The Biggest Hangout Event of 2014 with Anand Mahindra

Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: August 13, 2014

Innovation week inspiring #WorldClassFromIndia – a summary of the second Google Hangout, on ‘INDIA: The Next Innovation Superpower’

Why aren’t world-class ideas coming from India? Is it because we’re smug with our culture of jugaad (make-do)? Is it the failure to fill the gap between what we have and what we need? Or is it really the fear of failure?

The biggest Google Hangout Event this year featured the nation’s brightest minds come together to question ways and means of how India can be made an innovation superpower. Our panel that constituted of Anand Mahindra, Chanda Kochhar, Arun Maira and Rajan Anandan were part of a scintillating conversation moderated by Arnab Goswami.

Innovation: a luxury, choice or necessity?

Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now, set the ball rolling by questioning the essence of innovation in India. He asked the panel if our existing environment accepts innovators and gives them their space to innovate and can disruptive innovation come only from people who are desperate?

Rajan Anandan, MD, Google India, spoke about the need to “innovate on a much, much larger scale to address the challenges we have”, citing the successful examples of Airtel(one of the leading telecom operators in the world) and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI, which created something revolutionary with existing technologies). He said that in the long term, world class innovation from India will be less about disruptive technologies, and more about disruptive business models.

On being asked what kept India from innovating on a large scale, Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group, spoke about how that’s a question everybody keeps asking every day. “I lament the fact that Indian software companies continue to be sweatshops”, he said. He said that because India houses the world’s largest poor and the malnourished, “desperation is a way of life” and so why isn’t India the most innovative nation? According to him, to foster an innovation environment, India needs to:

  • Make competition a way of life
  • Banish barriers to business
  • Allow best in the world to compete
  • Encourage consumption and let people choose the best

The condition of creative tension

Arun Maira, former member, Planning Commission of India spoke about the need to bridge the huge gap between what we have and what we need. He shared an interesting thought about how a nation can create an environment for innovation, “The necessary condition for innovation is creative tension.”

He pointed out three things that were important for innovation in India – novelty, utility and frugality. “Innovation is about a combination of various institutions working together.

While talking about how five of the ten best healthcare innovations in the world came from India, including Aravind Eye Care, Arun Maira also said that though we had the technology, it was not delivering what people want. He cited the example of the Honeybee Network, developed by Prof Anil Gupta of IIM-Ahmedabad and how nobody was willing to take forward the innovations developed there.

Understanding the Indian consumer

The Indian consumer is always open to new ideas and new innovations from the market. Touching upon this, Chanda Kochhar, MD & CEO, ICICI Bank spoke about consumers being a crucial part of the innovation block. “We have the opportunity to take any innovation to the scale no other country can,” she said.

Talking about building a culture of innovation, she added that it was important to build this culture before someone entered an organisation. The stumbling block to that was the existing education system, which is not research or creativity oriented. “We lack the financial ecosystem of mentors and angels to take ideas forward,” she said. “It is important to train your people to listen to the customer, because the best ideas come from them,” she added.

Is jugaad necessarily cutting-edge?

Can doing ‘jugaad’ help us move ahead? Will that lead to disruptive innovation, thus putting India on track to ‘world-class’?

“I think it’s good that we can ‘get things done’,” said Rajan Anandan, “but to be world-class, two things are not in the heart of jugaad – the long term view and the processes. Innovation does not just happen,” he added.

Our lack of resources make people resort to ‘make do’. “So it’s a great place to start, but we mustn’t become complacent about it,” said Chanda Kochhar.

Expressing his displeasure with the word, Anand Mahindra said, “It really bothers me that we have become smug about jugaad. That is ‘make-do’, whereas our focus should be ‘more for less’”.

Why do we fear failure?

“The fear of failure is very expensive in India,” said Arnab Goswami. Was that the reason for lack of innovation?

Talking about his own learnings from the ‘fear of failure’, Anand Mahindra said that if India did away with the guru-shishya tradition, and learnt to “question authority right from the primary level, we will accept failure”, he said.

Rajan Anandan said that while young people in the tech industry wanted to be entrepreneurs, building a culture of innovation takes time. “We need role-models, so that young entrepreneurs can look up to them,” he said. Entrepreneurs associated with companies such as Flipkart, RedBus and matrimonial websites would serve as perfect role models for those who wished to take the plunge, according to him.

According to Arun Maira, a solution to the ‘fear to innovate’ is the need for an ecosystem, where the government and corporates come together and work in collaboration, so that they can provide for funds for different innovation projects. “We should celebrate failure,” he said.

What lies ahead

More investment in research and development, a less-challenging IT Act and legal environment, changed mindsets and leaders who allow people to question and using the lack of resources and competition – are what will drive innovation, and put India on track to world-class. Anand Mahindra summed up perfectly saying, “We should go from jugaad (make-do) to jhakaas (awesome).”

You can watch the recording of the entire hangout here.


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