R. Gopalakrishnan, Director, Tata Sons, on Thursday said that innovation is not just about being first in the market or taking big bets. Innovation is rather something that happens spontaneously.

Delivering his keynote address on “Innovation Culture: Myths, Reality, Ideas” at the C. K. Prahalad Memorial Lecture 2012 organised by Aspen Institute India, Gopalakrishnan said, “There are a number of myths surrounding innovation. Being first in the market; research and development; and taking big bets are considered as some yardsticks for innovation.”

In his thirty-minute address, Gopalakrishnan cited some classic examples of innovation at his present organisation - the Tatas - as well as from his previous stint at Hindustan Unilever.

“There is a myth that the first mover has the advantage. However, people who have been the first ones have often failed to create a place. And then they are often forgotten. A classic instance is that of coconut oil. Tatas were the first ones to come out with the offerings but today Marico is synonymous with coconut oil,” he maintained.

Citing other instances of Det versus Surf (with regard to detergent powder) and Bonus versus Rin ( detergent bars), he maintained that many original innovators like Det and Bonus were forgotten as and when they failed to innovate.

Highlighting the need for holistic innovation, he said, it calls for setting up a culture in an organisation, rather than giving mere targets.

“The world is not just about big bets. It’s usually about small people taking small bets. Innovation must happen spontaneously,” Gopalakrishnan said.

According to him, jugaad (a Hindi colloquialism for providing improvised solutions) was the way forward for human progress. “Jugaad is acceptable and is neither a fashion statement nor derogatory,” he said.

shobha.roy@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 10, 2012)
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