Saturday, December 11, 2010

Marketing Strategy : Unleash Your Innovation Engine

Indian companies are not well known for innovation. In comparison with the global counterparts, Indian firms have so far shied away from investing in innovation. That is the reason why India cannot boast of an iPod or a Google. It is not because India is lacking in brilliant minds. Indians are an inevitable part of the R&D initiatives of most of the global firms. Infact most of the global firms have their R&D centres in India to take advantage of the human potential available.

Despite having brilliant minds, it is highly disheartening to see Indian firms lagging behind product innovations. One of the primary reasons is the reluctance of Indian corporate heads to invest in creating an innovation culture. When Indian firms begin to invest in creating an innovation culture, markets witness the launch of products like Nano, Tata Ace or a Mahindra Scorpio.

One of the primary requisite of creating an innovation culture in an organisation is the top management involvement. Any breakthrough innovation can happen only if there is a strong commitment from the senior leadership of the company. Senior managers should be able to instil a sense of ownership in the mind of the employees if they want to create an innovation culture. The leadership should take care to erase the fear of failure which is most detrimental to the creation of a culture that promotes open innovation.

Managers must also remove the myth that innovation is always expensive. We are living in an era where most of the brilliant dollar ideas are created by people working with very limited financial resources. When organizations embrace an innovation culture, the cost of creating innovations begins to reduce drastically.

There are three critical investments that companies need to make in their quest for creating an innovation engine. The first investment is in the culture, second investment is people and the third investment is in the time.

Creating an innovation culture is the primary requisite for all firms aiming to build their business on innovation. This is perhaps the most difficult investment to make. Once the innovation becomes a part of the culture, it can be further strengthened using processes. For example in 3M, 25% -30% of the revenue should come from new products introduced within five years. To facilitate this process, technical employees are allowed to spend 15% of their time on projects of their choice.

Another vital investment is on the people. Management must understand that it is people who drive innovation. How ever robust be the process, without highly motivated people, process may achieve little. Firms focusing on innovation undoubtedly take care in selecting and retaining highly motivated employees. The new kids on the block like Twitter, Facebook is attracting bright talents because of their unique approach to work. Google has become one of the most preferred places to work because of their penchant for creating a unique work environment.

Another vital investment that firms have to make is with respect to time. Creating an innovation culture cannot happen overnight. This is a long process and each firm should discover their own DNA of innovation. Time is the investment that the leadership has to make if they want to build the innovation culture into their organizations. Innovation cannot be initially managed over quarters. The management should first establish an innovation budget and encourage the employees to invest that budget into product development or improvement. It will be easy if these budgets are initially spent on product improvements rather than breakthrough products or new products. Once the entire team begin to understand the seriousness of the innovation drive, more and more serious innovations will follow.

It is important for the senior management to tolerate failure. It is impossible to innovate without tolerating failure. And the fear of financial loss is the greatest inhibition for firms venturing into creating an innovation based business model. An open communication channel between the innovation leaders and the senior management is a necessity to avoid such financial loses. Managers should be encouraged to speak their mind about the viability of a particular idea or a project.

Originally Published in