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The reality check

India is fast becoming the innovation capital of the world," writes Rekha Shetty in her new book Innovation Secrets of Indian CEOs. Managing director of the Farstar Distribution Network consultancy company, Shetty says this is “because we lack resources". So Indian CEOs have to constantly think of new ways to make and market their products and services, and redesign their processes for maximum efficiency.

Shetty’s book draws on the experiences of 50 such CEOs to distil the principles by which they do business, from never giving up to making payments easy for customers and being courteous.

Shetty has previously authored Innovate! 90 Days to Transform Your Business and The Happiness Quotient.

In an email interview, Chennai-based Shetty spoke to us about the five steps in the innovation process, and how she applies these principles in her business. Edited excerpts:

What was the inspiration for your book ‘Innovation Secrets of Indian CEOs’?

Indian CEOs have their own brand of innovation—a people-oriented, low-cost innovation on the run. This kind of innovation is born out of thrift and a desire to squeeze the last ounce of value from limited resources. It is jugaad in spirit and respect for all forms of potential wealth. A lifetime in the field of innovation has given me a ringside view of Indian innovation and the principles that govern it.

Why did you choose these industry leaders to share their innovation secrets?

I looked at the work of 250 CEOs and then chose the best 50 examples.

Are there any innovation secrets in the book that you subscribe to?

When I started Mindpower (the brand developed by Farstar) in 1992, innovation was not a recognized discipline. So I had to try a variety of approaches to build the brand. We taught the subject to children, teachers, employees, CEOs and executives at all levels. It was tough getting people to commit time and resources. Then I did my PhD in management on innovation in large Indian companies. This gave a clean vision on how to build a culture of innovation. We now have a one-year innovation initiative where everyone, from a doorman to a chairman, learns to think out of the box. This exemplifies “Never give up, keep trying different things".

What are the five parts of the innovation process?

Innovation Secrets of Indian CEOs: By Rekha Shetty, Westland, 222 pages, Rs 250
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Innovation Secrets of Indian CEOs: By Rekha Shetty, Westland, 222 pages, Rs 250

Idea generation: The atmosphere should be nurturing and supportive for idea generation. The group should build ideas and be open to breakthrough thinking. Harvest ideas which sound totally different from the traditional view.

Incubation: This process enables you to throw off the shackles of conscious thought. The process may last half an hour or a few days. Forget the problem if possible and enjoy a mental holiday.

Analysis: Apply left-brain thinking—logical, statistical and mathematical. The solutions are analysed against the parameters chosen by the problem owner.

Some prevalent parameters are: time, budget, convenience, human resources, goodwill and impact on staff motivation levels, aesthetics, saving lives and political capital.

Implementation: The “reality test" should now be ruthlessly applied. Once implementation starts, every move costs money. Implementing creative ideas and turning them into innovations is a process that requires a clear road map and the organizational will to stick to the path. This is where many organizations fail. An ounce of action is worth tonnes of emails, paper and speeches. Implementation is the key to innovation.

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