The Helicopter shot for Innovation in India

By Aditya Mishra

One of the techniques used in innovation/idea generation is to look at a different domain and bring elements from there to bear upon the problem at hand. Let’s apply that to the problem of lack of innovation in India. Since this is India, let us look at its favorite game: Cricket.

After the recent India – England cricket match, there was a telling comment on the Cricinfo site:
“AlexPalmer90 : Let me get this straight. India has 1.4 billion people, a country which only seems to play Cricket (India didn’t even win a single gold in the last Olympics). Yet, India still can’t win matches consistently or bat in foreign conditions. hehe. Unlike other countries, India has bigger pool of players to choose from. But no matter which players gets selected, they still keep failing to win away matches. Strange.”

Indian supporters responded with:
“cric_fan123: Indians are more study oriented, not many take sports full time. Even if they do, not many make it.”
“Cpt.Meanster : @AlexPalmer90: Fair question and thanks for putting it out to Indians. .. Yes, India is HUGE, geographically and population wise. The world’s 6th largest nation and yet, we don’t have proper athletes. Why? Not cause of the people themselves, but cause of politics, regional bias, social discrimination etc. ONLY the elite make it to the top of the table in India.”

Strangely, the story of Innovation in India also has the same elements!
• 1. 2 billion people (not 1.4 billion) and still very low innovation output whichever way you measure it – inventions, patents, start ups, new products etc. Indians have won the Olympic Gold equivalent (actually higher I think!) of innovation – the Nobel Prize but most of them have been outside the Indian system.
• Indians are “study oriented” and not problem solvers. Education system encourages rote learning and following instructions. Innovators get suppressed / weeded out.
• Politics, biases etc also stop innovators. There are “clubs” which promote its own members or favored ones.

Clearly, there is something to do with India that cuts across sectors as different as cricket and innovation! So is there something that the story of cricket in India can tell us? Yes, there is. Unlike Indian innovation which is still to get global accolades, Indian cricket team does win matches – quite a few of them and has even been world champions. So what is different about cricket?

There are several things different about cricket.
First, it has the system of academies and domestic contests such as Ranaji Trophy. This system helps ensures that potential players are trained in the right skills and then have opportunities to polish the skills and develop their own style in actual play. This is the engine which produces contenders for the national team.
Second, cricket has had a steady supply of talent going into the engine. A lot of this has to do with role models. A Sehwag could look up to a Tendulkar, a Tendulkar could look up to a Kapil Dev or Gavaskar, Kapil Dev or Gavaskar could look up to a Amarnath or a Pataudi. Other part of this story is the star treatment that cricketers have gotten for a long time.

Neither of these is easily available for innovators in India. The engine to create innovators – training and environment to practice skills is completely missing. However, entrepreneurs have started to be portrayed as Heroes in mainstream media. Role models have also started emerging –be it Infosys or Tata Nano or Flipkart. Therefore, we have the fodder but not the engine.

The story with cricket is actually similar. The academies and trainers came much after the first few heroes. So, if we have to draw a lesson from the mixed success of cricket, it is that we need to train people in skills required for innovation. This is in 3 parts:
• First part is a curriculum focused on innovation skills
• Second part is hands on application of such training
• Third part is absorption of such trained people into the game of innovation

Thankfully, the last piece already exists with large companies investing in innovation, more start ups, incubators and investors coming up. The missing piece is “Innovation Academies” that have an “applied curriculum”.

* This is a guest blogpost by Aditya Mishra, Founder & CEO of SwitchMe, an innovative web based service that helps people switch from one service to another. He is also the co-founder and Managing Director of Headstart Network Foundation, India’s largest network of early stage entrepreneurs. He advises several early stage entrepreneurs and incubators on issues of product development, sales and strategy. He will be speaking at the Design Public Conclave on Innovation as a Form of Conversation.

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1 Response to The Helicopter shot for Innovation in India

  1. Pavan says:

    Is it India or the current socio-economic state of the individuals within the country that can explain the lack of innovation/gold medalists/cricketers etc?

    If you look back into the history of the country, it was one of the leading providers of innovation. Some of the ancient cities have better function sewerage systems than anything found in the modern world. If Nobel has existed Indians (in and from India) would have won it for plastic surgery, numbers, astronomy, …

    Something to think about 🙂

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