs a different kind of leadership, but providing space for blue-sky thinking that leads to disruptive technologies, albeit with long lead times, has its own place in the sun. Several sectors, from hardware to biotechnology, have been victims of the risk-averse corporate and investor environment that prevails in this country.
Adding to that is the recent trend of farming out research and development by large corporations to Indian companies, primarily to cut costs and time-to-market. This brings business, no doubt, but also smothers creative sparks, both at the individual and the organizational level. For truly innovative ideas, and eventually products and services, to flow, challenging orthodox ideas should be ingrained in corporate culture, not corporate strategy.
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