The Innovator’s DNA

Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: July 11, 2014

The Innovator’s DNA

Being an innovator requires a mindset to explore the unknown and sometimes, be unreasonable. At Mahindra, we aim to catalyse an ecosystem for innovators to build world-class, breakthrough products in India, for India.

By Rise Team

Alan Kay, the American computer scientist once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” It is this pioneering thought coupled with deep science and engineering knowhow that has been at the centre of breakthrough innovations in the west. To be sure, one must understand the meaning of breakthrough innovation. It is the creation of products that have the ability to disrupt an entire industry. The obvious examples are innovations that we use every day; the cell phone, the Internet, the web browser and the search engine, —classic examples of breakthrough innovations that changed the world for the better.

The question is: under what circumstances did these innovations come into being? What were the factors that enabled people to think 10x, when the rest of world was working to improve their offering by 10 per cent? The answer really lies in the ability to create an innovator’s ecosystem, one in which experimentation and risk-taking are encouraged, being unreasonable is an advantage and trial, error and failure are a core part of the creation process.

This post sets the context for the Rise Prize and talks about the core belief on why scientific innovations that are ‘Made in India’ can be world-class. In the process, it also lists out the key drivers to create an ecosystem that nurtures breakthrough innovations.

The Rise Prize was conceptualised keeping in mind that India is a land of billion possibilities. Karthik Balakrishnan, Sr. General Manager of Corporate Brand Management, Mahindra & Mahindra, says, “Through the ‘Rise Prize’, we are hoping to inspire and enable Indians to innovate more, disrupt more, create more and push boundaries that will make the world sit up and take notice.” In line with this thought process, Mahindra Rise has created two innovation challenges – the Driverless Car Challenge and the Solar Challenge to create an affordable, small-sized DIY rooftop solar kit.

While several Indian entrepreneurs and managers have solved complex, large-scale problems through process innovation (classic examples include Airtel and other telecom companies that led the mobile revolution in India, IT services companies that created a process for the Global Delivery Model and healthcare service providers like Aravind Eye Care and Narayana Healthcare that brought in McDonald’s-like efficiency and affordability to their service offering), India has seldom been at the forefront of breakthrough innovations. The crying need of this hour is the creation of an ecosystem that channelises some of the inherent capabilities that this country possesses in the direction of product innovation as well.

In other words, India needs to inject the Innovator’s DNA into the minds of some of its most talented engineers, scientists, product managers and marketing experts. The time has come for India to make a mark on the world’s stage. It just requires a push in the right direction. The following aspects are the key drivers of innovation and building an innovation-centric India. Read on.


There is no doubt that technical skills and scientific understanding are key capabilities to building innovation-heavy products. But is that enough? The obvious answer is that innovation happens through constant experimentation, careful understanding of all the key risks associated with what you are building and the ability to minimise risk in a methodical fashion. A conversation with Chetan Maini, head of strategy and technology at Mahindra Reva, revealed that the one crucial trait of an innovator is longevity. Maini founded Reva in 1994, with a passion to build electric vehicles. He developed deep expertise in electric vehicle technology, built IP and went on to launch Reva, the first electric car built in India. It was only in 2010, 16 years later, that his company got acquired by the Mahindra Group. And, he’s still at it – day in, day out. Today, as head of strategy and technology at Reva, Maini is still neck-deep in product innovation, charting out the roadmap for both Reva and the electrification of other Mahindra automotive platforms. The point being made here is simple; breakthrough innovation is hard, tiring and risk-heavy. It requires a mindset to stay in the game, till the breakthrough happens.

The anchor factor

One challenge often faced by innovators is that they run out of capital or simply put, stop making progress. In breakthrough innovations, progress is measured by minimisation of risk. Say you are trying to build a driverless car, if the navigation algorithm works perfectly fine, that is one risk out of the way.

In aninterviewwith The Smart CEO, Narayanan Vaghul, former chairman of ICICI Bank and member of the board of Mahindra & Mahindra, said, “In start-up situations, it is crucial to have an anchor.” He went on to give an example of how CRISIL, the credit ratings firm, survived in a pre-liberalisation era where the industry and banking ecosystem in the country was not conducive to run a credit ratings organisation. But having ICICI Bank as an anchor (the bank incubated CRISIL) played a crucial role in helping the organisation through the tough early phase. The same aspect makes sense from a product innovations perspective. People working on high-risk innovations need to realise that their careers will be fine and having an anchor investor or anchor mentor could go a long way in shaping up the personalities of people working on high-risk innovations.

