Innovation: visible, invisible

These days there is so much happening in the Indian IT industry. Consider this scene. If you have read recent news items, it is generally feared that Indian IT industry is loosing its sheen, with wide spread job cuts already happening, business getting tougher. There are different reason given-automation getting more prevalent at the entry level jobs, the Trump era strategies. Many industry experts, such as Vivek Wadhwa, since last couple of years, has been warning Indian IT industry around these trends and appealing to start focusing more and more on innovation. So the key here is innovation.


Courtesy: Internet

Now consider other scene. The Indian startup system is bustling with so much of action since last 7-8 years. So many ideas, so many new companies coming up every year, employing more and more workers and creating new jobs. The startup ecosystem is also getting matured, with local as well as global investment fraternity shifting focus towards Indian startups. I have talked about things I have witnessed on this topic on this blog earlier. Even Government of India’s initiatives around smart cities and also declaring various policies and schemes for startups, has fueled this scenario. So what is the key here for success of startups? Again, innovation!

Other day, someone forwarded me a video link on WhatsApp, which was a YouTube’s version of a TEDtalk. It is titled India’s invisible innovation. It is a talk delivered by Nirmalya Kumar, 3 years ago, arguing Indian IT industry is already innovating, against a common comment that Indian IT industry cannot/don’t innovate like Google, Apple and other leading companies of the world. He calls it as invisible innovation, as it is happening mostly in India’s back-offices and process areas which is not directly seen by end users(which is visible innovation). It gives various examples such as patents being filed from India is on the rise(including forward citations), process innovation, management innovation resulting in global delivery model, etc. While, the argument is mostly true, and lets us understand the other perspective of what Indian IT industry has been doing(which makes feel little better), but looking at today’s state, it seems that lot was left desired on the innovation front.

But I am hopeful and bullish for a turn-around. The main reason is that entrepreneurship is on the rise in India. And innovation is typically at the root of it. The relation between innovation and entrepreneurship is greatly dealt with, by Peter F Drucker in famous book titled Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Principles and Practice. So, I don’t think we need to get deterred by what is happening now as most of it is self-inflicted. But today’s India is changing. India’s large young population and large market, with abundant opportunities in many areas, not just high-tech, for changing, growing investor community, and growing awareness around innovation and entrepreneurship. There is only one way for success. A point to be noted here, most of the innovation coming out on startup fraternity will be visible innovation.

While it is true that the western world will continue to need back-offices of the outsourced companies in India(or even for the matter other countries), in the current shift and dynamics, it would interesting to wait and watch how these traditional IT services companies get back to innovation(invisible or otherwise), to stay in the game. It is also true that startups will continue to move and shake, start and close prematurely, laying off people-but then that is part of startup ecosystem. It is survival of fittest law. Anyways, as such in India apart from innovation in the industry and science itself, where is there so much to do; India also has many areas concerning to its demographic and social structure, poverty, illiteracy, agriculture, transport etc where innovation and social entrepreneurship is the need of the hour and it is also on the verge of growing.

Let me conclude this blog with a nice story about what innovation is, which I had heard recently. A well-known bath-soap manufacturing company once receives a complaint from a customer that bath-soap he purchased did not have a soap inside. The company officials, quality department was shocked hearing this complaint. How it must have happened? Their quality control was quite stringent with world-class processes etc. They started looking for finding gap and looking for improvement in the quality control process to not repeat such case. So the officials decided to install scanning machines to on the manufacturing belt, for examining the packed bath-soaps before dispatch. A fresh graduate who had recently joined them, learnt about this, he walked in told the officials, that there is no need of this costly scanning machine. All they can do is to install blower-fans near the manufacturing belt, which would make packed bath-soaps with no soap inside fly away!

What do you think?