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Harnessing Creativity Outside the Research Labs

Research and Innovation (R&I) in most companies is confined to a specific department. Crowdsourcing innovation is difficult to manage, and often the value created doesn’t seem commensurate with the efforts employed. The bottom-up view in a large enterprise can be quite different: employees need a channel to do things differently; learn from other departments; exchange ideas. TCS’ experiments in crowdsourcing innovation have brought excitement and vibrancy within the organization.

No organization can exist without innovating. Enterprises have dedicated teams to create the next version of a product or service. Some enterprises encourage innovation in every department. Yet, innovation as an activity across the organization is rare. Successful businesses strive to drive down risks to operations. They have efficient processes that iron out the exceptions and keep a tight rein on time and resources. While this has proven benefits, this loses out on innovations that organizational synergies can create: learnings from other groups, cross-functional problem solving, crowdsourced ideas, and serendipitous discovery.

Some experiments at TCS

Awarding Innovation: Taking a cue from the Tata Group’s competition for innovation at various stages (Implemented Innovation, Piloted technologies, Design Honour and Dare-to-Try), TCS started its own competition “TCS Innovista” in 2016. FY 2018 saw a whopping 2095 submissions across the organization of which 305 were seen as “top seeds” and 29 were finally rewarded. These innovations came from teams in projects trying something new and different. As the teams filled in the applications, and were interviewed by seniors and mentored into thinking at higher levels of abstraction, applicants were able to benchmark their innovations, and understand

Creating an environment where anyone can contribute to innovation is quite a challenge. TCS has aspired to build an “Innovation Culture” for many years. We present here some recent experiments

the relevance outside their own projects. The competition gave every business unit owner a closer view of the creative potential within his/her unit.

Crowdsourcing: The other experiment has been one of crowdsourcing for solutions to known problems. Its success picked up so much momentum in FY 2018 that every week an event— an ideathon or hackathon—was held. Around 10,693 associates participated across TCS. Most of these events demanded a minimum viable product/solution for the stated problem. A number of winning MVPs went into improving/ adding to internal solutions. Some of these events were directly sponsored by customers and rewarded by them. (Funky gadgets, $500 in cash, certificates and trophies have been offered as prizes, apart from some highwattage limelight.) Some customers have blogged about these events on their websites and on social media, upping TCS’ brand image.

Amplification: Post-event webinars where innovators talked about their ideas had 1000-plus audiences, starting new threads of discussions about applicability of the innovations to other problems. For a large enterprise, such connections and conversations are invaluable.

Intellectual Property Creation: TCS’ dedicated intellectual property rights (IPR) cell reached out to innovators proactively to encourage them to evaluate the novelty of their innovation against state-ofthe-art developments. The cell helps them file for the relevant IPR.

The real reward

It would be simplistic to say that organization-wide innovation is easy to achieve. It takes time, investment, and risk. At every level in the hierarchy, managers swing between flaunting innovation, and cutting costs, risks, as well as exceptions. Innovators are constantly tempted to defy protocols, break rules, and create eddies of dissent in the team. The innovations themselves lay waste to “novelties” created not so long ago. While we put up awards for interesting failures, not many come forward to call their ideas “failures”

Ninety-five percent of the time, crowdsourced solutions created incremental or near term innovation; answers to point problems! Yet, we felt that it is valuable to keep the innovation agenda up in front of the entire organization. Employees need to feel the vibrancy and have the chance to do important things, outside their daily tasks. Thinking beyond the project on hand, on the whole, must be encouraged and rewarded. The small chance of achieving something radically different is real and worth keeping the innovation engine up and running for the entire organization.

An Innovation Culture Checklist

We have been aspiring to build a culture of innovation for a long time. In the last three years, our attempts have given us encouraging results. Sifting through our experiences, we wondered what led to positive results. We present a list of questions that we asked ourselves: 1. Are we open to accepting new ideas from any employee? 2. Can we provide channels for sharing such ideas; both in-person and through technology platforms? 3. Are we able to crystallize problem statements and share with other groups, inviting ideas and learnings? 4. Can we hone good ideas, document them, and make them available for other groups to use at other times? 5. Investment in time: Can we allow employees time to think of things beyond their daily tasks? Can senior managers/heads take time to listen to a bunch of new ideas, half of which may be farfetched, or too narrow in scope, and mentor the proposers of interesting ideas to take those ideas to maturity? 6. Rewards: Is there a reward mechanism that includes tangible (cash and other prizes among others) and intangible (recognition, career impact) incentives for the innovator? 7. Can we support innovators in filing for Intellectual Property? 8. Is there room to fail? Can we call out such failures and see them as brave attempts rather than embarrassments? Can we create channels/repositories to record this information and artefacts so that it can be revisited when constraints diminish? It has taken us time, resources, and commitment to get our large organization involved in innovation. We feel the effort was worth it. In fact, we are keen on scaling it further.

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