I wrote a blog post about two years ago titled “Is the Age of ‘Indovation’ and ‘Chinovation’ Becoming Real?” and it was very popular piece and I’ve got a few publications calling me including Knowledge@Wharton and others seeking out my point-of-view. Two years later and I am writing this post in India and will be in China next week, perhaps it is time for an update.
Let’s start with the question around innovation in India and is it really happening? Or happening enough? Well the answer varies depending who you talk and what industry sectors you’re referring to. For the Indian pharma industry, it is not without trying but there were no commercial or very little success so far. For the auto industry, there are moderate successes but I won’t call it breakthrough innovation. For IT mainly software, there are hardly any effort and it is not because of there’s a lack of money or talent. These tech companies understand the risks and it is easier to just write codes and make money.
Was this due to a lack of aspiration, unwilling to commit or was it due to the lack of ability to execute successfully? In my opinion, India doesn’t really get innovation and seriously lacking robust innovation capability. And I don’t mean R&D. Their world-class engineering capability was not put to use solving problems that yet to exists – unknown and unmet needs of customers.
They need to stop thinking innovating only at the bottom of the pyramid but start to build aspiration for innovation for bigger ideas. Instead of engineering down products to fit the needs of the limited buying power constrained mass markets, they need to start thinking engineering up for products that shape industries in the developed markets.
India needs to develop high value industries and actively transform itself from a low-cost software and outsourcing economy to global innovation test bed. How can India learn to overcome the fear of failure? And how do they move away from thinking small hoping it will grow big?
Conversations about innovation in India with anyone always start with jugaad. Jugaad is a Hindi word that loosely translates as "the gutsy art of overcoming harsh constraints by designing an effective solution using limited resources." For them, Jugaad is an antidote to the extreme complexity of Indian societies: a country with pervasive scarcity of resources and infrastructure and good policy. Over the years it has developed a way to fixing things that are broken and mashing up different products for different usage.
Jugaad is not unique to India and they should stop putting that at the core of innovation for India. The future of innovation in India is solving bigger global problems. India can help the world to search for new solutions that do more with less for more. That is to say, they should provide more value using less energy, material, effort or time, and serve more consumers.
To be fair, it’s not just the Indian companies that are grappling with this issue. Companies in UK, US, Canada, Finland, Japan and Korea all grappling with this. Every country has a different need for innovation and needs a different strategy for innovation and not everyone needs to look at frugal engineering. Some have a steeper climb in brining design into the engineering process. By bringing together different sectors of society to think and talk about innovation in a structured manner, India can bring about a new and higher threshold for innovation thinking and practice.