In the process of reaching out to panelists at the upcoming Design Public Conclave, I had an engaging conversation with Karthik B., General Brand Manager of Corporate Brand Management and Business Transformation at Mahindra Group. Here are excerpts from my conversation with Karthik:
Akanksha Saluja: What, according to you, is innovation in India, and what are the greatest barriers to Indiaâ€™s innovation path?
Karthik B.: Innovation is of two types: one disruptive innovation, and second, which is probably more familiar, is incremental innovation which is essentially an improvement made to an existing product, service or process. As a nation, we probably are better known as incremental innovators. Now moving on to the barriers inhibiting the development of an innovation ecology, I see 3 specific:
First, we don’t focus on specific area(s) where we enjoy a competitive or natural advantage. For example, China has a strong focus on manufacturing, the Japanese and the Koreans had/have a strong focus on specific industries like electronics, automobiles and seek out innovations in these areas. To develop an innovation ecology, we will have to focus on specific areas/industries where we have specific advantages.
Second, and probably the bigger reason as to why India is not there, is cultural. As a society, we are not a bunch of people who encourage risk-taking or the freedom to fail. From our childhood, we are encouraged to play safe, we are encouraged to do things that will enable us to top a class, get more marks, attain a professional degree. To take risks, or follow our heart, or pursue what we are good at, is never encouraged. So, at the core it really is a cultural issue.
Third, as a country/economy, we remained closed to the outside world for more than 40 years after independence. Given this, corporate India did not really have to focus on serious innovation in order to survive or thrive. This led to reduced investments in R&D or innovation. It is only after the economy was opened in 1991 that we see Indian companies giving a special attention to developing world-class innovationilities.
AS: Following from that, can you talk about ways in which cross-sectoral alignments and collaborations (between government, private sector, social sector and the public) can help overcome these challenges and create a more enabling ecology for innovation in India, especially in those social and developmental areas where we currently face pressing challenges?
KB: Cross sectoral/functional collaboration will definitely have a slow, but definite impact on our innovation ecology. As I pointed out earlier, we are primarily addressing a cultural issue here â€“ and any cultural change takes time! What holds out hope is the fact that todayâ€™s generation is growing up in an open economy and thanks to the Internet, have tremendous exposure to the best that the world has to offer. So we are now definitely more open to new ideas. And more the opportunities to collaborate and gain exposure, faster will be the development of an apate innovation ecosystem.
AS: Since Mahindra has been working a lot in the area of Agriculture, could you talk specifically about approaches that involve collaborations amongst multiple sectors that are geared towards supporting small and marginal farmers?
KB: Our Farm Equipment sector has made it its mission to â€œdrive farm prosperityâ€. To do this, we go beyond our core business of building rugged, reliable and fuel-efficient tractors to provide a whole host of agri-related products and services. For example, we have forayed into seeds & crop inputs, agri-advisory solutions, micro irrigation businesses so as to provide farmers with a one-stop-shop set of inputs and solutions. We have developed and introduced specific products that target small & marginal farmers. For example, â€œYuvrajâ€ a 15-HP tractor introduced a few years back specifically aims to bring small and marginal farmers into mechanized farming.
At the group level, we have built an eco-system of businesses that are customised to cater to the needs of farmers and rural entrepreneurs across different parts of the country. Through Mahindra Finance, we provide access to credit and other financial products/services to rural India; our pick-up trucks and small transport vehicles help rural entrepreneurs grow their businesses and through our rural housing finance business, we help rural India develop houses of their dreams.
So even within the group, you can see the tremendous benefits to be derived through collaboration and building an ecosystem of entities that deliver value to the agricultural/rural sector. Innovation resulting from collaboration and partnerships is probably the only way to drive rapid growth in agriculture and hence, in rural India.
* Views expressed are that of the author and not of the Mahindra Group.