Tag Archives: innovation

Cross-Domain Application of Knowledge & Jugaad

It was around a discussion on cross-domain knowledge that I realized that there was no better place to look for instances of these than in India. India is a hotbed for innovation using cross-domain knowledge, most of which gets pushed under the umbrella of jugaad, a concept we find is commonly misinterpreted & misunderstood.

 

At Vivékin, we’ve understood jugaad to be a form of innovation, which while fabulously inventive and immensely beneficial to the immediate community of the concerned innovator, very often tends to be restrictive due to its inability to scale up and last long. In other words, jugaad is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. What makes jugaad truly an innovation is when it lends itself to being a scalable long-term solution to a problem.

 

Instances of innovation using the application of lateral thinking and cross-domain knowledge in India are many. The living bridges of Meghalaya, a tradition that was started sometime in ancient India, where bridges are built by coaxing the young roots of trees (planted on the riverbank) into formation – a practice that spans several decades; the MittiCool, an electricity-free refrigerator invented by a small time entrepreneur, Manuskhbhai Prajapati, by applying the cooling principle of the clay pot in which drinking water is stored in the hot summer months;  a water mill that generates electricity, designed by Siddappa, a farmer in Karnataka, using a giant wheel, plastic basins and a dynamo.

 

Instances elsewhere in the world – the windmill built by William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, a 14 year old school dropout at the time, using spare parts from a tractor and bicycle to generate electricity for his family; or in the corporate context, the car-parts incubator (for new born babies) designed by a nonprofit firm in Massachussets, USA, “Design that Matters”, using the same technology used in cars to allow people in third world and developing countries to be able to easily repair them.

 

Some of the instances above could be classified as jugaad, like the makeshift water mill by farmer Siddappa, and the windmill by William Kamkwamba, but most of the others are true innovations resulting from the application of lateral thinking and long-term vision.

The Power of the Metaphor in Innovation

Last night, Times Now featured a heated debate on television on the allegations of Team Anna against the Prime Minister. As the debate progressed, it emerged that the speaker had used the statement where he likened the Prime Minister to being used by his government like ‘Shikhandi’. For those who may not know, Shikandi is a male-female (hermaphrodite) character in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata who was used as a shield during battle because men would not fight somebody not “fully man”. The implication here was that the (honest) Prime Minister is being used as a shield by his highly corrupt government against their fraudulent practices. This was an unfortunate choice of a word (‘Shikhandi’, brings all the connotations of social misfit, gender misfit, and a mask for heinous activities. This was, quite frankly, in poor taste). The speaker tried to explain that he had used it as a metaphor, and not literally. But what is interesting is the power of the metaphor to bring out such strong emotions. When metaphor has such strong emotional connect, imagine the power it would hold for innovation!

Metaphorical thinking is what allows problems to be connected to solutions across domains. A Guttenberg is able to invent the printing press by recognizing the metaphorical connect between the pipe organ playing in his church and the coin press he worked at. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the art of the metaphor relegating it to some “soft skill” that is only fit for students of literature. In our systems- and process-orientedness, we refuse to look beyond and see that metaphorical connect that can lead us to powerful new ideas and innovation.

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Skip rope to outperform the competition!The article “How to Outperform the Competition” explains the logic behind this metaphor. Read about it at the “Downloads” section of our website.

Innovation is important for enduring corporate excellence. But how do you enable innovation in an organization? Read the article “How to Enable Innovation in Organizations” to understand about the four enablers to innovation within organizations – People, Principle, Processes and Technologies.
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Understanding a Story – The Vivékin Way

Almost all the houses in the community I live in have solar water heaters installed on their terraces. For most of these house owners, while the logic behind doing this has more to do with considerable savings on the monthly electricity bill than any green initiative, they still are managing to do their little bit towards energy conservation. Then again, all these houses have inbuilt reverse osmosis water purification systems under their kitchen sinks. Convenient and safe, yes. But I wonder how many of them have taken into consideration the fact that for every glass of clean water produced, another glass gets wasted; that it is possible to channel this water to the garden for watering plants. And if anyone has actually done that. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? In one shot, the good that was done has come undone. But, I digress. What I actually wanted to write about was an article I read last week – about this gentleman in Bangalore who has gone way beyond just installing a solar heater. He installed a whole set of solar panels on his terrace, bought himself a few hybrid inverters and now manages almost all of his household energy needs (with the exception of one submersible pressure pump) with the supply from these solar panels. And if that were not enough, he supplies the surplus energy, around 8-10 units, back to the Electricity Board. Free of charge. Now, if only more people in our country could be like him! Even if some of us were able to take care of half our energy needs, the load on our energy reservoirs could be decreased and so much electricity would be freed up to electrify villages and towns in rural parts of India.

In Vivékin terms, what is the significance of this story? Here is someone who has done something rather innovative – but what is the dominant Leadership Intelligence here? Because he is being innovative, does it imply that it is Inventive Intelligence? Surprisingly though, it is not. To understand why, we first need to break this story down a little more. He used Analytical Intelligence when he studied the different kind of panels and inverters available and decided which combination to use, Operational Intelligence while setting up the whole system (even if he didn’t do it himself, he drove the process) and some amount of Communicative Intelligence while dealing with the equipment dealers and engineers/ technicians who set up the system. But not really Inventive Intelligence, as he didn’t apply knowledge from another domain for this innovation. He simply extended what he already knew – the ability to channel solar energy using solar panels to power something other than just a solar heater.

But where does he use Ethical Intelligence? To understand this, let us take a step back and try to understand why it is that he even chose to embark on such a project. Was it to save on his electricity bills? To start and follow a green initiative in order to conserve energy? To free up energy for others to use? To set a precedent in his community in the hope that it would inspire others to follow in his steps? It could have been one or the other, or all. The point is that he explored a possibility, weighed his options, looked at the long-term implications and then made a decision. Without a doubt, this is a perfect example of a dominant Ethical Intelligence.

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Innovation Value Chain

Along the lines of Michael Porter’s value chain in strategy analysis, it is possible to conceptualize an innovation value chain. Often companies get stuck in a rut by confusing innovation with ideation and not moving beyond idea generation.Recently, researchers at INSEAD have pointed out that “The [innovation value] chain starts with idea generation, but then moves to prioritising and funding ideas, to converting those ideas to products and finally to diffusing those products and business practices across the company.”It is interesting how this maps into the leadership intelligences framework.

Stage in Innovation Value Chain

Leadership Intelligence

Idea Generation

Inventive intelligence

Prioritizing and funding ideas

Analytical intelligence

Converting ideas to products

Operational intelligence

Diffusing products and business practices

Communicative intelligence

The problem with an innovation value chain is that it can mislead us into visualizing the innovation process as linear, proceeding in sequential stages, whereas in reality, the stages messily tumble into each other–back and forth. (The innovation value chain reminds me of the woefully inadequate “waterfall model” in software development.) Further, another danger is that such stepwise conceptions of innovation make it easy to compartmentalize the organization into hermetic silos by assigning ideation to one department, budgeting to another, and so on. In the leadership intelligences framework, a focus on the abilities needed for innovation rather than on processes and stages, allows us to break free of sequential mindsets and compartmentalized organizations. In this sense, the leadership intelligences framework helps to structure chaos, to provide the “disciplined disorganization” necessary for innovation.