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InnovationThe emerging East to West model
Dr. Krishna Mikkilineni
Thursday, May 8, 2008
India is increasingly being looked towards for providing strategic innovation needed in serving not only the local consumers but also the global needs. Moving beyond supporting their global businesses, the Indian arm of MNCs are evolving as ‘centers of excellence’ for innovation and growth. More than 300 multinational corporations have set up R&D centers in India and many, if not all, of them help fuel the innovation driven products and solutions along with the Indian companies who also have realized the necessity of this to expand globally.

Earlier, products were designed for the developed markets in the West, given the consumption power that exists there and provided as it is or with some localization to the consumers across the developing world. Today this paradigm is no longer viable, given the consumption power and emergence of mid markets in the developing regions like India, China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe and Africa. The products, solutions, and services being designed in places like India are not only beginning to serve the needs of the local markets but also are increasingly bringing new alternatives to the markets in the West and as such they fuel the new innovation model of East to West and East to East.

Workforce development in an innovating organization
While India is emerging as a top global innovator for high-tech products and services, it is under performing with respect to its innovation potential, according to the World Bank report titled “Unleashing India’s Innovation”. Despite the abundance of young technical workforce, there are significant gaps in the innovation potential: Domain knowledge product or solution conceptualization, commercialization, and management experience being the main areas of opportunity to increase India’s innovation potential. Building these critical workforce capabilities and aligning the talent strategy with the business strategy will be the key enablers in systematically creating India’s innovation driven results, which can be showcased, to the entire world.

Broad-based competency development programs can help, but what we need are carefully designed and focused formal and informal learning, development and delivery methods that balance corporate initiated and the government sponsored programs with self-initiated development programs, all driven by the passion for learning by the workforce.

Workforce management
Research, development, and engineering (R,D&E) workforces differ in quite a few areas of preferences and motivation from other corporate workforce. As such, these workforces need to be managed differently to increase their innovation potential. For example, direct manager quality and the caliber of colleagues matter much to R,D&E professionals. They attribute a lot more importance to having significant challenge in work assignments, critical responsibility in projects, and an empowerment, which gives them risk-taking opportunity in their works. Differentiated recognition in terms of awards that recognize the complexity of the work, significance of the R,D&E outcomes, participation in conferences and role changes that provide more work challenges besides differentiated pay structures matter a lot in motivating the high potential research and engineering professionals.

Understanding the motivational factors such as these have led to the creation of a number of unique schemes to recognize and inspire the R,D&E professionals around the globe and in India so that their innovation capacity, capability, and potential are maximized. All organizations that are aspiring to make a mark in innovation must also innovate continuously the ways to motivate and manage the R,D&E workforce.

Innovation leadership: The need of the hour
Leading and managing innovative individuals, teams, and organizations require a few critical skills, which are somewhat different from leading other workforces. Leading innovation requires as much business skills as a diverse set of technical skills. In addition, the leaders need to possess adequate capability and emotional intelligence to manage people who are innovative but may lack social skills or self awareness and plan the programs with appropriate rigor and flexibility. Leaders of innovating organizations require not only to be good role models by coming up with ideas but they should have the ability to translate them into outcomes that have societal and commercial values. Achieving maturity in innovation leadership abilities takes time since a lot is learned through experience gained while doing things, making mistakes, and overcoming them.
Leading and managing East to West type of innovations is getting practiced in India now, and in a few years quite a few role models will emerge in India and will make it easy for more such leaders to create an explosion of innovations in the country.

While organizations need to be more innovative, excellence in execution and day-to-day operations is critical. Doing things for the thousandth time with the same passion and quality that one had while doing it for the first time is equally important. Organizations and leaders who successfully manage both innovation and operation with the right balance and focus will be the ones who will stand out in the long term. Many such organizations and leaders exist in India today and I have no doubt that their number will multiply significantly in the next five years, creating a significantly positive cascading effect on the Indian society as a whole.

The author is Managing Director, Honeywell Technology Solutions Lab.
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