Approach to free thinking

Pixar, the movie studio that produced movies like Toy Story, Cars and Up, is a pioneer in the area of animation films. Experts believe that one of the key reasons for the production house’s success is its approach to brainstorming. The studio has a core group of creative professionals – directors, producers and technicians – who engage in active brainstorming with the goal of improving a movie. An article in theFast Company goes on to narrate how candour is at the centre of these brainstorming sessions. People are free to pinpoint mistakes and make suggestions without the fear of hurting anyone. It is an environment in which creative professionals get together not to find flaws in people’s work, but to up the overall quality of the movie. And product innovation teams can certainly adopt such an approach to brainstorming. Innovators have to give their mentors and team members the freedom to suggest changes and point out mistakes with the understanding that this process will help in the creation of a better product.

The iterative plan

Khosla Ventures, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that invests in high-risk product innovations, published a paper titledInnovator’s Ecosystemin 2011. One of the learnings that came out of it was how innovators should learn the art of ‘iterative planning’. Vinod Khosla, the author of the paper, urges innovative teams to adopt an approach where planning is an iterative process, open to change and disruption. He suggests that these teams need to imbibe a culture of experimentation, where the role of the team’s manager is to “coach the experimentation process”.

Simple, simply works

Finally, innovators also have to cultivate the art of simplifying complex problems. Undoubtedly, disruptive innovators are solving hard problems; they are complex, chaotic and require expertise in many different fields. Moreover, it is not only an independent understanding of certain areas of science and technology, but how all these work in tandem. The crucial aspect here is to keep it simple. Khosla, in his paper says, “If we do x, y and z, then we have a breakthrough product.” The x, y and z will certainly be complex tasks to accomplish, but it is that level of clarity in an innovator’s thought process that forms the core of Disruptive Innovation.

Happy inventing. Happy innovating. Here’s to making world class from India a reality.

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  • Suneel Karnik



    If we select 200 tehsils (approximately
    1/10th area of a district) from India that are most backward, and entrust them
    to each of the nations, with a view to develop them according to the
    peculiar vision of each nation, experimenting primarily for a stipulated
    period, this may gradually transform the world into a globalised manner,
    flourishing the poor.

    This project, if it
    works, may be replicated in other nations as well.

    Of course, there would
    be too many hurdles to be cleared in the process, and everything needs to be
    worked out minutely and with utmost expertise. However, its worth endeavouring,
    i suppose.

    At this stage, its
    only a brief concept.

    Please see.


    Sunil Karnik

    5, Raj Chhaya

    Behind White House

    Mumbai-Pune Rd

    Kalwa, Thane

    Maharashtra State,
    India 400605.

    Mobile No.

  • deepak

    Hi I m deepak I have a better idea through which u can earn billions of money within 6 months
    Actually there is a mountain in my hometown nd in tht mountain some people live nd thy r thinking to migrate to other place so thy r selling their fields in cheapest price nd u knw wht the whole mountain has coal in it.
    Govt does nt knw abut this thing but some old people knw abut this nd after buying tht whoe fields u can start digging it nd get the coal out of it.
    Nd one more thing there u can also do farming cos it has a lot of water there.
    One more idea I have the reason why people r migrating frm tht area is that people dont have the sources through which thy can do farming so I would request u to make a tracter or a machine like tractor through whihc people living in high mountain can also do farming.
    None of the company has thought abut this thing so u would be the first company to make a tractor for hill areas.
    So these 2 were my ideas
    Plz must reply me if u will like it
    Deepak kandwal

  • deepak

    Sir just tell me abut my idea
    Do u have any sort of interest in it

  • Minhaz Ul Maruf

    I’m Minhaz Ul!
    I have a little Idea!
    I am Thinking about to Produceing Electricity from The Lightning of Sky!

  • Mani Kumar S Dosapati

    I have an idea for mirrors of automobiles.
    Every time when a driver starts driving his vehicle he has to adjust his mirror, that too if he forgets before entering roads he has too adjust the mirrors while driving.
    So my idea is why cant we automate it and make a preset position for the mirror. SO even if some one plays with mirror mischievously, it can be reset back in position.
    Idea Description:
    1) Multi user functionality
    e.g. If we have a vehicle that is being shared by 3 – 4 members of a family. We can have presets for every one.
    2) Store presets for all multi-users
    3) Stepper motors to adjust mirror positions
    4) Gyro meter to get mirror position which is preset using either manually or set automatically by other user
    5) Gyro meter to adjust mirror to preset position.

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