Research And Innovation

Five Mantras to Fast-track Innovation

 
January 31, 2019

In the highly competitive Business 4.0™ age, innovation is at the top of the boardroom agenda, with leading companies spending anywhere between $5 billion-25 billion annually on research and innovation. Recent reports highlight the growing impact of digital technologies on innovation programs across industries, underlining the criticality of speed, scale, and value for innovating in an increasingly digital world.

Tapping into the Innovation Goldmine  

The incredibly hard part of innovation is arriving at the intersection of opportunity, business, and technology. And then it gets harder – once at the intersection, how do you do go through the process with speed to extract the value intrinsic to the innovation and unlock its inherent business and revenue potential? And if that wasn't hard enough, how do you make this process repeatable to achieve innovation impact at scale?

Here are some mantras distilled from our experiences over the past decade.

Mantra 1: Broad-base innovation

Discovering ‘innovation intersections’ at scale is best achieved by an innovation process that is inclusive – sourcing ideas and proposals from across all levels of the organization, instead of a top-down or centralized approach. All employees, regardless of their roles, have unique perspectives that can lead to the ‘next big thing’. Ideas could also be lurking in existing organizational forums, waiting for their potential to be unlocked.

Mantra 2: Be picky – with both ideas and leaders

As you broad-base your sources, you will soon be inundated with ideas and proposals, and will need to be extremely stringent in choosing the ones to invest in. How futuristic is the innovation? Is it doing enough to push the envelope in terms of applying emerging technologies and/or disrupting business models? Ensure that all aspects have been thought through in detail and use the right evaluation criteria to maximize the chances of successful value creation.

Then, ensure you have the right person leading the innovation. This goes beyond possessing knowledge of business and technology – you need someone who has passion, drive, and the persistence to go through the ups and downs of the innovation journey and lead it to success. An entrepreneurial mindset combined with a vision for the innovation, supported by an able team, would be ideal.

Mantra 3: 360-degree capabilities

Each innovation initiative is like an organization, with the owner of the initiative being the CEO. The leader needs to have a well-integrated team that provides all the capabilities that the initiative might require. Other than technology and business expertise, this may include functional capabilities such as marketing, sales, IT, HR, and finance.

While having a team with all these capabilities would be ideal, it might not always be possible. As sponsors of innovation within your organizations, you might need to take a call on the capabilities that need to be integral to the team, while providing the other capabilities via a common team shared by multiple innovation projects.

Mantra 4: Mould, sculpt, nurture

The process of shaping ideas starts when the idea is born, continues through the process of proposal development and evaluation, and persists through the life cycle of the innovation. As the innovation sponsor, you need to enable interventions that help shape the idea from a spark in someone’s mind to an impactful innovation. This involves extending the idea, suggesting differentiators, merging ideas to create something more impactful, chiseling ideas for greater focus, and handholding the innovator through challenges.

Mantra 5: Track with rigor – get early feedback

The best way to ensure that you are actually moving forward is to define short-term milestones. On reaching the milestone, the actual progress can be reviewed, along with learnings, investments made, and feedback from the market. Review findings can help chart the course for the next milestone and the required interventions.

A good way to speed up innovation and prevent erosion of value is to ensure early feedback from the target customers of your innovation. Be flexible and open to changing course so that you do not continue to invest in capabilities that may be out of sync with the real needs of your clients.

Changing course could also mean letting go of what you earlier thought was a great idea, and in the process jettison effort already invested (not to speak of personal pride). The decision could very well be to pull the plug on the project entirely. It is important not to fall in love with ideas, so as to be able to decide dispassionately and ensure that you do not end up throwing good money after bad.

These have been our innovation mantras so far – I’m sure our ongoing learnings will continue to shape and guide future innovation and entrepreneurs.

As vice-president and global head of TCS Research and Innovation (R&I) unit’s Incubation function, Anita is responsible for identifying, enabling, and building emerging businesses that leverage new technologies and business models. TCS Incubation also manages the TCS Entrepreneurship Program, a module to help bright young innovators build high-impact businesses, as well as the emerging technology and rapid prototyping lab. Anita started her career with TCS and has held several senior positions here over the past 35 years. A graduate of VJTI, University of Mumbai, Anita holds a degree in electrical engineering, and is a senior member of the IEEE.