Founded in 2003 by Harsh Mariwala, Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) is a not-for-profit organisation in India executing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for its parent company Marico Ltd. The organisation aims to nurture innovation in India across the business and social sectors alike. The Foundation works closely with organisations that are innovative and impactful through three of its sector-agnostic programs - MIF Scale-Up, MIF Awards and MIF Involve. To know more visit: http://www.maricoinnovationfoundation.org/
When you’ve spent the better part of your life working, there is a certain inability to spend any time unoccupied. Over my years of experience, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with several companies across diverse sectors in varied roles. In the time I’ve spent within the business space, I’ve come to learn that, as we progress, the life cycle of every element in business is shortening. Change is the only constant that we can be sure of, be it in life or in business.
Having served as an advisor in different capacities across boards of various companies, it is becoming increasingly obvious that companies these days are highly inertia-prone. Combine this with the short life cycle of everything and we have a potent mixture where products and services are being used for a much shorter time.
This is the challenge that most organisations face today, wherein they are forced to really push the system to be able to influence people. This forms the crux of the problem that most companies face and becomes the objective that they must aim to fulfil.
‘Change’ as a concept becomes very arbitrary till we put it in solid terms and where it becomes most obvious is in our application in our professional and personal lives. As we develop, each of us imbibe certain ideas and start thinking in patterns. Over time, this forms our lines of thought and what we call ‘our experience.’ While experience can serve as a great advantage, it can also be a thorn in our side when it comes to being ‘innovative’. Most of the larger organisations are built upon rigid structures and formats when it comes to every procedure, almost set in stone, thus leaving very little space for innovating, even in the smallest of areas or even becoming more efficient across the processes.
Fresh perspective as a start point for innovative thinking
Whether it is a start-up or a global company - the need of the hour more than anything else is for a fresh perspective. What business leaders must focus on right now is how to leverage this newer perspective when they stumble across it and then take the onus of nurturing this perspective and giving it shape in order to reap better results for their organisations.
This fresh perspective goes well with the current buzzword ‘innovation’ and can play a catalytic role for companies that want to stay ahead of the curve. Even those lagging behind have innovative thinking on their goal boards and on the back of their minds, despite being stuck in a repetitive cycle. The question still remains “How do we innovate” and this is where most companies go back to the drawing board and the old patterns that they have experienced in the past come back into play.
What organisations need to do is become more daring and set higher goals for themselves. It’s only when these goals have been put on paper that the process for realizing it also gets a head start.
In a large MNC which I was associated with, the ordinary time to fulfil a goal was 15 months and it was accepted across its multiple verticals. But the disruption came in the form of a leader who asked for it to be carried out within 3 weeks. While it can place an enormous amount of pressure on teams across functions, it also challenges the complacent procedures and it becomes easier for us to recognise where the gaps are and fill it in accordingly to speed up the process. In this way, one can envision and execute a structural rebuilding which marks a remarkable paradigm shift in the way that work is carried on henceforth.
Encouraging a change of lens
Right from the managerial level, there is a huge need for a change in thinking. In the corporate world there is a hesitance to outsourcing, which I feel is detrimental because it is outsiders who are able to show us a third-person perspective by which we can understand our own shortcomings and work towards building a stronger stand for ourselves.
Even when a new employee is inducted into a company, they are immediately taught that ‘this is the way things are done around here’ instead of allowing them to explore and find new ways to carry out old things. Our mentors also need mentoring so that they do not continue the culture of perpetuating the past and clone the existing system repeatedly. In this way, innovation, we need to understand, is not just about creating path-breaking revolutions. It is also about the finer nuances of the way in which we operate where changes can be made for the better. And the work culture thus needs to be conducive of the same and should encourage innovative thinking in all and every operation that falls within the purview of the business.
Innovation: The need of the hour in corporate and social sectors
The toxic need to hold on to the past and our collective experience is not just a feature in the corporate sphere but also features heavily in the social enterprise sector. More often than not, social initiatives are headed by strong-headed individuals who are people of conviction and are comfortable working with a pre-decided model that has shown markers of success. The rigidity becomes a systemic marker of economic and social enterprises. And this becomes a stumbling block because it simply reaffirms the fact that these social initiatives exist within a microcosm and even if they are able to scale up, the overall impact still remains limited.
Circling back to businesses, new businesses need to grasp the fact that the Indian market is a dynamic one which is constantly shifting in terms of its demographic and demands.
Only once they are able to track the trajectory of consumer needs, will they be able to tap into the appropriate market for their products and services. As highlighted above, corporates need to stop viewing the Indian market with a retrospective lens and need to leap-frog into the future by using newer technology that is relevant today in the digital world. At this critical juncture, innovation once again becomes the standpoint from where we must view the world around us, be it with regard to the different stakeholders of our business or the way in which we conduct our business itself.
Take the example of any successful app-based business today, the reason behind their success is not just their innovative idea, but their appetite for risk by which they were able to fulfil their lofty ideas. They were successfully able to create a fulfilment by facilitating logistics through their apps, thus overcoming the issue of creating a unique service which required to be pushed out in the most consumer-friendly manner.
It’s only organisations that concentrate on both, path-breaking innovation and day-to-day innovation and ones that consciously build this cultural fabric from the senior most leader to the last rung contributor, that will likely succeed in the times to come, as markets evolve and changes landscapes that we have existed in for the last two decades.
By Rajeev Bakshi, Governing Council, Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) and Non-Executive & Independent Director, Marico Limited
This article is a part of ‘Thought Leadership’ series in partnership with Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF). The author is a member of the Governing Council of MIF.